AT THE EDGE OF THE ORCHARD: A BOOK REVIEW

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Apples! Only someone of Tracy Chevalier’s calibre can pick such an ordinary fruit and create the most mesmerising, sweeping novel centred around them. 

tracy-chevalierAs a huge fan of her earlier books, particularly Girl with a Blue Earring and The Last Runaway, I was positively giddy to be approved by HarperCollins to review her latest creation, At the Edge of the Orchard. I started reading with a great sense of anticipation.

‘They were fighting over apples again.’

applesConstant war reigns between James and Sadie Goodenough in Ohio in 1838 and onwards as they struggle to turn the inhospitable and aptly named Black Swamp into a successful apple orchard. To James, son of an eminent apple farmer in Connecticut, apples and their trees are an obsession and are treated with reverential care and none more so than his beloved Golden Pippen, a sweet-tasting ‘eater’. 

ciderspittersMeanwhile, his wife Sadie seeks solace from the misery of her life, her losses, in the applejack cider which is made from fresh ‘spitters’ apples. 

In the midst of their bitter, self-centred and often violent marriage, ten children are born and many die from the yearly ‘skeeters’  (mosquitoes). Those that survive are more slaves to their parents than children and fend for themselves in the brutal harsh world. It is a gruelling existence which is described in great detail and intensity; I felt as if I suffered with them.

Robert, the youngest son, is striking with his disarming knowing look that unsettles both James and Sadie equally; his quiet diplomacy at times succeeds in calming the household even though he is also interested in the apples.  Martha meanwhile is a sickly child, who nevertheless runs the family ‘home’ and she is pithily described by Sadie as: 

‘Martha was the runt of the litter, the only weak one left who hadn’t died. She hummed all the time, hymns to block out the sounds of Deaths footstep behind her.’

This example is just one of the variety of brilliant narrative techniques used by Tracy Chevalier in this book. Her skilful entwining of narrative voices creates a fully immersive read and it starts with a close third person (James’s) point of view interwoven with the simpler, colloquial, childlike, even bawdy and misspelt first person voice of Sadie. I felt I was involved in an intimate conversation with her at some stages. 

Altogether there are five chapters, each from a different era though some do overlap. One chapter is a masterful collection of Robert’s yearly (unanswered) letters back home following his sudden departure from Black Swamp as a child, describing his intriguing and tough adventures over seventeen years as he heads further west. The mystery as to the cause of his sudden departure is not revealed until much later, however. His life is vividly portrayed as he enters the Gold Rush in California and ultimately ends up working for Willian Lobb, a famous tree collector.  

in-wintertreesWhilst the first section of the book deals deftly with details of apple grafting, growth, picking, the second section centres around the grand sequoia of California and of Robert’s life with them. The description of the sequoia that Robert first encounters is awe-inspiring and I can visualise the whole scene exactly.


dancingThroughout the book, Tracy Chevalier expertly weaves fact with fiction, including the then recently discovered Calaveras Grove in California.  Billie Latham built the infamous stage on the stump of first giant sequoia, named The Discovery Tree, to be cut down at the Grove. As a tree agent, Robert becomes responsible under William Lobb to collect seeds and saplings to send to James Veitch, an English nurseryman for the stately homes in the UK. 


The rough pioneering life of California is recreated brilliantly with the raw hard life in San Francisco captured in minute detail whilst evoking the enthralling enticing allure of the wildlife. Robert is forced to forgo his lonely existence when one day a visitor brings the haunted past dramatically back to him.

The characterisation in At the Edge of the Orchard is superb; there is not a single false tone or word. Everyone is realistically portrayed although it is hard to feel empathy for certain characters, especially James and Sadie. 

The darkness that is all pervasive in the book would be too much without the glint of light and hope in the form of one critical person. Will she become Robert’s saviour and end the desolation that’s blighted the lives of so many? 

I fell head over heels for Tracy Chevalier’s latest novel and was swept away by the story. I’m in awe of the electrifying literary writing which remained powerful throughout. Reading the book I was emotionally overwrought as well intellectually savouring the exquisite recreation of nineteenth century Ohio and California. The ending was a crescendo of sorrows and joy. The best book of 2017 – so far!

