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Posts from the ‘fiction’ Category


#Fiction The Art of Racing in the Rain

#GoMax   “…Keep pushing!!”



20. The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein by Garth Stein Garth Stein

Finish date: 22 January 2022
Genre: Fiction
Rating: B+

Bad news: Push through the first chapters….sentimental as flowers pressed between the pages of a diary.

Good news: A beloved philosopher dog named Enzo is the one who teaches us everything we need to know about being human. Let the story embrace you…every reader will find a moment to connect at some level. I mean a dog is the narrator…what’s not to love?

Good news: My first impression was wrong. This turned out to be a great book…I loved it! Title The Art of Racing in the Rain was just perfect…captures the essence of the book! Drivers are afraid of the rain. Rain amplifies your mistakes.

Good news: I love the sport of Formula 1 so all the references to great champions of the past Emmo (Fittipaldi), Schumi, Senna etc were wonderful. I didn’t realize so many life lessons can be learned in the paddock and on the grid. My life lesson? No race has ever been won in the first corner…but plenty of races have been lost there.

Personal: New rule…never write the book review on the same day you finished the book! Sleep on it. After a few chapters of sugar-spin sentimentality I hoped the book would get better…and it did. Apart from the ‘tear-jerker’ content (dying dog, newlyweds, baby, dying wife and in-laws from hell) the book had a larger message for me. The Art of Racing in the Rain was a metaphor teaching me (us) how to overcome obstacles in the long race we call life (pg 314). We all race in the rain at some point. Remember the motto in the book:
The visible becomes inevitable.
The car goes where the eyes go (ch 37)
With fresh tires and a full load of fuel he would prove a formidable force.


#Novella Passing


Quick scan:

  1. Irene Redfield, a light-skinned African American woman
  2. …prominent member of the Harlem community,
  3. receives a letter from an old friend named Clare Kendry.
  4. Clare is light-skinned, but, unlike Irene,
  5. …Clare has decided to pass as white
  6. …and to make matters more complicated
  7. …is married to a wealthy racist white man.
  8. Their reunion is tense.



  1. Larsen’s works are often classified as “uplift novels,”
  2. the purpose of which was to persuade educated white readers
  3. that the black middle class was, in fact, not unlike them.
  4. There was no need to discriminate against such obviously civilized people.
  5. There are  many kinds of secrets,
  6. …from unspoken feelings and
  7. …quiet anxieties to hushed-up affairs in this small book!
  8. This novella is absolutely worth your reading time
  9. ….3 hrs and you have finished 176 pg of excellent writing!
  10. Strong point: Love the small twist
  11. Ms Larsen bookends her novella ( part 1 ch 1 -> part 4 ch 4)
  12. See if you can discover how she did it!
  13. Now…time to watch the Netflix version of “Passing” (2021)
  14. with Tessa Thompson and Ruth Negga



#Fiction Jason Mott Winner Nat Book Award 2021


Quick Scan:

  1. Hell of a  Book goes to the heart of racism,
  2. police violence, and the hidden costs
  3. exacted upon Black Americans
  4. …and America as a whole.



  1. Tight, intimate, imaginative,
  2. prescient, and completely heart wrenching…
  3. This book has taught me so much and there are things
  4. I’m ashamed of saying I never stopped to think about
  5. how life can be for an outsider
  6. in a white supremacist land like USA.
  7. This book is brilliant as a talking point on what
  8. is white privilege and
  9. how are many white Americans STILL denying
  10. …that racism exists.
  11. My, God…read this book!



