FROM HAVOC TO HARMONY

For years I’ve lain in bed studying the right corner of my bedroom. The mini alcove proved impossible to furnish, not for lack of trying though.

For nearly a decade a redundant large bookcase lurched out of the gap, encroaching into the room, looming over. It became an overbearing presence in the harmonious room.

Earlier a small hanging shelf fitted easily between the chimney breast and the wall, yet with only two shelves there was still the problem with the wasted space beneath. A small antique wooden box moved in for a while before becoming recalled for other purposes in the neighbouring room. Furniture seems to be itinerant in my house … restless, always on the move.

Enough is enough and one day I decided to take charge! A yearning cried out to be fulfilled, my vision for the corner, quietly resting in my mind longed for existence. It was time!

It never fails to astound me how one small plan leads to so much upheaval in a house! As I sketched my very rough outline for a fitted bookcase, my husband and I decided to invest in a new bed at the same time! And, oh yes, didn’t the paint need freshening up?!

By this time you might have realised there are a lot of books in my house … many of which needed to be moved for the project. The dining table and chairs moved into the living room (see what I mean about restless furniture!) With a heave and ho, with muttering galore, with logistics reminiscent of a battle plan we set forth!

We have a dog-legged staircase and on the middle landing are two beautiful bookcases both filled to the brim with books. Before any big furniture could go down and up these needed to be moved to the dining room. Gosh, did we add to the daily step count with these books alone! Over a hundred Encyclopaedia Britannica books moved down along with an old bible from my husband’s family as well as an abundance of fiction novels.

As the leather-bound Encyclopaedia Britannica books sprawled across the floor, their numbers seemed insurmountable as they lay in unread heaps. With thoughts to decluttering it was decided to sell them all … thank goodness for eBay and a lovely chap bought them and came to collect them the day after the auction ended. I bade the collection a fond farewell but no regrets and in the process greeted the extra space for other books!

Next to join the already burgeoning ad hoc library in the dining room (why does this post remind me of the game of Cluedo!), all the books from my old-fashioned bookcase and desk came downstairs. I cradled my children’s books in my arms, hello Heidi, ahh, the Children on the Oregon trail, there you are gold-embossed Ivanhoe!

Next step was bed removal and I’m always happy when one can donate to charity and the British Heart Foundation were only too happy to pick this up, along with the old bookcase! At last freedom … the painting soon got underway, the new bed was chosen and I’d found a carpenter for the bookcase.

A skilled craftsman, he immediately ‘got’ my vision for the corner, shared my enthusiasm for the design, adding his own additions to blend with existing old-fashioned bookcase and desk! I was skittish with excitement as I received the sketches! Perfect!

Four weeks later, the room had been reassembled and I am overjoyed with the result. The bed is a haven of comfort, I’m sleeping the cosy slumber from childhood, the corner bookshelf is a delight to see. Just as I imagined, sitting snugly into the gap, bringing light and warmth into the room!

Next came the most joyful of chores … arranging the books across the bookshelves in all the rooms of my home! Uprooting books from my study, the living room to create a cherished cohesion that I’d lost during numerous moves. I mulled over the location of books, their groupings. Where the Encyclopaedia Britannica books had resided I’ve now put my reportage and journalism books, memoirs and biographies! Already I’m finding my time going downstairs has exponentially lengthened as I take a halfway break, pick up a book, glancing through it. I’m having a wonderful time revisiting my old friends!

Unread books are safely stacked in the new bedroom bookcase along with inspirational books, poetry books ready for a perchance read are behind the glass doors, fiction books are scattered with my unusual known-only-to-me organisational skill! Ask me for a book, if I have it, I can find it!

The four weeks of havoc at home was more than worth the chaos, and I’m overjoyed with the peaceful harmony in the new bedroom with its enchanting bookcase.

Spring's Breeze & A Musical Interlude!

Spring’s breeze strokes my cheek
Star flower heralds warm days
Storm warning – keep safe!