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest and impartial review.  At the Edge of the Orchard is available to purchase although the paperback will be released on 7th February 2017 in the UK and is already for sale in the USA.

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Rating:                          5 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                     HarperCollins UK

Links:                             Amazon UK or   Amazon US 

 

A Winter’s Walk

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 Picture perfect winter days have been few and far between this season and when they do deign to appear I’m like a child again, eager to step forth into the white hued countryside, to inhale the crisp icy air, to stomp on the frozen puddles and lakes sending ripples of cracks zigzagging along the ice.

On my quest one sunny Sunday I join my son on his regular long (ie. very long for me) walk through the local nature reserve, across the fields to the local town. A new route for me as I’ve only taken the road there but trusting his navigational skills, I duly follow!

The nature reserve is a lush wood with a few smaller lakes and a central flat grass area with picnic tables dotted around. It is a hidden gem and luckily only twenty metres or so from our house. It has not always been a protected area of natural beauty however and until the 1960s it was a sand and gravel quarry – not too successful by all accounts as the American airforce considered the quality of the product inferior and was unable to use the gravel and sand from here when building the runway at the local airfield. After its closure the quarry became unflatteringly known as the ‘Pits’, the holes filled with water and some fish were introduced for anglers. It remained bleak and barren until adopted by the village in the 1980s and today it is managed to a high standard.

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As  I cross the level plain I glance again – after all is this snow or white sand? It’s deceptive in this play between light and shadow, my eyes blinded by the sunlight.

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Again the mystery of light enhances my feelings of the mystical as I look into the woods, recalling the old-time sagas, remembering the Nordic myths…I almost expect to witness a troll staring back at me and after a pause, a shrug, continue on the walk, my disappointment palpable and real.

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What is it about paths that just beckon to be explored? Where could they lead? There are so many to choose from, I want to veer off, investigate further but my son leads the way and dutifully I follow, musing. Paths. Like the ones out here in the wilderness (of sorts!), life offers up many diverse paths, opportunities and various factors determine which ones we choose to follow, which ones we perhaps return to at a later date, which ones…I realise I’m dawdling and hurry to catch up, my reflections forgotten, as I carefully traverse the rough ground. 

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Frozen in time the leaves, solid in their white coats, catch my eye, their gold, amber and brown colours cloaked in frosty layers. Striking in their unusual state it will not be long before the warmer air frees them from their enhanced beauty and as the soil turns to mud they’ll gradually mulch into the field, another state, another time.

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The bridge, at times flooded from the troubled waters of the stream flowing beneath it, is a safe crossing for us this time and the tractor’s tracks of upturned mud are frozen into solid peaks and troughs. I step gingerly in between them.

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The pools of water are scattered across the plain, their surfaces covered with fragile thin layers of ice, like the veneer we often display to others, the false confidence, joy, certainty. Like the ice here, so easily shattered, transitory.

Good fun memories flow come to mind; of my toddler son jumping with glee on the ice, winter suit wet and muddied, of stick battles with the frozen puddles, swishing huge pieces of two inch thick slabs of ice across the slippery grass, an alternative version to ice-hockey. Memories so much a part of us, part of our past and our present and even our future. 

Content, exhausted, refreshed I return home…like the child of the early morning I long for a hot chocolate and biscuit break – the only difference is now I’ll be making them!

‘I was sorry to hear my name mentioned as one of the great authors because they have a sad habit of dying off. Chaucer is dead, so is Milton, so is Shakespeare, and I am not feeling very well myself.’  Mark Twain

THE GAME

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The Game

maltesers-wrapper-smallImogen popped one more Malteser in her mouth, cracking the honeycomb between her teeth. One of her front teeth wobbled precariously before slotting back into place.

‘I can pull that for you,’ said Layla, rubbing her fingers in anticipation. ‘Look,’ she continued, pointing to a gap, ‘I yanked this out last week. You should have seen the blood – everywhere it was.’

‘No, leave it,’ replied Imogen, edging backwards. ‘Let’s leave this too. The game is stupid. It’s for kids.’

‘God, Imogen, you’re such a loser. Just say the spell, then the word and that’s it. What’s written on these pieces of paper will appear. I promise.’

‘As if.’

