A Year of Books

That title is a bit dramatic as it doesn't include theology books, crime books I read on ipad Kindle, or Readers Digest Condensed books. Nevertheless, as I am about to shelve this pile of recent reads, I thought I'd post the titles as a relaxing summer exercise.

Stiegg Larsson Trilogy: People had warned me I wouldn't like these books, full of sex, violence and amorality. However when I heard my Mum had read one, I was intrigued! I bought the first one "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo", on its own, but before I was half way through I had gone out and got the others,  "The Girl Who Played With Fire", and "The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest". (Fortunately I'd seen them on special at The Warehouse) Yes,the character of Lisbeth Salander is not recognisable within my social circle, but that is what fiction is about. I found this series of mysteries  solved by journalist Michael Blomquist with the help of this endearing autistic waif deeply engaging emotionally, and, in the end, dramatically satisfying. I heartily agree with a reviewer who said "Rich, complex characters, explosive plots and wonderful action". 

Whatever Happened to Kathy Keay?: This one is non-fiction, a biography I came across through Christians for Biblical Equality, a gender-justice organisation I support in a small way. I had never heard of this English woman, Kathy, but she is of my own vintage, and so her story parallels my own in some ways. She was clearly an extrovert creative type known for her outrageous outfits, so no, not like me in that way, but rather in her struggles to find an identity as  Christian thinker, speaker and leader. She tragically died in her forties but the story - written by a friend using Kathy's personal diaries,  letters and poems - reveals the intense inner struggle as she sought to use her God-given creativity and intelligence in the context of a male-led church. The trajectory towards the end of the story is somewhat surprising, but as with Lisbeth, I noticed Kathy's frustration with human frailty echoed my own struggles for gender equality. 

My Brother Vivian: This was another biography I came across while browsing the internet, this time when ordering a book online from Australia. No doubt the use of my own name was the cause of my initial interest, but the story of an Anglican missionary murdered by natives who later confessed and sought reconciliation echoed my experience in a Vancouver museum when I read about such an event in Vanuatu in the nineteenth century. This man was sent to Papua New Guinea in the thirties and was thought to have been killed by the Japanese in World War II. Almost 50 years later, after meticulous research, the truth has emerged; although several CMS missionaries, including Vivian's nurse-fiancee, were executed by the invaders, it was locals who had slaughtered Vivian Redlich, perhaps in an attempt to curry favour with the occupation forces.  Vivian's younger brother Patrick, the author of the book, was involved in a service of forgiveness and peace in New Guinea in 2009.  

Love at the End of the Road: Another biography, this time written by subject Rae Roadley herself. My interest was piqued by the fact that this big city journalist ended up marrying a bachelor farmer from Batley on the Kaipara Harbour, an area quite near where we lived up north for 17 years. Although I have never been to the end of Rae's "Road" I know enough about the geography, history and society in that district to find the story of her somewhat drawn-out romance a satisfying read. 

The Hunt and Breaking Silence: I am not normally a fan of Ian Wishart, whose writing often falls into what Christians used to call The Plain Truth/Half Truth syndrome. But he is an intelligent man with considerable research skill, so when I read  review of his book about Paulette Moray's tragic experience of losing touch with her children for over thirty years,  I was intrigued enough to buy it.  She was a high society diplomat's wife in England, who had an affair with a believable British war hero who seems to have been a psychopath.  After a custody battle over their two preschool children, he kidnapped them and smuggled them to Israel where they grew up thinking they were motherless. The story from Wishart and Paulette's present husband Gordon London tells of the audacious plan to track down Max Moray and reconnect a grieving mother with her children. I thoroughly enjoyed The Hunt.  My only criticism is that the book does not include an insert with an update to what has happened since she wrote to these now adult children requesting to meet; I had to Google to find out that a reunion has indeed occurred. 
The copy of The Hunt I purchased turned out to have  a binding fault, so that half of it was  upside down. This didn't stop me reading it but I felt ripped off ($35.00) so wrote to Wishart asking for a replacement.  He readily agreed, but I had to send the first one back to him in a postbag. I cheekily suggested he could reimburse the postage by giving me his other book Breaking Silence, which had been controversial in the media at that time. He did so, and again I found the story, this time of the deaths of the newborn Kahui twins, deeply compelling.  No doubt there is, as always, a lot of Wishart spin, BUT I have changed my view on the direct culpability of Macsyna King, which I now see as unlikely. I also found the suggestion that at least some of the twins' injuries were evidence of infant scurvy interesting.  Like Celia Lashlie though  I found the most important aspect of the book was its revelations about how some people in New Zealand grow up. King and then-partner Kahui were both raised by families steeped in alcohol abuse, inappropriate sex including incest, and the illicit drug industry. They are damaged people and are likely to continue producing damaged offspring,  in fact both have several other children. This book, said Lashlie, "could have been a valuable tool in furthering discussion in this country about child abuse and the effects of chaotic and violent childhoods on adults who then produce their own children." I hope it still can.

