Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Life and art and memory and dreams and journeys...

Our house is in what feels like the middle of nowhere. It isn’t really, at all, certainly not by American, Canadian or Australian standards. We are 10 minutes from the nearest town, 10 minutes from the beach. 30 minutes into the closest city and 30 minutes commute to school.
There’s nothing like the journey home, wherever you live, that moment in the car or bus, walking on the streets, when you know you have the optimum amount of time left before you reach home. I would say about 7 and a half minutes from home. Those 7 and a half minutes give you time to relish the thoughts of your home comforts, your kitchen, fridge, sofa, tv, bed or toilet (because sometimes the first thing you just have to do when you get home is pee).
Those 7 and a half minutes allow you to process away all the bad things of the day and condense them all into one funny story that you want to share with your family. The minutes give you time to think about seeing your family again, awake or asleep and to give thanks that you have a family and a home waiting for you. Shelter, comfort, safety, family...they all appeal to our basic human instinct, to live, love freely and enjoy.
As I drive home there’s a long stretch of straight road as I hit those last 7 and a half minutes and it always feels like I’m getting ready for a great party. Sometimes it’s a mad riotous party, sometimes a quiet one with friends and sometimes a solitary one. If my children are at home, the minutes are my last moments of peace before I hit the house and the business of food preparation, cleaning, ironing, playing, reading stories and gardening that characterise our family life.
As I’m now working part time, those minutes are either a little respite (before getting home to unload shopping and start cooking)or the tantalising moments of doing stuff (out and about doing chores) before hitting the peace of home.
There’s something about the long straight road home and that magic seven and a half minutes that sometimes promotes a meditative quality. I remember bizarre things and wonderful memories and more than once I’ve found myself crying in the car because of old sorrows. I mourn for my mother, who has dementia and doesn’t know who I am anymore. I mourn for Antony, who died too early. I mourn for my own life, which is transitory. I watch the trees go by and the houses and think that it will all still be here when I am long gone.
Not every journey has such emotional weight; sometimes I dream about what I would do if I won the lottery, or I plan my garden, my evening meal, my son’s birthday, how to help my daughter cope with the myriad of changes in her life, my lessons at school the next day.
Sometimes I just enjoy the view.
Sometimes I live the journey and sometimes the journey passes me by and sometimes the journey enlivens me.
I travel those seven and a half magic minutes and soon enough they’re are finished and I am home again, to a house I love and a garden that we’re making. To a life that is sweet with sunny possibilities.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Lost in Translation