‘Well, it worked with the Maltesers, didn’t it?’ retorted Layla.

‘Very funny. I heard the rustling as you pulled them out of your pocket,’ said Imogen.

‘Didn’t.’ 

‘Did.’

Layla scrambled off the rough floorboards.

‘Well, I’m off then,’ she said, pocketing the scraps of folded paper which rested in the chipped bowl. One of Mum’s favourites but she wouldn’t notice it gone. Since her new boyfriend, she never noticed anything.The television was permanently on as was the tablet on Mum’s lap. Being ignored wasn’t the worst, it was their yelling that did her head in. This was her retreat; her Dad’s old shed. It felt safe amongst the cobwebs and spades. Breathing in the musty damp air, Layla reached for the latch.

‘Wait,’ said Imogen. ‘Okay, I’ll do it.’

Layla tipped the papers back into the bowl.

‘But,’ she added, ‘we don’t have to say the spell aloud. We’ll just think it. Right?’

Biting her nails, Layla was silent for a moment.

‘That should work, but you have to say the word aloud.’

Imogen took a paper and unfolded it and frowning she closed her eyes. Real tight, with the balls of her hands rubbing against her eyelids, the paper dangling between her fingers. She muttered and then shouted out.

‘MUD!’

mud2Layla rolled back in shock, knocking against the tool table which sent a trowel flying into the air, the slimy sloppy brown mud on it trailing messily on the floor and landing by her side.

‘Where did that come from?’ exclaimed Imogen, gaping at the mud and the trowel partially buried in it.

‘Yeah, it really does work!’ laughed Layla, ignoring her friend and grabbing a paper. She mumbled the spell quickly, then whispered, ‘mask’. The girls glanced around expectantly, then frantically. Nothing. With sighs of disappointment, they took a paper each and nonchalantly went through the motions with the two remaining words.

‘Midnight,’ said Imogen.

Sunlight shimmered through the grimy perspex window. More like midday, thought Imogen.

‘Murder,’ droned Layla.

‘I could murder this game,’ said Imogen, as she stood to leave. ‘Like I said, bloody stupid.’ The door clattered shut behind her, rattling the tiny hinges. Within seconds it flew open again and Imogen loomed over her, clutching a black wooden mask.

‘Look! This was on the tree. Just hanging there. I can’t believe it. I’m taking this home.’

african-mask-ebony-woodLayla followed Imogen down the path to the house, shaking her head in wonder. How did her mother’s mask from Gambia end up outside?

Heading inside, Layla snatched some biscuits and crisps from the cupboard before going up to her room, slamming her door to the fighting downstairs.

‘Layla! Layla! Get help!’ screamed her mother.

imagemidnightLayla woke with a start and reached for her phone. 00.00. Midnight. Scrambling out of bed she ran to the door when she suddenly heard an ear-piercing screech. Her mother. Then silence followed by a cough becoming louder and she edged away from the door as the footsteps came closer. Stumbling, she reached the wardrobe and lunged inside, tapping at her phone screen.

‘Police! Help! My mother’s been murdered!’

The End

© Annika Perry

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Hobbling in…

I hobbled into the New Year – literally. 

We learn something every day they say and late on Christmas Eve, following a wonderful celebration with family, I learnt NOT to try to carry two bags of opened presents down slippery wooden steps in the dark whilst deep in thought! My resulting agonised scream brought the whole family to the top of the stairs and as I lay there I began to feel as if I’d landed a part in a soap drama. Whilst my ankle was carefully checked out by a first aider in the family, others brought pillows, duvet and comfort.

For those few seconds before the fall, life became clarified, intensified. As I started to fall backwards I thought, no, no way, not with my two slipped discs in my spine. Pitching forwards I remembered the wall at the bottom of the stairs and imagined my head smashing into the vertical obstacle. I  straightened and fell, landing with my right ankle twisted beneath my body.

The enforced stillness has been an unexpected present this Christmas, time literally slowed as my usual busy self was reduced to a few painful hobbles, accepting lots of help. Now nearly fully recovered the peace is with me yet, a new inner calm. 

