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.

What’s in a Name?: Book Review

Shakespeare said it so well, didn’t he? Or did he?

“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

Even as a sixteen-year-old studying ‘Romeo and Juliet’ I had quibbles with this assertion. Although I understood the particular references for this play, I felt, and still do, that our given names carry a certain ponderance. With our names we have a responsibility to our ancestors, to ourselves. Behind each there is a story.

With these thoughts swirling in my mind, I approached Sally Cronin’s book with deep interest. I couldn’t wait to read it. In these fictional short stories she explores the lives of twenty named individuals. This first volume which I’m reviewing here included names from ‘A’ to ‘J’. I was enthralled by the concept of the book, the names in alphabetical order, male and female.

It’s been a while since I read a book of short stories and often I find that my brain needs to change gear, to adapt to the different mode of storytelling.

With ‘What’s in a Name?’ I did not need to make any such adjustments. I slipped seamlessly into the book and once I started I couldn’t stop! Each separate story pulling me into the next.

Each is centred around one person. This is all the stories have in common. The themes vary from gentle reunions, relationships which have gone awry whether in friendships, marriage, siblings or between parent and child, from war to a violent abusive marriage. The versatility of subject matter is astonishing.

Equally wide-ranging are the various time eras, often spanning thirty or more years seamlessly within the stories. In one the gap is from the very beginning of humans to modern-day as early man Brynyar is reflected later in the story in modern-day ‘Brian’.

Throughout, Sally captures the reader’s attention from the very first sentence, immediately transporting the reader to the setting. I found myself immersed, the tiniest of detail settling me into the story. Furthermore, and I’m not sure how she does it, Sally sketches such an intimate picture of the characters I felt they were my friends, neighbours. I fell for them, some I adored, a couple rightly angered me and I cheered as one was arrested. The stories never felt rushed, the writing flowing with ease and complete on their own. More than a few times however I longed to read more about their lives, to stay with the characters longer and I could easily imagine a novel from some of them.

Throughout, Sally writes in the third person but at no stage does this create a sense of distance, rather the close portrayals of every day people come powerfully across. Effortlessly she explores people in all stages of life. A few stories feature children and ‘Grace’ had me tear-eyed as the five-year-old girl struggled with loneliness in the orphanage once her best friend was adopted. Could Father Christmas make all the difference?

All the endings are wonderfully surprising, with delightfully unexpected twists. Some were brilliantly audacious, where else would one find an assassin featuring alongside stories including a ballerina and a tortoise? Some stories left me chuckling, others were heartbreakingly sad about loss, and others about fateful revenge.

‘What’s in a Name?’ is a highly rewarding and engaging read which I finished over two afternoons. It’s a book I highly recommend and I’m sure you will come away answering the question in the title of the book with a resounding ‘Everything is in a Name!”

Although I was sad to finish this first volume, I’m looking forward to reading Volume 2 of ‘What’s in a Name?’ which is already on my Kindle!

Rating:        5 out of 5 stars

Available:    Amazon US  $ 3.79 (Kindle) Amazon UK £2.95 (Kindle)

Publisher: Moyhill Publishing

As well as a wonderful writer in her own right many of you will know about the superb work Sally carries out in promoting books for authors, helping in marketing via her blog, Smorgasbord Blog Magazine, and social media. She has become an indispensable and good friend of authors here on WordPress. What is probably less known is how she found herself here. Learn more on her about page here.

Contact details for Sally Cronin:

Twitter: https://twitter.com/sgc58
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sally.cronin
LinkedIn: http://uk.linkedin.com/in/sallycronin1
Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.ie/cronin1423/

SEA PRAYER: A Book Review

On 2nd September 2015 an image flashed around the world that saddened and horrified us all. A young boy, later identified as Alan Kurdi, lay motionless on a pristine beach in Turkey, the dawn sun glowing around him. He was dead. During his three young years he knew only war in Syria; a war his parents fled to find safety. The photo of Alan touched everyone and inspired, nay, I would say, drove one famous writer to pen a short book, Sea Prayer.

Within Khaled Hosseini’s Sea Prayer the words and illustrations are intrinsically linked, creating a wondrous work of art.

The first page starts as a letter (quasi-eulogy) to the narrator’s son, Marwan, and it recalls the beauty of life in Homs. The father describes his childhood when he had woken “to the stirrings of olive trees in the breeze/to the bleating of your grandmother’s goat”.

