User: Nelson_Library_BookChat (Nelson Public Libraries)
Review of Rubbernecker / Belinda Bauer.
This thriller features a main character with mild autism. After the death of his father Patrick becomes interested in death and enrols in an anatomy class. While dissecting a body that has been donated to science, he (and only he) comes to believe the corpse has been murdered. The book is a real page turner as Patrick investigates that murder – excellent.
Review of Death on demand / Paul Thomas.
This is a gripping book with great dialogue. Featuring a renegade, totally un-PC cop Tito Ihaka. He is on the hunt for a hitman – it feels very ‘current’.
Review of White jazz
White Jazz is the final novel in Ellroy’s L.A. Quartet. It takes a while to start understanding his prose but once you do you are drawn into Ellroy’s steamy world of mid 20th century Los Angeles, full of danger and corruption. Told from the point of view of Lieutenant Dave Klein, no one is good, no one is blameless and no one is trustworthy. It really made me think we use the term ’noir’ too loosely when discussing crime fiction – this really is noir! Great stuff.
Review of The lower river / Paul Theroux.
This was a really gripping read – black but such good writing. After his Massachusetts life is disrupted Ellis decides to return to paradise Malawi, where he had served in the Peace Corps – but the Malawi he returns to is very different from the one he left.
Review of Skios : a novel / Michael Frayn.
I love Michael Frayn – and this book was long-listed for the 2012 Man Booker Prize, but I found it dull. Set on the Greek island of Skios it is just a series of vignettes of island inhabitants – boring.
Review of The Denniston rose / Jenny Pattrick.
This novel is set in the 1880’s in the tough mining environment of the Denniston mine. Rose and her mother ascend to the mine one rainy night. Her mother initially takes up with a man who is kind to Rose but after his death the next man is abusive to her. I didn’t want to continue as the abuse became apparent – but I did. It is interesting when discussing the mine’s reluctance to take on miners from the UK – due to fear of strikes. And also how a community is reluctant to take action on a wrong due to fear of one man. Quite a harrowing read.
Review of A quiet belief in angels / R.J. Ellory.
This is a dark tale – but great writing so it is beautifully told. We follow Joseph who find out about a killer in his community when just a child – and as he spends years trying to protect people from the serial killer. We feel Joseph’s feeling of responsibility for the killings as they continue. A hauntingly good read.
This book started with a bang – dealing with an aristocratic dysfunctional French family. Antonie and Melanie were badly affected when their mother died and memories of their childhood haunt them. But as the novel progressed I found I didn’t like any of the characters, I didn’t learn anything as I read and finally the ‘secret’ was pathetic. I was disappointed as I had loved Sarah’s Key.
Review of Family pictures / Jane Green.
Family Pictures, also published as The Accidental Husband, starts off in a predictable manner, but with enough intriguing details for me to stick with it. The mysteries and suspicions grow as the plot unfolds and it ends up quite engrossing. At the end it was a better book than I first thought; it covers three years in the life of two women – whose lives are revealed to be very connected!
Review of Heartbreak Hotel / Deborah Moggach.
A retired actor inherits a decrepit B&B in Wales – when he turns out not to be the client magnet he thought he would be he decides to advertise courses to entice people to stay. What ensues is a delightful melange of characters, all of whom read true. It is funny and heart warming and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Moggach wrote the novel that was the basis of the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – and if you have seen that you get the idea. Recommended.
Review of Dotter of her father's eyes [text (graphic novel)] / Mary M. Talbot ; [artist, ] Bryan Talbot.
Mary Talbot, the author of this graphic novel, is the daughter of James Atherton, a Joycean scholar. Mary tells the story of her own difficult upbringing and also the tragic tale of Lucia Joyce, daughter of James Joyce. There is much in common between the two women – both damaged by being brought up in the households of brilliant but obsessive fathers. It is a sad book, but the stories are cleverly told and beautifully illustrated and coloured by Mary’s husband Bryan. It raises lots of questions about whether genius should be used as an excuse for any sort of bad behaviour. This graphic novel will appeal to a wide range of readers, and I would recommend it to those still not too sure about the graphic novel format.
This is a really unusual novel comprising a collection of found papers, appendices and footnotes. The title is taken from the composition of bagpipe music (Gunn’s father is a bagpipe player). An older man is at the end of his life and is creating a piece of music that will define him. The book is set in a desolate area of Scotland and you get drawn into that environment and fascinating life style. As it is compositional in structure it does get a bit repetitive. It is clever but wasn’t entirely successful for me, but stunningly original.
This is the story of two women in different times – 1950s and the present. As you read you try and guess what the link will be between them. One is unconventional Lexie – living with an older man, and the other a young artist living with a troubled man and struggling with a first child. O’Farrell manages a great description of place and time - engrossing.
This is such a great topic: a fictionalized account of the friendship Mary Lincoln and her ex-slave dressmaker, Elizabeth Keckley. I wanted to read it as I am interested in the American Civil War – but it read quite anachronistically to me and this stopped me from being totally engrossed.
This is a series of connected essays covering aspects of Austen’s life, giving a lovely intimate view. Byrne had access to Austen’s surviving notebooks and this view of Austen is a far cry from that of the shy, retiring spinster we sometimes imagine - she led a romping, interesting life. Many members of her extended family travelled widely, which gave her a cosmopolitan world view. This is such an interesting and entertaining way of presenting a biography, and a great revealing of Jane Austen!
Review of A grave in Gaza / Matt Beynon Rees.
This is the second Matt Beynon Rees novel I have read, the other was The Bethlehem murders. I am interested in this region and find his descriptions of life there really good. A Grave in Gaza once again features school teacher and amateur detective Omar Yussef, but this novel is more bloody than the last, featuring gang warfare. Omar goes with his boss to undertake a routine inspection of UN schools in the Gaza refugee camps – to find that a teacher has been accused of spying and imprisoned. A good read
Review of The Bethlehem murders / Matt Rees.
A grumpy Bethlehem school teacher, Omar, is sick of teaching and politics. He finds out a former pupil has been framed for murder and becomes an amateur detective to try to clear him. The book gives you a great feel for how awful it must be to live in the region – Omar is a Christian and so an ‘outsider’ and is able to comment and describe lots of complete and sympathetic characters. The Palestinian/Israeli conflict is there in the background but is not the main focus of the novel. I am really interested in this part of the world and thought The Bethlehem Murders was great.
This is a scientific look at diet, but easy to read. Taubes continues his thesis that certain kinds of carbohydrates have led to our current state of bad health. He explores diet through human and pre-human history and gives you lots to think about.
Review of Sacrifice / Sharon J. Bolton.
Tora, an obstetrician, wants to get away from London so moves way up to the Shetland Islands. Bolton does a great job of describing the area and the atmosphere and when things start getting spooky it is really spooky. Tora discovers a body and uncovers tales of strange deaths and births linked to an ancient legend. It is really gripping reading, I just couldn’t grasp what was going on and had to keep reading to find out - and I would never ever have guessed the ending. It was a great read – and even had a gorgeous doctor thrown in for romance.
Phinn has had a lifelong career in education, and for 10 years was a school inspector in North Yorkshire. He writes with a nice gentle humorous style that I really like. And this book really resonates with New Zealand in 2013! The Government decides to amalgamate two small village schools – and kerfuffle and competition ensures, complete with a blonde bombshell arriving to try and sort things out. It is very funny but also a bit sad.
Rating of Black Irish / Stephan Talty.
This graphic novel was great – in some ways simpler than the original and in others more complicated. I loved that Chwast had graphically modernised the story with images of how space travel might have been imagined in the 1920s – making for some very funny illustrations. If you have read the Odyssey you will maybe get more out of this graphic novel, and if you haven’t you might be encouraged to give it a go after reading this version. It is very imaginative, and I thought the quote on the back cover summed up the Odyssey in one sentence: “He took the long way home”.
Review of My sister, my love / Joyce Carol Oates.
Joyce Carol Oates is one of my favourite writers – and My Sister My Love didn’t let me down – it is wonderful. A brother tells the story of his younger beautiful sister who was well on her way to a sparkling ice-skating career when tragedy struck the family. We look back on the impacts of the tragedy on her family and the family dynamics – especially on her very controlling mother and on the brother’s childhood.
Review of The absolutist / John Boyne.
This story is set in the First World War; an absolutist is a total conscientious objector – one who will not even take part in support work for the troops. They have both political and moral reasons for their stance and life is made very hard for them. There are three main characters, the absolutist and two who are in the war, one of whom is gay. The family of the latter says they hope the Germans kill him. It is an interesting book on so many levels.
Rating of White truffles in winter / N.M. Kelby.
Review of White truffles in winter / N.M. Kelby.
This is a fictional book based on the facts of Escoffier’s later life. He and his wife are in their older years; he has created menus for famous people throughout his career. he also created the menu for the Titanic, but fortunately didn’t sail on her. But he has never created a dish for his wife - he reasons that he couldn’t create something that would capture such a multi-dimensional and wonderful person. It is a book to be savoured – and although I would have liked to have consumed it all at once, I am just nibbling my way through it to make it last longer.
I have read a few of O’Farrell’s books and I think this is her best. In the 1930s an unusual and unruly daughter is sent to an institution in Edinburgh when her family can’t cope. Years later the institution closes down and a grand niece, who knows nothing of her great aunt, is contacted to take charge of her relative. The unravelling of the great aunt’s story is a tragic and riveting tale, with a twist at the end. Great.
Rating of Me before you / Jojo Moyes.
Rebus comes out of retirement and goes back to the force as a civilian looking through cold cases. There is a clash between old and new style policing methods – and Rebus solves five of the cold cases - it is hilarious and I am sure Rebus will be taken back on the force and we will see a lot more of him. There were questions asked in the Scottish parliament when Rankin retired him!
Set in the 1950’s on an island off the coast of Seattle, this excellent book brings together three men who went to school together and served in the armed services together. One is an American Japanese who is accused of murder, one an American German – the victim – and the third a Jewish American who is the town’s reporter covering the murder trial. The story is told in the present and in flashbacks and shows the treatment of Japanese Americans from the 1880s to the 1950s, compared with the treatment of those of German descent. It explores racial discrimination, both official and community – and cross-cultural love and friendships. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Review of The sewing machine classroom : learning the ins and outs of your machine / Charlene Phillips.
This is a really good book and makes an excellent gift – it is practical, even to the design of the book which lies down flat as you consult it – Great!
Review of Home safe : a novel / Elizabeth Berg.
I normally like Elizabeth Berg’s books, but I found that this book about a woman’s struggle after her husband’s sudden death really disappointing. I thought the main character just wallowed in her grief and I didn’t like it at all.
Rating of Joy for beginners / Erica Bauermeister.
Review of The water race / D. Bradley.
I really enjoyed this book and didn’t want it to end. Set in a fictional small town in Golden Bay the story revolves around a mysterious water spring. Rachel from the city is sent to the remote community to secure the water for a luxury resort. Staying in the local camp ground she rubs shoulders with the rough locals and with a local farmer wanting to set up a vineyard for his daughter – which depends on the spring for irrigation. It is a great story of people pulling together in adversity.
Review of The draining lake / Arnaldur Indridason.
What blew me away about this thriller was the beautiful translation from the Icelandic! I have never read such beautiful prose and if you love English I recommend you read this book for the joy of reading alone – but it also has a great thriller story!
This is such well researched fiction it feels real. It describes Sarajevo during the Yugoslav War, when snipers surrounded the city and it took hours to do anything. Twenty two people are killed as they queue to buy bread and a cellist pledges to play Albinoni’s Adagio every day at the same time for twenty two days in their honour. The rebels order a young crack shot to protect the cellist. The novel really makes you think about the choices people have to make when living under such ghastly circumstances.
I couldn’t put this book down! A wife on Gorge River is Catherine Stewart’s version of her family’s life in the remote homestead described in A life on Gorge River. This is the story of her trying to create a ‘normal’ life for her children, despite their living in a home only accessible by sea and two days away from supplies. Stewart, who grew up in Western Australia, home schooled her children and they were subsequently successful at University. I am going to put it down when I finish but pick it up again immediately to reread!
Review of Poirot : the French collection : The murder on the links, The mystery of the blue train, Death in the clouds / Agatha Christie.
This is a collection of stories written in the 1920s and 1930s but that are still fresh and entertaining. I have read biographies of Agatha Christie and that added to my enjoyment. She was such a good chronicler of her time that to read her is like reading social history. I will never tire of reading Agatha Christie.
Review of Wild latitudes / Barbara Else.
A joyous novel set mainly in Dunedin during the 1864 gold rush. Siblings Adele and Godwin have had a strange upbringing in England and they travel separately to New Zealand – Adele literally getting washed up on our shores. The book alternates between their stories, Adele in first person Godwin in third person. It is a wonderful romping tale, quite grotesque in places, almost Shakesperean in others, and very entertaining.
Review of An Italian affair / Loren Teague.
An Italian Affair is not Loren Teague’s best book, was a bit laughable in places – painting Nelson fishery tycoons as New Zealand versions of Aristotle Onassis. The daughter of one of these magnates is threatened and an armed guard is brought in to protect her – you can imagine the rest. It is very light and easy to read – and only thing I did like about it was that it is set in Nelson where I live and I recognised many of the places.
This haunting novel deals with themes of loneliness and alienation. A young female student won’t go home and stays in dangerous mid-town Tokyo after dark. She meets her beautiful sister, who mysterioulsy sleeps most of her life away. Her sister speaks fluent Chinese so they are asked to go to a “Love Hotel” where a Chinese girl has been beaten up – and there is a suggestion of people smuggling. It is quite surreal, and I usually don’t like surreal writing but this all blends in nicely and the novel is easy to read and is very atmospheric. It is good and I will read more of Murakami.
This delightful book retells Aesop’s fables through the eyes of New Zealand native creatures – e.g. the hare and tortoise are the possum and the tuatara. The quirky illustrations by Ray Ching are just fabulous!
Review of Lives we leave behind / Maxine Alterio.
This important New Zealand novel follows the stories of New Zealand nurses during the 1st World War as they serve in Egypt and France. There are two main characters but the book covers many others in passing – and some who die when their ship is torpedoed. It is quite horrible in places and sobering to read what the young women had to endure. It also discusses the horror of the Spanish influenza outbreak. It was awful that some of the deaths were caused by bad military decision making. There is obviously a huge amount of research behind this book, and occasionally you feel that a few different editors have had their way with the text. But on the whole it is highly recommended.
Written by an award-winning writer, this novel is not easy going - but when I had finished it I thought it was worth the challenge. It follows the stories of a group of women at the time of the cultural revolution in China, and gives a really good idea of what life must have been like during that time. The women, some of them siblings, are very human and they make mistakes and don’t always like each other. It is really interesting the way their lives are affected by their difficult experiences.
Review of The casual vacancy / J.K. Rowling.
Set in a small UK town this adult novel is centred around the in- fighting and jostling for position when a vacancy on the local council occurs after a sudden death. A grim insight at times into modern life.
Review of The secret river / Kate Grenville.
The Secret River is part of a trilogy about early Australia (along with The Lieutenant and Sarah Thornhill). It's set in the early nineteenth century, on what was then the frontier: the Hawkesbury River, fifty miles beyond Sydney. It depicts early convict life in Sydney . The Secret River won the Commonwealth Prize for Literature; the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction (the NSW Premier's Prize); the Community Relations Commission Prize; the Booksellers' Choice Award; the Fellowship of Australian Writers Prize and the Publishing Industry Book of the Year Award. It was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and the Man Booker Prize and longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin prize.
