Posted on November 25, 2015
Nathan is just thirteen when the knock comes at the door which turns his world upside down. His father, a decorated Navy SEAL has been killed during combat in Afghanistan leaving Nathan, Cheyenne – Nathan’s eight year old sister and their mother Gayle to cope as best they can in the aftermath of his death.
From the first page Nathan captures the attention of the reader:
“Most people can’t pinpoint an exact moment when their life changed to such an extent that they effectively became a new person. It’s a rare privilege, or great burden, to have cognizant memory of what amounts to a re-birth. For better or worse, I am in that terrifying fraternity.”
Although his father’s team mates, Uncle Spencer, Bull, and LT Hagen do their best to give Nathan (Nate) direction they are absent, away on duty, for long periods of time. Nathan is left to struggle with all the usual problems and distractions of adolescence as well as cope with the loss of the father he usually looked to for guidance.
Because his father died a hero Nathan finds it difficult to live up to the expectations of those around him and feels he is letting everyone down. Living in his father’s shadow puts a lot of pressure on Nate as he moves through adolescence and he is regularly in trouble. He is angry with the world and everyone in it.
Especially when he meets up with the girl he likes,Tammy, who has strong opinions on America’s involvement in the Middle East. She voices the opinions of many who believe the soldiers and sailors should not be in Iraq or Afghanistan. She is against the killing of anyone and so therefore is against war. But as Nate said “It’s not that simple” as the forces have a job to do in protecting the rights of the country’s citizens.
Andy Symonds has captured the hopes, disappointments and confusions of a teenage boy dealing with the sudden and violent murder of his father whilst trying to discover his own identity as he matures.
Although a book containing a lot of sadness and pain it is not a depressing read. Throughout, it contains hope; hope that Nathan will pull through the difficult times; hope that he will make his choices, not on what is expected of him, but on what is right for him.
Beautifully written it gets to the heart of the lives of the families of those working for the Services. It is a book with depth, courageously exploring family relationships in time of terrible tragedy and the long lasting effects it has on the children who are left behind. Frequently angry, Nathan’s relationship with his mother begins to change but he still retains a loving affection and a desire to protect his little sister Chey.
Andy Symonds has also conveyed the additional issues that arise from the death of a family member who is part of the Services. As the lives of Servicemen and their families are intertwined they form a cohesive unit and each time a member of that unit is killed in service it affects all the other families. Death, especially where the Forces are deployed to places like Afghanistan, is a regular occurrence and each new death brings fresh pain to everyone, opening wounds that have yet to heal.
It is a book that needed to be written and should be read, whether you believe in war or not.
Andy Symonds is an award-winning journalist based in the Washington, D.C. area. His father is a thirty-three year veteran of the U.S. Navy, and he grew up on military bases throughout the world.
You can follow Andy on Twitter: @fatherssonbook
Posted on November 18, 2015
I recently read an article in a magazine that gave tips on how to “free yourself from your ego” and offered help in “getting rid of the ego” and it struck me that the ego often gets unfair press.
It is often mentioned in a derogatory way, linked to vanity, self-importance and arrogance. One definition I found described it as “an inflated feeling of pride in your superiority to others”.
There is no doubt that most of us dislike arrogant people who think they are better than others (even when they are crap at what they’re doing but think they’re great at it!) – especially when the arrogant person is trying to make himself feel superior by making another feel inferior. But do these negative qualities reflect the ego accurately or are there positive aspects to the ego?
I came across a lovely little story which I thought contained a lot of truth but still had the ego on the bad side.
An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life. “A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.
“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil – he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”
The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”
The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one that you feed.”
So I thought I would investigate the much maligned ego before I bashed it over the head with a hammer and obliterate it altogether.
In Greek, Ɛƴω (ego) means ‘I’. Simply put, the ego is who we are. All of our experiences, past and present, have an effect on who we are. The ego is our thoughts, emotions, reactions, memories…in fact everything that makes you ‘you’. It is the subconscious mind.
