Tuesday, 31 December 2013



This time last year were just few days BC - before cancer.
 It was on january 2 that Adam spent the day at the hospital starting the tests to see if his kidney was suitable to donate to his friend.  During the tests they found the tumour.
Thankfully, just a few months later everything is 100%. The cancer was successfully removed along with the kidney in March and after a protracted recovery, Adam is now back at work and back to full fitness.
Reflecting back on the year, I can see how we were so blessed. It was a miraculous way to find what could easily have been undiscovered until it was life threatening. And in the end, all that happened was what Adam was volunteering to do. The only real downside was that we were unable to help his friend.  So while 2013 has in some ways been the most stressful and unpleasant year, my overriding feeling is one of gratitude and reassurance.  I still have my soul mate and best friend with me. And because he was off sick, we managed to have the best family summer we've ever had. Our first family holiday in years and all with renewed emphasis that family and love is what really matters.
There are of course issues that come with the Big C, not least that every headache becomes a brain tumour and that slight irrational fear that it might come back… But whilst there is a temptation to wallow, this year has taught me to seek the positive. It's there in droves if we just look.
I'm grateful for our home, our cars, that we have so much. I'm grateful for extended family, who were just there. I never worried about the children while I was running in and out of hospital and spending hours there, I never have to worry now when I'm at work. Between my family  and the fabulous outlaws our lives are infinitely enriched. And I regularly sit with family and think how great it is to be surrounded by people we love and who love us, who do anything for each other without even thinking about it. I'm grateful for our health, that the problem wasn't permanent or seriously limiting.  I'm grateful for the reminder to be grateful, for the chance to be reminded of what is important.

So in 2014, I shall try to be exactly that: grateful. I shall be glad for having the opportunity to get cross at shoes in the middle of the floor, at endlessly repeating myself asking for things to be done or stopped,  at never having an empty laundry basket, at having to clean the same things over and over, at having to cook endless meals and do endless chores. I will be grateful for all the small things because I could have lost them and many others don't have them.  Most of all, in 2014 I will remember ONLY LOVE. Because thats what counts and why its all worth it.

Friday, 2 December 2011

Latest Reads

Room with A View by EM Forster
An entertaining tale of romance and mildly critical of English Edwardian society, this is the story of Lucy who in the first part is touring Italy with her overbearing spinster cousin when she falls in love with a slightly 'unsuitable' man. it was much easier to read than i expected and i shall follow up with some of Forster's other classic tales.

Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
I really enjoyed this tale which takes place both in modern day and 13th century Carcassone on France. A thrilling adventure which despite its nearly 700 pages, i read within a few days because i didn't want to put it down. it has also had the unexpected effect of making me want to visit the places it mentions. with a backdrop of real events in the medieval sections, i was amazed that a crusade was fought within Europe to other 'christians', a fact i didn't know before.
fantastic 9/10

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson.
The more of these classics i read the more i realise why they are called classic! despite being aware of the pivotal point of the book - that the two characters are one and the same person - i still found this gripping. its very short, just 54 pages in my edition, so its quite quick to read and beautifully written. 8/10

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
For a book written in the 1930s, this felt remarkably modern. it is a parody of the over dramatic novels that were popular at the time, but i found it hilarious and loved every minute. it is the story of orphaned Flora who descends on her quirky relatives at the farm of the title, and sets about putting things in order.
brilliant! 10/10

Tess of the D'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
This is such a classic that I'm glad i was forced to read it by it being our book club pick of the month. its quite wordy and not particularly easy to read, Hardy assumes a high level of education in his readers and constantly quotes things in a slightly pretentious way. once you get down to the actual story of what happens to Tess, it is a sad tale of innocence ruined and love betrayed. Worth its title of classic. 8/10

Burning Bright by Tracy Chevalier
Burning bright takes its title from the poem Tyger Tyger by William Blake and features him as a character. it is supposed to be an imaged idea of how Blake wrote the poem, through watching a developing relationship between country boy Jem, and city girl Maggie. To be honest, i couldn't see how it was related. the book did a fabulous job at vividly describing 18th century London, but nothing really happened in it and it didn't really fulfill the blurb on the back. easy to read. 4/10