Which of the following is not true?
·         There is a dish in Spain called black rice which is rice cooked in squid ink
·         At Easter in Valencia, people crack boiled eggs on each other’s foreheads
·         The Spanish for fingers and toes is the same word, so you have to say fingers of your hand or fingers of your feet to differentiate
·         The Spanish word for clock and watch are the same
When you’re foreign in a foreign land, particularly one where they speak a different language, your credulity levels suddenly become that of a ten year old. Everything is new, many things are different. Cultural differences may be significant or minor. The way that people interact can be totally alien to what you’re used to. Even same language cultures have many diffrerences, my friend Diane is American and she spent a year studying with us at University. She encoutered so many differences (and was teased about many, including being told terrible lies about lots of things!) that six months into her year, she flatly refused to believe us when we told her the seemingly innocent and simple fact that the British z is pronounced zed , not zeee. I'm still not sure she believes us now, more than twenty years on.....sorry Diane...we love you!
It’s sad but true that HSBC covered this quite well in their adverts for their International Banking, promoting the way that they could help you to overcome the prejudices and assumptions of the business market overseas. It’s true that banks and workplaces do help, but sometimes, when your child has been invited to a birthday party on the third day at his new school...you've been in the country about two weeks and you're still getting used to driving your new car on the wrong side of the road and all the other parents are Spanish and it’s in a place that you are unfamiliar with and you're not sure how to get there…you’re on your own.
Thankfully, we have been fortunate in that the Spanish people that we have encountered have welcomed us wholeheartedly into their lives and communities. I have been kissed on both cheeks by warm welcoming women who I have never met before. I have been spoken to in rapid Spanish by a mum whose son was so excited by my son’s arrival at school because they both love football, her effusive happiness was catching and she still speaks to me as if I am a native Spaniard and I have to keep reminding her to slow down for me.
My husband and I sat down for lunch yesterday and happily tucked into black rice, which is cooked in squid ink to give it the black colour and flavour (initially my husband did not believe that there was such a thing as rice cooked in squid ink).
I have sat at so many children’s parties that it no longer surprises me that the parents stay too and have a chat and a drink. It no longer surprises me that Spanish children’s parties go on way longer than what I would consider a ‘normal’ children’s bed time! Gradually you can become used to the expectations, I now kiss lovely Spanish women and men on both cheeks when we meet and I enjoy  the fact that children are adored, stay up late and spend a great deal of time with their families eating.
There are still cultural surprises though. In many respects, you rely on people around you to explain traditions, cultural norms, how to behave. Obviously you watch and observe, you listen, and you follow the lead. Sometimes though, listening and watching and observing do not help you to understand, particularly when you don’t speak the same verbal and physical language.
Evidently, language is a factor, but also culture too. Lord help you when both come together to create slang or counter culture that make not make any sense to you at all.
Imagine explaining Guy Fawkes night* to a foreigner...it’s something we completely take for granted in the UK, but if you tried to explain it to someone abroad it probably would not make a great deal of sense (penny for the guy anyone?)
We have discovered, sometimes by accident, a range of strange and lovely Spanish traditions since being here. On of my favourite that we adopted this year, was leaving shoes on the balcony on the night before the 6th January so that the three kings can leave gifts for the children. We also left the kings a glass of wine and some biscuits.
I have also learned about a drink traditionally served at weddings, christenings and other celebrations here in Spain. My neighbour has even shared her own recipe with me and we made it together last weekend…it’s a fiery brew, lovely and smooth and sweet and guaranteed to get you absolutely legless drunk if you drink too much..hence it is usually served in teenie tiny shot glasses!
My Spanish teacher told me a story about Easter in Valencia that I found so silly that I had to immediately verify with some other sources (kids at my school) to make sure it was true...there are variations on the theme but it does actually happen (In the Valencia region). If we are to become true Valencianos, our new custom at Easter, therefore, is going to be this. Over the Easter period (Easter Sunday or Monday) we will do our usual Easter egg hunt, in addition to chocolate eggs, there will be boiled eggs. The children and adults should end up with a boiled egg each. At any stage during the day, the children or adults can smash the egg against another, unsuspecting person’s forehead! I can imagine this leading to utter chaos and tears but also lots of fun and plenty of children have told me about their parents (fathers in particular it seems) smashing raw eggs on people’s foreheads. This has set a precedent we must follow at home!  So, anyone coming for a visit at Easter? Please come so that you can be Valenciano with us and join in the egg cracking game.
All of the things at the beginning of the article are true! I’m waiting to find the first mischievous person in Spain who makes up a ‘Spanish tradition’ for me. At the moment I think the people I have met have been too kind and generous and respectful to play any tricks on us (teachers are a taken a bit more seriously here)....but I’m sure that as they get to know us (and my credulity levels) a bit better, they will perhaps see an opportunity for fun that they cannot resist...watch this space...

