The Bright Side of My Condition, by Charlotte Randall
I’ve just spent a year writing a book about castaways on a remote, southern New Zealand island in the early 1860s and sent it off for consideration, when a friend told me about Charlotte Randall’s The Bright Side of My Condition, set about 50 years earlier on the Snares, with seals and storms and miserable conditions. I almost died. She’s already written my story – I wailed.
But of course, she hadn’t. There is more than one story set in the frozen southern oceans and many ways to tell ’em.
Randall’s is based on a true story of four convict men who have escaped Norfolk penal colony, without much planning or foresight, stowing away on a sealing ship. The captain drops them on a desolate island with a trypot and some basic necessities and tells them to collect a payment of seal skins. He’ll pick them up in a year. The felons are so pleased to be free of the jail that this seems a reasonable exchange. A decade passes.
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The Telegram by Philippa Werry
I love a good YA fiction that goes deep, and The Telegram by Philippa Werry certainly delivers. A young reader will enjoy the story of Beatrice cycling around her small kiwi town on her bike, changing from a schoolgirl to a young woman with the harrowing responsibility of delivering telegrams during the first world war. She makes and loses friends, delivers news of celebration and (more often) tragedy to families, writes letters as she waits for the boy next door to return from the front, and celebrates the war’s end just as the ‘flu rolls into town. Continue reading “The Telegram – book review”
American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
The book opens with a mass-shooting at a family gathering in Acapulco, Mexico. Luca, eight years old, is in the toilet. His mother, who has been waiting in the corridor, bundles him into the shower enclosure and “is clinched around him like a tortoise shell”.
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Pachinko does exactly what a good book should; it takes you somewhere else and shows you the world through different eyes. A story has to make normal to us what may seem strange, and to explain the world enough so the reader understands the observations without the narrator being too “telly”. This is hard to do across a cultural divide but in this epic story, Min Jin Lee gives us full immersion.
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Lenny’s Book of Everything, by Karen Foxlee
I was up at 3am crying this morning. I woke up and couldn’t get back to sleep and I thought I’d read a quick chapter of Lenny’s Book of Everything, ended up finishing the book and bawling my eyes out. Some books do that to you. This is one of them.
Audience-wise it’s a cross-over book, equally for teens and adults, about a young girl’s world. The voice is so honest and appealing, I can’t imagine anyone starting to reading this and not want to sit down with Lenny and hear her story. She is totally engaging.
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Spearo, by Mary-anne Scott
If you’re a kiwi and you go to the beach, here’s a tip: read this story and learn about spear fishing. I had no idea it was a thing. I thought fishing at sea involved sitting passively for hours on a boat until a tug on the line left you dealing with whatever Neptune sent you. But a “spearo” goes beneath the surface, free diving, and gets to know the fish in their own environment. This is not someone sitting comfortably on a boat having a random tug of war with some poor fish they may not even want. A spearo goes out to get dinner. Continue reading “Spearo – book review”
The Dutch House, by Ann Patchett
The portrait of the girl in the red coat is of Maeve, and this is her story.
We come at this fact obliquely, as the narrator is Danny, her much younger brother.
I love this painting, presented on the cover of the book. I referred back to it many times as I read to bring Maeve into the room with me. She looks a damn good kid, but with a bit of spirit. Sharp. Initially, the painter is brought to the Dutch House to paint Maeve’s mother, who decides she is having none of it. So Maeve stares out at the painter throughout several long sittings, a little bit in love with him, but she keeps to her seat, steady and calm, the still focus of the house while things go on around her.
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See you in September, by Charity Norman
I was so pleased to win this last week (and thank you Wardini Books, I’m sure you give donations all the time for fundraisers, and I want you to know this one ended up in appreciative hands). Charity Norman lives up the road. She’s quite famous but I’ve never read her before. Where have I been? This was great.
Some books are page-turners because of the writing, some for the plot or the characters, and some books just have a magic hook that drags you through the night (just one more chapter, just one more) because you are in so deep you just have to know how it ends. Arrggh! I put my life on hold while I gripped this book in my clammy hands. Continue reading “See you in September – book review”
Less, by Andrew Sean Greer
I liked Less a lot.
Arthur Less is a white middle-aged, gay, American man walking around with his white middle-aged, gay American sorrows. Well, that is the character in a novel Less is writing. “It’s a little hard to feel sorry for a guy like that,” says a friend. True that.
But somehow we do! Arthur Less is a lovable white middle-aged, gay, American man. All the boys say he kisses like he means it. And Less is nursing a broken heart. He is confused and struggling to understand the depths of his emotions. His much younger ex, Freddy, is about to marry someone else. Less lets him go, because he loves him so much and doesn’t believe he can make him happy. Less leaves town to escape the despair of loss. Continue reading “Less – book review”
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
I read this last year and didn’t review it at the time because of my self-imposed ban on war as a setting. I bang on about it, but it does worry me that our go to narrative for intense emotion is war. Is this why we’ve been systematically at each others throats since the dawn of time? Because we crave powerful emotion?
With that off my chest, I have to say this is a terrific story. Continue reading “Everyone Brave is Forgiven – book review”