Sunday, January 30, 2011

Being Dead

By Jim Crace

This has got to be one of the stranger books I've read, and I think I liked it, I think I liked it a lot, but I'm not entirely sure, it's that kind of a book.

As the title suggests, Being Dead is a description of the lives and deaths of Celine and Joseph. A Middle-aged, married couple they suffer the ultimate insult, being bludgeoned to death after having had a trip-down-memory-lane shag in the sand dunes at Baritone Bay. The chapters skip between their deaths, their past, their day, why they are there in the first place, what's happening to their remains, and who they leave behind. It's a strange, strange story, but strange in a good way, I think.

So there you go - the vaguest and most non-committal review I think I will ever give a book!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Navigation - a memoir

By Joy Cowley

Joy Cowley is one of New Zealand's most beloved story tellers, the writer of hundreds of books and school readers for children as well as novels for adults. I remember listening to her speak at the Auckland Writer's Festival a few years ago and being thoroughly captivated by her warmth, passion and wisdom. I came away from that talk feeling privileged to have been a part of it. So I couldn't wait to read Navigation, her memoir, and as hoped it held me captivated by her warmth, passion and wisdom.

Joy mentions at the beginning that she'd been initially approached by Penguin to write an autobiography, which she declined, but when they approached suggesting a memoir she thought, yes. And I'm so glad she did as a memoir has allowed her to illustrate her life in a series of little stories, vignettes, rather than being stifled by the formality of an autobiography.

What an amazing and interesting woman, Being someone who grew up knowing her stories for myself and my children I have this image of her as a deliciously grandmotherly type of person, which she is, so I was delighted to discover her youthful spirit, the young woman who rode motorbikes and flew a Tigermoth aeroplane. From a  personal perspective I was intrigued to she had a career in pharmacy, just like me.

She talks of her childhood and her parents influence, her marriages and children and how she came to see the need for better childrens' readers and books in schools and how she helped in achieving that to international renoun. She also talks about her loves and spirituality.

One of the little treats for me, for as you know I'm a bit of a fan, was this encounter, when she was a young writer, attending her first PEN Christmas party in Wellington.

"I don't know how long I stood there - long enough to understand that I was a country girl who had invaded a sophisticated party under false pretences. I needed to go back and wait at the station until the evening train.
As I turned and walked towards the door, a woman who had been sitting in a chair near the wall stood up. She was tall, angular, wore a big brimmed hat and white gloves. She strode across the room towards me, held out a gloved hand and said in a loud, well-rounded voice, 'How do you do. The name is Marsh.'
I was rescued by a perceptive Ngaio Marsh, who escorted me to the other end of the room and introduced me to writers I knew by name only - Denis Glover, Noel Hillard, Frank Sargeson, Ian Cross, Alistair Campbell. I discovered in the next hour that famous writers and poets were people."

Good on ya, Ngaio!

Joy Cowley is a beautiful story teller and it was a pleasure to read this book and I came away feeling as privileged to have had a glimpse into this lovely woman as I had seeing her on the stage all those years ago.

Lovely stuff.

Friday, January 21, 2011

In the letterbox...

I love it when book shaped parcels arrive in the letter box, especially when I know the said book was a prize - everyone loves free stuff! Today's arrival was courtesy of a giveaway on Kerrie's Mysteries in Paradise.

Take Out by Felicity Young.

Felicity Young is an Australian crime writer, and I'm always keen to introduce myself to new authors from across the ditch. This is her third DSS Stevie Hooper novel.

Here's the back cover blurb...


A deserted house. The remains of an unfinished meal. an unexpected find. And a routine police investigation going nowhere.

When Detective Senior Sergeant Stevie Hooper of the Sex Crimes unit steps into the empty Pavel house and someone else's jurisdiction, she upsets more than the ego of a struggling suburban cop. She has breached the defences of a world that has its rotten heart a ruthless disregard for human life.

Her own family in crisis, a case like this is the last thing Hooper needs. And she is about to discover that those who cross the Mamsan do so at their peril.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Surfeit of Lampreys

By Ngaio Marsh

There are lots of reading challenges that circulate the blogosphere. Why only last year I failed dismally at Dorte's Global Reading Challenge. So why would I put myself through the prospect of another? Well, considering how much I like our dear Ngaio, and her mate Agatha how could I possibly resist a Vintage Mystery Reading Challenge?! Bev, over at My Readers Block, has issued the challenge, where the rule is the book has to have been written before 1960 and be from the mystery category. There are several challenge levels, and I have decided to be ambitious and opt for the Get a Clue level of 7 to 9 books.