In this spirit I turn to my first post of the year and want to write about a certain present I received prior to my fall on Christmas Eve.

img_0055The Five Year Journal is a unique form of the diary requiring only one or two sentences a day – over five years. The layout is one day listed five times on each page, each entry to be filled in one year at a time. The concept had me intrigued from the start and was a perfectly thought out present for me.

What will the five years bring for me? I see this as a time-capsule, to be re-visited…relive memories, emotions, dreams. 

Already I start to consider each and every day, what made a particular impact, what was especially emotional, what comment or quotes caught my imagination. Surprisingly it’s bringing a constructive form of reflection upon each and every day, of the ramifications of my words and actions. I wonder how my entries will evolve, what I will learn. 

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Doreene Clement

The concept of the Five-Year Journal was originally created by Doreene Clement for the new millennium in 2000 although it has been widely copied since then. It is recommended even for people who might be writing a normal journal as this process is uniquely different in recording a flashpoint of events/emotions/thoughts of each day and later upon reading they can see and appreciate the real growth and change in their lives. 

As Doreene says: ‘Time is a healer and what was once hard or unbearable can now make more sense, giving us a clearer picture. Recording and tracking our lives… can actually bring relief, clarity, joy and laughter.’ 

img_0060I can well imagine that with time my journal will become a source of support and thoughtful reflection of where I have been and where I am going, already it is focusing my attention on ever-present and I’m gaining a new perspective on my life! 

Although I am not using any prompts from my entries it is possible to write each day in answer to specific questions or theme for that date. So far it’s so quick and easy to use and there is no room for excuses not for me to write at least these couple of sentences a day!

Have you got a Five-Year Journal? Have you ever started one or perhaps completed the journey? Would you consider buying one for yourself or a friend? What do you think of the concept? As always I look forward to comments and discussion.

“A writer is like a tuning fork: We respond when we’re struck by something. The thing is to pay attention, to be ready for radical empathy. If we empty ourselves of ourselves we’ll be able to vibrate in synchrony with something deep and powerful. If we’re lucky we’ll transmit a strong pure note, one that isn’t ours, but which passes through us. If we’re lucky, it will be a note that reverberates and expands, one that other people will hear and understand.” 

― Roxana Robinson

To finish my first post of 2017 I want to share a song I personally love and which came to mind on New Year’s Eve when we sang ‘Auld Lange Syne’, bringing to mind those no longer with us.

The first loss I experienced as young was an influential young teacher who along with his wonderful writing would entertain us with his guitar playing and singing – his favourite was ‘Streets of London’ by Ralph McTell. Hearing this I always remember those childhood days, my teacher’s inspiring classes, his far too early death.

A THOUSAND LIGHTS

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For me, Christmas begins with lights. Forget the Christmas cards on display in July – it’s Summer! Their inane presence on the shop shelves in the middle of a heatwave makes me despair. Piped carol music in the shopping centre during October has me shaking my head – it’s just too early and Halloween has yet to be celebrated.

It’s the lights that cause the flutter of excitement in the pit of my stomach as I eagerly clamber to the loft in search of the Christmas lights. Will the previous year’s due care and diligence reap the ultimate reward – will they work?

Brought back down to the warmth of the house I gently unwrap the swaddled star, cocooned for 11 months in the blanket in which my newborn son was brought home from the hospital. The light bulb, submerged in cotton wool, emerges intact. Will it shine, though? By now anxiety holds sway as the lamps around the room are turned off and in the wintry dusk, I press the switch with trepidation. Rays of bright light shimmer across the blackness, outside into the dark! I feel aglow and calm; engulfed by Christmas peace and contentment.

Lights abound in our house during this holiday, not just the star but also Christmas window candles and the tree lights sparkling in a multitude of colours. Every evening candles are lit, their warm and tender living lustre slowing time in its path, uniting us in a time-honoured tradition. Light bringing its aura of ethereal harmony into our lives.

I have so many favourite Christmas songs but this Swedish one seems particularly appropriate – all about light; lighting those candles in our homes, bringing light and hope into the world.  Sentiments that epitomises the needs of the world today.

For me, Christmas is about being with family and friends and I feel I have made some wonderful friends here on WP.  Thank you so much for your continued interest, support, comments and kindness over the past year, it is a delight and privilege to know you all.

