Saturday, 10 June 2017

The Olive Harvest by Carol Drinkwater


The Olive Harvest.

Through some awful accident I have managed to read the third in the trilogy before the second and for that reason I am loathe to provide even a hint of what the story reveals in terms of timeline to those who( more cleverly  than I) ,can actually count years in order and are reading the books chronologically.

Instead I can passionately and unreservedly say that this  book like the 'The Olive Farm' before it,is a true sensory gift. I am a recent convert to these kinds of books. As I hit my late thirties I seemed to have been seeking, even vicariously a simpler and yet richer experience and Carol has provided the most perfect window into that. In fact I think she has probably spoiled me for other authors!

That is not to say that life on the farm was idyllic or perfect by any means and this book in particular reveals some really dark times, where landscape and Mother Nature herself brought down an ominous weight to the story.  It is in contrast though with this darker examination of the land that she loves, that the joys of life are shown more starkly with a sheer brilliance and clarity that burns into the reader's imagination and remains indelibly etched.

To say that Carol writes beautifully about the natural world  is like saying Shakespeare wrote passable plays. Carol has an incredible talent for descriptions of nature at it's most tranquil and delicately exquisite. At the same time though, she exposes the harshness, the raw power and the bitter truths that reliance on the land and the need for balance and sacrifice for the greater good can reap in one's soul. These too achingly beautiful in their ferocity.

The country people we encounter, the familiar faces and those revealed anew in this third book are realists and stalwarts they have seen it all before and despite several years in situ, Carol was still a newcomer, an innocent and naive of the realities of some areas, the steeling of resolve that is needed to make the hardest decisions and it is her struggles to maintain her principles but be true to the traditions and unspoken rules that have made the time honoured Olive industry so enduring is another interesting facet to a story that truly is about love, the deepening of bonds, the spreading of roots and the joy of seeing the smallest thing grow and thrive  as a reason to celebrate life as a whole.

I adored this book and I am not ashamed to admit that I cried some gentle tears at it's final paragraphs. I suggest you settle down somewhere where flowers grow, perhaps next to your herb garden or lavender bush and just immerse yourself for a while, then pause to see the beauty of your own environs, drink in the scents and sounds and then read on. You will not regret it.




Thursday, 8 June 2017

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy


Inevitably this book is going to be compared with The God of Small Things, I think people will either love or hate it, I personally found it to be a deeply textured and thought provoking read. I do not generally précis books in my reviews and this book is so densely packed with brilliantly observed characters that to attempt to distil them down would be a disservice to the skilled weaver of tales that is Ms Roy.

What I can  say is this is a deeply personal book, much as Small Things was before it and that despite certain political leanings, that it is a heartbreaking and interesting examination of conflicts that remain even into modern day between Pakistan and India through the prism of several normal folk who are on the fringes of society. It is a vibrant story, written in beautiful prose even when approaching matters of violence, discrimination and degradation.


Ultimately I left the story feeling uplifted and positive about the human condition and equally entertained and educated about a volatile and intriguing area of the globe.

Friday, 2 June 2017

The Handmaid's Tale - REVISITED


I am a proud Dystopian book fan and I think I can categorically say that Margaret Atwood is a prophetic Genius.

Having read The Handmaid's Tale when I was nineteen, given to me by a dear friend who has taught me much  about feminist issues,  the specifics evaded me so after the much lauded Television adaptation hit UK shores, I thought I would revisit the book. My pervading memory from my callow youth was one of  mild outrage at the treatment of women as baby vessels in a distant future, but in actual fact the book is far more disturbing  and infinitely more nuanced.

I am a childless woman entering the age group  when women loose the potential to conceive or carry to term so this now is a much more faceted story for me personally.

Offred is a brilliant central character, she is the epitome of modern woman actively rebelling against efforts to turn women into classifications and destroying every possible way for expressing individuality.  She is a valuable commodity. She has proven fecundity and yet her own child is used as a weapon of manipulation and yet she herself exploits her position as a protected asset and higher in the strata than poor barren women.

The ruling class seemingly powerful are in actual fact beholden to the circadian  and hormonal rhythms of chattels.

However  Offred is not a activist she is a realist,  she knows her room for manoeuvre is limited,which makes her more relatable than her younger modern counterparts Tris and Katniss.



This is not science fiction or Dystopian fantasy, this is modern day global reality showcased in a chilling and resonant story written with a sparse  prose that is at once at once starkly bleak and yet described with such brilliant eye for sensory detail. The use of colour to show rank and standing, the lack of any kind of humanising by the manner of address to the Handmaid's are all brilliant devices to create divides and boundaries to prevent transgressions which might topple what when examined from the reader's outside eye,  is  a somewhat  vulnerable ruling class.

Fear is created through mis informaion and omission and the acceptance of the change for the "Better Good "in the early stage of this patriarchal coup is one of the most disturbing elements.  It is common knowledge that When the book was penned Atwood drew on reserves of knowledge of civil injustices already happening across the globe, but reading the book in 2017 is an even more sobering activity.

Whatever your side of the political spectrum it is hard to avoid the correlations between modern day Pro-lifers in the USA or the teachings of Al Qaeda and Isis, even to some degree the treatement of disabled children in parts of Africa where the weak are deemed devils and destroyed by witch doctors.

What I find most interesting and telling is that even moderate countries are veering into what Atwood cites as triggers for the changes. Women are sold and exchanged on the black market as sex slaves and servants even in modern London and the digitising of finances and the decline of physical currencies all provide a similar Petrie dish for the  more enterprising fanatical puritan group.