These past few days have been the sunniest for months and numerous walks in woods, along the coast, inspired me to write the haiku above.

Spring is so close, almost tangible, yet the threat of the latest tempest this weekend returns us to the winter gloom. Before Storm Ciara, a severe gale, coursed its way across the UK we headed outside enjoying the glory of nature to the utmost. Soon enough we needed to retreat indoors to the cosiness of home.

Out on the daily meditations, I remember that not only Mother Nature can lift us high, music also has a sublime ability to reach our inner core.

One piece that recently touched me so is a piano cover by Sammy Perry of Odesza’s song ‘A Moment Apart’. It is one of Sammy’s favourite songs from their album.

Listening to this my spirits soar. I imagine spring, life itself, unfurling. It is peaceful, magical and inspirational. Enjoy!

Meet author Annika Perry and her love of writing on “A Better World of Books” #authorinterview

I was delighted recently when Alethea asked me for an interview as part of her fabulous series “A Better World of Books”. Here she wants to celebrate authors who inspire “hope, joy, positivity, or a sense of empowerment” through their books! Wow! I am honoured to take part.

Learn about the origins of my children’s book “Oskar’s Quest”, my favourite fictional creation and exactly how does this all fits in with talking to guinea pigs!

Click on the link to read the whole interview! Enjoy!

The Light Behind the Story

annika-perryAnnika Perry is an award-winning author, blogger and book reviewer. She has two books in print and is working on a third. I asked Annika to be a guest for A Better World of Booksafter I learned about the release of her childrens book, Oskars Quest. Bette Stevens, a reviewer of the book, had this to say about it, In this beautifully illustrated childrens book, author Annika Perry captures the importance of caring for others, overcoming fears and making new friends.

Annika, thank you for being a guest for A Better World of Books.Can you tell our readers how you came up with the idea for Oskars Quest?

Alethea, I am delighted to be here and thank you so much for inviting me on to your blog. I’m loving your insightful questions…

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From the Poetic to the Factual: Two Book Reviews

After a lifetime of New Year’s resolutions … and often failing to keep them, these last years I’ve steered away from making any.

However, one aspect of blogging weighs heavily upon me, my failure to review as many books as I would like, particularly indie-published ones. If my TBR pile was a real heap of books they would fill a room, I fear; luckily many are kept safe on my Kindle, hidden from immediate sight but never forgotten. I’m determined to share these books with you on my blog, a couple every month and I am happy to start with the two below.

Ironically, these are paperbacks, one a poetry book kindly gifted to me by Bette A. Stevens. The other by Mary Smith caught my interest as an unusual factual book about her local town.

“My Maine: Haiku through the Seasons” by Bette A. Stevens

‘My Maine’ is a gem of a poetry book celebrating the state of Maine through 150 haikus. Bette A. Stevens captures the essence and heart of Maine with wonderful and evocative poetry that flows easily from one to the next.

Divided into four seasons each page is accompanied by a photograph taken by the poet, all stunning, reflecting the brimming beauty of her words. I am in awe how the poet has not only managed to bring alive the grandeur of the landscape, its mountains, pine trees and lakes but also writes with skill and a sense of humour about the minutiae of life in the state!

The writer’s keen observation of life is evident throughout and her passion for nature and the wildlife is extraordinary and she conveys this to the reader with exemplary skill.

This is a book I treasure and which I’ve read many times. I’m absolutely captivated by the ‘story’ of Maine, a state I feel I can now rightly call, every so slightly, ‘My Maine’!

Whilst reviewing the book I jotted down many of my favourite haikus. Here are just a couple to tempt you!

“Firewoods heaped high
Mesmerizing hearth aglow
Cozy reading nook.”

Bette A. Stevens

“Silently – Snowfalls
Reign over field and forest
Supremely sovereign.”