Four half sisters discover each other after their mutual father dies ( the girls were born to four different mothers). The children get to know each other through the tapes the father has made before his death, over the course of a year. The book is about revenge and anger by the mothers particularly and how it affects the daughters.
Review of The chaperone / Laura Moriarty.
Beautifully written and easy to read. Set in 1922 Cora is sent to chaperone a 15 year old to a dance course in New York. The young woman Louise Brooks is a real character (she became a silent movie star). The book is really about Cora and how her attitudes change particularly around ‘coloured’ people. We as readers feel the clash of her values when she moves cities. The book follows Cora to the end of her life and as she is such an interesting character the book is a great read.
Review of Catching the current / Jenny Pattrick.
A companion book to Denniston Rose and Heart of Coal, this book focuses on Conrad Rasmussen. It is about the Faroe Islands and Denmark’s connection with early New Zealand.
Review of Life of Pi : a novel / Yann Martel.
This book follows the experiences of a young boy whose father is a zoo keeper in India and the shipwreck that occurs during the transportation of zoo animals from India to Canada. The boy finds himself on a lifeboat with a tiger, zebra and hyena. The book is about the journey. The reviewer loved this book, the tiger Richard Parker and the movie as well.
Review of An object of beauty / Steve Martin.
Written by the well-known actor this novel is about art and forgery, substitution, theft and copying. It include illustrations of important art work which the reviewer enjoyed learning about.
Not an unkind depiction of elderly men but it shows men as becoming a bit strange as they grow older. It believes that behind every dopey man there is a sensible women (there is not as yet an equivalent book about elderly women). It can be read in one sitting and is comedic rather than serious.
Review of The complete Maus
This book is in a graphic format and although in comic format is not humorous .The author interviews his Polish Jewish father - his experiences leading up to and during the holocaust. The Jews/prisoners are depicted as mice, the SS and German military as cats, the French frogs, Poles pigs and the British as dogs. The reviewer lived in Europe through this period and found the book to be very believable. The author gained a Pulitzer prize with this book and has been nominated for other awards. The reviewer says it would be excellent for school children to understand why World War Two began. It is used as a textbook in Germany. It can be read in one sitting. It is not for the faint hearted.
Review of Backfire / Catherine Coulter.
This is the 18th FBI thriller by this author. It centres on the death of a computer specialist. The judge for the trial is then shot and survives but is attacked again whilst recovering in hospital. There is a twist in the tale at the end. Extremely goos and hard to put down.
Set in 12th century Japan, the story tells of a girl sold by her family for a needed piece of farm land, and her subsequent growing up in a variety of settings over which she has little control. Because of good omens she is permitted to train as a samurai. There is much in this book about samurai training, what people wore, ate, their homes, the behaviour codes they lived by, etc. I couldn’t make my mind up whether it was a well-researched historical study or whether it was a variation of the Mills and Book format. It was quite long and the story felt quite drawn out for me.
Review of The swimmer / by Roma Tearne.
Ria, a poet, lives alone and is lonely. She happens upon a young man swimming in the river by her house – a Sri Lankan doctor who is seeking asylum in the UK. A simple story but one that becomes very complex as it discussed people who are not able to be ‘home’ and who are trying to make a life in an alien place. It is told from three points of view – and to say who tells the other two sections is to spoil the plot. The Swimmer is about people and worlds colliding – about how we deal with grief and where we find solace. Tearne herself fled Sri Lanka with her family when she was 10 so it is a heart-felt read.
This is one of the best books I have ever read! Harman is a midwife and has written non-fiction books on the subject, and it is interesting that all the testimonials about this book are by professionals in midwifery – not novelists. This fictionalised account is of her life as a midwife working in the Appalachians in the back of beyond – often with no power or running water. I was totally drawn into the descriptions of place and time. The midwife works with an African American assistant and gets on the wrong side of the KKK. I finished it and started at the beginning again – great!
I quietly chuckled the whole way through this autobiographical account. Phinn had a range of professional roles – all in the teaching area – he was a teacher, school inspector etc. This book covers such a lot of subjects in a professional, simple and amusing manner. Great.
Review of The help / Kathryn Stockett.
The Help deals with the treatment of African American maids in Jackson Mississippi during segregation. Some of the maids are encouraged by a young white University graduate to tell their stories of their plight. There were some terrible things in the book but I felt that it was probably quite accurate.
This is the final Wallander book and finds him interfering where he shouldn’t once again – this time discovering cold war espionage from the 1980s regarding Russian subs moving into Swedish waters. He is suffering from health problems and bouts of senility so his ‘proper’ work is suffering while he is off looking into other matters – and eventually he deteriorates into Alzheimer’s. Many people hate the deterioration end to Wallander but I think I agree with those who say it is a brilliant depiction of the deterioration of old age. It is thoroughly enjoyable and Mankell once again deals with difficult social issues.
Review of The Land of Decoration / Grace McCleen.
I really loved this book, even though I wasn’t sure what to make of the ‘magical’ elements. Ten year old Judith feels guilty about the death of her mother in child birth, and lives an isolated life with her grieving father and with no friends, in part due to their belonging to a tight religious sect. Judith has a great imagination and begins to believe she is controlling the world from her bedroom. It is a great exploration of how children internalise grief and make sense of their world. Judith is such a wonderful character!
I really enjoyed this book – Rukhsana, a female journalist, is suffering under the Taliban regime in Afghanistan. She sees a way out when the Taliban announce a cricket tournament to try to gain acceptance by joining the ICC. She (in disguise) decides to coach a team of her family and friends in the hope of the team winning and being able to travel out of the country – hence gaining freedom for herself and her brother and cousin. She especially wants out when she starts being pursued by the Minster of the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice – who believes women should only be seen in the home or in the grave. There is an element of the thriller in the story – and it is actually inspired by the promotion of cricket in Afghanistan – where of course women are banned from playing. It is a great read, even if Murari occasionally loses his ‘voice’ as the woman journalist.
Review of A reliable wife / Robert Goolrick.
Readers seem to either love or hate this book. Set in the early 1900s in Chicago a man advertises for ‘a reliable wife’. His ad is responded to by a woman representing herself as something quite different from who she is. They end up marrying, but it transpires she isn’t the only partner misrepresenting themselves. He wants her to find his long lost son – which she does with interesting results. I can understand why it is such a polarising novel, I didn’t like any of the characters. But I thought it was beautifully written and on the whole I think I loved it.
This novel deals with the division of India and I quickly felt out of my depth and had to do some research! Hensher, who was at one time voted best young British novelist, has a partner who was born in Dhaka (then Dacca) and it is his voice in the novel. It is told from the point of view of a child born into the bloody civil war, and talks about the oppression of the East Bengalis. Even though they had their own language, literature and poetry his grandfather hid his Bengali poetry as they were not allowed to speak or write in Bengali but forced to use Urdu. The narrator is born into a big family and his father and grandfather were lawyers. The narrative seamlessly flows back and forth in time, so seamlessly that I sometimes didn’t notice and got confused. Scenes from early life is neither a memoir, novel or history of the time - Hensher has created something greater than all of these. It was a fascinating read.
Review of Snake ropes / Jess Richards.
Set on an island just off the map, with inhabitants that have their own peculiar economy and beliefs, Snake Ropes is an extraordinary novel. I almost gave up a couple of times, it all seemed too odd and unexplained, but I am glad I kept going. The story is told by two young girls in alternating chapters – one girl from the island and the other from a family who moved there to ‘get away’ – but from what? It is full of allusions and inexplicable attitudes but all manages to come together in the end. Although it is quite fanciful there was a stage of my reading when it all seemed incredibly tangible and real. A very interesting debut novel.
Set in 1941 New York and Washington post Pearl Harbour, the story follows Claire Shipley a photojournalist with Time-Life magazine. One of her assignments leads her to a ward where penicillin is being tested on patients dying from infection. The US has entered the war and the government is anxious to save the lives of US soldiers and is observing the development of penicillin very carefully . This is a gripping and excellent novel covering drama, science, murder, espionage and romance.
This is a delightfully read and beautifully written story set in the 1920s. The story begins in a gloomy club in Hampstead on a rainy day. Two women who have never met before are reading the Times newspaper and are drawn to an advertisement headed ‘Wisteria and sunshine’ about a villa for rent in San Salvatore, Italy. The story develops from there transforming the lives of four women who eventually rent the property for a month.
Review of Dear life : stories / by Alice Munro.
Another lovely collection of short stories by Alice Munro. The last few felt like a bit of a swan song they are so autobiographical. The stories are set in small town rural Ontario and she is such a keen observer of life. Recommended.
This book is crammed with all sorts of fascinating facts: why English town are where they are, why train tracks are the gauge they are, the fact that England is the 6th most densely populated country in the world … It covers geological and meteorological facts as well; all of England is south of Invercargill in latitude! It is a little gem of a book.
Review of On a Saturday night : community halls of small-town New Zealand / Michele Frey and Sara Newman with Anna Rogers ; photography by John Maillard and John O'Malley.
This is a very important book, a great piece of social history. It documents the history of various community halls around New Zealand, their building, activities, disasters and re-builds. It is well done and has great illustrations.
Review of Crafty girls' road trip : New Zealand's best craft places, plus 10 craft projects / Ann Packer.
This is great! A guide to the best craft shops, antique shops, farmers’ markets and cafes all over New Zealand. It is well illustrated and would make a great gift.
This book is over 600 pages long but is a great murder mystery and doesn’t feel too long at all. Two women are found murdered in Oslo with odd puncture wounds inside their mouths. A police woman travels to Hong Kong to drag Harry Hole out of the opium dens in that city to help solve the crime – as he is an expert on serial killers. The story ranges all over the world, including Rwanda and Uganda and has a real international feel. The plot is wonderfully complex; this was my first Harry Hole novel but I will be reading more!
This book was a real surprise – it is a small book, a light read and funny in places – but is also an extremely enjoyable look at a serious subject. Tracing the literal history of the ‘scapegoat’ back to ancient Jewish ritual, it traces our instinctive drive to always find someone to blame when things go wrong. It looks at the scapegoats of religion and politics through the ages to recent times. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Alone in Berlin was written in 1947. It is fictional but is obviously based on Fallada’s (pseudonym) own observations. The story is of a husband and wife in Berlin during 6 years including the war and how they resisted the Nazis in any way they could. Their story must have been duplicated many times all over Germany. It is a fascinating look at how people cope in horrible circumstances, and how they makes choices to stay true to their beliefs even when knowing the possible consequences. It got quite harrowing as defeat approached.
Bailey came down with a mysterious virus that kept her bedridden. She had time to observe a snail that had taken up residence in a pot plant near her bed – literally hearing it as it went about its business. This book is a memoir of an illness and a great piece of natural history writing.
Review of Longshot
Written in 1991 Longshot is about a travel writer who has written books about surviving in difficult circumstances. Having decided to write a second novel while his first one is still to be published, he is short of money. When he has to leave his flat things don’t look good. He is offered a job writing the life story of a horse trainer but has an accident while he is being driven through the snow on the way to the assignment. Using his survival skills he gets himself and his companions through – only to become the target when someone seems to want him dead. A light read and not one of Francis’ best but good nevertheless.
Review of Resistance / Owen Sheers.
It is 1944 and in this version of history the women of a Welsh village wake to find their husbands gone. The women have to take over the village and farms but winter makes this very hard. A group of Nazis have mysteriously arrived in the valley and both groups survive by cooperating. It transpires that the Nazis have taken over half of Britain and the men have disappeared to become part of the resistance movement. In part based on actual preparations that were made in case of an invasion – it is a good read and has been made into a film of the same name.
Review of The elegance of the hedgehog / Muriel Barbery ; translated from the French by Alison Anderson.
I came to this book late and I thoroughly enjoyed it. It is about life’s small miniscule pleasures and not judging anybody superficially. Rene, the middle aged concierge who is secretly cultured, and Paloma the twelve year old who decides she is not going to go past 13 are such wonderful characters.
This is a book about a really interesting character – Julia Child. It is a book you can put down and leave for a while and then pick up again. Julia Child was big – in stature as well as character – and I would love to have seen her cookery shows. Well brought up and educated she and her husband went to Paris (they both loved France) where she fought to be trained as a chef. She was a perfectionist – making 2-300 bowls of onion soup to produce a good onion soup. There are no recipes in the book, and I am not interesting in cooking, but I enjoyed reading about her.
These essays, developed over a number of years, are about New Zealand characters, mainly from the South Island. They are great characters. I already knew of quite a few of them but learnt new interesting details of their lives and lifestyles. Hindmarsh has a good writing style – recommended.
The Baghdad Railway Club is set in Iraq during the 1st World War. In 1903 Germany had set up a Berlin to Baghdad rail route to fuel its war effort. A train spotter and railway official is posted to Baghdad towards the end of the War and gets embroiled in a gentle murder mystery. It really resonates when you read it today as so many of the places are the locations of current bloody conflicts. I liked it so much I went looking for other books by the same author.
The Queen’s vow is not an easy read – it tells of the reign of Isabella of Spain – including all the horrors of the inquisition. Awful – but I think it doesn’t hurt to put yourself through this sort of thing every now and again!
Review of Call the midwife : a true story of the East End in the 1950s / Jennifer Worth ; clinical editor, Terri Coates.
This is an excellent book about the practice of midwifery in England in the 50’s – following the story of a young midwife working with an order of nursing nuns in London’s crowded East End. It is an eye opener and is the basis of the TV programme of the same name.
Review of Great journeys : travel the world's most spectacular routes / [written by Andrew Bain ... [et al.]].
This is the ultimate coffee table book. Great Journeys is divided into sections such as overland, rail, trade routes … It is beautifully illustrated and has lots about the history of each region. It also has travel guide type information and best spots to visit in each place, with references to relevant books and DVDs etc – so you can armchair travel next to your coffee table! Excellent.
Review of All the commissioner's men / Chris Birt.
This is a very good book – often quoting directly from the Commissioner’s hearing into the Police’s handling of the Crewe Murder case. Muldoon set up the enquiry after an ex-member of the police had informed one of his Ministers that the Police had planted evidence to help convict Arthur Allan Thomas. This book is a very easy read but it doesn’t pull any punches in exposing Police corruption. It shows how difficult it was getting at the truth with Policemen perjuring themselves to protect each other. It is interesting that the woman who was the baby in the case has recently contacted John Key about starting an enquiry to find out who did kill her parents.
Review of Narcopolis / Jeet Thayil.
Narcopolis is on the Man Booker short list and has had rave reviews – it is a meandering tale about characters who hang out at a Bombay opium den, and it has a bit of a murder mystery thrown in. It is a good piece of writing but I didn’t find it as engaging as I thought I would and on the whole I found it disappointing.
Review of Toby's room / Pat Barker.
I loved Barker's the Regeneration Trilogy and was so looking forward to reading another book by Pat Barker about the first world war. For me the best sections of the book were those dealing with St Mary’s hospital, and the treating of facial disfigurement by pioneers like Gillies. But the framing story of the book wasn’t strong enough, and the ‘reveal’ was weak. There is no denying she is a great writer, and it is an interesting read, but not nearly as engrossing as her other books.
Review of The barbed-wire university : the real lives of allied prisoners of war in the Second World War / Midge Gillies.