Looking at it like this, if we got rid of ego who would we be?
I discovered that we have a good ego and a bad ego – those two little voices in our head which give us conflicting advice. The one tells us we can’t carry out a particular task because it is afraid of failing while the other tries to encourage us by convincing us we will succeed. Even the most confident of people are beset by doubts when something they are doing is of importance. The little voice in my head is constantly nagging: do this, don’t do that. It drives a me crazy, but without it I probably would not do anything.
Now in order to feel worthy and have a good self-image and make the best of our life we need encouragement…and that comes from our ego. It’s our ego that drives us to do good things, to achieve our full potential, so it would be counter-productive to kill it without considerable thought.
It seems to me the key to dealing with the ego is to keep it in balance. Respect it. Question it if you feel it is not doing you good service. The ego is not the enemy it is who you are. Just be careful that it doesn’t trick you into thinking that you are either better than you are or worse than you are.
So I thought rather than attempting to slay the ego I would be more careful what I feed it! No more titbits of superiority because I’ve answered a few more questions than everyone else at Quiz night (not usually the case, but it’s an example) or gloating because it only takes me 5 minutes to complete a Sudoku (not true either but you get the gist!!).
Posted on November 6, 2015
Head over heels in love with the enigmatic Giles Worthington, Lizzie Dixon feels that this year her birthday will be a special one. Giles has sent her for a day of pampering at an exclusive spa and she is expecting a marriage proposal at dinner.
Instead, Giles informs her that he is going to marry Natasha – the woman he jilted prior to meeting Lizzie – and so their relationship is over. While Lizzie was at the spa Giles had sneakily moved out of the penthouse flat they shared.
With her job in the same company as Giles under threat Lizzie resigns and, feeling emotionally vulnerable, returns to her home town of Wynbridge, humiliated and nursing a broken heart.
Best friend Jemma and husband Tom are soon to launch their new venture, The Cherry Tree Café, and offer Lizzie a place to stay in the flat above. Rediscovering her passion for sewing – and herself along the way – Lizzie begins to get her life back on track and realises just how much she had changed to accommodate Giles.
And then there is Ben…
Mystery shrouds the circumstances in which Ben, too, has returned to Wynbridge after a failed relationship. Lizzie finds the crush she had for Ben as a teenager reigniting and there is also another man clamouring for her attention. Lizzie, desperate to find love again, is not sure whether she can she trust either.
Written in first person the story takes you on the journey with Lizzie as she struggles to reclaim her life, on her own terms, after her ill-fated relationship with Giles. Sometimes her capricious nature can be frustrating but there is always that desire to see her fulfil her ambitions and find love.
It is a contemporary love story that has all the heady mix of love and friendship, lies, betrayal and forgiveness. One of the commendable things about Heidi’s writing is the ease with which the story carries you along. It is like a good conversation between friends, flowing seamlessly from one chapter to the next, and before you realise it you have been reading for much longer than you thought.
For those who enjoy romantic fiction The Cherry Tree Café will not disappoint. Curl up on the sofa – nice and warm with a hot drink – and indulge yourself this winter!
The Cherry Tree Cafe was published by Simon and Schuster in July 2015
You can follow Heidi on Twitter: @Heidi_Swain
Heidi Swain lives with her family in Norfolk. She has always had a passion for writing and has been scribbling away from a very young age. Heidi has a degree in Literature but it was only when she joined the RNA New Writers’ Scheme and submitted her manuscript for The Cherry Tree Cafe that her debut novel was recognised and published. I wish Heidi every success for The Cherry Tree Cafe and all her future writing – of which I think there will be plenty!
Posted on November 3, 2015
“The more a characteristic in someone else bothers you the more your soul is trying to draw a reflection to your attention.” - A Little Light on the Spiritual Laws by Diana Cooper.
