Everyone Brave is Forgiven

War was declared at 11.15 and Mary North signed up at noon.

The cover of this book has the most beautiful photograph of an extremely well dressed woman posting a letter into a post box in a square that is reduced to rubble.

Backdrop: London, 1939 to 1942. ‘It was a city in love with beginnings.’ I find WWII endlessly fascinating. Chris Cleave the author speaks about why World War II is so vital for novelists very eloquently here:

I had high hopes for this book, I received it twice on my birthday because I had been talking about it so much. Every Chris Cleave novel (The Other Hand, Gold, Incendiary) has floored me. He writes in a truly beautiful but hard-hitting way. This is first historical novel.

In a powerful combination of both humour and heartbreak, this dazzling novel weaves little-known history and a perfect love story through the vast sweep of the Second World War- daring us to understand that, against the great theatre of world events, it is the intimate losses, the small battles, the daily human triumphs that change us most.

Mary is thrust into teaching, as all the school masters are away at war. She is quite indignant about this at first. But she accepts it. ‘Mary almost wept when she learned that her first duty as a schoolmistress would be to evacuate her class to the countryside. And when she discovered that London had evacuated its zoo animals days before it’s children, she was furious.’ What Mary actually ends up doing, is teaching the children that have been rejected and sent back from their temporary homes in the countryside.

Mary, as an aristocrat goes from quite enjoying the novelty of the idea of war, herself and her friend Hilda go by train to view the first bombed site in London, never dreaming it would soon be them, to truly suffering. They both sign up to drive ambulances almost on a whim.

The other main characters are Tom Shaw, an education administrator who reluctantly gives Mary her first job and becomes her lover. His best friend and flatmate Alistair signs up for the war as soon as it begins. Alistair sees so much horror from early on, and he becomes rather distant. The humour of Tom’s letters revive him, and he is jealous of Tom’s newfound love, but this is nothing until he actually meets Mary.

Tom gives Alistair a homemade jar of Blackberry Jam before he leaves for war, and Alistair keeps it, through starvation and being shipped to further and further battle zones, to share with Tom when it is all over. It’s a really beautiful symbol of friendship.

It’s such a human story. Even against such a dramatic and seemingly well known background as the Second World War. Chris Cleave makes the most familiar, yet surprising observations:

One didn’t understand, until one had seen a great many bodies, the unconscious effort that one must be making every minute simply to keep one’s hands and face and clothes clean. The world’s surfaces were so filthy that the living touched them only with the tips of their fingers and the soles of their shoes. How grubby it was to die, to give up making that effort.

There’s a graphic description of something Alistair witnesses in Malta, a German pilot crash lands in the street, and the locals attack him. I completely zoned out in Starbucks, it was so vivid and brutal. You completely understand Alistair trying to stop them.

If you’re interested, you should watch these short videos of Chris Cleave speaking about the book. I really enjoyed them and he talks about his work so much better than my rambles.

This, my 29th read of the year could be the best book of 2016 so far. I have been talking about it to anyone who would listen and trying to thrust it into customer’s hands in work. A love story, but so much more than that. It did not disappoint, I didn’t want to finish reading, and I’m proud that I must be descended from the Mary Norths and Alistair Heaths of the world.

Career of Evil – Strike 3

I was biding my time, waiting to read this, as I didn’t want the series to be over. (For now) Once again, I absolutely loved it. This is the first time Robert Galbraith/ JK Rowling had the villain speak in alternate chapters, and what a scary dude. She says it’s the first time her own writing has given her nightmares.

When a mysterious package is delivered to Robin Ellacott, she is horrified to discover that it contains a woman’s severed leg.

Her boss, private detective Cormoran Strike is less surprised but no less alarmed. There are four people from his past who he thinks could be responsible- and Strike knows that any one of them is capable of sustained and unspeakable brutality.

With the police focusing on the one suspect Strike is increasingly sure is not the perpetrator, he and Robin take matters into their own hands and delve into the dark and twisted worlds of the three other men. But as more horrendous acts occur, time is running out for the two of them.

