What did I read in May 2018?

The key to my heart is a good book and in May I read quite a few books. One really touched me, while others entertained me. This month there is a mix of fiction and non-fiction. Whoever it was who said ‘life is too short to read bad books’ I agree with them. I may pick up a book, read a bit and decide it is not for me.  I won’t post a lousy review because it didn’t suit me, I will simply stop reading and not mention that book.

bloom blossom close up color
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.

Hubble Bubble by Joan Lovering.Hubbel Bubble

A bright and breezy romance with plenty of humour and sprinkling of magic thrown in. When Holly  and the other women cast a spell, she specifies she wants ‘excitement.’ She gets that in spades and a couple of hunky men too. Although all are surprised with the results of spell casting, it seems they have effected change and their wishes are coming true.

The Memories That Make Us by Vanessa Carnevale

The Memories that Make us

I was impressed by how much Vanessa Carnevale has developed as a writer since her previous book The Florentine Bridge. The concept of memories making us who we are resonated with me as I struggle with the emotional cost of my close friend’s death. Gracie and Flynn are a relatable couple as she fights to regain her memory. The idea that flowers played a significant part in her recovery seems plausible. Wasn’t it Kipling who wrote’ scent is surer than sight or sound to make the heartstrings crack’? Well written, nicely plotted and well worth a read!

              The Sweethearts by Lynn Russell & Neil Hanson

The Sweet hearts Book

The story of the women and girls who worked at the Rowntree’s chocolate factory in York., United Kingdom, A social history which explores the lives of ordinary women who worked for the giant Rowntree company. It tells how although the work was hard and often physically demanding, the women generally appreciated the time away from husbands and home.

The company seems like a paternalistic employer, who valued a strong work ethic but one with a social conscience. The company provided hot meals, a library, sports facilities, convalescent places and continuing education and even a company pension.

Women’s lives between the wars were incredibly hard and they lived and worked in challenging conditions, bad housing, large families, and before the National Health Service the fear of sickness and injury. The book introduces various women and tells their individual stories

Rowntree’s was York’s largest employer and was well-regarded until it was taken over first by Mackintosh and then later by Nestle. The Quaker care values that saw retired employees being sent a Christmas card and ten-pound voucher to buy chocolate misshapen chocolates was discontinued. Staff was replaced by machines and eventually, even the Rowntree’s name was gone.

Keep The Home Fires Burning by Simon Block

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The book starts where the top rating and much-missed television series left off. Even a petition was unable to get it recommissioned. For all of us who enjoyed the series, the book is the next best thing,. We’ve known and loved the characters so we are invested in knowing what happens to them. Set in the Cheshire village of Great Paxford  during

Will Campbell the doctor is battling cancer while Erica his pharmacist wife and their daughters all concerned about him. Frances Barden is trying to find her way with Noah, the son of her dead husband and his mistress. Sarah the vicar’s wife is still waiting to hear news of her husband Adam who is a prisoner of war. Theresa the teacher is working hard to make a success of her marriage to squadron leader Nick. Alison is alone apart from Boris her dog, still ashamed at her part in the Barden factory closure. She misses the company of Theresa. Steph and Little Stan are keeping the farm going. Downtrodden Pat is still enduring her marriage to Bob and wondering where Czech officer  Marak is. As problems are solved new ones emerge and once again we are left with a cliffhanger ending and waiting for the next book in the series.
Overall, I enjoyed the chance to revisit Great Paxton and I will certainly order the next book. I did, however, have two minor quibbles. Joyce Cameron has become less acerbic and more gullible  I was surprised by the use of the word ‘loo’ as I would have thought lavatory, toilet or WC would all have been in more common usage. I checked and the first mention of the word loo was in 1940  by Nancy Mitford according to Oxford Dictionary.

 The Paris Seamstress By Natasha Lester

This is the book that made my month,  and days after reading it I couldn’t stop thinking about it.

The Paris Seamstress

It’s a few days since I finished reading The Paris Seamstress.  I enjoyed it so much and I didn’t want to simply write a review filled with superlatives. I relish dual timeline stories if they are well written and this was. Spanning from 1940  France with Estella Bissette, the Parisienne seamstress of the title to 2015 and her granddaughter Fabienne Bissette in Australia, the story crosses decades and continents. It explores family secrets, war, spies, love and loss, madness, revenge, fashion, and relationships. Natasha Lester’s research makes the story impressively believable as real places and people interact with her fictional characters. The story moves seamlessly from past to present and keeps interest and tension throughout. Some of the real characters in the story are so much larger than life, that were they simply fictional creations they would not be believed. Informative and entertaining The Paris Seamstress is Natasha Lester ‘s best book so far.

