Ladder of Years – Anne Tyler

“We don’t see people as they are. We see people as we are.” ― Anaïs Nin

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I’ve never read any Anne Tyler before, but I was lured into buying this book by a dramatisation I heard on Radio 4. Over the period of a week or two I’d often catch few minutes of the show and find myself wondering what had happened in the episodes I’d missed. The curiosity got the better of me and I treated myself to a second hand copy from Amazon.

In Ladder of Years Anne Tyler tells the tale of Cordelia ‘Delia’ Grinstead – a forty-year-old housewife and medical secretary, who, while on a seaside holiday with her family, walks off down the beach and doesn’t look back.

This all started on a Saturday morning in May, one of those warm spring days that smell like clean linen. Delia had gone to the supermarket to shop for the week’s meals. She was standing in the produce section, languidly choosing a bunch of celery. Grocery stores always made her reflective. Why was it, she was wondering, that celery was not called ‘corduroy plants’? That would be much more colourful. And garlic bulbs should be ‘money bags,’ because their shape reminded her of the sacks of gold coins.

Ladder of Years is a thoughtful book, one of those stories that will make you wonder at the significance in every small thing. If Delia had not been shopping in that particular store on that morning, or if she had spent a little less time musing over the celery, her life might have taken a very different route.

It is in the produce section that Delia meets Adrian Bly-Brice, the man, the catalyst, who would set her on the first un-Cordelia Grinstead journey of her life.

The question of why Delia decided to leave her family is a difficult one to answer. Mainly because she didn’t, decide to leave I mean. She never intended to leave her family, it just sort of happened. It is as though she was overwhelmed for a moment, fed up with being so predictable, and once she had started walking it was difficult for her to find her way back home.

Who is it that Tyler hopes the reader will feel compassion for? Is it Delia? Or with the family that she has left behind? I felt a strange mix of feelings for both parties; coming from a broken family myself I empathised with the family left behind in Baltimore, who had lost their mother completely without warning. She upped and left without the slightest hint, leaving all her belongings behind, these things are never painless or easy. It must have been horrendous for her children, no matter what their age. I also felt sad for Delia, who seemed so lost and confused, spending the first days of her absence crying herself to sleep. She didn’t even fully understand why she had left.

I feel as though Delia was going through some sort of midlife crisis. She is portrayed as silently struggling to deal with the recent death of her father, who had been the one constant figure in her life. When her children began to grow up, she had reverted to caring for him, and months on from his death she could not bear to clear out his bedroom. It remained stuck, in a sort of time trap. Then she began to doubt her reasons for getting married and second guess her husband’s feelings towards her. Feeling as though she had never been swept off of her feet, by a man like Adrian Bly-Brice, but then, as her twin nieces would say ‘well that’s life’. For this reason, I felt hopeful that Delia would find her way home.

While few physical events actually happen in the book, it is in the least bit boring, and the chapters do not drag. The journey is predominantly an emotional one, and as such no single event seems to stand out as that important. That said, the Delia Grinstead who emerges throughout the book is a very different woman to the one who puzzled over celery on the very first page.

Tyler’s impeccable writing style allows for this emotional journey to take shape. The whole world in which Delia inhabits is so clearly defined that it might be about to leap off the page. All thoughts are portrayed seamlessly, and with almost perfect attention to detail, through Delia’s eyes. Each time she meets a new person, is faced with a new situation, or does anything at all, it is as though you can see the cogs of her mind working. The faces of the people she meets unfolding before her, in such a way that everyone becomes incredibly rounded and 3-dimensional. I feel as though I could sit and sketch an image of every person in the book, from Delia herself, to the fleeting image of Rosemary Bly-Brice.

I feel as though I have spent a couple of days reading an incredibly articulate diary. Not too much happens in the grand scheme of things, but I was definitely drawn into Delia Grinstead’s world. This one was an easy book to get into, and an even easier book to finish. Eloquently written, but without a hint of snobbishness.

The House at the End of Hope Street – Menna Van Praag

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ― W. B. Yeats

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‘The house has stood at the end of Hope Street for nearly two hundred years. It’s larger than all the others, with turrets and chimneys rising into the sky. The front garden grows wild, the long grasses scattered with cowslips, reaching toward the low-hanging leaves of the willow trees. At night the house looks like a Victorian orphanage housing a hundred despairing souls, but when the clouds part and it is lit by moonlight, the house appears to be enchanted. As if Rapunzel lives in the lower tower and a hundred Sleeping Beauties lie in the beds.’

