Dear Young Reader …

Imagine you’re writing to a reader in the future! To a new soul, yet to unravel the magic of books! What would you say to them? Would you share stories from your own life? Or inspire them with passionate prose or perhaps offer up playful poetic musings?

Just such a request was sent out to writers, scientists, artists, and other cultural trendsetters across the globe by Maria Popova. One hundred and twenty-one letters were received including ones from Mary Oliver, Jane Goodall, Neil Gaiman, from composers, philosophers to a 98-year-old Holocaust survivor.

Over eight years, together with her publisher friend Claudia Bedrick, they collated the letters, matching each of them with an illustrator, artist or graphic designer … bringing each letter individually and vividly to life!

I read about the creation ‘A Velocity of Being’ last year and ever since couldn’t wait to hold this treasure of a book in my hands. Although released in January, they had underestimated the demand and my book finally arrived last week.

With deep reverence I opened the box, with surgical skill (or so I liked to think) I cut gently through the tightly wrapped cellophane. I’m sure I heard a drum-roll as I opened the pages and started to read … my heart singing in harmony with the emotions and thoughts of the letters.

Here a just a few snippets:

“No matter where life takes you, you’re never alone with a book, which becomes a tutor, a wit, a mind-sharpener, a soul-mate, a performer, a sage, a verbal bouquet for a loved one.” Diana Ackerman

“Yesterday I swallowed a book. Opened it, read it voraciously, then gulped it down in a single sitting. … A book, and the universe within, is the touchstone for today, yesterday, and — wow, I can’t wait to find out what I read tomorrow.” Anthony Horowitz

“A writer can fit a whole world inside a book. … . Somewhere, is a book written just for you. It will fit your mind like a glove fits your hand. And it’s waiting. Go and look for it.” Neil Gaiman

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

MOTHERLAND: A BOOK REVIEW

babs2

Painting: Courtesy of B. Haynie

MOTHERLAND BY JO MCMILLAN

Welcome to my second book review.badge_proreader

MotherlandCoverToday’s book is of special interest to me as it is partly set in former East Germany during the late 1970s. Having spent three months at the Karl Marx Univeristy in Leipzing before reunification I was keen to see how well  the author captured the GDR’s unique and complicated spirit? How well and accurately she portrayed the places and its people?

The answer to both these questions is resounding very well indeed.

Written in the first person of 13-year-old Jess, Motherland follows three years of her life as a communist believer whilst living in Tamworth. Her mother, Eleanor, is a staunch socialist  (communism is in the blood) and she works ceaselessly for the cause whilst at the same time being employed as a teacher.

To start with the writing style is comic in places, wonderfully fluid and light.  Of her mother, Jess says “…her communist beliefs. Card-carrying. Chronic. As if it were a medical condition”.

As a child at Grammar School Jess suffers for her beliefs; facing both scorn and physical punishment from both the pupils and members of staff.  Miss Downing, the headmistress, regards Jess “with a dead father and a communist other, … as good as orphaned”. As it was Jess’s father died before she was born. “Each just the other side of life.”

Tamworth is unreceptive, and at times violent, to Eleanor’s zealous campaigning and Jess herself  describes it as “…that’s what you did with Time in this town, filled it. Because you weren’t born with a life, but a giant hole”.

No wonder therefore that Eleanor and Jess are overjoyed to receive the opportunity to travel to East Germany for a summer whilst Eleanor takes on teaching classes. Finally they are being offered the chance to experience the socialist dream.

Their first visit fails to dampen their innocent and naive trust in the system. For Eleanor she views GDR not so much through rose-coloured spectacles, rather through technicoloured rainbow glasses. During their first visit and subsequent visits and events her indefatigable belief in the GDR never falters.

Her unsuspecting beliefs never waver whereas Jess becomes increasingly aware of the discrepancies of the promised words and reality. Whilst Jess changes during these pivotal years she continues to love and protect her mother – realising that her mother is as happy as she can be in the sharing community of the East German society.

The tension in the book mounts as Jess’s innocence is shattered and she  gradually awakens to the murkier nature of the GDR, where friend becomes foe, where one’s every move is monitored, reported. Where paranoia is the norm.The first cracks in Jess’s beliefs are created through her friendship with an East German girl, Martina.  Her mother befriends and later falls for Martina’s father, Peter.  The friendship between the four will have devastating repercussions for them all.

