Review: Things That Matter: Stories of life & death

Things that matter – By Dr David Galler

If ever I am unfortunate enough to require intensive care assistance, let it by at the hands of New Zealand’s intensive care specialist Dr David Galler. That’s the lasting impression I gained from reading this book.

Without the dramas of a Grey’s Anatomy, Galler’s life/death stories are picked to illustrate the principles physicians should live by, but are equally interesting to the laywoman.

It’s an easy read. Medical terms are explained in simple language. The stories are grouped into chapters illustrating the function/dysfunction of the major organs of the body.

As well as a clear demonstration of his expertise and efficiency, Dr Galler’s humanity shines clearly through the pages.  Comments on the madness of political action or inaction creep into the narrative, along with observations about a body’s normal reaction to trauma and disease.  He’s clearly a man-of-the-people. I hope his medical students hear the sub-text of his teachings.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: Devotion

Devotion by  London author, Louisa Young, tackles the issue of how gradually, easily, an adoring population can accept the rise of a repressive regime. It’s a must-read, well written and crafted novel that keeps you hooked in to the end.

Image result

Young’s coming-of-age love story is set in Italy and England in the 1930s, and weaves the story of Nenna and Tom as they battle the conflicting loyalties of family and the State during the rise of Mussolini’s fascist rule.

English Tom and his family visit Italian, recently rediscovered, cousin Aldo and his family. The Italian family is Jewish by heritage, and also proud Romans. Only recently freed from the Jewish ghetto in Rome, they and their neighbours welcome and adore el Duce as a saviour and unifier of Italy and its factions. (Go here to read about the buildings and places mentioned in Devotion)

New and powerful Italy

As Aldo becomes involved as an engineer in the draining of swamps and marshes and turning the land into ideal towns for Italians, he comes to replace his commitment to Judaism with a new belief in the emerging fascist state. Whatever Mussolini decrees, good and bad, is skewed in Aldo’s mind to be necessary for the advancement of the new and powerful Italy.

Slow to dawn

Tom’s understanding of what is really going on is slow to dawn, and then leaves him desperate to save the Italian cousin’s from their fate. In Tom’s words:

“There has been a thick layer of scales over your eyes —

“When are you meant to realise?

“– and each person’s scales are stuck on with different glue, and each glue is soluble in a different moment of truth. And time passes and things add up and sooner of later you look up, you grow up, and you realise. You see how tidelines have shifted and boundaries flexed; the lighting has changed, the angles tilted …  strength became tyranny, determination became bullying, patriotism became xenophobia, self-respect became arrogance.”

World War II

Each of the credible, well-drawn characters confronts their own powerlessness, or failure to act, as the world creeps towards the inevitability of World War II.

The novel raises many issues, including the challenge of how we might choose to ignore uncomfortable truths or actions if our own nation should chip away at democracy. Is the practical benefit worth the obliteration of opposition?

Devotion is good?

One of those books that will stay in my mind for a long time. This book is the third in a series of three exploring the lives of the main adult characters: Nadine, Riley and Peter Locke.  I am certainly now a devoted reader of Louisa Young and will be searching out her previous titles.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: Scarlet and Magenta

Scarlet and Magenta is a recently released historical novel by New Zealander Lindsey Dawson writing about Victorian times in the country’s (then) remote township of Tauranga.

ScarletMagenta (2)

Reading an historical novel as a woman entrenched in feminist beliefs is a challenge. You want the hero(ine)s to succeed against the entrenched patriarchal beliefs even though you know that likelihood is zilch. I imagine writing such a novel is equally frustrating because of the limitations of historical accuracy.

Colonial wives and lives curbed

Dawson, however, empathetically strides alongside her two colonial wives as they grapple with the understanding that their gender renders them silent in the decisions about  life. Even in the sphere of domestic and cultural pursuits, their production is monitored and curbed by husbands and society’s beliefs.

Violet’s past haunts her while her ambitious husband bullies her almost into submission. Anna has a more magnanimous husband and her rebellion is less dramatic than Violet’s.

My reservations

The character of Rupert is developed through the eyes of the two women and Anna’s husband. I felt this hampered a full rounding out of a charming man bent on self-destruction. 

I loved the book, but I felt that Dawson hurried the conclusion. Although the plot  ends are tied up nicely, by using a jump forward in time, I believe that a little more unfolding of the story could well  keep the reader enthralled.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: The Ninth Hour

by Alice McDermott

If you’ve watched the TV series “Call the Midwife”, then you’ll feel right at home reading “The Ninth Hour” by Alice McDermott. In fact I had to remind myself that this story of selfless nuns was taking place in Brooklyn, New York, not the south end of London after the war. McDermott’s novel portrays many universal themes of women’s oppression around that era, and the consequences of being poor and sick.

A rather bleak story, the novel offers insights into the lives of these religious women and illustrates the self-motivation required to give your life to God. With their focus on finding workable solutions for the unfortunate people they work for, occasionally they have to bend the rules. For Annie, an Irish immigrant who came to America and was widowed early, life was extremely bleak until the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor stepped in to give pregnant Annie a job in the convent’s laundry.

Annie and her daughter Sally live a cloistered life, eventually leading teenage Sally to believe that her calling is to join their religious order. The outcome of this decision demonstrates the internal struggles of boundless love for one’s fellow humans, and how challenging this can be for women in religious orders.

McDermott shows rather than tells her story, challenging the reader to read between the lines and understand the true meaning of sacrifice for these women as they struggle to improve the lives of those they serve in their community.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author

Review: His Father’s Will

By Suzanne Clark

You know you’ve read a good book when you start slowing down because you don’t want the book to end. That is how His Father’s Will by Suzanne Clark gripped me.

Mainly based on Sue’s own grandfather’s life story, the book is written as a novel, yet it brings home so clearly the contrasts of pioneer life in New Zealand and the life risks faced by so many children in the early 1900s at an age when today’s youngsters are joyfully anticipating a transition from pre-school to primary school. Nowadays the rules of Health and Safety may be seen as restrictive, but the comparison offered by the life journey of Will and his five siblings will fill you with awe.

Family Skeletons

The novel is filled with iconic New Zealand scenery, history, pioneer trappings and tools which add to the flavour of the tale. There are good and bad or ‘trapped’ characters as well as the helpful and kind – each helping to flesh out the story of Will son of William Tyrell.

Sue’s writing is easy to read and the storyline holds your attention, which is probably a challenge when based so closely on the real life actions of a real life family. Family skeletons are unmasked, as are the institutions that were supposed to care for deprived children. Considering their tough upbringing most of the children lived beyond their three score years and 10.

Heather Sylvawood, Amazon Author