Bette A. Stevens

Rating:        5 out of 5 stars

Available:    Amazon US  Amazon UK

Publisher: DBS PUBLISHING

Read more about Bette at Bette A. Stevens, Maine Author

“A-Z of Dumfries: Place-People-History” by Mary Smith & Keith Kirk

In her latest book Mary Smith, along with fellow writer Keith Kirk, takes the reader on a fascinating and absorbing alphabetical tour of her local town, Dumfries. Situated in the South West of Scotland, people have lived in the area for at least 3,000 years and it has been the home to many including the famous poet Robert Burns. Through the 26 letters of the alphabet, the book explores the places, people and history of Dumfries and it offers incredible insight to a town that I fear is often overlooked.

Some of the entries depict traumatic events as the reader learns about Robert Burns’ wife Jean Armour, who had nine children but only three survived her. Superb details and plenty of colour photographs ensured that I was hooked by the various entries and I immediately felt as if I had myself visited amongst other places Robert Burns museum and the world’s oldest working Camera Obscura.

I am astounded by the level of research and the momentous task of collecting all the information, collating and writing the book. It is presented in a skilled yet easily accessible and entertaining manner. The reader is captivated by both the larger historical events and people as well as ordinary objects such as fountains and parks, all with their own unique story.

As I finished the book I felt as if I’d travelled around Dumfries and seen its gems for myself … and I hope to do so in the future. I will be a highly informed visitor as a result of this book! Meanwhile, it has made me intrigued about my town, which I know I take for granted and I am now eager to learn more about it!

Rating:        5 out of 5 stars

Available:    Amazon US  Amazon UK

Publisher: Amberley Publishing

Read more about Mary at Mary Smith’s Place

I hope you’ve enjoy reading these reviews which I intend to become a regular monthly feature. Have you read any of these? Are you tempted by the reviews to look at any closer. As always, I look forward to your comments & discussion.

Welcome Author Annika Perry #wouldyourather

“Would you rather be able to freeze time or travel in time?”

This is only one of the fun albeit tricky questions that Jill Weatherholt posed to me in her renewed childhood game of “Would You Rather” feature on her blog!

I was hooked by the series since its inception in September 2019 and I am delighted to be featured last week. Please click the link to find out more!

Jill Weatherholt

Today I’m excited to welcome our friend and writer, Annika Perry. For those of you who know Annika, I’m sure you’ll agree she is one of the kindest and most generous bloggers you’ll ever meet. We connected many years ago, and now I feel as though we’re old friends. I was excited when she expressed an interest to play “would you rather.” I think you’ll enjoy her answers as much as I did.

Would you rather be able to freeze time or travel in time?

Without a doubt, I’d rather travel in time! Ever since reading ‘The Time Machine’ by H G Wells as a child I knew here was the perfect way to travel although I realised it came with its own inherent hazards. Avoiding these I would visit various eras across time. The major world events, whilst of interest, would not appeal to me as much as seeing…

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THE RAPTOR

It was a grisly sight first thing that morning. The garrotted dove lay lifeless on the lawn, a storm of feathers upon the dull green grass. Bright red blood seeped out of the neck wound, the purity of white blemished by death.

Near to its kill, the raptor looked on with an expression of huffed up pride and indignation. Not one to usually brave suburban gardens, this enclosed haven with its regular visitors of peace proved too irresistible for the falcon. What could go wrong?

Earlier, replete after eating fallen sunflower seeds, the doves ambled leisurely, without care, along their promenade route, bidding each other a quiet good morrow. Then the raptor struck. It was almost too easy. Yet, he had not taken into account the witness. Loud urgent slams on the glass followed. These he nonchalantly ignored. The raptor loomed over the stricken dove and gripped its corpse tightly in its talons.

Crash! A door was violently flung open. An angry shout. Then a pneumatic drill of curses. The raptor would never relent. Until a sudden flurry of towels as the human windmill careered towards him.

With a vicious squawk, the raptor took flight.

He would be back!

©Annika Perry, January 2020

2019 GOODREADS CHALLENGE

Welcome to the summary of my reading for 2019! For the past few years, I’ve been a keen participant of the Goodreads Reading Challenge. This year I surpassed my target of 62 books completing 66 in twelve months.

