“little fires everywhere” by Celeste Ng

Celeste Ng has written two books. This is her second novel and the first I’ve read. I’ll be looking for her first, Everything I never told you, as I really enjoyed little fires everywhere.

I’ve been thinking about the book since I finished it last night. I think it is the story of three mothers and their children but it is so much more as it stimulates thought about our western society, the way we treat others of different classes and colour and what makes a good mother.

The story is set in Shaker Heights, a meticulously planned suburb of Cleveland Ohio where the author grew up. Elena Richardson and her lawyer husband have four children and they are the perfect embodiment of a successful Shaker Heights family.

Mia Warren, a photographic artist, and her daughter Pearl live a nomadic life and Mia has promised Pearl that they will make a permanent home at their next stop which turns out to be in Shaker Heights. Mia has, however, total disregard for the rules of the lifestyle here.

Friends of the Richardsons decide to adopt a Chinese-American baby girl that has been left outside a fire station in the snow by her desperate mother, a work colleague of Mia.

I loved reading this book. There was love, angst, caring, disdain and lots of intrigue. Once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down. And there are little fires everywhere.

It’s being made into a miniseries to be released in 2020 with Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington. I’m looking forward to it.

Loved reading about some of my female ancestors

I’ve just read Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon – Women’s Lives And The Fight For Equality by Frances Bevan.

My first contact with Frances came about a few years ago when I searched for Radnor Street Cemetery on Facebook and her name popped up. I found that she researches the lives of the people buried in this old cemetery and writes their stories. She also leads tours of the cemetery on one Sunday per month through the warmer months. The cemetery is in Swindon, a railway town in Wiltshire about a ninety minute drive west of London. Consequently I can’t go on the tours but I can read her stories and since many of my Alley family, my paternal line, are buried there I really enjoy reading them.

In fact, it was through communicating with Frances that I found and have met some cousins who are very special to me. When Frances asked me if I knew Wendy Burrows who was also searching for information about Frederick Alley, it lead me on the journey to find my cousins. We went to Swindon where Frances, Wendy and her husband, Frank, David and I enjoyed a wonderful day together. We have since met and stayed with my lovely cousin, Kay Prosser, and her husband Ben in Victoria on Vancouver Island and they have been to stay with us in Brisbane. When you discover at 52 that you were adopted, finding and meeting and becoming close to your birth family is very special. It gives you back your sense of identity and you know where you fit in the world.

Reading about the women in my family in Struggle and Suffrage in Swindon is also special and I really appreciate the work that Frances does. My Grand Great Uncle, George Richman Alley had one son and seven daughters. The daughters are pictured Below. Amelia Annie Alley and her sister, Ethel Gertrude Alley had a millinery business at 90 Victoria Road. Ethel Gertrude Alley married William Hewer and they ran the Oddfellows’ Arms. The youngest sister Eva married George Babington and they opened a drapery store next door to the milliners. Mabel Alley was awarded the British Empire Medal for Meritorious Service in 1960 as she was sub Post Mistress at Westcott Place for more than fifty years.

Emma Louisa Hull, née Alley, another of the sisters, was a member of the Women’s Freedom League and was active in the fight for the vote for women. She was arrested twice and imprisoned for short times.

Eileen Kostitch, née Babington, was the daughter of Eva Alley & George Babington fought with the Yugoslavian forces against the Germans in World War II. She died there of ill health and is buried in Western Bosnia.

I think there have been some amazing women in my family!

Details of life in Swindon and of the women who fought for women’s rights can be found in this well researched book. I found it fascinating.

A new Aussie author that I’ll be following

I’ve just read the third novel by Jane Harper, The Lost Man. Like The Dry this one is set in the Australian outback, this time in South West Queensland rather than Victoria. Life on a cattle station in the outback is a struggle for all. One of the three brothers is found dead of dehydration in the scorching Christmas heat beside an old stock man’s grave and no one understands why he would have left his vehicle with all his food and water to walk ten kilometres to this headstone.

The story delves into the tensions around families at Christmas and how these tensions are magnified by the death. We go back into the past to enable us to understand the present. It was an excellent read, as was The Dry. I didn’t want to put it down.

So real! So readable! Loved it!

I have just read Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton. Trent is a Queensland journalist who has written for The Brisbane Times and The Courier Mail and now is a feature writer for The Weekend Australian. He has won many awards for his journalism and now this, his first novel, based on his life growing up in Darra in suburban Brisbane in Australia, is also winning awards.

