November Picks

Jenny’s been reading:

Evans, Patrick (2010) Gifted. Victoria UP.  One day in 1955 the ‘father of New Zealand fiction’ finds a young woman on his doorstep. A writer herself, she has recently emerged from a lengthy spell in hospital and is looking for somewhere safe to live and write. Somewhat to his own surprise, not to mention discomfort, he takes her in. Frank Sargeson and Janet Frame come alive in this fictional recreation of the brief sojourn. Really enjoyed. Rating: 9/10.

Jan’s been reading:

Gregory, Philippa (2011) The Lady of the Rivers. Simon & Schuster.   Jacquetta, descendant of Melusina, the river goddess, daughter of the Count of Luxembourg and kinswoman to half the royalty of Europe, was married to the great Englishman John, Duke of Bedford, uncle to Henry VI. Widowed at the age of nineteen she took the extraordinary risk of marrying a gentleman of her house-hold for love, and then carved out a life for herself as Queen Margaret of Anjou’s close friend and a Lancaster supporter – until the day that her daughter Elizabeth Woodville fell in love and married the rival king Edward IV. Her dramatic story is one of the most neglected; her reputation for making magic is the story most often told. The third book  in The Cousins’ War series.  As a fan of Phillippa Gregory I thoroughly enjoy the historical accuracy of her stories.  Rating 8.5/10.

Roadley, Rae (2011)  Love at the End of the Road; finding my heart in the country.  Penguin.   Soon after returning to Northland journalist Rae meets Kaipara farmer Rex Roadley through a rural dating service. This is the story of Rae and Rex’s relationship, and Rex’s sheep and beef farm and house at Batley, on the Kaipara Harbour, which has been in his family for almost a century.   Charming history of the area.  Rating: 7.5/10.

Jan Mc’s been reading:

Mehran, Marsha (2008) Rosewater and soda bread. Harper Collins. The Aminpour sisters, Marjan, Bahar and Layla, seek refuge in the Irish town of Ballinacroagh, after fleeing Iran. They win the townsfolk over with their café serving delectable Persian cuisine. But when a young woman with a dark secret literally washes up on Clew Bay Beach, the sisters′ world is once again turned upside down. Filled with mouthwatering recipes and enchanting details of life in Ireland.  Good beach read. Rating: 7/10.

Roz’s been reading:

Lewis, Pam (2011) A young wife. Simon & Schuster. This saga is based on the author’s grandmother’s life.  Beginning in Holland in 1912, Minke  a 15 year old Dutch girl is hired by her distant cousin to nurse his wife during her last days. The wife dies and immediately Sander, the husband, asks Minke to marry him and they hurriedly leave Holland for  what she thinks is a progressive town in Argentina. The town is desolate and truly a new frontier.  Secrets start to unfold and she has a glimpse into the real personality of the man she married. After her firstborn is kidnapped and while she is pregnant with her second child, she follows her husband to New York City.  Fascinating read about early Argentina. Enjoyed by both Roz and Raewyn.  Rating: 8/10.

Cowell, Stephanie (2010) Claude and Camille: a novel of Claude Monet. Crown.  In the mid-nineteenth century, Claude Monet decided that he would rather endure a difficult life painting landscapes than take over his father’s nautical supplies business. He had an insatiable urge to create a new style of art that repudiated the Classical Realism of the time, and he set off for Paris where he met his muse, his best friend, his  lover, and the mother to his two children, the upper-class Camille. They lived in extreme poverty alongside other Impressionists – Renoir, Cézanne, Pissarro, Manet.  Would recommend though wished was written with more style. Great appendix listing location of Monet’s paintings.   Rating: 8/10.

Raewyn’s been reading:

Bender, Aimee (2011) The particular sadness of lemon cake. Random. On the eve of her ninth birthday,  Rose bites into her mother’s homemade lemon-chocolate cake and discovers she has a magical gift: she can taste her mother’s emotions in the slice. To her horror, she finds that her cheerful mother tastes of despair. Soon, she’s  privy to the secret knowledge that most families keep hidden.  Unorthodox, something different.  Rating: 7/10.

Chand, Meira (2011) A different sky. Vintage.  A  novel telling the history of Singapore through the moving stories of three families whose lives are caught up in the tumultuous journey along the long, hard path to independence. From the opportunist Raj Sherma, an Indian immigrant made good, to the young Communist Greta, fighting the imperialists in the 1950s, and from the mixed loyalties of the Eurasian and Chinese communities to the sufferings of British prisoners of war.  Provides a different cultural perspective,  Highly recommended. Rating: 9/10.