Below are images of all the books I read as well a list of them all. When there is a link, this is to my review of the particular book published earlier in the year on my blog.

Some books are in italics and these are ones I completed as part of the Reading Across Time (When Are You Reading?) Challenge in which I’ve also taken part and I almost completed all twelve, apart from 1300 – 1499! The specific eras are listed after each of the italicized books.

Both of the challenges ensured I read widely and outside my normal genre and it has been a hugely enriching and rewarding year of books … I look forward to new books galore in 2020!

SPRING

  • ‘The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra’ by Vaseem Khan
  • A Velocity of Being’ edited by Maria Popova & Claudia Bedrick
  • ‘A Journal of the Plague Year’ by Daniel Defoe (1500-1699)
  • ‘I’m Fine and Neither Are You’ by Camille Pagan
  • ‘The Devil Aspect’ by Craig Russell
  • ‘The Man I Fell in Love with’ by Kate Field
  • ‘The Bookseller of Kabul’ by Asne Seierstad
  • ‘Jezebel’ by Irene Nemirovsky
  • ‘The Betrayal’ by Kate Furnivall
  • ‘A Spark of Light’ by Jodi Picoult
  • ‘Uncommon Type’ by Tom Hanks
  • ‘Elisabeth’s Lists’ by Lulah Ellender
  • ‘Youngblood Hawke’ by Herman Wouk (1940-1959)
  • ‘Epic Love Epiphany’ by Lynn L Swisher
  • ‘The Little Book of Hygge’ by Meik Wiking
  • ‘The Survivors’ by Kate Furnivall (1920-1939)
  • ‘Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (1980-1999)
  • ‘This is Going to Hurt’ by Adam Kay (2000-The Present)

SUMMER

  • ‘I Remember’ by Joe Brainard
  • ’59 Memory Lane’ by Ceila Anderson
  • ‘Postcards from a Stranger’ by Imogen Clark
  • ‘The Binding’ by Bridget Collins
  • ‘The Romanov Sisters’ by Helen Rappaport (1900-1919)
  • ‘The Silver Ladies of Penny Lane’ by Dee MacDonald
  • ‘Valencia and Valentine’ by Siggy Krause
  • ‘The Perplexing Theft of the Jewel in the Crown’ by Vaseem Khan
  • ‘When I’m Gone’ by Emily Bleeker
  • ‘Becoming’ by Michelle Obama
  • ‘The Cactus’ by Sarah Haywood
  • ‘Dry Hard’ by Nick Spalding
  • ‘The Cut Out Girl’ by Bart van Es
  • ‘You Then, Me Now’ by Nick Alexander
  • ‘A Pinch of Magic’ by Michelle Harrison
  • ‘The Kindness of Strangers’ edited by Fearghal O’Nuallain

AUTUMN

  • ‘Simple’ by Anita Dawes
  • ‘Dear Mrs Bird’ by A J Pearce
  • ‘The Bottle of Tears’ by Nick Alexander
  • ‘If I Die Before I Wake’ by Emily Koch
  • ‘The Thing About Clare’ by Imogen Clark
  • ‘About Grace’ by Anthony Doerr
  • ‘Breakfast at The Hotel Deja Vu’ by Paul Today
  • ‘The Date’ by Louise Jensen
  • ‘The Day We Met’ by Roxie Cooper
  • ‘Lab Girl’ by Hope Jahren
  • ‘Blue Sky July’ by Nia Wyn
  • ‘The Wall’ by Marlen Haushoffer (1960-1979)
  • ‘The Wildflowers’ by Harriet Evans
  • ‘My Heart is Boundless’ by Abigail May Alcott (1800-1899)
  • ‘Moving’ by Jenny Eclair
  • ‘A Contract of Honour’ by Roy McCarthy