#AusReadingMonth2020 Pearly Gates



  1. This was a delightful novel!
  2. Pearly Gates is an unforgettable character:
  3. …a great warm welcoming smile, full of confidence
  4. ….like the man who keeps friends
  5. …because he uses the right deodorant.
  6. But soon Pearly feels  a weight he cannot  endure.
  7. He carries it like an egg or a rock.
  8. “…hating the weight, fearing the knock” ( quote: Penelope Layland)
  9. No spoilers about the plot...that is how I read the book
  10. …and I just could not put it down.
  11. So curious how Pearly was going to solve this
  12. …existential crisis!
  13. #MustRead



#ReadIreland 2020 Jennifer Johnston

  • Author:  Jennifer Johnston
  • Title:  The Christmas Tree
  • Published: 1981
  • Genre:  novella (168 pg)
  • Reading time: 4 hours
  • List of Challenges 2020
  • Monthly plan
  • Trivia: Jennifer Johnston (Dublin 1930) was awarded a
  • Lifetime Achievement Award 2012 from the Irish Book Awards. 
  • #ReadingIrelandMonth20
  • #Begorrathon20
  • Rating: A+++++++



  1. Jennifer Johnston is not a trendy read.
  2. She is 90…so she is not on the best sellers lists
  3. But my goodness…don’t let her writing pass you by!
  4. I won’t even give you a clue what it is about
  5. …I want you to discover it from page 1 by yourself.
  6. Her books are about relationships.
  7. This book was IMO about the sister-sister connection.
  8. I got goosebumps when I read the following lines….about
  9. a sister you really cannot get close to
  10. …try as hard as I have done:
  11. “We have a lot of genes an some memories in common.”
  12. Her stories are low key and personal but far from sentimental.
  13. Jennifer Johnston is underappreciated.
  14. But she is very good at what she does.
  15. Roddy Doyle considers Jennifer Johnston Ireland’s greatest writer.
  16. I had a ‘Trevor-shiver’ after reading the last page.
  17. The same feeling I have  when I read a William Trevor short story….
  18. #Unforgettable
  19. PSTwo Moons is another one of her books…not to be missed!

Nancy @ The Movies “Messiah” (Netflix)




  1. For a change I’ll give you a NETFLIX review instead of a book.
  2. Well, I had nothing to do yesterday so I watched MESSIAH on Netflix.
  3. The action is driven by the enterance of an outsider….a Messiah.
  4. Messiah season two hasn’t been confirmed, but surely it’s only a matter of time.
  5. Messiah could run for years.
  6. Now this is great news if you are an evangelical
  7. ….but if you like a strong plot, dramatic dialogue
  8. ( …all the CIA agent says when asked what the problem is: “It’s nothing”
  9. …this doesn’t move the narrativie along!)
  10. ……you will be sorely disappointed.
  11. IMDB gave it a 7.9 score…that must be a misprint.
  12. So, if you want to be bored for hours
  13. …..I highly recommend it!

#AWW 2019 Drylands



  1. Helen Garner once said in an interview: ‘
  2. Not being able to read after cataract surgery for 10 days
  3. …..was unbearable”
  4. I know how she felt.
  5. Desperate to quench my reading thirst
  6. ….I’m listening to Drylands by Thea Astley. (7 hrs 17 minutes)
  7. Perhaps when I can enjoy better vision
  8. ….I will re-read the paperback version.
  9. Astely’s prose is worth savoring again.



  1. In her flat above Drylands’ newsagency,
  2. Janet Deakin (voice of the author herself…)
  3. is writing a book for the world’s last reader.
  4. She describes a cast of oddball characters
  5. in the small bush town of Drylands.
  6. ...desperate housewife’s ‘Walk to Canossa”
  7. …unnerving bar noise ‘seeping in like conscience’
  8. …staring at the closed bar ‘the Legless Lizard’ with
  9. its door bolt ‘hanging like a limp hand’
  10. But the town is being outmaneuvered by drought
  11. and begins to empty
  12. “…pouring itself out like water into sand.”
  13. As Janet decides to sell her store
  14. “it wasn’t  dust she wanted to shake off her feet
  15. ….it was memories”
  16. Last scrawled message on her desk: ‘Get a life…
  17. Her response: ‘Too late.
  18. These are just a few tidbits
  19. I remembered while listening
  20. to Thea Astley’s last masterpiece.
  21. #Bravo



