Category Archives: 2016 Reading Challenge

2016 Reading Challenge – Book Four

So for my fourth book of the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge, I selected the category “a book you have been meaning to read”. My choice was Harry’s Last Stand by Harry Leslie Smith. I’d been looking for this for a while and then my husband got it for me late last year. I wanted to really concentrate on it when I read it so it got put off until April of this year. It was well worth the wait.

Its one of the most passionate, angry, heartfelt books I have read in a very long time. In some places it reads like a rant for which Harry Smith has been criticised in some reviews. I disagree. Yes, there are some passages of the book that come across as ranting but I don’t see that as a fault in this case. Harry is a World War Two veteran and one of the dwindling number of people who clearly remember life during the Great Depression. He remembers – and describes vividly – the appalling poverty and deprivation that was the norm of everyday life for far too many people in Britain in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He is rightly angry at how his family – and countless others – suffered and he doesn’t pull any punches in describing what they went through. His descriptions of the life and death of his sister Marion are simply heartbreaking.Harry's Last Stand

Harry goes on to describe the war years and how new opportunities opened up for him. You can hear real joy when he details the impact that free education and the birth of the NHS (National Health Service) had on the lives of the people of Britain. And you find yourself hoping that all is going to be well. But this is the point where Harry’s anger intensifies as he analyses and agonises over how this is all being dismantled and how he can see the same mistakes and wrongs being repeated in new generations of leaders and how he can see the damage this will do to people.

This is not a gentle read but it is gripping. If – like me – you remember Thatcher’s Britain and can see the same happening again under David Cameron, you will find this book pulling at your heart and hopefully your conscience. If you were born after that time you will find much in this that is thought-provoking. If you are old enough to remember the 1950’s and 1960’s, you will in all likelihood read this and weep. But read it you must.

2016 Reading Challenge – Book Three started and finished!!

OOPS!!! Well March kind of ran away with me here, between trying to finish a paper, the Easter 1916 commemorations and my daughter’s school holidays, the month seemed to just vanish. It only occurred to me on 31 March that I hadn’t read a book for the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge in March. As there are 12 categories in the challenge, I was working on doing one of them each month. I hadn’t even selected a category for March, let alone a book to meet it. I was in our local library with my daughter on said 31 March when this hit me. I know it wouldn’t have mattered if I hadn’t done the challenge in March but I’d made up my mind to do it that way.

A quick hunt on via the iPhone showed me that one category was ‘A book you can read in a day’. Hmmm. It was the last day of March and I was in the library, surely I’d find something I could read and finish before midnight?? Well, dear reader I did. A book by Emma Hannigan caught my eye – the Summer Guest. The Summer Guest I had never read any of Emma Hannigan’s books before, but have followed her story through Irish media. You can read about her here I’ve seen her on various TV programmes and often said to myself that I really must read one of her books one day……

And I did read it all before midnight. I liked most of the characters involved and also liked how one of the main female leads (Lexi) was portrayed at times in a way that made me wonder if she was always as nice as she initially seemed. (She is by the way, but I thought the doubting elements and the question of how others perceive us was really well done). The story moves along quickly enough and there were no characters in it that I didn’t get a feeling about. I don’t enjoy a book where I couldn’t care one way or another about the characters. Hannigan touched on a few interesting themes and ideas that I thought could have been developed a bit more but that would have probably taken the story in a different direction. The ending is both happy and sad, and let’s face it, that’s life!

Overall, yes I enjoyed it, I’d read more of hers, particularly on those occasions when I have an uninterrupted hour to sit with a cuppa and something nice and read a book that’s enjoyable and thoughtful but not too heavy.

2016 Reading Challenge book two – Finished!

My second book for the Modern Mrs Darcy Reading Challenge was From Beirut to Jerusalem by Swee Chai Ang. From Beirut to Jerusalem This came under the category of ‘a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, child or BFF’. My husband selected this one for me, having read it himself a number of years ago.

It is one of the hardest books I have ever read. Not intellectually, not in the style of writing (which is very accessible), but emotionally it was so so hard. I normally whizz through books and a book of this size (302 pages) written in plain, straightforward language I would usually expect to get through in a few days. This was so difficult to read that I could only manage a chapter at a time.

I knew a little – a very little – about the conflict in Israel/OPT and the wider Middle East. I had heard of the Sabra and Shatila massacres in 1982. I knew that Lebanon had for years, decades maybe, been pulled into and suffered from, conflicts affecting their neighbours. I did not know just how truly horrific it was. Probably still is. Dr Swee writes in a very unsparing way about the numbers of dead following the Sabra and Shatila massacres. She talks of – and indeed includes a picture of – piled up in alleyways. As an orthopaedic surgeon, she describes the horrendous injuries – and their long term implications – suffered by young and old alike.