I have read this Law many times and had always failed to see the logic in this premise. How can a characteristic that annoys me be reflecting back an aspect of my own personality? The reason it irritates me is because I don’t behave in that way – at least I didn’t think I did.
What is it that piques you most?
On reflection (no pun intended) I realise that I am increasingly irritated by those who are so strongly opinionated that they refuse to listen to anyone else’s views. On the radio and TV everyone talks over each other, determined to assert themselves. The ego demanding to be heard because of ’the need to be right‘.
Our opinions are formed by our life experiences and no two people see things in the same way. Some have privileged lives and others have difficult lives. Even those who share common experiences view them differently, so how can our perspective be the same? Yet often this is not taken into consideration. How often do we take the time to listen to others and try to understand why they believe what they do?
The ossification of our ideas leave us as brittle as our old bones; and as inflexible. We can become hard and uncaring, discarding any form of compassion. I heard someone talking in a café the other day about those fleeing Syria. The woman was adamant that ‘those people are just leaving to have a better life on benefits’. This was her opinion (and that of many) and she would not shift from this view. I’m sure, if asked, many of those fleeing would provide a different perspective.
Many of those escaping war ravaged countries know the risks when they leave but are trying to keep their children and families safe. It is desperation that drives them to take their families on a dodgy boat, or trudge miles across land, leaving behind everything they own. I’m sure some are economic migrants but I’m sure most aren’t (my opinion for what it’s worth!) How does it reach the stage where, after seeing a few programmes on TV about benefit cheats and migrants sponging off the state, that our opinions become so entrenched that we lose our humanity?
I’m ashamed to admit that I can finally see the logic behind the Law of Reflection because – and I’m reluctant to admit it – I do exactly the same as the people who annoy me. I often have strong views and am not shy to express them. I have even been know to talk over others and interrupt (yes it’s true!).
We have all been blessed with the gift of thought and our thoughts are free. We have the opportunity to change them at any time. I will use this Law to change my way of thinking by ensuring that my opinions, which can be very forthcoming after a glass or two of wine (culminating in full eruption after three) are not forced on others. I will shut my mouth and open my ears and ask myself: Do I really believe this or do I need to re-evaluate the judgements I’ve held close for so long?…And then I’ll give my opinion!
Posted on October 27, 2015
Tying Down The Lion tells the story of Roy Bishop and his half- German wife Bridget as they travel to Berlin in the summer of 1967 in an old Morris Traveller. Accompanied by their children, fourteen year old Jacqueline and seven year old Victor, along with Roy’s mother Nell they set off from their semi in Audette Gardens, foregoing their usual holiday to Clacton, so Bridget can meet the sisters she hasn’t seen since the war.
Berlin at this time is divided by the Cold War and Bridget has one sister living in the East and the other in the West.
Jacqueline is working on a school project with the theme of ‘contrasts’ and, inspired by an article about Berlin and their forthcoming trip, she chooses Berlin as the subject. With pen and paper in hand she takes notes during the journey but discovers more about her mother’s early life in Berlin than she was expecting.
Grandma Nell has a dislike for anything foreign and criticises her daughter-in-law at every opportunity – whilst busy knitting and eating sweets of all descriptions. She’s also a little uneasy about the travel arrangements as she believes the Morris Traveller is “held together by no more than a couple of sticking-plasters and an overstretched rubber band”.
Teenager Jacqueline is desperate to be allowed to grow up and finds Victor a ‘pest’ a lot of the time, while Bridget and Roy have their own demons to deal with.
The story is told in first person by Jacqueline with wit and humour, mixed with doses of tenderness. She records the interactions between family members that includes the unavoidable bickering which accompanies five people thrown together in a small space for long periods of time. References to Opportunity Knocks, crimplene frocks, Biba and The Beatles keep you immersed in the 60’s for the duration of the novel.
