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Book Review: Towers of Trebizond

The Towers of Trebizond

The Towers of Trebizond by Rose Macaulay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’ve changed my mind and I’m awarding the full 5★. I found the ending a bit abrupt and the change in tone quite startling – but it is 20th century. That was the way 20th century fiction rolled!

Or is it fiction? I’ve read a review that describes this novel as a roman à clef which is certainly how it feels. Definitely a satire about the travels of the wide-eyed and guileless Laurie and her travels through Turkey and beyond.

I found this old map helpful;

It isn’t long before you realise the camel (subject of one of the most famous opening lines in literature) isn’t the only one not right in the head!

The Retro Reads Group didn’t think this camel looked deranged enough;

Well, I think it has a distinctly sly and self satisfied expression – & I couldn’t find a picture of an Arabian Dhalur camel – white or otherwise.

Macaulay wrote this book in her late sixties – a remarkable achievement, and possibly a remarkable feet of memory. I really want to do some more research.

Undated photo from my dust jacket

This book is a keeper and as I’m trying to downsize my collection I can’t give higher praise than that!

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Book Review: Miss Happiness and Miss Flower

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower by Rumer Godden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book helped me through one of the hardest times in my childhood.

Long story, but when we emigrated from Canada to New Zealand, we shifted around a little bit before moving to the Eastern Suburbs of Auckland. At school, once the novelty of having a foreigner in their midst wore off, I just didn’t fit in. My determination to hold on to my Canadian accent didn’t help. My sisters, both younger than me, shed their accents easily, but I stayed awkward and out of place.

So this story really resonated with me. Like eight year old Nona, no one asked me if I wanted to go. (although I didn’t understand the huge distance we were going – my memory is that unlike Nona I was quite happy about it) Nona is quite desperately homesick for India as well as bewildered by strange English food and customs and while her aunt, uncle and two older cousins are reasonably sympathetic, seven year old Belinda is a brusque bully. But Nona’s world changes when the girls are sent two secondhand Japanese dolls from the States (the third doll is missing from the parcel) The other girls aren’t interested, so Mother says Nona can have both dolls and so Nona’s learning journey begins. Miss Happiness (glass half full personality) & Miss Flower (glass half empty and the glass will never, ever be full again!) can communicate with each other and they watch with increasing hope, as Nona makes friends and learns about Japan and it’s customs, so she can give her dolls a home they can love. But unfortunately one person isn’t happy…

I was 10 years old again and cried right through this. I strongly recommend that you hold out for one of the older editions illustrated by Jean Primrose;

– the delicate charm of Primrose’s drawings add so much to this story and I gather that newer editions don’t have instructions on how to make the doll’s house (whyyyy???) I hope the new books at least show all the work and background detail that went into this book and how many people helped to bring it together.

To the joyless PC brigade who say cultural misappropriation – very sorry but there are children like me who don’t fit into a neat & tidy box. Please allow me a happy childhood memory from a more innocent time. 🙂…

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Supporting Little Free Libraries

Goodreads this week has been promoting Little Free Libraries which are such a wonderful scheme! We do have an unofficial free library in our small town, but I thought I would visit the nearest official one.

This is a bus stop in the coastal village of Ngarimu Bay.

Gorgeous, right? Not immediately obvious that this is a Little Free Library as well. I drove past it for years without noticing. But when you do…

Cute huh? I found so many good books to pounce on (including the very topical A City Possessed by Lynley Hood) that I forgot about taking photos! But this is one of my donations Moon Over the Alps by the late Essie Summers. it is such a nice community – there is often free fruit or seedlings on the bench seat as well.

Afterwards we went for a walk.

A local artist’s home.
Our local beaches aren’t as grand as the ones on the east coast of the peninsula, but this is still pretty – and deserted!

I’ll show you my “local” next week!

Book Review: Moon Over the Alps

Moon Over the Alps

Moon Over the Alps by Essie Summers

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This cover is pure glorious retro!

