Thursday 29 September 2011

Review: - Olga: A Daughter's Tale by Marie- Therese Browne

I have to admit to being totally rubbish about blog stuff ever since I got back from honeymoon. I have no excuses, but the putting away of wedding presents in amalgamation with the working full time has taken up lots of my energy. Also, since getting married (and I know this is really cliché and probably very anti-feminist of me), I’ve felt more like I need to work on our house, and make it more a home and less a place that’s full of stuff. To be honest I think that’s a feeling also shared by my husband, but anyway! Here I am, and I’m going to attempt a long overdue review of Olga: A Daughter’s Tale by Marie- Therese Browne. This book was sent to me many months ago by the author, and I’ve been terrible at getting my act together to first read, and now review it. However, here I finally am, and despite the madness of life at the moment, I read and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I come from a really big, crazy family, and the fundamental sense of knowing who I am and where I belong has always been hugely important to me. On top of that, I am also very interested in genealogy, and have been compiling my family tree from a really young age – thanks to research done by my grandfather, I’ve traced on branch of it all the way back to the 1700s. The premise of this novel greatly interested me, as it is all about a woman discovering her mother’s past and family for the first time, and about the things which can happen to split even the closest of families up.
From Goodreads:
Based on a true story, Olga Browney born in Jamaica into a large close-knit, coloured Catholic family was a kind naive, gentle girl who came to London in 1939 intending to stay only six months with her malevolent, alcoholic aunt. But world events, personal tragedy and malicious intent prevented her from returning home to Jamaica until over half a century later when her past caught up with her.
The story starts off with Lucy, Olga’s aunt, and her arrival in Jamaica. It tells of how Lucy’s sisters, Martha and Becky, come to visit her, and of Becky’s love affair and eventual marriage to  Henry, a black man. In 1900 this was totally scandalous, and Becky is completely cut off by her entire family except Lucy, however, she stays in Jamaica with her eleven children, despite eventually splitting up with Henry. The majority of the novel focuses on Olga, Becky’s ninth child and mother of the author, and her story. Told through diary entries and starting with her life in Jamaica, the story recounts her journey to England, to stay with drunken, cruel Aunt Martha, her decision to train as a nurse, and her prevention from returning to Jamaica due to World War 2. It follows Olga through brutal events, the birth of her daughter, and her eventual reunion with her family, fifty years after her last contact with them.
The novel reads like a story that has been told countless times before. It is a family saga in the proper sense of the word . When I was a child, there was a certain story my dad used to tell, about ‘the time Uncle John took him fishing’, which he had told to us so often we could basically narrate along with him, and this novel brought that to mind. Knowing that it was a story which the author was hearing pretty much for the first time as she was writing it, I was very impressed with the sense of nostalgia and historical immersion that she portrays. For me, the book was very well written, and I did feel transported at times while reading it, to Jamaica, a place that I’ve never been, but also to 1940s London.
Everything within the novel is told from the point of view of the women; Lucy, Becky, and Olga herself primarily, but with an introduction and epilogue by Marie- Therese Browne. In fact, the only men to feature in the novel at all are presented in an almost totally negative light. However, it does give the feeling of being an honest telling of a story, and it doesn’t dwell on the meanness of men. The men who feature – Olga’s father, Henry, her brother, Sydney, and the father of her child, John Edward, are talked about only when they are present within the story. There is not much thought about them when they are not there, nor really much dwelling on things which have happened, and I liked that. Despite the extreme difficulty of her circumstances at times, Olga’s story always moves forwards, and by the end of the book I had developed a tremendous amount of respect for a woman raising a child in such difficult circumstances.
It is a very eventful novel, which was one of the things I found engaging about it. It was very easy to read because to a certain extent, it picked you up and carried you away with it. It was also a really interesting look at the way in which non-British people were treated during and immediately after the war, and throughout the often terrible situations and events, Olga retains a certain naive innocence which I loved.
It’s a fairly short book, and a very quick read, and if you are interested in the 1940s, or in family sagas, then I would fully recommend reading it. You can find out more about the author and her novel over at her blog

Monday 19 September 2011

Married :-)

Hey everybody, I'm back! The wedding and honeymoon were awesome, and now it's back to work and business as usual :-) Unfortunately, though, I will still be less active than usual on the blog front. Some things have happened which require my time. I can't talk about them, but basically there are a few people who need looking after, and I need to be available to be there for them. I will still be posting at least once a week, and hopefully more often when possible, and am by no means going 'on hiatus' or anything so drastic, but just wanted to explain (ish) why I may be around less than usual! I am missing blogging loads, and miss keeping up with all your awesomeness. I promise I will be back soon. Meanwhile, here is a picture from the wedding :-)

This is me doing my 'aren't I so awesome' face... it's hugely sarcastic, and basically what I do whenever someone points a camera at my face, or gives me a compliment...

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Review: - The Lady of the Rivers by Philippa Gregory

I'm not actually back yet, I'm just posting this as it should have been posted last week but I ran out of time with all the wedding madness going on! There will be a specific post about all that craziness for those of you lovely supportive people who are interested, and I will be back to regularly (ish) scheduled posting next week. For now, I'm going to get back to the wonderfully relaxing Yorkshire countryside, and leave you with this!