The Drifter by Anthea Hodgson

The Drifter

I enjoyed this rural romance, which I picked up prior to the author giving a talk at our local library. Unfortunately, my plans changed and I was unable to attend the talk. Its set in the wheat fields of Western Australia, the author captures the locale and characters well. The subtitle asks ‘How far would you go for a second chance? ‘Both Cate and Henry have secrets they’d prefer not to share, but they are drawn together as they are both close to Ida Cate’s great-aunt. The story had enough complexity to keep me interested.

              Close Up by  Kate Forster

Close Up

Subtitled ‘In Hollywood, the drama isn’t always on screen’ this book reminded me of a Jackie Collins  Hollywood book. The parallel storyline has two young women trying their luck in Hollywood to escape their loveless pasts. This is contrasted  with the lives of Zoe Greene  a successful agent  to the stars and Maggie Hall an actress whip has been in Hollywood long enough to know how it works. Dylan Mercer a young runaway on a personal quest adds to the mix.  I also had fun deciding if any of the ‘star characters were based on real movie stars. The characters and their problem are relatable and I found it an enjoyable read.

 

What Your Clutter is Trying to Tell You by Kerri L. RichardsonClutter

‘Uncover the message in your mess and reclaim your life’

As a confirmed packrat- I know I have a problem. Maybe its a natural inclination or maybe it was growing up with parents who saved string, rubber bands, paper bags, jam jars etc.  My  house is full of stuff. As a writer words are my resource but my office is filled with paper clutter which I might need ‘someday’.

Through its eight chapter, the book explores our clutter problem is clutter ‘monster or messenger’? Chapter two talks about resistance to dealing with clutter( guilty!) then what’ if your  clutter could talk?’

‘Common causes of clutter’ are explored in chapter four, while in five the question is  asked ‘is your clutter a handy distraction?’  The book offers practical solutions, and suggestions as well as handy quizzes to discover what your clutter is trying to tell you. The book is a definite call to action – the question now is am I motivate enough to act?

   The Right Girl by Ellie O’Neill

The Right girl

The book defied my expectations of a light read with a love story. Yes, there is a love story,  with an appealing heroine and couple of suitable ‘ men.  Is she the Right Girl for the Wrong Man?

The book also points to a dystopian future. A future that is inexorably .sucking everyone in. It’s a life where your power to choose for yourself is slowly being taken over by the App that is supposed to make your life function smoothly. An App that with its constant usage that erodes your confidence in your own ability to make informed choices.

This is a cautionary tale of a future, that many of us are sleepwalking towards. Will it strike a chord, who knows? It certainly gave me pause for thought.

The Librarian By Salley Vickers

                                   The Librarain by Salley VickersT

The title appealed to me, I tend to enjoy books about books and reading and this was no exception. It began almost like a children’s’ story as Sylvia Blackwell sets out to make a success of her new job as Children’s librarian in fictional  East Mole, Wiltshire, Young and idealistic she want to inspire a love of reading while escaping the confines of her own life.

The era (1958) is well conveyed, with its social niceties and class consciousness. At first, her attempts to encourage children into the library are welcomed and she enjoys a modest success. But then the suspicion of a scandal hovers over her and her own integrity is called into question. The Librarian explores the beginnings of social change,  and the power of books, and the importance of libraries, especially for those who cannot afford to buy books.

While reading it so many of my own old favourite books were mentioned. I appreciated the comprehensive book list at the back of the book which reconnected me with other books I had either forgotten or had never read.

The end papers of the book are a design from the Victoria and Albert Museum and add to the feeling that is a book from a bygone era when books were beautiful.

 

What I Read in April 2018

The Great Alone By Kristen Hannah

After reading The Nightingale I was really looking forward to reading this book. Kristen Hannah’s love for and knowledge of Alaska shine through these pages.

The Great Alone

Personally, I found the book too long and too repetitive. The physical isolation of Alaska is described, as well as the kind of people who are drawn to it and able to survive there. Some can’t handle the feeling of being cut off and the mental Isolation. Ex -Vietnam vet Ernst, thinks Alaska is the place for him and his family. His experiences have led to his growing paranoia and to domestic violence.

Leni is a young teenager when they first arrive and for a while doesn’t sense anything is wrong with her parents. then she can not understand why her mother excuses and forgives her father and doesn’t want to leave

Inevitably, Leni falls in love with a boy from a family her father loathes, making her life far more complicated. An act of shocking violence changes all their lives and they return ‘civilisation’, but Leni still has Alaska and the boy she left behind in her heart.

Not for me at this time- perhaps my recent sadness at the death of my friend made it too bleak.

The Secret Vineyard By Loretta Hill.

