Sunday, 24 August 2014

Flowers for Bethlem

We had to say goodbye to Bethlem royal hospital after a long association of three and a half years. It's been very sad but we've also done some lovely things along this  journey of bidding farewell to both the place and the people.

How do you capture all that it has meant to us? 

Together we made a collage with golden grasses from the meadows, bright parakeet found feathers, acorns to remind us of that amazing collective thud they made last year in the woods which we named the 'acorn drop', pictures of the woods bluebells, momentos of all the crafty things we'd made and places we'd been. J and W helped us as part of a final session with them and we circulated it around all the staff to sign next to their pictures. It's a very meaningful picture to take away as we all move on.

To say thank you and goodbye we also brought flowers from home. They have come every week for E but this time they came in bucket loads from our garden and our neighbour s's garden and allotment, and were even picked amongst the hedgerows around Coombe cottages. We made 18 wonderful bunches, set them up in a magnificent display in the conference room,  with not too much water on the carpet, and left them for everyone to find and take a tiny but of Coombe cottages home with them...

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Mr B's Reading Year - Hideous Creatures

In Hideous Creatures, Lister tells the story of Arthur Hallingham who is on the run from his aristocratic family in England, where he had to leave because of some dark occurence – we don't find out the truth until near the end of the novel. He starts out for Africa, before travelling on a slave ship to America, hoping to lose himself in the New World. What transpires goes entirely beyond his worst nightmares, lost in the destructiveness of a native medicine man, Shelo, and another companion, Flora, daughter of an outlaw. The trio journey through the wilderness, as Shelo's true intentions come to the fore...

There are two interlinking stories: one starting from Arthur's passage on the ship, moving to the present, and the other starting in the present and moving forward. This could have been confusing, but Lister handled the change of time effectively without having to resort to dates etc, which is quite refreshing. Despite this, I did find the plot a little hard to follow at times, but I believe this was intentional: Lister wants the reader to be as in the dark as Arthur is.

The prose is beautiful and well constructed, but my main problem was that I just didn't really like Arthur very much! I'm not sure that we are meant to like him exactly, but his cowardice and general uselessness really grated on me! Flora, I liked, and Shelo was scary, as I'm sure was intended.

Overall, a promising début from Lister, and nice to read something a bit different from a young author – not just another apocalyptic teen novel! Thank you Mr B's and Emma!

Thursday, 17 July 2014

The Bethlem Sun Fayre

Bethlem royal hospital has an annual sun fayre where the on site gallery and  OT departments get together to put on a community event in the green and shrubby gardens. It's been a relatively low key event when I've been with E in previous years but we thought it would be a fun and positive venture to run a craft stall to raise money for charity. As everyone remarked it seemed most bizarre that E and I had never done this before despite our crafting ventures over the years.
E managed to recruit some other  contributions from  Tyson West 2 ward and with a beautifully old borrowed stripey gazebo, rickety wallpapering table covered in an old blue tablecloth and a set of camping chairs it looked like the real thing. A complex network of string allowed us to hang a pained blue sign and E's exquisite knitting. We managed to produce a range of crafty things over weekends in June - blue Haiku bowls ( paper bowls made from strips of newspaper with a special haiku written by T in Cambridge on the bottom in torn letters) , wash bags, patchwork cushions, appliqué cards, button and bead jewellery, friendship bracelets and broaches from Ay. I brought a huge bucketful of Somerset flowers to make into posies of wildness, and a tray of seedlings. 
The day was showery so it was an exciting event with us sheltering from rain in our little tent, the stage at one end of te gardens producing a range of music and ramblings, other stalls with bric and brac and tombolas, and the art collections of Terrence and his colleagues in the gallery's tents.
We were pleased to raise just over £100 for charity - all but about £18 going to BEAT ( beat eating disorders) and the remainder to the Royal Marsden hospital in London . Thank you to Bry and Ay for helping us run the stall and face painting so continuously, and to all those who supported us. 

Friday, 4 July 2014

The Midnight Garden: MG Discussion

So, I've been being more active in the online world of book blogs and stuff this year, and I've been signed up for a read-a-long! For those that don't know, it's kind of like an online book group, where you read the same book (s) and then there's a discussion about them. It's a nice idea - talking books with people is fantastic in any way, shape or form.

I came across The Midnight Garden via GoodReads and following Wendy's (excellent) reviews. This year, the girls at The Midnight Garden are doing a Middle Grade read-a-long of all the classics that you may have read (or missed) as a child. For those, like I was, who are unfamiliar with the term Middle Grade, it's not quite Young Adult, but one step up from Children's. This means about 10-14 (I think!!?!).

