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

Reading Across Time

I’ve never needed any encouragement to read books! When very young I recall looking at the pictures, longing to read the words beneath. Of course there were lots of children’s books, my favourite comic, all read to me. One set of four books though fascinated me, weighty tomes, even more so for four-year-old me, as I lugged the encyclopaedia, one at a time, from the shelf, to my bunk bed, and sat intensely perusing the images, running my fingers under the words, imagining their wisdom. Occasionally I would ask my  older brother to decipher some of the script … although I made sure never to avail myself of his help too often. I did not want to tire him with my neediness!

Over the years I’ve kept numerous notebooks of the books I’ve read,  made various lists, created my own small reading challenges. However, it was only though blogging that I discovered the plethora of reading challenges out there! All are wonderfully inventive and so tempting. However,  I’ve only taken up a main one so far, the Goodreads Reading Challenge. Here you set your own target for the number of books you hope to read in that one year and duly note each one down when finished and possibly add a review.  This challenge not only encourages more reading, but is accessible to other members to look at and it is also an excellent record of books read! My biggest haul one year was 91, the least 52. Still, I met my targets and it is interesting to see how the reading fluctuates. Some bloggers are a tour de force in this challenge and Jacqui Murray at worddreams… managed to read a phenomenal 222 books last year! Congratulations!

Some other challenges are centred around genre, or a famous book, or even the alphabet.

The ‘When Are You Reading?’ challenge intrigued me straight away by the concept of reading a book set in  twelve different eras. Not too ambitious, effectively a book a month, this is one I think I can manage. It’s not too difficult to discover a book for the later timelines and as you will see I am already well on the way to completing four time periods. However, what can I read for the pre-1300s 1400-1599, etc? The mind boggles. I may have to turn to Chaucer for one. Do you have any book recommendations to help me out for any of the eras? 

I learned about the challenge from Mary Smith at Mary Smith’s Place as she joined in for the first time this year. She had read about the challenge on ‘Taking on a World of Words’.

To take part you need to read a book set in each of the following eras, and it is up to you to determine which these are. The suggestion is to choose a year where the largest part of the action or the most important event occurs.

Below are the time eras and I have filled in some with the books I have read/nearly finished for four of the timelines. 

  • Pre 1300 
  • 1300 – 1499
  • 1500 – 1699
  • 1700 – 1799
  • 1800 – 1899
  • 1900 – 1919
  • 1920 – 1939 The Devil Aspect by Craig Russell… still reading – an Ebook – NetGalley
  • 1940 – 1959   Youngblood Hawke by Herman Wouk … still reading Ebook
  • 1960 – 1979
  • 1980 – 1999 Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng (read January 2019) Paperback
  • 2000 – Present This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay  (read January 2019) Paperback
  • The Future

I must admit I rarely tackle four books simultaneously, however the books themselves are so diverse, and owing to the style and content ensured I needed a change of pace and variety.

The dark gothic mystery of ‘A Devil Aspect ‘ by Craig Russell is not my usual genre but asked by the publisher to review this on behalf of NetGalley I could not refuse. Set mainly in the 1930s in Czechoslovakia it is an intense, at times terrifying book. One far too frightening to read at night! Yet the ideas, the merging of the current political instability with the madness of the six homicidal lunatics is intoxicating.  These criminals are incarcerated in the bleakest of prisons and a young psychiatrist travels to see them and unravel their secrets. Meanwhile, in Prague a new serial murderer is at large, his crimes so barbaric it seems they could only be committed by the Devil himself. The city of Prague is incredibly atmospheric and captured in all its layers of beauty and darkness whilst the characters are vivd and intense. 

Many thanks to Barbara at Book Cub Mom for introducing me to ‘Youngblood Hawke’ by Herman Wouk; when it made her most favourite book ever I just had to read it. Do take a look at her review here.

It is a worthy literary opus and runs to nearly 800 pages in paperback. I’m finding it utterly compelling, wonderfully descriptive and the book reaches into the mind and emotions of the young writer, his early success, the crazy ensuing life, battle to control his sense of self. It recreates the era brilliantly but I need an occasional rest from it and hence my more modern books of the past two weeks.