Brick Lane by Monica Ali
THis is the story of Nazneen, Bangladeshi by birth who moves to England at 18 to marry a man twice her age. this was nominated for the man booker prize, but i'm learning this doesn't seem to mean anything. I found it completely depressing and somewhat contrived. i didn't find the actions of the character believable. i really struglled to finish this, only bothered because it was our book club read again. miserable. 5/10

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Set in the trenches of WW1, this was gripping right until the end, which i found disappointing. Beautifully descriptive. 8/10

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
A tale of a dystopian future planet earth, where children are made in batches in labs, and raised to do specific jobs that they are designed and indoctrinated for, this was fascinating, although it did leave me somewhat afraid for Huxley's mental state when he wrote it. it portrays a very bleak future where stability is the utmost so people are only allowed to be 'happy' as sadness and extreme emotion cause problems. its somewhat depressing, but thankfully its so far from any reality that you can read it as an interesting idea. 8/10

Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
this is an autobiographical tale of Lee's childhood in rural England just after WW1, in a disappeared world. while it wasn't dramatic and eventful, i found it really interesting as a historical social study. 6/10

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

June -August Reads

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
covering nearly 40 years of tumultuous Afghan history, this focus' on the interconnected lives of two women. I found it fascinating simply for understanding some of the conflict that Afghanistan is known for, but most satisfying as a story too. I felt deeply for Mariam and Laila, and it gave some insight into understanding such a different culture. An excellent read. 9/10

A Room With A View by EM Forster
I started ths book with absolutely no idea what it was about, simply that I had heard of it several times and thus it was probably worth looking at. It was delightful. I often find 'classics' to be somewhat dry and hard to read, but this was entertaining from the first. Romantic and gently mocking of the social order of the day, it was very enjoyable. 7/10

Live and Laughing by Michael McIntyre
This is his autobiography, and although there were several laugh-out-loud moments, it wasn't quite as funny as I thought it would be. i did find it interesting though, especially to see his rise to the top wasn't as straight forward as might have been expected. Easy and fun.
The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
Yet another classic that wasn't quite what I thought (perhaps I should shelve the pre-conceptions!). The main problem with this book is that it revolves around the idea that we don't know that Jekyll and Hyde are one and the same. Despite that, it is still a really interesting insight into the presence of good and bad in each of us, and how we respond to it. Definitely worth its classic status. 9/10

Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
The story of twin brothers Marion and Shiva, born of the illicit union between an Indian nun and a British surgeon in Ethiopia. Effectively orphaned at birth by their mothers childbirth death and their father's disappearance, they grow up closely linked at a clinic until love for the same woman tears them apart. Marion flees Ethiopia for a hospital in New York, until the past catches up with him, leaving him in the hand of the brother who betrayed him and the father who abandoned him. I really enjoyed it. 8/10

City of Thieves by David Benioff
A writer visits his gandparents to talk of their experiences during the siege of Leningrad in WW2. Grandfather Lev tells of being too young for the army and working as a volunteer firefighter for his building when a German paratrooper falls dead at his feet one night. Arested for the looting the body, Lev is thrown in jail with deserter Kolya. Instead of the standard bullet in the back of the head, they are thrown a lifeline when the influential colonel sends them out on an impossible task: find a dozen eggs for his daughter's wedding cake. Thesearch takes them around the lawlessness of Leningrad and the devastated surrounding countryside and creates an unlikely bomd between the two. As usual, I love the historical aspect of the story, but I couldn't put it down. 8/10
Cider with Rosie by Laurie Lee
An autobiographical account of a childhood in rural England in the 1920s, I enjoyed this gentle tale. Not wildly exciting, it nevertheless grabbed my attention for capturing a lost way of life. It described the village and its inhabitants so vividly that I could see it all so easily. 6/10

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson
Introducing private detective Jackson Brodie, this beautifully twisting story of three cases features such great, vivid characters that it was a joy to read. Having seen a TV adaptation already and knowing the outcomes still didn't ruin the book. 8/10

Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters
This is the story of homeless junkie and convict Stuart. Alex met him when they campaigned together over the wrong conviction of two drug counsellors. As Alex works back through Stuart's life to how he got to this point, we get to see how events and decisions have impacted on his life. I can't review this book without warning of the shocking language throughout, but it had a powerful impact on me, and a renewed desire to try and remember that we are all children of God in the end, and we can't see what brought a person to the place they are in. One of the best books I've read in a long time. 10/10