I joined the bandwagon a bit late, so I missed the first book which was The Northern Lights - real shame as I love Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials so much that it would have been lovely to read it with people. I've also missed one because I wasn't organised enough... So, at this halfway point I have managed three out of five books (it started in February). Not too bad... Hopefully I'll manage all of the next lot. The moderators at The Midnight Garden have been amazingly welcoming, and receptive to my comments (which haven't all been that positive at times!) and I really appreciate the sense of community. The fact that they take the time to answer comments makes me feel very included.

So, let's look at the books.

The first I read was 'The Luckiest Girl' by Beverly Clearly - I'd never heard of it, but it's apparently a classic wrong with this book, but it didn't really captivate me.
in America. There wasn't anything remarkably wrong with this, but I felt rather left out from the nostalgia trip it offered to all the American readers. It is a very light read about a girl called Shelley who spends one year (or two semesters, I think?) in orange county, staying with her cousins, at the age of sixteen. Basically, that is the premise and the plot of this book.

I think that the appealing thing about this sort of very dated book is the nostalgia element and, since the situation and the high school culture are not familar to me, I couldn't really take part in this. As such, it was... well, sort of boring. I hesitate to write this because (if it truly is a classic) then people might be offended, but I would expect it to work the other way round as well, ie. some British classics would not appeal to our neighbours over the pond. The writing isn't noteworthy, very little of substance happens, and I couldn't relate to her experiences.

Next was Anne of Green Gables, which (shockingly I know) I hadn't actually read before. Anne is such a silly young girl at the beginning, but it's very nice seeing her grow and mature. I wish I had read this as a child actually, as I think I'd appreciate it more then. I think it was one of my late grandmother's favourite books; she spent some of the war in Canada.

I liked Anne, despite her silliness, and although the plot is fairly banal, it was enjoyable to read.

Then, I missed out on A Wrinkle In Time, which was a shame - it looked good fun.

Most recently has been The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin: another book I'd never heard of (oh dear.) It's a mystery story, a murder mystery in fact: a genre that I have literally zero experience with, let alone of an American young adult/middle grade one. So, I was quite excited for something so completely novel.

Again, what lacked for me was the lack of nostalgia. I can imagine rereading this with pleasure, but since I have first been introduced to it as an adult, it doesn't feel the same.

Like Kim, one of the moderators at The Midnight Garden, I can embarrasedly confess that I didn’t “get” the ending until it was all spelled out! Am I just a very undiscerning reader? For me, I didn’t enjoy the plot line that much, but I did enjoy the characters. They were mostly a little larger than life, but it is an MG read, so that’s understandable.

Unlike many others, I wasn’t enamoured with Turtle, probably the main character. Maybe if I had read this as a child I would have been, but as an adult, her kicking of everyone’s shins and her obsession with making money on the stocks just didn’t make her appeal to me. On the other hand, I loved her older sister Angela and that story arc – agree totally that one of the most powerful moments in the book was when Angela changed her status from “none” to “person."

It’s Raskin’s little touches like that that made me continue with this book, despite being a bit lost by the plot (still embarrassed by how stupid I am!). I enjoyed the Epilogue, even though I was horrified that Angela ended up with Denton (a very boring man)… How can that be her ending??

So, there we have it. Halfway point of the year. I've already read the next one and will do a wrap up post in December I suppose! It's intriguing reading these classics with fresh eyes. What makes a classic? In my opinion it's something that lasts the test of time and doesn't feel dated; and for children's books, it's where the story can appeal to adult readers at the same time. Do not be deceived that children's books are easier to write! 

What do you think makes a classic?

Sunday, 22 June 2014

Mr B's Reading Year - The Bone Season

The Bone Season – Samantha Shannon

This is my fourth (?) Mr B's book, and I really wanted to enjoy it. As Emma, my bibliotherapist said, it's a debut written by a very talented young women (and I mean really young – I'm very jealous of her for managing to be so committed, as she's my age!) and it has been highly received by lots of readers. It was originally published last summer, there are going to be six (SIX!) more, and the film rights have already been sold to Andy Serkis's Studio (yep, that's Gollum to you and me!). On top of that it has already been translated into 28 different languages! So, basically, a lot people think there's a lot of positive things going for it.

The Bone Season is set in 2059, and is a dystopian future where clairvoyants (people with special magic-type abilities) are singled out, and scape-goated for all problems in the new world. It begins in London (quite fun, as there are recognisable landmarks) and continues in Oxford (fun, for the same reasons!). Paige Mahoney, nineteen, is the main character: a clairvoyant whose special ability is to be capable of moving in and out of the minds of others people, known as a dreamwalker. She is part of a gang of sorts, working underground, although Paige's father is a key part of the non-clairvoyant government. It involves magic, steam-punk elements, a sort-of vampire-mortal style relationship and a feisty heroine. What could go wrong?

