Goddess of the Rainbow by Patrick Brigham #FridayReads #BookReview

Goddess Rainbow

 

Goddess of the Rainbow gives, in 16 chapters, the interconnected stories of the community of a small town in Northern Greece when constant rain threatens imminent flooding.  The goddess of the title takes the form of Iris, a DHL courier, who like her namesake is a messenger.  The other inhabitants of Orestiada include an estate agent and his wife, who are plotting murder, a Greek Australian returning to his father’s birthplace, the Greek Orthodox priest whom everyone trusts but who has had a crisis of faith, a Syrian illegal immigrant, a writer with a dangerous past, who has found sanctuary and a group of Russian women invited to the town by the mayor, due to a lack of potential wives for the towns aging bachelors.

This disparate group provide, humour, pathos and intrigue.  Fate and the floods brings them together and changes their future. Patrick Brigham is a talented writer with specialised knowledge of the people and politics of the Balkans and the lifestyle of northern Greece.  His imaginative stories show an awareness of the human condition and the effects of relationships, both loving and poisonous.  These stories tempt me to look further into his other published books. A good read.

To purchase Goddess of the Rainbow on Amazon UK

 

Patrick Brigham

Patrick

The author Patrick Brigham has written several mystery books, many of which are set at the very end of the Cold War and Communism. Featuring fictional police detective Chief Inspector Michael Lambert, he is often faced with political intrigue, and in order to solve his cases – which frequently take place in Eastern Europe and the Balkans – he needs to understand how an old Communist thinks, during the course of his investigations.  There are few good books on the subject of international crime, especially mystery stories which delve into the shady side of Balkan politics, neither are there many novelists who are prepared to address Mystery Crime Fiction.

 
Patrick Brigham was the Editor in Chief of the first English Language news magazine in Bulgaria between 1995 and 2000. As a journalist, he witnessed the changes in this once hard core Communist Country and personally knew most of the political players. Traditionally a hotbed of intrigue and the natural home of the conspiracy theory, Bulgaria proved to be quite a challenge and for many the transition into democracy was painful.  Despite this, he personally managed to survive these changes and now lives peacefully in Northern Greece.

https://authorpatrickbrigham.com/

 

 

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The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls #TuesdayBookBlog

Glass Castle

“I was sitting in a taxi, wondering if I had overdressed for the evening (party), when I looked out the window and saw Mom rooting through a Dumpster … She had tied rags around her shoulders to keep out the spring chill … To the people walking by, she probably looked like any of the thousands of homeless people in New York City … I was embarrassed by them, too, and ashamed of myself for wearing pearls and living on Park Avenue while my parents were busy keeping warm and finding something to eat.”

This is a startling memoir of a successful journalist’s journey from the deserted and dusty mining towns of the American Southwest, to an antique filled apartment on Park Avenue. Jeanette Walls narrates her nomadic and adventurous childhood with her dreaming, ‘brilliant’ but alcoholic parents.

At the age of seventeen she escapes on a Greyhound bus to New York with her older sister; her younger siblings follow later. After pursuing the education and civilisation her parents sought to escape, Jeanette eventually succeeds in her quest for the ‘mundane, middle class existence’ she had always craved. In her apartment, overlooked by ‘a portrait of someone else’s ancestor’ she recounts poignant remembered images of star watching with her father, juxtaposed with recollections of irregular meals, accidents and police-car chases and reveals her complex feelings of shame, guilt, pity and pride toward her parents.

I expect those of us reading Jeanette Walls’ book, who do not live in the US, see this story from a different perspective to those who know her as a journalist.  “The Glass Castle” instantly reminded me of Helen Forrester’s “Twopence to Cross the Mersey”; a different place, a different time but both autobiographies about poverty and parental neglect.

The world in which Jeanette grew up, was not such a shock after reading Bill Bryson’s accounts of life in some parts of the States, but it does seem amazing that the children managed to escape being taken into care.  What is surprising is her ability to describe her upbringing in such a lucid, unemotional way.  It is clear that her dysfunctional parents were imaginative and talented and that her father, at least, cared deeply for her except when his alcoholism caused him to act despicably.  It is difficult to imagine how she could forgive him when he stole their savings and he certainly never built the glass castle, but at least he taught her how to dream.

Jeanette’s mother was much more difficult to empathise with.  A self-confessed “excitement addict”, she seemed to have no maternal instinct at all.  What she did have was a close bond with her husband even when he let them down, probably because of her inclination for self-destruction whenever things seemed to be going well.

The stories of life in the desert were fascinating but the events in cold Virginia were much more depressing.  And yet, even when being bullied, Jeanette remained positive.  The optimistic tone of the book is incredible.

On the back cover of my copy, a reviewer has written, “Jeannette Walls has the talent of knowing exactly how to let a story tell itself.”  How true.  You feel as if you are part of the story not just seeing it through her eyes.  A fascinating read.

