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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.… 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.

It’s Been a While…

Sorry! I had a temporary job and just generally got busy!

But I am back now and am about to start catching up on my backlog of Goodreads reviews. 😊

Green Grass of Wyoming

By Mary O’Hara

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It took me a few chapters to get into this book, & this is in part because I haven’t read the first two books in the series, My Friend Flicka & Thunderhead. This book does work as a standalone, but it just takes time to get into the characters’ heads.

This book is everything I want in a mid twentieth century read. The sympathetic characters are likeable (in some cases lovable) but have real flaws. The villainess – well, she is horrible & I do know someone just like her who can turn on the charm & appear to listen sympathetically, but will later use information gained against you!

The McLaughlin family have sincere values that they live by & instil in their children.

If you have a difficult decision to make, never force it, Rob had told his boys. Weigh each alternative singly, without prejudice. If they seem to balance evenly, no advatage one way or the other, do not be deceived. There is an advantage one way or the other. If you wait long enough, it will become apparent to you and suddenly the decision will be made without difficulty, and it will be right.

The animal behaviour for modern eyes can be terrifying & shocking. I often wonder about the Disneyfication of the animal kingdom.

To put it mildly, the gigantic and ferocious stallion Thunderhead doesn’t bear the slightest resemblance to the above creations. Our world (especially in 2020) is a truly terrible place – why do we shy away from what animals are actually like, when humans are creating such an awful place? The Incredible Journey is another honest look at how animals behaved – & I certainly coped with that when I first read it at around ten years of age.

The Bluest Eye

by Toni Morrison

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I’ve had a look, both on Goodreads & the internet, & I can’t find the cover of my ebook edition. I just know it was published post 1993, because it contains the afterward written by Morrison then, in which she proves to be one of her most severe critics. Morrison thought that at the times she lacked the narrative skill to tell the story the way she wanted. I will respectfully disagree, as while Percola’s story is terrible in the sense of the almost unrelenting pain & bleakness, it is beautiful with Morrison’s gift of language & her ability to create believable characters. Percola’s story broke my heart.

Percola’s belief that she would be beautiful & loved if only she had blue eyes is heartbreaking. Unloved, unwanted & neglected, Percola based her idea of beauty on what she could see – the readers available at school featured white children, dolls were white dolls. Her friend Claudia had a totally different reaction to the white dolls, but Percola lacked the McTeer sisters’ toughness &, I would say, certainty of their place in the world. You never get the feeling that the end is going to be anything, but tragic for poor Percola & it is impossible not to be moved by her story.

Read with both Women’s Classic Literature Enthusiasts Group & the BLK Group June/July Reading Challenge on Goodreads.…

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Little Plum

Little Plum by Rumer Godden

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Now this book was the escapist read I needed in troubled times!

I read Little Plum in my childhood and loved this exquisite cover

Little Plum by Rumer Godden

but the cover of my edition

Little Plum by Rumer Godden

works in a different way. It shows the character of the untidy, boisterous Belinda and her cousin, the neat as a pin Nona.

Miss Happiness and Miss Flower was Nona’s story. This is Belinda’s.

& what a believable little girl Belinda is. Rude, tactless, aggressive and a bully. Probably not the sharpest knife in the drawer either! Yet her determination to befriend the wealthy but lonely Gem shows endearing side to her character.& she tries so hard to fix things, when – to no one’s surprise but Belinda’s her methods don’t work.

If I could make one tiny criticism it would be that Japanese doll Little Plum remains – a doll. Yet Miss Happiness & Miss Flower still have their personalities.

A wonderful tale from an author who understands that real children are not PC. (although Ms Godden would have despised that term if she had ever heard it!)…

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Book Review:The Group

The Group

The Group by Mary McCarthy

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Fairly near the start this book had waaay too much detail about 1930’s contraception for my tastes – it went on for pages. Yes, I should be more sympathetic – this chapter also evoked the feelings of confused and furtive shame about sexual matters that I remember from the 70’s.

But the further into this groundbreaking novel I got, the more absorbed I became. I especially like the way The Group moved in and out of each others lives – some of the characters disappear for chapters and chapters. This very much reflects real life. Most of the women have absorbing lives, but only the most frustrating member Kay has a real career. Kay also has a real devotion to the unlovely Harald.

