Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Ship of Brides

I was so impressed by The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society book that I couldn't stop talking about it, I really loved it. After one such conversation my good friend Sian said that she had a book which I might like to read as it was also set in 1946 and was about the the post war era. As it turns out she was absolutely right, I really did enjoy this book.

The Ship of Brides by Jojo Moyes is based on a true story and is about a group of women who travel on the British Navy aircraft carrier, HMS Victorious, to England from Australia to meet up with the husbands they married during the war. The story follows the journey of four of 650 'brides' on board the ship. These four share a makeshift cabin together and they make the six week long voyage away from their family and friends in Australia to an unknown and brand new life in England. But the ship has other passengers; the full navy crew of the Victorious is still on board which comprises of 1,100 men along with 19 aircraft and all the related equipment which makes an aircraft carrier work! The navy has agreed to bring the brides from all around the world back to Britain to be reunited with their husbands after the war is over. They commission the Queen Mary and other luxury liners to do the job, but, time is short and there are a lot of brides to relocate so they decide to revamp the Victorious so it can carry some of the brides from Australia.

The book begins with a rambling first part which I found a little boring, to be honest, but once we meet the four girls and get into the real story, then it becomes 'un-put-downable'! We are introduced to the ladies as they are told they have a place on a 'bride ship' which will take them on the journey to England. We accompany them as they say their goodbye's to family and friends at home in Australia. The comparison between their lifestyles is quite fascinating as they each come from different backgrounds and have differing relationships with their families and their husbands. The departure scene is very moving and I did shed a tear or two as the girls climbed the gangplank and left everything familiar to them behind.

Then the journey begins and it soon becomes clear that the shear logistics necessary to make this trip without discipline problems is a huge headache, especially as the captain of the ship is a lifetime navy man without a wife of his own. To help maintain the status quo marines are posted outside the ladies living quarters and strict rules are enforced to make sure the ladies and the servicemen are kept apart, but, six weeks is a long time to be alone at sea and a great deal happens to the brides and the men.

As the days unfold, so do the relationships between the women. The story really is about friendship, betrayal, secrecy and trust and of course, it is mainly about love. It is a fascinating tale with believable characters who show their true colours in one way or another as the journey progresses.

One of the most interesting things about this book for me was that, as unbelievable as the story may seem in parts, this really did happen to these women. I found it particularly telling of the times that some of the brides on board received telegrams or radio messages telling them "Do Not Come - Not Wanted Here" in which case they were put off the ship at the next port of call and arrangements were made to send them back to Oz, without any recourse at all! I did a bit of checking after I read this book and found out that Australia lost almost a complete generation of it's female population to foreign servicemen during the war years, mainly those from the US and the UK and both British and American authorities sanctioned that arrangements must be made to pick these women up and transport them to join their husbands in America and Britain after the was over.
I was spellbound by the book which is a great story with lovely characters and also by the real story which is absolutely true. I would definitely read this book again at some point and recommend it wholeheartedly.

Did you know about the 'brides' story? (I had no idea!)

Does reading a story based on fact alter your enjoyment of it is any way?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Liar - Stephen Fry

Whilst I was on my break from blogging I managed finally to read some of the old timers of my TBR pile, one of them was The Liar by Stephen Fry. I wasn't sure what to make of it at first and became a little confused as the story jumped backwards and forwards through time, but, it didn't take me long to be completely absorbed in this wonderfully witty and amusing tale of people who keep secrets and tell lies.

Adrian Healey is the central character in this story and he is witty, bright, intellectual, snobbish and quite daring. The first time we meet Adrian it is clear he is not like other boys at his school:

"Adrian checked the orchid at his buttonhole, the spats at his feet, gave the lavender gloves a twitch, smoothed down his waistcoat, tucked the ebony Malacca-cane under his arm, swallowed twice and pushed open the changing room doors.

'Ah, my dears,' he cried. Congratulations! Congratulations to you all! A triumph, an absolute triumph!'

'Well, what the fucks he wearing now?' they snorted from the steamy end of the room.

'You're and idiot and an arse, Healey.'

Burkiss threw a flannel onto the shiny top hat. Adrian reached up and took it between his forefinger and thumb.

'If there is the slightest possibility, Burkiss, that this flannel has absorbed any of the juices that leak from within you, that it has mopped up a single droplet of your pubescent greases, that it has tickled and frotted even one of the hideously mired corners of your disgusting body then I shall have a spasm. I'm sorry but I shall.'

In spite of himself, Cartwright smiled............."

And so I was hooked. I had the most vivid picture of the scene and particularly of Adrian Healey in my mind from this moment, and as the story unfolds, the picture becomes more and more colourful.

Adrian proves to be a total liar and looks on the world as his play ground. The book charts Adrian's life through the latter part of public school, during a time when he becomes a runaway and through his university years. He is cool, courageous, rebellious and always in trouble of one kind or another, particularly with the police, various school masters and his parents. Nobody can see through Adrian until he meets Professor Trefusis, who is a master at St Matthew's College, Cambridge where Adrian is reading Philology under his watchful eye. The story turns into a romp of the most extraordinary kind taking in Piccadilly rent-boys, Dicken's lost pornographic novel Peter Flowerbucke and an international espionage conspiracy.

I cannot remember when I last enjoyed a book so thoroughly and laughed out loud so many times. It is an astonishing achievement of comedic writing and now I am on a quest to seek out more of Stephen Fry's books. The only thing I would caution against is that some of the language and some of the descriptions of sexual encounters contained in the story (all of which add to the landscape of the portrait being painted, by the way) might be shocking to more sensitive readers, so, if you are in this group perhaps this is not the book for you.

It was another of those books I did not want to end. It is not the kind of book I would normally choose to read but I do adore Stephen Fry and so when I saw it in the bookshop I picked it up. Then as it been sitting so long on my TBR pile, I thought I should give it a try and I'm so glad I did. Just think, I may not have read it at all, which would have been a terrible loss for me.

Have you read anything by Stephen Fry?

Have you ever picked up a book you would not normally select and loved it so much you follow it's trail?

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Speaking of Hilary Mantel, let's talk about Fludd

Congratulations to Hilary Mantel on winning the 2009 Man Booker Prize!

Not being one for getting involved in reading whole collections of books on long lists, short lists or any kind of lists truth be known, I was interested in the choice of the shortlist for this years Man Booker Prize simply because I noticed Hilary Mantel's latest book, Wolf Hall, was on there. I have now read two Mantel books and loved both of them, so the shortlist piqued my interest. Then I read a review Wolf Hall and that interested me even more. The book is a work of historical fiction about life at court during Henry VIII's time and particularly about Thomas Cromwell's part in it. Oooo... right up my street, history, fiction and Thomas Cromwell and his mates! So, as I haven't read it yet I am not in a position to review it here, but, it is going on my Christmas Wish list and if it arrives in my Christmas stocking I'll let you know what I think of it then!

