Posts Tagged ‘Books’

This book tells the stories of three women whose husbands were part of Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated journey to the South Pole. One was Kathleen Scott, one was Oriana Wilson, wife of the expedition’s chief scientist, and one was Lois Evans the Welsh working-class wife of a common sailor admired by Scott.

It was stimulating to read detailed backgrounds for each of these women. Oriana lived by the mantra: Is it kind? Is it true? is it necessary? Before marriage she signed a pre-nuptial agreement that the decision for her husband to join the Antarctic expedition had been a mutual one. Her husband wrote his will just nine days after they were married, and left on the Discovery three weeks after their wedding. Oriana waited for him in Christchurch, staying in a hut at the Kinsey’s home in Sumner. This hut survived the 2011 earthquakes, and has now been re-located to Godley Head.

Kathleen came from an aristocratic family, studied sculpture with Rodin, and was friends with George Bernard Shaw, Isodora Duncan, and JM Barrie. She later made statues of various famous men including her husband, but there was no mention in this book of her replica statue of her husband which stands beside the Avon/Ōtākaro River. Kathleen did not support the movement for Women’s suffrage in Britain because she felt it was unnecessary and in some cases damaging to let women vote.

There is less known about Lois, because unlike the others neither she nor her husband left a written record.

It was sad to read how each of these women received the news of their husband’s death and how they dealt with the ensuing publicity. The author dissects the idea of British imperial heroism in a matter-of-fact way, and discusses how any problems with the expedition were kept out of the public eye.

This is a meticulously researched book which provides enthralling information about an expedition which has become part of our folklore, and its aftermath. My interest was heightened because Antarctica is to be the subject of our next U3A course.

The women who were left behind
had lives forever intertwined

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A murder mystery is one of my favourite types of books for relaxed reading – as long as there’s not a surfeit of violence. The fact that this story is set just before and during the pandemic makes it extra beguiling. Two people who may or may not be what they seem meet in Dublin and decide to spend lockdown together. The details of the pandemic were a disturbing reminder of what we’ve lived through and, so far, survived.

We start at the end of the 56 days when a decomposing body is found. Different chapters set at different times over those days and earlier give flashbacks as the stories are slowly unravelled. There’s plenty of suspense as we gradually learn of the characters’ earlier lives, with the pandemic adding to the tension. This is a gripping read.

Life is not really what it seems
as both of them pursue their dreams

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The writing in this novel flows beautifully. It tells of three seventh century monks who set off from Ireland to found a new monastery on a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean. I found their faith, and their obedience and devotion to it, captivating.

The island had no human inhabitants, but they shared it with thousands of seabirds. The author gives details of life on the island, punctuated always by the chanting of the hours of divine office. The monks share stories of saints and words from scripture, as they go about the tasks required, with only the bare minimum of resources.

This is a book that will make you think about what blind obedience to a spiritual leader can bring people to.

They laboured hard through all the day
with many tests along their way

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This author is much younger than me, but her parents had records I know well and the book starts with songs that are very familiar. There is much charming nostalgia for the things of her childhood. I admired her memory of details, although I could not relate to her descriptions of being a smoker.

This account of her life is open and honest, qualities I enjoy, but some of her disclosures were really more than I want to know, and the risks she took were worrying. I haven’t read Kate’s poetry, but did identify with her habit of writing poems in friends’ birthday cards. Strangely the library had classified her book as poetry, not biography, which the librarian I spoke to also found strange.

It was interesting to read of Wellington scenes, but overall there was too much information.

This book is just a bit too raw
with revelations by the score

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This book is a treat! Frances Edmond, daughter of poet Lauris Edmond, writes about her “beloved, complicated,difficult, compelling, impossible, but greatly admired mother. Usually I avoid following the notes at the end of a book, but I couldn’t resist in this volume because I wanted every detail. I did find my attention waning part way through and suggest this is a book that might be best taken in small doses.

Frances shows Lauris’s journey from a devoted mother of six children to a well-known poet making her independent way at a time (1970s-80s) when feminism was just beginning to be understood. The stories of family conflicts can be disturbing yet are surely not unusual, and the relationships are absorbing . Frances gives wonderful background and extra depth to many of Lauris’s poems, e.g Afternoon at Akatarawa.

I was interested in the consideration of art versus authenticity. Anyone can use poetic licence, and obviously Lauris did, saying: It is a mistake to regard ‘truth’ as absolute.

This is definitely a book to be savoured.