*Explanation of Guy Fawkes
Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Guy Fawkes Day and Bonfire Night, is an annual commemoration observed on or about 5 November, primarily in Great Britain. Its history begins with the events of 5 November 1605, when Guy Fawkes, a member of the Gunpowder Plot, was caught guarding explosives placed beneath the House of Lords and arrested. Celebrating the fact that King James I had survived the attempt on his life, people lit bonfires around London, and months later the introduction of the Observance of 5th November Act enforced an annual public day of thanksgiving for the plot's failure.
Within a few decades Gunpowder Treason Day became the predominant English state commemoration, but as it carried strong religious overtones it also became a focus for anti-Catholic sentiment. Puritans delivered sermons regarding the perceived dangers of popery, while during increasingly raucous celebrations common folk burnt effigies of popular hate-figures, such as the Pope. Towards the end of the 18th century reports appear of children begging for money with effigies of Guy Fawkes and 5 November gradually became known as Guy Fawkes Day. By the 20th century Guy Fawkes Day had become an enjoyable social commemoration, although lacking much of its original focus. The present-day Guy Fawkes Night is usually celebrated at large organised events, centred around a bonfire and extravagant firework displays.
Settlers exported Guy Fawkes Night to overseas colonies, including some in North America, where it was known as Pope Day. Those festivities died out with the onset of the American Revolution, although celebrations continue in some Commonwealth nations. Claims that Guy Fawkes Night was a Protestant replacement for older customs like Samhain are disputed, although another old celebration, Halloween has lately increased in popularity and according to some writers may threaten the continued observance of 5 November.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Whatever makes you happy (why gardening and cooking are good for the soul)

For the last four years in our family, we have had a little competition, we don’t take it very seriously but it was, initially, a way to get the children interested in the garden.  This time of year, I am usually planting something or another, flowers, veg. Every year, we have our sunflower growing competition to see whose sunflower grows tallest. This year, husband was unfortunately at a conference in London, so unless he enters late, he will not be competing this year. He has already lost ten days’ growth and I must confess to being a little bit disappointed at the results so far. After the hours of sorting out the pots and compost and seeds, then my kids turning up for two minutes to pop the seeds in, it is almost inevitable that their seeds are flourishing and mine are....not doing anything...yet.
My son’s seeds are very happily growing through, all nine of them.
My daughter’s seeds are looking pretty feisty too.
And mine, well, mine are a bit slow and steadfast this year.
I’m wondering whether some tricksy little fingers weren’t plucking my sunflower seeds out when I wasn’t looking. Thankfully this is more of a marathon than a sprint, so I’m hoping mine will come through eventually.
My basil plants are, thankfully, looking very healthy and vigorous and I’ve had to thin them out twice because they’re so blooming lovely and healthy.

In the meantime, the garden is looking lovelier with the addition of our new fruit trees. They were delivered by Enrique, known to our friend Dave the gardener, as Enrique the gypsy. I don’t know if he is a gypsy or not, but he managed to persuade me to buy another tree despite being completely broke after purchasing our lovely orange, lemon, almond and lime trees.
The garden before the addition of the new fruit trees..........and after.....

Enrique brought the other tree when he was delivering the Lime, just for me to have a look!! It’s called a Happy tree and I’m glad I bought it in the end because the flowers are beautiful, the height gives some good visual perspective to the garden and the name has already caused much hilarity in the house...when my son stubbed his toe, he was sent to look at the happy tree to cheer him up!

The Happy tree - if you know its real name, please let me know!

The fruit trees are also beautiful and very exciting; they have mini oranges and lemons on them! Here is a picture of a mini lemon; a little limonita...cannot wait until it’s bigger.
When Enrique delivered the tree, there were three ripe lemons on it that fell off when the tree was being unloaded, the fragrance was divine!
So the garden is coming along slowly but surely.  Have also planted cress, courgette, rocket, strawberries and lettuce and almost everything is popping little seedlings out of the soil. Very exciting.
Just before I sign off , I tried a new recipe today, chocolate macaroons. Now I am not the best chef in the world, but the comedy value of these is making me laugh and they’re not even finished yet. I piped them out of a bag, as instructed, but didn’t smooth the tops. As a result, my macaroons look like mini poos or comedy nipple tassles than the gloriously shiny macaroons I had envisaged, never mind, they taste terrific! Happy gardening or cooking to you all and keep sending good wishes to my sunflowers (make them grow, make them grow, bigger than my children's, bigger than my children's!!!)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

25 things that make me happy...actually, make that 52 things...