This book is so incredibly sweet and gentle, definitely one for a lazy afternoon where you just want to curl up with a book and wile away the hours.

In The House at the End of Hope Street Van Praag vicariously lives out her dream of providing a safe refuge for women who have lost hope and need a place to recover and find their direction in life.

Alba Ashby, the youngest PhD student at Cambridge University has hit an enormous bump in her journey towards academic success. Alone and beside herself she begins to wander the streets of Cambridge, her mind constantly wandering back to ‘the worst event’ of her life. As she walks she attempts to shake away her memories and search for solace in the dark streets of the university city. One night something calls to her on the wind and she finds herself stood before a mysterious house on Hope Street, unconsciously ringing the doorbell. There the beautiful Peggy Abbot welcomes her with open arms and a steaming cup of hot chocolate. Alba is invited to remain at Hope Street for no more than 99 days: ‘long enough to help you turn your life around and short enough that you can’t put it off forever’. As well as having the luxury of no rent or bills, and a room of her own, Alba is promised that she will not have to work through her problems alone.169457_3d60d4c13a1677754831f3f04683f9d2_large

‘If you stay I can promise you this,’ Peggy says. ‘This house may not give you what you want, but it will give you what you need. And the event that brought you here, the thing that you think is the worst thing that’s ever happened? When you leave, you’ll realize it was the very best thing of all.’

Alba is an unusual girl, gifted with a second sight. She has the ability to see those who are no longer living as well as things that others cannot see – sounds, emotions, feelings and scents trail through the air before her very eyes. Birds sing in blue and weave ribbons through the sky, and the words of those she speaks with emerge before her eyes, written as if by an imaginary typewriter, revealing the speakers true colours. When she steps through the door of 11 Hope Street she is perhaps not as surprised as the reader by the magical world enclosed within, and not in the least bit startled by the ghost of girl sat smiling in the kitchen sink.

In The House at the End of Hope Street Van Praag introduces us to an enchanting, magical world. Over the years the house has been home to great women throughout history, black and white images of Sylvia Plath and Dorothy Parker come to life to offer words of wisdom and advice to Alba, the walls rattle and breathe and Alba’s room transforms, filling with book cases, and fluttering copies of hundred of novels. The house is alive, and drops hints and ideas into the minds of the residents, placing notes on their dressers, providing them with gifts to nurture their talents, and denying them those which they must seek elsewhere. Bookish Alba spends her first days curled up in the cocoon of her bedroom, losing herself in the books provided for her by the house, before slowly embarking on her own journey.

In her time at Hope Street Alba goes through even more heartbreak and devastation, as she loses the person closest to her and discovers the truth behind a long kept family secret. These events help guide her on the road towards self-fulfilment, as though every cloud really does have a silver lining. For the first time in her life she is able to make friends, rather than just acquaintances, and she discovers that people living right beneath her nose will soon come to mean the world to her.

)7_WillPryce_CUL_There are twists in the story, some that I saw coming, and some that I didn’t, but all of which are delightful and sure go bring a smile to your face. Do not expect to find out exactly what Alba is running from right away, it takes some time, Van Praag teases the secret out deliciously, keeping you reading on long after you should have put the book down and started on supper.

As a Cambridge girl myself, I really enjoyed reading about the Cambridge Alba inhabits. I loved to imagine her slipping on the cobbles outside Trinity College, and running through the lanes, darting into a little bookshop to shelter from the rain, and delighted at her description of the Cambridge University Library as ‘her cathedral’.

Bookish types are sure to enjoy this book, and I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys gentle fantasy and magical realism. I would not say the book has changed my life and made it onto my favourites list, but I definitely enjoyed it, and was awarded with that warm feeling of satisfaction that comes from finishing a truly pleasant book.

World Book Night – Amazon freebie!

In celebration of World Book Night I have teamed up with author N Caraway to offer you all the chance to read his novels for free on your kindles.

World Book Night is an annual celebration of reading and books that takes place in the UK on 23 April. Across the country volunteers give out hundreds of thousands pre-chosen books in their communities to share their love of reading with people who don’t own books or are unable to read regularly.

This years book list has some cracking reads on it – check out the World Book Night website for more information, and to locate participating venues.

And for those of your who can’t participate in any of tonight’s events head on over to Amazon, or Amazon UK, and grab yourself a free ebook to sink your teeth into instead.