I could go on but it is better to read it for yourself, to bear witness. One thing I learnt from the book is that as a result of her time in Lebanon, she helped to start up the charity Medical Aid for Palestinians which warmed my heart as a couple of years ago, a local event I helped to organise raised money for that charity amongst others.

This book is not an easy read. But I think that makes it all the more important. Reading about events of thirty years ago and then watching the news and seeing what is happening in Syria, in the wider Middle East, seeing how many refugees have been forced into an already overcrowded Lebanon, seeing the sheer chaos and agony that people are going through on the borders of a greedy bloated Europe, meant that this book resonated with me all the more. It is one of the few books I can truly say has had a profound impact on me.

Read it. And then read more. Watch the news. Inform yourself. Bear witness. It is the very least any of us can do.

2016 Reading challenge – book two

February has rolled around and its blowing a gale out there this morning. My second book as part of the Modern Mrs Darcy reading challenge is one chosen for me by my husband. He has selected Dr. Swee Chai Ang’s From Beirut to Jerusalem, the account of an orthopaedic surgeon who volunteered to help civilians in Beirut in the early 1980’s. From Beirut to Jerusalem He chose this because “it was the first book I read about Lebanon after serving there and it started me reading more and more about the Middle East.” I should explain that my husband did two tours of duty with UNIFIL while a member of the Irish Defence Forces and his time there made a lasting impression on him.

Its non fiction, history, politics, a combination which I probably read more frequently than anything else, but I have never read anything about Lebanon or the wider Middle East conflict. So let’s see what I think of this one. Happy reading!

2016 Reading Challenge book one – Finished!

As you might have seen in a previous post I’m taking part in a reading challenge this year. To those of you who know me well, the challenge might have been not to read any books this year but let’s face it, that’s never going to happen! I heard about this challenge from a fellow blogger over at Pretty Purple Polka Dots and its been interesting seeing what others are reading.

There are 12 categories of books to read over the year, you can get all the details at Modern Mrs Darcy’s page. For my first book I selected Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning, which came under the category of ‘A book you own but have never read’. I bought it in a charity shop ages ago and then it sat on one of our bookshelves. On with the review…… well I wasn’t bowled over by it. Amy TanI had read two of Tan’s books previously, The Bonesetter’s Daughter and The Joy Luck Club and found them both excellent. Heartrending in places, dealing with issues that resonated in my own life and most importantly for me, had characters I was interested in. So I had fairly high hopes for Saving Fish From Drowning. They weren’t met, now don’t get me wrong, I didn’t hate the book and would go so far as to say I liked it but I’m not mad about it.

I found that after about a third of the book I was struggling to keep going. If I hadn’t been doing this reading challenge I doubt I would have made myself continue. I am glad I did because the middle section of the book (well up to the last three or four chapters really) was much better. I never warmed to any of the characters, but neither did I take against them. I couldn’t summon up huge interest in any of them and I do wonder if having so many characters in the main story of the book (about a group of American tourists who get lost in Burma/Myanmar) made it hard to fully develop any of them. Tan’s descriptions and writing are as strong as ever but the plot never grabbed me. Would I recommend it? It wouldn’t be the top of my list of recommendations but I wouldn’t advise against reading it either.

Book one of the 2016 reading challenge down, eleven more to go. This one is going in the charity shop bag, I wouldn’t be interested in reading it again and this way two charities will benefit a little bit from it! Plus its gone from the overfull bookshelves which is a good thing too. Book two – well one of the categories is ‘a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child, or BFF’. I’m going to get my husband to select one for me before Mon (1st Feb). Our tastes overlap somewhat but not completely and I have no idea what he is going to choose for me! That’s part of the fun of the challenge I guess – and so far its made me finish a book I would likely have discarded otherwise. Onwards!

2016 Reading Challenge book one

I love books, I love reading, I can happily spend hours in a library, so when I saw the Modern Mrs Darcy challenge I decided to give it a go. The idea is you read 12 books over the year, each from a different category. I’m starting with the category “a book you own but have never read” (of which there are MANY in our house) and have chosen Amy Tan’s Saving Fish From Drowning which I picked up in a charity shop at least a year ago. It could well be longer. I’ve read two of Tan’s books, The Joy Luck Club and The Bonesetter’s Daughter and enjoyed them both very much, so hopefully this will be as good. One of the other categories is “a book chosen for you by your spouse, partner, sibling, child or BFF” so I’ve asked my husband to select one for me. No news on that front yet and I have no idea what he’ll choose. We both love to read but our tastes don’t entirely overlap. Anyway, I’ll start with this one Amy Tan and see how I get on. If nothing else I can take the book off the shelf (and make room for another hee hee!!)

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