The blog today is inspired by my friend Nikki Bartlett, who sees magic in everyone she meets. She's the sort of person that you can meet and within 3 minutes, you will want her to be your friend. She's an amazing people person and, understandably, her work is with people and her passion is helping people to achieve the best that they can, either in their work, their family, their spirituality, or their life in general. She recently sent me a link to her blog, which outlined 100 things that make her happy. I enjoyed reading it and thought I'd share, I think it's a great idea and all fellow bloggers out there, I think you should all do the same..if you do, post the link in my comments box so that I can come and have a nosey at yours too!!
I made my original list of 100 and then decided to whittle it down for easy blog reading. As you can see from my title today, the original idea was for 25 things, but I just couldn't whittle that much, I wanted to include the eventual 52 that you see on the list! It's interesting to note how many of these things are free or cost very little!
Enjoy reading and have fun making your own list!

1.       Snoogling up on the sofa with a good book...and not being able to put the book down
2.       Kisses from my husband
3.       A lie in
4.       Clean sheets
5.       A warm bed on a cold night
6.       People laughing at my jokes
7.       Swimming in a pool at a nice temperature
8.       Wading into the sea on a hot day
9.       New Babies (especially other people’s)
10.   Reading or watching or listening to a really good piece of work from a student
11.   Being able to make myself understood in Spanish
12.   Planting stuff and watching it thrive
13.   Walking
14.   Dancing with my children to loud music
15.   Listening to loud music in the car
16.   Singing
17.   Rolling on the bed with husband(this is not a euphemism, I literally mean rolling on the bed)
18.   The moment before tickling my children when I give them the choice of armpit, rib or neck
19.   Chasing anyone up the stairs to 'catch their bum' with a little pinch (this is a Green Davies family rite of passage!)
20.   Solitude
21.   A quiet house
22.   A blue sky and the sun shining
23.   Talking to another person who loves books and has read some of the same stuff as me
24.   Watching really really good theatre
25.   When someone gets justice
26.   Writing my blog
27.   friends
28.   Drinking cocktails on my balcony on a summer’s evening
29.   Accomplishing something
30.   Being able to dig up a relevant literary reference or quotation for a given moment
31.   Sitting down to a good meal that I’ve cooked for friends
32.   When my daughter listens to me

33.   Putting on some nice lipstick
34.   Having a tidy house
35.   Putting the world to rights after a few drinks
36.   My mother’s love
37.   A nice warm shower
38.   Making a fire
39.   Body surfing in the sea
40.   Doing something I find scary, like jumping off a cliff into the sea, or abseiling
41.   Steve’s chocolate cake
42.   My wedding rings
43.   Having faith in human nature
44.   Writing great novels in my head
45.   Getting a letter in the post from a friend
46.   Getting an e mail from any of my friends
47.   People leaving comments on my blog
48.   Being so nice to the unhelpful person that they do something for me even if they don’t want to and then they smile at me
49.   Feeling a sense of community and the kindness of that community
50.   Learning
51.   Having the right word for what I want to say
52.   Stephen Green and all the things we do well together!

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Hospitality – Spanish style (what more could you want from your neighbours?)

When we were viewing houses, we didn’t really think about next door neighbours. Our friend Karen lives on the same street as the house we now live in and her initial verdict on our house was that it had a strange layout (which it did when we first viewed it, with two potential kitchen spaces, one upstairs and one downstairs, two bedrooms downstairs and three upstairs). Despite the strange layout, we saw the potential of the house as a family home, it was the best house out of the many ugly and overpriced ones that we saw and it had all that we needed in terms of space!

