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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

THE LOST SUMMER OF LOUISA M. ALCOTT BY KELLY O'CONNOR MCNEES


This was a book win from Molly. Thank you for a book which was not just delightful to read but also so very informative as well.

Set in 1855 the author takes all the history that we know of the Alcott family and mixes it with a bit of fiction to create this story. Like Little Women (which most people attribute to the Alcott family) did Jo have a Laurie in real life and was there someone in Louisa's life who inspired her. Someone who was able to accept the so different Louisa from the convention bound, insipid young ladies of the day. With Louisa's views on feminism, abolition, slavery, and the general position of women in general she was not of the commonplace variety of young ladies found during the period. Hers would definitely have been one of struggling for submissiveness in the face of so much male oppression. Poor Louisa.

Bronson (Louisa's father) was a philosophizing fool. He did not seem to care for the welfare of his family, what they ate or drank or what they wore. He did not believe in working and how he imagined his wife and children managed is not to be imagined. He felt he was always right and never tried even in small ways to make the life of his children or his long suffering wife better.  With the family on the move again, Louisa decides to make her plans of moving to Boston and carving out a niche for herself. Her plans have to be put on hold because of tragedy which overtakes the family and it is only after a protracted spell that she is able to get away and start on her new life and career.

The book was interesting in that it described very much the life of the period. From day to day activities of the routine washing, cleaning and cooking to the picnicking which was the fun of the day. However, it was sad reading for me personally. I would hate to live in a time which was quite oppressive to women and even reading about the trials of Louisa, her sisters and specially her mother was an ordeal for me!

The book was a very good read and very descriptive of the Alcotts and the period in history.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mailbox Monday/It's Monday What are you Reading?

Mailbox Monday is on tour and hosted for May by Martha


The books that I bought from my second hand bookshop are



Described as "there is much to astonish, to disturb and to admire in this dense book" The Guardian. It was the word dense that got to me.

Recommended by Sakura from chasing bawa this was one I was looking out for for a long time.

My book published by Guild Publishing has a rather nice cover (intriguing as well). I couldn't find it amongst the images for this book.  Till now I did not know this author is also known as Ruth Rendell.



I enjoyed Winter Solstice so much that this was a definite yes when I saw it. Three books for the price of one.



The blurb said "beautifully constructed.... unashamedly passionate"

My cover is plain (hard back) but this looks so nice! couldn't resist.





Two images of this meme and I can't get rid of one!  Hosted by Book Journey


I've only read books with an Irishy type of background by this author before. This is a real change.


Saturday, May 26, 2012

ANNIE MURRAY'S BIRMINGHAM BLITZ & BIRMINGHAM FRIENDS



Though this cover says Birmingham Blitz, the book I have includes another book of Annie Murrays' Birmingham Friends. It took me some time to read as it was quite a chunky one.


Birmingham Blitz

The year is 1939 and Gene is a happy go lucky girl in a rocky household. With the war and with men being mobilized Gene's mother finds other avenues to keep her happy to Gene's dismay and sadness. Gene is loyal to her father who is very much in love with her mother and she knows the heartbreak that will happen when he does return and finds his wife gone with another man.

We also have Teresa who is Gene's friend and who being of Italian descent becomes one of the "others" and the treatment meted out to them as a family for being different.

More than the war the book is about the effect it had on family life, the changing of values, the upsurge in women power with more and more women going out to work and having to take charge of families and futures. It also shows the tenacity of people to survive and despite all the destruction and turmoil how hope for the future was not diminished.


Birmingham Friends

Anna has grown up with stories from her mother of her glamourous friend Olivia and her only regret is that she is not able to meet this friend. After her mother's death, she finds that Olivia is very much alive and the story goes on from there.