One of these is ‘This is Going to Hurt’ by Adam Kay This a factual book about the ‘life of a junior doctor: 97-hour weeks, life and death decisions, a constant tsunami of bodily fluids, and the hospital parking meter earns more than you.’ I read this book in 24 hours and haven’t stopped talking about it since and there is now a queue in our house to read it next. Although at times hysterically funny the book is ultimately a serious indictment of the numerous governments and their (mis-)handling of the NHS over the years. I feel deep despair at the lack of respect and treatment of the medical staff from the highest level. Whilst laughing at the insanely comic situations (some in graphic detail) I am not sure anyone considering starting a family should read the book – it would have terrified me. Not for the faint-hearted but a very well-written book portraying the harsh reality for NHS hospital doctors.

“Tuesday, 5 July 2005 Trying to work out a seventy-year-old lady’s alcohol consumption to record in the notes. I’ve established that wine is her poison. Me: ‘And how much wine do you drink per day, would you say?’ Patient: ‘About three bottles on a good day.’ Me: ‘OK . . . And on a bad day?’ Patient: ‘On a bad day I only manage one.” 
― Adam Kay, ‘This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor’ 

What books are you currently reading? Are you participating in any Reading Challenges? Would you be tempted to take part in ‘When Are You Reading’ challenge? If so, please click here to learn more and sign up!


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

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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.

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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.’

LOYALTY & TRUST

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Below is my Open Letter to Amazon, which I am also sending to them in the post.

Dear Amazon

It beggars belief how little twelve years of my loyalty and patronage seems to mean to you.

From the first year of useable internet I was a keen shopper at your virtual store. As an avid reader the concept of books online proved irresistible. It was a joy to browse at my leisure, reading the beginnings of books, ordering. Very soon the sound of a book parcel landing on my hall carpet became a regular occurrence.

Quickly I adapted my shopping behaviour and as Amazon increasingly stocked various items, I was a frequent visitor — to the detriment of my purse! Christmases and birthdays saw orders for CDs, DVDs, console games. Household items too soon made it into my basket.

A few years later I heard about the new strange phenomenon called ebook! There was no way I could read on such a device, leaving my beloved paperback. I would never be converted. I held fast to this for a while, even when an eye disease made reading smaller print difficult. A relative sang the praises of Kindle – I would not relent. Until I was given a Kindle and a whole new world opened up for me; my love of reading rekindled and my library of virtual books grew exponentially. 

All the years you wrote emails requesting reviews. Often only a day or two after the order. Sometimes before said item had even arrived. Only this morning I received just such a notification.

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Intermittently I started to write them, then with increasing frequency. I hoped others would find them helpful. Sometimes I sang the praises of films or games, other times I recommended a seller for their prompt delivery. With books I described their impact on me, how successful and entertaining I found them. 

All worked seamlessly until 7th June 2018.

The first inkling I had of any problem was as I came to leave a review for a book I had bought. I put the stars in. Then went to enter my review in the box when I was met with the following message.

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What?! My first reaction was that it must be a glitch on my computer. I tried again. With the same result. I tried another product. Same outcome. I was unable to leave any review. I just couldn’t believe it! 

I immediately contacted you via message and was promised a reply within 24 – 48 hrs. I decided to wait.

The next day, after reading online about this problem, another concern started gnawing at me.

What about the reviews I had posted. Recently? Years ago? Did I dare look? I almost wish I hadn’t checked.

I felt absolute and overwhelming shock. My heart pounded. I was stunned by what I saw. Nothing! All my reviews from the past twelve years eradicated. 

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All gone — without any warning, communication, discussion, explanation.

I felt devastated, dumbfounded. This felt like such a betrayal of trust, a reckless and total disregard for the individual, in this case myself. All my genuine efforts to review bonafide purchases and gifts had entirely disappeared. 

Then came the impenetrable wall of your company … the blankness of silence. 

Despite my three further attempts to contact you via message followed by three telephone calls I have still not had any explanation or discussion upon my lost reviews and my inability to post new ones. 

The staff handling the calls were pleasant enough even having me in ironic laughter once. My last attempt to talk to someone, resulted in the bizarre declaration from the advisor that I hadn’t ever written any reviews! In disbelief I guffawed and repeated my original issue, already described at the start of the conversation.

All along I was promised I would be contacted soon and once I was even promised a reply in six hours.

