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Memoir review: Life Before Frank by Frank Kusy

I won this memoir in a draw on the We Love Memoirs page on Facebook and finished reading it last night. What a marvellous snapshot of life as a youngster in the seventies it is, particularly when it came to boys although I could relate to it very well myself, being very close to Frank Kusy in age.

I haven’t read all the author’s memoirs yet; in fact, this is the second. The first one I read is also the last in the series, so it was good to go back to the start and read about what paved the way for what I know his life became later on. He was incredibly enterprising as a small child, especially after his Polish father tragically died and before his mother remarried. Sadly, though, life changed then for Frank. As a child with a stepfather who didn’t really like him, he was constantly aware of being out of step and out of place, especially when he was sent to a Jesuit school for boys by his deeply religious mother. Poor Frank was always in the wrong somehow and the misery of these years (although he dealt with it pretty creatively) laid the foundations for a rather rootless youth.  He was obviously very bright, but not terribly motivated, so as time went on, this lack of enthusiasm took its toll. I won’t say more, as I wouldn’t want to spoil the book for anyone, but I found myself recognising much about life in the seventies. I could also sympathise with Frank over the Catholic education and the distractions wrought by student life when education was free and we all got grants, so we didn’t have to ‘owe’ anyone for our three to four years of  university life.

The book rolls along and is well written and easy to read. I enjoyed the trips down memory lane and the photos of Frank as a teenager and twenty somethinger. He hasn’t changed much, that’s for sure. I was also fascinated by the titbits of information about the attitude to Polish people following the war. Unfortunately, it struck a chord with what seems to be happening in Europe today.

Altogether, a very enjoyable read that set the foundations for much of what Frank did in his later life. Highly recommended!

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#Memoir Week. African Ways by Valerie Poore @vallypee #review

What a special review for me from Mrs Bloggsreader. Huge thanks to Caryl Williams!

Mrs Bloggs The Average Reader

As a huge fan of Valerie Poore’s books about life living on a canal boat in Holland, I knew I had to read about Val’s earlier life living in the Natal region of South Africa.

Her and her husband, along with two very young children had made the decision to live in Africa and were fortunate enough to rent a cottage in an idyllic rural area of the country.

They have no electricity but use oil lamps and listen to the radio and read books for entertainment. It’s a simple life but an enviable one. They don’t really fit in with the local Tennis Club types so just use the clubs library and avoid the social gatherings of the elite set of white settler society.

With the author’s journalistic style of writing, her experiences, sights and sounds of living in the country are described in such a vivid way that…

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Memoir review: Completely Cats – Stories with Cattitude

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Whether this is really a memoir, I’m not sure, but it is certainly a collection of stories from true life. For cat fans (like me), it is essential reading, but let me explain.

Author, Beth Haslam, and editor, Zoe Marr, both committed cat lovers, decided they wanted to do something to support cat charities working in both the rescue and care fields. They invited owners (or should we call them carers?) from around the world to contribute stories of their own special experiences with their moggies. I have the privilege of being included in the anthology; however, mine is just one of the many touching, funny, and often remarkable tales of these wonderful feline individualists who choose to live among us and share their lives with us.

There are stories of cats that have survived horrific injuries, cats that have saved their humans from injury, cats that have sensed their owners’ illness. There is also a kleptomaniac cat, a snake warrior and many many others. I have just loved dipping in and out of these stories and the illustrations at the head of each chapter are a delight.

I can highly recommend this book for all fans of of our feline friends. If you think  your purry furry is unique, intelligent, astonishing and psychic, try some of these. You’ll find that each cat in this book is a very special individual indeed.

Here is the link to the book on AmazonUK, but of course it is available everywhere and the paperback is a treasure that would make a wonderful gift.

The added bonus of buying the book is that a percentage of the proceeds goes to the cat charities working to help our feline friends who are less fortunate than the subjects of this collection.

A mini memoir dedicated to secretaries

Please click on the link to read this fascinating post!

via In Memory of Typists

It’s me in the hot seat…

Thanks to Lucinda E Clarke… MEET VALERIE POORE

Review of a sort of memoir: Carrying Albert Home by Homer Hickam

I’m cheating a bit by reviewing this book here. It is only part memoir. The rest is family history, fable, and legend, as well as (probably) quite a bit of pure fabrication. But I don’t care. I absolutely adored this book and want to review it here.