This is a wonderful book about how men survived as prisoners of war during the Second World War; how they maintained their sanity and managed their boredom. It made me weep in places, especially reading about the German and Japanese attitudes towards their prisoners. It was inspirational - one man became a well-known artist after the war due to what he learned in the camps. The Red Cross spent 52 million pounds on packages to keep the men well, both physically and mentally, with sports equipment etc included in their parcels. Most parcels got through to the men in most camps, but not those held in Japanese camps. This book was written by a woman whose father has been a POW and it is written in such a believable way; highly recommended.
Review of A humble companion / Laurie Graham.
This is a great book – with lots of good historical research behind it. The fiction is that the daughter of a steward is chosen as a suitable companion to Princess Sophia, one of George 3rd’s children. The two girls become close friends and the device allows you to see the huge differences between their lives – and to see the history of the tumultuous times as seen through the eyes of the ‘humble companion’.
Review of The girl on the stairs / Louise Welsh.
I have loved all of Louise Welsh’s previous thrillers but I found this one too simple and really disappointing.
Review of Inheritance / Jenny Pattrick.
Inheritance is a dark tale set in Samoa and in New Zealand. The story is told from different viewpoints – excellent!
Review of Getting out of the house / Isla Dewar.
This is a humorous look at family relationships and the action moves between London and Edinburgh. It is a good escape book, the characters seem so real they could be living next door!
Connelly travels to all the shipping areas in the UK – based on the shipping forecasts – and gives a history of all the areas; shipwrecks, people etc. it is quite funny in places but overall I found it too long and a bit heavy going.
A lovely continuation of a biography of Judi Dench – told by her. She comes across as a lovely humble woman. The life of an actress sounds very hard! I loved this book – I was still reading at midnight as I couldn’t put it down.
Review of One last summer / Catrin Collier.
A woman from East Prussia is born into the nobility. Through war her family is dispossessed and she ends up falling in love and becoming pregnant to a Russian Prisoner of War. There are some horrendous things described in the book, but it is a good story and has some interesting factual history behind it.
Review of The secret mandarin / Sara Sheridan.
Set in Victorian times the Secret Mandarin turns on men going out to China from England trying to smuggle back Chinese tea plants. One such man has a sister in law who gets into trouble in England and is sent off to India in disgrace – but she shares a vessel with the brother in law and they both end up in Hong Kong and then mainland China – illicit romance ensues. It is a simple tale but has lots of interesting information about the fascinating life of the times. The British are not shown in a glowing light!
Review of The rise and fall of Alexandria : birthplace of the modern mind / Justin Pollard and Howard Reid.
I thought this book would be too dry for me – claiming to be a history of the birthplace of the modern world. But it was an absolute romp! From Alexander the Great born in 356 BC through to the founding of Alexandria and the gathering together of all the knowledge of the known world into the library and museum of Alexandria – funded from the grain of the fertile Nile Valley. And what knowledge it was – anatomy, geography, mathematics, the movement of the solar system. And then there was the incest, the marching of huge armies, the endless murders of Ptolemys and the impact of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra! A great read.
Review of Evelyn Waugh the complete short stories.
I loved these stories – they are not belly-laugh funny but they are quirky and easy reading, and quite satirical. Clive James says Waugh is in a direct line from Shakespeare and Dickens in terms of great English writers – I agree.
Review of Atlas of remote islands : fifty islands I have never set foot on and never will / Judith Schalansky ; translated from the German by Christine Lo.
Schalansky was always fascinated by maps, and here she presents maps of remote islands she hasn't, and never will, set foot on. Each island has a double page spread, with the map and a history of the island. It is a fascinating and beautiful book.
Written by Anne de Courcy, a great English social historian, the Fishing Fleet is about the huge numbers of women who travelled to India from the UK in the late 19th Century in search of a husband. Once married they often ended up in remote areas having to deal with very different lives from those they left in England. A great read.
Review of The fate of the species : why the human race may cause its own extinction and how we can stop it / Fred Guterl.
Such an interesting book about all the ways that researchers can stuff up our world! I had to have a breather half way through it was so depressing. But I did finish it; it is a very readable book and the science is explained in a very easy way.
Review of Skylark / Jenny Pattrick.
Another historical novel about New Zealand by Jenny Pattrick – this time about the theatre. I was disappointed – I didn’t find is nearly as engaging as her other books; the characters weren’t as ‘rounded’. I much prefer her other books – which are great.
This is Mantel’s 7th novel, published in 1995, and is written with the same wonderful descriptions and portrayal of place as her award winning Wolf Hall, but the setting is very different. Set in the 1960s it follows the inner life of Carmel McBain a young Catholic girl in a Northern England Mill town and later when she moves to 1970s London for further study. Her relationship with friends Karina and Julianne are vividly described. Beautifully written and told ( I am listening to it on Talking Book). Highly recommended.
This is book number 17 in the Jack Reacher series. It starts off with a great idea – JR is picked up by seemingly ordinary office workers when hitching to Virginia. Things go downhill from there as the identity of the passengers and driver are revealed. As with the other books in the series the writing is sparse, fast-moving and easy to read but I lost interest halfway through. In the end there is the inevitable shoot out scene against the bad guys and Reacher lives another day. Disappointing.
Written by a woman who lived for two years in the slums of Mumbai. Told as the story of Abdul, who lives in the slums near a sewage pond with his family – who on-sell recyclable garbage for a living. Boo was taken so much by the resilience of the Indian people living in such horrible circumstances that she has since travelled to other places where people cope with extreme hardship.
Eek! What a weird and wonderful little book. Quite horrible and you have to piece together what is going on. Two children have been raised by a disturbed father on their isolated estate and the book is a weird narration by one of them of what happens when the father dies. A short and unique read – and an extraordinary bit of translation from the French.
A woman and her daughter come across a dead body floating in the river – and it all unravels from there. This is the first in the Inspector Sejer series, but has only just been translated from the Norwegian. It is a great mystery – full of twists and turns and enough information for you to guess (often incorrectly)what is going on. Sejer is a great character and works at a slow pace, which works well against the tension of the crime and those suspected of it.
Across a Bridge of Dreams is a love story set against the backdrop of Meiji Era Japan. It is a story of warring clans – where the woman, Taka, is the daughter of General Kitaoka, whose character is based on the Satsuma leader Saigo Takamori, and the man, Nobu, is a member of the defeated Northern clan, Aizu. When the various victorious Southern clans split and some rise up against those in power - the Satsuma rebellion - the Northern tribes have an official way of avenging their defeat. Caught up amongst the rising and falling fortunes of their clans and the battles are Taka and Nobu. A simple love tale but set in such an interesting time and place.
Review of The secrets of the notebook : a royal love affair and a woman's quest to uncover her incredible family secret / Eve Haas.
This is a true story about a Jewish woman trying to find out her family’s historical secrets. Her family left Germany prior to the Second World War. They moved to the UK, and others of her family followed, although they left behind a beloved grandmother. When she was 16 her father gave her a notebook, on the flyleaf of which was a message from a Prussian Prince. She wants to know the provenance and significance of the inscription but her parents are reluctant to say. When her parents die, and she is in her 40s, she goes back to East Berlin to search for the truth. It takes ages to discover the secret, as she hits barriers all the way. She finds that the secret has been kept in the family for generations, and that tragedy has ensued. She was lucky she had a very supportive husband, as it was a long search. It is so fascinating – a true mystery, and interesting those who wanted to help her and those who refused.
This is a well researched book about the history of ‘neighbours’. Going back to the 1600s in London, it describes the appearance of ‘lean-tos’ against church walls that developed up and out into communities. There were even pig farms in amongst it all, and effluent ran through the bottom story hovels. Through the following decades through to the first world war Cockayne describes claustrophobic housing arrangements where neighbours knew each others’ business. It is a darn good read, and explains how people can feel miserable in modern housing estates where they are kept separate to safeguard their ‘privacy’.
Review of A land more kind than home / Wiley Cash.
The author writes about his own landscape – rural North Carolina, where there is strong belief in God, and the local church is run by an ex-convict turned preacher who uses live rattlesnakes as part of his sermons. The story involves the ‘accidental manslaughter’ of a mute autistic boy while being ‘healed’ by the preacher. It is told from 3 viewpoints – the victim’s younger brother Jess, the community’s matron and former midwife, and the local sheriff. I thought it was a good read, depicting the way family members cope when one of them is ‘different’, and also the impact a charismatic but amoral and crooked preacher can have on a whole community.
Review of Charles Dickens at home / Hilary Macaskill ; special photography by Graham Salter ; [foreword by Florian Schweizer].
This is a biographical look at Dickens, but a pictorial one so not as ‘heavy’ as a full biography. It is arranged chronologically and is fascinating, as much of Dickens’ writing was set in domestic settings. Most of the houses he lived in are still standing.
At 42 Jacobs decided to turn himself into a paradigm of health and vitality body part by body part. He tries lots of methods, physical and dietary – which was quite a challenge over 2 years when he had 3 sons under 6. It is an amusing read – and he keeps you appraised of his progress throughout.
Review of Vera Brittain a feminist life
This is an interesting read about an English feminist and pacifist. She had a great relationship with Winifred Holtby, and they travelled widely together. Brittain was lucky to have the means to travel; and although she enjoyed motherhood, her kids were brought up by nannies. One of her daughters is Shirley Williams, the British politician and academic who became a Labour MP and Cabinet Minister.
A fascinating story – Rumer Godden was born in India of English parents and she married in India. When her marriage failed she took her daughters into the hills of Kashmir and lived there until a servant tried to poison her and her family. She left India and moved to England. She always knew she wanted to be a writer. Her book Black Narcissus was a huge success in both England and America. She had an incredibly long career and lived through lots of interesting social changes.
A Canadian couple have beautiful twin girls after a series if miscarriages. They are beautiful girls but one is diagnosed as autistic. Carly has never spoken, but a breakthrough occurred when she started communicating via a laptop computer. Carly emerges in the book as a sensitive, intelligent girl. It is a wonderful story but I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the parents who have had to put so much effort into one child – and even more sorry for the other little girl.
This book is fantastic – lovely – wonderful – fascinating. Plants that feed, heal, and change the course of history. Highly recommended.
Review of City of hope / Kate Kerrigan.
In the 1930s an Irish woman goes to New York to raise money for her sick husband back in Ireland. When the husband dies she returns to New York, is shocked by the poverty she finds and sets up a commune for the poor. At the end of the book I was surprised to find how much I disliked the main character.
Review of The expected one / Kathleen McGowan.
A US university lecturer travels to France on a book promotion tour and discovers she is the direct descendant of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene (who married, moved to France and had a family). Along the lines of The Da Vinci Code, this book is apparently the result of many years of research on Mary Magdalene.
Review of Kind of cruel / Sophie Hannah.
I have read all of Sophie Hannah’s mysteries prior to this one and loved them all, and would recommend them to anyone. However I was disappointed by Kind of Cruel; it was too far-fetched. Usually I am fascinated by her thoughts – but this novel goes off into philosophical ramblings and hypnotherapy. The point of view is hard to follow – and as different chapters are written from the point of view of different characters I found myself just skipping the particularly boring ones. It was a real shame, as I have been enjoying reading how her investigative team was evolving.
Review of To marry an English Lord / by Gail MacColl and Carol McD. Wallace ; [illustrations by David Cain].
This is a great book about the flood of American heiresses who travelled to England to marry Lords at the turn of the 19/20th century. It follows a group of such women and discusses how the influx of American-raised women affected traditional English society. The book covers fascinating details of their new lives. Totally absorbing.
Review of I am legend / Richard Matheson.
Originally published in 1954, this Vampire novel was infuential for many subsequent horror writers and fim makers – and a few films have been made of this book. It is about a man who is the last living man on earth, but he is not alone ... I had to read it under the covers!
Review of How it all began / Penelope Lively.
This is an easy read and very interesting – it follows the chain of events triggered by a mugging – and the life-altering effects it has on a series of people. It is cleverly constructed.
Review of Anne Boleyn and me / Alison Prince.
I loved this book! It is in the Children’s Library but is great to read. Written in diary form by the daughter of the court jester it is a good decription of Tudor times – which have always fascinated me. The book is illustrated and includes interesting information; I had never heard the theory that Anne Boleyn might have been Rhesus negative – causing problems with most of her pregnancies. This book is simplified and summarised but very informative.
That woman is the story of the marriage of Wallis Simpson and Edward the Duke of Windsor, who abdicated to marry her. I enjoyed it but I did get a bit tired of it after a while. It presents some insights into Edward, he appears to have had arrested development problems, and Wallis Simpson might have done the world a favour stopping him from being King. I got the impression that far from the love story we grew up with the couple were far from happy.
Review of Believing the lie / Elizabeth George.
The seventeenth Inspector Lynley mystery – it feels as though George is being pressured to keep writing them. This time Lynley is asked to look into the death of the son of a Lord, whose drowning may not have been accidental. It is good but not as good as her early Inspector Lynley mysteries.
Review of The slap / Christos Tsiolkas.
I found this book hard to get into, but once I had it was good. It is the book the TV series is based on – set in Australia, a child is slapped at a Bar-B-Q and the story is the fallout this has on the family and their friends – which escalates to a legal court case. I enjoyed it but didn’t like any of the characters – even the child! And the language is very ‘blue’.
A really interesting biography of one of the world’s best writers, who was born into the poverty he decribed so well in his writings. He worked hard, was self-educated, married well and had too many children. It is amazing how he wrote his wonderful novels in weekly installments for the newspapers - sometimes having more than one on the go at the same time,. The book covers his personal life and charity work as well as his writing. Well researched and a good read.
Review of The wild rose / Jennifer Donnelly.
Set in London in 1941 this is a family saga set in the Second World War. I didn’t realise till I had finished it that it is part of a series and I will definitely go back and read the previous volumes.
Review of A thousand tiny truths / Kyo Maclear.
A fictional work of the life of a mixed-race boy, the result of an adulterous affair. He is looked after by a surrogate white father and various women in the UK in the 1960s. His ‘father’ is often off overseas and he is lonley and suffers at school being of mixed parentage. It is a moving story of a child trying to piece together who he is. A lovely read.
Review of A seaside practice : tales of a Scottish country doctor / Tom Smith ; with illustrations by Lesley Anderson.
This is a great book about a Scottish doctor who grew up in England but who goes back to his small impoverished coastal Scottish village to practice. The book is a series of wonderful anecdotes about the quirky and unusual inhabitants (whom he can hardly understand) as seen through his eyes. Compelling reading.
Review of My French affair : how a Kiwi woman found her joie de vivre in the South of France / Amanda Taylor-Ace ; with Ann Rickard.
Another expat moving to France – this time a New Zealander. Nothing new in it and there are better examples of the genre.
Lilla was Osborne’s amazing grandmother who was born in China, married in India, spent time during World War 2 in a Japanese internment camp, and after unsuccessfully trying out life in England returned to China. During her time in the internment camp she kept her sanity by writing out all her old recipes – and these are included in the book. She lived to 101 and this is a great read about an extraordinary woman. Highly recommended.
Review of The happiest refugee : the extraordinary true story of a boy's journey from starvation at sea to becoming one of Australia's best-loved comedians / Anh Do.
This is a light read but an amazing story. Anh Do is an Australian comedian who arrived in Australia as boy on a Vietnamese refugee boat. The Happiest Refugee gives good insights into life on the refugee boats as well as the hardships of starting a life in a new country - I was really impressed by how very hard his mother worked to give him a new start.