Karen’s verdict on the next door house was that the people who lived there didn’t seem to be there very often, mainly weekends, and were Spanish. It is quite common for Spanish people to have an apartment in the city where they live for work and then a second apartment or house either near the sea or in the country side for weekends and holidays, so we thought this would be fine.
When we moved in we were very preoccupied with making the house a home and all that entailed (light fittings everywhere, unpacking a myriad of cardboard boxes) but we did notice that the neighbours were very friendly and helpful. In the hottest weeks of the summer, as we were unpacking boxes, our pool had to be emptied and refilled because it was filthy; they said our children could swim in their pool. We discovered their names, Marie Fe, Orlando and Marie Fe’s mother, Elena.
Since then, we have discovered the attributes that make them perfect neighbours!

Fabulous paellas!

·         They are unfailingly kind are considerate, asking us if we minded which plants they planted on our shared border
·         They adore our children and quite often have them around to play
·         Marie Fe speaks to us in Spanish all of the time – this is great for my language skills and for the children too
·         In emergencies, Orlando can understand and speak English really well, so he can translate if necessary
·         Orlando also makes a mean Martini
·         Marie Fe is a qualified beautician and for my birthday gave me the most luxurious body treatment in the world, a scrub, mud bath and massage...bliss...what a gift. She also keeps my eyebrows tidy for a ridiculously small amount of money and has offered to tidy up Steve’s!
·         Elena is a retired seamstress and has already completed two pairs of curtains for our house and altered a suit that was too big for Steve
·         Marie Fe has taken me to the Medical Centre and the Water Company to help me out with paperwork. In each instance she has let me do my best to make myself understood and only stepped in to translate if necessary
·         Whenever they plant something new, they invariably have a plant for us too
We have also been invited to their house to celebrate local fiestas, just recently they cooked us not one but two paellas (because I don’t eat meat and Ste does not eat shell fish). 

Hospitality at the neighbours means that Orlando makes a jug of martini, Marie Fe cooks up something delicious, we take a couple of bottles of cava and we all get merrily drunk while the kids run around the house causing chaos!
This is a photo of Steve, pretending he's done all the cooking with Owain...
Pudding invariably involves sugary something and sometimes two desserts!
These are almond meringue tarts, lovely!

These are some sort of complex pastrt pinwheels, sugary and light, husband ate 7! (he had run 5kms that day!)

Marie Fe's mum, Elena is a very traditional Spanish hostess, always encouraging us to eat more. Marie Fe often feels the need to tell her off for speaking to us all in rapid fire Spanish and expecting us to undertand (we get between 90% and 40% of what's she's saying, depending on how much alcohol has been consumed!) Marie Fe also tells her mum off for encouraging us to eat more, this has become a very traditional moment of hilarity in the meal, as Elena turns to me, usually at the end of the meal when I am totally stuffed with food, and first of all offers me some more, then encourages me to take a little more, then says I need to eat more and then I wait for Marie Fe to notice and then we all laugh as Marie Fe admonishes her mum with a stern look and a cry of "Mama!"....

These are traditional Spanish puddings that Marie Fe made for us to taste at Easter, they're basically eggy bread coated in cinnamon sugar:

Yes, we love our neighbours because, like us, they enjoy food, it may be because Spain is a nation that loves its food, so much so that it has two words for snack! An afternoon snack is merienda and a morning snack is almuerzo

So I didn’t think about the neighbours when we were looking at houses but I am very happy that we ended up with the neighbours and friends that we have living next door!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

embracing chaos

After the orderly book reviews, today I am embracing chaos! This blog is for Diane, who has been cleaning instead of playing with her kids...I'm not immune to this so I am proposing that Diane and I embrace the chaos together, let go of control and enjoy the madness that families bring! My madness is combined with digging holes, mud and gardening....

We are hoping to plant four trees in our garden soon. It's been raining a lot over the last few weeks, so the soil conditions should be perfect, we have a day off today for the festival of Santa Faz so we are digging! I'm expecting that digging will involve two sweaty parents and two muddy children thrpwong rocks around the garden. Am looking forward to getting the trees in, but it's the hard work first, will update later on holes and trees and how it all looks. In the meantime, I have been dancing on the carpet to loud music with my children, in preparation for the chaos ahead...