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Carrying Albert home is the story of a journey: a real one as well as a metaphorical one. What is true is that it involves the author Homer Hickam’s real parents, Homer snr and Elsie. What also seems to be true is that Elsie had an alligator called Albert, that she loved him (possibly more than her husband), and that Homer snr and she carried Albert from the coal town in West Verginia where they lived to Orlando in Florida.

However, as Homer (Sonny) Hickham writes, both his parents could tell tall stories, so the piecing together of their adventures on the road to take the delightful Albert (who makes yeah, yeah, yeah happy sounds) home to Florida may or may not have a grain or two of truth. Whatever the case, this book completely won my heart. The description of Homer and Elsie’s adventures on the road and the gradual growth of the couple’s appreciation and affection for each other are both off the wall and deeply moving. I was completely smitten with Albert, who appeared to be not only capable of loyalty and affection but also endearing humour and uncanny insight. I was also taken by the strange presence of the rooster. It flew into the car one day and became Albert’s friend and Homer’s parrot, but no one knew why it was there and it never got a name.

The adventures are related in episodes as if told to the author by each of his parents. Set in the period of the depressed 30s in the US, the tales become increasingly bizarre and include the couple getting caught up in bank robberies, meeting both John Steinbeck and Ernest Hemingway, running bootleg liquor, making Tarzan and Jane movies and nearly being finished off by a hurricane. The whole book is imbued with a certain whimsy and it made me think of Forrest Gump meets The Grapes of Wrath. Elsie is complex, Homer is straightforward and Albert is a heart winner. Although the story begins with Homer giving Elsie an ultimatum (‘it’s that alligator or me’), Homer too develops a touching bond with the reptile and I have to admit I was in tears at the end. Love wins the day, but there is sadness too; there is also the complication of another man at the journey’s end.

There was so much I loved about this book: the beautiful clarity of the way it is written, the quirky, odd stories, the even quirkier characters and the impossible adventures. I know it will be in my top books of all time and will sit up there with Monsignor Quixote, Absolute Friends, Offshore and Tortilla Flats. Very highly recommended indeed and one I will definitely read again.

 

Memoir Review: Chickens Eat Pasta: Escape to Umbria by Clare Pedrick

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The best thing for me about this very enjoyable memoir was the impression I gained of life in an Italian village. Set in the 80s, journalist Clare Pedrick tells the story of how at the age of 26, she impulsively bought a virtual ruin in Umbria following the break up of a long term relationship. With a degree in Italian from Cambridge University, she was probably better equipped than most to deal with the communication minefield that went with both buying a property and arranging for its renovation. Nevertheless, she had her share of crises to handle, and some of these were quite alarming (imagine being told you don’t own the land surrounding your house when you thought you did). But help frequently came, and usually in the form of her charmingly quirky Italian village friends and the community in general. The colour and vibrancy of these people are what make this book for me. I loved Angela, Ercolino, Benedetto and Tito, and also the two rival women, Generosa and Settima. They were such characters, all of them.

More like a novel than a memoir really, the book follows Clare’s growing enchantment with her new life as well as her renovations on her crumbling house and her budding journalism career at first from home, and then in Rome. However, Chickens Eat Pasta is actually a love story, not only about the author’s love affair with Italy, but also her growing relationship with the man who later became her husband, and given that she is apparently still married to him, it had a happy ever after ending.

There were lots of cultural lessons to be learnt from the book too, including different attitudes to family, food and housework. I’m not sure I would have survived these as well as she did. However, one of the things that amazed me was learning how Clare handled the uninhibited physical advances of quite a number of local lads. They seemed to think that just because she was alone (at first), and English to boot, she was fair game.  In a way, I was almost outraged on her behalf, but then had to remember this was in the 80s when such behaviour was almost expected by visitors to Italy (i.e the famous bottom pinching). However, I couldn’t help wondering whether this is still normal practice in rural Italy today. Not that young Clare appreciated it at the time either, but I was impressed with how she coped given the risk of upsetting her new neighbours. As for the older members of the community, they were convinced she must be looking for a husband and were determined to find her one. It was positively comical.

All in all, I really enjoyed reading this memoir and I felt as if I too was part of the village and its community. I suppose that being a journalist, Clare Pedrick kept detailed records and diaries; either that or the stories and narrative have been adapted to give the impression of being a novel, as it certainly reads more like fiction than fact.

If you are looking for a book that immerses you in Italian culture, and leaves you with memories of a warm cast of characters, then I can definitely recommended it. But be warned, there aren’t many chickens involved 🙂

Here is a link to the book on Amazon.UK