Definitely worth reading: “Bridge of Clay”

In the last year or so, I’ve read three books about teenage boys: Jasper Jones, boy swallows universe and, now Bridge of Clay by Marcus Zusak, the author of The Book Thief. They’ve been very different stories but have all told the stories of boys growing up in difficult situations and have all been great reads.

I hear about incidences which occur in the high school classrooms in which two of my daughters teach and I ask myself what situations are these kids trying to cope with as they go from childhood to adulthood. Certainly many kids today, as always, don’t have it easy.

This book was published last year and is set in suburban Sydney, Australia where Markus Zusak lives with his wife and two children.

The Dunbar family consists of five brothers. Their mother, Penelope is dead and their father has fled. The story is narrated by the oldest of the boys and tells the story of their life, their love and their brawls and how it all came to pass.

It flips backwards and forwards, going into the parents’ history which I found very disconcerting at first. It was hard to remember who was who. Many times, in the first half, I almost returned the book to the library unread.

But then the author hooked me. This morning I did my chores, met my daughter for a walk and a coffee and came home to continue to research and write my grandfather’s story but I saw the book and my plans went awry. I have done nothing but read on until the end.

It’s a wonderful story of stories, of loves, of youth and animals, of internal battles….. and, of course of the building of a bridge, a very special bridge.

It’s just a great story. I recommend it to you.

“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.

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.