Searching for Grace: I loved this story but it shows that people of earlier times were often  just as flawed and manipulative as they are today. Co-author Heather was born in London in 1911 and raised in that intriguing era by an elderly governess. Although she was told "Mummy" was not her real mother, the reason for her situation was never explained. At 18, she fell in love with and secretly married an artist Gordon Tovey, and they later came to New Zealand where Gordon made a significant contribution to methods of teaching art  in schools. In her sixties, Heather found out that her birth mother was actually a wealthy socialite whose house she had often visited as a child, and with her daughter Carol set out on a quest to discover the story behind the strange adoption.  The story is both happy and sad, as Heather and Carol's researches reveal the hedonistic life of Grace, a "fascinating and obsessively manipulative woman". Heather Tovey died before the book was published.

Ned and Katina: I have read this book before and have posted about it, but I wanted to read it properly again after visiting Crete in 2011. Each time I read it I learn more about the Greek culture, the Orthodox faith and the aspirations of today's Maori up north where we used to live. The fact that Ned was the same generation of returned servicemen as my Dad, who was captured in Greece to serve four years as a POW, brought an extra poignancy in the year since Dad passed away. I thoroughly recommend it for anyone with a sense of history.

Marriage: A History: by Stephanie Coontz. The subtitle is "How Love Conquered Marriage." I ordered this book, that I had heard about in my gender studies paper in 2011, when it became clear that the gay marriage debate was hotting up in NZ. Of course, the book is not about GLBT relationships as such; its a history of marriage. and although Coontz fails to recognise the real contribution of Christians like Luther to society's views on marriage and family, she does give a very helpful overview of the main motivations that have driven couples to get together in a permanent arrangement since history has been written.  Coontz, who is a social historian and researcher in family studies in the USA, offers abundant evidence for her thesis that the idea of marrying for love is a construct peculiar to the last two centuries. For most of human history, she posits, marriage was about protecting  family land and assets, economic use of women and children  and making sure there was at least one sexual outlet for the male of the household. ""Marriage probably originated as an informal way of organizing sexual companionship, child rearing, and the daily tasks of life."(p 44) She says the idea that anyone should choose a marital partner based on something as irrational as love was completely alien until about two hundred years ago. I don't know where that puts the Hebrew/Christian pattern of "leaving, leaving and becoming one flesh" which has been in our Scriptures (Matt 19 and others) for thousands of years, but it is clear that marriage and family have historically taken many different forms even within Christian society. I'm still not sure where that leaves the gay marriage debate, except that I am a lot more informed.

Saving Faith: Typical Baldacci blend of politics and suspense, a thoroughly good read.

The Man from St Petersburg and Eye of the Needle: These are both written by Ken Follett, who has reappeared on the horizon since his historical novels about mediaeval England appeared on the telly (Pillars of the Earth, World without End). These books, set in WWI and WWII respectively,  are republished from an earlier era of his writing and I loved them both; I will be adding Follett to my list of authors to seek out in secondhand hand shops (like Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse).

One Shot: I read every Jack Reacher thriller as soon as it comes out, despite the fact that it will appear a few months later in my subscription to RD condensed books. This one is as good as any, but has featured in the media since Tom Cruise was cast as Reacher in the movie of the book. Tom Cruise! To play the inscrutable six foot seven heavyweight! I can only think they decided it wasn't important, as the hero needed in this story is more of a logic puzzle solver than a hands-on interrogator.  No doubt I will see the movie eventually but give me the hard copy book and my imagined Reacher any time. A Wanted Man was also a great Lee Child read.

Bones are Forever: Author Kathy Reichs is another of my literary addictions, but again I prefer my imagined Tempe Brennan to the character of Bones in the TV series  Forensics has been an interest since my teens, and was bumped up to a serious passion when I passed the time of my first pregnancy in 1976 by reading every real crime book in the Non Fiction  section of the Hamilton Public Library. This one revolved around the discovery of a series of mummified dead babies, and although it's not one of Reichs' best, as always the pace  and suspense keeps you engaged till the last page. 

The Art of Love: This one by Elizabeth Edmondson came out of a remainder bin. I think I have read this author before. The story of Polly Smith, a struggling artist in prewar London, being shocked to find her previously hidden birth certificate leads to adventure  intrigue and of course romance in the South of France. No plot spoiler here but Edmondson does bring about a convincing if not wholly satisfying end.

Alaska: I forgot to put it in the photo but I did reread James Michener's well researched historical novel  Alaska (1988) when we visited that 49th state in August. Its a big book, though and being in holiday mode I didn't finish it till we had long left. That was a mistake  because I would have appreciated places we visited so much more if I had got to that part of the saga as we visited the various towns. I recommend anyone going to Alaska reads it beforehand.

Postscript: This was supposed to be a relaxing Kiwi summer exercise but its taken me a couple of weeks! 
Good reading.