Click on the book covers to get yourself a copy.

The Manneken Pis

maneA lonely old man is living out the last days of his life in Brussels, a city that alternates between small-town non-entity and extreme surrealist quirkiness, symbolised by the famous statue of a small boy urinating. Increasingly confused by the effects of a heart attack, he tries to find meaning in one last rational act of kindness before he dies.

Set in the capital of a rapidly ageing Europe, the second novel by N Caraway is a tragicomic study of solitude and growing old that also provides a surprising new take on the theme of the classic Frank Capra movie ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’.

The Humanitarian

51W+tDMNtgLAfter decades of civil war a peace deal is in the offing for the ravaged land of South Sudan, where the United Nations and a plethora of non-government organisations have come together to deliver emergency aid to the thousands of displaced and homeless people scattered in camps and villages across the vast wilderness of swamps and scrubland.

Richards is a UN official on his final mission, leading a small team to a remote region. For him it is not just the war which is ending, but the world he has come to inhabit. Detachment and isolation from all that is around him begin to take hold and memories of another life threaten to break through the thin walls he has built around himself. As he sinks deeper into inner darkness a chance meeting with a young priest seems to offer the hope of a way back to belief in humanity and meaning, but the road is rough.

Payday splurge! Bookish treats to get me though April

“Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination.” ― Oscar Wilde

It’s the end of the month, which means it’s finally time to treat myself after a few penniless weeks. Check out my haul!

The Hourglass Factory – Lucy Ribchester

the-hourglass-factory-9781471139307_hr1912 and London is in turmoil…

The suffragette movement is reaching fever pitch but for broke Fleet Street tomboy Frankie George, just getting by in the cut-throat world of newspapers is hard enough. Sent to interview trapeze artist Ebony Diamond, Frankie finds herself fascinated by the tightly laced acrobat and follows her across London to a Mayfair corset shop that hides more than one dark secret.

Then Ebony Diamond mysteriously disappears in the middle of a performance, and Frankie is drawn into a world of tricks, society columnists, corset fetishists, suffragettes and circus freaks. How did Ebony vanish, who was she afraid of, and what goes on behind the doors of the mysterious Hourglass Factory?

From the newsrooms of Fleet Street to the drawing rooms of high society, the missing Ebony Diamond leads Frankie to the trail of a murderous villain with a plot more deadly than anyone could have imagined…

The Book Thief – Marcus Zusak

The-Book-Thief-cover1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

It’s a small story, about:
a girl
an accordionist
some fanatical Germans
a Jewish fist fighter
and quite a lot of thievery.

The House at the End of Hope Street – Menna Van Praag

9780143124948_p0_v1_s260x420When Alba Ashby, the youngest Ph.D. student at Cambridge University, suffers the Worst Event of Her Life, she finds herself at the door of 11 Hope Street. There, a beautiful older woman named Peggy invites Alba to stay on the house’s unusual conditions: she’ll have ninety-nine nights, and no more, to turn her life around.

Once inside, Alba discovers that 11 Hope Street is no ordinary house. Past residents include Virginia Woolf, Dorothy Parker, and Agatha Christie, who all stayed there at hopeless times in their lives and who still hang around – quite literally – in talking portraits on the walls. With their help Alba begins to piece her life back together and embarks on a journey that may save her life.

Ladder of Years – Anne Tyler

{D611CA94-A3E1-4F0E-AA1C-260F3312C980}Img400Forty-year-old Delia Grinstead is last seen strolling down the Delaware shore, wearing nothing more than a bathing suit and carrying a beach tote with five hundred dollars tucked inside.

To her husband and three almost-grown children, she has vanished without trace or reason. But for Delia, who feels like a tiny gnat buzzing around her family’s edges, “walking away from it all” is not a premeditated act, but an impulse that will lead her into a new, exciting, and unimagined life…

Did you treat yourself to any literary goodies this payday?

Top Ten Tuesday! Literary quotes

I don’t know about you, but I’m finding this week to be a bit of a drag ― and it’s only Tuesday! I am well and truly tired of the bleak weather now. Seriously, where is spring? To cheer myself up, and hopefully bring a little light to your lives too, here are few of my favourite literary quotes for #toptentuesday. Enjoy!