However a great deal of the story is of Kate and Olivia's trial by fire friendship from little girls to adulthood and the difficulties of loyalty and friendship amongst two such very different families. One working class, down to earth and straight talking and the other rich, smooth and hiding secrets that no one was supposed to uncover. The trauma of Olivia's childhood forms a greater part of the story and her loyalty to her family in not talking about this even to Kate who is the person closest to her. The effect that this has on Olivia right to the end is not surprising. Kate and Olivia choose different paths during the war - Kate to be a nurse and Olivia to be a typist in a government office and the two paths do not seem to cross for years.

We then find them crossing once more with Anna and Olivia meeting up and Anna for a time entranced by Olivia the same way her mother Kate was. How Anna extricates herself from this tangle is the second half of the story. This  second story also highlights not just how asylums were run (very badly) but also the attitude of the people to them. People presumed all those in one were lunatics but I understood from the book that many were not, they may have had a breakdown of some kind and were categorised as such which was so very cruel.


Both books dealt with the War and its effect on people - the period is one I like reading about so this was good for me.    Apart from the actual facts of the war the effect of it on the people itself, the daily striving to live was the part I particularly enjoyed reading about.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

ROSAMUNDE PILCHER'S WINTER SOLSTICE


Elfrida has retired and moved to the countryside. She is not quite poor but it will be a struggle. She is not complaining however and is extremely happy with her choice of home and village. This is the life she was always looking out for. Elfrida happily settles into village life and also gets involved in the social life of the village - parties in the big house are the big attraction and Gloria though brash is a good sort and Oscar is a perfect gentleman.

Fast forward and we find tragedy has struck Oscar whilst Elfrida is on a month's holiday and like a good samaritan she steps in to help him. It becomes a romantic interlude as well and whilst it is that it also becomes a very complicated story with the arrival of a friend and her niece Lucy and the stranded Sam.

I liked the mix of stories and characters in the book. Each one different but all acting out of the goodness of their hearts to help someone else in distress. It may across as being too "goody" as it were but it proved to be a very interesting read despite the excess of goodness. One does get tired of reading and seeing all about the harshness and cruelty of man towards man.

My first read of Rosamunde Pilcher. Will not be my last.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

PRODIGAL SUMMER by BARBARA KINGSOLVER


The setting of the book in Appalachia was very new to me. Even the name Appalachia does not sound quite American to my ears! Chapter by chapter we deal with three different people - all very different to each other connected in some way and so very different in other ways.

A love story involving Deanna - set in her ways, intent on one purpose of saving the coyote (which she knows will not go down well with the rest of society) and Eddie so many years her junior who awakens feelings in her which she thought was long forgotton in her and then we have lovely neighbours of Garnett and Nannie - both highly individualistic, eccentric and lonely. Four complex people coming together in a very closed community - sparks have to fly and fly they do.

The book is a lot about nature, and the threat to our environment due to man's ignorance or deliberate negligence of it. A lot of it I would say is due to ignorance where a wild animal is looked at as a threat and therefore should be eliminated - not realizing that nature has its own plan and we humans stepping in and doing the elimination is not how Nature actually planned things to happen. It opened my eyes to the fact that there is a method for predators,  for forest fires and for things that we may not understand at first.

This is a storyteller's book and if you enjoy a slow unravelling this is for you.

Going out of Colombo to Rozella (to the cool) for an overnight visit. We are having a wedding party at our guest house in Ginigathhena - our first - and I am so looking forward to this event.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Mailbox Monday/It's Monday What Are You Reading?

M

Mailbox Monday is on tour and hosted for May by Martha.

Only one book came into my house this week -a fat tome!  Rosamunde Pilcher's Winter Solstice.

It's Monday What are you Reading? is hosted by Book Journey.

Am reading a Ruth Rendell mystery and a gorgeous book set in Birmingham in the 1930's. It is actually two separate stories and makes me ever so glad to be born in the current times!

