June Picks

Jan’s been reading:

Brooks, Geraldine (1999) Foreign Correspondence: a memoir.  Bantam. Born in Sydney’s western suburbs Geraldine Brooks longs to discover the vivid places, beyond her isolated backyard, where she believed history and culture are made. Penfriends in Australia, the Middle East, US, and France offer her a window on the world.  Twenty years later, and a lifetime away from her sheltered childhood, Geraldine, now an award-winning journalist, embarks on a journey to find her penfriends, and discovers lives that have been shaped by mental illness, war, hatred, community, and notoriety.  An intimate and moving memoir by the bestselling author 0f People of the Book.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Brooks, Geraldine (2011) Caleb’s Crossing.  Fourth Estate.  In 1665, Caleb Cheeshahteaumauk from Martha’s Vineyard became the first Native American graduate, of Harvard College.  From the few facts that survive from his extraordinary life Geraldine Brooks creates a re-imagined tale. Her narrator, and lens on this 17th century frontier world, is the restless and curious Bethia Mayfield, daughter of a puritan minister.  She yearns after an education that is closed to her by her sex. At twelve, she encounters Caleb, the young son of a chieftain, and the two forge a tentative secret friendship that enmeshes them in the other’s fate and the alien world of the other.  An authentic voice of the period, well researched and a thoroughly enjoyable read.  Rating: 9/10.

Roz’s been reading:

Vann, David (2011) Caribou Island. Viking. On a small island in Alaska’s Kenai Peninsula, Gary and Irene’s marriage is unraveling. Soon they are hauling logs out to Caribou Island to build a cabin, and with each trip their desperation escalates.  Across the water on the mainland, their daughter, Rhoda is starting her own life,  fantasizing about the perfect wedding day, whilst her betrothed, Jim the dentist, wonders about the possibility of an altogether different future.  A strong depiction of love and disappointment, set in a desolate landscape. Rating: 8/10.

Fearnley, Laurence (2010) The Hut Builder. Penguin.  As a boy in the late 1930s, Boden’s life is changed forever when  his neighbour drives him over the mountains into the vast snow-covered plains of the Mackenzie Country. Years later  Boden, now a university student, helps build an alpine hut high up on the eastern slopes of Mount Cook. Living in snow caves while the hut is built, Boden forms important relationships with members of the working party, most notably with Walter, a conscientious objector from the Second World War. Real historical characters (such as Edmund Hillary and literary editor Charles Brasch) make appearances in the novel.  Nice weekend read. Rating: 8/10.

Hill, Lawrence (2009) Someone knows my name. Harper Collins.  Abducted from Africa as a child and enslaved in South Carolina, Aminata Diallo thinks only of freedom. Sold to an indigo trader who recognises her intelligence, and torn from her husband and child she is thrown into the chaos of the Revolutionary War. Aminata helps pen the Book of Negroes, a list of blacks rewarded for service to the king with safe passage to Nova Scotia.  When the British abolitionists come looking for ‘adventurers’ to create a new colony in Sierra Leone, Aminata assists in moving 1,200 Nova Scotians to Africa and aiding the abolitionist cause by revealing the realities of slavery to the British public. Captivating story spanning six decades and three continents. Bestseller. Rating 8.5/10.

Jenny’s been reading:

Kennedy, Cate (2010) The best Australian stories 2010.  Black.  Cate Kennedy presents a line-up of the year’s most exciting short fiction, featuring the best work from publications around the country.  By turns playful, heart-wrenching, intimate and exuberant, these twenty-nine stories reveal the strength and variety of Australian fiction today. The authors include first-timers as well as established masters, and the result is a stimulatingly diverse collection.  Unusual approach, some stories very modern, well worth-it.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Raewyn’s been reading:

Mahfouz, Naguib (2008) Cairo Modern.   The novel takes place in the 1930s, with Egypt at a crossroads. Its traditional mores are being increasingly undermined by European influences. The central character is Mahgub, a philosophy student.  Mahgub is lean and literally hungry,  from a peasant background. To assuage his grinding hunger and to help his ailing father, he agrees to marry, sight unseen, Ihsan the mistress of a prominent and married government official in return for a good job that will enable him to send money home to his pious family.  Ihsan has entered into this arrangement through the connivance of her greedy father. Ihsan will be Mahgub’s wife, but she will also allow her husband’s employer to visit her on certain nights. Needless to say, things do not turn out as expected. They become enamored of the comforts this arrangement brings  – a good apartment, a big office and a telephone  and of having enough to eat.  A singular look at a historical moment in the lives of Egyptians, raised in traditional households, whose existences were rocked by modernity.  Bitter and ambitious.  Rating: 7.5/10.

Debbie’s been reading:

Moggach, Deborah (2000) Tulip Fever. Heinemann. Cornelis Sandvoort is a successful merchant in 1630s Amsterdam. Widowed, he marries the much younger Sophia, the eldest daughter of a family that has been left impoverished by the death of the father. They have a somewhat happy life shared with their servant Maria. However, this joy is turned upside down when Cornelis decides to have their portrait painted by Jan van Loos, who brings unexpected passion to Sophia, whose actions impact all their lives.   Movie rights sold to Steven Spielberg. Rating: 7/10.

Lynne’s been reading:

O’Brien, Gregory (2011) A Micronaut in the Wide World; the imaginative life and times of Graham Percy. Auckland University Press.  Re-discovers the life and work of this talented, original artist, illustrator, and typographer. Well known for his School Journal and book illustrations in New Zealand.  Rating: 9/10.

Lange, Peter and Stuart Newby (2011) Playing with fire : Auckland Studio Potters turns 50. National Institute of Creative Arts.  Over 150 photos celebrating the enthusiasm of 50 years of the subculture of studio pottery and ceramic sculpture in Auckland. With contributions by: Barry Brickell, Roger Blackley, Bronwynne Cornish, Peter Lange, Stuart Newby, John Parker, Justin Paton, Dick Scott, Christine Thacker, an interview with Len Castle by Tanya Wilkinson, plus a gallery of archival photos by Marti Friedlander, and many others. Rating: 8.5/10.

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