#Classic Max Havelaar

  •  Author: Eduard Douwes Dekker (Multatuli) (1820 – 1887)
  •  Genre: novel (satire)
  • Title: Max Havelaar ( Language: Dutch)
  • Published: 1860
  • Table of Contents: 20 chapters, 315
  • Timeline: 1842 ( Sumatra). 1856 (Lebak) 1860 (Amsterdam)
  • Setting: Dutch East Indies
  • Trivia: E. Douwes Dekker was one of Sigmund Freud’s favorite writers.
  • List of Challenges 2019
  • Monthly reading plan



  1. Eduard Douwes Dekker is better known by his pen name Multatuli.
  2. It is from latin ‘multa tuli’ meaning I have suffered much.
  3. This is a satire denouncing  the abuses
  4. …of  colonialism in the Dutch East Indies (Indonesia).
  5. 1838 Douwes Dekker became a civil servant in Java.
  6. All the secrets of Dutch administration were known to him.
  7. Disgusted with the actions of the Dutch in Java,
  8. …he had begun to about the abuses.
  9. Threatened with dismissal from
  10. …his office for his openness of speech.
  11. Dekker resigned his appointment.
  12. He returned to the Netherlands and wrote this
  13. scathing criticism of Dutch colonialism.
  14. In 2002 the Society of Dutch Literature proclaimed
  15. ….Multatuli the most important Dutch writer of all time



  • This is a  grim depiction of life in a European colony, namely Indonesia.
  • The description of web of hypocrisy of church-going Dutch.
  • …and the repression of the natives under their rule endure.
  • The Dutch derived benefits from others misery.
  • Max Havelaar was  beacon of hope.
  • He was in a position of unquestionable power, Assistant-Resident.
  • Havelaar struggled with the colonial government  leaders ….to no avail.


Theme:  exploitation;  colonialism


TitleDubble  title “Max Havelaar or Coffee Auctions Dutch Trade Company”

  1. I had to research this information
  2. … would never have caught my eye!
  3. Irony: the title tells  Mr. Droogstoppel that this book contains
  4. …information that  he would be interested in: coffee auctions.
  5. He agrees to  finance the  rewriting of a final draft and publication of the book
  6. But it appears that there is nothing in the book about coffee or the Dutch Trade Company!


  1. The author  misled Droogstoppel  and the reading public!
  2. In 1860 coffee and trade were in the news.
  3. Multatuli wanted to have his book read. (pg 57)
  4. “Mijn boek moet de wereld in!”
  5. He was probably the  first Dutch “whistleblower” !
  6. He used this  ‘clever piece of irony’
  7. …to capture the public’s  interest.
  8. Multatuli  TRICKED  the readers with a dubble title.
  9. He lured them to buy the book and
  10. revealed the abuses he thought must be made public.


Narrators:  3 characters

  • Droogstoppel:  coffee broker at Last & Co.
  • Stern:  assistant Last & Co.  ( = author  Multatuli)
  • Sjaalman: is thecharacter of Max Havelaar incognito in Amsterdam.


Structure: frame  story (stories-within-stories)

  1. Story:  Commentary in journals of Max Havelaar who abhors the exploitation of the  Dutch East Indies natives.
  2. Story:  Havelaar returns to Amsterdam with his exposé in rough draft and wants it to be published.
  3. Story: In the last chapter:
  • Multatuli, the author himself,  takes over the narrative.
  • Droogstoppel is written ‘out of the book’.
  • Multatuli writes what he wants to achieve.
  • He wants the readers to share his outrage.


Breaking the 4th wall

  • Multatuli speaks directly to the reader and ‘confronts’ him.
  • Speaking to the reader acknowledges that this is a book or a story.


Unreliable narrator

  • Mr. Droogstoppel  coffee broker  is characterized by exaggeration and bragging.
  • Multatuli satirizes the coffee merchant, Droogstoppel, by simply letting him speak!



  • The use of words to convey the opposite of their literal meaning.
  • Droogstoppel tells the reader ( pg 18)  that the Dutch are successful because:
  • …they  conduct business honorably and maintain exemplary Christian beliefs.
  • Irony: Mutatuli reveals that the Dutch say one thing in public and act differently in business!
  • Droogstoppel gossips about other business partner’s family. (pg 25)
  • Irony: But reminds us that he  would never knowingly slander anybody!