A series of very gentle mystery stories, all woven together and all set in a small village in 1950’s England. The unraveller of the mysteries is the canon of the village church, torn between solving mysteries and serving his parishioners. Delightful and fortunately the 1st in a series of 6.
Set in 1966 on Stephens Island, this is a great read about the place and period: Aplin had to shop two weeks in advance, as all groceries were delivered. And groceries, supplies and people all went ashore by crane! It was an interesting view of the Marine Department too, and the families that ‘manned’ the lighthouses.
Review of Open : an autobiography / Andre Agassi.
I don’t follow tennis and didn’t know anything about Andre Agassi but I totally enjoyed this autobiography. The writing is so accessible and I just wanted to keep reading and reading. It was a very honest autobiography.
Review of The Complaints / Ian Rankin.
I have decided I like Malcolm Fox more than I like Inspector Rebus! Fox is set the task to investigate a fellow policeman in the ‘Complaints’ department. Set in Scotland the feel of the place is captured well. There are some good twists in the plot, although it might have gone on a bit too long towards the end.
This is an unusual novel written by a New Zealander about Internet addiction. Set in the real world, a mother father and son are all living isolated lives in cyberspace. All three are grieving over the death of a son and brother (who died in a previous book). The father ends up cyber stalking the son in his “Life of Lore" second life world. It was a really interesting read.
Review of The quality of mercy / Barry Unsworth.
Set in 1767 The Quality of Mercy is a complex tale involving coal mining and the slave trade. A scandal at sea comes to court years later after the survivors of a shipwrecked slave ship have been tracked down in Florida. One of the main characters, who is trying to regain his father’s fortune, is the son of the disgraced slave ship owner, who has committed suicide. I learned a lot about the atrocious conditions of the slaves, and how they were assumed to be belongings not people. There is an interesting romantic theme at one stage where the sister of an abolitionist is attracted to the ship owner. There is also a theme of a crew member travelling home to a coal mining town to tell a shipmates’ family how he died. Complex but compelling reading.
Another murder case in secluded Three Pines, readers of the previous Bury Your Dead will easily slip back into this sequel. A good murder mystery, not quite as good as the first for me, but still full of interesting characters and comments on the art world. Can be read as a stand-alone but I would recommend reading Bury Your Dead first.
Review of Dead line / Stella Rimington.
Knowing Stella Rimington was the head of MI5 makes her novels interesting and kind of ‘awful’, as she really must know what goes on. This is the second in the Liz Carlisle series and is set in Gleneagles in Scotland just before a peace summit. It has all the elements and plot twists of a good thriller as well as a dash of romance.
Review of The cello suites : [JS Bach, Pablo Casals and the search for a baroque masterpiece] / Eric Siblin.
This is a study of Bach’s Cello Suites, Pablo Casals’ promotion of them and the author’s fascination with them. Each chapter is based on one of the suites, and having a musical background would help in reading the book, but would not be essential. It was a very interesting read.
Review of This is life / Dan Rhodes.
One of the best things about this book is the beautiful fold out cover! It is a quirky tale of an art student in Paris, laid out according to the French days of the week. A very interesting writer.
This is a beautifully presented book and great to dip into. The author’s travels through the French countryside are lavishly illustrated by her paintings. An exquisite book full of interesting snippets of information.
Review of The last Chinese chef / Nicole Mones.
I really enjoyed this book: delicious descriptions of Chinese cookery (the old Imperial style) and a bit of a mystery and a bit of romance. A widowed journalist discovers there is a paternity claim against her deceased husband from China, where he often went on business trips. She gets a commission to do an article for her magazine in China and travels to seek out the child. The article is about a Chinese/American chef who has returned to China to find his culinary roots. All the elements of a good story, and a fair bit of the cultural philosophy of food thrown in for good measure.
Review of Chance is a fine thing : a memoir by writer, mountaineer, campaigner, explorer and historian Philip Temple.
This is a really interesting life story of a New Zealand writer, whose work I have known for years. I had no idea what an interesting life he has led! Originally from Yorkshire, Temple traces his story from there and talks of his domineering mother, his move to New Zealand, his various relationships, his decision to be a writer etc. He spent time in Berlin as well, and one of his books To Each His Own is about his Berlin years.
Review of A perfectly good man / Patrick Gale.
A perfectly good man is a really well written account of the life of an Anglican vicar – whose memories are sparked by the suicide of a young parishioner after a tragic rugby accident. In his reminiscences he questions what goodness in a person really is.
Based on his radio series of the same name, History of the World in 100 Objects talks about MacGregor’s selection of objects that make us who we are. The objects all come from the British Museum and now there is a website following the idea. It is such a neat concept, and really well realised.
This is not a gripping book, it isn’t really a biography that gives you any insight in Heyer as a person. It just talks about her prolific output right from when she got her first book published at age 19. From a very monied background and of Jewish Russian descent, Heyer just missed out on being ‘Victorian’ by one year. Overall it was quite interesting but it is not a good biography.
A wonderful tale of Becker’s Bridal Shop, in a small Michigan town. Started in the 1920’s the shop has remained in the same family and over the years has transformed the town, with people coming from all over the States to visit the shop. The book tells stories through the generations of the owners, the staff, and the customers. It is also a social history (in the 1920’s it took an hour to choose and fit a bridal dress, now it takes about 19 hours) and a history of changing commercial practice (sadly the shop is struggling now with people going in for dress selection and fittings but then buying over the Internet). The small town story felt relevant to New Zealand for me.
Hoggart is a journalist and A Long Lunch is a series of anecdotes about people in the UK, mainly politicians. He talks about himself too, in a very unassuming way. Some of his stories are quite amusing – Margaret Thatcher has absolutely no sense of humour apparently. It is easy reading and a good insight into what some of the people he interviews have to do to get their respective jobs done. It is a good book to dip into before going to sleep at night.
A dour Scandinavian story set in working-class Oslo. I didn’t like it one bit it was so bleak.
This is my favourite book, it is so beautiful. The story of two women coming to terms with loss and finding in each other a way forward. Each chapter starts with a stanza from a Swedish song.
Review of The retribution / Val McDermid.
A further episode involving Dr Tony Hill, clinical psychologist, and Detective Carol Jordan. Evil criminal Jacko Vance escapes from jail and is focussed on wreaking revenge on these two who put him inside ten years earlier. The consequences are a rift between the two main characters that may not be easily resolved by the author in an inevitable sequel.
Review of Celebrity cat recipes / Joe Bennett.
This collection of Bennett’s newspaper articles has no cats in it, and no recipes. It is full of his quirky humour and unusual way of looking at things. The collection is thoroughly entertaining.
Review of Hunting blind / Paddy Richardson.
How a little girl’s going missing effects her family for years after the disappearance - especially the sister who was supposed to be looking out for her. It is very psychological in its approach, which I really liked. I also liked the style of writing, it is easy to read and in short chapters - I found myself reading slowly as I wanted to enjoy it for longer.
Review of Sanctuary line / Jane Urquhart.
An entomologist goes back to live in her aunt and uncle's house in Southern Ontario, where she studies monarch butterflies and uncovers historical family secrets. It is lovely writing and full of nostalgia.
Review of The brain that changes itself : stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science / Norman Doidge.
A comforting discussion of neuroplasticity and how a damaged brain can re-learn due to flexible neural pathways. A fascinating scientific book.
A thoroughly enjoyable book about criminal investigation in the 1860’s. A young boy’s body is found, and a woman is charged, released, and then after she confesses is sent to prison for life. Scotland Yard’s finest, Detective-Inspector Whicher, has suspicions about the confession but is stymied by the limits of investigative powers existing at the time (i.e. not being able to interview anyone not of lower class). A fascinating true life murder mystery.
Review of The chamber / by Howard Gordon.
This engaging thriller deals with cassava processing, threats of terrorist activity to rival that of 9/11 and a diplomat and an FBI agent partnering up to save the world. It is full of lively action and suspense.
Review of Amiria : the life story of a Maori woman / Amiria Manutahi Stirling ; as told to Anne Salmond.
This book is a transcript of taped interviews with Amiria Stirling and traces her life right through from her rebellious childhood on the East Coast of the North Island north of Gisborne. The book is full of photographs. What comes through is a lovely outlook on life and a great insight into what was important to the community she grew up in. I think everyone should read it.
Review of Hear our voices, we entreat : the extraordinary story of New Zealand's national anthems / Max Cryer ; foreword by Kiri Te Kanawa.
This is the history of our national anthem and I think it should be made compulsory reading. It is a good read and counters many of the criticisms about our national song by explaining that it is hardly ever sung at the right tempo – it is a march. It is often sung too much like a hymn with too many grace notes etc. I admit the words are a bit archaic, but it was written in 1876 after all. The book is full of interesting facts: God Save the Queen (our other anthem) is a waltz, and God Defend New Zealand is hard for men to sing, as men top out at Middle D and much of the anthem is higher than that. I think if it was sung at the right tempo and a few of the older words were modernised everyone would agree it is a great anthem.
Set along an isolated stretch of the West Coast of the North Island, The Kindness of Your Nature is about the unlikely relationship between a Swedish doctor, Marion and a small boy, Ika. It is a book about searching and healing and is just lovely, a stunning novel.
Review of The white tiger / Aravind Adiga.
Winner of the 2008 Man Booker Prize, The White Tiger is a story about power and corruption in modern India. A clever man (rare as a white tiger) looks back on his rise through the geographical and political darknesses of rural and urban India.
Review of The lie of the land / Rhonda Bartle.
This was such a good read – short but really good. A 45 year old woman has a phone call one morning that changes her life – the father of her son – who kidnapped him and took him to Australia some twenty years before - has died. This is the story of the woman and her son, reunited after 20 years and both trying to come to terms with what has happened. Set around Lake Ferry, it is so good. Bartle has only written two books and both have won prizes.
Review of Opportunity / Charlotte Grimshaw.
This book is a series of linked short stories. You really had to concentrate and it took some perseverance to work your way through them – and I am not altogether sure if it was worth it.
Review of Colonial tears and sweat : the working class in nineteenth-century New Zealand / Julia Millen.
This is such an interesting book about such an interesting topic. It was disappointing however that it was so badly referenced, especially as whole sections had been cribbed from other sources.
Review of Fleur : the life and times of pioneering restauranteur Fleur Sullivan / [Fleur Sullivan] with Natalie Brown ; new photography by Aaron McLean.
I really really liked this book. The autobiography of an amazing woman, 72 years old and recalling a passionate life including the building up of her famous restaurant. Well illustrated and with the occasional recipe – a great read.
Following on from the 'Informationist' this is an absolutely fascinating book with a great heroine. The story, which occasionally refers back to the first book, centres on a young girl taken from a cult but then kidnapped again by that cult. Michael, the ‘informationist’, is tasked with extracting her once again.
How time (the goon squad) affects a group of people, who are all interlinked in some way. The novel has a fresh approach to language, characterisation, narrative and format which keeps the reader totally engaged.
Review of The year after / Martin Davies.
The privileged life of Hannesford Court post World War 1 as observed by the book's protaganist, a returned soldier. He is an outsider, who perhaps never really understands what is really happening in the house. A satisfying read
Another very funny book by Bryson. This time it is his memoirs - growing up in Iowa.
Review of The conductor / Sarah Quigley.
A historical novel about the siege of Leningrad and Shostakovich's 7th symphony. The cold, hunger and terror of the times is beautifully evoked - the words match the evocation of the music.
A wonderful read. The true story of how Ned met Katina in Crete during WW2 and returned post-war to bring her back to NZ as his wife. The wartime story (2/3 of the book) and the NZ story are both fascinating. Katina, not speaking English, soon established herself as a key figure in the Greek community in Wellington.
Review of A suitable boy
The story of Lata's family's quest to find a "suitable boy". The novel explores the society and politics of India of the period in the framework of a love story : land reform, post partition politics, Hindu/Muslim relations, the position of Muslim women etc.. It is long, but never dull.
Review of The reading promise : my father and the books we shared / Alice Ozma ; foreword by Jim Brozina.
A lovely book. A father and daughter make a promise to each other to read aloud to each other for 100 nights after the daughters 8th(?) birthday. It is such a success they extend this to 10 years. These are the stories they shared as their relationship developed over the 10 years. A booklist is included.
Review of Rosie's war : an Englishwoman's escape from occupied France / Rosemary Say & Noel Holland.
This is a fascinating story which reveals much about life in Vichy France, as Rosie escapes back to England after a stint as an au pair at the outbreak of World War II. Readers may find Rosie's rather self-centred approach to her situation a distraction.
A fascinating fable covering a few generations of Max Hastings family, and exploring how people overcome their failings. It is very funny is places and features good photos.
Review of Thirteen hours / Deon Meyer.
A thriller which stands out because of its excellent descriptions of contemporary South Africa and the fact that it is set in real-time. All events take place in the 13 hours of the title, which gives a breath-taking pace to the narrative, while not sacrificing the sense of place.
A fast paced criminal investigation into a series of child murders. A first novel by an Italian lawyer, who is an experienced screen writer, which draws on a number of real life US and Italian cases. Excellent characterisation and plot development.
Review of The Oxford history of New Zealand.
A politically correct history. The chapters on pre-settlement New Zealand are disappointing on Maori and Moriori history - the later chapters are more satisfying. There are better histories of New Zealand available.
Review of Maeve Binchy's treasury : over 40 heartwarming stories taken from The return journey and This year it will be different, with five new stories.
A collection of over 40 stories - each cleverly constructed, with believable characters and totally engaging. Some of the stories have appeared in previous publications.
Another Jack Reacher book, which looks back into Reacher's history. Some readers may find this a disappointing addition to the series.
Review of Lady Almina and the real Downton Abbey : the lost legacy of Highclere Castle / by the Countess of Carnarvon.
The "real" Downton Abbey - or how a stately home really functioned. The fascinating story of the people of Highclere Castle.
Review of Quick and the dead : fallen soldiers and their families in the Great War / Richard van Emden.
A selection of letters home from soldiers who fell in WWI. The letters reveal much about the life of the soldiers and the families they left behind and adds a new perspective to writing about the period
Review of The disappearing spoon : and other true tales of madness, love and the history of the world from the periodic table of the elements / Sam Kean.
An introduction to the periodic table through anecdote and biography. The author shares his fascination and wonder at the elements and the people who discovered them.
I have not read the well-reviewed Cloud watchers book, which preceded this work. But now feel tempted to read it. A fascinating study of waves in all their variety, which mixes science with anecdote and fascinating details. Popular science at its best
Review of Shame travels / Jasvinder Sanghera.
The story of the daughter of a Sikh family in Derbyshire who refuses to comply with an arranged marriage and who travels with some friends to her parents’ village in the Punjab to look for her roots. Once there she finds that her family in the UK is in many ways more strict than her family in India. Back home she sets up a help line for men and women wanting to escape arranged marriages.
Review of Hokitika town / Charlotte Randall.
A great story of Hokitika in 1865 as seen through the eyes of the ‘coin boy’ Halfie, who is the result of a Maori/European liaison. Halfie is a great character and his language is funny and really makes the book.
Reminiscences of an interesting life as Ansley and his wife take time out on the French canals. Having pushed his wife’s patience throughout his writing career, with her forgoing her own career to move around with him, Ansley realises a two year water trip, for a woman who has a fear of water, is going to be the last straw. He decided to stop the trip early in favour of his marriage. It is a fascinating book and lavishly illustrated – he is a great photographer.
