The Boat Runner

When you read Devin Murphy’s immersive coming of age novel The Boat Runner, you are carried away into a world where doing the morally right thing no longer seems so straight forward.

The boat runner

Devin Murphy spent eight years working on this debut novel, inspired by his own and his wife’s family history. He draws on the stories of the war he heard as a child, and his own personal experiences as a young man exploring the oceans. He also incorporates his struggles to find his own purpose.

Devin’s love of storytelling means he describes those little details that make you feel you are actually there.

Exploring the moral perspectives of the Dutch and German boys thrust into the campaign, we see events through the eyes of 14 year old Jacob Koopman. Jacob’s story in the novel exposes how people came to accept the German invasion and the propaganda of the times,  and how morally complex those dark days were.

CoverThe book shows a young naive man striving to determine his own path when war threatens and family values are being reexamined. In his search to do what is right, he has to reexamine how he sees his family and what it means to be human.  The novel traverses the pre-war days of the Hitler Youth Camps and the build up towards war.

As war erupts, Jacob is quickly thrust into events beyond his comprehension, and we learn the story of the young Dutch boys thrust into the German war machine. It is a fast-moving tale of boyhood, honour, and bravery – tempered by painful realization of the horrors of war  and the story builds toward the decision which changes the path of his life forever.

Wanting to know more? Visit Devinmurphyauthor.com

The Boat Runner
by Devin Murphy
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780062658029

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir

It’s 1940 and the Chilbury village men, young and old alike, are called upon to fight to defend their heritage and their immediate future.

The Chilbury Ladies choir

The Vicar leaves a note on the church noticeboard stating that ‘As all our male voices have gone to war, the village choir is to close’.  This high-handed attitude rattles on the remaining but suddenly defunct females of the choir.  Action has to be taken and it is …

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is the result and a few prominent members of both choir and village are prompted to divulge their thoughts, actions, and emotions through correspondence – letters are written; journals are jotted in and generally, the fictional village of Chilbury and its occupants, are brought to life in what is a very uncertain and frightening time.

I debated whether I wanted to read about an all-female choir but it was essentially the ‘glue’ that held all the characters together and propelled the sub-plots along within the main storyline.

Blackmail, black marketeering, village hierarchy and social status combined with a healthy dollop of romance all play a part in the unfolding drama but it is the diverse female characters – young and old – who symbolise what mental and physical reserves of strength were required to survive yet another German invasion when still experiencing the effects of the previous one some twenty years ago.

I especially warmed to the precocious but somewhat naïve 13-year-old Kitty Winthrop who starts a diary as a result of an announcement on the wireless that ‘keeping a diary in these difficult times is excellent for the stamina’.  Her entries are funny, optimistic, deluded and very in keeping with an adolescent who feels she has a very old head on youthful shoulders when, in fact, her inability to understand the subtleties of life, make it both sad and funny at the same time.

The epistolary style of writing is reminiscent of other amazing reads such as The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and The Colour Purple  by Alice Walker.

This novel will prove a very popular addition to any book club list – and at some future point in time possibly as a TV series.

This is Jennifer Ryan’s first novel and I look forward to reading whatever else she has in the pipeline.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
by  Jennifer Ryan
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008163716

The Atomic Weight of Love

Book cover of The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J ChurchThe Atomic Weight of Love is the debut novel of Elizabeth J. Church and I hope we see a lot more books from her. This book is an ideal Christmas present. It appeals to a wide audience and will make a great holiday read and is not without a little racy love interest.

Meridian has won a place at the University of Chicago where she studies ornithology working towards a graduate degree and eventual doctorate. Just as her wings are opening and she starts to glimpse new horizons she falls in love with a college professor two decades older than herself and her wings are clipped.

It is written in a memoir style following Meridian as a woman growing up in the 1940s through the fifties and sixties into the seventies and the emergence of women’s liberation. You will find yourself reflecting at times how so much has changed yet still remains the same.

Meri marries Alden and follows him to Los Alamos where she attempts to fit into the group of ex-academic wives she meets there. It is the era when a wife is expected to follow their husband and make the best of it. She struggles to be a good wife while salvaging something of her studies by continuing to study Crows, having left her graduate study dreams behind her.

The novel’s dual strands, the place of women with the emergence of the women’s liberation movement, and the atomic bomb with its resulting anti-war Vietnam and Korean war movements, almost splits it characters by gender over its two themes.

Some of the characters could do with more development – they feel a little clichéd. It seems women have little to say on war in this novel and men little say on the home front. Even for the times this feels a little stretched. She skims over the women who Meridian meets in Los Alamos except her best friend Belle, a strong woman who urges her not to minimise herself yet when it comes to the crunch still tells her to stay in her marriage and try to make it work.

