Black Beauty

by Anna Sewell

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A Goodreads member requested some of the Black Beauty quotes be cleaned up. I owned this copy and it became easier to reread and try to fix as many quotes as I could while reading. (I should note that doing this is quite definitely a one-off & that I was intending to read this book next year anyway!)

This is the story of Black Beauty’s rise and then fall through the ranks through no fault of his own. BB’s voice is quite definitely Ms Sewell’s, a kindly woman who wanted to see horses (still the main form of transportation in the 1870s) treated (quite a bit) better. You really feel that BB has a few things he wants to get off his chest!

They always seemed to think that a horse was something like a steam-engine, only smaller. At any rate, they seemed to think that if they only pay for it, a horse is bound to go just as far, and just as fast, and with just as heavy a load as they please.

Sewell/BB do feel compassion for the poor working class cabbies who have no choice but to work horses they have rented seven days a week. Ginger’s  tragic end still moved me to tears!

Anyone who is thinking of buying a horse (or any other domestic animal) should read this.

Sewell died a few months after this book was first published. I hope she did get at least to taste a small measure of the book’s success.

The Other One

by Colette

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

“She is made for moderate emotions, ash-blonde sorrow.”

I read a lot of Colette when I was young – she seemed to be very popular with Auckland librarians of the time! But until I found this book in a local charity shop, I have been unsuccessful locating her works.

I liked this book without loving it. As another reviewer says, it feels very French. The translation by Elizabeth Tait & Roger Senhouse feels authentic and natural.

While I found Fanny & Jane’s alliance interesting, I never really cared about them. I certainly didn’t like Farou or his son.

Beautiful writing, but it didn’t touch me. This won’t stop me searching for Colette’s better known books.

The Children’s Book of Christmas Stories

Asa Don Dickinson & Ada M. Skinner

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The Retro Reads Group on Goodreads read a selection of stories from this book.

We started with A Christmas Matinee by M.A.L. Lane.
So touching and with lots of good messages – not the least was that it feels good to do the right thing. I had tears in my eyes at the end! 5★

The Queerest Christmas by Grace Margaret Gallagher
I had tears in my eyes again. What was so lovely was that Betty didn’t realise she had done anything special. Heartwarming 4.5★

The Telltale Tile by Olive Thorne Miller.
I found the writing a little awkward in this story, but it was still a very sweet tale. 3.5★

Little Gretchen and the Wooden Shoe by Elizabeth Harrison More tears! But I liked that the outcome for Gretchen was realistic. & Gretchen was so sweet. 5★

The Philanthropist’s Christmas by James Weber Linn
I liked that the resolution had a little bit of the unexpected. (view spoiler) 4★

The Chimes I thought The Chimes was beautiful. Once again I cried. 4.5★

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper

by Harriet Scott Chessman

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

This is a lovely, gentle story about the relationship between sisters – in this case renowned Impressionist painter Mary (May) Cassatt & her ailing sister Lydia. They are with their parents in France – Lydia is slowly dying from Bright’s Disease (now called nephritis) and May is in denial about her sister’s impending demise. Instead she paints a series of five paintings, from one of my my favourite Cassatt works Woman Reading;

to the more intense Lydia at a Tapestry Frame;

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I don’t think I am projecting – you can see the pain in the set of Lydia’s mouth in the latter painting.

This book also touched on other relationship’s in the family and on May’s close friendship with Edgar Degas.

This is a book that rewards a patient reader. My only quibble was the use of French phrases – but changed to English, even though the Cassatts were still speaking French together. A very minor quibble in a book to treasure – not the least because there are five quality plates of the “Lydia paintings.”

My Year in Review on Goodreads 2021

Goals For This Year (I wrote this January 2021)

Reading 80 books for the Goodreads Challenge.

Reading 22 books by Kiwi Authors with the Book Loving Kiwis Group

And reading more poetry. The world needs more beauty.

Well the world certainly didn’t get more beauty in 2021!

All I can find to say about 2021 is that I am really looking forward to 2022!

Reading: I feel bad that I set a target of 22 NZ books & have only managed to read 17 (+ a dnf & a not yet finished) Pretty dismal record for books from my own country. I haven’t decided if I am going to set a Kiwi target in 2022 or not. I probably stuck too long with books that had turned into a chore. That isn’t to say I don’t do DNFs – I had five this year – but maybe I should have had a few more!

So without further ado… as usual I will get the not so good out of the way first.

Most Disappointing
The Once and Future Witches by Alex E. Harrow, because I love Harrow’s short stories so much! But this one felt endless!
Runner Up The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel

I had a feeling this one was not going to be great. Years of anticipation and hype and then this dull & uneven book. I didn’t plough on the way I did with The Once & Future Witches – this was a DNF.

Worst Cookbook
Other than this cookbook I didn’t have any bad non fiction reads – so that is a plus, right???

But I can’t recommend I Quit Sugar: Simplicious by Sarah Wilson

not because the recipes were all awful (I still make the Celery Soda) but because I couldn’t trust it! For a recipe book that said it was all about reducing waste… well I have never tried so many inaccurate & tasteless recipes and had to throw out so many ingredients, when I had carefully followed the recipe!

Worst Fiction
A Song for the Stars by Ilima Todd. Wooden. A DNF

 Worst Overall
I Quit Sugar: Simplicious Nuff said.

So on to the Good Ones!

Best NZ Fiction

The flawed but brilliant Auē. Becky Manawatu is a writer to watch out for.