This is a graphic novel about coming of age in a outwardly dysfunctional family where there’s plenty of love but also crime, drugs, domestic violence, social suffering, alcoholism, prison and prison escapes but always there was the dream of becoming a journalist & getting the girl.

Trent’s words carried me along so quickly. His descriptions are different but so clever. I found it riveting. I can’t imagine how people can live through what that family lived through and come out the other side. But they did. It’s an amazing story told brilliantly.

In this article https://www.harpercollins.com.au/blog/2018/06/26/trent-dalton-why-i-wrote-boy-swallows-universe/ he explains why he wrote the book. He says that he took all his own secrets and turned them into this novel.

We are privileged to be able to read it. I recommend that you do if you haven’t already.

Have you read “The Book Thief”

I have just finished reading this book by Markus Zusak for the second time and I thoroughly enjoyed it again.

Using Death as the narrator is a novel idea and quite brilliant, I think, when you consider the horrific number of people who died in those years of the Second World War- many familes must have been visited by Death at least once if not, many times.

In spite of all the loss and grief, there is much love and tenderness and individual bravery, all augmented with beautiful words, stories, sketches and music in this beautiful tale.

It is a story of love and of family and friendship.

It made me wonder if I would have the strength of my convictions and the courage that Hans, Rosa and Leisel showed in the face of such cruelty and abhorrent behaviour. I hope so but you would never know until you were placed in those situations.

If you haven’t read this book, please do. It’s a must read!

No potato peel pie – just Cornish Pasties!

I was really excited to visit the home of that lovely book and film about Guernsey during the Nazi occupation in WWII. We were disappointed to hear from some of the shopkeepers that the movie was actually filmed in Cornwall and even the shoreline shots were not actually Guernsey. If you haven’t read the book, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society, I recommend it.

David started the day with his typical Oceania breakfast of lamb chops, bacon, tomato, hash brown followed by toast and marmalade. At home he has just toast and tomato.

We then rode the tender across and wandered through the streets of Guernsey. It was a lovely place to explore. David saw The Cornish Pasty Company shop so in we went for pasties and coffee (flat whites even with soy milk). We certainly didn’t need any lunch back on board.

I bought a lovely shirt in one of the many interesting little boutiques and they don’t have any VAT so the price was right.

The entertainer tonight was Chris Hamilton, an English piano showman and he could certainly tickle the ivories. He even played The Entertainer, my favourite piece of music.

Another great day!

Pachinko and Pompey

How are these two words connected? How can a Japanese recreational arcade game and a famous Australian general be linked? Is it merely alliteration? No – it’s because they are the key words to remind me of my favourite books from 2018.

I spent some time in hospital early in the year and a very kind friend brought me Pachinko by Min Jin Lee. It’s a delightful, sad family saga set in Korea and Japan during the 20th century. I had next to no knowledge of the history between Korea and Japan in that time frame but I learnt much whilst reading Pachinko. I absolutely loved the book and passed it around amongst my family and friends who all reviewed it favourably. Some members of my book club were not so impressed saying that it lost focus in the second half of the story. I reread it prior to our discussion at book club and I found it to be just as enjoyable the second time.

Pompey Elliott In His Own Words by Ross McMullin is also historical but it is the story of Pompey Elliott, one of Australia’s great fighting generals during World War I. Ross McMullin has researched Pompey’s life through his own writings; his diaries, his letters and his wartime correspondence and has published his writings in chronological order. We went to a talk by Ross at the 2018 Brisbane Writer’s Festival about this book and were hooked. We had to buy it. It’s a gripping read. We see inside the thoughts and feelings of this compassionate man who fought for his men through numerous controversies even though it affected his opportunities for promotion. He grieved when his men were sacrificed and we see that particularly in letters to his wife. (She kept and preserved all his letters to her and their two children.) He tried to be a father to his children even though he was thousands of miles away in horrific situations. The letters to the kids are poignant.

Two great books! I recommend them to you.

PS I’m doing a WordPress free online course at the moment and it gives a daily challenge. I haven’t managed them all but this one is to post a regular monthly or weekly post. So I reckon I’ll write about the best books I’ve read each month but I thought I had to start with these two great books I read last year. I hope you enjoy reading about what I’ve been reading.