Monday, March 09, 2015

Yarn Bomb: Random Acts of Generosity

I was given the long awaited change to take part in a yarn bomb earlier this year. One of my good friends posted a "hookers wanted" shout out for crocuses. Once I'd checked out The Willow Wanderer I knew I had to take part. The stars aligned with a day in bed with a stinking cold, and a fittingly purple yarn stash. Happy joy of hooking, the crocuses were quick and easy, and I was able to get them in the post to NYC in time to take part. Yes that's right, a few of those teensy crocuses are mine *proud*.

by: Harriet Beecher Stowe (1811-1896)
In blue and yellow from its grave springs up the crocus fair, 
and God shall raise those bright blue eyes,those sunny waves of hair.  
Not for a fading summer’s morn, not for a fleeting hour, 
but for an endless age of bliss, shall rise our heart’s dear flower.

If you get the chance, take a good look at Naomi's blog. She makes beautiful yarn bombs that really serve to brighten up the environment. I love that they are not about whimsy, as yarn bombs often are. My favourite has to be the orange day lily. Absolutely gorgeous! Who wouldn't want this on their fence?

Book Review [2015:10] The White Pearl by Kate Furnivall

448 pages

The first few chapters of this book are terrible. I actually gave up on it the first time around, the first chapter in particular really put me off.  What kept me from ditching it completely was the fact that the blurb on the back didn't seem to match at all the style or substance of the beginning of the story. It was this incongruence that led to me trying again. I'm pleased I stuck with it!
The story is set in Malaya in 1941 and is centred around Connie Hadley, wife of a successful rubber plantation owner (although parts of the story are told from other character's points of view, Connie is the main protagonist). Connie is a naive Imperial wife at the beginning of the book, longing for her England, and totally misunderstanding the world in which she lives. Everything changes with the bombing of Pearl Harbour. Whilst all around her refuse to believe that the Japanese would frankly have the gall to attack the mighty Brits, she sets about planning her escape to save her young son. Her efforts are juxtaposed with those of white mercentaries, supersticious locals, and Japanese militia.

This book is so packed full of plot the reader becomes quite incredulous as to what on earth could happen next.  Perhaps that's what life really was like?  I have to admit my knowledge of Second World War activities on the Malay Peninsular is limited to A Town Like Alice and Tenko (both of which are first rate, incidentally).  So perhaps a rather limited fictionalised idea. However neither of those come close to the insane antics of Connie Hadley. Her crazy life reminded me somewhat of Life of Pi; I was waiting only for a toothy island.

So if you like the idea of a prim young lady dealing with murderous spies, sharks, giant man-eating monitor lizards, ruthless spies, men who fall in love with her at any opportunity, pirates, natives calling down curses apon her, mercenaries, ladyboys, kamakaze Japanese, ...then this is the book for you. I loved it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Book Review [2015:9] Pompei by Robert Harris

416 pages

There are some books that I happily return to time and again. I even have some books that I purposefully read once a year because of their feel-good factor. Since I have embarked on a book challenge for 2015, you will no doubt be hearing about some of those books throughout this year. 

I haven't read Pompeii since the first time I read it in 2007. I couldn't normally specify the year that I read a book but this particular one sticks in my memory as I was incredibly fortunate to fulfil a lifetime ambition to visit Pompeii and Herculanium later that same year (actually I was pretty disturbed when we were there that the water stopped flowing). This was the first Robert Harris book I read, and led to one of my classic back catalogue read-a-thons, and the firm foundation of Harris as one of my favourite authors. 

Thus it was that I very happily picked this book from the shelf to reread (not least because I needed a pick-me-up after the disaster that was The Shock of The Fall). The plot follows Marcus Attilius, the aquarius of the Aqua Augusta, the greatest aquaduct in the world, supplying the bay of Naples with its drinking water. He is an engineer, brought in after the mysterious disappearance of the aquarius, who's interest lies only in determining the cause of the sudden loss of water in the towns around Vesuvius. He is dragged into a mystery and witness of the if the greatest natural disaster of the Roman world. 

It's a beautiful description of Roman life. In the UK, the Romans are a huge part of school life, a topic that tends to be covered multiple times in your school career, and as such it's so easy (as with much of history) to view the people that lived in that time as very 'other'. Harris' skill lies in creating a window into a world that is very much like our own, and is peopled with men and women just like us. Understanding how the average person would react to a sudden unexpected total destruction if life as we know it makes for compelling reading. The journey of the aquarius from visiting engineer, to sole prophet of oncoming disaster, to Pliny's right-hand-man, to lone broken shell of a man attempting to survive something incomprehensible is incredibly involving. For those interested in what it must have been like to closely observe this disaster, Harris works Pliny's observations of the 'manifestation' into the story, and begins each chapter with explanations from volcanology textbooks. 
This is a must-read book.

Book Review [2015:8] The Shock of The Fall by Nathan Filer

320 pages

I reluctantly read this book as it was one of the texts for our book club. Usually I steer well clear of books dealing with mental illness.
The protagonist of this book is a young man who has schizophrenia (which the author annoyingly and persistently refers to as "a disease with the shape and sound of a snake". What on earth does that mean?) and it charts his decline from seeming good mental health as a child to complete loss of self-awareness, abandonment of medication, and sectioning.
It's unclear to me whether the author us trying to make a comment on the care of mentally ill people in this country. His description of the psychiatric ward is cold, and the care in the community is ineffective. There were a few glimmers of light in the descriptions of family, and their efforts to relate and care for Matthew. However, many have praised this book, and its descriptions of mental heath, most notably to me, Jo Brand, so maybe I just don't get it. I'm struggling to think of a good part to comment on, but there was a very poignant few lines where Matthew describes life on the ward and notes that the mugs there are all provided by drug company reps and are stamped with the "brands of medication we hate". I feel pretty bad saying that was the best bit of the book, but I thought it was poignant and had something to say about life on a psych ward.
I did love the final description of the psychosis: the coming together of all the random odd things that have been going on, and the realisation of what exactly has been going on in Matthew's mind. But it wasn't enough to pull the book out of the 'out' tray.
Central topics aside, the book reads like an exercise in creative writing. Suspense is crudely created where the story does not require it, and for the first few chapters an odd style is adopted that owes a lot to the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. As psychosis deepens, text changes suddenly to explain that Matt is using a typewriter. Presumably the reader is unable to imagine this without the excess serif.
It's not a book I'll be reading again.