As you listen to the song and read the translation I want to wish each and everyone of you a very special Christmas / Holiday, filled with peace and joy. May light fill your homes and hearts this Christmas.

Finally, like so many, I will be taking a blogging break during the festive season and look forward to catching up with you in the New Year.

MERRY CHRISTMAS & HAPPY NEW YEAR! 

GOD JUL & GOTT NYTT ÅR!

 

Thousands Christmas lights are lit

all around the world

Thousands, thousands also shine

in the dark blue sky

***

And over towns and land tonight

Christmas happy message spreads

that born is Jesus Christ, our Lord

The blessed prince of light.

***

Dear Star over Bethlehem

let your gentle light

Shine with hope and peace

into every home, every house

***

In every heart, poor and dark

please send a gentle ray,

A ray of love from God

In blessed Christmas time.

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Precious Lives, Precious Poems

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At the beginning of October I wrote a post entitled  THE GOOD-MORROW #NATIONALPOETRYDAY  to link in with the National Poetry Day here in the UK. At the same time I asked for your comments about your favourite poem or poems, which one(s) had inspired you over the years. The response was overwhelming!

A huge heartfelt thank you to everyone for commenting – through you I reconnected with some old favourite poems as well as welcoming new ones into my heart.

As the responses kept coming the idea of collating all the suggestions grew on me and I am happy to include the link to a PDF document herePrecious Lives, Precious Poems includes the poems mentioned as well as the people suggesting them. Where possible I have included links to the bloggers websites. Please do take the time to visit them – a rewarding read at each and every one and all lovely people to boot!

I apologise in advance for any mistakes – they will all be mine!

Enjoy and thank you once again. Connecting, sharing, learning is the true joy of this blogging journey.

By the way it is possible to import this document into iBooks, Kindles etc to save it and read at your leisure.

To start reading here is the link again:  Precious Lives, Precious Poems

A SENSE OF PLACE

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Tower of London

Every week I look forward to Friday morning and a treat in the form of Bernadette’s regular ‘Feminist Friday’ posts on her blog haddonmusings.com  The women featured, both famous and not so famous, are aways inspiring and fascinating. Recently I heard the story of one British woman who was a trailblazer in the world of printmaking and I want to share her life, her work with you.

helenaArtist and printmaker Helena Markson is a person whose name and fame should have spread far beyond her field of expertise. Born in London in 1934, she studied at Salisbury School of Art and then at Central School of Art before becoming a successful professional printmaker. Initially she co-directed a Fine Art Printmaking workshop, soon after she set up an etching studio in London before teaching at Chelsea College of Art and St. Martin’s School of Art in London. During this time she exhibited many of her prints. Her lifelong career took her across the UK, to America and Israel and she worked until her death in 2012.  

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Brighton Fair

Although there were women involved in printmaking in the 1950s, most would work on smaller pieces that were made using less equipment and could be done at home, for example wood engravings, wood-cuttings and lino cuttings. Helena was unusual in that she worked in etchings, often large ones, which used acid and print presses; in other words she worked from a print studio with both the space and ventilation she required. 

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Albert Dock

 

Throughout her life Helena was inspired by architecture and her range of work reflects this; she always depicted places she had a special connection to and particularly buildings. These were firstly from her life in London and Salisbury. Later Liverpool featured strongly in her work following an important  commission by the main town planner who had been drawn to her earlier work. As a result she spent much time completing a series of prints highlighting the urban renewal undergoing in Liverpool in the 1960s.

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Palm House

Israel was the centre for the latter part of Helena’s career as well as her life. Initially she was invited to show her work in the country, however she was immediately fascinated and drawn to the country and its people and in 1970 Helena moved permanently to Israel. Helena is held in high esteem in the county and is seen as a pioneer who set up the country’s first print studio at the newly created University of Haifa. As co-founder of the Art Department within the university she brought printing presses and equipment from the UK to form the new print studio. Later she set up the Fine Art Print Studios and taught lithography and etching and became Professor Emeritus of Haifa University. 

