Monday, 31 December 2012

A Book to Read in Bleakest January

Posted by Daisy


This year, I ticked off two items on my travel bucket list (Poland and Italy), fell in and out of love with a lovely fella, wrote lots of features and interviewed some amazingly courageous people, sorted out a long-running family issue, made some lovely new friends, started this blog and made the decision to travel next year. Now, if I could just achieve my biggest goal - quitting smoking!
Martina Reilly's latest novel 'What If' follows the lives of three women in Ireland.

Deirdre is a clenched-arsed, cardigan-wearing middle-aged woman who has never resolved her childhood issues. Her house is full of nick-nacks and old photographs of herself and the One that Got Away. She scares her co-workers at the radio station where she smokes out the window of her office every morning, presents a drab gardening programme with failing listenership, and has few friends.
Deirdre’s mother, Lily, has just been admitted to a nursing home because her Alzheimer’s disease is slowly erasing her memory. She has important things to say to her almost-estranged daughter, but just can’t organise her thoughts - when she tries to speak, her words are unintelligible. Beautiful and glamorous in her youth, a series of mishaps made her life turn on a dime, all of which she records in her blue diary. She brings the diary with her, and communicates that she wants someone to read it aloud to herself and her daughter once a week.

Zoe is a carer at Lakelands Nursing Home. Her baby-daddy is a Fun-Bobby type, who heads off to Africa with a charity for a few months every year, leaving Zoe and her son in their dismal one-bedroom flat.
The character descriptions are marvellous. There is the enigmatic hunk with a sad secret, and a seemingly brash Jerry Springer-type producer who is recruited to spice up the Gardening show. But there is also Zoe’s brother who cries when he tells the family his news, and the Lidl-shopping, black-hair-dye loving pensioner who becomes Deirdre’s best friend.

All three women have regrets about the past. But through the diary readings (and other events) they all realise that it’s up to them to change their lives. In other words, ‘If you keep doing what you’ve always done, you’ll keep getting what you’ve always got’.  
Probably as good a New Year's Eve sentiment as any.
Here are a few links from around the web:
One of my favourite poems about just letting go
A short post  about staying home on NY's Eve and baking cookies
Happy New Year!x
Disclaimer: 'The Enchanted Doors' received a complimentary copy of 'What If' from Martina Reilly. This in no way affects the review in a positive or negative way. If we thought it would affect our judgement, we would rather simply buy the book.

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Books to Read over the Christmas Holidays

Posted by Daisy
CHRISTMAS morning in our house is about smelly cheese and crackers, ice cold Leonidas tumbling around in a big gold box, smoked haddock pate washed down with litres of tea…..and books.
My father isn’t a reader, like the rest of the family. But he loves books as ornaments about the house. Every October he begins his quest for the best Christmas books to suit everyone in the family. He reads every ‘Top 100 Books of the Year’ list, spends hours browsing around Waterstones, Easons and Vibes and Scribes, and sends me email links to books he thinks my siblings might like. On Christmas morning, he arrives with a sack full of wrapped books. There is always the obligatory copy of the Fad Book of the Year e.g. a few years ago it was ‘The Man Inside the Jacket’ by Mr Tayto, and a plethora of cat-themed books for my great-auntie Eileen. This year, it’s ‘TheBook of Irish Mammies’ and a rare gem, ‘The Complete Book of Aunts'.

Some of the most worthy books (ie not chick-lit) I own end up in my bookcase as a result of my dad. Here’s a selection of this year’s haul.
And just in case you think it all sounds too civilised, here's a charming vignette of Christmas 2010. My brother arrived hungover, resembling a homeless person and fell asleep for most of the day, before projectile vomiting beside the kitchen bin after dinner. My sister’s baby got swine flu and the whole family were put into isolation in a London hospital. The dog broke into the dining room and catwalked up the table, eating the turkey carcass and leftover prawn skewers. And later, my dad sat on the dog, getting bitten on the bum and had to go to the local emergency doctor.