Tender, colourful watercolours by Dan Williams accompany the story. On one page the vibrant red of poppies match the red of his wife’s coat, as she holds her son’s hand wandering through a field.

It’s a time of peace, tranquillity, harmony. In the old city there was “a mosque for us Muslims,/a church for our Christian neighbours,/and a grand souk for us all”.

Soon this life of normality is transformed into one “like some long-dissolved rumour”.

As war approaches the watercolours darken, greys, blacks, browns dominate. These are more powerful than ever, conveying the despair and sense of hopelessness. As the illustrations change, so does the language for a few pages, the short staccato sentences echoing the weapons.

“The skies spitting bombs.
Starvation.
Burials.”

Marwan’s childhood is one where he has learned “dark blood is better news/than bright.” His bathing places are not the idyllic creeks of his father’s youth, rather that of bomb craters. This is not a childhood.

As the family join thousands of other refugees fleeing their country I find myself physically pained, the long march pictured across two pages, no words necessary.

Father and son find themselves on a beach with many others where they stand “in the glow of this three-quarter moon”. Here the father makes his promise: “Nothing bad will happen.”

A hollow promise as the father recognises more than ever “How powerless I am to protect you from it.”

The book ends with the beauty of sunlight across a soft morning beach. A new day, a new beginning, new hope.

Three certainties not afforded to all.

This is a book I’ve read many times, each occasion more tear-eyed than before. It is beautiful, heartbreaking, emotional. It is a testament to the human spirit, to love and compassion within every one of us.

Throughout Khaled Hosseini writes with flair and skill, the poetic prose magically drawing the reader into the story. It’s deceptively simple, almost a lullaby in the gentlest of tones telling the cruellest of truths.

If you come to Sea Prayer expecting a lengthy literary novel such as his brilliant The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Suns or And The Mountains Echoed you will probably be disappointed.

If you expect to catch the sublime gifted language and story to remember for all time by this renowned author, you are in for a treat.

This is a book that crosses all genres, it’s for children, for adults, for humanity — it’s a precious gift to hold it within one’s hands and heart. Everyone who reads it will be, as I was, humbled by its message told on behalf of all refugees who endure so much but whose voices are seldom heard.

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

AVAILABLE: From bookshops, libraries, online such as Amazon UK and Amazon US

PUBLISHER: Bloomsbury Books

This Storyteller Purrs – A Review of The Storyteller Speaks by Annika Perry

From the very first sentence I knew this would be a book review like no other!

“This is not about the war between lovers of dogs or cats. It’s about Annika Perry, a talented writer who works like a cat.”

As I continued to read Sharon Bonin-Pratt’s review of my book ‘The Storyteller Speaks’ I was increasingly awed by its imaginative approach, masterfully weaving the analogy throughout whilst describing my observation of human life, writing style, the book and some of the stories. 

Her favourite story is one close to my heart and she captures its essence beautifully. 

‘My favorite story is The Whiteout Years, and I’ve read it four times. Out of the gate, it captivated me with passages as lyrical as this one when Carl is driving through a winter storm, remembering his wife, Karin:

“A moment of total silence. With the windows down he sat and listened. He never failed to be awed by the silence, the odd rustle of snow falling gently to the ground from the laden fir trees. The odd animalistic sound deep in the forest, feral and prehistoric.”

While this scene describes the landscape surrounding Carl, it also describes his isolation from the world. Lost in the snowdrift of his grief over his wife’s death, he is blinded by silence and whiteness and can’t move on with his life. The threat of Carl’s possible death looms throughout the story.’

I am honoured and touched by this latest review of my book and I am sure you will be enthralled and captivated by Sharon’s unique review which you can read in full on Sharon Bonin-Pratt’s Ink Flare.

For this post I have turned off comments and look forward to your thoughts and discussions on Sharon’s blog. Thank you so much!

‘The Storyteller Speaks’ is available to buy on Amazon, here are the links for Amazon UK and Amazon US.

Elisabeth’s Lists: A Book Review

My signed copy of Elisabeth’s Lists: A Family Story by Lulah Ellender

There is a word in Japan for unread books left to pile up around one – tsundoku! I’m guilty of a few tsundoku collections of books; ones bought with well-meaning and tingling anticipation. Somehow they become unintentionally forgotten and lay precariously balanced with other books, dangling over the edge of shelves.