Tying Down The Lion is a book about division but also about reconciliation. It shows the necessity of family love and understanding. There is warmth and humour mixed with the reality of the prejudices and bigotry which inevitably came in the aftermath of World War 2. It is an amusing and entertaining story but equally moving.
Joanna has taken an entirely unique approach to tell the story of the Cold War and the suffering of Germans during WW2, including those who were not Jewish. It highlights the fact that everyone endures misery during war whichever side they are on. There is a lovely sentence towards the end which links to the title and encapsulates the whole essence of the story. A delight to read.
Tying Down The Lion is published by Brick Lane Publishing
Joanna was born in 1960 and grew up in Hayes, Middlesex. Many of her short stories have been published in magazines and she has had fiction shortlisted in many competitions: the Bridport and Fish prizes and the Flannery O’Connor Award to name just a few. A collection of Joanna’s prize-winning short stories, When Planets Slip Their Tracks, is due to be published later this year.
Joanna answers questions in A Conversation with Greenacre Writers.
You can follow Joanna on twitter: @PygmyProse
Posted on October 4, 2015
“Everything In Moderation” – My Uncle Peter (and, I believe, Oscar Wilde)
This has always been Uncle Peter’s philosophy in life: Everything in moderation; nothing to excess. This is such a sensible way to live but, for me anyway, impossible to abide by. As much as I hate to admit it I lack self-discipline. This theme runs through all my activities including mediation practise and eating habits. It’s usually all or nothing!
I decide on a Monday morning – it has to be Monday because I can’t ever begin something mid-week – to go on a ‘healthy eating’ plan and commit to 30 minutes meditation each morning. This usually follows a few weeks of self-indulgent eating and drinking resulting in my jeans getting tight. (How this phenomenon happens I don’t know, I think there needs to be a study of the correlation between eating too much and clothes shrinking in the wash).
Monday passes well. Meditation achieved. Lots of salad and veg with grilled salmon or chicken. No wine or chocolate. I’m so good! Tuesday very similar although a chocolate biscuit is added at the very end of the day due to sugar craving. Wednesday morning a friend invites me to lunch at Al Fresco’s, a lovely Italian restaurant. Do I decline or just vow to eat something healthy?
Of course I don’t decline – I love to meet for a chat and Alfresco’s is the perfect place. I have a food shop to fit in before I go so I decide to meditate in the evening instead. My foot has just stepped onto the slippery slope.
On arrival my friend is sipping a glass of chilled white wine with an almost full bottle glistening in the cooler beside the table. Our usual ritual. Help!
Not wishing to offend I allow the waiter to pour and I indicate to stop when the glass is a quarter full. (I’m trying).
After a quick catch up I look at the menu. Now it gets tricky. I refuse point blank to pay £10 for a plate of lettuce and tomatoes and the fish is a little beyond my lunch time budget so I opt for something middle of the range: a delicious, thin based anchovy and black olive pizza. My favourite.
As we eat the waiter tops up the glasses.
Then, having ruined my healthy eating plan for the day I follow up with a coconut meringue thingy. Absolutely delicious. I arrive home stuffed and a little tipsy (I didn’t drive by the way, hubby dropped me off. Somewhere in my subconscious I knew I would have the wine!). Needless to say I fall asleep in the evening after thirty seconds meditation.
The trouble with all this is that having broken my strict regime I can’t recapture it. Now I will have to wait until next Monday to start again.
Why is it so difficult to have a small glass of wine and not half the bottle? A few squares of chocolate rather than the whole bar? Or two biscuits instead of half the packet?
I know it’s all to do with mind set and mine is obviously malfunctioning. I need to come up with a new strategy otherwise I will end up overweight and alcoholic and walking in the opposite direction on the path to self-awakening.
I will have a think…
Posted on September 9, 2015
Linda Huber lives in Arbon, Switzerland. Although Linda has been writing throughout her life she considered it a hobby until the publication of her first novel, The Paradise Trees, In September 2013. Just a year later, in August 2014, The Cold Cold Sea, was published and her third novel, The Attic Room, was released in July 2015.