So the book that sums up Christmas Day entirely for me has to be:





Sunday, 23 December 2012

Books to read after 50 Shades

Posted by Jenny
I enjoyed the media hype surrounding 50 Shades. (Tom Hardy to play Christian Grey!) You’d think it was the first naughty book ever written. It certainly was a book with a tasteful non-embarrassing cover. There was no picture of a woman with her head back, hair whipping in the wind, her neck exposed with closed eyes and pouty puffed up lips open, gasping for air while a man with his muscly torso on display has his nose almost buried in her sizeable décolleté, but not without showing of the chiselled panels of his face while managing to wrap his arms the size of my thighs around her. Usually the woman has her arms pushed out as if she’s unsure whether she’s receptive of the man’s attentions. I wonder if books with these type of covers have enjoyed an increase in sales since the introduction of electronic book readers. I know that I'm not likely to sit openly in a busy waiting room with a book of a certain genre and an explicit cover. It doesn't matter how much I like to pretend that I don't care what people think.

As the fantasy reader of the trio, I have read my fair share of, as my husband puts it: vampire porn. They follow the same recipe, ie boy meets girl, girl usually doesn’t immediately like boy. Boy does his level best to win girl over by showing his hidden gentle side before biting girl. Boy then proceeds to ehm… take the girl repeatedly to never before experienced heights until reader wonders how girl is still able to walk. Then a seemingly insurmountable crisis separates boy and girl before they realize it’s not that big a deal and make up in some spectacular fashion. A guaranteed easy read that you can dip in and out of in between work 5 days a week, cooking dinner at home, changing nappies, kissing better bumped heads and scraped knees, bedtime stories, preparing lunch boxes, laundry, dishwasher, gym, tea with hubbie. I might have left out a few things.

 For those of you who enjoy a decent bit of cheesy excapism, I quite like the world Kresley Cole has created in her books. Her paranormal world “the Lore” is detailed and attractive. The “Loreans” consist of Valkyrie, Lykae, Witches to name but a few and they’re described as a separate immortal species that live amongst humans. Every 500 years or so a culmination of events leads to an Accession during which many immortals will be destroyed, but also new alliances will be formed. I like “Lothaire”, probably because the hero in this book starts off as a “baddy” who doesn’t really quite redeem himself. At the end of the book he’s still a bastard. Beware some of the covers though…. And book titles!

(Top illustration by photo credit: <a href="">sofi01</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Monday, 17 December 2012

Books to Read when You're Feeling Nostalgic

Posted By Daisy
Uncle Andrew and Digory from 'The Magician's Nephew' in The Hamlyn Wonder Book of Modern Stories
‘One of the little girls is often seen lying on her bed after school, dropping biscuit crumbs onto the pages of her latest book, accompanied only by the drum beat of the rain pelting down the slanted roof of the attic bedroom.’
There is nothing more lovely than remembering the books I loved as a child. But how have books I read as a child influenced me as an adult?

Carrie’s War by Nina Bawden
We lived in Africa for a few years when I was young. My father worked on a sugar plantation. (It was a great source of childhood mockery – my sister was a ‘zombie’ because she was born in Zambia, and we told my brothers that they were found in a reed basket on the banks of the river Nile because their birth certs said ‘Tribe’ instead of ‘Family Name.’)

My mother read this book aloud to my sister and I, each sitting in the crook of her arms on the worn brown couch in Kenana, with the whirr of the air-conditioning in the background. I was terrified of the cover image and I loved the name Hepzibah and the gobbledy-gook speaking Mister Johnny.
Anastasia Krupnik by Lois Lowry

My Fifth Class teacher, Ms Garvey, was young and beautiful, with orange corkscrew curls and bright red lipstick. She’d sit on a high chair and read aloud to us daily. She couldn’t speak for laughing when she read ‘Anastasia Krupnik’ to us. It’s the story of a ten-year-old girl who loves making lists in her green notebook. I make lists all the time. I found one recently dated five years ago. Gems include:

·         Stop reading crappy magazines and read the Financial and World news sections of the paper.

·         Read 5 worthy books to every chick lit book.

·         Stop smoking.

·         Get rid of totally unsuitable boyfriend.

·         Stop leaving the house at 9:15a.m. to make it to the other side of the city by 9:30a.m.

·         Get my car serviced without having to ask my dad.