Often treasures of literature are hidden among these and this is the case for one such book which I recently extricated from a listing pile and eagerly I started to read the book.

‘Elisabeth’s Lists’ by Lulah Ellender is a gem! I was hooked from the very beginning and it is incredibly moving and thought-provoking.

The beautifully crafted book is an eloquent memoir based on the life of Lulah’s grandmother. A life recorded in meticulous detailed lists; lists which were entrusted to Lulah by her own mother. 

Elisabeth

The lists started during Elisabeth’s childhood whilst growing up in 1930s China. Just as her father was a diplomat, so was her husband, Gerry and her world travels continued into adulthood. The lists, many innocuous and of everyday items, included information about  packing, dinner parties, price of food and even the names of hens and number of eggs laid.  The lists are endless. A touching heirloom in their own right, they have been transformed into a moving and heartfelt book by Lulah. Her research and dedication are superlative and the end result is a sweeping and engrossing story of Elisabeth’s life.

Postings abroad included Madrid under Franco’s  regime, post-war Beirut and Rio. In sharp contrast Elisabeth endured the hardship and deprivation of bombings and food rationing in England during World War Two, whilst at the same time finding a certain peace and harmony as a normal suburban housewife, away from the hectic duties of a diplomat’s wife. Throughout the book the various eras are exquisitely captured and provide a vivid impression of the times.

It was not all a joyous time however, as occasional bouts of depression, some post-natal,  forced Elisabeth to seek medical care and time away from the family. Furthermore, a family tragedy darkened her life.

The author, Lulah Ellender

The book develops into a deeply profound study as Lulah weaves the threads of her own life and that of her mother into the memoir. The three generations of women effectively become the focus of this family story; their lives remarkably intertwined and the memoir gives not only insight and comfort about motherhood, family, and loss to Lulah but also to the reader. 

Even more heartbreaking and poignant is that the book is written whilst Lulah’s mother is terminally ill with the cancer; the very disease which killed Elisabeth when her daughter was only nine-years-old. As Lulah delves deeper into Elisabeth’s life she finds some solace and acceptance in her own life; a process which she describes with exceptional clarity and feeling.

As she must feel, I believe that without our past, our present is unclear, our future unnavigable.

To conclude, ’Elisabeth’s Lists’ is an enriching, gifted and rewarding book and one I highly recommend. 

I just want to add that I had the privilege of briefly meeting the author following a talk in March 2018 as part of Essex Book Festival. Her intelligence, warm and kind nature sparkled and she spoke with ease and confidence at great length without any notes whatsoever! 

RATING: 5 out of 5 stars.

AVAILABLE: From bookshops, libraries, online such as Amazon UK and Amazon US

Finally, if this book seems slightly familiar to you from my blog, I mentioned it briefly in May 2018 in my post Books in the Shingle.

The title page of ‘Elisabeth’s Lists’ with inscription to myself and signed by the author.

A LITERARY ROLL CALL

I thoroughly enjoyed the recent book discussion following my post ‘Reading Across Time’. Thank you for all your wonderful and fascinating suggestions of books to read for the various eras, particularly coming to my aid for pre 1300. 

As a list nerd, I’ve collated all the mentioned books as below for your enjoyment and perusal. I’ve also included who suggested the books and, when applicable, added links to their blogs. I feel lucky to have made so many warm and kind friends here on WordPress, happy to share their time and knowledge for an in-depth discourse. 

Please note that since this is a follow-up post comments have been turned off.

