The Outsiders

by S.E. Hinton

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I am in a bit of a quandary about how to rate this YA novella, I may still bump it up to 4★,because the ending had such a terrific impact on me.

But a lot of the book (dare I say it) dragged for me – although, of course it was a very sad story.

Three brothers are orphaned young. The eldest, Darry, has given up on his dreams & is working hard, desperately trying to keep what is left of the family together.

This book is told through the eyes of the youngest, Ponyboy (yes that is his name) & it is pretty much unrelentingly depressing & bleak.

The exception is the joy Ponyboy takes in little things like sunsets.

Finished my review & it is still feeling like 3.5★ I’m afraid.

Whanau

by Witi Ihimaera

Rating: 5 out of 5.
Nowadays Whanau is usually translated as family, but it’s meaning is a bit more complex than that. For this book Ihimaera is meaning the extended family and/or community in a very gentle way he covered some very serious issues of the time – the drinking culture, race relations, the gradual erosion of Māori land rights. These are some very imperfect beings, but I came to love them and I was rooting for them all – especially Nanny.

This is a book where it appears that not much happens, but actually quite a bit does.

3

To Kill a Mockingbird

by Harper Lee

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Way to be proven wrong!

I thought Demelza could be my favourite fiction read of the year, but this book was my second read of the year – & it has overtaken Demelza! This book is so thought provoking!

I knew it was about the trial of a black man in the Deep South, but didn’t know much more than that. I certainly wasn’t prepared for the wonderful children in this book, Scout & Jem’s thoughts, actions & emotions are authentic & believable.

As much as I enjoyed the children’s story at the start, the book really takes off when it takes a darker turn. A most unflinching look at racism & hypocrisy.

I’m surprised it took me this long to read this book.

Wide Sargasso Sea

by Jean Rhys

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Not an easy book to read or review.

Jean Rhys was inspired (some may even say obsessed) by Bertha Mason (in this book mostly called Antoinette Cosway.) from Jane Eyre. I reread Jane Eyre in preparation for this read, as this novella is considered a prequel. In my case as I mention in my review of Jane Eyre this was definitely needed, as I believe when I read Jane Eyre in the past that I read an abridged or heavily censored edition. For someone who has read a “full” edition & who has a decent memory, a recent read probably isn’t necessary – & it won’t help!. To be honest, even with a recent read, I was still confused! I found that helps reflect the confusion in both Antoinette & Rochester’s minds. & I felt the heat, the lushness – & the rage Rochester feels when he thinks he is being manipulated by everyone including his family back in England.

Rochester believes he is in a corrupt & decadent society…

..& he is both young & immature.

I found it better to relax into the beauty of the writing & not try to pick at faults. I know this isn’t my usual way, & I could do that because the novella is so short.

Reading the notes & introduction of my copy this particular novella had a very chequered history. It was started many years earlier by Ms Rhys, partially destroyed and then heavily rewritten by Rhys. This may explain the incoherence. I was captured by this book, but anyone reading the reviews on Goodreads will realise it is not for everyone.

A Town Like Alice

by Nevil Shute

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Some books I feel I have to give 5★, even if the book has some considerable flaws. For me, Auē was one such book.

A Town Like Alice is another

The story begins gently with an aging London solicitor, Noel Strachan, recounting how he came to meet elderly and wealthy Scotsman, James McFadden, and helped him draw up his will. When McFadden dies, Strachan tracks down his sole surviving relative, Jean Paget. It is fair to say the Noel is charmed by this young lady who says she feels about seventy and will never marry.

So how does this story end up in Northern Australia? I can’t really tell any more without giving away too much of the plot. I can tell you that the middle part of this novel does have considerable impact (in fact some pages were the most powerful I have ever read) & was nearly impossible to put down. I found parts of it very romantic, parts of Jean’s experiences are very distressing. And you have to grit your teeth and swallow a lot when reading about the attitudes of the time, both to women and to anyone who wasn’t white. The use of what would now (if it wasn’t then) be considered racial slurs is very hard to read – I don’t think I have ever seen so many in one book. By the end end it was detracting from my enjoyment of the book, but whether or not Shute shared these attitudes they were authentic for the time and I still admired the hero and heroine of this book very much.

I managed easily to acquire most of Shute’s titles over the years. This one took me longer. I have a feeling this book is a keeper for most people and that is why it rarely turns up in secondhand bookshops.

Further reading; Nevil Shute met Carry Geysel after the war. Due to a misunderstanding he thought her life during WW2 had been even harder than it was.

The Last Noo-Noo

by Jill Murphy

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I was so sad to read that Jill Murphy has recently died from cancer. I loved many of her children’s books when my own kids were young – I loved the clever way they were written on two levels, so that adults also had a bit of a chuckle!