The Attic Room is a suspense/thriller that spreads over three generations: Nina, her daughter Naomi and her mother Claire. When Claire dies following a car accident Nina is trying to cope with the deep grief she feels for the loss of her mother when she receives a telephone call from a lawyer.
Nina discovers she has been bequeathed a substantial estate from a man she does not know: John Moore. From her home on the Isle of Arran she travels to Bedfordshire, leaving Naomi with a friend to run their bed and breakfast business, to see the house she has inherited.
Once there she becomes embroiled in blackmail and lies as she uncovers dark family secrets involving her mysterious benefactor. Who is John Moore and what happened in the attic?
Like Linda’s other two novels, The Attic Room is packed with suspense and intrigue. It explores a difficult topic which Linda has weaved into the mystery in a sensitive way. Her research into the subject results in authentic characterisation which enhances the tension and secrets the story reveals. A well written book and a good read.
Watch the trailer to get a taster
You can also see the trailer for Linda’s new book Chosen Child:
You can follow Linda on Twitter: @LindaHuber19
Posted on August 30, 2015
Things We Have In Common is Tasha Kavanagh’s first adult novel, having written books for children under the name of Tasha Pym. She has also worked as an editor on films such as Twelve Monkeys and The Talented Mr Ripley.
Yasmin is 15 years old, very overweight and has no friends. Her fixation with the pretty girl in her class, Alice, alienates her further from the other children and she retreats deeper into her own world of fantasy and obsessions. Yasmin lives with her mother and Gary – her stepdad – which creates additional issues for the troubled teenager.
Yasmin, convinced Alice is to be abducted by a man she knows is watching Alice, becomes embroiled in a rather one sided friendship with the potential paedophile/murderer.
Kavanagh has captured the voice of the lonely and complex Yasmin – desperate for love and attention – very convincingly and it leaves you wondering where the boundary between fantasy and reality lie for Yasmin; they appear to merge, leaving you to speculate on whether the events she relates have really occurred or whether they are just flights of her imagination.
Although a monologue of Yasmin’s confused and unhappy existence – and I have to admit that at times she left me exhausted – it is also a novel of twists and turns. Unpredictable and intriguing. Just when you think you have worked out what is happening – you discover you haven’t.
The novel had an excellent start and then the voice of Yasmin became a little tiresome. However, once accustomed to her expression the novel was all-absorbing. It is a story that flows well and begs you to turn the next page. The only failure, in my opinion, was the ending. I didn’t find it as satisfying as I would have liked.
Published May 7th 2015 by Canongate
Posted on August 25, 2015
Steady and predictable Raimund ‘Mundus’ Gregorius has his life turned upside down one day when he meets a beautiful woman on a bridge. Fifty seven year old Gregorious, a classical languages teacher at a school in Berne, decides it is time to evaluate his life. On impulse he abandons his classroom during the middle of the day’s teaching and embarks on a journey of discovery.
By luck or providence, whilst browsing in a second-hand book shop, Gregorious picks up a book written by a Portuguese doctor, Amadeu Inacio de Almeida Prado, who died over thirty years ago. The book, A Goldsmith of Words, is written in Portuguese – a language Gregorious does not understand. The book shop owner translates the first page and Gregorious immediately feels the words speak to him.
Gregorious begins to learn Portuguese in order to translate the slim book containing the philosophical jottings of Prado, who, as well as working as a doctor, became involved as a resistance fighter during the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. Gregorious takes a train to Lisbon to unravel the threads of Prado’s life.
Although Gregorious makes the bold decision to take control of his life it feels as though he has exchanged his own uneventful, mundane existence to live it through Amadeu Prado. His desire to understand the complex life of the doctor appears to control his new existence as he meets Prado’s family and friends to learn what it was really like to be Prado. However, as Gregorious slowly settles into his new life, and reflects on the past, memories of a spontaneous younger self emerge. He realises he wasn’t always so unadventurous and begins to alter the way he has perceived himself for so long.
