2020 My Year in Books

by Me!

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve never shared this on my blog before, but there is no time like the present!

Anyone who wants to can enter their review of their reading year with Goodreads full blessing.

So without further ado…

I’ve changed my mind – I am setting a goal.

I’m doing the Kiwi Authors Challenge 2020 with this group.

https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/46509-book-loving-kiwis

I’ve set my goal at 20 (Proud) Kiwi books!

This seems like a lifetime ago – the world has changed so much!

Like many of my friends on Goodreads, with all the time in the world to read during Lockdown I couldn’t settle. Normally the works of my beloved [author:Georgette Heyer|18067] would be my happy place, but I have been reading her Regencies in order with the Georgette Heyer Fans Group & unfortunately after [book:Black Sheep|311164] these weren’t GH’s best work. So I went on a massive cleaning spree and my husband worked in our garden. We ate breakfast together most mornings & usually started the day with a walk. After the first couple of (terrifying) weeks we enjoyed Lockdown, although we missed our kids terribly. We know New Zealand was very lucky both in terms of our leadership and that we had a small window of opportunity to prepare. And most of us know because we are lucky now doesn’t mean our luck will hold.

And on to the books.

I’ll start low and end on a high.

Worst Book (and Worst Book by a Kiwi Author)
Reckless Conductby Susan Napier I used to love Ms Napier’s romances, but she had lost her mojo by the time this one came out.

The above was my only 1.5 star book, but for runner up I had a few contenders in my 2 star reads! Most of them probably would have been 1 stars if I hadn’t decided to DNF.

Most Disappointing
Did She Fall? luckily this was Thorne Smith’s only murder mystery. Again, I loved his books when I was younger, but this is the second Smith I have tried since being on Goodreads and I haven’t enjoyed either of them.

Now on to the good stuff!

Best Children’s Book Reread
[book:Little Plum|992606] From my childhood. (sentimental sigh)

Best NZ Children’s Book Reread
Nickle Nackle Tree by Linley Dodd

Best NZ Children’s Book -Retro
The Sixpenny Island by Ruth Park

[book:The Sixpenny Island|51700637]

Best NZ Children’s Book 21st Century
Mophead by Selina Tusitala Marsh

Best Poetry
Well this is easy – I only read the one but what a poem it was!
In Flanders Fields by John McCrae

Nonfiction
Well, here is where it gets tricky because I read some outstanding nonfiction books. Yes, there is a clear winner for the NZ ones, but as far as international books go, I find I can’t separate these ones out.

International
:Becoming
Know My Name
Born a Crime

New Zealand
We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa. or those who like their stats presented in a creative way!

Petticoat Pioneers


And Both Best New Zealand & Best Nonfiction Overall for its wonderful honesty
Barry Brickell: A Head of SteamEven in NZ a dead tree copy of this one is likely to be hard to find, but it is available as a Kindle.

Fiction
Most Eagerly Anticipated Read
Acting on Impulse: Contemporary Short Stories by Georgette Heyer- not a 5 star read but as far as Georgette Heyer goes I am a completist. First time I have paid for a Kindle book!

Best New-To-Me Author
Evelyn Anthony for The Persian Ransom To make it even better, the late Ms Anthony was a prolific writer and I have picked up heaps of her titles from Little Free Libraries & Op (Charity) Shops!

Best New Zealand Fiction
:The Denniston Rose
Honourable Mentions:

This Mortal Boy

Bound by Vanda Symon
This Mortal By by Fiona Kidman

Best International Fiction – Joint Winners
[book:The Bluest Eye|292327]
Honorable Mention

The Green Grass of Wyoming

Best Reread
& of course Best Read of the Year since this is my favourite book of all time!
Devil’s Cub
Honourable Mention

These Old Shades

My Stats!

Provided by Goodreads

I read 82 literary works for a 3.8 average. I’m pleased with that. I only read one book [book:Penelope|17287877] which I didn’t think would reach at least 3.5 stars (& was I ever right!) – and this was one of my five DNF. Life is too short…etc, etc.