I am going to talk about another book of Hilary Mantel's though, one that I recently read during my book reading fest whilst I was absent from blogging - Fludd. The story is set in a fictional village called Featherington which is a cotton town in the north of England and the action takes place around 1956. It is a work which looks at religion and religious mysticism and one which asks some searching questions about the Catholic Church of the time. Although the word Catholic is never mentioned in the story, parallels to the faith are clear. Mantel's disclaimer at the front of the book is obviously aimed at a higher power than any human authority. An amusing beginning to a very entertaining book.

Father Angwin is the parish priest in Featherington and is particularly old fashioned in his ministry. One day the bishop comes to call and orders Angwin to get rid of some of the decrepit statues from the church and to spruce the place up a bit. The old priest doesn't want to part with the relics and starts to devise a plan to keep them. Before the bishop leaves that day he mentions to Angwin that he will be sending a curate to "help and assist" him. The priest is dismayed by this news because of a guilty secret he has that he believes will be uncovered; for the last 20 years he has not believed in god but he does believe in the devil and what's more, he believes the devil incarnate is one of the local villagers sent there to taunt him because of his lack of faith!
Not long after the bishop's visit a young man appears on the doorstep of the priest's house wearing priests clothes and carrying what looks like a doctors bag. He is a curious priest called Fludd and seems to have a mysterious effect on everyone he meets. People seem unable to tell Fludd anything but the truth and he has the unusual ability to clear his plate of food and empty his glass of whisky without anybody ever seeing him eat or drink. As the story unfolds Fludd becomes a confidant to Sister Philomena who is one of the young nuns in the parish convent. She has been sent into the convent from Ireland after a childhood bout of psoriasis is mistaken for stigmata. Their friendship develops and Sr Philomena becomes the only person to discover the truth about Fludd.

Hilary Mantel masterfully draws the picture of life in a cotton town in Lancashire in the 1950's. Her wit is sharp and often scathing and inevitably this story becomes a commentary on the Church and a debate about good versus evil. It is also very funny and when Sr. Philomena states that in her world a priest in the family is worth three or four nuns, I was instantly transported back to my own school days attending a convent and had pictures in my mind of the nuns who always seemed to be able to float along the corridors there. It is a wonderful, thought provoking book and well worth the read. I can hear Sister Sheila Mary telling us off in assembly as we speak!

Have you read this or any other Hilary Mantel books?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Bring Back Letter Writing - The Guernsey Literary Potato Pie Peel Society

Yes, its been a while since we chatted, but, I'm back and have lots to talk about.

I've been on a book feast, reading from my TBR pile and even though I have probably got through at least 20 books in the last couple of months, the TBR pile remains the same (if not bigger!) My TBR is one of the great mysteries of life to me, like the odd sock in the washing machine, so I have given up even thinking about seeing it off. It clearly has some kind of life force of it's own and could probably argue for it's own existence if asked, so I'm going to just let it be and carry on reading!

More books to come but today I'm going to talk about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer. It is set in 1946 and follows the story of a number of people who love to read books and write letters. The majority of characters in the story are residents of Guernsey during the German occupation of WWII. One night a few of them are caught outside after curfew and whilst being questioned by German soldiers they pretend to have been to a book club meeting, when actually they have been feasting on a pig which has been surreptitiously hidden from the German authorities who commandeer all livestock on the islands for use of German troops. It is at this moment "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society" is born and after hearing their excuse the soldiers let the transgressors go. To cover their tracks and in order to support their story, several of the townsfolk begin to meet regularly to talk about books and some of them actually discover they really do love to read after all.

I mentioned that the book is set in 1946 and it is although the story is predominantly about how the people of Guernsey dealt with occupation throughout the war and how life was for them after liberation. What is so unusual about this work is that the characters and the story unfold through a series of letters the reader gets to view and slowly but surely events and people come to life as the correspondence continues. This is a unique book in many ways and I loved it. Not only did I want it to go on and on, it was one of those rare books that I immediately started to read again just after I turned the last page.

Then I began to remember just how it was in those days before email and instant messaging took over; when letters or telegrams were at the centre of written communication and played such a pivotal role in many peoples lives. I began to long for those days again - the excitement of seeing an envelope with my name and address written by hand on the front of it and sometimes trying to guess by the postmark who might have written to me if the handwriting was unfamiliar. Then I thought of specific letters I have received; the times of pure pleasure I have had when a letter arrived and I recognised the writing of someone I loved and couldn't wait to rip open the envelope and greedily consume every word.....such magical memories of a time past .......

Or has it past?!! I have a plan :)

Let Us Bring Back Letter Writing!!!

I figure if everyone who reads this blog commits to send a hand written letter, card or note to at least one person they know, each week from now on (more if you are really keen on the idea), I'll bet we could start a letter writing revival, especially if we pass it forward by telling everyone we write to that we are trying to revive the art of letter writing and they can join in the effort too!

So, I'm going to start today and you can too.....I have my address book to hand and my notepad ready so look out for the Postie.

What do you think about the idea?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Reviews to come.....

Forgive the silence but I have been tussling with the usual book bloggers dilemma - whether to read or review! Last week I took time off to catch up on some reading and now I am up for reviewing 31 Dream Street, Lisa Jewell, The Sound of No Hands Clapping, Toby Young, The Debt of Pleasure, John Lanchester and Living Dangerously, Katie Fforde........they are all on their way so watch this space.

Have you read any of these books?

Friday, June 19, 2009

Raising The Roof 2009 - 1 Night, 5 Groups, 140 Singers.

Hong Kong Cultural Centre

On Monday night I took a break from reading and indulged myself in one of my other pleasures: music. A neighbour of mine in the village had been so impressed with the singing of some slightly inebriated members of The HKG Welsh Male Voice Choir (yes, there really is a HK Welsh Male Voice Choir), throughout the course of the recent Hong Kong Sevens Tournament, that when she saw an ad in a local magazine for a concert featuring said choir, she asked me if I fancied going along too. 'Of course, why not!' said I, always ready to do something slightly different than stay indoors on a wet Monday evening. So off we trotted to the Hong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall. The building itself is very impressive and the list of upcoming concerts quite amazing, everything from Swan Lake to Sing-a-long evenings, quite something.

Foyer at HKCC advertising all the upcoming events.

The concert Hall itself was a sight to behold and for two hours we were entertained by three choirs, including the boys from Wales and two a cappella groups.