Well, for me, it didn't work. The first section is a bit of an information-dump, lots of telling and not a lot of showing. We certainly need to glean a lot of information about Shannon's world, but there are more effective ways of doing it. There was too much stated, and, for me, there was too much in one go. I wonder whether this says something about me as a reader, rather than Shannon as a writer: maybe I'm just too stupid or lazy a reader to appreciate her work? I'd like to think not, but you never know... The convolution got worse progressively throughout the novel. There are some really good moments, but there are some plot holes and graunchy scenes that just ruined it for me. I couldn't keep up with the information flow, and didn't warm to some of the other characters; again, there were too many for me to keep track of. (Although I loved Liss and Julian).

I was really disappointed with this book: not only because I didn't enjoy it, but because it was one of my Mr B's books that Emma had chosen for me personally, so I want to like these books even more (like I did for Burial Rites.) Ah well – not every book chosen is going to be perfect. Sorry Emma, but I hope I like the next one!

Mime Order, the second in the septet, is coming out later this year, but I don't think that I'll be reading it, sadly.

Thursday, 19 June 2014

Tale of Two Very Different Books

I've been keeping up with all my ARCs from NetGalley, and it was also lucky enough to receive a paper copy of a novel directly from the author! Here are my (very different) thoughts on two novels.

The main thing I am thinking having just finished Deep Blue is 'phew!' At least I can stop reading it now.

I thought I'd like this book. A story about merpeople, a world under the sea (I love the sea) with a high fantasy sort of plot line. I wish I'd read some of the other reviews before requesting this ARC from NetGalley, because if I had then I needn't have wasted time reading it.

Maybe I'm being harsh, but it really just didn't work for me. There was a huge amount of information dumping at the beginning, which was clumsy but still left me unsure of all the particulars of Donnely's world. There is a glossary at the back, which may have come in handy but, as I was reading it in kindle format, I didn't realise this until the end. But, really, I don't think my overall opinion would have changed.

The characters were... about as limp as the plot. We end with six mermaids, but we picked four of them up near the end and, as such, have zero emotional attachment to them, and they aren't developed at all. I suppose they will be in the sequels but I for one am not going to read any more of this!

To top it off, there were some issues with incoherent point of view switching, and a lot of 'telling' rather than 'showing.' (Eg. She was eating too many sweets. She did that when she was nervous. Like now.) The writing style overall was nothing special, and I was very distracted by all of the lame puns, like currensea for money. It felt quite childish, even though it was a middle grade read.

I don't like giving bad reviews, but I have to be honest. It gets one star - purely because of the awesome front cover.

Please note I received an ARC from NetGalley, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Quotes may be changed by the final published edition, which was released on May 3rd.

And onto my second review...

I have, unfortunately, some experience of general hospitals in the UK and for anyone wondering, YES - this is exactly what they're like.

Brindle has even unflinchingly, ruthlessly honest about what life is like for the nurses on the 'front line.' I'd like to think it was exaggerated, or that he was bitter (Brindle is an RGN himself) but it's just not the case. It really is that hard.

An Angel's Alternative follows the story of three nurses, - John Hunter, Dave Chiltern and sister Ashe - one Health Care Assistant, - Roxane - and a patient, Tom, as well as snippets of other people's stories. Sound like too many characters? Confusing? It isn't because the characters are well-defined, and point of view remains consistent until some sort of break in the text. This may sound like a stupid comment, but there are many novels where point of view shifting I the middle of scenes creates real confusion and chaos for the book.

Plot wise, it fell down a little for me - things were all a little too rosy at the end, and, also, I felt like there was so much more to tell! This book could have been longer; I wanted it to be! Additionally, I would have liked a bit more depth to Sister Ashe's portion of the story, as well as Roxanne's. The male characters took the lead most of the way through.

Overall, a good book, an honest book, and one that might be enlightening to many people. Slightly different structure (it felt quite like a memoir rather than a novel) and a bit longer would be even better!

Please note: I was kindly given a free copy to review by the author. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

So, there we have it - two VERY contrasting books in terms of subject manner and whether I enjoyed them. I'd like to see what else Rick Brindle writes in the future, but I think I'll stay clear of Jennifer Donnelly...

Monday, 9 June 2014

Book Reviews - Roses for a Diva and The Rise and Fall of Great Powers


Roses for a Diva - Rick Blechta

This is a fast paced, exciting novel telling the story of one opera singer's experience when she receives flowers from an anonymous donor... The soprano originally thinks they are from her husband, but it soon transpires something more sinister is at hand. Jumping between England and other european cities, with an exciting climax, Roses for a Diva will take you on one roller coaster of a ride.

Marta lives an idyllic life, of sorts. But when things fall into place and she discovers the depths to which she has been violated by her stalker, her life seems to crumble before her. It is a crime story, but also a tale of self discovery for Marta. I understand that Blechta is writing a series about Marta and her life. Although I enjoyed this one, I'm not sure that I would read any more of her.  Crime is not my preferred genre, and it would also feel very implausible for someone to be caught up in more similar events, unless, of course, they are a detective or similar.