I am perhaps more interested in the unlikely Cormoran and Robin’s undeniable chemistry than the cases, the characters are wonderfully developed and the plot really draws you in, and keeps you guessing. Robin’s wedding to Matthew is looming and neither Robin nor Cormoran seem too happy about it.

Robin is such a brilliant character, we finally find out why she abandoned her Psychology degree, and why she sticks with seemingly reliable accountant Matthew. I really love that she has advanced driving training and self defence.

Maybe it’s the major girl in me but I love the passages where they are grabbing a quick bite to eat in a pub, always well described, (Strike loves his grub) and usually a pint of Doom Bar or glass of wine as they update each other on Donald Laing, Noel Brockbank and Jeff Whittaker.

These are three seriously dangerous men, the first one Strike is responsible for getting life imprisonment, second a suspected paedophile who blames Strike for brain damage, and the third, ex-husband of Strike’s super-groupie mother Leda, whom he suspects killed her.

The leg owner’s body turns up, seemed she had BIID (Body Integrity Identity Disorder) otherwise known as amputee identity disorder, she felt that she was meant to be disabled, and she wanted to amputate her leg. She believed that Strike, also an amputee (Afghanistan) had done the deed himself, she had tried to contact him and someone had replied.

It’s a really fast paced and keeps you guessing. More women are killed, sometimes we see it happen as the unnamed killer goes about his horrible misogynistic business.

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I loved all three of the Cormoran Strike (Or should we say Robin Ellacott) novels, and feel they get better and better. It wouldn’t even be necessary to read them in order, as Galbraith does a wonderful job of updating the story without being repetitive.

The writing is often funny, and there are other dramas such as the few day to day cases that Strike and Robin are following, a spurned father stalking his children, and a suspicious boyfriend distrustful of his stripper girlfriend.

Strike always has an hallelujah moment near the closing chapters, but the author doesn’t tell us his conclusion straight away, and the timing and suspense is very well executed.

Another interesting theme is, the book is named after a song by Blue Oyster Cult, and there are references to tattoos and obsessions in the book, and each chapter opens with a short lyric from Blue Oyster Cult’s back catalogue. A lot of times the lyrics are by Patti Smith.

I was surprised and delighted with the revelation of  the identity of the killer. And the question mark about Robin and Strike is underlined more than ever by the end. Loved it!

Do You Realise?

You were buried today. Somewhere in Donegal, while I did a driving test. I last saw you about 10 years ago. Cancer, a young wife, a devastated family. You were 29 years old.

Thank you for giving me a handful of CDs to listen to, including Hello Starling by Josh Ritter which spellbound me straight away. (The rest is history!)

Thank you for shyly bringing me a heavy bag full of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. For liking me when I thought no one ever would.

You were never serious. You drank brandy at 19 and got in bar fights. You had a weirdly warped sense of humour. You lived for music. There were so many mad stories ten years ago, I bet they got more crazy as the years went on and the travelling intensified.

I’m debating whether to write to your family. I might. You really looked up to your brothers. A kind word can almost always help.

Praying and thinking about your parents, brothers and wife. The situation is shattering.

When I was 16 and you were 19 The Flaming Lips were your favourite. This song was on the first mix CD you made. It’s so relevant. I can’t stop singing it quietly. Liberated from suffering now, I hope you are always with your wife in spirit, and getting into stuff for free forever more.

The Light Between Oceans

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Okay, it has been a while, I miss doing book reviews and a LOVELY girl called Laura whom I was at school with and used to work with pops in to my current job sometimes and her and her hubby bum me up about my blog, they demanded more book reviews so here we go. (Hi Laura and Eoin!)

I had been wanting to read The Light Between Oceans by M.L Stedman for a long time. I picked it up in work quite a lot, and when I heard it was soon going to be a film I thought no time like the present.

The crying persisted. The door of the lighthouse clanged in the distance, and Tom’s tall frame appeared on the gallery as he scanned the island with the binoculars. ‘Izzy!’ he yelled, ‘A boat!’ He vanished and re-emerged at ground level. ‘It’s a boat alright,’ Tom declared. ‘And -oh cripes! There’s a bloke, but-‘ The figure was motionless, yet the cried still rang out. he hoisted out a woollen bundle: a woman’s soft lavender cardigan wrapped around a tiny, screaming infant.