The Glass Castle on Amazon UK

Lost Voices of the Edwardians by Max Arthur #amreading #bookreview

Edwardians

I am a sucker for any book about the Victorians or Edwardians so when I spotted Max Arthur’s book in a charity shop I immediately bought it.  It is a compilation of testimony from people who grew up or lived during the Edwardian era, 1901-1910.  The memories of mostly ordinary people have been transcribed as small snippets in chapter themes such as childhood, work, suffragettes and military.  There is an index at the back if you wish to look up subjects such as The House of Commons or chicken pox.

One young lady describes how she was approached by a pleasant lady asking for guidance in reaching Waterloo station. She was then persuaded to accompany the woman to her home in Gray’s Inn Road.  Being joined along the road by two men, the younger one took the young lady aside to say, “Little girl, she’s no fit companion for you, come along, here’s your bus,” and he hailed one.  She never forgot her saviour!

I was also intrigued by the school stories, of shoeless children being caned and other children proud of the thorough education they had been given by strict but fair teachers.  A good book to keep by the bedside for reading at odd moments.  And there are others; Lost Voices of the Royal Air Force and Forgotten Voices of the Great War.

You can find the books of Max Arthur at Amazon

The Wind Singer by William Nicholson #BookReview #YA

Wind Singer

William Nicholson was the playwright who wrote “Shadowlands” and “Gladiator” so it may surprise you to read that The Wind Singer is a children’s book (or at least young adults). It is a dystopian fantasy, centred on Kestrel and Bowman Hath, twin sister and brother who live in the city of Aramanth with their mother, father and baby sister. In Aramanth everyone is ranked and housed according to their success or otherwise in examinations. From the first toddler test to check whether a baby can identify colours and is out of nappies to the advanced tests for the father of the family.

The Hath family live in the Orange sector which we would identify as being for blue-collar workers although they are obviously intellectually superior but don’t toe the line. Kestrel is strong and independent and always protects her sensitive, fey, twin brother Bowman. The whole Hath family are closely tied by love and are torn apart by a mistake made by Kestrel. She and her brother realise that the city will only become whole and normal if they can find the missing part of the Wind-Singer a strange tower erected by another race thousands of years before. Their quest takes them on a long journey accompanied by Mumpo, a very simple boy who loves Kestrel. Their journey, bravery and adventures make up the rest of the story. It sounds predictable but it is a compelling read and this is both a complete story in its own right and part one of a trilogy with very different, more demanding events in the next two books.

I think this is essential reading for today’s constantly tested young people, especially the children of competitive parents, but it is also a very enjoyable read for any adult who enjoys a fantasy read.

The Wind Singer at Amazon UK

A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity by Trish Nicholson #BookReview

Bio of Story

Dedicated, “to all who love Story whoever you are,” this book encompasses storytelling since communication began and covers most corners of the globe.  Story is personified, weaving through History, influencing events, and what happens affects the nature of stories.

From early Creation stories of Africa and Australia, we move through legend, myth, saga and fable.  As words begin to be written down, words confer authority and as we all know, history is written by the victors.  Common themes of the wisdom of animals, of good versus evil, of disguise and mistaken identity recur but there are also specific features only present in one era.

Trish Nicholson gives us tantalising details of the lives of so many tellers of tales, but as she says, “Teasing out strands of the old storytellers’ lives is like following a thread through the Cretan labyrinth; the “Minotaur” we discover at the other end may turn out to be a goat rather than a bull.”  The lives of Chaucer and Boccaccio are compared and the similarities and differences in their work marked.  Similarly, she shows us how Sir Walter Scott and James Fennimore Cooper reflected their era and their environment in using the tales told by the indigenous people of their countries.

My favourite chapter tells us about Marguerite, Queen of Navarre, the talented sister of the King of France.  Her life was varied and eventful, surrounded by poets and writers. A politically astute woman, she was widely respected and a skilled mediator. She spent time translating parts of the New Testament and more relevantly, writing stories. When her collection of tales was published posthumously in 1558, some of her humorous stories were considered of an unsuitable bawdy nature for a woman so some were edited and credited to a man.

“A Biography of Story” is no boring book of literary criticism, since the author is herself a storyteller.  She narrates significant stories to her readers, highlighting the essential strands of each literary era so that the book can be dipped into, using the clear descriptive chapter summaries or the comprehensive index.  But perhaps, like me, you would rather start at the beginning and enjoy reading the entire delightful text.

A Last Thought from the Book

The story is our escort; without it we are blind

Chinua Achebe

 

A Biography of Story, A Brief History of Humanity is available at Amazon UK

 

Trish Nicholson

Trish Nicholson

I have scribbled in various forms since childhood. Twice I turned from the beginnings of a writing career to dive into something else: the first time to work overseas on rural aid and development projects; the second time, in 2000, when I emigrated to New Zealand. Writing has claimed me again and I’m not planning to go anywhere else this time.