As the book develops so does the language, mimicking Jess’s own internal development. From her comic language at such events as her childhood attempt to defect to the GDR, the language becomes more serious and sophisticated as Jess becomes unwittingly deeper involved in the intelligence world. It’s a most successful transition in writing style.

The author creates not only the sense of 1970s East Germany, with its Berlin Wall, grey cities, idyllic countryside, Bitterfeld, Buchenwald, Zwickau, endless monument visits and of course the trabbies;  she also captures the spirit of the UK with its CND, National Front, Thatcher – and not forgetting the Angel Delight!

This book is not what I expected – more complex, multi-layered. Funny and sad with great characters who succeeded in getting under my skin and living with me long after I had finished the book. It’s most surprising and well-worth a read.

Book Rating: Smiley-face-emoticon-575-2

Publisher:  John Murray Press

Release Date: 2 Jul 2015

“Sacred space is an absolute necessity for anybody today…This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”

Joseph John Campbell

A Midwife’s Revolt: A Book Review

sleeping women

Painting: Courtesy of B.Haynie

Recently I had the opportunity to join NetGalley, an online book reviewing organisation.  Publishers send in their books months prior to release and ‘professional readers’ are then asked to review the book. The feedback and recommendations are considered highly valuable to the publishers and future readers alike.

badge_proreaderI will be reviewing one new book here on my blog on a monthly basis – do look out for them and hope you enjoy the reviews.

The Midwife’s Revolt  by  Jodi Daynard

cover60583-mediumWithin the first few sentences, this book immediately and powerfully transported me to the life of women left behind home during the American Revolution.

The story follows newly-wed Lizzie Bolyston as she sets up home on a farm on the outskirts of a new town South of Boston.

Related in Lizzie’s voice the reader quickly enters the head and heart of this strong young lady as she faces increasingly tougher struggles.

Firstly grief blindsides her but with help of friends she slowly overcomes both this and then the prejudice to what is regarded as her ‘witch’ like skills of healing and midwifery. She is exceptional in both and gradually, the ‘medical arts’ taught to her by her mother, help provide a living for Lizzie whilst saving dozens of lives.

As the war deepens Lizzie finds herself embroiled in political intrigue centred around her close friend Abigail Adams, the wife of the future Second President of America. For a while Lizzie even finds herself attempting to disguise herself as a man during her espionage escapades. After all, the book starts with the sentence: ‘My father once told me I had the mind of a man.’

However this is not a traditional thriller as parallel to the assassinations and treachery runs various strands of the romantic nature.

Lizzie finds herself courted by a man, Mr Cleverly- but can she trust him? Equally she is attracted to another, Thomas Miller – yet again she is faced with the same dilemma of those unstable times – is he trustworthy?

The actions of her servant and close friend Martha also raises further doubts as to faithfulness and friendship. This suspicion causes great heart-ache for both women. Life for them all is never simple nor straight forward and nothing is quite what it seems.

I must make a quick mention to another powerful being in the book, whose existence is still etched on my brain – the wonderful and faithful horse, ‘Star’, her husband’s beloved animal. Life is never fair, Star!

Jodi Daynard’s writing is fluid throughout and its authentic contemporary feel never wavers. At times I have to remind myself this was actually a work of fiction and not a factual story.

The harsh and bleak life is brilliantly rendered, so raw I suffered with the women through their troubles and the winters of hunger. How I celebrated with them as they ate their far too rare servings of warm apple pie!

Their struggles with the farm are graphically related and whilst celebrating feminism and its strength, I rejoiced when they received the occasional help from a man with some of the hard graft.

The book climaxes with a dramatic battle on their very doorstep where the battles of the heart are reconciled and the future of America is more secured.

Although I approached this book with trepidation – the time period alone of the American Revolution  filled me with fear – I can honestly say there is never a boring moment in the book.

It has a  strong pace throughout, the characters, whether good or evil,  are vividly portrayed and the true grit and courage of the women shine through.

This is truly a gem of a book. Do read it now and escape into the past!

Publishers: Lake Union Publishing

Release date: 7th April 2015

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 found out that I am now on the short list on the Ink Tears Short Story Competition 2014.

Yes, I am thrilled to have reached this far.

Winners will be announced end of this month.

“From the eyes to the river
From the river to the sea
From the sea to darkening clouds
From the sky back down to me
Follow my tears…”
by Eddie Reader, singer/songwriter