Am having some trouble posting this so wonder whether it will ever get done.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

ROMA TEARNE'S BONE CHINA


I never wanted to read this book whilst the civil unrest was going on in my country and it is only now that it is well behind us that I feel that I could read this book. The civil war is very raw still in my mind though most people try to put it behind you - the heartache that it has caused cannot be forgotton and the effects of it will be there for generations specially for the families who have lost their loved ones to emmigration.

Dealing against I would say a backdrop of the civil violence which beset Sri Lanka for decades this book deals more with a family trying to deal with such a different culture in England rather than the unrest itself. Immigrant stories are always human ones - and though I've read countless ones they always tug at one's heartstrings as there is so much going on and so much that one could empathize with.

This particular story deals with a young family of a very comfortable background - upper middle class in Sri Lanka who leave so that they could avoid the violence which they know is coming very fast. Trying to settle down in urban England and for Meeka specially after being the pampered baby of the family trying to settle down in a suburban school was at the beginning a nightmare. Calling the lunch ladies servants would never have got her on to a good start but she is the one who finally integrates best into English society.  The entire family of characters is a bit strange and stylized. They take a lot of things for granted in Sri Lanka but thankfully don't take that attitude to England as well and try to make the best of what is for them a bad situation. The older generation can never be completely happy I guess because they are perpetually harping back to what was rather than what is and having one foot on either side of the divide does not help when you need to settle in fast.

Maybe today the story may be different. Immigrants are more aware of what they are going to find and I think most people who emigrate do such a lot of research into what is their future that they may be more aware of their "adopted" country than the people who actually live in them.

The matriarch of the family leaves her bone china (the only thing of value left behind after her husband gambles away the family fortunes) to her daughter in law in trust for her grand daughter. The thinness of the china is delicate and fragile and seems to be the way life is - it survived the journey to England intact and is handed down to Meeka. Fragile but tough enough for daily use. A question of survival perhaps?

Saturday, May 19, 2012

AMERICAN WIFE by CURTIS SITTENFELD



Based I think on the story of Laura Bush we have the story of a girl from  Wisconsin who lived a quiet life as a children's librarian and who was more than happy in her job, delighting her small charges and herself with her books and her gradual rise to becoming America's First Lady.

The road to the White House could never be easy and it is very clear from this story that your life comes under the microscope not just in the States but worldwide. I was surprised at this. I thought finding out trivial details of what the First Lady did or did not do would be of interest to US citizens but why on earth should it be of such great interest to someone in Croatia for instance was beyond me but reading the book one does realize that everyone seems to want some part of the action and however little their connection to the White House may be, if there is some kind of connection even  if it meant being a mother of another third grader when the First Lady was also around is enough to make a story out of it!

Though it is said that it is based on Laura Bush I finished the story looking at it as a memoir of Alice and Charlie Blackwell and not the Bush's. That was fine with me because I was interested in details of the American system of politics (of which I know little). The constant media hype, the continuous service oriented projects that the First Couple have to go to, the numerous photo shoots, the meeting and greeting of countless people were all of interest to me. The job is no sinecure and as said in the book you do get first class service and you do get to go to interesting places but your life and time is never ever your own.

The strange part of the book is that throughout the story the First Lady is seen as one of charm, hard working, and a calm and collected person. Charlie Blackwell is looked at mainly as crude, a buffoon, someone who has to be guided at all times as he does not seem to know better. Alice is seen as educated and able to hold her own. Charlie on the other hand is helpless and a bit of a dunce. Even  in times of great stress Alice is able to decide for herself what she should or shouldn't do according to her conscience and not to up ratings or popularity whereas her husband seems to think otherwise.

The book was complex and interesting. For anyone wanting to know details of how things are done in an American Presidency this would be good reading though since it seems to relate to the Bush's it is out of date. Nevertheless a very good read.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

SUSAN SALLIS - DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON



Miranda and Meg twin sisters who are also by some means known only to them able to understand and actually feel the other twin's pain/joy/feelings whenever something is right or wrong or intense.  Miranda is the free spirit who seeks to follow the world of her parents in the acting field whereas Meg is the quieter one, the staid one who wants to make a name for herself as a painter.