Pre 1300

Beowulf by Anonymous. Recommended by Dorothea & Julie Holmes

The Illiad by Homer. Recommended by Sharon Bonin-Pratt

The Odyssey by Homer. Sharon Bonin-Pratt

The Aeneid by Homer. Recommended by Sharon Bonin-Pratt

Edda by anonymous. Recommended by Miriam

The Emigrants by Vilhelm Moberg. Recommended by Miriam

Labyrinth by Kate Moss. Recommended by Andrea Stephenson

Hilary Mantel books. Recommended by Andrea Stephenson

Cadfael Novels by Ellis Peters. Recommended by Clive

The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell. Recommended by Mike

The Valley of Horses by Jean M Auel. Recommended by Jennifer Kelland Perry

The Greenest Branch: A Novel of Germany’s First Female Physician

by P K Adams. Recommended by Jena C. Henry

Born in a Treacherous Time by Jacqui. Recommended by Pamela Wight & Julie Holmes 

1300 – 1499

Decamaeron by Boccaccio. Recommended by Laura Bruno Lilly

1500 – 1699

The Bones of Avalon by Phil Rickman. Recommended by Andrea Stephenson

The Heresy of Dr Dee by Phil Rickman. Recommended by Andrea Stephenson

A Journal of the Plague Year by Daniel Defoe. Recommended by Neil Scheinin

Passionate Minds by David Bodanis. Recommended by Rebecca

Don Quixote by Miguel De Cervantes. Recommended by Nicki Chen

1700 – 1799

Dream of the Red Chamber by Cao XueQin. Recommended by Nicki Chen

1800 – 1899

Sharpe novels by Bernard Cornwel. Recommended by Mike

Dostoyevsky novels by Dostoyevsky. Recommended by Jennifer Kelland Perry

Victorian Secrets 

read by Stephen Fry written by Oscar Wilde. Recommended by Rebecca

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Recommended by Khaya Ronkainen

My Heart is Boundless: Writings of Abigail May Alcott, Louisa’s Mother

by Eve LaPlante. Recommended by Bonnie A. McKeegan

1900 – 1919

The Romanov Sisters by Helen Rappaport. Recommended by Rebecca

1920 – 1939

The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell. Reading

1940 – 1959

Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk. READ (Barbara & Jennifer)

Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis. Recommended by Rebecca

Elisabeth’s Lists by Lulah Ellender. READ

A Killer in King’s Cove by Iona Whishaw. Recommended by Debra Purdy Kong

1960 – 1979

1980 – 1999

Little Fires Everywhere  by Celeste Ng. READ (& Jennifer)

Becoming by Michelle Obama. Recommended by Nicki Chen

2000 – Present

This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay.  READ (& Mary Smith)

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian. Recommended by Nicki Chen

The Waiting Room by Emily Bleeker. Recommended by Glynis Jolly

Whispers by Dean Koontz. Recommended by Glynis Jolly

Bad Blood: Secrets and Lies in a Silicon Valley Startup

by John Carreyrou. Recommended by Mary Ann Niemczura

Them by Ben Sasse. Recommended by Mary Ann Niemczura

Marlie by Anneli Purchase. Recommended by Lori Virelli

Watching the Daisies: Life Lessons on the Importance of Slow

by Brigid P Gallagher. Recommended by Bonnie A. McKeegan

Wild: A Journey from Lost to Found by Cheryl Strayed. Recommended by Bonnie A.McKeegan

The Future

Fantasy / Other Worlds (an excellent additional era suggestion from Pamela Wight)

Books by D. Wallace Peach. Recommended by Pamela Wight

Finally:

A couple suggested How to Stop Time by Matt Haig – which covers many of these eras. Recommended by Josie Dom & Mackay

NO MORE MULBERRIES: A BOOK REVIEW

The name alone of the country Afghanistan conjures up images of war, strife, death, despair and deprivation. Intellectually we know there is a life beyond the headlines, an everyday existence which is rarely written about. A few books in recent years have emerged to fill the gap of our lack of knowledge and one of the best of these is Mary Smith’s excellent ‘No More Mulberries’.

Although a fiction novel, it is evident that the author draws on her personal experience as a health worker for ten years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

‘No More Mulberries’ follows the life of Scottish-born midwife Miriam, who has wholeheartedly embraced Afghanistan and relishes her work with the local people in the rural community of her second husband. Here she makes friends, finds fulfilment with her work however cracks quickly appear in her life.

Her husband Iqbal is struggling to cope with the return to his home village and to balance the rigid expectations of his family, friends and colleagues with his previously more independent life in Pakistan, where he could equally celebrate and be proud of Miriam’s success. As Iqbal escapes into a world of work and silence, Miriam, against her husband’s wishes, joins another health clinic as a translator for Afghan paramedics and foreign doctors. Here the past and present collide as a friend of her first husband, her first and true love, rides into the clinic to bring her for a visit to the village she first lived in when newly married and in Afghanistan years earlier.

The book follows the intense journey of Miriam and partly Iqbal’s journey in the present-day as well as brilliantly bringing their past vivdly alive for us in flashbacks. Through these the characters deep introspection develops into an inner soul-searching journey. For both past traumas has marred their present lives and that of their children. Is it too late for them, they both wonder as their relationship seems to flounder? How can they live in a village that threatens to engulf them by history and tradition?