My mother’s side of the family are Scots (Clarks and MacAndrews), and being born in the Isle of Man, and of Manx stock, makes me part Celtic and part Nordic. I believe my paternal family name, Taggart, is a Manx Gaelic term for ‘priest’ or ‘healer’; as most of my forbears were parsons, this seems fitting. Later, like lots of young people, I left the Island to seek tertiary education and never found my way back.

In 2017 I revisited the island for the first time in 30 years as part of a speaking/book tour with A Biography of Story. You can read about the trip and a bit of family history on the blog post: ‘Story Visits the Island of Stories’.

I have lived in many places in Britain: southeast England, East Anglia, Yorkshire, and the Highlands of Scotland where I lived and worked for 12 years. It is from Scotland that I went to work overseas; first in Papua New Guinea, then in the Philippines, where I completed also a doctoral degree in social anthropology. Research in Vietnam and Australia – on indigenous tourism – and many other trips, to South America and Africa, and especially unforgettable treks in Bhutan, Tibet and Nepal, brought me eventually back to England, and the decision to settle in New Zealand.

My home is in the ‘winterless’ Far North, where native trees grow even more in winter than summer because they have more moisture. No ‘off-season’ for garden work here – no splendid lacy icicles either, but I have photographs to remind me of those.

The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox #FridayReads #BookReview

Last Days

Here is a story of obsession and passion, set in the hot summer of 1976 but harking back to 1913 when a bright young starlet moved from on stage magic and photographic model to the exciting world of silent movies.  Brother and sister, Theo and Leda are struggling to run their father’s photographic studio after his sudden death when two exciting figures enter their life in the seaside town of “Brightland.”  Ivor Davies, a dashing actor, briefly becomes their lodger and then Charles Beauvois, a film director entrances them with promises they can’t resist.

But Leda Grey has been forgotten until young journalist, Ed Peters, enters Theo’s shop more than 60 years later.  Captivated by photographs of Leda and intrigued when Theo tells him that, “she hides herself away like a doomed princess in a fairy tale,” in a cliff top home with no electricity, he resolves to interview her and write her story.

At first this slow-moving tale failed to capture my interest but as Ed came under Leda’s spell, the atmospheric account of the sordid decay of the house and Leda’s haunting description of her time as muse and lover of Charles lead me to turn the pages rapidly to uncover the mystery of these tragic characters.

Readers of Essie’s earlier novels will recognise her rich, sensuous writing but this book has an added dimension in the psychology of Ed Peters and his struggles to resist a woman at the end of her life, who enters his fantasies and dreams.

buy-the-book-with-leda-icon

 

The Long Journey Home by Wendy Robertson #BookReview

Long Journey

The arrival of the Japanese army in 1942 marked the end of colonial life in Singapore.  The pre-war round of parties, games of tennis and servants, disappeared overnight as the British women and children attempted to escape by ship, while their menfolk were unable to defend the island and were quickly imprisoned in Changi jail.  Meanwhile many of the Chinese population were murdered or tortured.

Ten-year-old Sylvie has had a privileged life despite her mother’s coldness.  Tutored by Virginia Chen, a Eurasian graduate in her late 20s, she is able to meet many other people in the multiracial city.  When her father takes his family to the docks to board one of the last ships, an aerial attack causes confusion and she is left behind.  Eventually finding Virginia, the two of them try to survive the rest of the war together.

This thrilling and very credible story relates the horror, comradeship and continuing racial tension.  The deep friendship between Virginia and Sylvie helps them to endure the hunger and cruelty but peace threatens to divide them forever.  There is a hint of romance for Virginia and we wonder whether Sylvie will ever see her beloved father again and there are some pleasing family connections to be discovered.

I have read many other books about the fall of Singapore, since so many true stories of endurance and suffering can be told, but this was a book I could not put down and the stratas of social behaviour and need for racial equality make it a novel worth reading in the 21st century.

Wendy Robertson

W Robertson

Scatty and disorganised about most things except my writing and reading I drift through life in search of the next idea, the wonderful next story. I have been living this life for the last twenty years after a career in teaching up to degree level. I embraced teaching as a creative enterprise but was always a writer who happened to teach, publishing three books while I was still working as well as some short stories and journalism. After that I surrendered to the writing goddess and published a range of novels and short stories as well as the occasional article.

Oh, and I have a Master’s Degree in Education. Some of those insights thread through the novels too, I suppose.

I have written spasmodically about my life in my short volume A Life In Short Pieces, and in The Romancer: A Writer’s Tale.

I’m fascinated by creativity history, identity, imagination, equality and myth. Recently, on looking through my novels I realise that – although not with any conscious purpose – these themes seem to be threaded through my writing.

In the middle of my writing career I spent five years as Writer in Residence in a women’s prison. This was a life-changing experience for me – broadening my view, deepening my empathy and my understanding of the whole of society. One outcome of that experience was my novel Paulie’s Web This, while fictional, tells some truths about the varied lives of many of the interesting and wise women I met in prison.

The Long Journey Home is available here