One Girl and Her Books

Good friends, good books and a sleepy conscience: this is the ideal life. ~Mark Twain

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Saffron Kitchen by Yasmin Crowther

I have loved all the books and movies I have read/seen from Iran. When I first read Pomegranate Soup I rushed out to buy the ingredients and people in my old apartment building still talk about the beautiful aroma that wafted around the 4th floor. (Okay I know this wasn't actually set in Iran but it was about an Iranian family!) When my bookgroup read Honeymoon in Purdah my friend and I wanted to get on the next plane over! And as for The Color of Paradise and Children of Heaven - well, they will always be the first foreign movies, along with Amelie and Life is Beautiful, that I recommend to people. Yes, I am very much a fan of Persia.

And this book didn't let me down at all. Within a few chapters the descriptions of food had me hunting for recipes of feta and mint tarts and checking to see if there were any Persian restaurants I could visit when I go away to the West Midlands next. My fascination with this country continues.

The main characters in the book are mother and daughter, Maryam and Sara. The story begins in London, with Sara miscarrying her baby whilst out with her mother and young cousin Saeed, who has come to live with his Aunty Maryam after his mother's death in Iran. Without giving too much away, after this sad event Maryam decides to return to the remote Iranian mountain village of her childhood. We learn the secrets of her past and how she came to leave Iran as a young woman in tragic circumstances. The story moves with ease from her childhood as the daughter of a general in the Shah's army,to present time Iran and London. The language is beautiful and the descriptions are so vivid. I could almost see the brightly coloured chadors and I've already mentioned the food!! The journeys, both mental and physical, Maryam and Sara take are dramatic and fraught at times but ultimately Sara is able to finally understand and, I think, forgive her mother. Admittedly it isn't a jolly book and if you are looking for a "And they all lived happily ever after" ending then this might leave you a bit wanting. But it is a gorgeous, thought provoking, believable story that totally engrossed me. It's something I will definitely read again in a few years. Read and enjoy!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Book Blogs are BAD .......

for my bank account! My postman rang the doorbell yesterday and handed me three parcels and cheerily said "You've kept me busy this week, haven't you?"

I have. This week I have been a bad bad girl. I have added so many books to my wishlist and admit I added 7 to my basket.

I am still awaiting two - so I am sure Mr Potsman will be elated at having to walk down our long drive again tomorrow!

Debo is responsible for "A Late Beginner" by Priscilla Napier - she recommended it the other night. By the way, wasn't she fantastic? I loved hearing the story of "White Fang" and Farve straight from her mouth. I wish there would be a super duper doc made on the sisters before Debo goes to the Great Hunt in The Sky.

The Persephone books are an impulse buy after reading reviews after last weekend's reading event. I also have "Tea with Mr Rochester" on the way.

The others, Sinclair Ross "As For Me and My House", "Austenland" by Shannon Hale and "And This is True" by Emily Mackie are all from book blog recommendations. So reviews will follow.

There was a good piece in The Times yesterday as part of World Book Night, a few top authors wrote about the books that changed their lives, including childhood favourites. Monica Ali wrote of her love of "Malory Towers" :-) David Nicholls of "The Moomins" . Alexander McCall Smith of Just William. But my favourite was Tony Parsons' - he wrote of his love for Rupert the Bear. Was Rupert "a boy with a bear's head or a bear with a boy's body and the fashion sense of a professional golfer?" He talked about books that people had given his as gifts throughout his life from "The Grapes of Wrath" to "Empire of the Sun" - his closing sentence really resonated with me .... "Every book that someone gives you is an expression of love." :-)

I am off to finish "The Saffron Kitchen" now ...... Iran, here I come.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Book Stress/Miss Buncle's Book

Well, since I started reading book blogs again about a week ago, my Amazon wishlist has grown and grown and is now at a very healthy 379!

Last summer I was reading almost a book a day sat up the hospital - Amazon Marketplace was a Godsend with used books at just 1p and £1.25 postage. Alas, in the last fortnight the postage has more than doubled and is now £2.80 which makes a big difference. *sigh* Not that it stops me though. :-) When you think about it £2.81 is pretty much the price of a cup of a large cup of coffee which is gone in ten minutes ....... if you are reading this blog though the chances are that I won't have to justify myself to you!

I am one of those bookworms who panic at the thought of missing out on a great book. Incase Amazon should fail me I also keep a manual list of books I need to check out. If I am out reading a newspaper I keep a list on my Blackberry to jot down books, music and films that I like the sound of. I hate the thought that somehow a book that might totally captivate me might jump through the net somehow.