·         Learn how to do more than just smoky-eyes make-up.
Bridge To Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

Ms Garvey’s favourite book, the once-controversial 'Bridge to Terabithia' tells the story of a friendship between Jess and Leslie. Leslie is an only-child tomboy whose family drive a dusty car and don’t have a television. Jess is a quiet boy with four noisy sisters. The ending used to make me cry.  I spoke about it on a Gay Byrne radio show children’s special in 1990, my first foray into hard-hitting journalism.

A Taste of Blackberries by Doris Buchanan Smith
There were always a few pages at the end of every children’s book, devoted to advertising with short blurbs about new books being published. I used to read the synopsis of ‘A Taste of Blackberries’ with a sort of sick dread, certain it would scare me if I read it. When I did, I was surprised by the brevity of a book which deals with such a serious theme. The book was initially rejected by publishers - they assumed nobody wanted to read a book about the death of a child.

White Boots by Noel Streatfeild

I was shocked when I discovered Noel Streatfeild was a woman. The books tells of the friendship between Harriet, a sensible girl whose family are kind but poor, and Lalla, a little rich girl who dreams of becoming a famous ice skater. I admired Lalla’s governess who used to pass the time by reciting Shakespeare plays in her head while waiting for the girls at the ice-rink.
The Growing Summer by Noel Streatfeild

Three children journey to Ireland to holiday with their crazy Great Aunt Dymphna. I loved it because the children arrive into Cork airport!

Across the Barricades by Joan Lingard
Catholic Kevin and Protestant Sadie live in a tumultuous Belfast during the 1970’s. They meet and fall in love to the chagrin of their family and friends. I fancied the front-cover Kevin with his quiff hairstyle and grown-up coat and thought blond-haired, blue-eyed Sadie was beautiful.
Ballet Shoes by Noel Streatfeild
Pauline, Petrova and Posy Fossil are adopted by a palaeontologist, Great Uncle Matthew, and sent to live with a nanny in England. He disappears and Nana takes in boarders to make ends meet. One of the boarders, Mr Simpson befriends tomboy Petrova, telling her about his work for Citroën and rubber-producing in Kuala Lumpar. This book made me yearn to travel to the exotic-sounding KL – when I eventually got there, it wasn’t nearly as wondrous as I had imagined.

Goodnight Mister Tom and Back Home by Michelle Magorian

Both books deal with evacuation during the Second World War. I wanted to be Rusty from ‘Back Home’, an American girl who wore LL Bean clothes, wove rag rugs, and had a party to celebrate her first period.
‘Goodnight Mister Tom’ describes mental illness, death and friendship. I never forgot the scene where Mister Tom finds Willie locked in a cupboard in his London home, hugging the stiff body of his dead baby sister. I was reminded of it years later when a local mother put a nappy on her autistic ten-year-old son and locked him in his bedroom for days. One summer, her boyfriend beat the little boy. I knew the boy and always equated him with Willie Beech.
Pollyanna by Eleanor H Porter

Pollyanna loved playing the ‘Glad Game’ where she would find a silver lining in any situation. Sometimes my friends gently mock me for being too positive – I am over-enthusiastic after exercise, and my workmates always laugh at me as I make my way up the carvery station in the canteen, heaping compliments at the food in front of me. Apparently, one company made a ‘Glad Game’ board game in 1915, and ‘Glad Game’ clubs sprung up throughout the world after the book was released. Sign me up, I say.

More Stories for Seven Year Olds and Other Young Readers Ed. Sara and Stephen Corrin

I loved the Joan Aiken story ‘A Necklace of Raindrops’, in which the North Wind gives a little girl a new raindrop every year to add to her necklace. The necklace keeps her dry in the heaviest rainfall, enables her to swim in the deepest river, protects her from the worst storms, and enables her to make the rain stop simply by clapping her hands. But one day her necklace is stolen by a jealous friend.

‘The Baker’s Daughter’ told the story of the haughty baker’s daughter who tried to impress a classmate by stealing a beautiful cake from her father’s shop window. Her plan goes awry when the cake is cut and it turns out to be nothing but an iced cardboard shell.

The Hamlyn Wonder Book of Modern Stories
Sometimes all you need to remember your childhood is the front cover of a book. I was thrilled to find this in my mother's house yesterday.


Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Books to read when recovering from a Sumo Deadlift!