“A tramp tramps, not because he likes it, but for the same reason as a car keeps to the left; because there happens to be a law compelling him to do so.” ― George Orwell, Down and Out in Paris and London

“And I know I can do this because I went to London on my own, and because I solved the mystery…and I was brave and I wrote a book and that means I can do anything.” ― Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time

“Each day had a tranquility a timelessness about it so that you wished it would never end. But then the dark skin of the night would peel off and there would be a fresh day waiting for us glossy and colorful as a child’s transfer and with the same tinge of unreality.” ― Gerald Durrell, My Family and Other Animals

“How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ― Anne Frank, The Diary Of A Young Girl

“I think that the most necessary quality for any person to have is imagination. It makes people able to put themselves in other people’s places. It makes them kind and sympathetic and understanding.” ― Jean Webster, Daddy-Long-Legs

“Innocence is a kind of insanity.” ― Graham Greene, The Quiet American

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.” ― Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

“Man, unlike any other thing organic or inorganic in the universe, grows beyond his work, walks up the stairs of his concepts, and emerges ahead of his accomplishments.” ― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath

“People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn’t be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd.” ― Muriel Barbery, The Elegance of the Hedgehog

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” ― Oscar Wilde, Lady Windermere’s Fan

Some of my favourite fictional ladies, created by ladies

“Being a woman is a terribly difficult task, since it consists principally in dealing with men.” ― Joseph Conrad

Over the weekend #womeninfiction emerged on Twitter, so in running with the theme I’m here to share with you a few of my favourite fictional ladies.

Renée Michel

The Elegance of the Hedgehog – Muriel Barbery.

Elegance of the HedgehogRenée Michel is possibly my favourite literary lady of all time. She is a concierge, and self-confessed member of the lower class. Despite how she outwardly appears, she is in fact fantastically intelligent, but she knows her place, and sticks to it, stating that to be “poor, ugly and, moreover, intelligent condemns one, in our society, to a dark and disillusioned life, a condition one ought to accept at an early age”. Madame Michel prefers to lives a secret life, reading Russian literature in the privacy of her lodge while donning the air of a simpleton when speaking with the inhabitants of the apartment complex where she works.

In Renée, Barbery has created a fantastic female heroine for lovers of literature. I challenge anyone to read The Elegance of the Hedgehog and not feel themselves brimming over with admiration for the soft soul nestled within the prickly exterior of Madame Michel.

Petronella Brandt née Oortman

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

18498569Petronella is an 18-year-old Dutch girl whose family have fallen on hard times since the death of her father. She is married off to a wealthy merchant from Amsterdam, Johannes Brandt, but has a difficult time fitting into her new life. Petronella, who prefers to go by the name of Nella, attempts to be a good wife to her new husband, but is forever at the mercy of her stern sister-in-law Marin Brandt. Nella begins as a child, before all too quickly becoming a woman, when the crushing weight of her new family’s secrets is placed on her shoulders.

What is there to not love about Nella? In each stage of her growth she is simply delightful: innocent and charming, determined and strong, and finally, reliable and level-headed.

Jerusha Abbot

Daddy long legs – Jean Webster

9780141331119Jerusha Abbott, or Judy as she likes to be called, was brought up at the John Grier Home, an old-fashioned orphanage. At the age of 17, she find herself at a loose end, she has finished her education, and is no longer young enough to live in the orphanage without paying her way. Imagine her surprise when one of the John Grier Home’s trustees offers to pay for her to go to university. He will pay her tuition and also give her a generous monthly allowance; in exchange Judy must write him a monthly letter. Judy is told she will never know his true identity and must address the letters to Mr. John Smith, and he will never reply. Judy warms quickly to the trustee, gifting him the persona ‘Daddy Long Legs’, and writing warm, detailed letters each month. Judy dotes on her Daddy Long Legs, and, it appears, he on her.

Judy is an amazing character, gifted with the unique opportunity to turn her rags to riches. Read Daddy Long Legs and I’m sure you will find, too, that you fall in love with the little orphan girl and her extraordinary tale.

Geogianna Lennox

Dead and Buryd – Chele Cooke

dfw-cc-dab-cover-mid (2)Georgianna Lennox is a local medic on a foreign planet ruled by alien invaders, the Adveni. The native people, the Veniche, to whom Georgianna belongs, have become slaves in their own home. Georgianna is somewhat unique among the Veniche as her work allows her to tread within the realms of the Adveni forces, treating the sick and injured within the walls of the infamous Lyndbury prison. For Georgianna this is a way of treating her lost people, but it is not enough. When Georgianna’s friendship with a group of rebels risks putting her own freedom at stake, she is faced with a difficult decision – what will she choose to put first, her family or the freedom of her people?