Such a shame my copy is in very poor condition as Summers books are mildly collectable in New Zealand now.

I’ve read articles that Summers often heavily revised her first 80 pages and this really shows as this part was really well written with glorious descriptions of the South Island scenery, a persuasive romance & fun descriptions of the clothing of the day.

No wonder the New Zealand Tourism Board loved Summers!

I was totally engaged until Charles re entered the story at around page 46 and I was reminded why I generally don’t enjoy pre 1980s Mills & Boons. Without sex the middles of these older romances often feel a bit of squishy with a lot of misunderstanding over trivia – why do they always want to think so badly about those they love. This always comes across as filler. And somehow our Cinderella heroine (view spoiler)[became the South Island Skiing Champ? Where did she find the time to put in the effort & fitness training (even in the 60s Penny would have had to do something!) The book mentions her loving the outdoor lifestyle, but doesn’t have her doing much in it after she arrives at the station other than gardening until Everything Goes Wrong. (hide spoiler)]

But towards the end Penny shows her true steel and why Summers romantic heroines are usually regarded as strong, independent women. This part was really exciting. Reminded me that pre 1965 New Zealand was still a tough rugged country with many people living in isolation.

The ending felt a bit rushed but M&B did always have page limits. Maybe Summers had to pare it down. Charles (the hero) didn’t have much personality towards the end.

I’m not sure if I will read another Summers romance, but I am very glad to have read this one! And I own a copy of

The Passionate Pen New Zealand's Romance Writers Talk to Rachel McAlpine by Rachel McAlpine
The Passionate Pen

Summers is one of the authors featured in this book. I’m helping with the clean up of Harlequin Mills & Boon titles in the Librarians’ Group. I need to slot this one in for a reread.…

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Book Review: The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair (Thursday Next, #1)

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

My rating: 3 of 5 stars


This book did sound so up my alley and I’m a bit worried because it is a very busy book , so maybe it wasn’t the right book to start in a very active holiday. I’m hoping my rating is fair.

I found it very hard to get into the start -as I said busy. It reminded me of The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: A Trilogy in Five Parts but the style was much colder – I just couldn’t warm to any of the characters at all. That did make it a struggle for me to keep going with the read.

However, Every time I would consider giving up there would be another witticism

“I was in ’78 recently,” he announced. “I brought you this.”
He handed me a single by the Beatles. I didn’t recognize the title.
“Didn’t they split in ’70?”
“Not always. How are things?”

or some lines that were laugh out loud funny;

“Can’t we wait for the Chronoguard?”
“They’d never get here in time. It’s easy. A lobotomised monkey could do it.”
“And where are we going to get a lobotomised monkey at this time of night”

The wild and uncertain tone of the book improved for me at around 64% – although I didn’t really like the ending.

So it was a real mixed bag and I may have to read another Fforde to decide if I like his style or not.

A bonus review!

Read December 2018

The Locked Room Mystery

I spent a lot more time trying to find a place to post this review than I did reading this short, short story.

Light, frothy & fun. I doubt I will remember anything about it in a week.

This doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy reading it (I did) or that I won’t try something else by Fforde (I will)

And, in fact, I did!…

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Book Review: Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective

Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective

Georgette Heyer: A Critical Retrospective by Mary Fahnestock-Thomas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was delighted to get hold of a copy of this book. It was self/vanity published in 2001 in the States and I would think very few copies made it to New Zealand. But lo & behold, a copy turned up on TradeMe and I snapped it up.

I was disappointed almost immediately. M F-T is very defensive about her love for Heyer. But this was about the time when I was reading Mills & Boon & I certainly got very sick of even random strangers thinking they had the right to criticise my reading tastes!