Posted by Jenny

Picking up where I left off on a previous entry about learning squats I would like to proudly announce that I have managed to learn the basics involved, although I still get the occasional “Lower!” and “Lean back!” shouted at me. I credit my achievements to having managed to maintain a basic level of fitness in between having babies with walking (to the car) and running (after kids). The Fundamentals Course in Strength and Conditioning is now finished and I have progressed on to the normal classes. Go me!

  Last Monday I did my first “Heavy – Legs” class, during which the focus was on the Sumo Deadlift. So there I was, standing in a wide stance, lifting a bar with weights while using the power in my legs, instead of arms and back. The maximum I was able to lift was 60 kg. I was chuffed enough with myself, considering this is my first time doing it. Onwards and upwards, right? (other women lift 90 kg or more….)

  Well…. I paid for it the following day. The alarm went off as usual at 6am and instead of rolling over and silencing it, I had to do a five point turn to achieve the same thing. It was the first physical reminder of the fact that I’m not 18 anymore, nor 21. The pain in my back was like someone had ripped out the muscles, torn them all up, stamped on them for good measure before shoving them all back in. Surprise!

  It turned out to be one of those rare occasions that I wore flat (ish) footwear to work. It was a physical impossibility to wear my usual heels.


This weeks’ book recommendation isn’t a book! It’s a cartoon… Take your kids (or borrow your sister’s) to see “Rise of the Guardians” in the cinema! I laughed out loud a few times. I love the idea of Santa having NAUGHTY and NICE tattooed on his forearms. It was a great way to start the Christmas season.

Monday, 10 December 2012

A Book to Read when You've been Dumped by Vagn

Posted by Daisy


I ONCE got turned off a guy when I discovered he had an electric blanket. And I knew there was something fundamentally wrong with a 7-year relationship because my boyfriend didn’t eat cheese. I discarded another man after one date because he told me he wouldn’t wear socks that cost less than €20. And dropped another man because even though he drove a gold BMW, he consistently hung back at the bar, waiting for me to buy the first round. At the cinema, he bought the tickets and then told me he was on a diet and refused to buy popcorn. I met a very nice man on a blind date a few years ago. Nice, except that his two front teeth were black. Fed up, I rang my sister (my Voice of Reason) to find out if I should meet him again, even though I wasn’t attracted to him. She told me never to compromise on oral hygiene. Another man was gorgeous, with blue eyes, tanned skin and a perfectly faded t-shirt – but he told me at length about his addiction to spinning classes and an obsession with calorie counting, while scanning the bar for attractive women.

I spent two years dating a lovely guy who had no job and no intention of ever getting one. I knew we had no future, but every time I called up to his house to break up with him, I would be seduced by his rude good looks. My most recent ex-boyfriend loved telling me long, rambly stories – I’d simply tune out and gaze at his tattoos and muscles instead.

I’m renouncing good-looks, muscles, motorbikes and danger. The next man I date will be short and bald – and going out with him will make my cheeks ache from too much first-thing-in-the-morning laughing in bed.

I decided to test my brains-over-brawn theory last weekend. So I kissed a guy for the first time since my break-up three months ago. Instead of choosing the handsome, designer goatee’d man in the tight grey, slightly girly, cowl-kneck jumper, I opted for the fun, generous guy who looked like Vagn from The Killing. He spun me around on the dance floor, made me laugh and bought me drinks while keeping a suitable distance throughout the night, allowing me to have fun with my friends.

He sent a lovely text the next morning, and in my hungover state I answered semi-sarcastically. And never heard from him again. The next day I felt guilty and texted him to say so. The reply I got was ‘Who’s dis?’ Seriously.

I read Niamh Greene’s ‘A Message to your Heart’ snuggled up in bed with tea and chocolate on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. On the Chick-Lit O Meter, where Marian Keyes is at the top, and Cecelia Ahern* is at the bottom, this book fits in somewhere in the middle. It’s a flighty book about lost mobile phones, a heroine who works too hard, a dead girl, a grieving Italian mama, and an affair with a married man. But there’s also a good portrayal of San Francisco, a curmudgeonly author attempting a second novel, an Italian restaurant and a good-looking hero. Everything works out in the end, which is what I want when reading chick-lit.

My give-away this week is ‘A Message to your Heart’ – all neatly wrapped and ready. Leave a comment and it’s yours.
*I just haven't liked any of the books subsequent to 'PS I Love You', which I loved.