Ghosh, Amitav (2002) The Glass Palace. Random. Set in Burma during the British invasion of 1885, this novel  tells the story of Rajkumar, a poor boy lifted on the tides of political and social chaos, who goes on to create an empire in the Burmese teak forest. When soldiers force the royal family out of the Glass Palace and into exile, Rajkumar befriends Dolly, a young woman in the court of the Burmese Queen, whose love will shape his life.  The struggles that have made Burma, India, and Malaya the places they are today are illuminated in this novel. Rating: 7/10.

Charles, Janet Skeslien  (2011) Moonlight in Odessa. Bloomsbury. Darkly funny look at the Russian mail-order bride business.  Daria begins to moonlight as an interpreter at Soviet Unions(TM), a matchmaking agency that organizes “socials” where lonely American men can meet desperate Odessan women. Daria’s grandmother wants her to leave the Ukraine and marry an American, although she has feelings for a local mobster. Daria chooses security and America, but  it is not what she thought it would be… Reminiscent of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.  Wonderful insight into culture, woven around a good yarn.  Rating: 8/10.

Carol’s been reading:

O’Sullivan, Vincent (2011) The movie may be slightly different. Victoria UP.  Offers a rich harvest of recent poems displaying the wit, intellectual agility and arresting beauty for which Vincent O’Sullivan is renowned.  Poems are full of story and life, and are memorable.   Engaged with some poems more than others.  Rating: 8.5/10.

Cath’s been reading:

Kaplan, Robert (1994) Balkan Ghosts; a journey through history. Random. From the assassination that triggered World War I to the ethnic warfare in Serbia, Bosnia, and Croatia, the Balkans were the crucible of the twentieth century, the place where terrorism and genocide first became tools of policy.  Kaplan’s prescient, enthralling, and often chilling political travelogue is already a modern classic.  Sets the scene for the current events in Greece with the Euro zone.  Interesting read, nothing changes.  Rating: 8/10.

Baker, Jo (2011) The Picture book. Allen & Unwin.  Set against the backdrop of a century of British history from WWI to the ‘War on Terror’, this is a family portrait captured in snapshots. First there is William, the factory lad who loses his life in Gallipoli, then his son Billy, a champion cyclist who survives the D-Day Landings on a military bicycle, followed by his crippled son Will who becomes an Oxford academic in the 1960s, and finally his daughter Billie, an artist in contemporary London. Rich in drama  about fate and repetition, and about the possibility of breaking free. Descriptive writing, Rating: 8/10.

Angela’s been reading:

Bennett, Joe (2010) Hello Dubai. Simon & Schuster.  Joe explores the colourful and quirky  world of Dubai. Modern marvel, commercial hub, where middle-east meets wealthy west, playground for tourists, crawling with ex-pats, built by Indians, owned by Arabs, Dubai has risen  in little more than thirty years. A travel book with an insight into the lives of the ex-pats, but not much into the Arab world – illustrates the ‘separate but invisible’ parallel lives lived by people in this country.   Rating: 8/10.

Ann’s been reading:

Richards, Keith (2010) Life. Weidenfeld & Nicolson. With the Rolling Stones, Keith Richards created the riffs, the lyrics and the songs that roused the world, and for over four decades he has lived the rock and roll life: taking the chances he wanted, speaking his mind, and making it all work .  Now, at last, he tells the story of his  life in a voice that is uniquely and intimately his own, with the disarming honesty that has always been his trademark. Respectful of the Rolling Stones and people in the music industry.   Larger than life. Well-written and memorable. Rating: 10/10.

Debbie’s been reading:

Monninger, Joseph (2010) Eternal on the water. Simon & Schuster.  From the day Cobb and Mary meet kayaking on Maine’s Allagash River and fall deeply in love, the two approach life with the same sense of adventure they use to conquer the river’s treacherous rapids. But rivers do not let go so easily, and neither does their love. So when Mary’s life takes the cruelest turn…  Set against the wilderness of Maine, the islands of Indonesia, the panoramas of Yellowstone National Park, and the villages of rural New England.  Enjoyed the Thoreau-like and circular imagery and theme “am going to hurry gradually”.  Rating: 8/10.

Rubin, Gretchen (2011) The happiness project. Harper Paperbacks.  One rainy afternoon on a city bus, Gretchen Rubin had an epiphany, she realised that she wasn’t as happy as she could be. In danger of wasting her days – always yearning for something more, waiting for problems to miraculously solve themselves – she realized her life wasn’t going to change unless she did something about it. On January 1, she embarked on her Happiness Project, and each month she pursued a different set of resolutions. Designed to inspire readers to navigate their own paths to happiness.  Disappointing, indulgent, no substance.  Rating: 6.5/10.

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