  • There are some great examples of humor in Multatuli’s writing:
  • The repetition in Droogstoppel’s  emphatic dialogue
  • reminding the reader that he always speaks the truth
  • ” heus de zuivere waarheid” (pg 24)  and
  • conducts himself at all times with civility
  • fatsoen gaat voor mijn boven alles” ( pg 31).
  • In a bouncing carriage over a hobbley road  Multatuli brings the choppy conversation
  • before our eyes with one-word sentences.  You can just hear it!
  • I. Did. Not. Dare.To. Agree.
  • ” Ik. Durfde. Het. Haar. Niet. Toezeggen.” ! (pg 101)



  1. Weak point:
  2. This book was complicated with its intricate narrative structure.
  3. There is no chronological order, many flashbacks and 3 narrators.
  4. Weak point:
  5. Many pages of out-of-date  style of dialogue which  makes the reading difficult.
  6. Strong point:
  7. The shock effect caused by the author  in chapter 20.
  8. This was his pulpit. It would be his  chance to send a message to the Dutch and the world.
  9. Multatuli refers to the barbaric division in American society on pg 103.
  10. He must have read Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852, H.B. Stowe) that exposed the abuse in USA.
  11. Multatuli shares Stowe’s social realism in his writing of Max Havelaar.


Last thoughts:

  1. I could relate to this book because
  2. of my knowledge of the ‘Dutch mentality’.
  3. I wonder if this book would appeal to
  4. a wider audience outside The Netherlands.
  5. I read the book in Dutch
  6. I liked the book but a recommendation to read it
  7. …..that’s a hard call.
  8. Dutch is the 7th most spoken language in Europe..
  9. The study of foreign languages
  10. …is simply the gift that keeps on giving.




#Ockham NZ Awards MY CHOICE winner Fiona Kidman

  • Author: Dame Fiona Judith Kidman DNZM OBE (1940)
  • Title: This Mortal Boy
  • Published: 2018
  • Genre: historical fiction
  • List of Challenges 2019
  • Monthly reading plan
  • #AWW2019 
  • @AusWomenWriters
  • Trivia: 2019 Winner of The New Zealand Booklovers’ Prize for Fiction
  • Trivia: 2018 Shortlisted for the NZ Heritage Book Awards
  • Trivia: 2019 Shortlisted for the Ockham New Zealand Book Awards
  • #TheOckhams will be awarded 14 May 2019.
  • @PenguinBooks_NZ



  1. On 05 December1955
  2. …New Zealand’s second-last execution occurred.
  3. The victim was a young Irishman,
  4. Albert (Paddy) Black…a bog-trotter.
  5. He knifed a man, Johnny McBride…bit of a rough diamond,
  6. in a bar-room brawl 26 July 1955
  7. …called the “juke-box murder”.
  8. Public revulsion at his execution was a major force
  9. abolishing the death penalty in 1961.
  10. Black was convicted of murder and executed.
  11. Yet there were clear signs that his trial
  12. …was a severe miscarriage of justice.
  13. Main characters:
  14. Albert (Paddy) Black Irish, aka Shaun Donavan (killer)
  15. Alan Keith Jacques English, aka Johnny McBride (victim)
  • Setting change: 1955 Belfast Ireland
  • Flashback: Belfast, parents, childhood, WW II, sailing to life in NZ
  • Setting: NZ Aukland, Wellington, Auckland Parliament House
  • Mt Eden Prison NZ (arrested awaits trial),
  • Ye Olde Barn cafe (crime scene)
  • Setting: Station Hotel Aukland NZ (where jury is staying during trial)
  • Setting: Aukland Court house – jury’s decision (ch 19)
  • Setting: Mount Eden Prison…execution



  1. This story is based on facts that are in no way
  2. sentimentalized by the author.
  3. This Mortal Boy reads like a Greek Tragedy
  4. …we know what is going to happen in the last act.
  5. The platform on the gallows will actually be a trapdoor.
  6. The book is a stark report about a young boy who
  7. made a mistake and paid the ultimate price, his life.