That being said bird studies draw amusing parallels between human and bird society. Each section of the novel starts with an ornithological reference “A Parliament of Owls”, “A Deceit of Lapwings, “A Murder of Crows”. When Meridian meets Clay, a young hippie ex-marine about two decades younger than her, it seems they are about to repeat past mistakes. Her husband seems not to understand her sacrifice while her lover urges her to soar again.

Read the novel to find out if she does.

It is an enjoyable debut novel with a poetical style and reminds me of The Guernsey Potato Peel Literary Society, The Light between Oceans and The Shipping news. If you like nature and have a slightly scientific bent you will enjoy it and even learn a little physics on the way.

The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008209292

The (very) long list

Cover of Every Time a Friend Succeeds Something Inside Me DiesBooks I couldn’t resist adding to the For Later shelf this week.

Every Time a Friend Succeeds Something Inside Me Dies: The Life of Gore Vidal by Jay Parini
Because the title is a deathless quote, because the cover features Gore Vidal with a cat on his shoulder, because the author has written a biography of William Faulkner.

Cover of Vintage Paua Shell JewelleryVintage Paua Shell Jewellery: Art Souvenir, Tourist Kitsch, Kiwi Icon by Elly van de Wijdeven
Because the words vintage, paua shell, art, souvenir, tourist, kitsch and kiwi are irrestistible. Icon is overused. Now where did I store all those collectible fern leaf brooches?

4 Real & True 2: Landscapes, Photographs by Wim Wenders
The great German director turned 70 in August. What better way to celebrate his birthday than by looking at some of the landscapes and images he has chosen to record with his analog camera?

Cover of The Memory of TimeThe Memory of Time: Contemporary Photographs at the National Gallery of Art by Sarah Greenough
Photography’s relationship to time, memory and history investigated by contemporary photographers. The main attraction is Sally Mann, whose Hold Still: A Memoir with Photographs is one of my reads of 2015.

Cover of Diversity in Disney FilmsDiversity in Disney Films: Critical Essays on Race, Ethnicity, Gender, Sexuality and Disability
This should be interesting: Disney films explored with perspectives from critical whiteness studies and masculinity studies as well as old style race and gender.

Read my previous posts about the comings and goings on my For Later shelf.

Off (and on) the shelf

One of my many tragic New Year’s resolutions is to end 2015 with a smaller For Later shelf than I began it with. I’m starting as I mean to go on by shortening For Later to F. L.

Cover of Hockney Volume 1: the BiographyThe futility of this endeavor was immediately evident when I read Volumes One and Two of a new biography of David Hockney. It’s a brilliant and compelling portrait of the artist as a young man and as an older one still as passionate about his work as he ever was. Seemingly two off the shelf, but then a new book came out about Ron Kitaj, a friend and contemporary of Hockney’s, so that had to be added to the F. L. shelf.

The whole Zenny Zennishness of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying was thought-provoking, inspiring and amusing. Perhaps more amusing than inspiring – I laughed out loud in some parts, but I did not start talking to my clothes.

It was also satisfying to have this one off the shelf after a long wait on the Holds list. I did learn that photographs are the hardest things to get rid of. And adult children please note – storing stuff at your parents’ houses is not tidying. It is transferring. Obviously my life was not changed because I had to add the Joy of Less, A Minimalist Living Guide and Organize & Create Discipline to the F. L. shelf. Hope springs eternal.

Cover of 33 Artists in Three Acts33 Artists in 3 Acts was one of my best reads of 2014 and I cannot recommend it highly enough. You don’t read writing like this every day. However Sarah Thornton is so good she got me all excited about art again and I had to add at least two books: Jeff Koons and When Marina Abramović Dies.

Then there are the F. L. books I haven’t even read yet, just sitting there breeding new items. 10.04 by Ben Lerner has had great reviews. One mentioned that Harriet Lerner is his mother so then I had to add The Dance of Deception, having enjoyed The Dance of Anger years ago. One not off, one on.

Must do better.

“For Later” lately (4)

In an attempt to tame her ever-growing For Later list,  Robyn has decided to share with us on a regular basis the titles that she has recently added to her list. The theory being that, even if she doesn’t ever get round to reading them, she can perhaps do so vicariously through you… So please do share your opinions of her picks – are they worthy, do you think, of inclusion in that lofty list?

Cover: Anger Is An EnergyAnger is an Energy: My Life Uncensored by John Lydon.
He should know; he must be one of the angriest men ever.

