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Memoir Review: Why the Dutch are Different by Ben Coates

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I started reading Why the Dutch are Different a while ago and have just finished it now. At first I wasn’t sure whether it was memoir, history, social comment or what it was, but actually it’s a mixture of all three. I’ve given it 4.5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Ben Coates is a young Englishman who was formerly in the hectic political world of the UK. As a speech writer and lobbyist, I am sure he must have been used to viewing the world through a critical lens. This book is a reflection of his ability to stand back and look at the Netherlands without any rose-tinted glasses on, something I think I would find hard to do myself as I tend to want to focus on the positive aspects of life wherever I have lived it, and of course I’ve lived in the Netherlands for nearly seventeen years.

First and foremost, let me say Ben Coates is an exceptionally good writer. His flexible use of English in his keen perceptions on the Dutch, their history and their customs is perfect and I often stopped reading simply to admire a sentence or phrase that seemed particularly apt or succinct. There were, however, quite large sections of the book I felt tempted to skim over. For those who don’t know much European, and specifically Dutch, history, this book gives a kind of potted summary of many of the important periods in the country’s past and it will probably be useful; for myself, I could have done without quite so much straying into the activities of the VOC (the East India Company), King William’s exploits into England and the history of the Spanish and French domination of the Netherlands. This was all background I studied at school and university and unfortunately, it didn’t really strike me as anything more than just reeling off the facts; nor did it seem to have much to do with why the Dutch are different now, other than setting the historical background for the country’s great reputation as a trading nation that supported the arts in its Golden Age. On the plus side, I learnt a lot of fascinating little gems, such as why the city of Breda got its name (the breede Ee, meaning the wide river Ee) and other such titbits. I found myself frequently asking my Dutch partner ‘Did you know this?’ and often he didn’t, so for all those interesting snippets, I was very grateful.

Strangely enough, I enjoyed the section on the Dutch obsession with football. I’m not a football fan at all, but the fanatical devotion the Dutch have to soccer is a curious phenomenon in this country and I found the accounts he gave of the teams, the key players and managers and both the national adoration and criticism that the Dutch have for their footballers really entertaining.

However, most of all, I enjoyed the later chapters where he writes about how the intrinsic Dutch culture of ‘anything goes’ has been tested in recent years by what opening borders and increased immigration have meant to the Netherlands. He writes lucidly and honestly about how this has affected the traditionally relaxed attitude the Dutch have had to drug use, prostitution, homosexuality, euthanasia and immigration.

All this quite intense discussion is set against the background of Ben Coates’ own experience as he travelled around the Netherlands during his early years in the country and while he makes few personal judgements until quite close to the end of the book, he tells things like they are. I must say I quite often wondered if he even liked it at all; that was until I reached the final chapter, when I realised that he, like me, appreciates how much our easy, breezy self-confident and optimistic Dutch hosts have to offer. He also shows how fond we can become of these smiling, but direct people who fully espouse their ‘philosophy of a flat country’.

As I said at the beginning, this book is part memoir, part history lesson and part editorial. Overall, it is a really good read and I learnt a lot from it. I am now looking forward to reading his new book about the Rhine, which is apparently due out soon.

The link to the book is here

The Kindle book is priced at €2.99 in the Netherlands store and the paperback around €12.00

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Memoir Review: Second Hand Scotch by Cathy Curran

I read this memoir during the summer while I was faring in France and I can honestly say I found it really hard to put down. Cathy Curran’s life ought to be recorded on film. It would be an incredibly moving tribute to all those immigrant families in America who are now part of the fabric of the United States’ ethnically diverse population.

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Here is the review I posted on Amazon. I gave it a stonking and unconditional five stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“I was lucky to be gifted this memoir as a prize in a drawer. It’s taken me a while to read it, but I can honestly say it is the best memoir I’ve ever read of its kind. It is vivid, shocking, colourful, funny, heartbreaking and inspiring. What an amazing family history it is too – the story of an American immigrant family, of larger than life, noisy, vibrant people imbued with the violence and abuse that they suffered in their countries of origin: Poland, Russia and Armenia.

Cathy Low Curran tells the story mostly through her childhood eyes, making it all the more heart wrenching. Her father, the victim of extreme violence from his own father, exacts the same physical and emotional abuse on his daughters, especially on Cathy herself, who as the second of 9 children has the worst situation. Her elder sister, a manipulative, clever child escapes all the duties as her father’s favourite. The job of helping her long suffering and (truly) wonderful mother thus falls to Cathy, who has to act as unpaid and unrewarded family nanny, skivvy and cleaner or else risk the ire of both her father and her sister. Nevertheless, her love for her mother and her baby sisters and brothers gives her a reason to do so with willingness. Even so, Cathy can do nothing right and she grows up desperate for her father’s love, but never finding it until much later in life.

This memoir is not for the faint-hearted. It shocked me to the core and brought tears to my eyes on several occasions, but it has a visual richness and humour in its story-telling that also give it a filmic quality and had me chuckling too. Excellent writing, compelling reading. A must read for anyone interested in the story of US immigration and how the abuse of the past can affect family relationships for generations to come.”