The Concert Hall

My favourite group of the evening were the HKFYG Hong Kong Melody Makers. This is a youth choir established in 2004 by the Hong Kong Federation Youth Groups and sponsored by the Dragon Foundation.It's aims are to reflect Hong Kong's vivacity and give voice to the city's cosmopolitan spirit. Choir members are young people with outstanding artistic talent whose passion for music benefits the community. As well as performing live in concert the Melody Makers often take their show on the road and offer free concerts around Hong Kong. Take a look at these links here to see an example of their work. Melody Makers free public concert Melody Makers singing about barbecue pork buns

As well as Melody Makers and The HK Welsh Male Voice Choir we were entertained by Kassia Women's Choir, enthralled by Soho Collective (a female a cappella group) and delighted by Kassia Children's choir - Hullaballo who sang their little hearts out. A thoroughly enjoyable evening and now I am going to look out for the next appearance of Melody Makers.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Me Meme.......

Thanks again to the lovely Dot at Scribbles, ( I decided to do this meme.

1. Kim
2. Mum
3. Sweets (Steve being silly usually!)

1. kim-stillreading
2. kimlette
3. kim

1. My eyes
2. My hands - (when my nails are a reasonable length)
3. My neck - (when I have administered my Clarins neck cream!)

1. My feet - (they are horrible)
2. My knees - (thanks dad!)
3. That I can no longer fit into a size 8 (wow, that was a long time ago, too)

1. English
2. Scottish
3. And, although I hate to admit it - French (the family were champagne makers so if I had to be French at all this is, without doubt, a good enough heritage:)

1. Letting people down.(same as Dot)
2. The BNP.(Cannot believe these guys are for real)
3. Cockroaches (one of only two living things I will kill without remorse. If faced with a mosquito I may have to see that off, too)

1. A glass of wine (say no more)
2. My laptop (to stay connected with my friends and family)
3. A pen - (love to know I can jot things down as they come into my head which is very often becasue I have an over-active imagination)

1. Shorts - it is very warm and humid today (another bad hair day).
2. Bright pink sleeveless top - (for the same reason)
3. Nothing else other than underwear, of course, not even flip flops, the tiles are cooler on my feet.

1. Coldplay - (Chris Martin rocks!)
2. Oasis - (I'm a convert since going to see them live here in Hong Kong in April)
3. Nigel Kennedy - (genius violinist of mammoth proportions)

1. Don't Panic - Coldplay (I know it is oldish but I love it)
2. True Love - Bing Crosby (because it was one of my dad's favourites and he used to sing it all the time. I can hear him now)
3. Nature Boy - Nat King Cole (I used to sing this to my boys when they were growing up and it will always remind me of singing them to sleep when they were tired or sick)

1. Love
2. Laughter
3. Loyalty

1. I once ate bat
2. I once sang a duet with Ronan Keating
3. I came down a black run on my first skiing trip

1. Dark Hair (shortish)
2. Broad shoulders and slim waist (as in David Beckham's or Cristiano Ronaldo's example)
3. Big eyes (Blue or green - preferably green)

1. Reading and writing
2. X Stitching
3. Making jewellery (especially stringing pearls and wirework)

1. Make dinner
2. Go for a walk
3. Have a glass of wine (it is 8 o'clock somewhere!)

1. Writer (although I have only ever written a couple of things and nothing on the scale of a book)
2. Chef (I love to cook but only when I want to so I guess that wouldn't work)
3. Airline Pilot (I've always thought I could easily fly a plane after all the flying I have done in my life)

1. Provence (never been there although I have been to France a gazillion times)
2. Belize (my nephew is stationed there and I haven't seen him for 23 years)
3. Memphis Tennessee with a stop off in London so I can visit my boys.

1. Nicholas (we almost called our youngest this name but my husband said that kids would call him nicker-less, so we didn't)
2. Michael
3. Gabriel
(I haven't really got a thing for arch-angels, I just love the sound of those names)

1. Spend more time with my kids and the family
2. Take my dads ashes to Australia (He loved it there when we took him on holiday and I promised him I would take him back again)
3. Help my boys in any way I can.

1. I have a major thing for cute shoes
2. I love sparkly things
3. I have a really bad day when my hair sucks

1. I love watching sport
2. I understand the beauty of silence during a film
3. I know how the off-side rule works

Let me know what your answers are.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Book Thief - Markus Zusak

Well, here's a first........I actually cried whilst sitting in the hairdressers chair yesterday, reading this book!! I couldn't stop reading it, though and after a brief pause whilst I rummaged for a tissue, blew my nose and wiped my eyes, I quickly opened up the book again to carry on where I had left off. I have never been good at sad, scary, violent or bloody books (or films come to that) and I usually choose not to read books of this nature. I get entirely engrossed in the story and identify so strongly with the characters that I sometimes feel as if I know them as well as any relative of mine. When my boys were small I cried for weeks after watching Bambi and The Land Before Time with them, I'm sure I would do the same if I was to see the videos again today. So imagine the scuffle I had with my conscience when I was deciding whether to read this book or not. I had seen so many glowing reviews about The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak and the title had featured on many of my fellow bloggers 'Best Book of all Time' and 'Most Memorable Book' lists. I kept seeing pictures of the front cover and I found it haunting, so, when a copy appeared in the secondhand bookshop, I had to bring it home. I stared at it on the TBR pile for a while and even put off reading it by escaping into a couple of romantic romps with Ms Jewell and Ms Fforde, but, still it beckoned and so, I took a deep breath and opened the front cover. I am so glad I did.
The book begins in 1939 and is set in pre-war Germany. Liesel Meminger and her brother are taking a train journey with their mother when the boy dies from a coughing fit, in his mothers arms. Unbeknown to Liesel, her mother and father have both been accused of being communists. Her father has been taken away by the authorities and since then Liesel's mother has been unable to find work. Ultimately she and her children are starving. and so she has decided the only way to save them is to put them into foster care. They are on their way to meet with the social worker for the hand over, when the boy dies. And that is only the beginning!!
Her foster parents are kindhearted folk and her 'papa', Hans Hubermann, is the gentlest of men. He teaches her to read and she falls in love with books. The story is about love and friendship, literature, kindness, man's inhumanity to man, the morality of theft and ultimately, death. It is thought provoking, heartbreakingly sad and un-put-downable.
And in the rhythm of the narrator here is some important information about The Book Thief:

*This novel is narrated by Death*
It is a story, about:

*A Girl*

*An Accordionist*

*Some Fanatical Germans*

*A Jewish Fist Fighter*


*and Quite a Lot of Thievery*
This is one of the most remarkable books I have ever read. Markus Zusak turns conventional storytelling on it's head and yet still manages to make the book so totally compelling that on several occasions I found myself reading on through my tears. It is not all totally depressing either, there are some lovely moments in the story which capture the essence of humanity at its finest.
Here are a couple of notes which appear throughout the book from the narrator:
(About Germany)
Since 1933, ninety percent of Germans showed
unflinching support for Adolf Hilter.
That leaves ten percent who didn't.
Hans Hubermann belonged to that ten percent.
There was a reason for that.
(About Friendship)
(An excerpt from Death's Diary)
I do not carry a sickle of scythe.
I only wear a hooded black robe when it is cold.
And I don't have those skull-like
features you seem to enjoy
pinning on me from a distance. You
want to know what I truly look like?
I'll help you out. Find yourself
a mirror while I continue.
(About War)
I've seen so many young men
over the years who think that they are
running at other young men.
They are not.
They are running at me.