Strangely enough it is Miranda who is forced to settle to a life of domesticity - husband and three children and a home life which for her is at times frustrating and annoying and which makes her fractious almost like a spoilt child. She turns to Meg to calm her down and although Meg feels put upon, her nature is such that it is unlikely that she will not make a stand for herself and allow Miranda to handle her own affairs however disastrous the outcome.

At the end Meg strikes out on her own and is met with unexpected success whereas Miranda is dragged down further into domesticity and a husband whom she no longer feels anything very much for. Violence and tragedy follow Miranda,  and Meg has to take the brunt of it on her shoulders merely for being her identical twin. Meg is finally able to make some sense of her life, turn it to her advantage and try to becalm her turbulent sister who would otherwise be totally adrift without her twin.

A strange read this was for me. I would have felt very uncomfortable having a sister or having any relationship which was so very dependent on one. The responsibilities forced on Meg were unfair though  Meg was not the complaining type. She just accepted it as part of her fate to be the one that was put upon, and the one that had to get her sister out of trouble. Her love was without limits, her sense of responsibility was the same. There was no sense of doing anything else other than what was right for everyone.

My second read of Susan Sallis. The first was a family story of three sisters, this was again family though very different.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

JEAN PLAIDY - THE CAPTIVE QUEEN OF SCOTS



Jean Plaidy's historical fiction stories are always full of murder and mayhem. History was turbulent and it seemed to always be a survival of the fittest and each man looked after his own. Men and equally women specially of the royal category were determined that they should hold on to the crown - never mind siblings, cousins or family. One seemed determined to keep it safe for one of your own children never someone else's (at whatever cost).

In this story it is poignant and very sad from the beginning to the end. The bit of romance in the book is doomed from the start and you know that Mary Stuart however beautiful, enticing and like a magnet to the men is never going to stand a fair chance against the encompassing all powerful Elizabeth I. Whether Mary was so naive that she thought that Elizabeth would help her to regain her throne in Scotland whereas Elizabeth looked on Mary as a threat to her own throne in England as well. On top of that the deeply Catholic Mary was a naturally divisive element in society which was divided on the Protestant/Catholic lines and Elizabeth knew that even her English citizens would flock to Mary as she was a devout Catholic.

The story opens with Mary's husband's death and the suspicions that hang over her head that she is somehow involved in his murder along with her lover. Fleeing Scotland she approaches Elizabeth for help. From that moment on, Mary is a prisoner - sometimes well looked after, most often ignored and in wretched circumstances but a prisoner for a very long time on English soil and she is finally brought to the Tower and executed for treason at the end of her very long imprisonment.

The turmoil that Mary underwent during her long years as a prisoner - the constant moving from one castle to the next at Elizabeth's whim, the animosity and anxiety that was the lot of those who had to host this royal prisoner, form the story. The day to day difficulties of hosting such an important prisoner, the fact that she had to be guarded at all times, that they did not know who was friend or who was foe was one important part of the story - not just for the guards of Her Majesty but for Her Majesty herself. She never knew whom to trust and her gaolers did not know whom to trust either as they were on opposite sides of a fence.

This was very different from the other Jean Plaidy reads. Very often her stories have a somewhat happy ending at least for some character of the drama. In this there was no such end. Those with a love of 16th century history of Britain should get to this particular book.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Mailbox Monday/It's Monday What Are You Reading?



Mailbox Monday is being hosted for May by Martha




It's Monday What Are You Reading? is hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

My Mailbox was quite full this week mainly because I found the time to go hunting for books!


Shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 2001 (you can see how long it takes me to get to the Booker!!!)
this is considered one of McEwan's best books.

Fell in love with the cover a long while ago but got it only now this is Mustian's debut novel.


Part of a gemstone triology this is the last book.


Set in 1966 which makes it more or less my time! with a name like Smoky O'Donnel I couldn't resist.