Grace knows that her ex-husband Jake is ‘a lying, cheating, wife abandoning bastard’.What she didn’t know until his death was that he was the owner of a vineyard in Margaret  River, Western Australia. As Grace is scraping together a living and looking after their three boys it seems like a chance for a fresh start or at least a lucky break.

The Secret VIneyard

His current wife and Grace’s ex-best friend tries unsuccessfully to challenge the will, which has left the vineyard to Grace’s three boys. Grace packs up herself and the boys for a trip down South to see the vineyard and decide if it is saleable. It’s a ramshackle place, in need of some TLC, but it has a certain charm. And events conspire so she has to stay longer than she first planned.

Scott, the charming real estate agent, is always around and there is a mystery about the house and its resident ghost. Then there is the handyman, who is happy to work for just his board. Grace’s life is far more interesting than it ever was in the city.  I enjoyed this book, but I did find the blurb on the back of the book confusing. In the book Grace’s husband is Jake, the blurb refers to him as Derek.  It must have been too expensive a mistake to correct!

 

          The Cat of The Baskerville’s by Vicki Delaney

The third book in the popular Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery Series by Vicki Delaneyhe Cat of the BaskerveillesWhen Sir Nigel Bellingham, star of screen and the theatre accepts an invitation to star in the classic play for the West London Theatre’s Festival, the Cape Cod locals are both thrilled and amazed. Unfortunately, in person, he is not as impressive as his reputation, and it soon becomes apparent that he has a drinking problem. QuIte a few people benefit in various ways because of his death. Even Gemma herself as it increases  book sales and memorabilia.

Gemma Doyle proprietor of the Sherlock Holmes bookshop is both observant and clever. This time she faces a conflict of loyalties and worries that what she has observed will implicate someone close to her.

 

       Choosing Happiness: Life and Soul Essentials by Stephanie Dowrick

I wouldn’t suggest that you read this book in one sitting. It lends itself more to be a potpourri of a book, one to dip in and out of as need arises. It’s a mental and spiritual health check to be used as required.

Choosing Happiness.

The chapter heading broadly define the scope of the book.

Trust Who You Are.

Let Your Values and Goals Work for You

Build Self Respect

Consider Others.

Honour the People You Live With.

Think & Act Positively.

The book is like having a wise and sympathetic friend to talk with. The kind of friend who makes you think a little more deeply about yourself and your behaviour.

 

Maggie’s Kitchen by Caroline Beecham.

I spotted a review of this and the concept appealed to me, women’s work in wartime

Maggies KitchenMaggie has opened a wartime restaurant-  which is a long-held dream of hers. She is facing problems with supplies as her restaurant as ironically becomes ‘too popular. ‘Dealing with red tape and Ministry of Food types is exhausting enough, but then there is twelve-year-old Robbie to worry about too. Where are his parents? Janek the helpful and mysterious Pole reminded me of the Czech officer Marek in the sadly missed and inexplicably cancelled ITV series Home Fires.

Maggie didn’t really ‘come alive’ for me and it felt like the story ended very abruptly. The book also contains a few wartime recipes, showing the ingenuity of the cooks of that time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You Better Be Willing to Fail

Do you seek perfection? Did you realize the steps along the way include failing? Only through failure can we appreciate success.I’d even dare to say that failing makes success all the sweeter and more prized. Do you Agree?

Mary E. Nolte

A few years ago, I decided that I wanted to take up book binding. I bought this planner as a PDF and I decided that I was going to print it out and learn how to bind a book. And then I’d carry that book around all year, to be reminded of how important creativity is for me.

So I watched a bunch of Youtube videos, I bought some carefully selected paper, and I got to work. It took me a long time and a free trial of a certain program to figure out how to print out the PDF so that it would fold into a booklet. I folded the pages carefully. I followed the video’s instructions and I sewed them together with perfectly even stitches.

So far, so good. The next step was to cut off the edges of the book so that everything was uniform.

This is…

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Trying to Ignore Mothers ‘Day

Here in Australia, it is coming up to Mothers ‘Day which is on May 13th although of course in the Northern Hemisphere it is celebrated in March. It is a day that I find quite painful as so many people thank their mothers and express love and admiration for their mum. Say how close they are to their mothers and how much they are like their mothers.

Not all mothers are like that though, mine wasn’t. So, I guess that I am slightly envious and feel that my experience is not recognised. To be told that I must be mistaken by those whose mothers loved them is hurtful. And it denies my experience. To clarify, my mother was distant and disinterested, but not neglectful or intentionally cruel.

I look at the photograph of the clear-eyed girl that she was and wonder what became of her?