Everything published in this book was originally published in the States and the UK. There were definitely reviews written in Australia but I guess the author made a conscious decision not to go too far afield and end up with a 1000 page book. And internet research wouldn’t have been so easy then. But I would have preferred a truly international book with just the better quality reviews as some of these add nothing to my understanding of GH’s works.

I’ll divide the review up into the divisions M F-T used. This read took me two months &, as usual, I didn’t take notes, although my book is stuffed with bookmarks. Please bear with me. 😊

(i) Her Short Published Pieces

Implies that these were the only published shorts (other than those in Pistols for Two) that Heyer wrote. Thanks to a new collection Acting on Impulse – Contemporary Short Stories by Georgette Heyer (which includes A Proposal to Cicely, one of the short stories in this book) we know that is not the case. I’ve read all 3 of the short stories before – & they are not GH’s best work. On the other hand, The Horned Beast of Africa is the only known writing from GH’s time in Africa (her husband was a mining engineer at the time.) There is no point overlaying 21st sensibilities on this one (about the hunting and killing of an unusual rhino.)

Books about the Brontës is quite wonderfully witty.

The essay How to be a Literary Critic was full of snark – it does confirm my belief that GH would have hated Goodreads.

“…Reflect that you could have written the book so much better yourself, if only you had the time and the inclination for the task; and that the literate won’t be listening, if you’re speaking on air, or doing more than glance at your review, if it appears in print; and go right ahead! There will be no reprisals. If the author is young and struggling, he won’t dare to expose your pretensions; and if he is well established he won’t think it worth while to do so.”

(ii) Reviews of her Books

All review writers on Goodreads should pat themselves on the back – it is hard to believe these critics were, in a lot of cases, paid for these pieces, which for the most part are boring, spoiler filled – or both.

The shining exception is 3 (M F-T has thoughtfully numbered the reviews) by I. W. L. from The Boston Evening Transcript, 1921. I should look him or her up. This review of The Black Moth was so good and funny that I am jealous of the unknown writer!

A lot of the reviews were of GH’s detective works – because a lot of reviewers were men. E.R. Punshon & Nicholas Blake are being read again. I want to read these authors myself even more now & I did enjoy their thoughtful reviews. Phoebe Adams from The Atlantic Monthly (March 1962) proves you don’t need to read a book before reviewing it (now she would love GR!)

“Readers who recall that Georgette Heyer once wrote exceptionally amusing and puzzling murder mysteries may be tempted by opening hints of hanky-panky in the hunting field, to essay her latest novel. They will be disappointed. It is woman’s-magazine pastry with an elaborate Regency setting. Togetherness in a curricle, you might say.”

I’m sneering like the Duke of Avon after reading that one!

I can only think that most reviewers of the posthumously published My Lord John didn’t want to speak ill of the dead. Thank Heavens for PLA from The Atlantic Monthly who was honest enough to call GH’s second worst book “a terrible bore.”

My reading advice for this section – other than I.W. L.’s Black Moth review- skip it. My advice for M F-T if she ever decides to republish this book – move this section to the back – just before the even more boring (vi) film and theatre reviews. (I only skimmed these – all the actor names were unfamiliar to me.) I’ve talked to more than one reader who never finished this book because of the tedious reviews – & that is a pity, as there is much better reading ahead!

(iv) Reference Works

M F-T does some brief research & analysis here. Interesting to see GH appearing in reference books & getting some respect. I have put A Catalogue of Crime: Being a Reader’s Guide to the Literature of Mystery, Detection, and Related Genres on one of my to-read lists.

(v) Other Articles and Books

As you would expect, these are a mixed bag.

For me some of the articles were absolutely outstanding!

Top of the list were the two articles by A.S. Byatt -in particular the interview with GH’s husband Sir Ronald Rougier. Sir Ronald comes across as ever bit as private and reserved as his late wife – but he also seemed really sweet.

Also invaluable to the GH fanatic is Cassandra Jardine’s piece about GH’s son Sir Richard Rougier. GH was very proud of him – and it is quite obvious that the feeling was mutual. I will make the most improper observation that Sir Richard was very easy on the eye.