The philosophical musing of the sometimes self-indulgent Prado can be a challenging read but reveal some thought provoking insights. I have an interest in meditation and often reflect on the meaning of life, which was why I selected the book to read. Because of this I paid particular attention to the sections regarding Prado’s thoughts. That said, some parts took a second reading to grasp their meaning. Although Mercier has tried to reveal Prado in small chunks, parts are a little long which very occasionally slows the book down.
In Night Train to Lisbon Peter Bieri, himself a philosopher writing under the pseudonym of Pascal Mercier, has managed to merge reflective thinking with a classic novel of intrigue, love, passion and adventure mixed with a dose of humour. It is not a book with peaks and troughs but maintains a steady pace. Although it sometimes needs patience and slow digestion – more easily absorbed in a quiet place – I found it very enjoyable.
Posted on August 16, 2015
Half of a Yellow Sun follows the lives of five ordinary people through a decade of Nigerian history. After receiving independent federation rule in 1960 the country was thrown into civil war in the late sixties when Biafra, a state in Eastern Nigeria, was granted secession.
The characters are introduced during a time of peace and plenty. Twin sisters Olanna and Kainene, educated and wealthy, live very different lives. Olanna is introduced as kind and thoughtful as she reassures an elderly lady at the airport that the plane carrying her son will stop on the runway. Olanna gives up her luxurious lifestyle in Lagos to live with her lecturer lover, Odenigbo. Kainene, strong, wilful and less beautiful than her twin, helps their father to run the family business and becomes involved with an Englishman, Richard, who has a fascination for Igbo art.
Odenigbo, a university lecturer in Nsukka, entertains friends where food and alcohol flow and lively intellectual debates ensue. His strong political views cause Kainene to refer to him as Olanna’s ‘revolutionary lover’. Ugwu is Odenigbo’s thirteen year old houseboy who loves to cook for Master and his guests while absorbing fragments of their lively discussions.
Biafra’s secession in 1967 brings a Nigerian blockade and eventually war; the mostly Muslim dominated north against the Igbo population in the south. The world, with the exception of Tanzania, refuses to recognise the State of Biafra.
The novel moves successfully between the early sixties and the late sixties to provide a contrast between the indulgent lifestyle of peace time and the famine and hardships that inevitably come with war. The early imagery of Ugwu’s pepper soup and spicy jollof rice reinforce the horrors of eating roasted bush rats to stave off starvation.
As the war progresses, Odenigbo, Olanna and daughter Baby have to leave their home in Nsukku. Their descent into poverty forces them to live in a single room of squalor, join food queues for any scraps they are able to receive and the need to hide in air raid shelters, which they share with an assortment of small creatures. Relationships that were easy when life was good are put under enormous strain when food is scarce and the people they love are brutally murdered. Kainene has a different experience of the war as she sets up and organises refugee camps for all of those forced from their homes. Her life with Richard is stable and he tries hard to integrate and become accepted by the Igbo people. Ugwu faces challenges as he explores the natural inquisitive passions of a teenage boy.
Half of a Yellow Sun is named after the emblem for Biafra, worn on the sleeves of soldiers fighting the war. This three year war has been consigned to distant memory for most of the world and the word Biafra synonymous with starving, large bellied children in Africa.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche has done an excellent job of bringing the war back to the attention of the world whilst telling a beautifully written story. The account of history, which members of her family experienced, is related through these five wonderful characters in a moving and empathetic manner. She has captured the human condition well: during times of suffering some find a deep inner strength whereas others flounder and surrender, unable to cope. The changes in each of the characters also reinforce that although we often have little control over external circumstances we do have a choice in our personal response to them. An inspirational read