I am just starting Barbara Kingsolver's Prodigal Summer. I got quite a bit of reading done this last week but not much of reviews as I was away from home most of the time.



Have a good week everyone!



Sunday, May 13, 2012

MARK HADDON - THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT TIME


Of course I had heard of this title and it had featured in a blog hop which dealt with autism. My knowledge of the disease is very limited though there is someone distantly connected with us whose little boy has been diagnosed as autistic.

This book deals with Christopher who has Asperger's Syndrome or high functioning autism. On the one side you do know that you are dealing with someone who has a mental problem and on the other side you are dealing with a very, very intelligent young man who solves mathematical problems with ease and whose whole world (little though it is) is dealt with solely on logic. Christopher cannot understand simple statements like "a fat lot of good it will do" because there is no logic in the statement and he could not understand why people talk like this.

The story starts with a neighbours dog being killed and Christopher sets out to solve the murder. During the course of his trying (of course very logically and very clear step by step) he treads on everyone's toes, makes everyone mad and of course he cannot understand why he is doing this.

The book is mind boggling but does keep you on your toes. The chapters are marked by prime numbers which got me fascinated from the word go till I sorted that out in my own mind (which believe you me was not easy!). You see the world from both a child's perspective as well as from an adult's one. Because Christopher was not the average 15 year old we did see the world flawed as seen from his side and what you saw could not be simply explained away either. For Christopher things were what they were and you did not read into stuff matters which were not apparent. Tough world for both Christopher and his parents (whom I felt deserved all the support they could get).

A tough book to read but one which you have to finish once you get going.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

NINEPINS By Rosy Thornton


I had read several reviews of the book and when the author sent me this one I was more than delighted. I have liked her previous books so very much and I knew that the likelihood of me being able to buy this here was very remote.

Ninepins is a house and though the surroundings may seem a bit bleak and dismal, it is no doubt with a charm of its own having been a converted pumphouse. Willow a distant 17 year old comes in as a lodger and is a hit with Beth our landlady's 12 year old daughter. Willow is not an average seventeen year old. Her history is murky and troubled but she carries herself well and is very contained. She has been hurt so much in the past that she does not relax easily with most people. It will take time for Willow to unravel and to trust people around her. Then we have Laura trying to chart a course of single motherhood in the best possible way. I empathised with her throughout. Which mother has not bitten her tongue when all she wants to do is smack her recalcitrant daughter?  I felt for Laura deeply specially as she had to battle it alone as her ex husband lived in a world of his own. To this unit is added Vince - Willow's social worker who is a paternal figure to all and one on whom Laura would not mind leaning on.

I like that Thornton does not shy away from difficult issues. In this case so many - we have single parenthood, difficult tweens, the peer pressure faced by not just children but their parents as well, the conflicts we have within ourselves when we want to do some good to someone but are at the same time so very over protective of our own. Do we help others to the detriment of our own children? do we want to be selfish that we only think of ourselves and our little units and not of the world beyond. Lots of difficult questions to which we have no easy answers.

At the same time it was not all gloom and doom. There was a bit of romance, there was a lot of family fun and above all we had characters we all could identify with which makes for a very involved read.

As usual I loved her book. Thank you ever so much Rosy for sending it to me all the way here in Sri Lanka. Much appreciated.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Henry James - THE PORTRAIT OF A LADY

This was not an easy read for me. For one thing my pet peeve (the font) was terribly small and I find reading at night difficult with small fonts. I complain about this constantly but find no other blogger grumbling about this!!!

The story deals with Isabel Archer who is unexpectedly left a fortune by her uncle on his demise with the idea that she will find her destiny and her life as a result of the windfall. Isabel is of an independent mind even before this money finds her way to her and it was hoped that she would use this for her own betterment.  The story continues with Isabel's sojourns in Europe complicated with rejected suitors, lovers, a finding of a husband and a step daughter and the added complications of women who have vested interests in Isabel's life.

