Book Review: The Gift by Cecilia Ahern

The Gift by Cecilia AhernIf you were to stroll down the candy-cane façade of a suburban housing estate early on Christmas morning, you couldn’t help but observe how the houses in all their tinselled glory are akin to the wrapped parcels that lie beneath the Christmas trees within.  For each holds their secrets inside…

This was a good book to read just before Christmas.  In essence it’s about giving and receiving gifts: material or otherwise.  The novel opens on Christmas Day itself; then, in a story within a story, we flash back to the week leading up to Christmas.

If you are a Christmassy person, you should love all the festive references jumping out from the pages.  There’s a lovely scene where a Christmas market and its accompanying ice-rink, Santa’s Grotto and fairground are described in all their glorious, colourful detail, rendering a wide-eyed five-year-old speechless.

Unfortunately, for me at least, the book also brought to life the stress and anxiety which the run-up to Christmas can bring More


Book Review: The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel

The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M. Auel“The naked child ran out of the hide-covered lean-to towards the rocky beach at the bend in the small river.  It didn’t occur to her to look back.  Nothing in her experience ever gave her reason to doubt the shelter and those within it would be there when she returned…”

So begins the first in the Earth’s Children® series of seven novels.  It’s been a bestselling series, but somehow I’ve only discovered it just prior to the release of the final instalment in March 2011.  I was intrigued by the prehistoric setting (I lap up historical novels like whipped cream) and I wanted to know more.

I can’t bear to start a series in the middle, never mind the end, so I decided to try the first book, first published in 1980.  The novel is about a Neanderthal tribe which takes in an orphaned child.  The child is not of their clan; she’s not even of their race.  Ayla is one of the Others, and she is tall, blonde and blue-eyed, standing out from everyone around her and deemed ugly next to their short, dark and hairy bodies.  Her personality is also vastly different from theirs: she shocks them by wanting to hunt with the men, talking too much and being able to count.  Luckily she is keen to learn their ways, and so step by step we and Ayla are initiated into the clan’s way of life.


Book Review: Finding My Voice: A Forty-Year Apprenticeship in Sound by Sherie Griffiths

Finding My Voice by Sherie Griffiths

“For some time after I came out of hospital, I absolutely hated anything involving crowds.  That obviously made shopping a nightmare for Mum.  When she had no choice but to take me, a chore became an ordeal.

Until she hit on an idea.  Along with the other toys in my pushchair, she gave me a radio.  It was a simple little ‘tranny’, with one waveband and two dials…but it took my mind off of what was going on around me and gave me a noise I could control.  When I think about that now, I have to say it was a stroke of genius and it started me off on the habit of a lifetime – at one stage a very expensive habit…

My other favourite toy was a red phone.  I can remember when I was around three, having the radio in one hand and the phone in the other.  Hold that image…”

Finding My Voice is the non-fiction memoir of Sherie Griffiths, founder of the company Savvy Business (recently rebranded as Speak For Yourself).  In it she guides the reader through her past and her present with warmth and a lot of humour.  It’s hard not to feel that you have known her for a long time; her words are as engaging as if you were sitting in her home having a cup of coffee and a casual chat.

Sherie is visually impaired and, naturally, this has somewhat influenced the twists and turns of her life.  But it is clear from her story that she has to an extent become a successful and inspirational businesswoman because of her disability rather than in spite of it.  She admits that her stubborn nature often refuses to allow her to give up or to be held back.  Her determination to succeed is stamped all over her fascinating story.


Book Review: The Temptation of Jack Orkney: Collected Stories Volume 2 by Doris Lessing

The Temptation of Jack Orkney by Doris Lessing“Her name was Hetty, and she was born with the twentieth century.  She was seventy when she died of cold and malnutrition…. Her four children were now middle-aged, with grown children.  Of these descendants one daughter sent her Christmas cards, but otherwise she did not exist for them.  For they were all respectable people, with homes and good jobs and cars.  And Hetty was not respectable.  She had always been a bit strange, these people said, when mentioning her at all.”

‘An Old Woman and her Cat’

I always find it’s more of a challenge to discuss short story collections than a full novel.  There’s a lot more to talk about, but inevitably you’ll like some more than others – do you rate a collection on its average content or on the merits of your favourite, or even least favourite?

There were a few stories in this collection, such as ‘An Old Woman and her Cat’ and ‘The Thoughts of a Near-Human’, which I loved and which touched me.  ‘An Old Woman and her Cat’ is, in essence, about the homelessness and loneliness of an old lady abandoned by society.  ‘The Thoughts of a Near-Human’ is narrated by a Yeti-like creature who is fascinated by the human inhabitants of a remote village and attempts to make contact with them, with tragic consequences.  Both stories appealed to me because they delve deep into an exploration of human nature and society’s pack-like rejection of the abnormal.


Normal service resumed: NaNoWriMo musings and a new challenge



It is the first day in December.  After four weeks of glee and guilt in equal measure, NaNoWriMo is over.  I no longer have to worry about my word count, or how many days I have left, or how shockingly behind I am.

I haven’t “won” NaNo this year – I only managed to get to 30,000 words – so you might think that I would be dispirited and put off from writing anything else for at least six months.  Yet here I am typing this, dragging my laptop to and from work on the train, on 1st December.

The challenge of NaNo is to write at least 50,000 words.  What I realised about half way through the month, when I was still only a little behind in my word score, is that I didn’t want to write 1,667 words a day.  Maybe I can get to that incredibly productive place, in time, once I’ve had some practise and built myself up to it.  But I’ve never written on a daily basis before, I wasn’t producing good writing and I couldn’t keep up with the pace needed.  I’m also a terrible over-editor: I can’t send a text without reading it over twice and checking that it can’t be interpreted in the wrong way or that I haven’t left out an apostrophe.