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I was moved and thoroughly engaged by this book.  The theme is donation of fertile human eggs, with a side theme of hot air ballooning.  The people involved, especially the two women, are beautifully depicted and I couldn’t help being drawn into all the emotions that go along with many aspects of motherhood.  One of them wanted a child but was infertile, the other was a career woman who didn’t want children.

The issues explored give this book wide appeal, with some heartbreaking moments.  In some ways the dilemmas faced reminded me of moral fiction by Jodi Picoult.  The author is Australian, and the New South Wales setting helped to make it attractive.  This author has written several other novels, and I shall look out for them.

The greatest gift that there can be
is love unconditionally

 

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This was Helen Fielding’s first novel, written before she gained fame for Bridget Jones’ Diary.  It alternates between the London celebrity circuit and a refugee camp in Africa.  Some of the camp scenes are heart-rending, but the tone is kept light with amusing relationships.   The characters are well portrayed, some sympathetic, some not!  There are interesting insights into philanthropy and voluntourism.

The book’s title annoyed me because I kept pedantically wanting to make it Cause Célèbre.  The pun is appropriate because the story refers to celebrities, but it annoyed me just the same.   However this is an engaging example of chick-lit, and a good read for a rainy day.

The famous are made to examine
their helping motives where there’s famine.

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This gentle, charming book takes the reader to a place and time far away.  Set in Himalayan Kashmir, it tells of a  English woman’s determination to manage on her own in a foreign environment.   I gather it was written in the 1950s, so post-Raj, but that wasn’t clear in the story.  The author lived in Kashmir for three years, and her experiences there have provided the basis for the novel.

Sophie, the main character, is a widow of limited financial means who takes her two children to live in a rundown house in a small village.  Her naivety and her interactions with the local peasants have far-reaching dramatic consequences.  The story is beautifully told, with elegant descriptions of scenery and seasons.  This is a book to be savoured, and it came to me via the Book Fridge – a small hardback, with no dust cover.  I shall seek more by Rumer Godden at the Library.

I did not know of Rumer Godden
or of the paths that she has trodden.

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The culture of North Korea is based on lies, and this book exposes many of them.  After reading it I wonder how the U.S. could ever expect to reach a meaningful agreement with Kim Jong Un, the third generation of a dynasty which has brutally suppressed its citizens and ideologically indoctrinated them since the end of the Second World War.  The author defected in 1997 at the age of seventeen, and the story of her journey is compelling.  She was obliged to change her name at various stages, and now works to raise awareness of violations of human rights in her birth country, including giving an acclaimed Ted talk.  This book has increased my knowledge of North Korea and my disgust for its dictator.

A rule that’s based on lies and fear
is what applies in North Korea

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Four years ago I attempted to read Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.  It failed to hold my attention and I managed only the first 150 pages.  My regular blog followers know I’m disinclined to read books by male authors, but this week I was tempted when I saw Down Under for sale for just two dollars.  We are planning a trip to Australia and I thought it might be useful.

Instead of starting at the beginning I skipped the first third, and went to the section on South Australia.  Adelaide will be our first stop, and I was pleasantly surprised to find I enjoyed Bill’s style of travel writing.  Although the book was written twenty years ago it gives a good taste of how Australia may look to a present day traveller.  There were several comments that made me laugh out loud and others  gave information.  Some I found interesting were:

* South Australia is the only Australian state that never received convicts.
* Adelaide has an outstanding stock of Victorian buildings . . . that give it a dash of class and respectful venerability that Sydney and Melbourne all too often discarded for the sequinned glitter of skyscrapers.
* Adelaide is the driest city in the driest state on the driest continent, but you would never guess it from wandering through its parks.
* Inhabitants of the Northern Territory are required to vote in federal elections, but because it’s not a state their representatives don’t actually vote or take part in Parliament, or have any consequence at all.
* Alice Springs was named for the wife of the director of telegraphs in Adelaide.  She had no connection with the town and probably never saw it.

I read through to the end of the book, enjoying the sections on the Outback and Darwin, and I will probably return and read the first chapters at some stage.

For travel writing I like Bill
his book has humour writ with skill

 

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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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