book review

Quick Change

Quick Change: Tiny Tales of Transformation
Debbie Young
Contemporary short stories
Kindle
17 June, 2014
E-book
129

'Quick Change' was my first encounter with Debbie Young and her short stories. Yet again, as seems to be happening quite often in the recent past -- my decision to read this particular book was based on two factors: her name had cropped up on Social Media circles; I like short stories.

I was not disappointed -- a mixed bunch of brief insights into the human condition, in particular the British human condition, told between moments of sensitivity, irreverence and a pinch of wicked humour -- she held my attention from beginning to end -- an end which came around far too quickly I'm sad to say.

My only complaint, if one has to be found -- is that I would have liked each of the tales to last a little longer.

The Stranger in my Life

The Stranger in my Life
Janet Holt & Helen Parker
Biography, Creative non-fiction
Kindle
1 January, 2014
E-book
366

I was first made aware of Janet Holt's book, 'The Stranger in my Life' when I read 'Take Three Birds', a sort of autobiographical travelogue co-written by Jill Pennington, Tottie Limejuice and Janet Holt. Both Jill and Tottie made various mentions of the difficult times Janet had been through in her past, and also that she had written a book to tell her personal story.

My curiosity was piqued, and as soon as I completed 'Take Three Birds' I delved straight into Janet's story.

All through the book I had to remind myself that I was reading a true story -- Helen Parker, who wrote the story for Janet, is what I would describe as a skilled creative writer of non-fiction. In spite of the book using considerable use of backtracking in order to put events into perspective, at no point did I feel confused by the frequent shift in time. Perhaps it was her use of first person point of view which rendered the whole more credible in spite of the seemingly far-fetched subject matter.

In substance, Janet Holt loses all recollection of a few days of her life during March 1976. The story tells of her quest to resolve the puzzle which has haunted her for some 34 years, during which time she suffered terrible nightmares and frequest bouts of anxiety. Nonetheless, she manages to successfully run a farm and hold down rewarding employment and a long-standing relationship for much of that time.

Thanks to the concern of a close friend, in 2010 she seeks out medical care to find the root of her anxiety problems. The sessions with the psychologist lead to a series of revelations which deeply affect her and present her with a new set of problems to resolve.

I found the writing very convincing and at no time did I question that I was in Janet's head as she lived through each phase of her traumatic story. Top marks to Helen Parker for her role in the creation of the finished work, and to Janet who opened up her amazing story to the general public.

NB. Don't do as I did -- I Googled Janet to understand her story more fully, and ended up 'spoiling' the end for myself!

Take Three Birds

Take Three Birds
Jill Pennington, Tottie Limejuice, Janet Holt
Autobiographical travelogue
Kindle
15 December, 2014
e-book
188

My only reason for having chosen to read this book was the fact that I recognised two of the authors names from writing groups on the social media. By the end of the read I was pleased to have given the book a chance.

In hindsight, the book description is accurate, but for some reason I had expected to be presented with a story of sorts, rather than what is basically a diary of events garnished with each writer's background story and their impressions of one another. Frequent use is made of the inclusion of what appear to be complete transcripts of social media messages and emails.

The tale hops from one head to another as each writer in turn picks up the threads of the story from a personal viewpoint -- the preparation, the journey, the hospitality, the food, home ground and finally conclusions drawn and consideration of future plans. We gain insight into the strengths, weaknesses and foibles of each of them and by the end of the book have a fairly good idea of how each of them ticks. I, for one, certainly felt as if I had made three new friends as I recognised character traits similar to my own in each of them.

I want to justify my middle-of-the-road rating by saying that much as I enjoyed the book, it does not offer any mind-blowing concepts or psychological thrills. It certainly held my attention from beginning to end as a light and humorous read, even though I kept waiting for the 'book-planning' discussions that were hinted at, but never evolved, possibly due to the excess of wine consumed. Full marks to Tottie for her editing -- to Jill for her overblown enthusiasm and girly giggles -- and to Janet for having taken the bull by the horns and acted on instinct.

The Venice Experiment

The Venice Experiment -- a year of trial and error living abroad
Barry Frangipane & Ben Robbins
Travel
Kindle
26/06/2011
e-book
256 pages

An amusing series of brief anecdotes recounting the author's personal experiences during his experimental year in Venice. Having lived in Venice for some 40 years myself, I recognise many of the situations he describes and can feel his bewilderment when faced with some of the typical Venetian behavioural oddities. On a few occasions, I did feel that perhaps he himself had fallen victim to some of them when he made sweeping generalisations about the 'status quo'.Just one example which struck me in particular was the affirmation that Venetians don't own ovens! The truth is that Venetians who rent out apartments to foreign visitors, rarely include an oven as an essential electrical appliance because of the added expense, both as furnishing and as an included utilities cost. My Venetian husband was adamant -- 'how do you think we all cook our lasagne?'

On the whole I would recommend the book to aficionados of Venice who are interested in learning more about what it means to live the life of a 'Venetian' from a non-Venetian point of view. An easy read covering a wide variety of Venetian traditions, events and daily routines, especially useful to those who are able to carry out their own 'Venice Experiment' enjoying an extended stay in the city.

‘Tenth of December’ [book review]

Tenth of December Book Cover Tenth of December
George Saunders
Short story (contemporary)
Bloomsbury Publishing
3 January 2013
Kindle
271

His writing leaves you feeling a bit like being flooded with emotions that you weren't aware you had, or had subconsciously chosen to repress. Reminds me of the free writing we did at school which has then been thoughtfully and sensitively knocked into shape to reveal an incredible insight into the workings of our minds and the frailty of human nature. His words open up sores and place us before self-criticism. No easy escape as you feel drawn to continue in spite of -- or perhaps, because of -- a tumble of intricate mental meanderings leading you to the end; an end which is never final, but just a brief breathing space for reflection in the repetitive toil of life.

My faith in the power of short stories has been restored.