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By invoking Keats in the first paragraph the author gave this book a scope wider than his writing, and a personal immediacy.  While his lyrical language often creates pictures that lead the reader’s mind further, the novel did not enthrall me.  It took me ten days to read its 262 pages, because I kept falling asleep, whereas I can easily read a book in two or three days if it holds my attention.

The novel tells of a clan of Scottish Highlanders who settled in Nova Scotia in the late 18th century, and their descendants.  Parts reminded me of Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series.  Links with family and the past are an important aspect of the story, but the whole was just a little too bland for my liking.  I’d be interested to know if others have read it and what they thought.

This book which won the Dublin prize
sometimes caused me to close my eyes

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I kept reading until after midnight because I wanted to know how it would finish and I was hoping for a positive ending.  This is a harrowing tale, and I was surprised that I went quickly to sleep afterwards.  Scary stories are not my usual choice, but I was enticed by the idea of a new Australian author.  The story alternates between the supernatural and the everyday.  It’s about a group of people living in Nebulah, a remote West Australian town that is haunted.  There are various relationships and various reasons why they can’t leave.

The book is well written with excellent descriptions and characterization, and would be relished by anyone who enjoys horror stories.  I enjoyed it, despite the scariness, although I’m not inclined to seek more books of a similar genre.

‘This was a book that chilled my spine
with ghostly presences malign.’

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I strongly urge everyone to read this book, which contains important information.  It’s a series of essays about various aspects of death, and a great resource for the conversations we all need to have.

The Teece Museum hosted a panel discussion featuring four of those who wrote essays for the book.  The Chair was Dr Erin Harrington, English Lecturer at the University of Canterbury, who focuses on Cultural Studies.  Her essay about The Casketeers which shows the business of tending to the dead, reminded me that I’d like to see this programme (now available on demand), and how I was privileged to see behind the scenes at a Funeral Director’s premises as part of my training for the Certificate in Celebrant Studies.

Marcus Elliott, Coroner, discussed how death always brings questions.  The coronial system is an inquisitorial process seeking the truth about a particular death.  The coroner speaks for the dead to protect the living.

Dr Ruth McManus, Sociology Professor, University of Canterbury, pointed out that death is expensive and spoke of resomation/bio-cremation or alkaline hydrolysis where a body is dissolved in heated alkaline water.  This process, basically a lye bath,  is more environmentally friendly than cremation.

Melanie Mayell, Deathwalker and Death Cafe host, said that grief is as individual as our fingerprints, and her work reinforces the need to make the most of every day.  Unresolved issues come to the fore when someone dies.

The importance of everyone preparing an Advance Care Plan was stressed.  After discussion about the role and expertise of Funeral Directors we learned that anyone can transport a dead body, e.g. to a crematorium, but it’s a good idea to have the death certificate with you.

An article on the architecture of death by Guy Marriage praises the design of the Harewood Crematorium where we held my Mother’s funeral, and which would be my choice if I were to be cremated.  (I’d prefer resomation, or a natural burial ground, but these may not be available.)

Another essay by a palliative medicine specialist made me think again about the End of Life Choice Bill.  This is currently being altered, and will be the subject of a general referendum.

An essay about funeral poverty reminded me of when I took a funeral service for a woman who had no money when she died.  I was aware that the funeral directors involved treated her with minimal  dignity.

A useful website mentioned is Te Hokinga a Wairua End of Life Service which gives information about what you need to do when someone dies.

This book and the Teece discussion are good reminders of the importance of talking about death, especially with those close to you.  It is certain that all of us will eventually die.

The book is available from Christchurch City Libraries, or can be purchased for $30.

‘We all need to prepare to die
and this book has the reasons why.’

 

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At first I was put off by the tone of this book.  It seemed to me arrogant and brashly American (even though the author is Canadian), and in parts it read like an outdated men’s personal growth manual.  Because it was our Book Discussion Group’s choice for this month I persevered to the end, and liked the second section more than the first.  There was lots of detail about being an astronaut, and I appreciated this more because I’d recently read ‘Hidden Figures’ about the African American women who were crucial to the space programme.

I enjoyed reading of the author’s singing David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’ in zero-gravity in 2015, and remembered seeing this clip on the TV News.  I could also relate to his saying that one of his small satisfactions is playing Scrabble online with his daughter.

The whole book seemed a little smug to me, even though Chris often denies considering himself as being extraordinary.  It’s just not possible to be the first Canadian in space and not be special.  If you’re at all interested in the space programme I’m sure you’d find his story fascinating.

‘It took him years of preparation
before he got to the space station.’

 

 

 

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It was poignant for me to read this book as the end of the First World War is being celebrated.  The story starts in occupied France in 1916, and is centred around the portrait of a young French woman who struggles to keep her family safe when her husband has gone to fight.  This part of the book is authentic and particularly satisfying.  A hundred years later the portrait has a new owner who is prepared to fight to keep possession of it.  The whole book deals with emotion, relationships, and historical research, and I found it enthralling. I skipped the seven pages of reviews at the beginning of the book, which I felt were quite unnecessary.  The end of the story tied it all together in a pleasing way, and it was a good read for recent rainy days.

‘The portrait links the two time frames
and is subject to rival claims.’

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This is the second in Gregory’s Order of Darkness series.  It tells of the children’s crusade in the mid-fifteenth century.  The description of the earthquake and tsunami seemed authentic, but I was disappointed that the story was dull, and didn’t engage me as the author’s Tudor books have.  I think it may be aimed at young adult readers, and I wouldn’t bother with others in this series.

‘This book is not the author’s best
I was distinctly unimpressed.’

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I was intrigued by the film Hidden Figures which related an aspect of women’s history previously unknown to me, so when this book appeared in the Book Fridge I grabbed it.  It’s the true story of a group of black women whose mathematical calculations were crucial to the second World War, and to U.S. achievements in space.

During the war the parallels between Nazi racism and American racism were only too obvious to Negroes some of whom who asked: “Is the America I know worth fighting for?”

African Americans, especially women, struggled to gain an education, and the success of those women who eventually worked at the Langley Research Centre in Virginia was all the more amazing because of this.  From 1936 the federal Supreme Court ruled against policies that had explicitly barred black students from tertiary education, but Virginia was one of several states that refused to comply.  In 1936 that state set up a tuition reimbursement fund, subsidising the tertiary education of black students in any place but Virginia, a policy that continued until 1950.

Langley, with its female ‘computers’, was crucial to the development of fighting aircraft.  The American aircraft industry went from being that country’s 43rd largest industry in 1938, to being the world’s number one by 1943.

The book gives fascinating details about aerodynamics.  For example: ‘For a wing moving through the air, the slower-moving air on the bottom of the wing exerts a greater force than the faster-moving air on the top.  This difference in pressure creates lift, the almost magical force that causes the wing and the plane (or bird) attached to it, to ascend into the sky.”  In 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik, NASA was born, and the space race was on.  With the development of electronic computers some of the women became programmers.  Yet, when the time came for the first American astronaut to orbit the earth in 1962, it was Katherine Johnson, an African American mathematician, who was entrusted with crunching the numbers.

This narrative has almost no dialogue, and is dry and repetitive, but the story is worth reading.

‘Black women played a vital part
because they were so very smart.’

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