Provided by Me!!!

& since I have to keep track of my Most Read Authors now (thanks so much Goodreads bean counters) I thought I might keep track of a few more. In spite of being fond of statistics & graphs (see the book:We Are Here: An Atlas of Aotearoa|52375731]above) this doesn’t mean I’m any good at them and it took me an embarrassingly long time to sort these out. Applause, please!

This is the one that was important to me – in spite of good intentions the number of Kiwi books I read was embarrassingly low. This year I read 25 (or 30.5% of my reading)

I’m more than fine with nearly 77% of the writers I read being female, given that males dominate most of the other arts I enjoy.

And I’m also reasonably ok with 75% (if you count the solitary online magazine I read) being fiction. But it would be get to get my poetry count up a little more. I’ve found an Audible collection read by (swoon) Richard Armitage] – that should help my 2021 count!

I’m thinking it might be fun to include Century First Published in my stats next year. I think of myself as a 20th Century reader – would be interesting to see if that is true.

So thank you to all my Goodreads friends, new and old, especially those who write reviews. You have expanded both my horizons and my to-read lists.

All the best for a happier 2021!

Goodreads Support & Goodreads Librarians are not Interchangeable Terms!

I thought I really should start doing more with my blog space then just reposting my Goodreads reviews.

So I’ll start with this:

I was reading some blog posts on WordPress and I came upon one that interested me. This blogger was going to write to Goodreads Librarians about a copyright issue. She duly posted her message which she said she sent to Goodreads Librarians. All well and good – except she didn’t.

She would have sent her message to Support (Staff). Goodreads Librarians are volunteers who do the book cataloging and correct quotes & stuff like that. We don’t receive copies of these messages/emails – ever.

Goodreads Librarians have little to no influence over Goodreads policies. There are many things we can’t help with. I know because I am a Goodreads Librarian!

There are many things we can’t help with:

* Spammers

*Trolls & other bullies

*Any bugs or anything not working properly on the Goodreads

*Book ratings

*Book reviews

*Becoming a Goodreads Author or Librarian

*In most cases Goodreads Giveaways (but if there is some missing information we may be able to fill that in. Usually though you will need Support.)

* Changes to Goodreads Policies about pretty much anything

For all of those issues you need Support (Staff) You have contacted staff already and haven’t heard back? Sorry, still can’t help. With millions of members & a relatively small staff sometimes queries to them aren’t answered the same day – or even the same week. You just have to be patient.

Neither Staff nor Librarians;

“I read this wonderful book over ten years ago and all I remember is that it was set in Canada & the heroine was a florist who always wore pink.”

Try a wonderful GR group called What’s the Name of that Book. They have had a lot of successes. https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/185-what-s-the-name-of-that-book

Ahhh, I feel better now!

Potiki

by Patricia Grace

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I don’t know what it is with Grace. I can admire the craft, this particular book is very thought provoking, but it doesn’t touch my heart.

She does write beautifully though and in New Zealand not just Maori land rights (which is the subject of this book)are topical – it is watching developers buy up properties and leaving them empty while so many people are homeless or living in cars. House prices are soaring over here where in much of the country it is difficult to find a house at less than $800k. Auckland – over a million.

It just isn’t right.

Funnily enough a comment another Kiwi author, Sue McCauley, made about this book moved me more.

Every marketeer and property developer in the country deserves a copy of Potiki. Patricia Grace sees straight but are we listening?

The Case is Closed

by Patricia Wentworth

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Although I thought this Miss Silver mystery was definitely a step up from the first one, [book:The Grey Mask|54529691] but I am giving them both the same rating. Just can’t quite bump the rating upt to 4★ as I know some of the later Silver novels are much better than this.