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During my last telephone call I was repeatedly assured that the matter was being passed over to the Community Team who would be contacting me in, the now familiar, 24 – 48 hrs.

With fading hope and lack of expectation of a reply I am still waiting. The sinking feeling of helplessness with regard to this issue is settling within me. The inability to even talk to someone with authority to discuss the problem is staggering. 

In the midst of the emotional fallout, I have become upset with my own distress. In the grand scheme of things, I suppose this is not of such importance, yet it is to me.

All these years I have naively assumed that my longstanding business with your company was a matter of cooperation. I placed my trust in this and feel your total disregard and lack of communication deeply.

My initial shock is now diminishing and replaced by a sad acceptance. I feel for the sellers of the items I’ve bought, for their lost reviews. I despair that I cannot write my thoughts on any possible products I may buy in the future.

Finally, I am still human and trusting enough that a small part of me holds out that my plea for contact from yourselves is not entirely futile, that someone will get in touch with me. To discuss this issue, to find a resolution and hopefully resurrect my reviews and allow me to review in the future.

The heart and soul is vanishing in so much of the world these days — don’t let this happen in your organisation. 

Annika Perry

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N E W S F L A S H    N E W S F L A S H   N E W S F L A S H   N E W S F L A S H

I just went in again to check on my reviews on Amazon this afternoon (26th June) and to my utter astonishment I found my reviews are back on! Wow! The power of publicity and the influence of many voices sometimes succeeds … and so happy this is the case for me! Thank you everyone!

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)

BENEATH A BURNING SKY

Beneath A Burning Sky

This was just the perfect book for a cold and wintry Easter holiday! Set in the warmth of Egypt towards the end of the 19th-century, I soon found myself basking in the heat of the rich descriptions of Alexandria of 1891 as the city was brought vividly to life. Quickly I found myself immersed in not only the wonderfully exotic locations, which are lavishly described but I also found myself wrapped up in the lives and drama of the characters.

The first of these is a new arrival to Alexandria. Although born in the city, Olivia left fifteen years earlier following the tragic death of her parents. Her paternal grandmother, who always resented her mother, sought revenge by abandoning her youngest granddaughter in a lonely and uncaring convent school in England, whilst raising Olivia’s sister, Clara herself.

At last the two sisters are reunited in their beloved city; both married to two men linked through their business. Olivia has effectively been coerced into a marriage with Alistair Sheldon, despite her misgivings … fears soon to be proved all too real. Generally disliked by those around him, few would believe the depth of Alistair’s cruel and violent nature. In contrast Clara’s marriage to Jeremy is happier, safer with two young sons, however she is distracted and distraught.

Secrets abound within the idyllic city and within all the relationships and soon Olivia too has to hide her close friendship to a certain Captain Edward Bertram (Teddy) who lodges in their house. The attraction between the two is palpable and intense although Olivia will not allow herself to act on her feelings.

The pivotal moment in the book is the sudden disappearance of Clara. As the book counts up the days thereafter, the intrigue only deepens and embroils everyone – apart from Olivia who desperately wants to find her sister. Ostensibly the novel is told through the third-person point of view, but obliquely from Olivia’s, thereby ensuring the reader feels her pain, confusion, fear. Just as Olivia attempts to unravel the mystery with the investigative help of Teddy, her friends and the police, so the reader seeks comprehension of the myriad of events.

Olivia’s strong spirit and determination grows as the dramatic and heart-wrenching story unfurls with secrets overflowing and for some reason seems to revolve around the ‘accidental’ death of a local mother. Everything seems to be connected but how?

Furthermore, the undercurrent of revolution permeates throughout the book and the historical elements are skilfully interwoven with the fictional.

The final tense chapters are spell-binding and relentless. I highly recommend this superb novel.

I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via Netgalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.img_0621

Rating:        4 out of 5 stars

Publisher:  Sphere (Imprint of Little, Brown)

Price:        Amazon US  $ 13.99 (paperback) $ 4.05 (Kindle)

                 Amazon UK  £ 7.26 (paperback)  £ 2.99 (Kindle)

DAYS OF WONDER: A BOOK REVIEW

Daysofwonder

As a huge fan of Keith Stuart’s debut book ‘A Boy made of Blocks’ I was thrilled to be offered the opportunity by the publisher to read and review a pre-release copy of his latest novel. As always on such occasions when I eagerly look forward to a new publication, I hesitated for a fraction before plunging in to read … I just hoped the book would not disappoint. I need never have feared – it is truly a gem! 