This is what the garden looks like at the moment...
The yellow ball marks roughly where we are hoping to plant a lemon tree (roughly because my daughter kicked it a few moments before the photo was taken!)

In the foreground is a small bucket next to a very small, young olive. As the olive will take years to grow we are transplanting it to another part of the garden and replacing it with a larger lime tree. In the left of the picture, close to the wall there are the remnants of a small fire, that's where we're putting the almond tree.

The small palm in the foreground will also take years to grow, so we're putting the orange tree here and transplanting the palm to the top of the garden and surrounding it with succulents.....
Ok, need to go now as husband has commenced digging and I am blogging instead of helping...let the chaos begin.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Easter Reading

I originally started the blog with the intentions of reviewing lots of books. This seems to have fallen by the wayside recently but I have decided to address that today with a look at some of the books that I have enjoyed reading over the Easter holidays.
I had a lovely Kindle as a Christmas gift this year although strangely over Easter it has been a bit abandoned, mainly because the books I wanted to read were loaned to me, borrowed from the library or unavailable on Kindle yet, so I went for the traditional books, lovely! I do enjoy the Kindle reading experience, however, and will be returning to it once I decide what I’m going to download next! One of the lovely things about the Kindle is that you can download extracts from the books you are interested in, usually the first 20 or so pages, which you can read and then decide if you want to carry on. The disadvantage of this system for me is that:
·         I now have about 20 book samples downloaded and can’t decide what to read next
·         When I’m on a book search roll, I can, at the tap of the Kindle button, buy 10 or more books, easy and convenient, but not so great for the bank balance!
I also do love a good old paperback or hardback and some books just can’t be replicated adequately on Kindle. One such beloved book is The Mysteries of Harris Burdick by Chris van Allsburg.

This is a wonderful, clever and beautiful book. I don’t think I can do it justice with words because it’s a book that has to be seen to be fully appreciated (hence the Kindle can never do it justice!)
So, other books I have enjoyed over Easter (in order of enjoyment!)include:

The summer without Men by Siri Hustvedt (5 stars)
The Star of Kazan by Eve Ibbotson (5 stars for a children’s book)
So Much for that by Lionel Shriver (4 stars)
When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman (4 stars)
 Grace Williams says it loud by Emma Henderson (4 stars)
If you would like to read more information about any of these books, they are reviewed below or you can find them via the Book Reviews link on the side bar.
So, having finished that little lot, I’m now deciding what to read next, here’s my pile to decide from, I’m almost finished with The Gift by Lewis Hyde, which is a nonfiction book that I’m finding slightly laborious although very interesting. I’ve started to read Bob Dylan’s Chronicles, which is again interesting, but I’m not sure I can entirely enjoy his prose style as I’m trying to relax before bed!
The Woman’s World book is conceptually fun and funny, being composed entirely from words cut out of women’s magazines, again, the concept is interesting but it hasn’t gripped me yet.
The bottom two books on the pile are a fantasy novel The Last Four things by Paul Hoffman. I quite enjoyed his first book The Left Hand of God, although it meshed and amalgamated a lot of fantasy elements rather disturbingly, I am happy to go back and see what he’s going to do with this next one and then Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, no idea what to expect from this one only that it was recommended as a favourite read by someone on The Guardian website and I thought I’d give it a go!
Finally, on top of the pile is the Kindle, with its many samples and an indecisive reader!
Right, signing off now and going to read, not sure what, but that’s the intention...any recommendations warmly welcomed, as you can probably tell, my tastes are pretty eclectic.

Emma Henderson’s Grace Williams says it loud

This is a disturbing and uncomfortable read and I think that Henderson meant it to be so. The discomfort and lack of love and affection we feel in the book reflects the life of the narrator, Grace Williams. The portrayal of institutionalised life is grim and gritty with only companionship, love and sex as small consolations for a life full of insults and hardships.