The Queen’s Houses by Alan Titchmarsh.
How would John Lydon feel about sharing a shelf with Her Majesty the Queen? Angry probably.

The Unexpected Professor by John Carey.
This has had great reviews and I love a book about Oxford.

Cover: As You WishPeter Levi: Oxford Romantic by Brigid Allen. As above.

Londonopolis: A Curious History of London by Martin Latham.
I also love a book about London.

As You Wish by Cary Elwes.
Let’s face it, I pretty much love a book about anything. This one is about one of my favourite films, The Princess Bride. I’m hoping to add to the three things I know about one of its stars, Andre the Giant: he was a giant, he was a wrestler and Samuel Beckett used to drive him to school.

Off the shelf

As followers of our blog will know, voracious reader Robyn has been sharing with us on a regular basis the titles that she has been adding to her For Later list. This time she reports back on some of the titles that have graduated to her Completed shelf.

Cover: History of 20th Century FashionSome things that recently moved from my For Later shelf to my Completed shelf. A veil shall be drawn over those items that moved from my For Later shelf to my list of Books That I Took Out in 2014 But Did Not Read Or Use.

History of 20th Century Fashion – the cover is wonderful but the book disappointed me a bit  – more for a serious student than a frivolous flicker of pages.

The First World War Galleries –  fascinating. Objects speak louder than words. And clothing louder than that – the jacket with one arm missing that features on the cover positively shouts.

New Zealand’s Historic Samplers  – See above. “A sampler may be the only words of a woman which survive” says the author, and these surviving pieces of fabric and thread provide a glimpse into the lives of women and girls from the earliest of colonial days. They truly are stitched stories.

Craftivism: The Art of Craft and Activisim – a great introduction to the world-wide movement of Craftivism. Lots of lovely pictures and just the right amount of words. Inspirational.

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them?

“For Later” lately (3)

In an attempt to tame her ever-growing For Later list,  Robyn has decided to share with us on a regular basis the titles that she has recently added to her list. The theory being that, even if she doesn’t ever get round to reading them, she can perhaps do so vicariously through you… So please do share your opinions of her picks – are they worthy, do you think, of inclusion in that lofty list?

Some things I have put on my For Later list recently:

Cover: Virginia Woolf's GardenAltman by Kathryn Altman because Robert Altman made some of the most interesting films of the 20th century.

Nora Webster because it’s by Colm Toibin and a new book by Colm Toibin is a major event.

Virginia Woolf’s Garden because it’s fascinating how the last drop is being squeezed out of the Bloomsberries.

The First World War Galleries by Paul Cornish because it has a picture of a uniform with one sleeve missing on the cover.

History of 20th Century Fashion by Elizabeth Ewing because no fashion book can be allowed to escape my attention.

Secrets of the National Archives because archives are anything but dusty.

The Scraps Book by Lois Ehlert because I’m hoping it will have some real scraps featured.

“For Later” lately (2)

In an attempt to tame her ever-growing For Later list,  Robyn has decided to share with us on a regular basis the titles that she has recently added to her list. The theory being that, even if she doesn’t ever get round to reading them, she can perhaps do so vicariously through you… So please do share your opinions of her picks – are they worthy, do you think, of inclusion in that lofty list?

Cover: Living Mexico CityWhat I put on my For Later list this week:
Adam by Ariel Schrag because I love Schrag with a burning passion and her High School Chronicles are some of the best graphic novels ever.

Knit your own pet by Sally Muir because I am an eternal optimist and it is for absolute beginners.

British folk art by Ruth Kenny because it’s good to see art made outside the mainstream.

Ideas: texture and Ideas: open spaces by Fernando de Haro because idly flicking through books featuring lovely ideas without having to put them into practice is one of life’s great pleasures. See also Living Mexico City by Marcela y Aguilary Maya.  Also because she has the best name.

Dabbous, the cookbook by Ollie Dabbous because My Kitchen Rules every night has led to an obsession with food. Not cooking it or even eating it,  just sort of observing it. Cooking definitely not an option as this book features recipes such as ‘Mixed Alliums in a Chilled Pine Infusion’.

The art of Neil Gaiman by Hayley Campbell because he is a legend, pure and simple.

“For Later” lately

The For Later list gets longer and longer. Surely there must be some way of making it more worthwhile and less of an impossible dream.

Sharing the titles added every week and some of the reasons why? Worth a try.
This week they were:

Go on – put a hold on one (or more) of these and make me feel better.

Cover : The Age of Innocence Cover: In Praise of Messy Lives Cover: Some Hope Cover: The Book of You Cover: Glitter and glue Cover: It Cover: Red Light Properties