I intend to keep enjoying my Ngaio Marsh books, throw in some Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers and Marjorie Allingham. I've also found a few vintage mysteries at the local second hand books stores that need to be read, so the way I see it I should reach my target easy peasy. (Don't bother reminding me that's what I said about the global Reading Challenge!)

Anyway, first off the starting block is Ngaio Marsh's Surfeit of Lampreys. (1941)

The Lampreys are that special form of London society family that has plenty of charm and peculiarities, but no cash. they seem to lurch from one cash crisis to the next and when things get desperate again they are forced to appeal to Uncle Gabriel to bail them out. But Uncle Gabriel isn't noted for his charitable spirit, especially to his relatives, so he refuses the request. Mere moments later Uncle Gabriel meets a particularly nasty end in the elevator of the Lamprey's apartment building. Naturally suspicion falls upon the family and it is up to Detective Chief Inspector Alleyn to find the truth amongst an endless sea of lies.

I took a wee while to get into this novel, but then I came to love it. I enjoyed the cast of characters and another unique method of knocking off the victim - Ngaio Marsh is rather inventive in that department. I also liked that the family had lived in New Zealand and Roberta, a visitor caught up in the mess was a visitor from the antipodes. The knowledge that the Lampreys were based upon Ngaio's friends the Rhodes family, the same family that invited her over to London where her crime writing career started, I can't help but look fondly on this book and imagine the character Roberta could just have easily been called Ngaio...

Another great read from the Kiwi Queen of Crime.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Cakes and crazy times

Well, I fell off the blogging radar for a bit there, but I discovered it is actually really hard to get anything done with a birthday party to organise, cakes to make and an extra 5 people squidged into the house for a week. But the kids loved sleeping marae style in the lounge with their cousins.

Mr Eight-year-old made the transition to Mr Nine-year-old with a medieval themed party, so naturally he wanted an appropriate cake...

As with any self-respecting medieval themed party we had kings and fair maidens packing swords. There was even a wizard. There was feasting and sword fighting a plenty, but unfortunately we didn't have enough space to do jousting, there would have been a bit too much tree dodging necessary. Shame.

Guests are gone, party is over, life is back to normal...sigh.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Started Early, Took my Dog

By Kate Atkinson

This is the third book Kate Atkinson has written featuring private investigator Jackson Brodie, following on from Case Histories, and the excellent When Will There be Good News.

Brodie is quietly following a case, trying to track down the birth mother of New Zealand woman Hope McMaster. He's also still trying to track down his ex-wife who swindled him somewhat. We meet Tracie Waterhouse, a retired cop now security manager for a large mall, who in a rash moment 'buys' a little girl off a no-hoper druggie prostitute in an attempt at rescuing her. Tracie soon realises no one in authority is going to buy that line and she's effectively kidnapped the child, which complicates life somewhat. Courtenay, the little girl is perfectly happy with her new arrangement, but Tracie realises she'd better make themselves scarce. But it soon becomes apparent someone is hunting them down. Jackson Brodie has acquired himself a dog under similar sorts of circumstances.

This book hops between the past and the present, with events that happened when Tracie Waterhouse was a young police constable, and how those events affect the current day. Like Kate Atkinson's other novels it can sometimes seem to meander, but then you realise that paths are going to intersect and in curious ways.

Her characterisation is wonderful. One of the most memorable characters is Tilly, an elderly actress who witnesses the events in the mall which start the whole affair. Her sad, yet riveting slide into confusion is very affecting.

Kate Atkinson is a very clever writer, the way she weaves her characters together, the result is a very satisfying read.

I had the pleasure of seeing Kate in action at the Christchurch Writers Festival a few years ago when she was talking about When Will There be Good News. Christchurch must have made an impression on her with her character Hope McMaster living there. As a proud Kiwi the nod to New Zealand made me smile.

Saturday, January 1, 2011


Isn't it funny how something as arbitrary as a roll over date marking the transition from one year to the next can make such a difference to your head space. The prospect of a new year, a clean slate, of endless potential.

Naturally this comes hand in hand with a few resolutions. Let me share a few of mine...

Read more than 56 books.

Buy at least one book a month from my favourite independent book shop (doing my bit to keep them alive and well.)

Try to actually reduce my TBR pile by reading them! (Please note that the first resolution supports this, but the second is a little counter-productive.)

Write a cracker of a crime fiction novel

Fence up a storm

Do less housework (-;