The visual aspect of the book are beautiful, with many evocative descriptions of the small treasures that Grace does manage to find in her life, from the smell of apples to the dodgem cars.
Many parts of the book are poetic, with a musical description of a cello being played and journeys that conjure the cigarette smoke imbued in them. Despite this, the discomfiting parts of the book are the major factor, with uncomfortable tongues, dribbling, bed wetting and teeth pulling all memorable aspects that some readers may find horrifying.
It’s not an enjoyable read because of this, but it is an effective and thought provoking read and Emma Henderson is another writer worth watching.

Sarah Winman’s When God was a Rabbit

I enjoyed this book although I did find the episodic narrative a bit disconcerting at times. The events cover many life events that will be familiar to anyone who grew up in the 80s and 90s and, therefore, lend a nostalgic feel to much of the novel. It struck me as being a book about loss and love, about family and friendship. The characters are interesting although some are more beautifully portrayed than others. I felt that the brother was an important character for the protagonist but I didn’t ever really know much about him, so that when he was lost in the book, I didn’t really care as much as I felt I should have.
The rabbit is interesting but a little incoherent, almost as if Winman hadn’t quite decided how much magic she wanted in the novel. I would recommend this book  and I will also look out for Winman’s next book as she has a wonderful writing style and although this book didn’t quite work in its entirety for me, I can see the parts as having great promise for her future writing.

Siri Hustvedt’s The Summer without Men

Loved this book, loved everything about it.

Hustvedt has created a little gem of a book that I am sure I will return to at some stage in the future to read again. As the title suggests it is a book mainly populated by women, with the protagonist living temporarily back in her hometown after her husband has requested a ‘marital break’. The prose is unflinching in its consideration of the heartbreak caused to a woman on the betrayal of her love and trust by her husband. However, as with all great love stories it builds a realistic portrayal of the woman’s own strengths as she copes with her loss and rises once again into her own skin, rebuilding her faith in herself and in the strengths of women around her. The honesty of the book is wonderful, with beautiful descriptions of the anger of age, the difficulties of married life and the insidious manipulation of teenage girls by teenage girls. It’s a celebration of womanhood in the best possible sense because it looks unflinchingly at our faults, our assets and our idiosyncrasies and leaves us smiling.
The book has several mentions of book clubs, which are well placed because the book would serve as a great catalyst for discussion in any book club. Read this book!

Eva Ibbotson’s The Star of Kazan

This is a rollicking good read for any teenage reader or any adults interested in teen fiction. Ibbotson is a wonderful story teller and I have enjoyed every one of her novels that I have read so far. She’s eclectic in her writing and this story is a great mystery, telling the tale of Annika, an orphan found abandoned and adopted by a pair of servants. The book details Annika’s adventures with her young friends and the multiple guardians that seem to adopt her as the novel progresses. Many adult readers will guess the twists in the tale long before Annika, but this is an exciting read nonetheless. Ibbotson’s strengths are in her beautifully evocative portrayals of characters and places, they really draw pictures to dwell in the reader’s imagination.

Lionel Shriver’s “So Much for That”

In this book Shriver examines the horrors of the American Health service, its myriad costs and corruptions. Anyone with a grudge to bear against the NHS should read this book as it will give you a new found appreciation of the tremendous benefits of the British system.

The characters are well drawn although I did get a bit angry with Shep for being such a softie for the majority of the book. His wife, Glynis, was a much tougher cookie although with her own failings too, but a well visualised character.
The character relationships were interesting and generally well portrayed. The presentation of cancer is unflinching and the reality of dealing with such a harrowing illness is dealt with honestly, with the friendships eventually tailing away leaving stalwart neighbours and help from the most unexpected quarters. Shep copes through it all.
This is a well paced novel with Shriver exploring the trials and tribulations of life with wit and a perceptive outlook.
Warning Plot Spoilers
I did find the whole ‘Happy ending’ of Shep finally fulfilling his dream a tad contrived and felt that this ending, although fitting with what we wanted for his lovely character, did not really lend itself to the condemnation of the American system that is such an important aspect of the book.