This is a wonderful book – it needs dedication to read it – it is not that it is hard to read but you do have to concentrate. It is the story of the role water has played throughout human history, and in our prehistory. It is fascinating how the command of waterways and the high seas has determined human politics, and the drive of technology.
This was an interesting book about how lives can be transformed very quickly and how people can be seduced by propaganda. Set in the 1930s during the rise of Hitler, it is a black story, especially what happened to illegitimate children in that period
A family story set in Oregon in 1899. Pretty predicable – hard lives, relationships with North American Indians, discontented daughter etc. The copy I read had very narrow margins so the text was dense on the page and hard to read. It was OK but I won’t be reading any more of her books.
Review of The kashmir shawl / Rosie Thomas.
This is a lively intertwining of two stories: that of a Welsh missionary who works in Kashmir with that of her granddaughter who many years later travels back to Kashmir find out the story behind her inherited shawl. It is sort of a mystery story but it is the cultural story that is so very interesting.
Machiavelli said you can’t be the leader of any country without knowing the ‘art of war’. This book traces the parallels between leaders, e.g. Oliver Cromwell, Hitler, George W. Bush. It talks of the connection between fear and might, and for me made a lot of information chillingly fall into place.
Review of Daughters of Erebus / Paul Holmes.
I gave this three stars purely for the section dealing with Justice Mahon, as this section was a simple reporting of very interesting events. I thought the rest of the book was sensationalised and unnecessary, it added no information to the story and just made me angry. I felt throughout that Holmes was manipulating what the daughters (of captain Jim Collins) were saying for his own purposes.
Bill Bryson goes room by room through an old rectory in Norfolk, focusing on each room or area as a way to tell a wide-ranging social history. Bill Bryson is one of the cleverest people in the world! The book was published in 2010 and is well referenced.
The fascinating story of one of the world finest award-winning pianists and what he has endured to rise to that position. Growing up in a dysfunctional family, Lang Lang was forced to practice the piano endlessly by his manipulative father who would accept nothing less than Lang Lang becoming “number one”.
Review of We are a Muslim, please / Zaiba Malik.
A really interesting look at the conflict between Pakistani and English culture as experienced by a young girl born in the U.K. into a Pakistani community. A very insightful book.
The story of a man born in Ethiopia from a liaison between a nun and a surgeon. The first part of the book is set in Ethiopia and the descriptions of the landscape and politics of the region are just great – you can feel the heat rising from the stones. When the man is wrongly accused of a crime he, now a trained surgeon himself, flees to the United States. The second half of the book is set in the U.S. and is not as good. But over all it is great story, especially the parts about Ethiopia and its culture. It is a thick book but a quick read.
I found this book quite bloodthirsty – as I generally find Scandinavian fiction. A man of the church is murdered and his sister contacts a childhood friend, who has since become a lawyer, to help find out what happened. The mystery unfolds in a small village rife with bigotry and although the lawyer solves the crime, she does so nearly at the cost of her life. This book is extremely well written and absorbs you with the great atmosphere and descriptions of the environment.
Review of Containment / Vanda Symon.
This is a good old police murder mystery with all the usual elements: slightly rogue cop, bully of a boss, romantic interest etc etc. But this one is set in Dunedin and around and is full of familiar colloquialisms and places. This is Symon’s third Sam Shepard novel.
I don’t like Paul Henry, I find him offensive. I still don’t like him after reading this book but I do confess to a sneaking admiration of him. Henry does apologise for some of his major indiscretions and is certainly a man who is in complete control of himself. What was I thinking? is a riveting read and I couldn’t put it down.
This book allowed me to view Iran in a totally new way; a land of poetry and saffron ice-cream. It is a very very good tour of Iran. My only criticism is that there are not enough photographs.
Review of The Churchills : a family at the heart of history - from the Duke of Marlborough to Winston Churchil
This is an excellent book! I read it straight through. It is chatty and gossipy but not in a nasty way, just really entertaining. It is not just about Winston Churchill but does use him as the pivot around which his family and friends revolve. When discussing him the book cleverly flicks between talking about the politician (Churchill) and the man (Winston). The book has an excellent bibliography and a good family tree to refer to.
Review of Thrones, dominations
This book illustrate why someone else finishing off a part-written novel is not generally a good idea. I usually like Sayers but this was dreadful and full of upper class rubbish.
Review of Tuscan rose / Belinda Alexandra.
This is a very involved story that is richly written. It tells the story of an infant left as a foundling at a convent in Florence during the rise of Mussolini. I particularly liked the end dedication: “My heart to yours, Belinda”.
This book is absolutely charming, I laughed lot as I read it and as I grew up in Canterbury much of it felt very familiar. It is a good book to dip in and out of and includes some great recipes.
This book is a collection of short stories based on characters Archer met in prison, and who he kept in touch with after he was released. I usually don’t like short stories but these were really enjoyable.
This was an unusual story and a refreshing change for Indridason in that his main character was not Erlendur, his usual dour protagonist. I would definitely recommend this novel.
Review of The Larnachs / Owen Marshall.
The Larnachs is told mainly from the point of view of Connie Larnach, it is a well researched novel written in the genteel style of the time. It is a bit slow moving in parts and, as I knew what was going to happen, I wished it would get a move on occasionally.
Review of The ground is burning / by Samuel Black.
This is a novel of historical fiction featuring contemporaneous characters such as Machiavelli, Leonardo da Vinci and Cesare Borgia. A lot of research went into writing the book and Black gives an interesting spin on the characters of these famous people. It is told in interwoven stories and from differing points of view. It wasn’t a stunning read but interesting none the less.
A former infantry office, suffering from shell shock, moves to small village. He is an expert in old buildings and initially finds the place peaceful and absorbing. But then he hears that a five year old girl disappeared a decade ago and he becomes interested in her fate. The details of the descriptions of places and mannerisms of the characters drew me in, and I really wanted to know the outcome – I really liked it.
Follows the story of Jaffy Brown from when he was 8 and became involved with Charles Jamrach, the famous 19th century wild animal importer and trader in London. Jaffy goes to sea on a whaler, as part of a ‘dragon’ quest, and as things deteriorate the book changes style –holding you in horror in the doldrums. A great book about being human amongst the rest of creation.
Review of Last man in tower / Aravind Adiga.
Last man in tower is a beautiful book about optimism in the face of adversity. A tower block in Mumbai has been ear-marked by a developer, but one resident holds out. The book includes a map of Mumbai and a plan of the tower block so you don’t get lost with all the characters.
A woman lies in a coma, and her family re-discover her through her diaries. The story of a family working together to deal with terrible tragedy, and to deal with the terrible decisions that have to be made. A compelling read.
Review of The dressmaker of Khair Khana : five sisters, one remarkable family, and the woman who risked everyt
The biography of Kamila Sidiqi, who received her teaching degree as the Taliban took over Kabul. Not able to practice her profession, confined to her home, she had to find a way to support her family when her father and brothers had to flee. Only able to go out when chaperoned by her seven year old nephew, Sidiqi managed to provide work for herself and others by making clothes for Taliban wives. A wonderful story of one of the women who worked to keep her society going – one of the women who are “the backbone and heart of a nation”.
Snippets of Donna Leon’s Brunetti mysteries presented with recipes from the books, as they would be prepared by Brunetti’s wife Paola – wonderful.
Review of Drawing conclusions / Donna Leon.
A Guido Brunetti mystery full of the atmosphere of Venice and the amusing conversations between Brunetti, his Henry James besotted wife, and other colleagues. Brunetti refuses to accept the common view that the death of an elderly woman is from natural causes.
Review of Street boys / Lorenzo Carcaterra.
I have so much respect for this author after reading his Sleepers. This novel, based on true events, is about the homeless children of Naples in World War II, who with some US weapons carry out guerrilla warfare against the advancing Germans.
Review of Meet me in Venice / Elizabeth Adler.
Meet me in Venice is a light but interesting romantic suspense novel, an easy read full of the colour, clothes and flavours of Venice.
Review of About face / Donna Leon.
Another great Donna Leon Guido Brunetti mystery. About Face is full of the atmosphere of Venice, great characters, and the mystery hinges on toxic waste disposal.
Review of General boy : the life of Lieutenant General Sir Frederick Browning / by Richard Mead ; foreword by
General Boy is the biography of a very interesting man. He was Chief of Staff to Mountbatten in India, Comptroller and Treasurer to Princess Elizabeth prior to her becoming Queen, and was the husband of Daphne du Maurier. It is a good book to dip in and out of – full of interesting history, and wonderful photographs.
Review of The promise
The Promise is not an easy read, but I think it is very relevant to today. Following the life of an Irish man who endured abuse as a child in a Catholic school - it is fictional but based on fact.
The song before it is sung has a great subject; the story of a Jewish scholar at Oxford and an idealist German feeling his destiny is to save Germany from Hitler. The story of what happens to their frienship in the Nazi period, the mistrust and suspicion that can arise at such times, and the tension between a view of the world as destiny and a view that all is accidental, is compelling stuff. But what an odd way to frame such a story; in the context of the marriage breakup of the story-teller - a former a student of the scholar who has been bequeathed the scholar's papers. The comparison of the breakdown of the friendship and the breakdown of the contemporary relationship trivialises both. I found it a very frustrating read, yet still fascinating due to the underlying story - which is based on real events.
Review of Romantic moderns : English writers, artists and the imagination from Virginia Woolf to John Piper / Alexandra Harris.
A beautiful book which explores English culture and cultural life between the wars – a fascinating period (and one of interest beyond England) which saw the modernists (think rationalism, no clutter) lulled back into the romanticism of olde England. The book has real depth and an original approach – and looks really good too. When a work of art is discussed – it is there; or the literary quote is apt. The book as the Guardian book of the year.
Review of The King's speech : how one man saved the British Monarchy / Mark Logue and Peter Conradi.
The story of an Australian commoner who helped a King in a time of crisis. Self taught after having been a bit slow at school, Lionel Logue travels to London to try making money from elocution lessons. He ends up helping King George VI with his stammer. This biography was written, by Logue's grandson, after the movie of the same name. Most fascinating is the friendship, though distant, that arises between two men of very different backgrounds.
Review of The other hand / Chris Cleave.
A truly moving book set against a terrifying backdrop. You really get involved with Little Bee, highly recommended.
A lovely autobiography of a Wairarapa artist/poet. From a conflicted family where his father had been unfit to go to war and felt the need to prove himself, White grew up in railway towns such as Ross. It was not a happy childood, but the book is not gloomy - it is rather about White searching for how he fits in. He became a farmer and started tracing his family roots, and the great thing about the book is his descriptions of the land - it is well titled. In his 60s White did an arts degree at Massey University and he now teaches art and writing. A great book.
Review of The price of bacon / Jeanette Aplin.
The price of bacon is a very thoughtful book about how we relate to the land and to animals; all the things you have to think about when embarking on a different lifestyle. It is a very earthy book and shows a wonderful woman - and wonderful pigs!
Married to a bedouin is an absolutely amazing story of a New Zealand nurse who marries a Bedouin souvenir-seller. Wonderful descriptions of Petra and a great story!
Review of Season of the Jew
Season of the Jew didn't resonate with me at all. It is a reasonable account of the Maori Wars and Te Kooti but I found it stilted and thought it uneccesarily revelled in the horror of the wars. Over-rated.
Review of The scandal of the season / Sophie Gee.
A sumptuously written fictionalised account of Pope's writing of The Rape of the Lock - great fun.
A wonderful book about a British potter who inherits a collection of Japanese netsuke and traces their journey through Europe and various members of his family through a most turbulent period of European history. Very moving as he follows the fate of his wealthy Jewish forebears. The hare with amber eyes is a fascinating and evocative book.
Review of Bird cloud : a memoir / Annie Proulx.
I think Bird Cloud would appeal more to Americans. It seemed very self-indulgent to me. Annie Proulx wants her house to be perfect on a remote Wyoming property; she gets stuff sent in from all over the world. The descriptions of the land and bird life could have been nice, but as I didn't know a lot of the species I found it quite boring. It was amazing that after all that she left the house as it was too cold in winter and too hot in summer - perhaps she should have done better research!
Interesting stories of women in the 2nd World War - how they were treated and their difficulties.
Review of Little princes : one man's promise to bring home the lost children of Nepal / Conor Grennan.
Conor Grennan set out to travel the world but got no further than Nepal, where he volunteered in an orphanage and fell in love with the kids. many of them had been taken from their familes and dumpoed into the slave trade. Grennan set up a foundation to find families in Nepal for the children. Little princes is a really good book. I checked out the Foundation's website and saw all the continuing good work they are doing.
I am sure this is a true story disguised as a novel. It is set in a Kabul coffee shop run by an ex-pat from the US, and is about the Afghanis who work there. It is a really good read and a good story about some of the horrendous difficulties women face in the strict culture of Afghanistan.
Angelina is a fabulous book about a woman who was married to man in his 30s when she was 16, after being promised to him when she was 8. She arrives on D'Urville Island with a hope chest full of fine linens; quite unprepared for the deprivations of life on the island. I know some of the descendents of the families in the area and I loved the history both of the families and also of the settlements. It is a lovely story of the hard lives of the early European women settlers; having to cope with the weather and being so far form support - it was heartbreaking when the son dies trying to get to help and having to try and navigate through French Pass. Highly recommended.
I loved this book - it was funny and also tells you a lot about the Channel Islands during the war. I have a friend who was evacuated from the Islands so I was particularly interested in the history. But I mainly loved it because it was heartwarming and funny.
Review of The birthday present / Barbara Vine.
I have never read a Ruth Rendell mystery, and this is a pretty weird and nasty one – full of strange people and kinky sex. I read that she sits in the House of Lords, all I can say is she must get quite bored and fill in her time making all of this stuff up. As I say, I have never read Ruth Rendell, never will again, but once I had started I did finish it to find out what was going on.
Review of Farewell performance / Tessa Barclay.
Set in the Edinburgh Festival this murder mystery revolves around a missing Stradivarius cello. It is packed with characters, such as the new owner of the cello and the Japanese businessman is willing to pay anything to him to purchase the cello for his daughter. This book is very pleasant read and if you know Edinburgh it is full of convincing detail about the city and the Arts Festival.
Review of Gaslight in Page Street / Harry Bowling.
As I read this book I was reminded of one of those great BBC TV series – set prior the start of the first world war in a London Street, covering the era of the Suffragettes and going into the first world war it was a long but engaging and gently read.
Parry was a journalist who followed the Lucie Blackman case from its breaking to the legal judgements made many years later. Lucie went to Tokyo to work as a hostess in a Roppongi bar in 2000 and went missing not long after. People who eat darkness explores not only the mystery of her disappearance and the solving of the case but also the prejudices surrounding all aspects of the story. It deals with differences between UK and Japanese procedures and expectations, the history of ethnic Koreans in Japan, as well as the fallout from a bitterly divided couple (Lucie’s parents). Parry manages to remain relatively objective, even when he becomes personally embroiled in what is unfolding. It is a great read, but does take you through some very unpleasant events.
This is a mystery story set in parallel times: 2009 and 1603. It is intriguing and full of interesting characters, and you do get caught up in trying to work out the mystery. For me the downfall of the book was the occasional chunks of history you are given, Bayard should trust his readers more to fill in the historical background themselves from the action of the story and characters.