Have you read this book? (If not, why not :)

What did you think of it?

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Wedding Season , Katie Fforde

I'm on a roll reading chic-lit books at the moment and have just finished my very first Katie Fforde book, Wedding Season, which I really enjoyed. The story is very simple and the outcome really predictable, but then, it is a total fairytale, so what else do you expect?

There are three girls who have formed a relationship with each other by working together on weddings. Sarah is the super organised, wedding planner who does not believe in love, Elsa is an accomplished dress designer who is painfully shy and always wears black in order to blend into the background and Bron is a multi-talented make-up artist, hairdresser and cake maker who is caught in a loveless relationship that she would prefer not to be in. So......bring on Hugo the mysterious, who is a well connected internationally renowned photographer, Laurence the Reliable, who is a non drinker and always called upon to be the Best Man at friends weddings and James the unkempt gardener, who is also a gifted art designer and floral artist. Voila! You know as well as I do what is going to happen and the pleasure of reading this book is that along the way some amusing things occur to the main characters and lots of other interesting people are introduced to the story. I particularly liked Fen and Rupert, Pat and her cooking pals and Mrs Lennox-Feathersone.

The characters are well drawn and the situations they find themselves in are on the whole, more or less, believable. There are a couple of things that I could not quite take on face value and had to put down to artistic license - one is that Elsa manages to make and enhance, in less than two weeks, the replica of a dress which had originally taken her two years to make from start to finish and somehow, Bron, who had had some previous success making and decorating train engine birthday cakes, manages to understand how to design, cook and decorate one of the most elaborate wedding cakes I have ever heard described and she had never actually seen the original cake herself. This all adds to the 'cuteness' of the book, in my opinion. It is a fairytale after all, so why not have a little bit of the impossible in there too! The only thing that did grate on my nerves a little was the number of times Ms Fforde linked the word 'professional' to Sarah's character. The picture portrayed is that as Sarah is a professional she could not possibly be in love, too, almost as if being 'a professional' and being in love with someone were mutually exclusive........I couldn't quite get my head around the thought process.

I can forgive all of these small things, though, because this is such a light hearted, easy, summer read which deserves to be consumed whilst sitting in the garden on a warm sunny afternoon, book in one hand and a glass of chilled white wine in the other. Lovely!

Have you read this or any other Katie Fforde books?

Which is your favourite Fforde book?

Romance novels - Love them or hate them ?

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Skipping through the lives of Vince and Joy and Michael Parkinson, in the same week!!

On my second to last book haul trip to the local secondhand book store I came away with my very first Lisa Jewell book. Dot, from had reviewed a recent Lisa Jewell book, 'The Truth About Melody Browne' and I remembered her saying that Lisa Jewell books always cheer her up. So when I saw Vince & Joy sitting on the shelf in front of me I decided to see for myself if Lisa Jewell is a cheery book writer or not.
She is!

Vince and Joy meet each other on a camp site where they are holidaying with their parents. Joy is 18 and Vince is almost 19 when they meet and they fall madly and completely in love with each other. Joy's parents are in their 60's and Vince's are much younger and trendier. Vince and Joy are made for each other and they spend as much time together, away from their parents, as they can. One night whilst the couple are frolicking in the woods, their parents get into an altercation which ends up in a fight between Joy's dad and Vince's step dad. When Vince and Joy return home that night, all is not well and in the early hours of the morning Joy and her family leave the camp site without saying goodbye. Although Joy leaves a letter for Vince, it is raining heavily and most of the ink on the page gets washed away. All Vince can read in the note is "I am so ashamed". They are both devastated by their loss.

Moving on seven years we pick up the story of Vince and Joy again. We meet Vince's room mate, the wonderful Cass and her spiritually inclined cat, Madeleine and Joy's friends, her landlady, Julia and the irrepressible cross dresser, Bella. Without giving too much away it seems that fate guides Vince and Joy to dance around one another but never actually pick up their relationship. Somehow their lives move on in different directions. And this is how it goes into the future until we finally meet the couple again more than 17 years after they first met and fell in love.

This was a delightful book to read and I loved the characters, even the kooky ones were well drawn and believable. The story is light hearted but also asks a couple of serious soul searching questions, too. I can thoroughly recommend this for the summer and have now secured my second Lisa Jewell book, 31 Dream Street. I'll keep you posted.

In the same week I skipped through the lives of Vince & Joy, I also read the autobiography of Michael Parkinson 'Parky'. I've always been a fan of Michael Parkinson and was very excited to have this book thrust into my hand by my dog rescuing neighbour, as repayment for my regular walks to the beach with her 'new' dog in tow (well, you always knew I would end up as chief dog walker, didn't you!)

Parkinson has had a charmed life. That becomes apparent almost immediately as we wander through his times as an only child, fuelled by his mothers ambition for her son and lead through his childhood and short-lived cricketing career by his doting father. Stories of meeting the rich and famous adorn every page and I couldn't help but marvel at how fate had been very kind to Parky, opening doors and shining lights on pathways for him to follow, all of which lead to him become one of the most famous interviewers of all time. He spoke highly of every one of his guests and even Meg Ryan, who he termed his only failure, and Emu who he loathed, were treated with kind words. The only thing I could find fault with in this book was his criticism of what he sees as 'the establishment' and some people he had worked for. This negative reflection felt out of place and smacked somewhat of ingratitude in an otherwise positively charged story of a man who made a career out of being sociable and trying to make people feel comfortable. I enjoyed the book overall, though, it is funny in parts and poignant in others. I would recommend it to anyone who is a fan of Parky or those of you who like autobiographies.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

15 Books!

I don't usually join in with any regular feature in the book blogging world but I could not resist this one because I thought it was a great question to ask. So here we go with the first "Booking Through Thursday" on this blog.
This can be a quick one. Don't take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you've read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes.
Here are mine:

1. Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier - one of the best works of fiction I have read. I became so absorbed in the story that I found myself cheering on the bad guys!! That's what I call great writing.

2. Othello - William Shakespeare - I read this at school when I was doing English Lit. I loved Othello, Desdemona and Cassio and hated Iago with a passion. I constantly wanted to shout out "Don't trust Iago - he's lying" just like I did at pantomimes when I was small and would shout "He's behind you"

3. The Cather in the Rye - J D Salinger - This was the first real 'grown up' book I ever read, I was 14 years old at the time. I fell madly in love with Holden Caulfield and could not believe a teenager could do all the things he did. He was my hero.

4. Jude The Obscure - Thomas Hardy - I didn't read this until a couple of years ago and was so glad that I took my sons advice and read it. It was the first book I ever read where I cried whilst reading it. I hadn't expected it to be sad, but it was.