The book is set in the stunning natural landscape of the countryside as well as to the increasingly unstable political backdrop where tribal tensions are growing in severity. The, at times, precarious situation surrounding Miriam and her family ensures this is a tense, compulsive read which never flags. I was riveted by both the epic sweeping story as well as the wonderful descriptive writing and the beautifully drawn and varied characters in ‘No More Mulberries’.

Mary Smith is an assured writer who unravels the multifaceted lives of her characters with creative skill, whilst retaining a tight control of the overall novel. I was hooked from the very beginning and felt a sense of loss upon finishing the book … one of those times I just didn’t want to say farewell to my new friends! This is one of my favourite books this year and I look forward to reading more by this author.

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Available:  Amazon UK    And Amazon US 


SEASONS DEFINED: A REVIEW

dsc01041

Like the birds on the cover of ‘Seasons Defined’ my soul has taken flight this summer, and with various twists, turns, swoops and sweeps my inner consciousness has been on a mysterious journey. It is an intangible experience, an inexplicable sensation without one specific cause.

Along the way two creative art pieces have become my friends; both affecting me deeply and I’ve returned to them often.

The first is a unique poetry book which I won in a Giveaway by Khaya Ronkainen. This chapbook * travelled from Scandinavia, leaving Finland early summer, only to return with me to Sweden where I savoured it in peace and serenity.

Beautifully bound with golden ribbon and tag, I unwrapped ‘Seasons Defined’ with reverential care and with sweet expectation dipped into the book. Within are sixteen exquisite poems capturing the magic of the seasons in Finland; there follows an exploration of the wilderness, the landscapes, the weather, the wildlife.

‘Hoppers chirp
Bees hum

Fostering species
Flowers bloom

Cotton clouds
Blot the sky’  (From ‘This is Country’)

Furthermore the poems become an exploration of oneself and ultimately love! This collection is a moving tribute to a country Khaya embraced as her own, as well as recognising her roots, and some poems tenderly capture the loving couple of Khaya and her husband.

we quench our thirst from a well of love
and agree, love is a beautiful thing

we dine outdoors with birds singing
and agree, it’s time to dance’  (From ‘Wilderness, My Friend’)

Life in all its facets is celebrated throughout!

As Khaya wrote in a personal handwritten inscription to me, I did indeed recognise a little, or rather a lot, of Sweden and its wilderness within the poems. I related directly to the natural world she so eloquently and vividly describes and through her words I saw the wonderful nature anew.

Whilst depicting the enchanting and bewitching seasons, Khaya’s work struck a deeper chord with me as she spoke of the solitude of the wilderness. Not to be confused with loneliness; this is an enriching, rewarding solitude that brings deeper understanding of the world and oneself.

‘I embrace silence.’  (From ‘At the Crack of Dawn’)

‘Deep in the wilderness, I stumble
The track under a canopy of spruce
Draped in snow leads to paradise

Only imagination stands between
man and reality, for in dreamland
Solitude is tangible.’  ( From ‘Winter Dream’)

The very solitude that enveloped me in its soothing arms during the summer and one which is not yet ready to release its clasp.

img_2750

Photo by Irina Kolomijets

Throughout the poems, Khaya’s sense of wonder and joy at the nature of Finland is captured with  awe and exhilaration. Her unique insight and approach is explained by the fact that Khaya is originally from South Africa. The variances of the Finnish seasons is a world away from ones experienced in the southern hemisphere. Furthermore, her poetry is influenced to a certain degree by the strong tradition of oral storytelling of the Xhosa people. I feel that within the beats of the poems there is a song to be heard, the pulse of the phrases take on a life of their own as they become all-encompassing, over-arching each other. This becomes more evident with each reading, when hidden depths are slowly unfurled.

I cannot thank Khaya enough for this precious Giveaway of both her first poetry chapbook and also of the highly unusual broadside ** of the poem ‘Summer’ with original artwork.

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To read more about Khaya & her poetry as well as to buy the print version of ‘Seasons Defined’ click here to go to her website.

‘Seasons Defined’ is also available as an ebook on Amazon UK or Amazon US.

* If like me, you’ve never come across the word Chapbook before, this is an expression from North America and refers to a small paper-covered booklet, typically containing poetry or fiction.

** Broadside were traditionally posters, announcing events or proclamations, commentary in the form of ballads, or simply advertisements.