As the earth turns silver is set in Wellington in the early 1900s. It includes many stories but it is primarily a romance about a New Zealand born woman of European descent and a Chinese immigrant. There is a lot in the book about the terrible bigotry and hatred against the Chinese at the time, encouraged by the writings of Lionel Terry. And it also shows how oppressed the lives of women were, despite New Zealand being the first country to give women the right to vote. It also covers the rise of the revolution in China. It is a very well researched book and I learnt a lot from reading it. Alison Wong is a poet and the book is beautifully written.
Review of I shall not hate : a Gaza doctor's journey on the road to peace and human dignity / Izzeldin Abuelai
This is not a morbid or sad book, it is an incredible story that I found inspirational. A Palestinian doctor from Gaza has a privileged upbringing compared to many in Gaza. He studies medicine in Egypt and travels widely. He returns to Gaza and due to his skills he is allowed to commute to Israel to work in a hospital. Despite the prejudice he experiences from Israelis on a daily basis he refuses to change his philosophy that all people are equally deserving of care and respect. What is amazing is that his philosophy survives the targeted Israeli attack on his home – which kills three of his daughters and a niece. This book is about the tremendous courage it takes not to hate, and to try and break the cycle of anger and retribution that leads to more hatred. Abuelaish now lives as a lecturer in Canada.
Under the Huang Jiao Tree captures the reflections of an ex-music teacher as she makes two trips to China. She talks about the Chinese way of life as well as her own personal journey and aspirations. She has travelled to China relatively recently. It is interesting to read of someone else’s experiences, and Carswell is a good writer.
This is a captivating book and a cheap way to travel around the world. It ranks the world’s greatest cities according to criteria such as architecture, access to culture, vibe etc. and illustrates them with beautiful photographs. You can dip in and out of it. New York comes out on top, no surprises there. No New Zealand cities get in – apart from Wellington being mentioned as lacking in ‘raw urban energy’!
This is a fascinating novel of the French Revolution written from the point of view of wax modeller Marie Grosholtz. Able to write of the revolution from the point of view of the revolutionaries as well as the monarchy – due to her trade and her uncle’s political nous – Marie’s story gives an interesting slant on already familiar episodes. However I did find Michelle Moran’s writing quite plonky; if she hadn’t been writing about such interesting times and characters I would have given up.
This is an intriguing biography of Agatha Christie, with much that isn’t included in her autobiography. It draws a lot on unpublished papers to which her grandson allowed access. She had terrible tax problems and with her American funds frozen in the war she was quite a poor woman despite her success. I liked the anecdotes such as her American publisher refusing to publish one of her books unless her killer got psychological help at the end of the novel! Theatre was Agatha Christie's 1st love and I liked it that she didn’t consider the Mousetrap her best work and thought it would run about 6 weeks at most. The only doubts I had about this book was its reliance on Unfinished Portrait by Agatha Christie writing as Mary Westmacott – I don’t think you necessarily know actuality from an author’s writings.
Review of Lady under fire : the wartime letters of Lady Dorothie Feilding MM 1914-1917 edited by Andrew and Ni
Dorothie Feilding was the first woman to be awarded a military medal. Daughter of the Earl of Denbigh she volunteered very early after the declaration of World War and went to the front. She just carried on under fire; it is hard to read at times as it was such a ghastly war. She lost two of her brothers at the front. She died at 45 of a heart failure. Her family kept all her letters and this book is a compilation of a selection of them.
This is a very good book that is well worth reading. It is comprised of the e-mails between a BBC journalist and an Iraqi academic, and lover of literature. They first meet during an interview for a radio show and then corresponded for three years afterwards. It is heart breaking to read of May trying to teach civil liberties in war torn Baghdad, where it must be hard for her students to grasp the concept. These e-mails were published as a way of raising money to try and get May and her husband out of Bagdad, and away from the constant threats of car bombings etc. The friendship emerging from the e-mails is riveting and for May must have been a glimpse of what life could be like outside of terror and trauma.
Talk to the tail is written by a journalist who writes for the Guardian newspaper. It is a beautifully written book about growing up with 6 cats. It is funny – especially if you are familiar with Norfolk – and will appeal to those who can relate to having cats as a substitute family (complete with a giant Tom called Janet!). But it is about more than cats and is more than just funny, it is a lovely book that will appeal to a wide range of readers.
Review of Notwithstanding / by Louis de Bernieres.
This is a charming description of eccentric England. Based on the village where De Bernieres grew up, it is full of lovely caricatures in interlinking chapters.
Written in Bengali in 1962, translated in 2007. A young lawyer loses his job in Calcutta and is employed in a Calcutta hotel. The book is the stories of the guests and staff with flashbacks to the beginning of the business. I couldn’t put it down!
Review of No great mischief / Alistair MacLeod.
Written in the modern day with flashbacks, this novel follows one Scottish family in cold harsh Nova Scotia; it is beautifully written.
Review of Going postal : the ups and downs of travelling the world on a postie bike / Nathan Millward.
A sports journalist goes overland from Australia to the UK at 65 kilometres per hour on an old postal motorbike. It covers a wide range of countries and terrains and, as to be expected, problems at borders. A good read.
I like historical fiction when it is well researched, which this book certainly is. Speller is a poet and this is her first novel. It is only two years after the Great War when a man who lost his wife and daughter while he was serving at the front, is asked why his brother in law committed suicide while on duty. He investigates, uncovering the physical and psychological horrors of the war and discovering that the Captain was part of a squad tasked with executing his fellow soldiers. It is fiction but a recognisable account of the war, very well done.
This is an interesting and gripping murder mystery.
Review of Light on snow / Anita Shreve.
A father and daughter discover an abandoned child in the snows of New Hampshire after moving there after a fatal car crash. The father sets out to find out the story of the child. This is a lovely read, one of Anita Shreve’s better works.
This is a classic! “Airhead” according to the dictionary is a military operation where enemy territory is captured by parachutists – but this book is about the common usage; about an Empire where people create their own reality. “Being intelligent is quite hard sometimes” The anecdotes would be hilarious if they weren’t about highly influential and powerful people: George W. Bush wearing his stupidity as a badge of honour, or Rupert Murdoch’s son saying “I don’t recall” 240 times in a courtroom enquiry into misuse of funds. If those in power only think in the moment and don’t remember the past or think of what is to come, it is scary to think of where we are heading.
I opened this book full of curiosity and with no preconceptions and was astounded by the descriptions of the lives and beliefs of fundamental Mormanism. Starting with the mother/daughter murder in 1984 by a man who claimed they were ‘killed by God’, Krakauer explores the off-shoots of Mormonism, the members of which only obey the laws of God. It appears that in many States a blind eye is turned on the willful flouting of laws, most startlingly on polygamy. One high member of the church has 75 wives, two of whom were 14 and 15 when he married them well into his 80s. This book highlights the clear black/white, right/wrong views of such fundamentalist groups – whatever religion they belong to - which led to George W. Bush’s characterising his ‘enemy’ as the ‘axis of evil’. According to this book Mormonism is the fastest growing religion in the world, it is a good and chilling read.
I just couldn’t put this book down, and now I have finished it I want to read it again. Written by a U.S. journalist it is a very interesting read describing the origin of four different types of meals: Industrial, Hunter-Gatherer and two Organic. It shows all the steps there are in producing each meal, describing different ways of food production. Great!
Review of The wild green yonder : ten seasons volunteering on New Zealand's organic farms / Philippa Jamieson.
Philippa Jamieson gave up her job to take two years spending a week to a month on different organic farms around New Zealand as a woofer. The Wild Green Yonder is very interesting and covers Jamieson working on a vineyard in the Nelson/Tasman region. I was interested to see how many woofers there are in New Zealand from overseas each year.
Review of Navigation : a memoir / Joy Cowley.
What comes out of this memoir is the impression of a wonderfully warm personality. The chapters discuss periods of her life in sequence; she started writing at a young age and has therefore had a wonderfully long writing career. She initially wanted to go to Teacher’s College but had to go to work as an assistant in a pharmacy. She was married a few times and had four children; she first wrote books to help a son who had emotional difficulties. She wrote spiritual books as well as children’s books and is a world class writer. Her memoir is a really good read.
Review of Mune : an autobiography / Ian Mune.
I had reservations about this book; I think it is mainly for people who want a lot of details about the New Zealand theatre, TV and film industries – rather than those who enjoy a general read about someone’s life. Also there are very few dates mentioned so you need a good grasp of New Zealand events to know what period he is talking about. There are interesting bits in it; for example it took 26 years to get the World’s Fastest Indian film project off the ground. I did feel sorry for Mune’s wife and kids who seemed to have to follow him wherever his next whim led.
Review of Summer at Tiffany / Marjorie Hart.
This is the story of two debutantes who grew up in Iowa and who wanted to go to the big city. They go to New York and land jobs at Tiffany & Co – standing around looking lovely and, when someone purchased something, taking the item to be wrapped. It is an interesting story of two girls who had never seen the ocean or big cities growing up quickly with new experiences. It is a frothy read but I liked reading about the celebrities who went into Tiffanys.
Review of The women of New Zealand
This is a 1940s book that was re-published in 1962. It tells from the women’s perspective the story of New Zealand pioneers right back from the missionary wives of the 1840s. It documents the very rough and hard lives the early settlers had as well as the achievements of the first women doctors and lawyers etc. It asks why in a country that gave women voting rights relatively early and opened up opportunities for women many did not take advantage of the rights they were given. It suggests that the reason women were present in universities in New Zealand before women were able to attend in other countries was not so much a matter of a policy of encouragement but one of women just rolling up and university rules not excluding them. The book talks a lot about the isolation of women in society and the importance of women’s organisations. The story I loved was of a woman and her baby making a daily mile and a half journey up a hill and back to get water for the day – and then her management of the water into hierarchies of use for various portions – some amounts being used many times through the day before being given to the pigs! It is a really interesting book about the women of New Zealand’s past.
Review of Our times / A.N. Wilson.
I think this book should more correctly be called The Fall of the British Empire, as writing from a British perspective it does discuss how the Empire has been lost. It is a frightening book that talks about what has been in the minds of British Prime Ministers from the 1950s to recently, and that certainly hasn’t been the welfare of the British people, it has been more how Britain can become like America. It deals with the Church as well and how the church hierarchy has been afraid of doing things where required, and how as a result large numbers have left their congregations. This book will really hit home with those who have lived in the UK during this period, for those who have observed from a distance it would be an interesting but perhaps not as upsetting a read.
I have read and re-read this book many times. It is the story of the early German settlement of what is now Upper Moutere. The book covers why the settlers left Germany, their voyages out, and what happened to them here, through to relatively recently. The Germans came to get away from wars, as the men were constantly getting conscripted. When they arrived the Government had sold them land that hadn’t been surveyed and was unsuitable for settlement. The book talks of floods, of the settlers losing their church, and their having to drain the land and rebuild their community. It is a very easy to read book and a great source of history about the Upper Moutere area.
This is a horribly detailed book about the lengths to which the British Army (and I’m sure others) went to spread misinformation during the Second World War. They took the corpse of a soldier who had committed suicide and dropped him into the sea off the coast of Spain for the Germans to find. The book is meticulously detailed about the operation – for example the lengths they went to finding a place where an autopsy was not likely to be carried out, and the details of how they managed to keep the information with the body for the Germans to find. It is a reasonably good read but not my kind of thing; I found the detail of how they treated the body very hard to read.
This is a damned good read. It will appeal to both male and female readers. The story of Albert Facey from his rough up-bringing, his starting to work at the age of 8 - as a drover, a railroad worker, a soldier - and through the post-war depression. He taught himself to read and write and died in 1982, 9 months after writing the book at the age of 87. It is a fantastic story and a great record of an era. It is a very very good book.
Review of Speaking a silence
Christine Hunt spent time in Golden Bay recording older people’s stories before they passed away. What results is a wonderful set of stories that could be from any country. They are easy to read and some are quite amazing. A wonderful record.
Review of The mask of sanity the Bain murders
This is a meticulously written book; McNeish was at court every day of the Bain trial and conducted lots of interviews. It is so interesting to read of true events from our recent history. What comes out of this book is the sad story of a dysfunctional family. I will now go on to read the Joe Karam version of events.
Oscar Wilde and a Death of No Importance is the first in a series of mysteries where most of the characters and incidents are historical. This was an entertaining read and good fun; I will certainly read the others in the series.
Review of Rocking Horse Road / Carl Nixon.
This is not so much a coming-of-age novel as a loss-of-innocence novel. A murder in a small community haunts a group of neighbourhood teenage boys throughout their lives. Set against the backdrop of the 1981 Spring Bok tour, Rocking Horse Road is also about the loss of innocence of the nation. The novel makes good use of atmospheric descriptions to portray the feeling of the characters.
Review of La belle saison / Patricia Atkinson.
The sequel to The Ripening Sun; La Belle Saison continues the story of Patricia Atkinson who was left to make a living for herself in a small French vineyard after her husband returned home sick. The vineyard expands through Atkinson’s hard work and this book describes the seasonality of food in the area around where she made her home; truffle season, oyster season, etc. I loved both this book and its prequel: they are joyful and heartening and have a few heartbreaks along the way.
Patricia Atkinson and her husband move to France to take over a small vineyard; their first vintage turns to vinegar and the husband is struck with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and returns home. Patricia stays on and, with her schoolgirl French, battles to make the vineyard a success. In the tiny village the locals admire her hard work and perseverance and help her make a go if it. I loved both this and its sequel: La Belle Saison.
A Mexican American moves to Mexico and becomes involved in the lives of Trotsky, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. When he returns to the US his dreams of making a good life die when McCarthyism strikes and his prior associations means he falls from grace; he becomes so isolated he decided to return to Mexico. The title Lacuna refers to the submarine entrance to a cave. It is a dense and very long novel, not to everyone’s taste but I loved it.
Review of Wrecked / Carol Higgins Clark.
A couple go on a relaxing vacation to his parents’ house on Cape Cod; but when a giant storm hits things turn out to be not so relaxing. A typical Carol Higgins Clark mystery with lots of atmospheric description – I could just see and feel the storm.
Review of Power play / Gavin Esler.
The American Vice-President hates the British Prime Minister, and the feeling is mutual. The British Ambassador intervenes and arranges for both men to go grouse-shooting in Scotland in the hopes of reconciling them. But when the US VP goes missing, is it terrorism or something else? Very atmospheric and exciting.
This delightful book is by a well know movie director, she directed Julie and Julia for example. It is not screamingly funny but is quirky and an easy read. It is essays in easy digestible chapters that you can dip in and out of; but I couldn’t put it down and read it right through. And then went to find other things she had written.
This is a well researched history that you can read as a novel. It deals not only with Persia of 500/400 BC but also with Sparta and the City State of Athens, which is struggling with early democratic rule. It highlights the importance of this time for Western civilisation as we know it, for example the founding of many famous Italian cities wouldn’t have happened if the Greeks had not stopped Persia’s expansion.
Review of The ghost / Robert Harris.
Now made into a movie, Ghost is about a ghost writer who is asked to ghost the biography of a past British Prime Minister whose term in office coincided with the Iraq war (i.e. closely parallel to Tony Blair). The writer discovers that a draft written by another ghost writer already exists, and that the previous author has died under suspicious circumstances. It is extremely good and I couldn’t put it down right through to its surprising end.
Review of The woman in white / Wilkie Collins ; edited with an introduction and notes by Matthew Sweet.
