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Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds 3 by Nick Albert

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Last night I finished Nick Albert’s lovely Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds 3 and I’m already looking forward to the next one. What a wonderful series! It contains everything I love: dogs, chickens, DIY challenges, history and fun. I laughed a lot and teared up a few times and I’m in awe of Nick’s DIY courage and achievements. Just a gorgeous read.

Nick and Lesley have moved from the home counties in England to a remote farmhouse in county Clare in Ireland. This book picks up where the last one left off, and the story begins when they are part of the way through the renovations on their old house. I  learned quite a bit about building projects and even more about how not to do things through Nick Albert’s endearing and self deprecating humour. Being a DIY enthusiast myself, I found the descriptions of his progress fascinating and could even have done with more of them, but I understand that for a memoir, the DIY had to be balanced with the rest of the story.

What surprised me was how much ‘weather’ they have in western Ireland. From raging storms to heavy snow and runaway fires, life in County Clare sounds just as exciting as it was in my old South African home. There is even the odd tornado, and even worse for me, the danger of sinking into a bog. Awful to contemplate.

The animal stories were of course a delight. The dogs the couple gather along the way show what great animal lovers they are, and as for the chickens and ducks, I howled with laughter over their antics. One day I’ll have chickens too, simply for entertainment value…the eggs would just be a bonus.

Thank you, Nick Albert. This book was just what I needed and I’m very much looking forward to number 4.

The link to the book is here

Watching the Daisies by Brigid Gallagher

 

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It’s taken me a while to read this memoir, but somehow I think it’s fitting as the subtitle of Watching the Daisies is ‘Life Lessons on The Importance of Slow.’

Overall, this is a memoir about healing and self-development. However, the story is really that of Brigid Gallagher’s life and we follow her progress from early childhood in Ireland to a life in Scotland with her family and then back to Ireland again. Throughout the telling of this gentle story of poignant loss and gain, we learn of Brigid’s career in spiritual and holistic healing, which later leads to a new career in horticulture after a number of life changing events.

The book is quite detailed, but what dominates the story is the author’s love of family, her soul-searching for spiritual growth and her quest for a health that seems to evade her. We also travel widely with her to wonderful locations, such as India, Morocco, Bali and Italy, where she seeks out spiritual and healing experiences. What I found particularly intriguing was her openness to different faiths and her ability to embrace aspects of a number of spiritual paths, while remaining a devout Christian.

Altogether, I found Watching the Daisies a profound and moving memoir, and a lovely enriching read.

The link to the book is here

The Memory by Judith Barrow

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I normally only review memoirs on this blog, but I’m making an exception for Judith Barrow’s new book, titled The Memory.

I have been a fan of Judith Barrow’s writing for some time. I loved her Howarth family trilogy and also her collection of short stories, Secrets, so when I was asked to read this book for review, I had no hesitation in accepting an ARC.

The Memory is completely different from any of the author’s other novels, but at the same time, it retains the undiluted and unadorned realism of her other books. Irene, the narrator of the story, switches between memories of the past and a long few days in 2002. In every chapter, we follow her in an hourly diary of dealing with the exhausting and sometimes awful reality of her mother’s dementia. The story then reverts to the past and the progress of her childhood and life with and after the death of her beloved Down’s Syndrome sister, Rose.

Throughout the book, Irene’s relationship with her mother is the central theme, a relationship built on both love and hatred, and the bizarre, but poisonous bond that Rose’s loss creates between them. Why this bond is so strong and why Irene cannot and will not consign her mother to a home are revealed as the story progresses.

This is a hugely compelling book, beautifully written with an attention to detail and reality that is quite astonishing. It is tragic, searingly honest and deeply touching too, and the reality of both Downs Syndrome and Dementia are treated with candour and compassion. In the end, though, it is a story of hope and very much love too, as Irene’s relationships with the rest of her family prove.

The Memory is a book that will remain in my own for a very long time. I’m honoured to have been asked to review it.

The link to the book is here

Review of My Life in Horses: Disappearing Dreamscapes

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If you love horses, this great collection of vignettes and anecdotes about the author’s riding experiences throughout her life will definitely draw you in completely. I used to keep and look after other people’s horses back in the late 70s and early 80s, a period Jan Ruth also describes with some nostalgia, so I could relate to the whole period very well. The joy of cycling to the riding stables, of mucking out in exchange for rides, or cantering over fields without restrictions and of spending hours happily in the saddle. These are memories, Jan Ruth describes perfectly and which had me reliving the experiences again.