Her daughter keeps her work maintained
and poems here are well explained

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This novel features two children from different families living in a rural commune in England’s West Country. At the start they are seven years old, by the end they are twelve. There are three families and a few extras in the commune, the parents are all close friends, and the children are mostly free to do as they please. The book follows the seasons and the realities of farming life in exquisite detail, such as the killing of a pet turkey for Christmas dinner and the birth of a calf. The chapters alternate from the viewpoint of either child, and occasionally I found it hard to remember just where everyone fitted. It’s a coming-of-age story, with an inevitable heartbreak at the end.

While the commune seems idyllic there are undercurrents of which the children are aware, but prefer not to acknowledge. This was a different kind of story, and well worth reading.

It seemed to be utopia
but there was some myopia

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This is a truly delightful book, dealing with relationships between mothers and daughters, and the importance of female friendships. The central character is a woman who becomes a single mother at seventeen and devotes herself to caring for her daughter until she realises there are other possibilities for her life. Prior to being pregnant she’d been a keen student and she now sees it might be possible to realise the dreams she’d set aside. The action is set in the present, but there are flashbacks to the past, explaining changes in her life. This is a warmly crafted story which kept me enthralled all the way through.

This narrative of Her and Em
is truly a delightful gem

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This mystery is the third in a series featuring newspaper reporter Harper McClain, and I’ve enjoyed them all. The setting is Savannah, Georgia, U.S.A. I don’t often read crime fiction set in the U.S. but this series beguiled me with characters that continue to develop. It adds to the atmosphere when there are alligators in the mudflats.

Harper starts by investigating a story about a musician’s disappearance, while also continuing her search to find out who killed her own mother. There’s lots of action and relatable characters. Harper is smart, courageous, and independent, and the author is an expert in keeping the reader in suspense.

If you’re interested in the series I suggest you start with the first one The Echo Killing so you’re familiar with the back story.

When criminals encounter Harper
they should beware cos she is sharper

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This book gives a thorough outline of the author’s first year as a Doctor at Middlemore Hospital in Auckland. During 2022 we spent time at various Christchurch Hospitals, and I was pleased to learn more about how these institutions function from the point of view of a junior doctor, especially in Covid times. I imagine many other people would find this interesting, which may be how the author managed to secure a publishing deal – not an easy feat.

I had a baby at Middlemore Hospital over fifty years ago, and I’ve never been back since. My first daughter was born at National Women’s Hospital where there was no problem getting permission for Stephen to be present at the birth provided he attended ante-natal classes beforehand. It was a very different situation at Middlemore. I was required to have an interview with the Matron before permission was grudgingly given. In the event that was pointless because a quick birth meant Stephen didn’t get there in time. I was reminded of all this when I started to read about hospital protocols and hierarchies.

Especially in the first chapters there were many new medical terms, and Izzy writes clearly about the ethical distribution ,of resources. She tells of her frustration at needing to use RealMe and a different browser when trying to complete a death certificate. I could empathise having had similar experiences when completing Government funding applications. It was news to me that a body can’t be cremated if they have an implanted device. This would apply to Stephen who has a mechanical heart valve.

I enjoyed reading about the other side of hospital treatment. The book is well written and would be of interest to anyone who’s ever been in hospital, as well as the others who probably will be one day. For anyone considering studying medicine it would be an invaluable resource.

A Doctor’s day is long and busy
as clearly outlined here by Izzy

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Asked whether any book has changed my life I found it difficult to choose one. Over the years many books have had an effect on me, but the one that truly changed my life would have to be The Paradise Papers by Merlin Stone, later re-published as When God was a Woman.

This book demonstrated to me how much of women’s history has been changed and suppressed, and it began my interest in and devotion to Feminist Spirituality. I was nearly thirty when I first read it and new to the subject of Women’s Studies. Around the same time I was introduced to a number of women fiction writers who strongly captured my imagination. The first was Marion Zimmer Bradley, author of The Mists of Avalon. I loved the magic of this book, which tells the legend of King Arthur from a feminist perspective. I’ve read it many times and also bought the others in the same series. In 2009 I was privileged to visit Glastonbury/Avalon, and walk the path up the Tor, which I had previously only imagined.

Another important novel was The Story of a New Zealand River by Jane Mander, the first book I’d read by a New Zealand woman author. I felt a particular affinity for Jane as she had lived in Onehunga in Auckland, where I was living when I read it.

It was Margot Roth, a much-loved Women’s Studies tutor sadly no longer with us, who suggested I also read Marge Piercy, and her Vida captivated me at a time when I was deeply involved in political action.

Is there a book that has changed your life?

A book can take us far away
and bring ideas that change our day

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