The first thriller! The Woman in White is a chilling story that relies on searching out evidence. Written in the 1860s, Collins bears witness to the social wrongs and prejudices of the period. He clearly shows how women were defenceless and regarded as chattels and how abominable the class structure was. It even discusses identity theft – with the perpetrator saying it was fine as long as no-one gets hurt. It is a great read in itself and also as a comment on the times.
This is an excellent piece of investigative journalism. Over many years Wishart put together pieces of information on the Arthur Allen Thomas case like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, and then wrote about what emerged logically from the result. He proves that police can not only be fallible but in some rare cases can even be crooks. I have met most of the characters involved in the case, and read many books about it, I am not anti-police but I found this book a very interesting and compelling read. Wishart brings a new approach to the case; he works out who fed the baby (it was someone from a well known family who had police connections) and discovered that someone had vital evidence in the 1970s but didn’t come forward as his life was threatened if he did. It was a little bit flowery at the start of the book but I kept going; it shows how naïve New Zealand was back then and how this and others cases since have shown you can’t have 101% trust in anything.
Review of Secrets of the grown-up brain : the surprising talents of the middle-aged mind / Barbara Strauch.
I would highly recommend this reassuring read. Strauch has previously written about the teenage brain and in this book disputes the idea that the brain stops growing once you reach adulthood. Brains continue to make new connections, and even though we may feel we are becoming more forgetful of details, our ageing brains still retain a good grasp of the ‘big picture’.
Review of The good daughters / by Joyce Maynard.
Two girls are born on the same day in a New Hampshire hospital. We follow their very different lives in alternating chapters from the 1950s to the present. One lives on a family farm and the other in a more itinerant artistic family. I enjoyed it and particularly enjoyed the rural references. I was moved to look up other books by the same author; Maynard is from the US and is a newspaper columnist.
Review of The upright piano player / David Abbott.
A first novel, the Upright piano player is the story of a retired CEO who is pushed out of his job at 61. The novel looks back on his life from the dawn of the new millennium. The opening scenes are gruelling, dealing with the funeral of his grandson, and then his being roughed up on the way back to his flat. The story looks back on how he got to where he is – and ties neatly together at the end. It is a lovely read and both the grandson’s funeral and the scenes where he travels to be with his estranged wife when she falls ill are very moving, and suggest the author has experienced such tragedies in his own life.
Review of I hate myself and want to die : the 52 most depressing songs you've ever heard / Tom Reynolds.
This is a highly entertaining and funny book based on clever descriptions of the 52 most ‘depressing’ songs ever written (tongue firmly in cheek). The songs are drawn from several decades including some from the 21st century but the 1970s seems to have been a bumper time for sentimental kitsch. Examples include Teen angel, Tell Laura I love her, All by myself, Seasons in the sun, Slylvia’s mother, MacArthur Park, Alone again naturally. Tom Reynolds is an LA writer and television producer who is also a trained musician and veteran of several jazz, blues and rock bands.
The youngest of the nine Mitford sisters, Deborah Devonshire was 91 when she wrote this memoir in 2010. She became became Duchess of Devonshire, chatelaine of Chatsworth House and developed the house and grounds. All the Mitfords are interesting and led such interesting lives; Deborah was the sanest of the lot and had a happy marriage. She mixed in amazing circles, counting the Kennedys amongst her friends. Wait for me is a great true story of growing up in a dysfunctional and influential family through many many historical events.
Review of Wideacre / Philippa Gregory.
Set the the 18th century, Wideacre is the story of a bad woman; she is obsessed with an estate she is not entitled to inherit and will do anything to own. The novel is well researched and is full of lovely description.
Undoubtedly Miriam Franks has had an interesting life – including being a refugee from the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s and living in France and Mexico as well as spending some of her teenage years in Christchurch. She is now a publisher and promoter in London. It was tempting to go straight to the Christchurch chapters, as I knew her during those years. But it was good I resisted, as I was bit disappointed that her recollections of who and what we were back them were so different from my own.
This early novel of Anne Perry’s is an historical novel and differs from her later mystery writing. Set in thirteenth century Constantinople it is the story of a woman who becomes a eunuch to give her access to places a woman couldn't access and is full of political and church intrigue. It is a fascinating read.
Review of The man from Beijing / by Henning Mankell ; translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson.
Nineteen people have been massacred in a Swedish hamlet; Judge Birgitta Roslin’s grandparents are among the victims. Clues suggest the murderer is a man from China ... This novel starts well in the racy Mankell style, with good use of flash-backs. But by the last third of the novel it stretches credibility to breaking point.
Review of The battle that stopped Rome : Emperor Augustus, Armenius, and the slaughter of the legions in the Teutoburg Forest / Peter S. Wells.
Set in 9AD this book combines archaeological research with research of the writings of the time. It is graphically written; the seemingly unbeatable Roman Army marches into Germany ... and is roundly defeated by ambush in boggy land. Three legions are wiped out in one day in a battle that forces a re-think of Rome’s plans of world domination. Excellently researched and a gripping read.
Review of Trip of a lifetime / Liz Byrski.
Trip of a lifetime is about a politician who gets shot and the effects of this on her and those around her. Byrski writes great books about women’s lives and is a reliable author who writes good books.
Storyteller is an excellent authorised biography written by a man who spent time with Dahl while making a documentary about the writer’s life. After Dahl’s death Sturrock was invited to write this biography, and given access to vast store of letters the author had written to his mother. It is one of the best biographies I have read; Dahl was a difficult man but a great personality and he had such an interesting life. After being injured in a plane crash while serving in the armed forces he was no longer able to keep flying, and he was appointed as the military attaché to Washington. He became involved in intelligence work and all through these years he wrote. He didn’t start writing his children’s books till quite late in his career. The book writes about the tragedies of Dahl’s life as well; and the fact that he was a quite a dashing ladies’ man. I really enjoyed it.
Review of Traitor / Stephen Daisley.
Traitor is the story of the effects of war, on communities and on individuals. David is a young New Zealander who becomes branded a traitor after helping a young Turkish doctor at Gallipoli. Mahmoud is from the mystical Sufi sect of Islam, and although the ‘enemy’ a bond grows between the two young men. They are drawn together first when trying to help a fallen Australian, and later when both end up in a field hospital. Mahmoud’s strange mystical story–telling makes as much if not more sense to David than the chaotic and bloody battlefields of WW1 and he spends the rest of his life haunted by his experiences with Mahmoud. David returns to a community decimated by the War and to people acting in the grip of grief. The story unfolds primarily through the disjointed reminiscences of David and against the backdrop of his life on a remote New Zealand sheep station. The prose is a little overwrought at times, but is also quite beautiful at others, and I liked the contrast between David’s memories of the mystical Mahmoud and the description of the pragmatic details of his work on the farm.
I wouldn’t say Villa Pacifica is an exciting read but it is certainly an intriguing read. A travel guide writer ends up in a unnamed South American village on the Pacific Coast and goes to stay in Villa Pacifica – a combination hotel / animal sanctuary. The Villa is full of interesting and quirky characters whose behaviour and comments just don’t add up. There is an air of mystery and a great feeling of tropical decay about the book. The story does come together satisfactorily at the end – and I found it a fascinating read.
Operation Napoleon is a story of the money that the United Sates has poured into Iceland and hence the influence it has had on Icelandic affairs. In 1945 a plane crashes and is frozen into a glacier, in 1999 two Icelandic climbers come across US troops recovering the plane – and are captured. One of the climbers manages to contact his sister, a lawyer, before he disappears and she sets out to find out what has happened to her brother. It is quite suspenseful.
Review of Gunshot road / Adrian Hyland.
I think Adrian Hyland, an Australian who teaches at La Trobe University, is an excellent author. He has worked in the North of Australia in Aboriginal communities and his books are so interesting, and give you such an interesting insight into Aboriginal culture, they make you want to do further research. Be prepared for some pretty rough language, and amazingly for a novel by a man, to be so convincingly written from a female point of view. I advise reading his Diamond Dove before reading Gunshot Road.
Review of Ford County : stories / John Grisham.
This was my first Grisham and despite being told you can’t put his books down, I certainly could put this down. I thought the collection was a clunker.
Culinary adventures in Marrakech is not a cookbook but a travel book with recipes, and Mathias’ descriptions are interesting and enjoyable. It includes some material from her previous book, Sirocco. The whole book is a delight, with great productions values; the staff at Penguin have excelled themselves.
Sirocco is an excellent book – not a cookbook but a travel book with recipes – makes you want to go to Morocco.
In 2001 Deborah Rodriguez went to Afghanistan as part of an aid group. Although not trained in the ‘usual’ aid disciplines, as a hairdresser she was in high demand amongst the Afghani women. She ended up taking beauty products to Kabul and teaching the woman how to set up beauty salons – a job that was acceptable to them as they would only be dealing solely with women, and a lifeline for them, as many of them had unemployed husbands. Kabul Beauty School doesn’t ignore the negative things Rodriguez found, such as daughters being sold off for money, but it gives a very different picture of Afghanistan and its culture and is a great read.
Review of Disclosure
Disclosure is an engrossing read and is a text book of what you should do if wrongly accused. A female boss falsely accuses an employee of rape – the unfolding of the consequences of this act read as a description of our society and values.
Review of The last song / Nicholas Sparks.
Nicholas Sparks is always a reliable choice; he is such a good story teller. The Last Song deals with a girl, the daughter of a concert pianist, whose life is turned upside down by her parent’s divorce.
Clouds Beneath the Sun is set in Kenya in the 1960s and is an extremely accurate picture of the period. It is an interesting read about the politics around the archaeological discoveries at Olduvai Gorge.
This the second book in the Strain trilogy. Middle books of trilogies are always hard, but this manages to be really successful due to the incredible imagination of the authors. The vampires in the story infect people with a virus and the books are full of minute detail and carry you along with terrific pace.
Review of The outlander : a novel / Gil Adamson.
Set in 1903 a young woman has killed her husband and is being pursued by his twin brothers. She endures hardship in the forests and highlands of the Canadian MidWest while in a fragile mental state. A neat survival story and grippingly told.
This is quite a dense book but if you are interested in the topic it is great. The description of the intermingling of the Dutch and English cultures, and their uniting against the French, was fascinating and informative.
I loved this book, Cherie Blair is such a clever person and came from such a difficult working-class Liverpool childhood. She owes everything to her grandmother who made sure she got a good education. The establishment hated her and she comes across as such a strong woman.
Review of Kevin McCloud's grand tour of Europe.
This was disappointing, I had hoped for more information about and background to the TV series but this was just the information from the TV series. I was interested in the effect of the ‘Grand Tour’ phenomenon being the influence of Italian architecture on the rest of Europe.
Review of Most wise & valiant ladies
Shows how most of our philosophising goes way way back – the stories of wonderful women from the Middle Ages – I especially admired Hildegard of Bingen, a brilliant woman, advisor to the Pope, musician and philosopher.
This is a very touching story. Pouncey, born in China of British parents, writes about an old man alone and snowbound in a decaying house in Cape Cod; his wife has died and he is dying and he decides to write a novel about men in the trenches in the Great War. It is beautifully written.
Review of The family tree / Barbara Delinsky.
This is a good read about how people can think they are liberal until confronted with a challenge that shows they aren’t. A wealthy white couple give birth to a child with obvious African American ancestry. It is a story about unexpected bigotry.
This was a really enjoyable read and I learnt a lot, the memoir of a former Mayor of Auckland and Governor General it is a lively telling of her life and exploits.
Review of Time's legacy / by Barbara Erskine.
This is two different stories linked, as usual for Barbara Erskine, by timeshifting. It is well researched and set in modern England as well as the England of the Romans.
Review of Rebel with a cause : inspiring story of a true Kiwi hero whose can-do attitude is saving lives in th
This is an incredible and inspiring story written in a very readable way. Ray Avery overcame an appalling childhood to end up doing remarkable work in places like Eritrea and Nepal – and to invent inexpensive lenses for people in poor and developing countries. It covers the personal aspects of his life too – like always being on the lookout for his ‘woman in white’.
Review of Daphne / Justine Picardie.
I enjoyed this novel very much – it is many layered, with people researching authors who are researching authors. And it is well researched itself! A present day researcher is exploring Daphne Du Maurier while Daphne is exploring the role of Bramwell Bronte in the writings of his sisters. It is one of those wonderful books that inspire you to go back to authors you have enjoyed in the past.
Review of Intervention / Robin Cook.
This was a good read – along the lines of the DaVinci Code, but this time concerning a medical discovery relating to the bones of the Virgin Mary.
Review of Inheritance / by Nicholas Shakespeare.
I think this man writes a jolly good novel – what would you do with unexpected wealth?
Set in Tasmania where Alex returns after being sent to school in England. Full of interesting characters I found this a jolly good read.
This author has written several historical fiction titles and under her pseudonym J M Dillard has many Star Trek titles from the 1980s & 90s to her name. The novel is written from Catherine’s point of view from the age of eight when she is forced to flee the Medici palace in Florence where she lived with her aunt and relations. Here we meet the astrologer Cosimo Ruggieri who is just 15 at the time and who will play an important role in many of her decisions throughout her life. She becomes fascinated by astrology and some would say sorcery and has several dreams of which turn out to be a true vision of her future. Nostradamus also visits Catherine as she gets older. At the age of 14 she is betrothed to Henri of Navarre the son of the King of France, Francois. The novel follows her life from 10 years of childlessness to her many subsequent children who are all flawed in some way. There is a great deal of bodice ripping, incest and uncomfortable dealings along the way but Kalogridis’ writing holds the reader in thrall. The last two chapters are particularly gripping with the horrific St Bartholomew’s Day massacre on 24 August 1572 when 70,000 Huguenots are murdered in Paris. Catherine was blamed for this but the writer shows Catherine to have been betrayed by her third son Eduard into believing there was a plot by Huguenot leaders to kill her and her children. There wasn’t and we feel her pain at this realisation. A very fluid writing style and a non- romanticised biography of a woman whom most biographers see as an evil Queen but we are left with a sense of her human frailty.
This is a biography of past President of the United States, Jimmy Carter. It looks at how his upbringing in southern United States by poor but hard working peanut and cotton farmers influenced his later political thinking. Very well written.
Review of Placido Domingo's tales from the opera
This is one of the best books this reader has ever read because it looks at how a top musician becomes so. The author points out that hard work is how Domingo became so good at everything he did. Rehearsals are followed and the detail is riveting particularly if you’re a musician yourself. Great colour photos as well. The biography follows Domingo from his early days when he studied piano at a conservatory in Mexico then his development as a singer and conductor Thoroughly recommended and well written.
This is the story of the Kennedy family, in particular JF Kennedy and his assassination. Roberts makes it his mission to prove that the assassination was a CIA, big business and military plot as he was signalling many reforms and changes for America which would threaten businesses involved with the military and some big businesses. When JFK was shot there were three bullets coming from different directions and at the post mortem, junior doctors were employed who were supervised by the military. The opinion of the average American at the time was that the military were involved in the death. This book took a long time to read but was well worth it as the theme has similarities to today’s America.
Adolph Manoy left Latvia in 1904 and moved to Stratford, Taranaki in New Zealand where he set up a haberdashery shop. His wife Yetta and three daughters followed him 4 years later. They were a Jewish family speaking Yiddish in a Russian dominated country but had had strong connections to a German lifestyle rather than Russia. The book traces the family from 1904 – 2008. The descendants include the author who is the grand daughter of the third daughter from this family and she became the first Jewish woman to graduate in New Zealand as a medical doctor. Excellent photos and presentation, the writer uses postcards sent to NZ from Latvia (written in German) that were found in the attic of the family home.