Finally just as Khaya’s poetry moves me so does the instrumental composition below. Just as the poetry embedded itself within me, so did the music of ‘Awakening’.

From the initial crackle of an old vinyl, the quiet haunting tones of the first bars rise to a hypnotising melody that never fails to lift my heart and mood. The musical ‘Awakening’ mirrors a shift and rekindling of my conscious self.

One comment on youtube writes of ‘Awakening’:

‘Absolutely beautiful, both music and cover. The title is so apt as the shining melody, gently and persistently get brighter. The darker background fights but loses. Five stars Sammy.’

ENCOUNTERS: A BOOK REVIEW

Encounters

Creativity is wondrous gift and one that has no expiration date! 

This thought came to me whilst reading ‘Encounters’ by Fred. H. Rohn. Fred Rohn came late to writing after a two hugely successful careers in public accounting and venture capital investment behind him. His first book, ‘A Fortunate Life’, was published last year when he was aged 91, followed by ‘Encounters’ this year.

I admire and am in awe at the ease he seemed to have entered his third career. Age was no boundary for him, nor for many other artistic people as he explains in the preface, stating that ‘creativity doesn’t stop as you age’ and Herman Wook still wrote at 102.

I myself also aspire and hope to be writing to the last of my days!

‘Encounters’ is a collection of stories of varying lengths which explore ‘Relationships in Conflict’. All the stories are brilliantly written and immediately pulled me into their scenarios. I was always intrigued by the seemingly innocuous beginnings, compelled to read on and unravel the lives of the characters.

Consequence of one’s action is a theme explored in many of the stories as the conflict is deftly outlined. A conflict often followed by reconciliation. Fred Rohn demonstrates skill in placing the reading in the middle of a scene and gradually letting the story unfurl, mostly to delicious unexpected twists.

The first story of ‘The Painting’ highlights many of the writing elements that makes ‘Encounters’ such a great collection. The story begins in the middle of an art show along with an artist called Carrie. This supposedly understated opening quickly becomes a story centred on deceit, and a conflict with no possibility of resolution as Carrie’s actions cause irreparable damage to her marriage. This story, like the majority in the book, is told in the third person. This stylistic technique, which can seem rather distant at times, works perfectly for the stories.

Fred Rohn had a particular interest not only in observing and documenting conflict in relationships but also wanted to show an element of reconciliation in some of the pieces.

This is particularly evident in ‘Doc Brunner’  which is set in a small town in America during World War II. The era is beautifully captured as is the tension of the society at the time as the pastor becomes embroiled in a fight with the local council and bank in an attempt to save his church from foreclosure. His actions, sometimes verging on those of a showman, win new supporters amongst the youth, especially as Doc Brunner also seeks to ease the town’s restrictive rules regarding their freedom to socially meet-up.

There is a quiet, under-stated feeling to all the stories and this is particularly true in ‘Reunion Deals’. Here the sneaky and egotistic nature of Harry Long is brilliantly revealed and one cannot help but be pleased for the long-term deceit he has endured and will continue to experience.

A variety of locally divisive issues are tackled by Fred Rohn, and one of bullying is sensitively handled in ‘The Piano Recital’. Where many earlier stories feature adults, here 12-year-old Jeremy Twitchell is relentlessly bullied by Bill Parsons. With the help of a piano teacher, a music concert and a surprise suggestion by Jeremy a rewarding and heart-moving reconciliation is achieved.

A few stories centre around the hiring and firing of staff … in itself a most unlikely topic for short stories! However, these are all terrific reads and as usual I was hooked! The lack of empathy and understanding of certain characters is conveyed with expertise.

Two of my favourite stories are slightly unusual. ‘Bicycle’ is deceptively simple in itself with hidden depths and is profoundly moving and full of wisdom as a younger brother is helped by his morose older brother. ‘The Old Man’ is uniquely centred on just one character who remains nameless throughout. In a series of everyday situations his confusion, loneliness is shown as he fails to comprehend his own state and merrily signs up for a most unusual course!

I am particularly struck by the last two pieces in the book – which I assume are autobiographical. Both these are in the close first person. ‘My Red Bible’ is a personal essay about a red-covered bible which was received on the 17th birthday. This thoughtful and reflective piece takes us from Fred’s travels and musing, showing how important this gift has been to him over the years.