  1. Strong point:
  2. Research
  3. Dame Fiona Kidman has studied the trial transcripts
  4. …read copies of Albert Black’s letters to friend his Peter
  5. ..and visited Ireland to research the public records in Belfast
  6. (births, marriages, deaths).
  7. Chapter  27  is and eyewitness report  of the execution by J. Young.
  8. (…a very confronting read)
  9. Trial witnesses, lawyers and members of the jury are fictional.


  1. Strong point:
  2. Kidman examines history with a fine tooth comb.
  3. She supports her story with references
  4. to Australian politicians, The Mazengarb 1954 (report on moral delinquency)
  5. …and  the hanging of Fred Foster July 1955 for the ‘Milk Bar Murder’.


  1. Strong point:
  2. The jury
  3. In chapter two Kidman takes time to
  4. …introduce the reader to the 12 men on the jury.
  5. At first I thought Kidman was being too detailed.
  6. But later I realized  why it is important to know the
  7. social class (job, education) of these men.
  8. Only then can we understand the decision making
  9. process about Albert Black:
  10. guilty or not guilty.
  11. Three jurors add doubt to the arguments for guilty.
  12. I was captivated and drawn in as these jurors  try to
  13. remain staunchly against a guilty verdict.
  14. You will read what happened
  15. ….that pushed the verdict to guilty!


  1. Weak point of audio book:
  2. The singing!
  3. I’d rather read that someone is humming or singing a song
  4. …than to actually hearing it. #Distracting.


  1. Strong point:
  2. Ch 14 –  Oliver Buchanan, lawyer
  3. We imagine that the case is open and shut but…
  4. Buchanan works tirelessly to help his client
  5. …avoid the death penalty.
  6. There is something missing  in this case
  7. …but he cannot find the piece.
  8. Buchanan is interested in
  9. what happened before Paddy stabbed Johnny
  10. …that can prove that this crime was based on an accident.
  11. Buchanan quotes Thomas Hardy:
  12. “…for every bad..there is a worse.”


Last thoughts:

  1. Capital punishment…is such a contentious issue.
  2. While reading this book I was forced to think
  3. about the consequences of this policy.
  4. #Heartwrenching
  5. MY CHOICE to win Ockham 2019 for Fiction.



  1. Juror – Arthur university lecturer discusses… life? or death ?
  2. “…are you all so far beyond reproach
  3. that you have a right to make this decision?
  4. I’m not sure that I am.”


#Ockham NZ Awards shortlist Lloyd Jones


Why did I read this book?

  1. The Cage is shortlisted for Ockham Book Awards (New Zealand)
  2. I wanted to see why the jury selected this book.


Why after reading 20% of the book I was ready to call it quits?

  1. Usually a book starts out slowly and gets better and better.
  2. This book did exact the opposite.
  3. I slogged through chapters 1-8. (20%)
  4. The reader is presented a bizarre hotel that
  5. decides two strangers are too ‘other’ and should
  6. be caged in the backyard of the hotel.


What did I do differently after ch 8?

  1. I realized if I stop short I’ll risk missing something incredible.
  2. Resisting the impulse to stop midway also teaches the reader strength.
  3. I read the book as a fable
  4. Forget the bazaar framework of a hotel
  5. …and it’s eccentric owners who have caged two guests.
  6. Look for the observations that Lloyd Jones is making
  7. …to teach us a moral lesson.
  8. He wants us to see
  9. …strangers (refugees) from another perspective
  10. ….not just staring or gazing at them  on a TV screen.
  11. He uses animals that mimic human traits
  12. …and humans that treat others as animals


Strong point:

  1. Lloyd Jones uses the
  2. ….fable, a literary device.
  3. The author made lets animals teach a moral lesson.
  4. There are some  powerful images in the book:
  5. Narrator compares strangers to sheep:
  6. Sheep: spectacular single-mindedness
  7. …they eat in response to coming famine
  8. during the day they hardly know what to do with themselves
  9. Strangers: (refugees …like sheep)
  10. look forward to each new day
  11. it may bring release.
  12. It passes.
  13. There is another endless night to get through.