Here is a family portrait – with an actual painting of GH behind!

Next time I read The Corinthian I will want Kathleen Bell’s thoughtful Crossdressing in Wartime: Georgette Heyer’s The Corinthian in its 1940 Context on the side table beside me. I’ll get a lot out of a parallel read, I think.

Now for the not so good. I’ve been trying to get a copy of Teresa Chris’s Georgette Heyer’s Regency England for quite some time. This very bland extract has made me decide to settle for a library copy.

Ugh. Germaine Greer’s extract from The Female Eunuch. What contempt Greer shows for romance readers and women in general when her research involves just grabbing Regency Buck and a Barbara Cartland from a supermarket. Clearly no further research is needed into the tastes of the empty headed little women who are waiting to be set free by Greer’s superior wisdom. sarcasm

But my real loathing is for Marghanita Laski . Given the opportunity to interview a well loved authoress, who by then was old and sick and had previously always refused to do interviews, what did Laski do with it? A hatchet job, that’s what! If (like me) you didn’t go to university & read GH Regencies you must be simple. (I think Laski is using simple in the sense of not too bright rather than mentally handicapped) My late father would have been surprised to learn that men didn’t read GH at all. My father was an accountant and far from simple. She has no explanation on how an educated woman can read them. You can feel the contempt.

I remembered vaguely who Laski was, but I’m consoled by the fact she is fading into obscurity whereas GH is as popular as she ever was. I know some of Laski’s works have been picked up by the well regarded Persephone Press, but I won’t be reading them after this bitter, jealous and mean spirited piece!

For me this book in spite of its flaws is an absolute keeper and I know I will refer to it often!…

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Book Review: National Velvet

National Velvet

National Velvet by Enid Bagnold

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A very quick review as I’m going away tomorrow.

Not an easy book to classify, but I will go with young adult because of Velvet Brown’s age. (She was fourteen)

I love the interaction of the Brown family and found them all very easy to relate to. I loved seeing a young girl follow her dreams.

But I did find too much just too improbable and I found the book poorly structured (it took till chapter 7 to get going) and with distractions like [ the other five horses that took away from the plot without really adding anything. I will add that although I love to look at horses, I don’t like being with horses. So this book was always going to be a hard sell for me.…

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The Collected Poems of Katherine Mansfield

The Collected Poems of Katherine Mansfield

The Collected Poems of Katherine Mansfield by Katherine Mansfield

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My wonderful son gave me a book gift card for Christmas (my husband managed to prevent Xave buying me a Lee Child book – I’m sure Child is a talented author, but that is not my genre at all!)

I had to think about it a bit. Books are expensive in New Zealand and I didn’t want to waste Xave’s money on a book that wasn’t going to be a keeper. KM is not only my favourite New Zealand writer – she is also my favourite short story author, so I thought it would be really good to sample her known poems. Finally tracked this already-hard-to-get book down to Whitcoull’s Centrepoint branch & I am very grateful to the staff member who couriered it to me.

I’ve also had to think about what rating to give this book. This book – well, look at the cover. Just stunning! Every aspect of the presentation of this book is superb – I found the notes at the back most helpful!

The poems are never less than interesting although I didn’t really care for all of the early ones.

‘Why do you scream, oh, sea bird
And why do you fly to me?’
‘I am the soul of your lover
Who lies drowned far out at sea.’

KM may have been happy for that offering to drown as well!

Also enjoy the poems with a New Zealand flavour. From XXVII (writing about the Tui’s call)

Answer her call
They troop from the valleys and plains
From the stupid cities they never have fashioned
From the wharves where the strangers’ ships find mooring.
From the green isles they pass in procession…

Also some moving tributes to her brother Leslie who died in the Great War. (she wrote two versions of To L.H.B.)