Tom Sherbourne, released from the horrors of the First World War, is now a lighthouse keeper, cocooned on a remote Australian island with his young wife Izzy, who is content in everything but her failure to have a child.

One April morning, a boat washes ashore carrying a dead man- and a crying baby. Safe from the real world, Tom and Izzy break the rules and follow their hearts.

A decision with devastating consequences.

This is a beautiful, difficult book mostly about love. And ‘a story about right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same.’

You do really try to think what you would do in this situation, on a tiny island with nothing but a lighthouse on it, and three painful miscarriages, and so much love in your heart.

Tom is reeling from WW1 when he takes this quiet post on the windswept island of Janus. He tends to ‘the light’ with as much care and dedication possible. The reverence with which all who are responsible for the light protect it is poetic and beautiful .

Later, when the old man spoke about the light, his voice changed, as though he were talking about a faithful dog or a favourite rose.

I have always have a fascination, a romantic notion of lighthouses. When and if I grow up I’d love to live in one and fill it with books. No big deal. The writing is absolutely beautiful, and I love how everything is thick with salt on the island. Salt lends itself wonderfully to prose.

On a visit back to the mainland, he meets Isabel Graysmark, she’s 10 years younger and knows what she wants as soon as she sees it. She arrives in his life full force and they are soon married. After so much heartbreak, the arrival of Lucy seems to be an answer to Izzy’s prayer. Tom wavers in his strict records and they go against every regulation little by little. By the time he realises what they have done it is too late.

This book is so, so worth reading. It made me weep. It really is a beautiful story, masterfully told. Been recommending it to everyone. Michael Fassbender better not mess this up.

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Mood Walk Update and Thank You

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So, we did the Aware NI Mood Walk last night. It finally stopped raining (The dementors were circling after the EU Referendum results) and we had a sunny 10k walk in our fetching yellow tshirts. It’s a lovely route starting at Ebrington and along the Waterside Greenway and back over the Foyle Bridge, up along the Quay. Had my very best girls Aisling and Caoimhe and we put the world to rights while walking (and shouting when passing over the windy bridge).

It felt good to be raising money to help those with Depression and Bipolar, everyone has loved ones affected and it’s such an important cause. Especially on a day of such uncertainty, it was nice to be a bright spot on the horizon, literally. There was a great turn out, music to see us of and a really nice atmosphere.

I just really wanted to say a big THANK YOU to all my readers and social media friends who donated, between the three of us we raised about £240 for Aware, which I am very proud of.

We were raging we forgot to take proper pictures. But weren’t we all looking well after the event. Thank you Caoimhe for the pictures! Bring on next year. And if you ever find yourself in the hateful, dark place of depression, please reach out, again and again to those around you.

My JustGiving site one more time, for pure cheekiness. I’m hopefully working on a few book reviews today for you. Thank you, lemon cakes x

 

Supporting those living with Depression #AwareNi

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On Friday 24th June I am talking part in the Derry Aware NI Mood Walk, a 5 (or 10k) walk to ‘lift your mood’ and raise money to support local people living with depression and bipolar disorder. To me, this is a vital service. I have definitely suffered a form of depression in my life, and to watch someone you care about suffering is painful. It’s important that as much support as possible is available! I would really appreciate it if you could spare a few pounds for this worthy charity, Aware NI.

Easiest way to do it is this Just Giving link:  https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/Fiona-McCallion2

Thank you so much x

AWARE is the only charity in Northern Ireland working exclusively for people with depression and bipolar disorder. A Derry born charity they now have two offices; one in Londonderry and a second office in Belfast where the helpline is based.

AWARE has an established network of 24 support groups in rural and urban areas across the country, which are run by our trained volunteers. Support groups welcome people with depression and bipolar disorder as well as carers for people with the illness.

AWARE deliver mental health and well being programmes into communities, schools, colleges, universities and workplaces. These programmes include our suite of Mood Matters programmes, Living Life to the Full, Mental Health First Aid and Mindfulness.

AWARE has a fundraising department organising fundraising events in schools and communities throughout Northern Ireland.