The book is a heavy tome and some of the writing is rather complicated and in fact stilted. I did wish that the author could get to the point sooner rather than later. It was only after the midway point of the story that I was sufficiently interested to finish the book. A redeeming factor is however that the characters are very human - no one is without flaws and this is very much shown up in the story where each person has a mix of both good and bad characteristics which brings the story more down to earth.

The book is slow so it will suit people who want a slower paced novel, who enjoy a story slowly unfolding. It could drive you nuts if you expect results quickly!

For me it was so so.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Mailbox Monday/It's Monday. What Are You Reading?




Mailbox Monday is being hosted for May by Martha - (one of my favourite blogs).


The only book which came into my house mainly because I had no time to go out looking for books was NINEPINS sent by the author herself Rosy Thornton. No one can imagine how thrilled I am with this book.





It's Monday What are you Reading? is a meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Right now I am trying to finish Portrait of a Lady (last fifty pages) and then get on to Ninepins.
I have a whole pile of books but this one by Rosy Thornton is irresistible!

Have a good week everyone. We are still in holiday mood with Vesak holidays.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

DIANA GABALDON Drums of Autumn


I put off reading this book until I had the time to actually appreciate it. It is over 1000 pages and this long weekend I had was just the ideal time. No going out anywhere. Just sat at the book and I enjoyed it so very much. I got irritated when I had to get up to attend to anything else.

Claire a time traveller from the 20th century and Jamie her 18th century husband along with their nephew Ian (the one who is so very accident prone) set sail for the Colonies along with their friend Duncan. Fergus has been left behind in Jamaica.  Adventure upon adventure follow some good some not so good but the story is unbelievable but when reading it you could get so wrapped up in the story that you actually know that what is happening is quite possible.

Telling more of the story would be spoilers and this I am not going to do. In this book Diana Gabaldon gives one the details of how actually one can get about the time travel business and more importantly (for some) how you can get back. Time travel was a new genre for me till I read Voyager and now I am hooked.

I sometimes wonder how it is ever going to end or do we go on with spin offs with Ian for example or Brianna or maybe even ancilliary characters like Fergus or Lord Grey.

Gabaldon's cleverness is that the reader is kept enthralled from beginning to end. There may be no happy ever after ending but one does want to read more. I will be looking out for the others in the series.

Monday is a holiday here in Sri Lanka. So nice to do nothing!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Alexander McCall Smith's 44 SCOTLAND STREET






This writer never disappoints - the book was a delight as always.  Set in a busy corner of the New Town Pat moves as a flatmate of three others but her fatal attraction for Bruce is something that she never counted on.

Looking on the various characters which form this story we have Pat our main character - 20ish, innocent, naive, on her second gap year and trying to come to terms with her life away from home. Still homesick for her parents particularly her father, she sees in Bruce the love that she has been looking for but fortunately in the nick of time realizes that his narcissistic approach to everything and particularly his love of himself makes him not the man for her. She can view him clinically at the end despite the physical attraction she feels for him. (I breathed a sigh of relief here having 20ish daughters of my own!!!!).

We have Irene the all knowing mother who thinks her seven year old Bertie is the prodigy of all prodigies. Playing the saxophone and speaking Italian he seems to be so, but underneath it all we have a rebellious youngster who dislikes intensely what his mother is forcing him to do.

We then have Big Lou playing mother hen to a host of motley crew - from Mathew, Ron and Pete. We then have to top it all the Todds - ambitious social climbers Sasha and Raeburn with their gloomy daughter whom they hope to hitch to the dashing Bruce. There is also Matthew who whilst financially stable because of the backing of his Pa, feels that nothing he does is ever going to come right and the story seems to support that theory with his gallery and the twisting tale of the missing painting!