The link to the book on Amazon.com is here, but it is available on all Amazon sites too. The Kindle price for me here in the Netherlands is $3.47, but I imagine that will be slightly less elsewhere. (We always pay more here!). It is also available in paperback for around $12.99

Memoir review: Blackbirds Baked in a Pie

I’ve been threatening to use this blog for my reviews for a while, so I thought I’d better put my money where my mouth is. I’m currently reading Why the Dutch are Different by Ben Coates, but it’s taking me much longer than I expected, so I thought I’d begin by posting some reviews of other memoirs I’ve read.

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The first one, then, is going to be Blackbirds Baked in a Pie by Eugene Barter, who used to be the private secretary of Prime Minister Edward Heath. Eugene is now quite an elderly lady (in her late eighties). Apparently until quite recently she used to trek around the country with a suitcase full of books and give talks wherever she could. However, she is no longer able to get about and promote her book as she used to, so I thought it would be nice to give her a blog boost by starting of my memoir reviews with the one I wrote about her book.

Here is what I posted on Amazon. I gave it four stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“I read this book with great enjoyment and an appreciation that the author was already over sixty when she courageously embarked on her new life. It is set in the pyrenees of south west France and is almost as much about the Catalans as it is about the French of the area. Ms Barter has some lovely anecdotes about both the locals and her guests at the B&B she and her sister started. In fact I wished there were more stories and fewer recipes, but that’s because I’m not a cook and I love France! It is set during the time of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership in England and bearing in mind Ms Barter was Edward Heath’s secretary, there is some inevitable looking over the channel into the England of the time too. Personally, I could have done without that, but it does put the book into context. Altogether, I enjoyed the stories very much and it was amusing and entertaining to read.”

Readers who like cooking will definitely enjoy the recipes!

The link to the book on Amazon.com is here

The Kindle version is currently priced at $2.99 and the paperback is around $12.99

New life for this old blog

 

It’s been a while since I posted anything here. In all honesty, my WP account is mainly here so I can comment on blogs by WP bloggers. My usual blog is on Blogger and I’ve always been happy with it, so I stay there. However, I’m a great reader and since I write and read memoirs, I thought I’d start posting reviews of the memoirs I’ve read here instead of only using it to reblog other people’s posts.

That’s what I’ll be doing then. Hopefully, I’ll start next week with my review of Ben Coates’ Why the Dutch Are Different, and take it from there.

Till soon and don’t forget to look at my Blogger posts for news about my life in Rotterdam’s Oude Haven. That’s where the fun and funny part of my world happens!

 

 

Tell No One by Harlan Coben #Crime #Suspense #BookReview

I’ve always enjoyed Harlan Coben myself!

Between the Lines ~ Books’n’Stuff

  • Author: Harlan Coben
  • My copy was published in 2005 by Orion Books
  • Category: Thriller, Crime, Suspense, Fiction, Book Review, Books, Reading

For Dr. David Beck, the loss was shattering. And every day for the past eight years, he has relived the horror of what happened. The gleaming lake. The pale moonlight. The piercing screams. The night his wife was taken. The last night he saw her alive.

Eight years ago recently married David Beck and his wife, Elizabeth, were visiting the remote lakeside cabin that holds special memories for them both. Beck’s grandfather had bought the lake and surrounding land years ago and it was the site of Beck and Elizabeth’s first kiss. They visit on their anniversary each year and add a notch under the heart carved on a tree with their initials. During a moonlight swim a vicious and seemingly unprovoked attack leaves Beck fighting for his life…

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Guest post from Valerie Poore: Summer on a barge

Just found this old post on my publisher’s blog. It makes me long for summer again…

Sunpenny Publishing Blog

 

WATERY WAYS

We are pleased to have Valerie Poore, author of ‘Watery Ways’ and ‘The Skipper’s Child’ on the blog today with a guest post about life on her barge during the summer months. If you’ve ever fantasised about spending the summer on the water or want to find out what it’s like, read on!

Welcome, Valerie:

Summers in Europe are generally a mixed bag, aren’t they? Living in South Africa for so many years, I got used to being able to make plans for things in the summer months and be more or less certain I’d be able to do them. If I wanted to work in the garden, paint the house or have a barbecue (known as a braai there), it wasn’t often I had to cancel these activities because of the weather.

Well, I’ve now been back in northern Europe for getting on fifteen years and I’m still not…

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Live Interview – We Love Memoirs

One of my very favourite people will be answering questions live online on We Love Memoirs this Sunday!

Jackie Parry - author

Do you love memoirs?

If you do, you must join the FB group We Love Memoirs, and here’s why:

  1. They are the friendliest group on FB
  2. They regularly have fun competitions with FREEBIES!
  3. There is constant laughter, fun, parties, and jokes posted by lovely people
  4. There’s no self-promotion (authors cannot join just to advertise/market)
  5. The group consists of both authors and many readers
  6. So many recommendations – you will find just the book for you!
  7. Friendship, support, help, and advice (if you’d like it) is freely available
  8. They host weekly Sunday Spotlight LIVE interviews with authors… and…
  9. THIS Sunday it is me!

We Love Memoirs is hosting my live interview this Sunday 1st October

TIME: To be advised, but most of the day on Sunday AEST.

Come along and say G’day. You need only join the group and then you can ask me ANYTHING you like, on ANY subject you…

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