I am very excited as tonight "Debo" Devonshire is on "My Life in Books" - the only downside is that it is presented by the ghastly Anne Robinson. I cannot abide this woman - and not just because of the comments that she made about the Welsh a few years back! I just don't find her a good interviewer - her voice is brash and has no sincerity in it and she just isn't nice to look at. However, I am going to bite the bullet and watch it tonight. The other guest is the lovely Elizabeth McGovern (Downton Abbey) whom I saw at The Anne Frank Lecture in the 90's, she read an excerpt from the diary and was tremendous. If I can cope with the show tonight I will check out the rest on Iplayer.

I finished "Miss Buncle's Book" last night and adored it. I am thrilled to see that "Miss Buncle Gets Married" is being reprinted as I simply must find out how married life treats her. If anyone hasn't come across it yet, it tells the story of Barbara Buncle a 40ish spinster living in a 1930's English village with her maid Dorcas. Money is tight so Barbara decides to write a book - she writes,using a pseudonym, about what she knows best, life in her village . She sends it off to a publisher, Mr Abott, who was first on the list alphabetically. He accepts the manuscript straight away (lucky girl) and Miss Buncle's book quickly becomes a best seller. The locals are flabbergasted when they realise that the book is based on them. Those that are written about in a less than flattering way, a selfish, cruel husband, a Hyacinth Bucket type and a gold digging young widow, are especially keen to find the author. Miss Buncle manages to keep mum and starts on a sequel. I don't want to spoil the story so I won't give anymore away but if you enjoyed "Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day" then you will love this. I admit that I hadn't heard of D E Stevenson before The Persephone Catalogue arrived but now I am really eager to read more especially "Mrs Tim of the Regiment" , which might just be my next purchase!

Monday, February 28, 2011

Quotes from My Favourite Classics 1.

Have you ever imagined what it must feel like to be divinely beautiful?"

"Well now, no, I haven't," confessed Matthew ingenuously.

"I have, often. Which would you rather be if you had the
choice--divinely beautiful or dazzlingly clever or
angelically good?"

"Well now, I--I don't know exactly."

"Neither do I. I can never decide. But it doesn't make
much real difference for it isn't likely I'll ever be
either. It's certain I'll never be angelically good.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Travels From My Armchair

I've always been interested in other countries. I had penpals from the age of 8 and used to love reading about their lives - especially those whose lives were really different to mine e.g those in far flung places like Japan and South Africa or those living in communist countries. I've always read a lot of both fiction and non fiction from around the globe but I have decided to really read my way through the continents. I will visit some old favourites and hopefully make some new ones.

I am not going the alphabetical route as I don't really like feeling pressured to read something that I might not be in the mood for. I have started with "Nothing to Envy" by Barbara Demick. I actually started this book last summer but it wasn't really hospital reading so it has been languishing on my bedside cabinet for the last few months. However I picked it up a few nights ago and just devoured it.

Demick was a South Korea based journalist for the LA Times in 2001 when she started interviewing North Koreans who had managed to escape.

The story that captivated me most was that of a young couple, Mi-ran and Jun-Sang. Their story of their innocent relationship, walking for hours in the darkness just talking - and not even holding hands for 3 years, was so poignant.

In the futuristic dystopia imagined in 1984, George Orwell wrote of a world where the only color to be found was in the propaganda posters. Such is the case in North Korea. Images of Kim Il-sung are depicted in the vivid poster colors favored by the Socialist Realism style of painting. The Great Leader sits on a bench smiling benevolently at a group of brightly dressed children crowding around him. Rays of yellow and orange emanate from his face: He is the sun.
Red is reserved for the lettering of the ubiquitous propaganda signs. The Korean language uses a unique alphabet made up of circles and lines. The red letters leap out of the gray landscape with urgency. They march across the fields, preside over the granite cliffs of the mountains, punctuate the main roads like mileage markers, and dance on top of railroad stations and other public buildings.


Until her early teens, Mi-ran had no reason not to believe the signs. Her father was a humble mine worker. Her family was poor, but so was everyone they knew. Since all outside publications, films, and broadcasts were banned, Mi- ran assumed that nowhere else in the world were people better off, and that most probably fared far worse. She heard many, many times on the radio and television that South Koreans were miserable under the thumb of the pro- American puppet leader Park Chung- hee and, later, his successor, Chun Doohwan. They learned that China’s diluted brand of communism was less successful than that brought by Kim Il- sung and that millions of Chinese were going hungry. All in all, Mi-ran felt she was quite lucky to have been born in North Korea under the loving care of the fatherly leader.

Obviously I had read articles and watched a documentary or two over the years about the situation in North Korea but I wasn't prepared for the depth of awfulness these people live in. The stories of Mi-ran watching her primary school pupils die of starvation in front of her very eyes was like a stab in the heart. Late on in the book when she escapes over the border she comes across a bowl of white rice and meat on the floor in a garden - she can't believe the luxury of it but is even more shocked when she realises that it is a dog's bowl!