Georgianna is a strong, determined character, but one I felt extremely comfortable getting to know. Cooke has created a character that is admirable, but also wonderfully human. I found her to be amazingly likeable and funny, despite her hard exterior.

Edwina

Now the Day is Over – Marion Husband

9781908381811-frontcover (2)Are you sick of me talking about Edwina yet? If you are, shame on you, you clearly haven’t taken the time to read the book.

Edwina is the spirit of a young woman trapped between the  early 20th Century, and modern day Britain. Since her death she has lurked the shadows of her former home, critically analysing those who take residence within the walls. In Now the Day is Over she takes the form of super-omniscient narrator, haunting the house which was once hers, commenting on the lives of the adulterous couple who reside within her domain, comparing their existence to the life that was once hers.

I love Edwina because she is so all encompassing. She is deliciously genuine, admirable, maddening, terrifying and somewhat detestable all rolled into one.

Intrigued by any of my lady loves? You know what to do.

Children’s book review tour! Color Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book

“My world was the size of a crayon box, and it took every colour to draw her” ― Sarah Kay

If yesterday’s review wasn’t out of the ordinary enough for you I hope today will not disappoint.

I recently bought an adult colouring books for one of my friends. She had been under a lot of stress, and I thought it would give her an excuse to do something relaxing and creative to unwind at the end of the day.

Adult colouring books have only really been a ‘thing’ for the last year or so, but if sales are anything to go by they certainly seem to be proving popular. There is no shortage of them on the marketplace, just type the words into Amazon and you will be well and truly spoilt for choice.

I was a little envious of the book I had bought my friend, so I set out to secure one for myself – for review purposes of course.

I was lucky enough to be sent this one for free by Michael O’Mara Books Ltd.

Color Therapy: An Anti-Stress Coloring Book – Cindy Wilde, Laura-Kate Chapman and Richard Merritt

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My first feeling upon opening the package was one of great satisfaction – the book itself is lovely. There is none of the horrid flimsiness you often get with traditional children’s colouring books, not a single sheet of sugar paper in sight. It’s nice and weighty, with a hard cover and thick, good quality pages.

I spent a few minutes leafing through the pages and was impressed by the effort and attention to detail which so clearly went into the making of the book. A children’s colouring book would normally include a selection of crudely drawn outlines of trees, houses, tractors and smiling faces –  perfect for a child to scribble outside of the lines. Color Therapy, however, shows the sophistication that divides grown-up colouring books from their traditional counterparts. The pages are stunning, an eye watering mix of outlines, patterns, blank pages and illustrations on which to colour, doodle and sketch to your heart’s content.

Here’s a little taster of some of the pages I am most looking forward to:

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Even the layout of the book pretty sophisticated – despite the introduction stating that there are no rules ‘pick up a pen or pencil and get creating…’ – it is split into seven sections, each of which focus on a different palette, fiery reds, happy yellows, majestic greens and icy blues.

IMG_20150322_101539172I’ve spent the last few weeks taking half an hour or at the end of the day to use Color Therapy, and I have to say I have really enjoyed it. Although I should confess that so far I have only focused on the first section, Red, as it seems the perfectionist in me is unwilling to complete the book in anything other than chronological order.

Colouring in is incredibly soothing, I suppose it is a bit like curling up into the foetal position, there is something comforting about retreating back to more innocent times. I’ve been suffering from headaches a lot recently, and I’ve noticed that using Color Therapy in the evenings has helped to ease the pressure a bit, and as a result I have been sleeping better.

I’ve also found that while colouring in my mind begins to wander, it gives me time to think, but not about the stresses of everyday life. Rather, I find myself thinking about my writing. Since I’ve started using this book I have found it easier to sit down and start on the writing projects I have planned.

The following are a few of my creations – I particularly enjoyed colouring the flamenco dancer!

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Adult colouring books will not be for everyone. I’ve read somewhere that the trend is, somewhat unsurprisingly, far more popular among women. That said, I would definitely recommend Color Therapy. I have thoroughly enjoyed my adult colouring book so far, and I am planning to continue using it. If colouring appeals to your arty, creative side, or if you just want an easy going hobby to unwind with, I think you could benefit having a book like this in your desk drawer.