5. Gweilo - Martin Booth - This book is a memoir of Martin Booth's early childhood which he spent in Hong Kong. I loved this book because Booth paints such a vivid picture of the city during the 1950's and his love for Hong Kong, it's people and his mother comes shining off each page.

6. The BFG - Roald Dahl - This was a favourite of my boys when they were small and I remember having to read it over and over again for them because they loved it so much. We also got the video when it came out and had to watch it about ten thousand times (at least!)

7. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen - How can this not be on the list! It is one of my all time favourite books.

8. A Year in Provence - Peter Mayle - I love the way Peter Mayle paints his characters in this book and the way he describes the change of pace his life is undergoing following his move from England to Provence. This book started me off on a Peter Mayle binge and I had very soon found and read all his work. It also started me off wanting to retire to France one day!.

9. No Room for Secrets - Joanna Lumley - Joanna Lumley is a real favourite of mine and I loved the idea she worked from when she wrote this book. We follow Joanna through her house and as she talks about clothes, furniture, books and paintings in each room, her life story begins to unfold. It was a lovely book to read.

10 Macbeth - William Shakespeare - Another one of my English Lit study plays. I loved the air of tension created in Macbeth. It was one of the first books I read where a character begins to unravel in front of the reader. It started me on a lifelong love of empathising with well drawn characters.

11. Show Me the Magic - Annie Caulfield - Annie Caulfield is a great writer and a wonderful observer of people and places. I particularly liked this book because Annie slowly begins to uncover the life of her taxi driver, Isidore, as he acts as her guide around the country. It is poignant and very funny.

12. My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier - My second du Maurier read and it came in a very close second to Rebecca. I loved the character of Rachel and wondered, along with everyone else, including Daphne du Maurier herself, whether she had been responsible for her husband's death. I thought, if du Maurier doesn't know the answer then how could I? So well written, I couldn't put it down.

13. The Laws of Spirit - Dan Millman - This book is a particular favourite of mine and one which I return to often. Dan Millman is an inspiring writer and in this book he tells a story of a man who journeys through the countryside and meets a sage along the way. They take on the journey together and as they go she teaches him of several 'laws' of spirit. I am always intrigued by the Law of Balance and love the way he explains how this works.

14. Thought as a System - David Bohm - This book changed my life! Really! David Bohm was a physicist and was particularly interested in understanding the thought process we have as humans. He postulates that even though we think we are thinking about something (anything) independently, our thought process is based on past experience and unless we see this we cannot break the hold this learned thought system has on our thinking process. He calls this 'the reflex' and argues that in order to be a true independent thinker we have to break this 'reflex' to achieve it.......It is an amazing book. Read it!

15. Beyond Black - Hilary Mantel - This book is really quite dark and scared me a bit but it was one of those books that I just could not put down. When I finished reading it I had so many questions and I always consider that this is the mark of a really great story. This did it for me and I don't think I will forget it in a hurry.

These are in no particular order and I can think of at least 15 more, but, these were the first that came to mind.
So, what are yours?

Monday, June 1, 2009

My Cousin Rachel

In between my travel book reviews I thought I would tell you a little bit about my second Daphne du Maurier read, My Cousin Rachel. Thanks again to Dot ( ), I read another du Maurier classic. It was such an enjoyable book and I can honestly recommend it to anyone who loves well written fiction with a lot of social commentary, hidden meaning and controversial subject matter going on at the same time as the story. It is without doubt an attempt by du Maurier to offer a feminist perspective of a restrictive Victorian society, as it openly alludes to the topic of women's rights and male dominance in cases related to female inheritance and entitlement issues.
The story is set some time at the end of the nineteenth century, the year is not specified. Ambrose Ashley is the lord of the manor and when his nephew is orphaned as a small child, Ambrose adopts Philip and proceeds to bring him up as his own. After the dismissal by Ambrose of Philip's nurse, the Ashley men continue their lives in a completely male household. Ambrose grooms Philip to become his heir and eventually, when Philip reaches his twenties, he begins to run the estate almost entirely by himself. Philip adores Ambrose and his main ambition is to be like him. By this age it is generally agreed that Master Philip looks exactly like a young Mister Ambrose.
Now in his forties, Ambrose begins to suffer with ill health. He is advised by his doctors to travel abroad to warmer climes for the duration of the winter each year. He does this and for two years Philip successfully takes care of the estate whilst his uncle is away. During the third winter when traveling in Italy, Ambrose meets and is enchanted by a lady who happens to also be his cousin. Rachel is a widow and the daughter of an English relative of the Ashley's and an Italian woman. Ambrose loves plants and gardens and each winter on his travels he collects plant specimens to bring back to the garden at the manor. Rachel is also an expert gardener and has in depth knowledge of traditional plant medicines and herbal remedies which she learned from her mother.

After a very short courtship Ambrose marries Rachel. Philip only learns of the wedding after the fact in a letter he receives from Ambrose. He immediately becomes jealous of his cousin and looks on her as a contestant for the affection of his uncle and it is difficult for him to be happy for them. After her previous marriage, Rachel is still working to settle the complexities of her first husband's estate. As a consequence, Ambrose does not return to England in the spring that year, but instead tries to assist Rachel in her efforts to deal with accumulated debts. Another winter comes and goes and Ambrose writes less and less to Philip. At first his letters are cheerful and Ambrose seems devoted to Rachel whom he clearly adores but as time goes on the tone of the letters change and this begins to disturb to Philip. Eventually, a scribbled note arrives and Philip is so worried that he decides to set out to Italy to see his uncle who by now is very ill. When Philip arrives in Florence Ambrose is dead and Rachel has gone, taking with her every last possession of Ambrose's. Philip is determined to hate Rachel as he blames her for his uncles death, believing she may have poisoned him, but, when they finally meet, Philip finds himself as enchanted with her as his uncle was.

Without giving away too much more of the story, what follows is a tale of possession and obsession which looks into the feminine and masculine mind and delves into the world of unreasonable behaviour and reasonable doubt. It is such a cleverly written book. On another note, one thing I found fascinating about this story was when I heard that du Maurier was once asked if Rachel had actually killed Ambrose and she said "I don't know". To me, that is even scarier than if she had.
Let me know if you have read this book and what you thought of it.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


I have been thinking a lot recently about change, letting go and moving on. Throughout our lives we face many changes. Some of these are happy, some sad, some easy and some difficult. No matter how we feel about change there is always one truth - Change Happens! It happens to all of us and it is the only other certainty of life.

How do we let go and move on after change happens? I have no definitive answer but I do want to tell you a story.......