At the start of the story we find that Geoffrey Grey is already in prison for a crime that his wife’s cousin, the jaunty Hilary Carew, is convinced he didn’t commit. Marion Grey is Hilary’s cousin & she cuts a tragic [Bad Carol: too damn tragic!] figure for most of the book. But Hilary is a wonderful character with a habit of making up rhymes whenever she is bored or in a tight corner.

How bitter when your only bun, Is not at all a recent one

Brave and resourceful she refuses to give up on Geoffrey – and she ends up dragging her former fiancé along for the ride.

The book improves considerably near the second half with the arrival of Miss Silver, but it struggles from Miss Silver being too omniscient, too many clues and too few suspects. But there were a couple of very neat twists at the end and I will certainly read more Miss Silver mysteries.

Hyacinths and Biscuits

by Peggy Dunstan & Others

Rating: 2.5 out of 5.

A DNF at 62 pages.

I was going to put this on my in hibernation shelf to see if I would feel like coming back to this collection by the Penwomen’s Club (New Zealand), published in 1985- but I don’t feel I will.

This collection suffers from the fault that most short story/poetry collections written by writing groups do – it is very uneven. It would be impossible to be anything else, because talent isn’t given out evenly. So how can the results be anything else?

The book started with my favourite poem & short story out of the ones I read. The poem Expanding Universe by Valerie Henderson which was short & eloquent. A Diplomatic Daughter more properly is an extract from Jean Boswell’s autobiography, Dim Horizons. I found very funny.

The reason I picked up this book was it had a short story by the legendary Patricia GraceSummer from her first collection of short stories, Waiariki So far the little I have read by Grace I have admired the talent without finding the work memorable. I am going to be reading her most famous novel Potikilater this month & I hope I will be awestruck!

I found the further I went into the book the less engaged I was. I’m not going to pick holes in what I didn’t care for – other than I thought Una Craig, only just missed on making a wonderful short story with the 1939 The Emancipation of Mr Amble. It could have been deep, but she went for obvious. A pity.

A Time To Dance, No Time To Weep

by Rumer Godden

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

My head is spinning after reading Rumer Godden’s impossibly full life – well part of her life. This book finishes in 1946 when RG (as I call her) was only 39.

I will certainly be looking for the other parts, including the ones written with her elder sister Jon Godden

Growing up in India (where RG had an injury more serious than first realised), a disastrous (for RG & her sisters) return to England, where the girls didn’t fit in, back to India, where in spite of injury RG ran a dance school, a broken engagement, an unhappy marriage to a wastrel… don’t you already want to go phew!

I love that RG didn’t go into too much detail about the books, even about her thought processes writing them. Too often biographies/memoirs give too much away & any unread novels are spoilt for this reader. A life so full and adventurous that taking her two daughters and her Pekinese dogs on long arduous treks barely mentions a few lines. Reader of several of her books (most notably The Greengage Summer & Kingfishers Catch Fire will find RG takes inspiration from her own life and puts it into her writing.

In parts RG is quite brutally frank – I wonder how the child of another friend felt about RG’s honest account of her feelings about this boy.

…but Dudi, whom I could not like, a fat little boy with long golden curls and a high whining voice…

The last part about the attempts to poison RG, her daughters & a friend(I did say – one action packed life!) are almost glossed over. These events lead to RG never being able to return to Kashmir and the loss of a friendship that clearly meant a lot to her.

This return to England, in spite of all the trauma, finishes on a hopeful note;

Now on the quay at Liverpool that miserable morning I had two things; rolled up, under my arm, was the Agra rug and, in my suitcase, a finished book, the manuscript of The River.

We could start over.

A Song for the Stars

by Ilima Todd

Rating: 2 out of 5.

A DNF at page 156.

Given that this is quite a short book, this is quite a late DNF decision for me.

I persevered as long as I did because this book was part of a reading challenge in the BLK group & because the book featured Captain Cook, a historical figure I find interesting. (He is credited as the first European to discover New Zealand) & because the author is Hawaiian and the story is based on some of her own ancestors.