This book is a Tour De Force and Margaret Atwood  a literary trailblazer.


Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher


I am very much a believer that a TVs adaptation can never do a book justice, so when a TV show affects me as much as this one did I have to go to the source material.

The book was certainly traumatic and my mind was filled with anger and  sadness that so many small acts could end in such a way, but I found the book to be somehow less than what I expected. There was no real resolution after such a traumatic evening, Clay seems almost numb, there was no confrontation, no reaction and for me worst of all no consequence.

The acceptance that this was like a documentary, just a linear explanation with no punishment to be meted or culpability owned up to ,just frustrated me and in a way made me less sure that the book would be a positive thing to inform parents or those teens  in the throes of dark times. The show seemed to be more dynamic and thought provoking because it actually showed the horrendous fallout both from the seemingly small acts of selfishness, wilful ignorance or straight out arrogance that led to Hannah's death and the effect that the revelations on the tapes had on those thirteen individuals and Hannah's parents.

Good but not great.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith.

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This is so much more than your average tale of unrequited love between two childhood friends. Suddenly one has the capacity to do whatever he pleases, will they be torn apart as the shared experiences of childhood become overshadowed by endless possibility, can friendships survive such a life changing event?

This is a book that actually packs in a whole heap of themes in one deliciously bite sized portion. I read it in one tremendous gulp and enjoyed it immensely.

Ms Smith has managed to write a wonderfully entertaining story with a trio of central characters that are so thoroughly likeable and relatable that I was disappointed to leave them. At it's heart we see people already at a crossroads in their lives even before the lottery Jackpot muddies the water. Can they let go of the legacy that hard childhoods have dealt them, dare they make the decisions that will change their lives forever and set them potentially on wildly differing pasts, can young love survive or even be kindled when life is so unpredictable rather like the odds of winning the lottery.

The windfall of the title immediately becomes a catalyst for the examination of every aspect of their lives, their fears, their losses and their regrets. It becomes a symbol of potential and of paths to be taken. It becomes a burden and a boon.

It is a hopeful and positive story that left me feeling lifted and convinced that the world is filled with promise and in today's day and age, that can be no bad thing. Just living  Life is the biggest win of all and Love and true friendship the only real jackpot to desire!




Saturday, 20 May 2017

Phenomena - The Lost and Forgotten Children by Susan Tarr


It is hard to put into words how much this book affected me. It is a book that transports, educates and makes you think . As I read I found it hard  not to be infuriated by the injustices of the treatment of those with mental health conditions and the fear and dread that "difference" seems to instill in the human heart.

At the heart of the Story is Malcolm, a inmate/patient of a New Zealand institution for the mentally ill. Here the vulnerable live together in a strange melting pot of archaic treatments, friendships forged and mysteries unravelled.

Malcolm was incarcerated as a child and a rehabilitation process has succeeded in allowing him to live in a halfway house of sorts, where an awful tragedy sends him reeling back into his own black fog and an untimely return to the only home he truly has ever known.

The truths of his story are gradually revealed as he claws his way through the fog of distorted memory caused by emotional trauma and the use of  the ECT  treatment that is in it's infancy.

Malcolm's determination to remember and order his thoughts is  the thread that binds this story and his inate  personal curiosity allows him to be the  conduit for the stories of other poor souls who orbit him at the hospital.

Despite the squalor, the brutality and the tragedy of these people being sequestered away,out of sight and out of mind, there is a beautiful dignity to the subjects of these stories, sadness mixes with small mercies and kindnesses and humanity in all it's forms exists within the community of those left to fester behind closed doors.

There is something so sad about reading a book where people suffering easily identifiable mental conditions are treated uniformly as lunatics, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, Post Partum Depression,  and some physical disability and even to some degree,just simple grief all play a part in the condition of these people who were sent away, to be hidden so as not to distress the "Normal People" outside.

That this story is based on the real life patients of a real institution makes it doubly resonant. It seems historically accurate and is  written with an honesty that does not sugar coat, but celebrates the complexity of the human mind, but also the greatness of the human spirit.

I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in the care of the vulnerable in our society.  It is a hopeful book about those who might have been lost to our sight forever had not Ms Tarr excavated their tales into such stark but beautiful relief.

Easy five stars.

Monday, 15 May 2017

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant



This is one of those books that I have been meaning to read for some time. It has been languishing on my kindle for months,but after the  news that a television mini series would be shown here in the U.K.   I dragged it to the top of my To Be Read pile. To my shame I have to admit I watched  the Tv show first!

However a novelisation of the life of Dinah, known to Christians as the sister of Joseph (He of the dream coat) and daughter of Jacob was just too intriguing to only allow the screen to tell her story. She is a victim of rape and a forced marriage in the Bible and the reason for a massacre  that creates the fissures in the family that leads to Joseph's exile into Egypt but here in this story reveals a worthy heroine.

This is not a bible story, this is a life story imagined in a world where the Patriarchal WORD OF GOD lives in harmony with ancient goddesses of fertility and fecundity. The lunar cycle and the power of women are showcased under the fabric of a tent where women hold court,are honest and unfettered in their speech and opinion.

It is a story of sibling jealousies of a motherhood shared amongst sister-wives and the joys and heartbreaks of  childbirth . Dinah is strong woman who always forges her own path and this was a really enjoyable reimagining of a woman who was merely a side note. Her story is entwined with but mainly runs parallel to that of Jacob and his sons and for my part is just as interesting.