Once there were two monks traveling through the countryside during the rainy season. Rounding a bend in the path they found a muddy stream blocking their way. Beside it stood a lovely young woman dressed in flowing robes.
"Here" said one of the monks to the woman. "Let me carry you across the water." And he picked her up and carried her across.
Setting her down on the further bank, he went along in silence with his fellow monk to the abbey on the hill.
Later that evening the other monk said suddenly, "I think you made a mistake picking up that woman back on our journey today. You know that we are not supposed to have anything to do with women and you held one close to you! You should not have done that."
"How strange," remarked the other. "I only carried her across the water. You are carrying her still"

Today I was compelled to write this. What a change from a book review!

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

UEFA Champions League Cup final trip to the bookshop

Wednesday was the UEFA Champion League Cup final day and as you know, I am a BIG Manchester United fan. I have to say I was nervous as a kitten up a tree and that wouldn't be too far off the mark. The time difference between Hong Kong and Europe always means that any given day comes sooner to us here and we have to wait so much longer for a European or US event to happen, or so it seems. I had my Manchester United shirt on 10 hours before kick off and was already pacing the floor in agony. Then I had a thought, "How about a distraction?" What better way to calm the nerves than to spend hours prowling around the shelves of the village bookshop? Off I trotted!

Before you say it, I know I don't need any more books to put on my TBR pile, I really don't. I've been thinking about this a lot and to counteract any criticism in this area I have now invented an ever growing list of 'Books To Look Out For' ('BTLOF'), which is entirely different to TBR and has come about since I started visiting other peoples blogs. Before blogging I would mooch along the shelves of the bookshop without a lot of focus, alighting on books if a cover caught my eye or if I came across anything that was written by an author I liked. Now, when I go shopping for books these days it is not for additions to the TBR pile at all because I have a purpose, I have a BTLOF list which is different and makes me feel much better when handing over the cash!!

Here are my purchases from yesterday:

The Distant Land of My Father, Bo Caldwell.

This is a book about an American girl, Anna, who was born and brought up in China. When the Japanese invade Shanghai during WWII, her father sends Anna and her mother back to California, for their safety. As time passes, the father does not return to his family and Anna gives up hope of ever seeing him again. Then, years later, when she has a family of her own, her father turns up in her life again.
Can't wait to read this, to be honest. It has all the ingredients of my favourite kind of book.

Peter Ustinov, The Gift of Laughter, John Miller.

This is a biography of Peter Ustinov which was written with his absolute collaboration. Ustinov is one of my favourite entertainers and I have heard excellent things about this biography......I'm excited at the prospect of reading it.

Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud, Sun Shuyun.

'Ten Thousand Miles Without a Cloud' is a Buddhist saying which means 'the search for a mind clear of doubt'. This book is a memoir of Sun Shuyun who was born in China during the cultural revolution. Her family were devout Buddhists and under the communist regime were forced to give up practicing their faith. Sun Shuyun learns the way of the communists as she grows up but shares a bedroom with her grandmother. Here she learns Buddhist prayers and listens to stories of historical hero's as her grandmother remained a practicing Buddhist, in spite of being forbidden to do so. Sun's favourite hero becomes Xuanzang. When she is older she decides to retrace the footsteps of his epic journey from China to India and back again, one which he took in order to bring Buddhist scripture and teachings to the Chinese people. Sun's book tells of a spiritual discovery where she finds the faith of her ancestors as she tries to understand what drove Xuanzang on. Another can't wait to read for me!

Five Finger Discount, Helene Stapinski.

I have read this book before and loved it, but somehow it went missing from my library. I probably let somebody borrow it and it never returned. Imagine then, the delight I felt when I saw it there, sitting in the bookshop waiting for me to find it again. Helene Stapinski is a now a journalist and this book is a memoir of her childhood. Her family are a bunch of murderers, crooks, petty swindlers and mobsters and she grows up in New Jersey City. She tells of corrupt local officials and the way her father would smuggle all kinds of wonderfully exotic foods from Cold Storage, where he worked. It is a funny and poignant view of a family surviving against the odds and her struggle to escape an inevitable future. I will read it again and it can now go on my "Read and Loved" shelf.

Bangkok 8, John Burdett.

I am not one for thrillers and cop stories usually, but, the blurb on the back cover of this book had me convinced I would like it, not least of all because it is set in Bangkok, where we lived for three years. I always think that tackling a book set in familiar territory is easier to read and identify with, than one where you have to paint the scenery yourself. I am not sure how I will go on with the violent scenes, I'm usually a bit squeamish, but, I'll give it a go and let you know.

So there you have it, my haul for the day and before you tell me that I did not pick up one single thing off my BTLOF list, I already know, but, in my defense I have to say that I would have added all of them to that list had I thought about it earlier ;)

Now, if only the Manchester United team could have been bothered to turn up for the Cup final I would have had a perfect day!! (You think that comment is bad, the non-reader thinks all the team should be fined a million pounds each for playing so badly!! I wouldn't go that far, but, I see his point!). Terrible game, boo hoo!!

Have you had any bookshop hauls recently?

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Travel to India - Part One

OK, so I promised you a review of some of the travel books I have read and here is the first of a comparative review of three books on India. Second and third to follow......

First up, Will Randall's Indian Summer.
This is a memoir written about an adventure Will Randall had during a summer he spent in India. A secondary school teacher in London, Randall takes out his class of thirteen year olds on a field trip to a London Art Gallery, one day and by chance, bumps into a elderly retired school teacher who is a docent at the gallery. They get to chatting and she asks him if he has ever been to India. When he says no she urges him to go and offers to pay for a return ticket for him if he will accompany her on an upcoming trip she is planning. In return for the free ticket he will carry her baggage, accompany her to dinner and be available for any assistance she might require during the journey. He thinks about this for some time and decides to take the chance, so he gives up his job. They head first to Bombay for a few days then onto Pune. After they arrive in Pune she heads off to visit a long time friend and Will is free to return home or stay, as he chooses. He decides to stay for a while.
What ensues is an story of compassion and determination. Randall becomes enchanted with a local ashram which is run by the kindly Chavurat and his wife Harshada and he begins to help them and the children who live there. The ashram acts as home to several adopted orphans and a day school for all comers from the nearby slum. Amongst the children there are many notable characters which Randal describes with great clarity. The ashram and the slum becomes threatened by some local developers who use strong arm tactics to scare the residents in the hope that they will move away, after which the developers plan to clear the land and build an office complex. Eventually the children get an opportunity to showcase the work of the ashram in the hope that it will be saved from demolition. They do this by putting on a play and Randall becomes the producer, director and orchestrates the final performance.
"Learning as much as he is teaching, Will finds his life transformed by this remarkable class of orphans: Dulabesh, the head-standing joker who lost his parents on a crowded railway platform: Prakask, who learned self-sufficiency the hard way by scavenging through skips: the nutty yet charming Tanushri, fan of the singer 'Maradona'. When the slum barons threaten to level the school, Will hits upon the idea of a fund raising play to save it: the 24,000 verse Ramayana, ever so slightly condensed...."
It is a lovely story and the characters are very well drawn. I particularly like the description of an outing Randall arranged for the children as a surprise and the sense of wonder they all felt whilst taking the bus journey. I couldn't help but compare the British children's reaction to the school trip we had previously encountered in London. Of course, these two events are purposely included to draw the reader into making a comparison between 'have's and have not's' and he himself comes to conclusions that are not very flattering about the sense of entitlement the British children demonstrate in their daily life as opposed to that of gratitude in the Indian children's lives.
If there is one negative thing about this book it is that I was left with a sense that Randall (or maybe the marketers of the book) were somewhat conceited and gloated a little too much about the good work he had done with the children. It annoyed me to see the sub title "A Good Man in Asia" and the blurb on the back page which said "Will Randall thought teaching in an inner London comprehensive was a difficult job. But that was nothing compared to his next assignment: saving a slum school in the Indian city of Pune". Saving the school and putting on the play was by no means a solo effort. Even the dedication at the beginning of the book stung me a little "This is a book for anyone who thinks it might be worth adding their drop to the ocean". For me, the story was about children who have to live a challenging life each and every day and survive against all odds and was not about someone who drops into their world for a month or so, thinks that they have fixed everything, basks in glory for a while after which they dash of to another awaiting adventure. It was this lack of modesty that just took the edge off what was otherwise a lovely book.
What do you think, am I being over sensitive about this?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Travel, bearing witness and taking on life's chances.....