There are other stories of a young female doctor who is hoping to become a member of The Worker's Party, a factory worker who adores "The Great Leader" and a homeless boy. The stories spans the period of the reign of Kim Il-sung, his death and the rise to power of his son, Kim Jong-il and the terrible famine that killed over 20 percent of the population and resulted in the increase of illegal defections.

Demick writes in a way that really grips you. Her vivid descriptions really bring the heartbreak and total devastation of the life of these North Koreans off the pages and into your heart.

I totally recommend this wonderful book.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Some of My Signed Books

I woke up with a start a few weeks ago .... wondering where my "signed" Anne Frank's Diary was! I went to a lecture in London in the mid 90's where a range of people spoke about captivity. It coincided with the publication of The Definitive Anne Frank's Diary. Anne's Cousin Buddy was there - as was Otto Frank's second wife Fritzi! I have really vivid memories of it. Fritzi didn't speak English but seeing my tears she gave me a big smile and patted my arm. Definitely one of those unforgettable moments!!

Another wonderful person was Maya Angelou. I met her at a book signing and she just radiated warmth. I bought two copies of her book - one for myself and one for my friend Stephen. She inscribed his and signed it "Maya Angelou and Julia".

Apart from Margaret Attwood and Vikram Seth - whose books I can't find right now, those are the only "signed in my presence" books I have.

But I also have .....


The Lovely staff at Heywood Hill arranged this for me as I couldn't get up to London because of Dad. I also got a lovely new set of Nancy's fiction in a slip case which Debo signed too.

I have a few other signed "Debo" books. I also have this ......

It was purchased from the estate of a San Francisco based journalist. I have the paperwork somewhere. I just need a signed Nancy and Diana now!

Later in the week I will post some of my oldest books, mostly classic juvenile fiction.

Happy Reading!

Friday, December 3, 2010

Dealing with Death the Bibliophile's Way

Well, it's been the worst year of my life - without a doubt. In May my Dad was taken ill - apart from three days in June he remained in hospital until his death on August 25th 2010. Apart from 5 days, I was at his bedside for up to 10 hours a day. He was in various stages of conciousness throughout but for the last five weeks he was in a coma. I am going to write about my feelings on my other blog. I was reading almost a book a day during these months - and how many can I remember??? About ten! I will have to look through my bookshelves. I knew there were some that really helped me escape the reality of my situation for a few hours. They helped me cope.

However during the days immediately after Dad's death I turned to books of another kind. The few that helped me the most were ....

Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief'You'll Get Over It': The Rage of BereavementIf The Spirit Moves You: Love and Life After Death
There is actually another one - from a Christian perspective, written by an American Pastor but I cannot find it at the moment. I will have a hunt and add it on tomorrow. Virgina Ironside's was wonderful - it was written on the death of her father so it really resonated with me. Apart from helping me with my grief it also comforted me to know I was not the only person to start stuttering badly and to have the most violent dreams ever (nothing to do with Dad but crazy nasty things) after the death of a loved one. I really really recommend it! The Daily Meditations was combined by a lady whose daughter had died in her teens - it includes passages/poems from literature and The Bible and from Hickman herself. I would pick it up randomly and flick though big chunks of it, not stopping until I found something that comforted me BIGTIME.

I have loved all of Justine Picardie's books - I think "Daphne" and "My Mother's Wedding Dress" are both blogged about here. I didn't buy this initially as I just saw the book cover and thought it would be just her journey in dealing with grief after the death of her younger sister Ruth. I thought it would be a different type of grief to mine. But I picked it up last week and read it over two nights. I can totally understand why Justine attempted to contact Ruth. I have been begging Dad to give me a sign that he is okay for the last three months. :-( Justine met some fascinating people - none of them were sinister sounding despite basically being involved in the occult. Justine's grief just hits you in the face and when she tries to email Ruth .... I had big tears plopping on the page as I had thought of something similar. The helplessness and total sorrow really struck a chord with me. It really comforted me.

One book that I initially thought would be the best in bringing peace to my hurting heart .... wasn't. I have really enjoyed C S Lewis' Narnia Chronicles (at least 4 times) and I have also read a number of his Christian writings. However ... "A Grief Observed" written on the death of his wife, Joy, had me crying so hard I was sick. I had had an image of Dad being greeted in heaven by his parents, brother and sister and indeed of me seeing him again! That was the one thing that gave me comfort. Alas, C S Lewis wrote of how that was the stuff that bad hymns were made of and there was nothing in the Bible to substantiate it. I tried to pick it up again but I couldn't. He is one of the best scholars this world has ever known and he was a devout Christian ... so I should value his words but in this case, I can't!

Well, that's it. I've just these last few days ventured back into the blogging world and have already added about 20 books to my wishlist from catching up on the reviews.

If anyone can recommend anymore books on grief then I would be thrilled.

Happy Reading!