Unfortunately Captain Cook’s appearance was very brief, the choice to write in first person, present tense (with dual POV!) gave the narrative a very wooden feel. The characters never came alive for me & I didn’t care what their outcome was going to be.

The only things I liked were the lovely cover and I was interested how close some common Hawaiian words were to some Maori ones.

Unfortunately these are not sufficient reasons to carry on with this book.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

by Maya Angelou

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This may seem unusual to some of you, but I only knew in the most general terms what this wonderful autobiography was about.

And until five minutes ago I had never read one of Ms Angelou’s poems. (I’ve just read the poem that Ms Angelou used to name this memoir of her childhood https://allpoetry.com/I-Know-Why-The-Caged-Bird-Sings I’m going to review that mistresspiece later)

But I looked at the blurb on my copy – a copy I have had for several years.

I came so close, so close to being able to read this book completely unspoiled.

Damn.

But this is still a reading experience I will never forget and it will help me understand (as an outsider) American history and politics a little bit better. It will even help me understand the events of this month a bit more.

There are so many pivotal events that helped to make Ms Angelou the amazing person she must have been. The horrifying grooming and then rape of eight year old Marguerite Johnson. (her real name) that lead to still more horrifying events and a white dentist owed the grandmother who raised Angelou a huge favour. He refused, refused to extract two rotten teeth from a child in agony because he didn’t want to put his hands in a n*‘s mouth

That was so confronting and enraging to read. I don’t know how he could live with himself. I sat straight up in my chair with the shock.

Beautifully written, even the bits are ugly and painful to read.

I wanted to read more Angelou & I decided to start with the poem I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

(Which came first, the book or the poem?)

I didn’t find the book angry in most parts – although given Angelou’s life experiences she had a right to be.

But this poem is very angry – as Angelou had a right to be. It is also powerful and emotional and I really loved it.  Also;

Rating: 5 out of 5.

No Way Out

by Betty R. Wall

Rating: 3 out of 5.

My neighbour was given this novelette and she thought I might enjoy it.

Which I did – Betty has a nice, easy writing style and I am a sucker for an eye catching cover. But…

I think this book was too short for all the ideas that the author was trying to pack into it. Chris (the hero) needed more character development. Maybe Betty was going for enigmatic, but Chris’s actions came across more as odd and senseless.

Also I thought that there were a few plot holes.

Still a fun afternoon read.

Kingfishers catch Fire

by Rumer Godden

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book is definitely a slow starter, but is well worth the patience needed.

When the strong willed Sophie is widowed in the middle of the twentieth century, she moves with her two children to a more isolated part of Kashmir. Sophie, after paying her feckless husband’s debts, has very little money to live on, but to the local villagers she appears wealthy. Of course she gets ripped off, but of more concern is now blind Sophie can be to anything she doesn’t want to see…

At the invitation of the Schoolmaster they visited the school. Sophie looked at the boys sitting on the floor with their flimsy text-books and she asked why there were no girls. The Schoolmaster did not say he had enough trouble with the boys, instead he murmured, “This is a backward village. No one would think of sending their girls.” “They should,” said Sophie. “My little daughter learns the same as any boy,” and Teresa was thrust into unwilling prominence. All the boys looked at her with dislike; she made them feel belittled, but Sophie was unaware of any feeling. She gave five rupees to the school and Teresa’s box of chalks. “There need is greater than ours,” she said, and was thanked for her distinguished patronage. “But they were my chalks,” said Teresa.

I loved this book! Both Sophie and her elder child Teresa are brilliantly drawn and it is so interesting that stolid little Teresa can perceive things that her mother can’t and won’t.

Two of Godden’s great strengths are in play here – evocative descriptions where you see, smell and taste things in this exotic land, along with the Barrington-Wards.

And her ability to show children as they are – which isn’t always nice and adorable.

At the end there is a change in pace. I couldn’t put this book down and read late into the night to find out the resolution of the Barrington-Ward’s story.

This book ended up being a most satisfying read!