Sometimes I cannot believe how blessed I have been in my life to have had so many opportunities to travel and to have witnessed some of the things I have seen.....

Along the way I have been to exotic and ordinary places; cities decimated by the poverty of the ordinary folk and the greed of a powerful government and army. I have looked into the eyes of a dying man as he tapped on the sealed car windows, begging for pennies at the roadside. Within seconds the lights had changed and my car sped off, taking me to sail on a luxury yacht where people were sipping champagne and dipping strawberries in chocolate. I had no appetite, I couldn't forget his eyes. I have seen the most elegantly bejewelled ladies dressed in brocades spun with real gold, standing next to women in rags holding an infant to their breast. I have seen breathtakingly beautiful beaches with palm trees and mountain backdrops, after having to pass by corrugated tin built slums where 12 people live in hovels which they share with cockroaches and rats. I once gave a child an apple, which I thought was better for her than money and I was immediately inundated with starving children saying "Me please, me please please!!", I had no idea where they came from and felt woefully inadequate, unable to offer them a single thing. Sadly, I have spoken to far too many people who were enthralled by the prospect of travel, but, didn't even own a passport, have never left their home state or country in their lifetime and live their dream through others.

And many times I have wondered, "Why them and not me?" It is a question which has kept me awake at night and made me cry myself to sleep. As the years go by I still have no answer, but, know that I am eternally grateful for the life I have had so far and all the chances that I have been given and taken.

One of my son's friends got me thinking about all this today (thank you, young man xx). He recently gave up his regular job after university term ended and took a very brave step by travelling to Hawaii alone, for the summer. He knew no one and did not have a job, but took the chance anyway. He wrote to his friends recently and tried to explain the reason behind the decision to make such a bold move, he did this by quoting an email he had received from his dad. He then urged all his friends to think about what he had said. Here it the note to his friends:

This is an email my Dad sent me, and I thought I'd share it as insight to the reason why I decided to take this trip. With two weeks under my belt, the gravity of the situation has hit me, but I thought about the locals I play basketball with every night, the people at my new job, and of course my amazing sister and all of her amazing friends, and I realize that I've made this place my own. So without further ado:

"Co-worker just left so I thought I might send you a quick note. Every day at work, and I mean each and every day, several people come up to me and ask me a lot of questions all about your latest island adventures. They hang on my every word and I am always the first to break it off or I would never get my work done. At first I wondered why they were so interested, as you know I do not like to talk a lot, but they were intent to squeeze every detail out of me. It finally occurred to me that you are living the dream they had, but were not bold enough to embrace. I am so proud of you as not many people have the courage to travel 4,000 miles away, to a new land, where they don't know a soul. I am finding out that many people spend the rest of their lives wishing that they had taken on the type of adventure that you are living. I guarantee you that things will not always go well in your life but remember that "Living well is the best revenge" and Hawaii living is the best.You will look back on your island adventure with relish, just like I do, and you will never have to know the misery of those poor timid souls, who approach me every day and spend the rest of their life wishing........................... "If only I had"..."

It just blew me away! Not only the letter from a father to a son, but, the fact that the son urged his friends to read it. An action, in and of itself, meant to encourage them to look carefully at life's chances and live a dream should chance come along. He is a brave and wise young man and has a great mentor in his dad. I am so glad he is a friend of my son's.

And, if there is an answer for the question "Why them and not me?" perhaps it lies somewhere in this letter.

My next post will be about some excellent travel books I have read, but, that's I'm still thinking of taking life's chances.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Rebecca and a Friend of a Friend........

I think I am the only person in the world who has not read any of Daphne du Maurier's work, especially the classic novel Rebecca. It has to be admitted that I have reached this age and not looked at one line of her writing - not until now, that is! Thanks to fellow bloggers ( Dot especially:) I spent all this weekend reading Rebecca and it was every bit as good as every fan had promised it would be.

Other than the thrilling storyline, the most interesting thing about this book for me is the fact that when it was first published, in 1938, it was billed as a 'True Romance' and a kind of 1930's equivalent of today's chick-lit. Daphne du Maurier hated the book being categorised in this genre and after reading it I can understand why. Even Alfred Hitchcock's film adaptation (which I watched on YouTube after reading the book - yes, I became obsessed!!) had that true romance undertone to it and although the film painted some excellent character portraits and focused on the insecurities, insanity and broodiness of some of the main cast, I do not believe it truly captured the heart of what du Maurier was trying to say in the book.

Max de Winter is a recently widowed man whose wife, Rebecca, has been killed at sea. He takes a holiday from his stately home on the coast, Manderley, because he is on the verge of a breakdown and needs to get out of the house as it holds so many memories of Rebecca. The house is famous throughout the county for it's parties and is know for it's style and elegance, which is due mainly to the work of Rebecca, who by all accounts, was the perfect hostess, wife, mistress of the house, employer and socialiser. Max heads to Monte Carlo where he meets a young girl half his age, sweeps her off her feet and marries her, all within a few weeks. They return to Manderley and the new Mrs de Winter finds herself mistress of an enormous staff and home and caught up in a world she knows very little about, completely out of her depth. The new Mrs de Winter appears to be the absolute opposite of Rebecca in every way, shy, awkward, clumsy, timid and eager to please.

Mrs Danver's is the housekeeper and was Rebecca's maid and closest confident, Frank Crawley is Max de Winter's secretary. Both characters play key roles in Mrs de Winter's life during her first few weeks at Manderley. Needless to say, Mrs Danver's loyalty remains staunchly with Rebecca and to the past so she is not a friend of Mrs de Winter and as Frank is devoted to Max, he becomes an ally and friend of the new mistress of the house.