We were all much freer then and her descriptions of riding across country, along bridle lanes and even on roads where people respected horse riders brought back lots of lovely memories. Hats off too to Ms Ruth for still riding in her 60s. I wish I still was! I thoroughly enjoyed this canter along memory lane.

The link to the book is here

Review of High Heels & Beetle Crushers by Jackie Skingley

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This book was quite a surprise to me as I was expecting something quite different. That’s not to say it was a disappointment. It wasn’t at all, and I enjoyed it tremendously. However, what I thought would be a memoir spanning a full career was actually a story of the author’s youth that ends when she’s about twenty one.

Beginning with a the loss of her beloved father in childhood, the book takes us through her growing years, her relationship with her lovely mother and loathed stepfather, her first jobs and her first loves. Her entry into the WRAC was spurred on by a desire for adventure, and this was the part I found most interesting. Being in the army as a woman was very different in the late fifties and early sixties from how it is today, and I was fascinated by the way these young women were groomed to lead platoons, do administration and generally be good managers of people. As a young commissioned officer, Jackie Singley appears to have been very good at engaging and holding the trust of those she was schooled to lead. It was a life of discipline and rules, but there seemed to be plenty of time for fun as well. Friendships were forged and lost, but there was a real sense of camaraderie, much as we would find at a girls only boarding school.

All the same, when she ends up in Germany, she finds dealing with male officers and not-so-gentlemen could be more difficult. There were also aspects of women’s army life that were much more challenging then than they are now, such as the attitudes to homosexuality, which was illegal at the time. How these were handled had me on tenterhooks as I wondered what the outcome would be.

That said, Jackie Skingley’s romantic life is also a big part of her story, as it is with any teenager and twenty-year-old, and her relationships give both joy and poignancy to the memoir. Actually, the book reads like a novel, so I’m sure it will be popular with a wide audience. I galloped through it and learnt a lot in the process. All in all, it was a really terrific read.

The link to the book is here

 

Review of The Sunny Side of the Alps by Roy Clark

 

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The Sunny Side of the Alps was given to me as a prize, which I was thrilled to receive as I’d been wanting to read it since I first heard about it. This delightful memoir by Roy Clark is about the move he and his wife, Justi, make to live in Slovenia. I visited the country myself many long years ago, so I was intrigued to read about a place I’d largely forgotten.

After several years in Scotland and a shared passion for hill walking, the couple decide a change is in order. How they came to go to Slovenia is the subject of the first part if the book. The rest concerns their experiences in adapting to this beautiful land of mountains and glorious scenery where Justi is fortunate enough to be offered a teaching post.

The book reads easily and contains exactly the right mix of travel, personal memoir, history and culture for me. I loved their sense of adventure and the descriptions of the country they pass through on their travels by bike, car and foot. I also enjoyed the stories of the people they met in their efforts to integrate in their new home. and of course there is Bryn, their faithful dog, who is very much part of their story. In fact I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book, and am now looking forward to the second in the series. A lovely memoir altogether!

The link to the book is here

Review of Fresh Eggs and Dog Beds 2 by Nick Albert

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This is the second of Nick Albert’s books and while I enjoyed the first one very much, I absolutely loved this one. It has so much more of everything I really like reading about. Firstly, Nick is a self-confessed newbie to the whole DIY renovation game, and I could relate to his labours so well. I loved all the descriptions and could have done with even more of the ‘how I went about it’ sections. I should also say I admire him hugely for taking on such mammoth tasks as rebuilding a complete wing/barn and moving a floor upwards. Goodness me, what courage he had. But let’s not forget Lesley, Nick Albert’s wife, too. She is one brave and hard-working lady, given the personal challenges she was faced with – as any reader will testify.

Secondly, I enjoyed and laughed along with the author’s self-deprecating humour. I had several good chuckles, but my favourite line in the book has to be this one about buying a new car: “Owning the most expensive, shiny, new, super-fast status symbol in County Clare is akin to putting lipstick on a pig. No.” That one really caught my funny bone big time.

Thirdly, I loved all the animal and dog parts, but especially his tales of their chickens and ducks. I could just see it all. I have a great fondness for the daftness of chickens and being a boat dweller, I am constantly delighted by duck behaviour, but Nick’s birds are different. Lovely, funny tales that had me roaring with laughter.

Lastly, the book is imbued with the flavour of Ireland in its country characters, the descriptions of the scenery and the liberal dashes of Irish history and culture. There are also some personal challenges for the couple that give poignancy and anxiety to an otherwise wonderful new life. Altogether, this book has everything that makes it the perfectly mixed cocktail of ingredients for a terrific read. Thank you, Mr Albert. I shall now look forward to reading Book 3!