WINTER

  • ‘The Clan of the Cave Bear’ by Jean M. Auel (Pre-1300)
  • ‘Oh Baubles’ by Harmony Kent
  • ‘The Diary of a Bookseller’ by Shaun Bythell
  • ‘All My Puny Sorrows’ by Miriam Toews
  • ‘A Long Petal of the Sea’ by Isabel Allende
  • ‘Landmarks’ by Robert Macfarlane
  • ‘The Last List of Miss Judith Kratt’ by Andrea Bobotis
  • ‘What’s in a Name’ by Sally Cronin
  • ‘The Beekeeper of Aleppo’ by Christy Lefteri
  • ‘The Sorrows of Young Werther’ by Johann Wolfgang Van Goethe (1700-1799)
  • ‘The Last Letter of Istanbul’ by Lucy Foley
  • ‘Sea Prayer’ by Khaled Hosseini
  • ‘Testaments’ by Margaret Atwood (The Future)
  • ‘The Secret Barrister’ by The Secret Barrister
  • ‘The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr’ by Frances Maynard
  • ‘Half a World Away’ by Mike Gayle

A Long Petal of the Sea: Book Review

It was with little hope that I applied to NetGalley to read a pre-release copy of Isabel Allende’s latest book “A Long Petal of the Sea”.

Isabel Allende

As a huge fan of her work, I coveted the book but I doubted my chances. Ideally, NetGalley want 80% of books delivered to be reviewed —let’s say my stats are nowhere near this figure. In the early days as a member, I happily clicked on new books, then failed to find the time to either read or review.

Against all expectations, I was accepted to review “A Long Petal of the Sea”. I was overjoyed and that same evening started the book. Wow! I had no idea the emotional and intellectual journey ahead in this most remarkable of books.

Normally, I do not include the blurbs of books, however, considering the wide scope of “A Long Petal of the Sea” it makes sense to first introduce its premise. Surprisingly, there is a very different blurb for the Amazon in America. Here is the UK book description:

“That September 2, 1939, the day of the Spanish exiles’ splendid arrival in Chile, the Second World War broke out in Europe.

Victor Dalmau is a young doctor when he is caught up in the Spanish Civil War, a tragedy that leaves his life – and the fate of his country – forever changed. Together with his sister-in-law, the pianist Roser Bruguera, he is forced out of his beloved Barcelona and into exile.

When opportunity to seek refuge in Chile arises, they take it, boarding a ship chartered by the poet Pablo Neruda to the promised ‘long petal of sea and wine and snow’ over the seas. There, they find themselves enmeshed in a rich web of characters who come together in love and tragedy over the course of four generations, destined to witness the battle between freedom and repression as it plays out across the world.”

M/S Winnipeg

Spoiler Alert: In order to write a comprehensive review I have included some elements from the book that could be considered as ‘spoilers’. I feel my review here barely begins to hint at its magnificence and any details will in no way affect any later rewarding read.

My Review

“A Long Petal of the Sea” is an incredible literary novel. It is effectively divided into three parts, each one representative of a different country and time era in which Victor and Roser find themselves.

The story starts dramatically in the midst of the Spanish Civil War as Victor finds himself holding the heart of a fallen soldier, which he massages back to life. His vision of working within cardiology is set from this moment.

The first part of the book is captivating, heartbreaking, emotional. It’s epic, yet often tender and personal as the reader is introduced to the various characters, especially, Roser, Victor and his brother Guillem.

At times in this first section the story is interspersed with succinct history ‘lessons’ about the Spanish Civil War which are equally fascinating and horrifying. As Roser and Victor’s mother are forced to join the half million refugees walking to France from Spain I felt deep shock. How had I never heard of this mass exodus – The Retreat. A retreat which killed thousands, both en route and later in appalling conditions in camps in France.

Pablo Neruda

Once in France Victor and Roser are among the lucky two thousand accepted onboard the rescue ship M/S Winnipeg chartered by the famous Chilean Nobel-prize winning poet and politician Pablo Neruda. Throughout the book, Pablo Neruda’s poems are quoted at the beginning of chapters, his words reflecting his belief in humanity, his love for his country.