I understand that this book was divided into instalments and published as a weekly tidbit. This is an endless story and could go on and on. Something similar to our local teledramas which could stretch for years because the ramifications of the basic story are so "everyday" and normal that one can identify so very easily with the characters as those we come across in our daily life.

I was away from home for three days and now its a very long weekend. Today is Vesak Full Moon Poya Day. It celebrates the birth, death, and enlightenment of Lord Buddha. All Buddhist homes will be decorated today with flags and bunting and particularly with lantersn - mainly home made out of bamboo and tissue paper in a myriad of colors. At night it is a beautiful sight - all our lanes in the vicinity no bright lights only the soft colors of lanters!

At the same time the emphasis on religion is very marked for this festival. Programmes conducted in temples throughout the day offer sermons and preaching to the laity. Meals are offered to all and one special feature of Vesak are the dansalas or free food offered on the streets. There are full rice and curry meals offered today and tomorrow at every little town and village for the general public, coffee, tea, and herbal drink dansalas, then you get the sweets or savoury dansalas. General fun all around.





Tuesday, May 1, 2012

TESTAMENT OF YOUTH - VERA BRITTAIN




I had been reading this book for a very, very long time. It started out for me very slow and it was only after about 200 pages that I really got into it and began to understand why Vera Brittain wrote the way she did, her philosophy and the way she lived her life. Set just before, during and after WWI it gives you an insight into the world of nursing, and more specially the world of a young educated woman trying to veer away from the traditional husband and marriage and to the world of one trying to combine and have it all.

Vera was passionate about what she felt was the right thing to do and in this case it became her war effort to be a nurse to the best of her ability, to serve her country in the very best British military tradition. Her experiences and thus her life became one - as a voluntary nurse, the lowest of the low she became the odd job man of all the little bits and pieces no one wanted. Even when she came back to active service, the very fact that she had broken her earlier contract made her petty Matron give her the jobs of polishing the silver, or cleaning the wheelchairs whilst her massive experience in post trauma, post surgery, wounds and operative surgery went unheeded and not used.

Throughout her story we find the pettyness of human beings who wanted the power and the glory - who were determined to keep the young ones down and the strict rules that separated the sexes at a time when loneliness and desolation had to be kept at bay, was pitiful though whilst reading it - it made me quite angry. That no one thought of the feelings of these nurses. They were just cogs in a machine and not to be taken much notice of.

The period was particularly bad for women - in Oxford Vera was humiliated again and again and it is only her strong resolve and unwavering spirit that kept her on. This same spirit took her through the war and through the death of her fiancee, her beloved friend and then finally the huge loss of her brother Edward. The pathos of these losses and how she weathered them, mainly on her own (one thing being far away from England) and secondly she did not seem to be very close to her own parents, is admirable. Vera just gritted her teeth and again I am being general, with typical British resolve and stiff upper lip, just got on with it without breaking down which would have been the very normal reaction to such losses.

When her mother fell ill (as she says she did not know whether it was fictional and an excuse to get her out of the war zones), she went back breaking her contract as a dutiful daughter should despite her heart telling her no. Self sacrificing throughout but not prissy she knew she had no choice but to get back to England and the drabness of a domestic life till things were sorted out. I did not envy her at all.

Vera was different from her own background even. Born into a middle class provincial family who looked on a son going to university as normal but were horrified when Vera wanted to do the same. Even a trip unaccompanied was a no no and when she and her boyfriend had to go on a single train journey together, it became stiff and very painful because neither of them knew how to cope with each other all alone.


Her literary bent took her on a journalistic career with pitfalls and humiliations galore. Apart from rejection slips of her books, she had to face a barrage of criticism on her political assertiveness and views. This she took in her stride, never faltering in her views of what she considered was right.

Till the end of the book I thought Vera had done with love and all the grief it had brought her, but I am glad, so very glad that she succumbed to the pleadings of a young man and there was a happily ever after.

By the end of this book I was entranced with this character! This was a chunkster of over 650 pages - I think that and the small print put me off at the beginning.