Still, this was a well paced, thoroughly thought out novel. Although it felt a little unrealistic at times, it was great fun!

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers – Tom Rachman

This book started out very promisingly. With such a fantastic name as Tooly Zylberberg, and the setting of a book shop (pretty sure based in the real Hay-on-Wye) I had high hopes.

For me, unfortunately, they were all for nothing.

The Rise and Fall of Great Powers tells the story of Tooly's highly unconventional childhood and lifestyle through distinct three plot lines. One starts when Tooly is nine and living a nomadic lifestyle with her dad, Paul. Her distracted, chaotic mother, Sarah, enters and takes her away to live an even more bizarre lifestyle, following people round the globe. Enter more unlikely characters: supposedly Russian Humphrey, who plays chess and ping pong with her and lets her drink Cola for breakfast; and Venn, a sort of leader of their group, who Tooly idolises. The second plot line follows Tooly in her early twenties, and the third is Tooly in the present day, starting out in that Welsh bookshop. She receives information to say that her father is ill, but through a long series of misunderstandings, it is to Humphrey's bedside she flies out to.

It is a journey of self discovery for Tooly as she realises all was not as it seemed during her eccentric childhood, and the people who brought her up never shared the whole story with her.

For me, it just didn't work. The dotting about between the different storylines felt too chaotic; it was difficult to get a hold on some sort of plotline. But, worse than that, I didn't really resonate with any of the characters. There were aspects of many of them that I liked, but they were not consistent enough for me to feel for. Fundamentally, I didn't care what happened to them. This was such a disappointment to what I felt was going to be a fantastic book.

Note: I received an ARC from NetGalley in return for an honest review.
The Rise and Fall of Great Powers comes out on Tuesday June 10th.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Mr B's Reading Year - Burial Rites


My third Mr B's book, and what a winner! After being a little bit disappointed (but only a bit) with The Testament of Jesse Lamb, this was completely the opposite. Thank you to my bibliotherapist, Emma, for such a brilliant choice! H had actually been given this by A for Christmas, and they read it in their book group a few months ago, so it came with more good recommendations. I wasn't disappointed - from the first chapter I knew I was in good hands.

Firstly, I'd like to say that Iceland is pretty much number one on my want-to-travel-to destinations in the whole world. Has been since I was about... twelve or thirteen? For lots of reasons – but mostly just because of the harsh beauty of the landscape. So, this book was intrinsically attractive to me before I started.

Burial Rites is the story of Agnes, the last woman to be executed in Iceland in the 1800s. It is Kent's debut novel, and the meticulous research gone into it (it was part of her PhD) is apparent from the onset. The atmosphere is hard, harsh, and cold; the setting is more than just a backdrop, as Iceland seems almost a character in its own right. This book could not have been set anywhere else, the setting is integral to the story

At the start of each chapter are official documents, and I think they may be real from Kent's extensive research, which contribute to telling the story of Agnes, Frederick and Natan, the men who were killed. This dual method of story telling was very effective; the juxtaposition of official language to the flowing, beautiful prose gave differing perspectives. I enjoyed being shown alternative viewpoints on this woman.

At the end of the novel, there was an article by Hannah Kent, and some FAQs, which really added to it for me. It was evident how thorough she had been just by reading it, and it was fascinating to learn more about her writing process (she would sit down and write 1,000 words every day, come what may!) and how much of the novel was fantasy and what was historical fact.

Overall, a brilliant, beautifully haunting book. I'd be fascinated to see what Hannah Kent writes next!

Thank you to Emma at Mr B's - one of the best books I've read this year!

What does anyone else think? Tempted to read it? Already read it? Excited for her next novel? Leave a comment and let me know!

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

"Our field"

Hello Readers!
I haven't contributed for quite a while, though I have been collecting some pictures of the field in anticipation of writing this.
To back-track: we acquired the field in the legal sense on the 15th February, having spent some time arranging with two of our neighbours the proportions and shapes of the pieces we would have.

Our section is shown here outlined in red  on the plan prepared for us by our friend David the architect.
For the previous many years (19 that we know about) the field has housed our loca dairy farmer's dry cows and baby calves from about March to October. So the edges and fencing have not needed to be kept in a secure or tidy state.

Here is some of the debris we collected:

We burnt a lot of old brambles and rubbish:

Here is a shot that gives a perspective on the size of the blaze!

Then neat and tidy new fence:

and finally, sheep!

We like the sheep. The white one butting A is Wendy, a last-year's bottle lamb, who is a Texel. The rest in this picture are Herdwicks, and there are also Blackface and six of this year's lambs. They all belong to someone else, and are temporary grass eaters, pending us organising some of our own. A is going to the Bath and West show tomorrow to choose some! And goats?