Marlon’s granny (who reminds me very much of my NZ grandmother!) thinks Marlon is far too old to still be sucking on a dummy/Noo-noo/pacifier.

“Well, whatever he calls it,” said Marlon’s granny, “he looks like an idiot with that stupid great thing stuck in his mouth all the time.”

But neither his abrasive granny or the local bullies can get Marlon to give the Noo-Noo up until he is good and ready!

I laughed all the way through. Still love the ending.

Found a free reading on You tube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JXDK0be85es&ab_channel=LittleReaders

I don’t particularly like this reading but it gives you a taster. And a chance to see Ms Murphy’s wonderful artwork!

RIP, Jill. You will be greatly missed.

Auē

by Becky Manawatu

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I thought I had thought of a wildly original opening for my review – a dictionary definition of Auē.

But a few other Goodreads reviewers have also had the same thought. It is both an expression of both astonishment or distress.

I finished this book last night – & I couldn’t sleep, the story is so powerful & heartbreaking to read. This is the story of two young brothers, trying to make their way in this world as best they can.

This book is 5★ for me because of it’s pure, emotional impact. But this reader doesn’t like multiple POV or ping-pong timelines. & I will say I think there is a fault in these timelines. But flawed or not, nothing literary has hit me as hard as this book in a very long time, so 5★ it is.

I don’t do trigger warnings in my reviews, but I will say if you need them this book won’t be the book for you. So you have been warned.

Further reading.

https://www.newsroom.co.nz/the-novelist-whose-sister-married-into-the-mongrel-mob

https://www.newsroom.co.nz/profile-becky-manawatu-by-naomi-arnold

https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/faces-of-innocents/80924844/faces-of-innocents-glen-bo-duggan-was-a-neat-kid-with-a-troubled-upbringing

A Wrinkle in Time

by Madeleine L’Engle

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Unlike some other (Goodreads) reviewers I didn’t think this book went downhill after the first three chapters.

I liked the first two chapters very much, but for a few chapters after that some of the writing felt a bit clumsy and I was starting to lose interest.

But the final half of the book was genuinely thrilling and I found it very hard when I had to put the book down!

I also very much enjoyed the portrayal of the children (in particular Meg) as flawed and often socially awkward human beings. In this regard this book reminded me of the early Harry Potter books (I’ve only read the early ones) and also in the way the children find their own strength.

I’m curious about what happens to Megan, Charles Wallace and Calvin, so will almost certainly carry on with this series.

Extra note: My edition also carries an afterword by L’Engle’s granddaughter Charlotte Jones Voikis, which I found very helpful in understanding who L’Engle was as both a writer and a person.

In This House of Brede

by Rumer Godden

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A Goodreads friend (shout out to Barb!) said about Rumer Godden that she never wrote the same book twice.

I very much agree with this sentiment! Godden is a gifted writer with a fantastic imagination, who seems to go where the story takes her.

So I was expecting this to be Phillipa’s Story, a middle aged career woman who found a vocation &, after giving away all her possessions, joins a Benedictine monastery.

But this story is much more than that and details the lives and often very human frailties of the nuns who live within the cloistered walls.

If the solution to the monastery’s financial crisis seems a little too miraculous, some other episodes had a heart rending realism. I certainly cried buckets when it was revealed how Dame Phillipa’s little son had died. Godden really knows how to touch the heart.

Another weakness for me was that Sister Cecily seemed to be blamed for one nun’s infatuation with with her. Dame Maura was sent away, but to my modern, non religious eyes, I don’t think either woman should be blamed. A very courageous tackling of the subject I thought.

Finally, this is a book that cries out for a dead tree reading. With so much to absorb, reading on my phone screen was very hard.

The Fountain Overflows

by Rebecca West

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

There is such a lot to digest in this very accomplished book, where at least some of the characters are based on Ms West (born Cicily Fairfield) and her family.

I don’t think there would be any account that would make Ms West’s father (Piers Aubrey in the book, Ms West is Rose) seem anything but an awful person. In both real life and in this novel, he (view spoiler)In the book anyway, Mother seems determined to look on the bright side of life, to the point of foolishness and by the end of the book I wanted to shake her really hard. However, there was a twist at the end, which I really enjoyed.

The book is dedicated to West’s sister Letitia, who is the model for Cordelia. The swipes at Cordelia become extremely repetitive and after reading Letititia’s Wikipedia page, I can’t help wondering if they were motivated by jealousy. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Letitia… If that is so, that is very sad as West’s literary gifts are so remarkable. Understandably Letitia didn’t like this book.

The most enjoyable passage for me was Rose & her twin sister Mary’s first journey in a motor car. The description was just so vivid and witty! (it would have been quicker for the girls to walk!) But throughout the book there was plenty to keep one reading, even if this one sometimes became exasperated with the characters, I don’t mind being exasperated for a family and large caste of characters who are so vividly realised.

Definitely recommended.

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