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Archive for the ‘Recommended by a friend’ Category

For me, historical fiction reigns supreme. Like a true and loyal friend, I know I’m not going to be disappointed. And this book was no exception. Dedicated to my kindred spirit Jen Loker for recommending it and being just that type of friend. xo

White Rose Rebel is set in Scotland in the early 1700’s. Anne, the heroine of the novel is loosely based on a historical figure almost entirely lost to time. Scraps of her story that remain, paint the picture of a Scotswomen, who risked everything, including her marriage by defying her husband and going to war for her country’s freedom. Though the novel is fictious, war was rife during this period and Scotland was on the verge of losing all. The last of their customs, freedoms and way of life were about to be lost to the English, much of which would not be regained for hundreds of years if ever.

Against that backdrop we meet the characters who paint the picture of Scottish society and its culture. Their way of life is beautifully portrayed – a people driven by their sense of community and deeply imbedded beliefs of freedom, equality and justice. You can’t help but recognise and relate to what is good and true about their way of life.  Particularly enjoyable were the descriptions of the equality between men and women which were vital to their societies functionality.

Sex and passion are major themes through the novel, as is sexual freedom. One critic describing the book as ‘pacy, racy…a hot little kilt lifter’ which it certainly is. However, I’m a believer that there is a difference between realism,sensationalism and pornography. Many a romantic scene represents much more than a few hot pages. I wouldn’t go as far to say that every novel is pure in its intentions but I think that a characters development and motivations, sexual or otherwise make for a realistic portrayal of time and people in history.

There’s not much left wanting in this novel. I must admit though that I have a love/ hate relationship with the writing technique of ‘long build up/conflict’ for the majority of the novel and then ‘resolution’ for the last few pages, or last chapter if you are lucky. I’m completely drawn in by the emotions it causes ie. fending off the desire to skip 20 pages and find out what happens, being completely unable to eat or sleep until you finish the book etc, but honestly sometimes it’s just heart wrenching!

Paisely writes with great passion for her country. You feel her sense of lost for her countries history and with each page that history becomes introduced to you so poignantly.  She has such a deep, abiding sense of patriotism and a genuine love for her characters. It’s one of those stories you wish wouldn’t end.

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Happy Australia Day everyone! I hope you all had as good a day as we did. We enjoyed a fantastic BBQ, good friends and a swim in the pool. Although I didn’t once sing the national anthem, I felt our day spent enjoying Australian past times was sufficiently patriotic! What did you all get up to?

This weeks book is a good old-fashioned, skeletons in the closet, family secrets kind of story. Written in a very ‘Bronte Sisters’ style, it takes a few pages to adjust to the tone but once you’ve got it the language is rather beautiful, possessing a quality often only found in the ‘classics’. 

The story begins in Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia Canada where James Piper, a determined entrepeneur, meets 13-year-old Materia, the eldest daughter of a rags to riches Lebanese family. In their home to tune the family piano, James instead finds himself in love. He secretly courts Materia in the following weeks and soon enough they have eloped. Upon discovery they are disowned by Materia’s family and find themselves friendless and alone in an out-of-the-way town. The story spells out the recipe for disaster at every turn. It’s not unexpected when Materia doesn’t warm to the role of wife, housekeeper and mother nor when James wonders how this little girl ensnared him with her seduction. Materia is like a ghost, lost with no identity or family, and no longer the object of James affections. It is her children who eventually give her life joy, and it is them, the four Piper sister who’s lives we trace through this epic. 

Against the backdrop of early twentieth century Canada and New York the girls lives weave through religion, rebellion, mystery, memories, music, death, love and hope. Each sister is so unique and so defined by her experience, memories and history. They are interesting characters and the heart of this novel is in their relationships and the way they shape each others lives.

I actually really enjoyed this book, which surprised me because I often have difficulty with books that are too tragic. I think the reason is because the characters, though vivid, multifaceted and deeply constructed, were at the end of the day just characters. I didn’t find myself deeply involved with them, trying to warn them off decisions or rejoicing in their triumphs. And although I have considered this to be of my own doing, on further reflection I actually think it has been a tactical move by the author. By keeping the reader at arm’s length she almost has permission to take her story anywhere she wants it to go. There is after all no fear of offending the sensibilities of her readers. Thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think of this idea. Do you totally disagree? Did you get wrapped up in the characters?

It’s easy for me to recommend this book. If you are a Bronte lover, the language alone makes it an enjoyable experience. For everyone else the story, with its twists and turns, mystery and intrigue makes for great reading. It’s not a happy book but I’m gradually learning that that is okay. Something doesn’t have to be lovely to be beautiful or perfect to be memorable.

A warning for the cautious reader, this book contains themes of incest.

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Brilliant. Read it, read it, read it.

Still Alice is beautiful, heartfelt and perfectly sincere. It follows the journey of Alice, a 50-year-old Harvard Psychology Professor, wife and mother of three through her symptoms, diagnoses and life with early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. It’s told  in such a powerful way that you are not only educated with each turn of the page but deeply effected by the realities of this life changing condition. It’s an innately truthful tale. People with the disease have commented that Lisa Genova perfectly captured the emotions and realities of it and that is what is so touching. It feels so real.

“She wished she had cancer instead. She’d trade Alzheimer’s for cancer in a heartbeat. She felt ashamed for wishing this, and it was certainly a pointless bargaining, but she permitted the fantasy anyway. With cancer she’d have something she could fight. There was the chance that she could win. Her family and the community at Harvard would rally behind her battle and consider it noble. And even if defeated in the end, she’d be able to look them knowingly in the eye and say goodbye before she left.

Alzheimer’s disease was an entirely different kind of beast. There were no weapons that could slay it…And while a bald head and a looped ribbon were seen as badges of courage and hope, her reluctant vocabulary and vanishing memories advertised mental instability and impending insanity… She didn’t want to become someone people avoided and feared.” Page 94

 Before Alice is diagnosed, her symptoms start to show themselves in really common-place ways. She forgets what a name on her to-do list means, she forgets words she knows well and lecture material she was once familiar with becomes vague. This was the stuff that scared me. Suddenly I was very aware of things I couldn’t remember and truly if Alzheimer’s was contagious, and you could catch it from a book – I got it. For a week after reading it, I’ve been second guessing myself. For example, I discovered two mangoes in my handbag. I know that I bought mango/mangoes from a street vendor and know that they were $2.50 each. I look in my wallet and I have $7.50, I know that I had a $10 note so reason suggests that I have only bought one. So where did the other mango come from? Did I get it from home? Did I take someone elses from the work fridge? – I literally have no idea! In this way the author managed to achieve one of her major goals; educating people so that they are aware of the symptoms and can get early diagnoses. I’m confident I’m nothing more than paranoid, but I’m grateful that the author wrote in such a way that makes you really question yourself.

It’s not an overly sad book despite its sad subject matter. The love of her children and the relationship she develops with her youngest daughter highlights the bond that holds fast within families, particularly when tragedy hits.  As Alice progresses to the later stages of the disease the book really conveys a sense of peace. Behind the veil of lost memory, everything that makes her up, her essence, her spirit is still there. For me it makes me grateful for my faith that the ailments we face in this life, mental and physical, will be taken away in the next. It suggests to me that everything we face in this life is there to teach and strengthen us.

This book is a triumph in so many ways. It has been endorsed by the National Alzheimer’s Association for its powerful and accurate portrayal of the disease. The language is beautiful, natural and enjoyable and considering if was originally self published this is all the more impressive. Overall I consider it an absolute treasure, a book I will never forget.

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