Marie Sharp is approaching 60 and hates the idea of aging. She doesn’t want to do all the desperation things; she just wants to reminisce and play with her grandson. Described as Grumpy Old Woman meets Bridget Jones this novel is funny but also very touching - although I didn’t agree with ‘60’ constantly being described as being old!
A New York girl Lily Quinn is studying Art at College. Her flatmate and best friend goes missing and whilst seeking to discover where she is, Lily discovers some unpleasant facts about her and connections with her own family. This book takes time to involve the reader.
A fascinating set of stories about diverse themes written by the author of Blink and Tipping Point. Some of the themes are entitled ‘the ethnic theory of plane crashes looking at the pilot/co-pilot relationship and how it is influenced by cultural and ethnic difference, why it is easier for Asian children to master numeric skills due to their system of counting, the link between longevity and sense of community and many more.
The tower, the zoo and the tortoise Written by a journalist this is a simply written tale of the community who lives within the walls of the Tower of London focusing on a beefeater, his wife and many animals. A history of the buildings and its fictional community set in modern times
Review of Diamond dove / Adrian Hyland.
A Listener review of another title by this writer prompted me to try this one. Set in the Northern Territory of Australia near Alice Springs, the main character is Emily Tempest, an Aborigine woman raised in the fictional town of Moonlight Downs. When an elder in a tribe nearby is murdered, Emily tries to solve the mystery death. Set in the present the novel explores race issues and the tension between the cattle ranchers and Aborigine people in the area. The writer himself has lived in settlements in the Northern Territories and gives great descriptions of life there along with a great deal of humour. The author has written a sequel named Gunshot Road in which Emily has become a community police officer for the same area.
This is a creepy novel where two stories coincide. A woman’s husband has an affair and she seeks revenge; she in turn is seen by a man who we have seen holding vigil by his comatose girlfriend’s bedside. When the girlfriend dies he sees her in the other woman and becomes fixated on her. It is quite suspenseful as you start wondering about motives and past deeds.
This is not a big book but it is hard going and very grim. Also it is written phonetically so I had to read parts of it aloud to understand it – there is a glimmer of hope at the end but you get the feeling that the lives you are reading about represent a depressing reality for some.
A wonderful work of historical fiction. Mozart’s sister – nicknamed Nannerl – grew up adoring her brother. But their father ignored his brilliant daughter and decided that rather than nurture her musical talent she should teach piano to make money to further her brilliant brother’s career. The brother and sister ended up bitter enemies. Nannerl, who suffered a difficult love affair with the father of one of her students, would have tantrums and not eat for weeks she was so frustrated. She was sent to the country to do servant-like chores to settle her down but there she fell in love with a Baron who encouraged her to go back to her music - this talented woman, who had two children and an affinity with horses, lived into her 60’s. It was such an entertaining and interesting read!
Review of No good deed / Manda Scott.
A blood and guts thriller set in Scotland; it was quite good but I got too tired trying to keep track of all the characters with multiple names and personas. By the time I got to the end I really didn’t care if the cop was a baddy or not.
Review of Dublin 4
I enjoyed these four stories; Maeve Binchy is very good at describing people, her characters are always full and believable and you really feel as though you are there with them as you read. I was disappointed with the endings to the stories though, they left you up in the air.
A delightful read about the development of the Emirates. Joe Bennett gives us a quirky but not frivolous view of the wealth and excesses of Dubai, and also of the poverty of the lower classes living in compounds outside the city.
Review of Wildflower / Mark Seal.
The true story of Joan Root, a conservationist who fought to save the ecosystem of Lake Naivasha, Kenya until she was murdered in 2006. The book covers her early life filming, at times by Cessna and air balloon, the great animal migrations. Then covers her husband leaving her, and her subsequent life by Naivasha where she formed a task force to patrol and protect the lake. A really interesting and moving read about an amazing woman.
Review of Somewhere inside : one sister's captivity in North Korea and the other's fight to bring her home / Laura Ling and Lisa Ling.
A true story told in alternating chapters by two sisters who are investigative journalists. One is captured and held by the North Koreans for five years, in appalling conditions, while the other struggles to bring her home. Very interesting about North Korean/US politics, a great read.
Review of Tokyo vice / Jake Adelstein.
Gripping true story of Jake Adelstein, a jounalist who became involved in the world of the Yakuza through his work for the largest newspaper in Japan. Reads like a thriller, yet it is so much more enthralling knowing the extraordinary characters and dangerous situations are all real!
I was surprised how many interesting people and stories there are relating to this beautiful part of the world – you can select any chapter at random and find a good tale. Absolutely fascinating and an easy read.
Review of Corrag / Susan Fletcher.
"You’ve got to read this!” The story is told first person by Corrag, a gypsy whose name is a combination of her mother’s and ‘hag’ – witch, and also by the letters of Charles Leslie to whom she relates her story. Set in 17th Century Scotland it is a story of the horror and aftermath of the Massacre of Glencoe. It is a wonderful book of history and human interest.
The story of what life is like at the bottom of the pile and what happens when people at the bottom get a glimpse of the privileged life. Set in Sydney this is very graphic and quite depressing, but a good read if you like challenging books.
Review of Play dead / David Rosenfelt.
A murder mystery starring a golden retriever; this is part of a series with lawyer Andy Carpenter, a dog fanatic. This has a very clever story and it is amusing and has lots of twists and turns.
A 19th century coming of age story set on a ranch in Colorado. A young runaway gets taken on at the ranch and given the night time chores, hence the nickname Night Hawk. I found myself very absorbed by the characters; rough guys but also very genteel and respectful of each other. I loved the sparse language and the humour, and the beautiful descriptions of the surroundings – you get a great sense of the country.
Review of Too close to the falls a memoir
This is an extraordinary and hilarious true story of a US girl’s unconventional upbringing (as a child she never ate at home only in restaurants) including her time at a Catholic boarding school where she and her class mates do some very wicked things! It is a very amusing read.
Review of Dancing in a distant place / Isla Dewar.
This is a pleasant read and given its subject matter happily avoids ‘sloppiness’. When a wife and mother is suddenly left destitute she throws herself into teaching in a tiny Scottish Highland community.
Review of Never look back / Ted Allbeury.
This is actually two books, both about David who develops personally and professionally and who eventually finds his hometown of Birmingham no longer suits him. But David’s wife just wants things to stay the way they are. Both stories look at honour, class and culture through the decisions David makes about his life. It is interesting to read about David and the problems his creativity creates for him.
Review of The varieties of religious experience : a study in human nature / William James ; introduction by Reinhold Niebuhr.
This is a fascinating series of lectures given by James, psychologist and academic, 100 years ago. It was interesting to read his observations on, to him, historic and contemporary religious thought – and seeing in them the development of styles of thought, especially when considering what we today might say of some of his examples of the foundations of religious belief. And even more fascinating to think how our contemporary views might further develop. I found the first half quite difficult but the second half was well worth the decision to stick with it.
Review of The room of lost things / Stella Duffy.
Robert the dry cleaner is handing over his family business to Akeel, and looks back on his sad life. Interwoven with people who live in the area of London in which the dry cleaners is situated. A lovely gentle read of carefully described characters.
The story of James Murray, compiler of the Oxford English Dictionary, and his collaboration with sentenced ‘madman and murderer’ Dr William Minor. A fascinating and interesting book.
A mystery about a family secret and a threatened heiress. Compelling reading.
Review of A soldier's tale / M.K. Joseph.
First published in 1976, this novel is well worth going back and having another read – it tells the story of Saul Scourby, a young WW2 British corporal on leave from his unit, and Belle the woman he meets in an isolated farmhouse. It is a heart-wrenching and lovely story.
Review of The village newcomers / by Rebecca Shaw.
Ford and Mercedes Barclay have decided to spend their twilight years in the lovely village of Turnham Malpas - but will these two newcomers be made welcome? And does anyone care? Inane rubbish.
Review of The future of life / Edward O. Wilson.
Every day hundreds of plant, animal, or bacterial species become extinct – it’s all doom and gloom for the future of non-human life, and not too rosy for us either.
Review of Our final century : a scientist's warning : how terror, error, and environmental disaster threaten humankind's future in this century - on Earth and beyond / Martin J. Rees.
Doom and gloom for our planet - exploring the threats of genetically engineered viruses, nanotechnology, and environmental catastrophe – like giving a gun to a child in a nursery!
Review of Crossers : a novel / by Philip Caputo.
Set in Arizona and Mexico farmlands that form the US/Mexico border, this story tells of the lucrative but very dangerous business of drug and people trafficking as well as the story of two families who have lived and farmed on either side of the border since the early 1900s.
A really absorbing ‘whodunit’ murder mystery set in Berlin in 1945. The murders take place in the American Sector but the investigation covers all the sectors of post war Berlin and the complexities of the various occupying forces. I found it a good description of what life must have been like there and then.
A Romeo and Juliet type love story of rival clans in Damascus. It is a very big book and I didn’t think I would get through it - but I found it so interesting to read about the history of the place that I did, although at times I had to skim through some awful bits. Overall it was a moving story.
This is an autobiography describing the most horrendous childhood. Walls grew up with a brilliant but alcoholic father and a mother who had no interest in being a mother. Wells and her three siblings mostly fended for themselves and therefore this is a story of triumph, and of a resilience that allows her to describe her parents so generously.
The creator of the world’s greatest empire was charismatic but also a destroyer, fiercely loyal to his own he was also cruel and barbaric. He was a nomad who despised those in the settlements that sustained his hordes. I read this book while in Iran, a section of which was annexed to the Genghis Khan Empire. I haven’t quite finished it so haven’t given it a star rating.
Review of The 37th hour / Jodi Compton.
The story of a detective specialising in missing persons cases who ends up investigating her own husband’s disappearance. This was a good thriller, which was easy to read, had lots of twists and turns and I found I couldn’t put it down. I have only given it two stars though because I don’t like thrillers.
Review of The Elephanta suite / Paul Theroux.
It was unusual to find a work of fiction by Theroux. The Elephanta Suite is three intertwined novellas of Westerners in modern India. It gives a really interesting look at modern India through the interaction of Westerners with their stereotypical views and how they in turn are viewed by the Indian characters in the stories.
This is a Mystery story based on historical characters. Canaletto is commissioned to paint Badminton Park, the home of the Duke of Beaufort, and becomes embroiled with characters such as William Pitt. The story becomes a murder mystery with many twists and turns. It was very confusing and didn’t explain enough about the historical characters.
This book is anything but what its subtitle suggests; it is lightweight ‘spin’ and includes nothing about her business skills or how she really got to the top.
Review of The lost child of Philomena Lee : a mother, her son and a fifty-year search / Martin Sixsmith.
Michael Hess, a top lawyer and Republican politician, returned to Ireland to try and trace his birth mother when he found out he was dying of AIDS. He never found his mother. For fifty years Philomena Lee had tried to find her son, but never did. They had been separated when her son was forcibly taken from her when he was three, along with his sister. The Catholic Church had facilitated their being sent to America for adoption in return for funds. A very sad and moving book
Delightful true story of how a cat helped a family cope with grief. New Zealand journalist Helen Brown Gentry’s family adopted a kitten her nine-year old son had fallen in love with. But by the time the kitten was delivered Sam was dead. Sam’s younger brother begged them to take the kitten even though they were all traumatised by Sam’s death. Cleo is the story of how the cat helped the grief stricken family. If I could I would give it 6 stars.
Review of Consumption : a novel / Kevin Patterson.
A debut novel, Consumption looks at the origins, spread and dreadful effects of the tuberculosis epidemic amongst the Canadian Inuit in the 40s and 50s. Through the lack of public health measures the disease spread rapidly - the book reads at times like a medical thriller as we follow the story through several generations.
Review of Curious, if true strange tales
Beautifully written tales of, for example, Puritans in Salem and an Irish family during the famine. I normally don't like short stories but found myself enjoying this volume immensely.
Review of The winter vault / by Anne Michaels.
Winter Vault is an amazing and very poetic piece of writing. Covering great feats of engineering that had unfortunate consequences, for example the building of the Aswan Dam and the creation of the St Lawrence Seaway - it is a poetic connecting of interesting facts.
Review of The children's book / A.S. Byatt.
A great read spanning the 1880s-1930s, including lots of history of the Fabians, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the beginning of the Victoria and Albert Museum. The device is a writer writing books for each of her children.
Review of Diary of a bad year / J. M. Coetzee.
This wouldn't have been the novel that made Coetzee's reputation. Diary of a Bad year is in part told in footnotes, with the point of view moving from the 'writer' to his secretary. The bitsy narrative and changing point of view makes for a confusing read - with an opposing view another in the BookChat group 'loved it'.
Told as a series of memories by an old man in a nursing home, Water for Elephants is the story of a vet student looking after the large animals in a travelling circus during the depression era in America. Although quite brutal at times I found I couldn't put it down.
Review of Red dog / Louis De Bernieres.
Set in Perth, Red Dog was inspired by a statue of a dog De Bernieres saw during a visit to the Pilbara region of Western Australia. It is an incredible true story and an excellent read.
Review of The stone dragon / Peter Watt.
A story set around the British Legation during the Boxer Rebellion in China. The difficult conditions are well-portayed, and include the story of an Australian-Chinese family in Peking.
A fun read about a child who moves to instead of away from London during the war. Full of cockney homour it is a warm hearted memoir of what for others could have been a nighmare childhood.
A Life Like Other People's is not an autobiography but the story of Bennett trying to find out more about his background, most particularly about his mother. Bennett had a terrific father but his mother weas a mystery, as she went in and out of hospital suffering from depression. It is a very moving book - and although not 'funny' as advised by the book blurb, it is not a sad book.
Review of Rising tides / Nora Roberts.
Part of the Chesapeake Bay quartet, the story of how a pediatrician and a university lecturer from a village in Boston adopt three problem children and how the five become a family. An easy read.
Review of Silks / by Dick Francis, Felix Francis.
This collaboration between D*ck Francis and his son Felix is a great read - a murder mystery that combines the legal world and the world of steeplechase racing.
Review of Old filth / Jane Gardam.
The reminiscences of a judge in his 80s - he recalls his life beginning as a Raj Orphan in Malaysia. He is schooled in Wales and lives through the war and eventually became a lawyer in Hong Kong. He retires to Dorset. Old Filth is an interesting documenting of the life of a Raj Orphan - it is quite complex and covers a lot of years so, although it is easy to read, I enjoyed it more on a second reading.
The story of the impact of the 2nd World War on a family in Japan. Two brothers, one wanting to be a sumo wrestler and the other a mask maker, have their lives turned around as they live through the war years and the fire bombing of Tokyo. Interesting to read of this time from a different point of view.
Review of The bell jar / Sylvia Plath ; foreword by Frances McCullough ; biographical note by Lois Ames ; drawings by Sylvia Plath.
Following a woman through the experiences of a mental breakdown, the Bell Jar clearly describes her journey - unrelenting and intelligent.
Review of The swan thieves / by Elizabeth Kostova.
I enjoyed parts of the Swan Thieves - there are some lovely bits in it. But it did go on and on and is badly in need of an editor. Why do American women authors always go overboard with their descriptions?! Alternate view in the group: Some members loved every bit of it.