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Waving Grasses

Helena was a private person throughout her life but she always retained a strong emotional presence to wherever she worked and this was true for her work in Israel which cemented her fascination with landscape and all her prints are imbued by a sense of place. However in Israel there was a transition in her style; her early work of London and Liverpool  were mainly monotone subtle colours and architectural whilst her later prints gave more a sense of space in vibrant blues and oranges. 

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Abercrombie Square

Even though she lived and worked in Israel until her death aged 78, Helena continued to visit the UK and America.  In the UK the poet, Dylan Thomas, particularly caught her attention and she completed a series based on his poems called ‘Dwelling Places’ with images of places she had lived, books she had read and people she knew. 

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book-coverHelena Markson’s beautiful prints are open to view in collections around the world including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and Tate Britain in London. A book celebrating her work has recently been released and is entitled ‘Helena Markson – A Sense of Place’ .

Sources include: BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Friday    25. 11.16    10.00 am

Beyond Fear

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Fearless, stoic he stands above me on the hill. As majestic in his stillness as in a walk or trot. The black horse is one of a pair I regularly encounter on my walk whilst in Sweden. At times they deign to come near the fence, but never too close; other times they’ll stand afar, then glance up. Often I stop to observe their grand stance, their all-knowing demeanour, their fearlessness. 

Fear seems to be all pervasive in our society in recent times, not only on a global political level but on on a personal, emotional one too. Fear rules so much in our lives.

Seeing the silhouette of the horse against the ethereal sky I feel its courage emanate from its very being. Fearless. A saying I used to comfort my son (and myself) comes to mind and with so few words A. A. Milne’s encapsulates the motto on how to live life and how to garner belief in ourselves. 

Meanwhile I also recall a longer speech by the esteemed former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela on his inauguration in 1994. His wonderful heart-felt speech is a declaration to ourselves, to never let fear and feeling of worthlessness rule our lives. I never fail to be drawn in by the initially alarming, unexpected first two lines: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate./ Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.”

Both these quotes have seen me through some tough times, supported me, given me courage, even solace. I hope you enjoy them and find them comforting, inspiring and that their spirit will equally enhance your sense of fortitude. 

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us.
We ask, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?
Actually, who are you not to be?  You are a child of God.
Your playing small doesn’t serve the world. There’s nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel  insecure around you.
We were all meant to shine like children do.
We were born to make manifest the glory of God within us.
It’s not just in some of us. It’s in everyone. 
And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people
permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, 
our presence automatically liberates others.

By Nelson Mandela     1994

The Loyalist Legacy: Book Tour

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I am very excited to be part of Elaine Cougler’s book tour for her latest historical novel, The Loyalist Legacy.

‘Historical fiction is flourishing as never before,’ declared the head the British Historical Writers’ Association recently and Elaine’s final book in her Loyalist trilogy is testament to the popularity and success of this genre.

Set against the backdrop after the American War of Revolution (American War of Independence) and the War of 1812, The Loyalist Legacy is an intimate, personal and realistic novel centred around William and Catherine Garner seeking to rebuild their lives admist the terrible hardships and ensuing political fallout.  Her book can be read as a stand alone but of course would be richer to read in sequence.

With realistic insights into the challenging lives of Ontario’s early settlers, Elaine Cougler once again draws readers into the Loyalists’ struggles to build homes, roads, and relationships, and their growing dissension as they move ever closer to another war. The Loyalist Legacy shows us the trials faced by ordinary people who conquer unbelievable hardships and become extraordinary in the process.

The following encapsulates the essence of the book and I cannot help but want to learn more about the two main characters, their struggle and the change created in both them and their country.

When the War of 1812 is finally over William and Catherine Garner flee the desolation of Niagara and find in the wild heart of Upper Canada their two hundred acres straddling the Thames River. On this valuable land, dense forests, wild beasts, disgruntled Natives, and pesky neighbors daily challenge them. The political atmosphere laced with greed and corruption threatens to undermine all of the new settlers’ hopes and plans. William cannot take his family back to Niagara, but he longs to check on his parents from whom he has heard nothing for two years. Leaving Catherine and the children, he hurries along the Governor’s Road toward the turn-off to Fort Erie, hoping to return in time for spring planting.

The wonderful atmospheric writing of the following excerpt immediately drew me in and transported into the nineteenth century world of William and Catherine.