The Lady of the Rivers is the new book in Philippa Gregory’s series about the women involved in the Wars of the Roses. It comes out on September 15th, and I would have posted about it sooner except that as many of you know, I got married on Saturday and have been stuck in wedding chaos/on honeymoon ever since! However, I did manage to finish the book in the run up to the wedding, and it did a great job of calming my nerves!
The two books in the series so far – The White Queen and The Red Queen – have focused respectively on Elizabeth Woodville the wife of Edward IV, and Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII. The Lady of the Rivers is about a woman whom I found to be profoundly interesting throughout both of the previous novels; Elizabeth Woodville’s mother, Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Many of Gregory’s novels highlight the religious and the supernatural and the differences between devoutness and witchcraft, and this novel does so in possibly the most positive way of any of her novels I’ve read so far. As I already knew from reading The White Queen, Jacaquetta’s family are supposedly descended from Melusina, a spirit of the water who married a man on the condition that he never come into her rooms on a Sunday. For many years they were married, but eventually he broke the condition and saw her in her natural form; half woman, half serpent. He was unable to accept her for what she truly was. Desolated, she left him taking their daughters with her but returned to sing around the house whenever a member of her family died. This mystical lineage has also left many of the women of the family with some supernatural powers, and Jacquetta is one of them. As a young girl, she reads the tarot cards for Joan of Arc, and accidentally foretells her death, and this is just the beginning of her forays. At the age of 17 she is married to the Duke of Bedford, who wants to use her powers, along with her innocence and purity in his quest for the elixir of life. Following his death, Jacquetta falls in love with his squire, Richard Woodville, and they eventually marry. The marriage was fairly epic, producing something like sixteen children, and the novel spans many years, many battles, and many births. It tells the tale of the very beginnings of the Wars of the Roses; when England began to fight itself.
In previous of Gregory’s novels concerning witchcraft, such as The White Queen and The Wise Woman, the supernatural has felt very sinister at times, but in The Lady of the Rivers, with the exception of one particular time, the mysticism feels very benign. Jacquetta learns early on that cursing people is unpredictable, and only uses her powers for herself or in extreme need from that point onwards. I really liked that about her – there is nothing evil about her, she uses her abilities only in order to help her family.
I really enjoyed this book. For me, the amount of work and research that Philippa Gregory obviously puts into her books is just phenomenal. Alongside The Lady of the Rivers, I was also sent a non-fiction book entitled The Women of the Cousins War: The Duchess, the Queen, and the King’s Mother, which is three essays – one each about Jacquetta Rivers, Elizabeth Woodville, and Margaret Beaufort. I’ve just started reading it, and it is absolutely fascinating. Because there is often nowhere near as much research on the women of the time as on the men, there is a lot more work to be done in uncovering their stories, and Gregory does such a good job with merging fact and fiction that it is almost impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.
The thing that I loved most about the novel was the development of Jacquetta herself. The novel begins with her as a young girl and ends with her as an older woman, watching her daughter and her grandchildren go out to meet a king, and her progression from innocent child to strong, dignified and almost regal woman who can survive anything is really thoroughly done and very believable. The story immersed me without me even noticing, and as always with Gregory’s books, I came away from it feeling immeasurably more informed than when I began. I will be very interested to see where she goes next after this novel, as she comes pretty much full circle to the beginning of The White Queen.
There is a lot more that I could say about The Lady of the Rivers, but I don’t want to ruin it for anybody. With every book I read I become a bigger fan of Philippa Gregory’s work. I was really overly excited when I got the book from Simon and Schuster, and if they hadn’t sent it to me I would have been out the door to buy it the moment it came out! It’s a brilliant blend of scandal, intrigue, betrayal, and brilliant women standing up for themselves, and I loved it.

Rating: *****

Thursday 1 September 2011

I'm About to Be an Absenteeeeeeee!

Hello all. Sorry I've not been so bloggy lately, and that this is going to be (yet another) apology for lack of forthcoming bloggyness, but tomorrow will be my last day of work for two weeks, as I'm going off to get married!! I am so excited it's actually beyond all belief, and I am going back to my mums for a week before the wedding to hang out with my family and generally prepare, plus having my first fitting for the dress, which I'm a bit scared about (don't worry, my Aunty is making it, so it's ok that I've left it this late..). I've just sorted out a big pile of books to take with me for this week, and the week of honeymoon following our wedding, and caused my fiance to sigh heavily, while then immediately going 'oh, actually, can you add those graphic novels we bought yesterday? and that Neil Gaiman book in the front room? Oh! And also, also, I might go and buy The Carpet People tomorrow'. These are the things that make me happy.

Speaking of things that make me happy, I arrived home today to find not only my next book from the Transworld Book Group Challenge, but ALSO two unrequested books from the lovely people at Simon & Schuster. Such a brilliant day! I should really be packing, as I'm leaving straight from work tomorrow and as yet my 'luggage' is a pile of stuff surrounding a holdall in the middle of the bedroom floor, but instead I'm going to show you guys a pretty picture of the pile of books I'm hoping to read in the next two weeks. I will hopefully be posting the odd review, but I know you'll understand if I'm a bit silent!

The top one is my next Transworld Book Group book, and the bottom two are the ones from Simon & Schuster. I won't lie, I'll probably be reading the Philippa Gregory next, and I'm also very excited about Fun Home, as it's part of my recent desire to expand the kinds of graphic novels I read. I know I won't read all of these but I do like to have some variety!

And now I'm off to do my packing. Or eat pasta bake, get stuck into my new book, and generally ignore everything wedding related I have to do! See you all in a couple of weeks :-)