Strong point:

  1. Observations…and there were many excellent
  2. descriptions of the plight of refugees...
  3. that will pierce your soul.
  4. Once your soul has been pierced then you are able to help others.
  5. Example observation:
  6. Pressed around their eyes is a bruising confusion.
  7. They stand mesmerized by their circumstances
  8. …where just a moment ago, in their minds at least,
  9. they were in their kitchen at home.
  10. Example observation:
  11. Strangers (refugees) pace…
  12. they do it to alleviate a feeling of
  13. ..helplessness when rain is falling.
  14. They do not wish to be cooperative like grass
  15. …or submissive like mud.
  16. Example observation:
  17. Trustee (authority) Mr Bennett:
  18. “They are not incarcerated, they are temporally caged.”
  19. Viktor (cook in the hotel): “And the difference?”


Strong point:

  1. Best chapter  for moral lessonCh 11 Setting:  Zoo
  2. Lesson: The animals (strangers, refugees) don’t hate us
  3. …they alternate between bewilderment and boredom.”
  4. Core message book Ch 21 Setting: Hotel backyard
  5. Trustees authorities)  no longer go down to the yard
  6. …the narrator must transcribe what he sees.
  7. The Trustees are only interested in the facts
  8. they don’t get the fuller story of life inside the cage”


Weak point:

  1. The book is too long!!  (43 chapter and just 263 pages)
  2. After reading 50 % of the book
  3. …my interest seriously wavered.
  4. Note: I noticed around chapter 22
  5. ….the narrative repeats itself 
  6. over and over
  7. with observations, food for the strangers at the feeding hole,
  8. narrator playing the clarinet,
  9. visits to a zoo, strangers pace in the cage,
  10. sit on log or huddle in the back against a stone memorial wall…
  11. relieving  themselves in a newly dug hole.
  12. The strangers, visitors or Trustees (owners of hotel)
  13. keep  asking “ Is there any news?


Weak point:

  1. Flashbacks that
  2. made no sense  to me in the narrative!
  3. Narrator…
  4. flies in a plane with his father
  5. travels on a particular road with his father
  6. visits a lighthouse with his mother
  7. recalls a snorkeling holiday!


Weak point:

  1. Strange threads in the narrative…
  2. Note: I don’t really understand the symbol of the narrator playing his clarinet all the time. Is it just to make music “to sooth the savage beast?” (strangers, refugees)
  3. Note: constant thread in the book: narrator is serving breakfast ( eggs, toast, jam, coffee etc) to strangers through a feeding hole.
  4. Note: woman in the hat…demented neighbor who visits the cage or a asylum representative or just a vision?


Weak point:  useless chapters…just useless ( filler?)

Ch 25  Stangers receive a plate warmer…Trustees celebrate with a sparkling glass of wine and the narrator plays a song on his clarinet. What is the point?

Ch 26 Descriptions of nightmares ( Mr. Bennett and the Mole), strangers attempt to stand on the plate warmer and  piling stones against the cage as a wall. Narrator brings the strangers some toilet paper…then he plays a song on his clarinet. What is the point?

Ch 27 Katie (little girl in hotel) wants to feed them (strangers).  Strangers asleep in the dirt. Strangers are encouraged to grow own vegetables – Katie and narrator visit zoo again. What is the point?



  1. Criticism should be like a rain
  2. … gentle  enough to nourish growth
  3. …without destroying the roots.
  4. I have found many strong points in this book
  5. …but I think the author could have trimmed
  6. his manuscript in ch 22 – 35.
  7. With a little less clarinet…wallowing in the dirty cage
  8. coffee, toast and eggs in the feeding hole
  9. …it would  give this book extra polish.
  10. #JustSaying
  11. Yes this book is confronting.
  12. No….unfortunately…not my choice
  13. for the Ockham NZ Book Award 2019.