At AWARE, we believe that the people who use our services should have a say in how they are developed and delivered, so we employ people with experience of depression at every level in the organisation, including the Board of Trustees.

We rely on our dedicated and caring volunteers who run our support groups and helpline. Many of our volunteers began as service users themselves and as such are an excellent asset to us and keep us informed on staying in touch with people’s needs. Become an AWARE volunteer. 

AWARE is registered with the Charity Commission for Northern Ireland NIC100561. Company No. N.I. 30447

Birthday Bubble

I turned 27 on Saturday, and am somewhat disturbed by this. However, after two nights out I think I have hit a bit of a depressive stage today. I have been feeling so loved and spoiled all weekend I thought I would let it spill into a blog post.

I had to work on my birthday, just from 2-7 (27!) and I did try to swap it, alas. But in the morning I was spoiled with a coconut cream finger, and many paper creations from Ellen and Jacob. Well really just Ellen. Jacob gave me 70 cents from the windowsill. Ellen who is 9’s masterpiece was a big map with a 3D library, a ‘gorgeous garden’ made from a Graze Box and our house complete with 10 family members. There was a really cute note on it saying I didn’t have to keep it if it was too big.

After my sweaty shift manning the stationery department, I rushed home and enlisted my lovely visiting Belfast sister to do my hair and make up which was happy days for me. She had bought me some lovely make up from Soap and Glory which we tried out. We have become really good friends of late. We don’t contact each other that much when she’s not at home, but we have late night chats and laughs when she’s back, we are weirdly similar and different, and herself and her boyfriend are so good to me and our family.

I got several lovely cards and packages, and because people know I love snail mail they probably feel under pressure, but they are not and it was a lovely surprise. Thank you Ruth, Mammy, Abbye and L! Too kind and generous. What funny, pretty birthday parcels.

Caoimhe and me had already had quite a good week of events, she got me a ticket to Lisa Hannigan in Belfast for last Sunday, which was beautiful and then we had the time of our lives at Sarah Millican on Tuesday! Still laughing about that. We are both more and more determined to make the most of it and it is working out well for now!

So, I was ultimately late to my own birthday night, but five of us went to Claire’s house to have a few drinks including pink prosecco before heading out. Two are friends for 16 years, one about 8 years and one is a new friend.

We got carried away and had such a laugh, and a serious conversation about sexism in the workplace. We celebrated being 27, some being single, that pHD, we took selfies and learned about snapchat. And this is what is so important to me about friendship, and in particular female friendship (one of my favourite subjects and indeed things) all of us have difficult things happening in our lives, some really hard stuff for some of my best friends that I know of, but there is just a constant circle of support, and closeness and yes, love. This often gives way to the best laughs, and teasing. There is nothing like it. We left it so late to go out that we weren’t sure where to go, but you know what? It didn’t matter. We got a wee corner to dance in and everyone was happy and I mostly remember laughing!

Aisling, the George to my Fred had sent me this quote which I love;

The best kind of friendships are fierce lady friendships where you aggressively believe in each other, defend each other, and think the other deserves the world.

We met some interesting people as we weaved our way home, and my friends looked after me really well! Plenty to tease me about in future, I am sure but that’s ok!

I dragged myself out of bed after a few hours to do the Foyle Hospice Walk/Run and it wasn’t that pretty, but it was for a good cause and I got to see Ruth and baby Luke and properly meet her sisters and mum so it was all good.

A power nap and some Chinese food later, Claire and Aisling decided on Sunday Sips so away we went again! Quieter drinks in Claire’s and the bar later. But we all felt happy and I really appreciated the friendship and the love bubble.

I think I just really wanted to get my gratitude on, and really appreciate all the kindness that has been shown to me over the last few days, but really all the time with these girls! Again as I always say, I am at a bit of a funny place in my life, and I at least thought I would be married off by this stage, and making a bit more money but I really am trying to be appreciative of the wonderful gifts that I do have, and keep hoping. I did have a huge disappointment, and a mysterious bouquet of flowers within a week so I guess anything could happen, ha.

This could be our year! And I will get by with a little help from my friends.

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