Polly was my favourite, Libby felt the most realistic.

I found the ending confusing and a bit hard to follow, but still this is a most excellent book.…

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A Christmas Memory

A Christmas Memory

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sweet, tender and achingly sad, this beautiful childhood memory of Truman Capote gathering ingredients for and making fruitcake for Christmas with his childlike and much older cousin had me in tears by the end.

Cruelly separated by life (aka his mother) I wish these two lovely souls had been able to reunite – just once- before the real Sook’s death.

I’m glad Truman carried this memory in his heart.…

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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: Requiem for a Wren

Requiem For A Wren

Requiem For A Wren by Nevil Shute

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

noun [ C ] UK ​ /ˈrek.wi.əm/ US ​ /ˈrek.wi.əm/
​a mass (= a Christian ceremony) at which people honour and pray for a dead person:
a requiem mass

Definition from the Cambridge Dictionary

Always one of those words where I wasn’t quite sure of the meaning! Knowing the meaning now makes me understand the book title (although I think the US title The Breaking Wave works even better & doesn’t give away an important part of the story)

I was lucky enough to go into this story almost completely cold. I knew it was a WW2 novel but nothing else. I would like everyone to have the same experience, so don’t want to reveal too much. At the start for me it was almost like a Golden Age mystery where I was trying to work out the clues.

This remained a fascinating story – until once again, Shute doesn’t quite nail the ending. Just the one spoiler (view spoiler)[Poor Viola! (hide spoiler)]…

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The Incredible Journey

The Incredible Journey

The Incredible Journey by Sheila Burnford

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have just become ten years old again!

I sobbed through my reads of this book (& through my viewings of the Disney movie) It didn’t matter how many times I read/watched it & that I knew it Would Be All Right in the End, I’d be there with large, gulping sobs. & I kept my whole family awake until I cried myself to sleep. I was a very soft kid though. I wasn’t allowed to watch Lassie as I got so upset!

This book is worth all the tears. Burnford tells a wonderful fictional tale using three of her real life pets as the actors. The portrayals are never sentimental & cloying – if a reader can’t deal with the reality of what starving animals will have to do to survive, this isn’t the right book for them. (I do wonder if the version I read as a child had been censored. I was a kid who like the world best if I was looking at it through rose tinted glasses!)

The animals are portrayed with affection though it is clear that old Bodger is the love of Burford’s life.

Longridge the kindly, if failed, pet minder on Bodger (the bull terrier)

Lying awake in the dark that night,unable to sleep, he thought he would have given anything to feel the heavy thud on the bed that used to announce the old dog’s arrival. How extremely unloving and intolerant he had felt so often , waking in the middle of the night to the relentless shoving and pushing of his undesirable and selfish bedfellow.

My only criticism is that in most pictures Bodger doesn’t look like any Bull terrier I have known & illustrator softens the angular, exotic features of Tao the Siamese cat.

Because I grew up with these pictures I love them, but I hope one day Burford’s tale gets the artist it deserves.…

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The Good Looking Women

The Good Looking Women

The Good Looking Women by Ruth Park

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wow, this amazing book really resonated with me.

My husband is a (non practicing) Catholic & his mother had eight children in thirteen years in the 50s & the early 60s. So, a generation later than the Pond family, but devout Catholics in NZ were still confronting some of the issues in this book in the 1970s,* that Park creates for this working class Australian family in the 1950’s.

So what happens when one sister (maybe) has visions? How do the others feel, how do the parents react? & the wider community, how will they feel?

This book is not only a study of faith, but also of being trapped, manipulation and consequences. As much as I loved Park’s best known work, The Harp in the South, I think this book is superior. I’m still thinking about it, & I think it will still be in my head for weeks.

* No, not visions but (view spoiler)[ Unwanted and/or endless pregnancies. (hide spoiler)]

This book was originally published as Serpent’s Delight, in my opinion a far superior title. Maybe I’m missing something, but I don’t think the women’s looks (view spoiler)[ other than poor Elva being worn down & losing hers! (hide spoiler)] were relevant to the book.

Edit; Be warned that the other review for this book contains a couple of major unmarked spoilers.…

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