The tunnel sloped upward and, as the light grew brighter, they left the water behind. First out of the hole, Lucy watched as Robert turned back to help William tug their father, blinking, up into the sunshine. Aaron pulled her to the waiting wagon, and parted the hay to reveal a hiding place. She crawled inside, John came after and then her sons. They were almost blind in the shadowy half-light, brown with the sun filtered through the layered hay.

A bright spot of light opened where they had crawled in and Aaron shoved a jug of water toward them. “Godspeed,” he whispered and was gone. She prayed his part in this would never be known. The wagon lurched and they were off, the three escapees and her, now just as guilty in the eyes of the law as her men, and whoever was driving the wagon….

John dozed beside her, his long legs reaching to Robert and William who sat hunched at their parents’ feet. She had lain down beside John to try to cushion him from the bumpy road and hold his head on her shoulder. How could he sleep? She was acutely aware of each rut in the road and every stone the wheels scraped against as the wagon carried them to what she hoped was freedom. The horses snorted and panted up every hill and she found herself holding her breath hoping they’d make it.

They hardly stopped on the way out of the village, but each time they did everyone held their breath until the squeaky wheels started turning again. But the ride was uneventful. No one followed them; indeed, no one seemed to know they had escaped.

The wagon bed was covered with a thin tick meant to ease their journey and she thanked the planners for their effort even though it didn’t help much. Nevertheless the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves created a kind of rhythm and gradually her thoughts subsided into the sound as she released her fear and her excitement. Her body relaxed against John’s. The last thing she remembered was putting a handkerchief over her nose to keep out the bits of fresh hay floating in the murky air.

 

Whispering woke her. And a sudden burst of cool air, which wafted into the tight space, now dark. She pulled the cloth away and sat up. John groaned beside her and she felt his fevered forehead.

“Mama? Are you awake?” William’s low voice caught and he cleared his throat. “We’re stopping for the horses.” He crawled through the opening and she followed after him feeling her way in the darkness.

“What about your father? He’s burning with fever.” Picking bits of hay from her clothing she looked around but could see very little. A few distant stars shone weakly and a slip of a moon hung over them like a curved sword. Two men switched the teams but in the dim light she couldn’t see who they were. Only the occasional glint of harness bits and wide eyes—both horses’ and humans’—bore witness to their task. Mr. Beasley had been as good as his word.

Robert went to help the men and Lucy turned to John. William opened up a larger hole in the straw so his father could breathe easier. Very soon the horses were hitched again, the spent team tied to a wheel for a moment, and its driver, spent also after six hours of driving, brought Lucy a package of food from under the wagon seat. They each found a brief moment in the bushes, William helping his father out of the wagon for the purpose, and soon stuffed themselves back into the tight space.

The plan was to drive all night, the new driver had said, but Lucy wondered how much more she and John could take. Her rheumatism pained her at the best of times but bumping along in the back of this wagon was pure agony although she uttered not a word to her family. William had kept the plug of hay out of its hole at the back of the wagon and she was glad of the air. She plunged her hand into the sack to find what their rescuers had packed for them.

Hours later the wagon stopped again. William woke and hastily plugged the hole against the dawn light but soon removed the hay and crawled out, Robert right behind him. John’s eyes were on her and she took his hand.

“Where are we?” he asked.

“Another stop for horses, I expect.” She touched his cheek. “Come. We’ll have a stretch.”

Robert helped his father from the wagon and took him into the bushes.

“Where are we, William?” Lucy asked. “Do you know?”

“We’re going to Burlington Bay. That’s all Aaron told me.”

“Beasley kept his promise.”

William squeezed her rough hand and she winced. “What is it, Mama?”

She forced a smile and took back her hand. “Look. The sun is just clearing the lake.”

“That’s the last we’ll see of it today.” Robert had returned from helping his father. “The driver says we’re still many miles from Beasley’s place.”

03_elaine-couglerA lifelong reader and high school teacher, Elaine Cougler found her passion for writing once her family was grown. She loves to read history for the stories of real people reacting to their world. Bringing to life the tales of Loyalists in the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812, and Rebellion of 1837 is very natural as Elaine’s personal roots are in those struggles. She lives today in the heart of Ontario, Canada, and is the descendant of Loyalists who lived through the times of which she writes.