Last night for the first time since you were dead
I walked with you, my brother, in a dream…

Written a year after Leslie’s death.

The last poem (from 1922) touched me so much. From The Wounded Bird

Oh, waters – do not cover me!
I would look long and long at those beautiful stars!
Oh my wings – lift me – lift me
I am not so dreadfully hurt…

Katherine Mansfield died the 9th of January, 1923. She was only 34.…

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Frankly in Love

Frankly in Love

Frankly in Love by David Yoon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


My first arc-read-before-the-book-is-published! I’m so excited! Thank you so much Penguin NZ for gifting me this & for being happy for me to share my opinion of the book.

I used to say about my parents, “I just can’t talk to Mum & Dad!” But American born Frank really couldn’t talk to his parents – their English was bad and his Korean was worse. A lifetime of misunderstanding come to a head in Frank’s final semester at high school. Frank is clear on two things – he doesn’t want to live by his parents racist beliefs. But he also doesn’t want to hurt them. These two goals look to be on a collision course.

I absolutely loved this book and it was a 5★ read for around the first 90%.Yoon’s words just flowed on the page and I found it very hard to put the book down.

I’m Canadian born. We moved to New Zealand when I was seven and I did spend the first half of my life feeling I didn’t really belong in either country, so I identified with some of Frank’s confusion.I just feel the last part of the book tried to pack too many events in, and while this may work in the future film, it is just too much on the page.

Still highly recommended!…

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The Water Beetle

The Water Beetle

The Water Beetle by Nancy Mitford

My rating: 4 of 5 stars


This turned out to be a challenging read – but not for the usual reasons. Shortly after I started, my battered copy disintegrated in my hands. I then found that two pages were missing from Blore, the short story about one of the Mitford nannies & a fascinating look at the Mitford household in general.

So what did my mother do all day? She says now, when cross-examined, that she lived for us. Perhaps she did, but nobody could say she lived with us. It was not the custom then. I think nothing in my life has changed more than the relationship with mothers and young children.In those days a distance was always kept. Even so she was perhaps abnormally detached. on one occasion Unity rushed into the drawing-room where she was at her writing-table saying, “Muv, Muv, Decca is standing on the roof – she says she is going to commit suicide!” “Oh, poor duck,” said my mother, “I hope she won’t do anything so terrible.” and went on writing.

Detached indeed.

I’m sure this story would be a 5 ★ (Blore was probably a good reason why the Mitford siblings made it to adulthood) but can’t rate it because of those missing pages.

All of the other stories were 5★ for me except for the sad tale of Augustus Hare. In Mitford’s account he changes from a brutally ill treated child to an unpleasant adult. Mitfords telling is detailed yet oddly cold – and to be honest, I have barely heard of Hare. 3★

I want to read The Worst Journey in the World Mitford’s account of Apsley Cherry-Garrard’s suffering is insightful. Unusually in my reading of Mitford it is also compassionate and indignant of Cherry-Garrard’s behalf.

Her Reading for Pleasure contains this great truth

As far as I am concerned, all reading is for pleasure.

Yes! To read for joy is one of the great gifts there is. At my age, pretty much the only things I don’t read for pleasure are maps and Inland Revenue’s web site!

The second section of the book is about travel and French historic figures. Mitford makes the distinction that she sees herself as a visitor rather than a tourist and she writes sadly about the Venetian Island of Torcello, which even then (1959) was already being overwhelmed by visitors. Well worth reading for Mitford’s love of French history and her good fortune in being able to travel places like Russia when they were closed to most of us. Her account of how she obtained her Russian visa is very amusing!

Edit; I have discovered Open Library! & they have a copy of this book that doesn’t have these four vital pages missing!

These four pages give more vital clues about Mitford relationships & things I certainly didn’t know – like  their father was violent. Also makes clear how much Nancy longed to go to school. Her self education was really remarkable. And (what I already suspected) the nanny in The Blessing was based on Blore.…

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