 

Phoebe Leather
My mother as a young girl

How did she become the woman that I remember? The one with the distant look in her eye, the one who read travel books voraciously and smoked endless cigarettes? The one who stayed in her room crying and depressed. The one who told me when I was about twelve ’I never wanted children’? The words haunt me still, they were never clarified with ‘of course now we’ve got you I’m glad’

I knew my dad loved me- by the way he’d let me stand on his feet to dance, the way he tucked me into bed at night and kiss my forehead ‘Night, night, pleasant dreams,’ and leave the door ajar so I could see the hall light.

With my parents

Children sense things, or at least I did. I used to buy her presents, bring her flowers, those wildflower posies that children pick. My drawings were for her. Once I spent my entire birthday money on a brass ornament for her.Then when I was about nine I stopped. I realised that you can’t buy love, it is, or it isn’t, you can’t make someone love you.

Not all women are cut out to be mothers, although of course, that was societies expectation. Mum was thirty-nine when I was born, their first and only child. I suspect she’d have been happier without me. Now I think that she saw me as a rival for my dad’s affections. An aunt came to stay for many months to look after me as mum took to her bed.

I envy those with a close bond with their mothers, those who say she is their best friend. My mum died when I was in my early twenties, and we had never grown close even after my father’s death. For me, Mothers’ Day is a time of sadness and regret, a time to think about what might have been and to finally to feel sorry for my mum that she was trapped in a situation that made her so unhappy.

The Writing Dog

The pain of losing a companion animal- we do share a special bond with those who share our homes, I had tears in my eyes reading this.

Arcanum

He is ever alert to the sounds of her. Footsteps upstairs might mean she is coming. She may yet share the couch with him. He may lay his nose on her leg and sigh, tail thumping the upholstery in a contented rhythm. On frost-laden mornings she greets him and lets him out. He hears the honey in her voice and knows he is loved. He lies at her feet as she stares at the metal thing, always absorbed. If he is very still and quiet she might just stroke his head. It is enough to be close, shoehorned between the chair and the ottoman, her legs a ceiling above.

He runs with her even though he is small and far from athletic. He keeps pace and smiles up at her, tries to avoid the call of the tree trunks and dash onwards.

One day he feels an unease. Something slow…

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Memories Of Midnight.

Midnight was a rescue cat, and we shared a deep bond.He would accompany me everywhere- even to visit our neighbours. People said’ he’s more like a dog than a cat.’ He was a tough veteran when we got him, but he displayed the sweetest nature. Sadly ,after only being together for three years and three months, he was killed in an accident. I felt as though my heart was broken, and that I’d never love another  animal in the same way.I had never shared such a deep connection with any animal.

Three years and three months later the black cat who I would call Mystic walked along our driveway and demanded to be let in. When I saw him in the garden under the tree that Midnight used to sit under I wrote this poem

Midnight in the garden
Midnight in the garden

 

 

 

Memories of Midnight.

I see you there, beneath the tree

Sharpening claws just like he

Used to in that very place.

It is an unexpected grace.

Seeming so familiar and dear

As if he could just appear.

A streak of blackness, passing through

Returned to me, somehow in you.

Oh, I know you are not the same!

Forget and call a well-loved name

Realise, I’ll not see him again

And welcome then the burst of pain.

Mostly though, you give me joy

Remembering my precious boy.

People say ‘it’s just a cat,

Oh you’ll soon get over that’

As if it were a lesser love

And you have no right to grieve.

In the places of my heart

You know there is a space apart.

Secure, enclosed and wholly yours,

Where sunshine and shadow still endures,

Blackness bounding lightly on long grass

The brightest eyes, warm as amber glass.

Oh the welcome in your meow

How I long to hear it now!

Loving you brings joy and pain

Yet, I have dared to love again

Another cat, with blackest fur

And a warm resounding purr.


 

Here is photo of Mystic and IMystic and me

The Magic of Pets

A post which touched me deeply and reminded me of my much-loved cat Midnight- see my post in June 2017 A Fool for Love. Reposted with permission.

The Cat's Write

When my cat died on March 20th, I stopped blogging entirely. The only reason you’ll see I posted blogs on that particular date (and after) is because I always schedule my blogs about 1-2 weeks ahead.

I would like to let you all know that I have been reading every single comment left on this blog – even if I never replied. Your comments have been little sparks of light in the darkness. Thank you too, for all the lovely, heartfelt emails and for being so understanding and sharing in my grief when I posted about losing Sven last month.

I’m not embarrassed to admit, that I, the ever optimistic happy go-lucky crazy cat lady, finally reached the end of her tether after my pet died. And we should not be ashamed of feeling sad. If we do, we help perpetuate the stigma of depression that stops people reaching…

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