Saturday, 4 June 2011

April - May books

Its been a slow couple of months on the book front, so there are only a few:
March by Geraldine Brooks
The March in question is the missing Mr March from Little Women. Here his experiences away from his girls fighting in the civil war are vividly imagined. In stark constrast to the sweet and gentle Little Women of Louisa Alcott's story, March sees and experiences the worst that humanity has to offer during the bloody conflict. Based around letters and diaries of Louisa Alcotts father, this is at times unsettling, but very readable. 8/10

The Night Watch by Sarah Waters
Following the lives of four people as they live in London during WW2, this book tells the story backwards - starting in 1947 and working back to 1941. Whilst featuring intriguing characters and some clear insights into people's psyche, this didn't really work for me and I felt it ended very abruptly. I still read itquite quickly though, as once I started there were elements of the story I had to get to the bottom of. 5/10

The Mango Orchard by Robin Bayley
Robin's Great Grandfather lived and worked in Mexico around the turn of the 20th century. a hundred years later, Robin follows in his footsteps with a vague feeling there is something to find 'in a small town, near a small town near Guadalajara.' Undertaking a long and winding journey into the unknown, Robin encounters bandits, guerilla fighters and witches as he travels around South and Latin America eventually finding all he was looking for and more.
Witty, fascinating and very entertaining, this is deeply evocative of the sights and smells of Mexico, making me want to visit despite his brushes with bandits and the like. An excellent read. 9/10
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
The more old classics I read, the more surprised I become at how many are not quite what I thought. There is more to this book than can possibly be put into any film and its definitely worth reading the original. It also provides some fascinating insights into how our perception has changed over time, particularly with regard to attitudes to the poor and needy. Well deserving of its classic status. 9/10

Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
The story of the people who occupy three flats overlooking Highgate Cemetery in London, revolving around the twin girls who are bequeathed the middle floor after their aunt dies. Niffenegger writes in a truly beautiful way, and in both her books focus' on the relationships between people rather than the circumstance they find themselves in. She is extraordinarily good at putting feelings into words. This book has some absolutely beautiful passages, but while it started amazingly well, I didn't really like the ending. There were far too many unanswered questions for me. 7/10
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
I first read this when I was a teenager, and my first clue is that I didn't remember it at all. I re-read for my book club and as we discussed it we realised why its so popular in schools - there are so many themes that can be pulled out of it and turned into essays. However, for me, as a straight read, I wasn't that bothered and didn't really get that into it. 6/10
Girl with A Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
The picture on the cover is a painting by Johannes Vermeer by the same name as the novel. The book is an imagined story of how that painting came into being, featuring a young girl who goes to work as a maid in the house of Vermeer. The actual origins of the painting remain a mystery, and this is informative on a period and country I knew nothing about. Interesting. 6/10

Friday, 1 April 2011

rest of march reads

Year of Wonders by Geraldine Brooks
Based on a true story, this story tells of the small Derbyshire village of Eyam, from 1665-1666. The village fell victim to the plague, which came to them in infected cloth from London. Under the direction of the young Reverend, the villagers took the extraordinary decision to quarantine themselves and seal off the village until the plague had gone. With some disturbing moments, this really brings to life the realities of the figures you see of the mortality rate. With all the panic, pain and grief brought vividly to life, this is a great read.
It prompted me to visit the real village and learn more about the real life heartache behind this story. A great book. 8/10

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Clare has known Henry almost her whole life, because Henry time travels. this story is about relationships and the effort to achieve normality in the face of overwhelming odds. Its beautiful and insightful, and totally let down by bad language which jumped off the page at me towards the end. Unnecessary and annoying, it ruined my enjoyment of an otherwise great novel. 2 points removed for that - 6/10.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
Starting at the end of his life, this is the story of Eddie's death and the people he meets in heaven who explain what his life meant and how their lives inter-related, even if Eddie didn't know it. Beautiful idea, movingly written. 8/10

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
Considered a classic, this is the story of Emma Bovary, wife of a small town doctor in rural France. She has adulterous affairs and lives extravagantly beyond her means to escape the boredom and emptiness of her life. Voted by contemporary authors as one of the most influential books ever written, I personally can't see the attraction. I felt no empathy or understanding for Emma or any other character, so it seemed vain and vacuous to me. 3/10