From the first couple of paragraphs into ‘Days of Wonder’ I knew I was in for a treat and settled back to enjoy, savouring the story, becoming engrossed with the characters and their lives. By the end my emotions had been on a rollercoaster ride, ending in tears, at times laughing out loud, all the time moved and touched to the core.

Keith Stuart’s first book was based on his own life experience as a father with an autistic son, ‘Days of Wonder’, his first fiction novel, also centers on the relationship between a father and his child; in this case a 15-year-old daughter, Hannah and her father Tom. Not only is Hannah seeking her natural independence, experiencing first-love, fretting about A-level options, she also has to contend with an uncertain future – and perhaps none at all. Since being diagnosed with a life-threatening heart-condition cardiomyopathy, her whole life has been under its shadow. 

The disease has brought father and daughter wonderfully close together, their bond inseparable since her mother left whilst Hannah was still young. Tom has raised Hannah on his own, with the support of his eclectic theatre group which he manages. The members are close-knit and effectively a second, albeit quirky, surrogate family to Hannah, caring and understanding.

Since the initial diagnosis at the age of five, Tom has sought to bring magic into her life and a professionally produced birthday play at the theatre has been key to this … a tradition Tom is desperate to continue, one that Hannah feels less keen on in the cusp of adulthood… an adulthood that may never exist for her. 

Starting the book my one fear was that the disease would dominate the book, that it could become mawkish and moribund. Not at all! The disease is a backdrop to so many stories within the book; the uncertain future of the theatre, how it has saved so many people. It’s about lives, relationships, friendships, love. Of living and dying. I became totally absorbed into not only Tom and Hannah’s lives but that of Ted, Angela, Margaret, Callum, Sally to name a few. Their fears, frustrations, courage and perseverance were uplifting and soulful.  

 Throughout feisty gutsy Hannah is insightful and wise beyond her years, whilst loving and worrying about her father as she desperately seeks to find him a date. Furthermore, she finds and becomes supportive of her first boyfriend; a young man equally crippled with a very different illness.

The book is effectively and skilfully told through the two-viewpoints of Tom and Hannah. With the latter, it is as if overhearing a private conversation, immediate, at times raw, at times swinging perfectly into modern jargon. As with Tom and the other characters, the sense of humour is impeccably narrated, the put-downs perfectly timed. Through Hannah’s words we learn about her best friends, including a very special 81-year-old lady, the dramas of school, relationships.

Tom’s narrative is personal, emotional, realistic … comically sardonic at times, other moments relating such humorous dating escapades I cried with laughter! As a reader, I couldn’t help but warm to him and feel for his predicament- caring and being over-protective and struggling to let go of his daughter. All the time, unaware his daughter is trying hard to protect her father from the future and for the future. His gentle, confessional tones mingled with the comic and drama persona whilst the ghost of his ex-wife lingered in the background, the possibility that they might yet be a family.

For both of them, there will never be a normal life … and as the novel develops they learn to embrace their predicament; their love and bond growing stronger as a result. 

An interesting additional narrative format is the occasional letters in the book … deeply revealing about past events in Hannah’s life and written by her, it is only towards the end the reader becomes aware for whom they were written. This is yet one more poignant and emotional revelation in a novel which has heart-wrenching moments cascading throughout. 

The descriptive detail by the author is superb, he is wonderfully visual in creating settings, presenting plays, and I became engrossed in them all and felt as if I’d been watching a film. 

‘Days of Wonder’ is ultimately, and perhaps unexpectedly, a powerful, life-affirming and inspirational book. I was hooked from the very beginning and did not want to put it down for any breaks. It’s one of those books that I just had to read one more chapter until I sadly had to say goodbye to my new friends!

 
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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
Publication Date: 7th June 2018
Price:  Amazon UK:    £ 12. 99 Hardback.      £ 6.99 Kindle    
             Amazon US:  $ 9.82  Kindle
Publisher:  Sphere (Imprint of Little, Brown)