Once in Chile the writing style is transformed. From the stark description of the terror in Spain, which at times left the main protagonists feeling remote from the reader, the attention moves alongside Victor and Roser as they build a new life in their adopted country.

Here they find warmth, comfort and opportunity. Whilst Victor works in a bar to fund his medical training, Roser continues piano playing, increasingly at a higher level. Their lives become interlinked with a Chilean family whose son Felipe was a young diplomat and welcomed them to Chile on their arrival. Felipe’s sister, Ofelia de Solar immediately catches Victor’s eye.

One of my concerns as I read about the book was that it would skip from one generation to next with just a brief time in each. Rather Isabel Allende has skilfully woven generations of history through the eyes of the two main characters and their friends. This is inspired and as they live through each new trauma or coup, it’s as if we experience it ourselves.

The sweeping story of the book is captivating and I found myself transported across the globe to a country about which I knew nothing. As Victor and Roser both become successful in their chosen careers, as their son Marcel happily grows up as a Chilean, the threat from Pinochet is increasing.

After the coup, Victor blithely and naively feels invulnerable. Until the day he is denounced by a neighbour whom he had helped many times. Once more, nearly forty years after leaving Spain, he finds himself being tortured in cells, taken to a work camp and almost starved to death. It is with Roser’s determination, courage and perseverance to find him over eleven months coupled with the fortuitous near-death of the camp commander that saves Victor’s life.

Once he is freed, the couple flee to Venezuela who is welcoming all refugees from Chile.

Throughout the book, the themes of hope, exile and belonging are thoroughly explored … topics that personally touch the author and reflect her life. As a young Chilean her grandfather fled Spain during the civil war, and years later she too found refuge in Venezuela.

Once again in exile, Roser’s inner and positive spirit helps them to rebuild their lives. The melancholy that often overcomes Victor fails to do so on this occasion and their relationship enters a new level. The epic nature of the book has never felt more intimate and close, the political events of the countries are sweeping, the horrors perpetrated in Chile unimaginable yet there is love and life in their new adopted country.

Victor’s and Roser’s years of exile in Venezuela is brought to an end when a list of those free to return to Chile is published. Victor’s name is on the list and on the advice of their son, they return to a country that has and is still suffering terribly under the regime of Pinochet. Against the odds, they forge a new life, one which flourishes as Pinochet dies and the country slowly reverts to democracy.

As the book headed towards a heartfelt and compelling conclusion I found myself reading slower, not wanting to leave the book, its story, characters.

This is a stunning historical literary novel and one I cannot recommend highly enough. It is a book I will never forget and one I feel that changed me.

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing

Publication date: 21st January 2020

Genre: Historical fiction, literary fiction

To purchase: Amazon UK Amazon US or at any bookshops.

Sally’s Cafe and Bookstore – Christmas Book Fair – New Book on the Shelves – #Children 3-6 – Oskar’s Quest by Annika Perry – Illustrated by Gabrielle Vickery

I’m elated that my new release ‘Oskar’s Quest’ is featured on Sally Cronin’s Smorgasbord Blog Magazine today. As you can understand I was keen to share here on my blog; please click on the link to read the full feature and to comment!

Many thanks!

Smorgasbord Blog Magazine

Delighted to share the news of Annika Perry’s new release. A delightful children’s book, perfect for 3 – 6 year olds – Oskar’s Quest.

About the book

Oskar is afraid of adventures. Yet one day he finds himself on a mysterious island which needs his help.Join Oskar on this unexpected and magnificent quest, where he finds not only courage but so much more…“It’s light, extremely enjoyable and very gripping.” Esther Chilton – author & editor.Perfect for ages 3 to 6.

One of the early reviews for the book

Bette A. Stevens 5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful Picture Book! December 2, 2019

I received an ARC of this delightful book from the author. In this beautifully illustrated children’s book, author Annika Perry captures the importance of caring for others, overcoming fears and making new friends. Young children are sure to relate as a fearful Oskar steps out of his comfort…

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