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
You should read this, its not the story you think it is. Profound, and insightful, this can be interpreted so many ways. It surprised me, I expected a horror story and this is far from that. I found it an intelligent work on responsibilities. Easy to read, and worth every moment. 9/10

Friday, 11 March 2011

February to March reads

After I did this for January, I thought I should keep it up as a record of the books that I have read. Next time I won't leave it so long, cos this is just February to 10th March!
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Excellent for those interested in Tudor history, the protagonist of this is Thomas Cromwell, who rose to become Henry VIII's Lord Chancellor. It won the Man Booker prize, but don't let that put you off. Brilliantly descriptive and powerfully evocative of the sights, sounds and smells of Tudor England, it is only let down by a slightly bizarre writing style of referring to Cromwell as 'he' all the way through the book, despite the confusion this leads to on occasion. Provided the reader recognises this and assumes 'he' means the protagonist, you'll be fine. I would have rated it 8/10 but it loses a point for the awkward writing style. 7/10
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
A beautiful young man gazes upon a picture of himself and wishes he could always stay that beautiful. He receives his wish, and the picture ages and decays instead of him. He lives a debauched life and watches in horror as the picture progressively portrays his internal ugliness. This was a fascinating read, with some real insights on how we judge people on their appearance. There are some challenging passages too though. Definitely worth persevering with. 6/10

The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
A blend of Bram Stoker's Dracula and Dan Brown's DaVinci Code, this uses historical writing and architecture (as in Dan Brown) to solve the mystery of the life and afterlife of Vlad 'The Impaler' Tepes - Dracula. Despite my complete lack of interest in vampires, this book was a strong enough story to keep my interest and wanting to turn the pages. Don't expect your Twilight style romantic hero vampire here though, Dracula is a real nasty piece of work, but with a peculiar penchant for librarians. Containing a few disturbing historical facts, this has some passages that made me wince, all the more for being real history. A good read. 7/10

Sister by Rosamund Lupton
Beatrice races home to London from New York when she hears her younger sister Tess is missing. Despite the thriller/mystery aspect what happened to her, this book really is about the relationship between the sisters. I read it within 24 hours, it was a real page turner. Beautifully insightful and honest, with a twist I didn't see coming despite guessing who was responsible about half way through. Compelling. 8/10

One Day by David Nicholls
Starting the day they graduate, this looks at Emma and Dexter on the same day for the next twenty years. A great premise, this didn't really deliver for me. I didn't relate to the characters, found them both quite cliched and stereotyped, and I didn't quite believe their story. 5/10

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Anne Barrows
I always forget that a part of the British Isles was occupied by the Germans during WW2, and this story vividly brought the experience to life. Written as a series of letters, it is by turns witty, charming, insightful, educational and heart-breakingly sad. An easy and quick read, I highly recommend it. 9/10

Holes by Louis Sachar
Aimed at the youth market, this delighful book is absolutely worth a couple of hours of anyone's time. A miscarriage of justice sends Stanley Yelnats to a young offenders place on a dry lake bed, where they spend all day every day digging holes. Beautifully written, with a neat wrap to the story. Fabulous. 9/10

Longitude by Dava Sobel
The true story of the man who effectively invented the pocket watch, plus a whole array of other devices we still use, to try and help ships with the problem of knowing longitude. Fascinating, and entertaining. 8/10

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
A fictional account of the life of geisha Sayuri, it nevertheless relies heavily on real accounts and accurate historical fact. Beautifully evocative of life in the pleasure distict of Gion in Kyoto, this book is gut-wrenchingly matter of fact of the worst elements of the life that a geisha had and shows the sometime ugliness behind the mask of beauty. It appeals greatly to my interest in Japan and Japanese history, and I loved it. 8/10

Tuesday, 1 February 2011


Joanna's bookshelf: read

The Book Thief

Mister Pip

Handmaids Tale

The Help

Never Let Me Go

The Catcher in the Rye

The Other Hand

The Thirteenth Tale

People of the Book

The Kite Runner

The Remains of the Day

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

The Lovely Bones

The Little Stranger

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

Pride and Prejudice

Joanna Rigby's favorite books »