Sunday, October 19, 2014

The impossible lives of Greta Wells by Andrew Sean Greer [Anita, Blockhouse Bay Library]


This is a time travel book but with a point of difference that is a fresh take on the idea. It is 1985 and Greta Wells' twin brother Felix dies of  AIDS. Soon after, her long-standing lover Nathan leaves her for another woman. Life is unbearable and she feels she just cannot go on. Counselling, drugs . . .  nothing works for her so her doctor tries her on a new procedure that has strange side effects.  She is catapulted into other existences, one in 1918, and the other in 1941. Here she is able to be with Felix and Nathan again, but no timeline is perfect, they all have compensations - but also losses. In addition the different periods have shaped the people she loves and herself in different ways, in one she is married with a child, in another she is falling in love with another man.

Each procedure cycles her through the three different times and in each she makes decisions that have an affect on that particular life, and as the story unwinds we realise that the alternate Gretas are also making their own decisions that will affect her life. Basically they inhabit each other bodies rather than physically jump to each time period.

Interesting was how Felix's stories provide an exploration of the limited choices available to gay people throughout history. Of course the modern Greta knows her brother is gay and encourages him to make choices which are true to himself. What was a bit weak was that the Gretas did not seem to think overly much on how their actions would impact on each other. There could also have been more details to flesh out the time periods but the overall premise of the story is satisfying, and this book will keep you reading to the end, after all you must find out which life will each Greta choose to stay in?

Author:Andrew Sean Greer
ISBN: 9780571295401
Published: 2013
Publisher: New York, N.Y. : Ecco
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Monday, October 13, 2014

The Mapmaker's Daughter: a novel by Laurel Corona [Surani, Waitakere Central Library]

Spain, 1492. That is when this exceptional piece of historical fiction starts from. Amalia Cresques, now aged 67, waits for her grandson in an empty room save for a single chair. They plan to go into exile together as the rulers of Spain have issued an order expelling all Jews who refuse to convert to Christianity. Amalia mourns the handmade atlas created by her father that she can’t take with her as she waits.

The story that follows from here is one of identity, exile, and what it means to be home. The narrative changes from the present day to memories of Amalia’s earlier life as young wife, mother, family matriarch, and converso, a Jew forced to hide her faith and live as a Christian. Amalia recounts the struggles she faced during her life and with each chapter we see history come to life in the pages.

This amazing, evocative and often heart-rending tale is another masterpiece where Laurel Corona has managed to bring to life one of the most tumultuous periods in European history. Filled with vivid description of the Iberian landscape and especially the Jewish rituals and values of the time, Corona managed to hook me into this amazing novel. I’m not usually a fan of historical fiction, but this piece stirred a long-abandoned interest and one I intend on pursuing.

Author: Laurel Corona
ISBN: 9781402286490
Published: 2014
Publisher: Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks Inc.

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Saturday, October 11, 2014

Stone Mattress. Nine Tales- Margaret Atwood [Sue W Central]

Well hello Ms Atwood, welcome back, we have missed you so.  Its kind of intimidating writing a review of such a literary behemoth but Im going to talk about the experience of engaging with her latest work.

I like that Atwood has themed these nine interrelated tales around death. You know its going to be given extra special treatment. I think your experience of reading these stories will differ according to how familiar you are with her work. Atwood has writing has  crossed   literary genres shape shifting and evading attempts to neatly sum her up.

Maybe you are an avid follower and read each and every one of her offerings. Or maybe you pick the texts that most appeal to your reading taste. Alternatively, maybe you are an Atwood newbie and this is your first tasting. (Where on earth have you been to not have read anything of hers prior??)

Whatever your experience you will enjoy the wicked sense of humour, you will enjoy the subversive streak and her nod to previous works. There is definitely something here for everyone, especially the first timer. What joys await if this is your first taste of Atwood, to look for more and discover all the splendid choices for you to follow up.

Title: Stone Mattress. Nine Tales
Author: Margaret Atwood
publisher:London: Bloomsbury, 2014.
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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Journey to a hanging by Peter Wells [Emma, Birkenhead Library]

Here's a bit of history. Journey to a Hanging relates to the events leading to the 1871 trial and hanging at Napier of Kereopa Te Rau. Te Rau, a Pai Marire prophet, was charged with the murder of Reverend Carl Sylvius Völkner at Opotiki in 1865. Völkner, an Anglican missionary, was said to be a spy for the colonial government. After he was hanged, his head was cut off , and his eyes eaten. Pai Marire was conceived peacefully, but came to be feared as it became associated with violent opposition to the warring colonial government: Pakeha called Pai Marire followers "Hauhaus".

The text refers throughout to historical sources such as letters, documents, and photographs (many are reproduced in the book). The pictures tell a thousand words, and I have looked at them over and over again. But the words are also interesting.

I have seen criticism that Peter Wells puts too much of himself into his writing and that he is facetious at times, but I disagree. I liked his conjecture on how people might feel and I liked his portrayals of Te Rau and Völkner, his placing in context of the events, and his depiction of other strong personalities involved such as William Colenso (who is a favourite of mine anyway), Bishop William Williams, and Sister Mary Aubert. I also liked the way he brought minor characters into the narrative, such as Te Rau's gaoler, shepherd David  Balfour and the Burrton family who lost a child the summer of Te Rau's trial. These things are the fabric of life and they brought the times alive. Wells also put himself into the picture, as he reflected on his own thoughts and feeling about the characters. This makes his book seem more than a historical account - at times you could be reading a novel, or a memoir. It skipped to the present, as Wells visited the places where things actually happened and described the spirits of the past impacting and intruding onto our present.

There is no simple straightforward conclusion to reach with these events except that the past is a complex picture, and goodies and baddies are really not there. Though there were bad things done, and dirty tricks, and the times in this book (as our times now are too) were full of them.

Title: Journey to a hanging
Author: Peter Wells
Published: 2014; Random House, Auckland, New Zealand
ISBN: 9781775533900

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Hard Country: A Golden Bay Life by Robin Robilliard [Claire Smyth, Central Library]


Robin Robilliard trained as a nurse and took up journalism in her early forties. Raised in the prosperous Hawkes Bay where her grandparents had a sheep station she searches with her husband Garry for a farm they can afford.

One year after her marriage in 1957, and with a six week old baby, they arrive at their new ‘farm’ in Golden Bay – 1500 mountainous acres of gorse, scrub and bracken (aptly named Rocklands) and the punishing toil of eking out a living begins.

With a back boundary bordering the Abel Tasman National Park and a beautiful view to the ocean, Rocklands is on the far side of the dreaded Takaka Hill.

Robin covers the isolation, the environment and the people. Character building and inspirational, she wouldn’t exchange her six decades of a ‘vastly rewarding life’ for anything. She believes the compensations have more than made up for the hardships.

I really enjoy these books written about lives lived in isolated parts of New Zealand. Many, now written from a women’s perspective, are a delight to read. For city dwellers they provide a glimpse of life in rural areas we only get to see through books or film. Perhaps some of us will even be inspired to venture forth and experience some of these places for ourselves!

If you enjoy this book then take a look at:
The road to Castle Hill : a high country love story/ Christine Fernyhough
A Wife on Gorge River/ Catherine Stewart
High Country legacy : four generations of Aspinalls at Mt Aspiring Station / Alex Hedley.
The Price of Bacon / Jeanette Aplin

Title: Hard Country: a Golden Bay life
Author: Robin Robilliard
Published: Auckland, Random House New Zealand, 2014
ISBN: 9781775536635
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