Best International Fiction – Reread
Cotillion – of course! My favourite Regency by my favourite author
Runner up A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Honorable Mention Arabella – also by my beloved Georgette Heyer!

Best International Fiction
I’m going to give it to Ross Poldark by Winston Graham
but Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden is a very close second.
Honorable Mention Slow Horses Well worth the wait to acquire a copy!

Best NZ Nonfiction
The Years Before My Death9] by the late, great NZ Comedian David McPhail. Very little of his older work survived – TVNZ taped over them.
Runner Up A Wanganui Photo Album: Pages From the Past I wish I could remember the name of the main photographer – these old photos are works of genius! I would love to own a copy of this book.
Two Honourable Mentions; Ten Years in Wellington displaying the work of the wonderfully talented Michael McCormack
Opera for Lovers by Kiri Te Kanawa – part memoir, part opinion piece, always fascinating.

Best International Nonfiction
I can’t separate these two very different books.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou & Me by Elton John

Best Cookbook (NZ & International)
A Vegetable Cook Book

Best Nonfiction Overall
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou & Me by Elton John

Poetry Best New Zealand
Goddess Muscle by Karlo Milo. Wow!

Poetry International
Was a collection & my first audiobook. & what an audiobook to start with! Classic Love Poems narrated by the velvet voice of Richard Armitage.

Best YA
Fifteen by the late Beverley Cleary. Old fashioned and charming

Best NZ Children’s’ Book
Mophead Tu: The Queen’s Poem by the wonderful Selina Tusitala Marsh

Best International Children’s Book
The Last Noo-Noo by the late Jill Murphy. Jill you, will be very much missed!

Best New-To-Me Author
Margery Sharp I loved Rhododendrum Pie but her adult books seem difficult to find in NZ.

Best Book Cover
This wasn’t my favourite Fiona Kidman but I loved the cover. 

Infinite Air by Fiona Kidman
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& on to my stats. I read 82 books, including 5 dnfs. My average rating was 4.

I’ve given up trying to add my pie charts on Goodreads. I know the developers are doing a bity of housekeeping, but images not working properly wasn’t mentioned.

What these pie charts show.

  1. I still read way more women than men. I’m not expecting this to change.
  2. I’m not reading nearly enough books by Kiwi authors.
  3. I read mostly fiction
  4. Although I still read mostly 20th century books, the amount of 21st century books I read has increased. I’m reading a bit more non fiction & poetry, so that will be part of the reason.

So why couldn’t it be this simple on Goodreads?

So I’ll just say the constant bugs, changes that reduce the functionality for members, but don’t even seem to slow the spammers down and proposed changes to the book page that may make it harder for volunteer Librarians to do the edits are very frustrating.

All the best for 2022!

Cold Harbour Gentlemen

by Ann Lee

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The author (aka Abigail Bok) is one of my oldest friends on Goodreads.

Young Harry Steer is being pushed hard, as his father wants him to rise in the world. The endless cramming makes Harry long for adventure – or even for the outdoors! A chance meeting takes Harry along a path that could not only ruin his own life – it could take his family down with him. A smuggler’s life appears glamorous & well paid at first – but everything comes at a cost.

Ms Lee has completely immersed herself in the the world of Darking (now known as Dorking) and has even created a website for this world.https://www.darkinghundred.com/  I really enjoyed this adventure, which picked up a lot in the final third. Saying that the ending was a little improbable,  but no matter! Enjoy this rollicking tale!

‘Tis the Season

by China Miéville

Rating: 4 out of 5.

 I was looking for a more modern Christmas story and knew I had this one on one of my to-read lists.

I liked it! I don’t read much dystopian fiction, so to me it was a fresh & funny take on the commercialisation of Christmas and a real contrast to the sweet, old fashioned values of Christmas Day in the Morning which I have also just read.

It also reminded me of some recent protests in my own country where sometimes I had trouble recognising ‘my’ Aotearoa.

Christmas Day in the Morning

by Pearl S. Buck

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This story is very short.

I read it here;

https://www.altogetherchristmas.com/stories/ChristmasDayInTheMorning.html

This site has some other Christmas goodies as well.

This story about a teen from a poor family wanting to show his father how much he loved him at Christmas time. It shows beautiful sentiments without being cloying.

My first read of anything by Pearl S. Buck and I really enjoyed it.

A RomaJuliette Christmas Special

by Chloe Gong

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

I have a few Christmas quickies!

The author does suggest on her website reading her debut novel These Violent Delights first, but I followed readers suggestions to reread Jane Eyre before I read Wide Sargasso Sea

 and I didn’t find it helped much with that chaotic book. &, when possible, I like to read things in chronological order.

I found this short prequel oddly flat & it didn’t make me want to know more about either character. The title made me think I would get a lot more Christmas than I did.

Gentian Hill

by Elizabeth Goudge

Rating: 4 out of 5.

When I started this book I was instantly enchanted – forty pages flew by just like that!

Set in the time of the Napoleonic Wars, this book has another of Goudge’s magical children. Stella & her dead mother are washed ashore and Stella is adopted by good farming folk. When Anthony/Zachary comes into her life, he proves to be the other half of her, but they are too young to make any formal commitment to each other. I’m not totally convinced with the plot developments that Goudge uses to work around this, (and ascribing favourable physical characteristics to being of noble birth!) but I did quite definitely enjoy the journey and spending the time with nice people.

An added bonus was the Christmas content – I loved reading about an English traditional Christmas. What a lucky chance that I was reading at this time of year!

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