Elaine Cougler can be found on TwitterFacebook Author Page, LinkedIn and on her blog.

The Loyalist Legacy is out now and available at  Amazon UK or Amazon US.

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THE FOOD OF LOVE: A BOOK REVIEW

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It’s not often I start a book and have absolutely no idea what it is about. NetGalley emailed me saying I’d been pre-approved for ‘The Food of Love’ and as that morning I’d just finished a rather graphic collection of Stephen King’s short stories I thought this gentle-sounding novel would be my soothing tonic.

‘The Food of Love’ – such a safe, innocuous title I immediately pictured romance centred on a taverna in Greece or a spy/love story set in Spain, the nights hot and with many evening scenes at a half-lit tapas restaurant. 

I could not have been more mistaken, although my theory seemed to hold sway for the very first part of the book which starts with a family on holiday in the warm climes of Florida. Freya Braithwaite and her husband Lockie are walking through Old Naples one evening with their daughters, Charlotte and Lexi. Charlotte is quietly confident albeit cautious and sensible whilst her younger sister is the adventurous one who begs to be allowed to swim in the dark. Even as she is being warned about the dangers, including that of sharks, she refuses to obey and disappears off the sea wall into the blackness below.

This brief flashback sets the picture of a perfect happy harmonious family where love and laughter are the norm in their idyllic lifestyle. Eight years later the book begins properly with the Braithwaite family at home in the UK and quickly I became engrossed in their lives; Freya is a freelance food writer (extremely pertinent to the book), whilst her husband is a freelance photographer. The family are captured with poetic, lyrical ease and in small sketches the author reveals the everyday, the ordinary wonderful life. Of course, as with all good books I was by this stage on tether hooks, just waiting for the turn in the story, waiting for the drama, the chaos.

A phone call from the school provides the catalyst to the ensuing novel where a normal meeting with a teacher unveils the potential problem with one of her daughters. Freya’s gnawing anxiety ahead of the meeting is portrayed with truth and I could easily imagine myself in her position and Freya’s insistent rejection of the teacher’s insinuations is equally believable – there was no way Lexi could have an issue with food! 

From hereon the book becomes a harrowing, even punishing read at times, as Lexi’s anorexia is dramatically discovered and her health rapidly deteriorates. The effects of her starvation are candidly described and the catalogue of Lexi’s increasingly critical health problems are meticulously revealed. Freya’s confusion, desperation and guilt is brilliantly captured whilst Lockie’s down-to-earth, angry reaction causes friction for the first time in their nineteen year marriage. He finds it increasingly impossible to accept what he sees as ‘pandering’ to Lexi as she undergoes various treatments. Furthermore the tension that has existed between the siblings continues to fester, especially since Charlotte finds herself sidelined, the milestones in her own life forgotten, ignored.

Although told from the third person perspective I identified closely with the characters, especially so with Freya and Lexi. The collapse of all their lives is told in raw albeit loving detail with the absurd amidst the calamity skilfully interwoven. Personally I found the topic uncomfortable, disturbing even and I would not be surprised if this holds true for many potential readers, however I can offer the assurance that it is handled with finesse and control; ultimately it is a book about four people thrown into the unknown and how we function as an individual, as a couple or as a family when faced with adversity, when the unimaginable becomes a reality and to what extent love can be the solution. 

I read the book in two days and found it, to use that well-worn phrase, ‘unputdownable’ and this was partly down to the ‘countdown’  paragraphs at the end of each chapter. Set some time in the future, the clock starts with eight hours left as Freya prepares for the life-changing event, and together with Charlotte, she is desperately trying to compose a letter to Lexi. Events, memories from the past are unveiled as they struggle to compose their missives. The burning question is of course whether Lexi is alive or dead?

‘The Food of Love’ is a compelling, heart-wrenching, even painful book but all the same a heart-warming and rewarding novel which I can highly recommend to anyone with an interest in so-called ‘domestic’ dramas. 

I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a honest and impartial review.

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Rating:                          4 out of 5 stars.

Publisher:                     Lake Union Publishing 

Release Date:              1st December 2016                               

Links:                             Amazon UK or   Amazon US