‘Reincarnation – Chance Encounters with The Past’ is a wonderful finale to ‘Encounters’. In this eerie work the writer describes the visits from the departed, particularly from his mother. Bizarrely in some of the visions she has adapted to the modern world, even to the extent of checking emails and using an iPhone! Whilst the author longed for a hello from his mother, the readers can only hope that Fred Rohn was aware that his written work is a testament to his mother’s belief: ‘She always said that imagination and intellectual curiosity were two of most important attributes one could possess.’

26042545-5C3F-428F-8E54-20F2FE593BBCFinally, it was with deep sadness I learnt that Fred Rohn passed away earlier this month. As some of you know, his daughter Barbara Vitelli at Book Club Mom helped him on his publishing journey. My sincere condolences to both Barbara and her family.

Rating:        4 out of 5 stars

Price:        Amazon US  $8.99 (paperback) $6.64 (Kindle)

Amazon UK  £7.95  (paperback)  £4.99 (Kindle)

BOOKS IN THE SHINGLE

2722D349-5E18-43A0-9C2D-292BD65FF26F

Don’t worry, these books aren’t being mistreated – as always my garden provided the perfect backdrop to the photos.

For one reason or another I read mostly on Kindle these days, so it’s a perfect excuse to share my recent unusual paperback and hardback purchases. A spending splurge in the past weeks has seen me with a pile of seven pristine books. Don’t they all look so tempting!?

Although I must admit, I’ve delved into a couple, most are unread and I thought I’d write a bit about the reason for the purchase as well as including the blurb from each. Enjoy!

Three acquisitions followed encounters with the authors and it was an honour and delight to meet them all. Furthermore, who doesn’t love autographed books with a personal slant!

Elisabeth’s Lists by Lulah Ellender        Still to Read

4DA92A22-4DC9-414A-941D-9039485E257FIt was a pleasure to chat briefly to Lulah after her talk along with her agent and publisher during the Essex Book Festival. There is an increasing trend for fictional biographies and this book slots neatly into that genre. Reading about Elisabeth’s Lists I just had to listen to Lulah’s talk about her journey to publication. A journey that became increasingly fraught and heartfelt as she faced the loss of her mother.

On the face of it, Elisabeth’s lists seemed rather ordinary – shopping lists, items to be packed for a foreign trip, a tally of the eggs laid by her hens. But from these everyday fragments, Lulah began to weave together the extraordinary life of the grandmother she never knew – a life lived in the most rarefied and glamorous of circles, from Elisabeth’s early years as an ambassador’s daughter in 1930s China, to her marriage to a British diplomat and postings in Madrid under Franco’s regime, post-war Beirut, Rio de Janeiro and Paris. But it was also a life of stark contrasts – between the opulent excess of embassy banquets and the deprivations of wartime rationing in England, between the unfailing charm she displayed in public and the dark depressions that blanketed her in private, between her great appetite for life and her sudden, early death.

Disposal by David Evans     Still to Read

462462BC-095D-4FD9-B199-C55F255F92CFMy writing group was lucky to have David Evans come and chat to us about his writing and to listen to our work. Following an interesting and productive morning, I  bought one of his books but was warned NOT to read on a plane if I was a nervous flyer! (I am!)

August 1976 and it seems as though the long hot summer will never end. Early morning at Clacton on the north Essex coast, a light aircraft takes off from the airstrip but struggles for height and crashes into the sea. First on the scene, Sgt Cyril Claydon pulls the pilot’s body from the wreckage. But something else catches his eye. A bulky package wrapped in black plastic is on the passenger seat. Returning to investigate, he makes a grim discovery – another body. And so begins a series of events that puts him and others in danger as he is drawn into the investigation, having to work alongside DI ‘Dick’ Barton, a man with totally alien attitudes. Can they work together?

Sleeping Through War  Jackie Carreira     Still to Read

6BEBB457-8C0A-4320-82C5-5C69FBC35966Being advised by a fellow writer in the UK to do a book signing event in a bookshop I decided to visit one first. Having read about Jackie’s Carriera’s book I couldn’t wait to meet the author. We had a lovely long chat, discussing at length the events in 1968, glancing through a folder of newspaper front pages from the year (great tip!) and discussing her thoughts behind the book. A chap from Holland joined our conversation and I feel this was a meeting that could have lasted for hours.

Set against the backdrop of real, world-changing events, these are the stories that are forgotten in the history books.