The story takes various twists and turns and it illustrates how inexperienced, inept at being mistress of the house and totally reliant on male affirmation, the young Mrs de Winter is. She is not given a christian name in the book and is only ever referred to as Mrs de Winter or Madame throughout, therefore, her identity is tied exclusively to her husband's name and not her own. (Not a lot of Girl-Power there, I here you say!)

*****This is where you should stop reading if you have not read the book and don't want to know any more of the plot (Scroll down to next line of bold print to continue...... and no peeking on the way!!)*****

After the shocking truth of the real events on the evening of Rebecca's disappearance are uncovered, I began to realise that the hero and heroine of the story were actually a murderer and later an accessory to the fact! Throughout the clever narrative, du Maurier's ability to bring the reader along with these two dubious characters and have said reader sympathise with their situation, was nothing short of genius. I was with them all the way, willing them on through the tribunal and the visit to London, hoping against hope for a positive outcome for them both, that is to say, I was hoping that they would get away with murder or that it was all just a horrible mistake and Rebecca hadn't been murdered at all!! I couldn't bear to think that I was on the murderer's side in this story and not the victim's. Then I stopped and said to myself "What am I thinking?"!!

I re-read the beginning of the book after I had finished the end as the first and some of the second chapters talk about Mr and Mrs de Winter's life in the present, which is set several years after Rebecca's death and the time the rest of the story focuses on. I was shocked when I realised that the biggest crime of all was actually being committed there, right there in the present at the beginning of the book and I had no idea of that when I first read it.

****You can rejoin the post now - I hope you didn't peep at the last two paragraphs****

Brilliant writing! It was no more a chick-lit book than Lord of The Rings!

Tell me what you think of Rebecca - I adored it and will be on the look out for anything du Maurier - do you have any suggestions of what I should read of hers next?

Speaking of women and Girl-Power (which I was actually, if you include Mrs de Winter, Mrs Danvers and Rebecca) I met a really nice lady on Monday who I hadn't met before. Several years ago I lived in Singapore and became friends with a lovely fellow Brit there who had three sons around the same age as mine. We met at picnics and social events, we chilled out on the beach and at outings and got together on committees to organise this and that. Over the years we became close and had a lot in common, which included the love of fine wine and laughing at life in general. Then one day she headed back to Canada whilst I remained in Singapore. Shortly afterwards we lost touch and I often wondered what had happened to her.

Then one day, a year or so ago, I got a friend request on Facebook and it was her. Since then we have shared each others family photos, commented on life's little nuances and generally continued to laugh together. A few weeks ago she dropped me a note which introduced me to another friend of hers in Canada, also a fellow Brit, who was on her way, for the first time, to holiday in Hong Kong. We two became friends on Facebook and before we knew it, we were planning to get together on Monday for a mooch around in Honkers - I am so glad we did! We had a wonderful time chatting and telling each other about our life and family. It was as if we had known each other for years and when I left her it struck me just how small this world really is.

I know we will stay in touch and now I have another friend who is a friend of a friend of mine - that really is Girl-Power at work!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Gilead ............ at last!

I'm back reviewing books again as my mother-in-law has returned home safely after spending a couple of weeks with us here.

I have been reading Gilead by Marilynne Robinson for the past couple of weeks and was determined to finish it today, no matter how much housework had to go undone.........;)

The Reverend John Ames is suffering with a heart condition and coming to the end of his life. Through a series of letters written to his 7 year old son, he reveals his thoughts, musing and observations, and slowly but surely, paints a colourful and unique picture of himself, his father, his grandfather, his best friend, his wife and also his young son and all the various family members connected with them throughout the late 19th and first half of the 20th century. At the same time an intriguing landscape of war-torn, small town USA rises from the stories over the years as the characters unfold. The aim of writing this account is to offer advice in matters that a father would guide a son through and to help the boy better understand his heritage and ultimately, the man John Ames was. This is particularly important as the reverend knows he will not be around for the child when he gets old enough to ask questions first hand.

Ames best friend, Boughton, has eight children and one in particular, Jack, is the son who is both his father's favourite and John Ames's godson. He is named after the reverend as John Ames Broughton and is the prodigal son in every way. His return to Gilead during the story, causes grave concerns and misgivings for Ames and great joy to Boughton Snr., who is also very elderly and in ill health himself. As the relationship between Ames and Jack unravels, the true purpose of Jack's visit becomes apparent, after all.

The reverend is very devout and there are lots of religious references and quotations as well as political and philosophical debates in the text, but, none of this detracts from the story. Nor does the content come across as closet-preaching in anyway, it is all very much part of the portrait being painted.

Gilead is a truly skillful piece of writing. The various stories, the plot and all the connections between the characters only come to light at the slow pace the reverend allows them to appear. This is so masterfully done that by the end of the book I could really feel the weight on the Reverend's shoulders as he labours through his days with a failing heart. It is a book which asks difficult questions and is filled with flawed characters who take actions and make mistakes in their lives that are difficult to forgive. It is poignant and heartbreakingly sad in parts and I loved Jack from the moment he entered the story.
The book demands patience and attention, but, is well worth the effort of giving both. Let me know if you have read it and what you think.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Stanley, Peng Chau and more HUGE desserts!!

Grandma letting us see that she has changed her clothes since the last lot of photos, just in case you thought otherwise.....

And so, to Stanley (in another different outfit!).........

Lovely day, very warm...........

Stanley Main Street...........

Messing about on the South China Sea............

Stopped for prawns at The Pickled Pelican......with a view..........

View of St Stephen's beach...........

These waterlillies are real...........

And so to the Military Cemetery

Hong Kong was unexpectedly invaded from the north and Allied Forces, local troops, police and volunteers were pinned back against the sea........

691 are buried in this cemetery - all casualties of the fight against Japanese invasion or subsequently as prisoners of war........

The last stand against Japanese invasion happened in Stanley village and Allied Forces, local police, local troops and many volunteer fighters finally surrendered on Christmas Day 1941. 4,500 people lost their lives in Hong Kong either in the fight against invasion or as a result of being interned........

One of the saddest gravestones in the cemetery...........Mary Willianson died in Stanley Internment Camp in 1942 aged 75 and her grandson, Douglas Harvey Collins-Taylor was killed in action in Stanley Village on Christmas Day 1941, aged 20 years........Lest We Forget..........

And, on our way back this lovely garden cheered us up again. Could do with a sit down, it's very hot...........

Sunset at Stanley...........

Time for a Sundowner......

Another day and Peng Chau at the Golden Flower temple.......

Shrine for incense................

Turtles live at the bottom of this well.............

Lovely dragon column..........

And off to Discovery Bay for another treat............

Good bye to Peng Chau for today........

Another day and Pavlova in Kowloon......... after a lucky escape at the Jade Market........

Where has all the time gone????.........