The year is 1968 and the world is changing forever. During the month of May, students are rioting and workers are striking across the globe, civil rights are being fought and died for, nuclear bombs are being tested, there are major conflicts on every continent, and war is raging in Vietnam. Against this volatile background, three women strive to keep everything together.

Rose must keep her dignity and compassion as a West Indian nurse in East London. Amalia must keep hoping that her son can escape their seedy life in Lisbon. And Mrs Johnson in Washington DC must keep writing to her son in Vietnam. She has no-one else to talk to. Three different women, three different countries, but all striving to survive – a courageous attitude that everybody can relate to.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman    Read

4219620A-4FEE-4BF3-906B-D934EAA28E95I’d seen but steered clear of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine for months. The title and hype alone made me unsure and I was not enamoured by the blurb. Then I read yet one more glowing review and I succumbed! During the first couple of chapters I nearly gave up but I’m glad I persevered as I’d have missed out on a terrific novel.

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live.

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?


The Old Man and the Sea
by  Ernest Hemingway        Read

F139C29B-2652-42DB-B628-FDF4FAEE2B7BI was intrigued by this book after reading a review by Robbie (which can be seen here). The very same day I found myself  in a book shop. I wholeheartedly concur with Robbie’s passionate review and must agree that ‘The Old Man and the Sea is one of the most amazing books I have ever read.’ I can’t wait to reread it soon!

The last novel Ernest Hemingway saw published, The Old Man and the Sea has proved itself to be one of the enduring works of American fiction. It is the story of an old Cuban fisherman and his supreme ordeal: a relentless, agonizing battle with a giant marlin far out in the Gulf Stream. Using the simple, powerful language of a fable, Hemingway takes the timeless themes of courage in the face of defeat and personal triumph won from loss and transforms them into a magnificent twentieth-century classic.

86490ABE-6ED6-40D7-AE9A-788BCE46B62BThe Scandal by Fredrik Backman     Read

Wow! Double and triple Wow! This is a masterpiece. I have just finished the book and am blown away by the writing, the concept, the story, the characters. It is a literary tour de force and a huge step up from his other books. I was hooked, in awe, shocked, moved. A brilliant study of human psyche.

My only bugbear is how the title has been changed! Sold in America as Beartown (which is the direct translation from the original Swedish), it is currently being marketed in the UK as The Scandal. The change seems totally unnecessary!

As an aside, the other day I noticed NetGalley were offering pre-release copies of his latest book out in June entitled Us Against You, also set in Beartown. Not having much hope, I applied to read and review it – imagine my yelp of joy when I was notified I’d been accepted. This is now my next read!

In a large Swedish forest Beartown hides a dark secret . . .

Cut-off from everywhere else it experiences the kind of isolation that tears people apart.

And each year more and more of the town is swallowed by the forest.

Then the town is offered a bright new future.

But it is all put in jeopardy by a single, brutal act.

It divides the town into those who think it should be hushed up and forgotten, and those who’ll risk the future to see justice done.

Who will speak up?

Could you stand by and stay silent?

Or would you risk everything for justice?

Which side would you be on?


The Joy of Mindful Writing by
Joy Keyword     Still to finish 

7DD660EF-989A-4729-9AB0-39AAB217662EMy head seems to be spinning with the everyday at the moment and at times I feel as if my creativity is being swamped with ‘things’. This book title spoke directly to me with not only promising to find the joy of writing once again, but also inspire creative awareness. Its dreamy idyllic image on the textured hardback cover, with the old-time single-colour spine proved irresistible . I still have to try any of the exercises but have found the ideas and questions poised thought-provoking … I just had’t realised I needed to set time aside to write! I will get to it, I’m sure!

Embrace the process of writing and the rich potential of conscious creativity and mindfulness with this enlightening insight into mindful writing. Exploring how writing mindfully can create deeper connections with your words, your characters, and yourself, this carefully crafted manual invites you to embrace the writing process as much as the completed work; plotting out sparkling stories with a Zen-like awareness. Through meditative exercises, engaging anecdotes, and astute notes on perception, imagination, and focus, author helps you to flow, flourish and lose yourself in writing. Containing 20 mindful writing exercises, this unique guide explores how conscious writing creates mindful awareness, offering a fresh angle on shifting writer’s block.

Havey you read any of these, and if so, what are your thoughts on them? Are you enticed by the descriptions to buy any of these books? Have you had an opportunity to splash out on books recently? What tempted you? And why? I look forward to all your comments; it’s a brilliant excuse to chat all about books!