Altogether moving: Together by Juliet Cohen

On a seemingly ordinary morning, eighty year old Robbie leaves his partner Emily, sleeping in bed, changes his clothes, feeds their dogs then does something that will completely shatter Emily’s world. ‘Together’, begins on this day, the last day of Robbie’s life, and slowly tells Robbie and Emily’s story backwards, from 2016 back to 1962. As Cohen unfolds their story, Robbie’s motives for his actions that morning slowly become clearer as a secret emerges which even their beloved son can never know, and which the couple have spent their lives running from.

A warning though, ‘Together’ requires a constant stash of Kleenex from page one. In the first part of this story Robbie and Emily are celebrating 43 love filled years together along with their beloved son and grandchildren in Maine. They have been grounded and highly successful in their professional lives – Emily as a doctor and Robbie as a boat builder- but with Robbie showing the early signs of Alzheimer’s, it is clear that their time together is drawing to a close. From then on, Cohen takes us back to each integral moment in the couple’s relationship, from their meeting, to their decision to very much sacrifice everything to be together, to the final big reveal that will leave you stunned, rapt, and thanks to Julie Cohen’s beautiful writing, ultimately moved.

‘Together’ is frequently being referred to as a love story, but Cohen’s gift for brilliant characterization and unique story telling make this so much more. If you love David Nicholls ‘One Day’ or Jojo Moyes’ ‘Me Before You’ this compelling and unpredictable story is an ideal match for you.

Like Em and Dex in David Nicholls ‘One Day’, Robbie and Emily are complex, fun and vivid characters that are a joy to read about. Readers very much love and invest in them from page one.
Cohen’s understated yet passionate and moving writing very much helps to create this, and while some may find the reversed timeline a little difficult to get their head around at first, this unique structure works perfectly for Cohen’s story. The narrative is well thought out and I found myself going back and rereading passages again, immersing myself in the couple’s memories and story more and more, as moments seemed to take on whole new meanings.

Robbie and Emily have stayed in my mind for days since reading this beautiful novel. I loved every moment of my time with them and was left wanting more. Beautifully written, thought provoking, and clever in so many ways, ‘Together’ is a book that will leave you gripped from start to finish. Just remember to grab that stash of Kleenex and put aside a solid day to get through this wonderful novel because trust me, once you start you won’t be putting this down.

by Julie Cohen
Published by Hachette New Zealand
ISBN: 9781409171744

Review: The Fox and the Ghost King

Cover of The Fox and the Ghost KingWhat do you get when you cross foxes with football and the ghost of King Richard III?

Give up?

Well, I’ll tell you. You get Michael Morpurgo’s The Fox and the Ghost King, that’s what. It’s a pretty odd sounding combo, I know, but the result is a really sweet against-the-odds, underdog (or should that be underfox?) story.

It’s a little bit of fairy-tale blended with a little bit of history, and a whole lot of pluck.

Cover of The Tale of Jemima PuddleduckI don’t know any foxes personally, but think they have a bit of a bad rap. They are usually portrayed as villains – the Sandy Whiskered Gentleman in Jemima Puddleduck, for example.  But they are so darn cute, I’m sure they don’t really deserve it, do they? The fox family in this story are definitely on the cute side, anyway.

What I didn’t know about foxes is that they are football fans. And no matter where they live, their favourite team is Leicester City, otherwise known as The Foxes (naturally). Now, what I didn’t know about foxes is far surpassed by what I didn’t know about football. I know now that Leicester City have long been the underdogs of the Premier League, till in 2015-16 when a little bit of magic turned things around for them. This bit of the story really is true. The other bit of truth in the story is the discovery of Richard III’s body – under a carpark if you recall.

The magical bit is the way that Michael Morpurgo weaves these threads together, telling the tale through the eyes of a cute and cheeky little fox cub. Odd combo it may be, but it definitely makes a fabulous read for a small person.

Further reading

Finding Gobi

I was so glad I got the chance to read Finding Gobi as I have been following Dion and Gobi’s story via the news and social media for some time.


Written in the third person, the story almost has a fiction feel, even though you know it is true. It is a light and easy read, suitable for young and old.

It tells the story of Dion, an ultramarathon runner, who is competing in a gruelling 155 mile race across the unforgiving Gobi Desert. A stray dog chooses Dion as her owner, even though Dion didn’t realise it at the time. After the first day of running beside Dion, crossing rivers, sharing his food and bed, It didn’t take long for the determined little yet to be named “Gobi” to melt his heart.

There really isn’t a lot to say, other than if you love heart-warming stories about, dogs, determination, resilience, love, and  friendship, this book is for you.  A truly heart-warming story for all dog lovers.

Tania Cook

Finding Gobi: The True story of one little dog’s big journey
by Dion Leonard
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008244521

Gardening in the best possible taste

Cover of Grow for flavourNothing makes my day like a “hold available” notification from CCL for a crisp new garden book, and this week I got my hands on a real gem. Grow for Flavour by James Wong (of Grow Your Own Drugs fame – not nearly as dodgy as it sounds) is a fresh ray of light in a forest of glossy gardening books that look pretty, but can sometimes be a bit guilty of repeating much the same information.

Don’t get me wrong, Grow for Flavour is very a attractive volume indeed (who can resist an author who photographs his Star Wars figurines in his garden shots?), but it’s not just a pretty publication. It’s full of interesting facts and innovative ideas for getting the best flavours out of your home produce.

Wong argues that much of our gardening ‘wisdom’ is based on (British) Victorian gardening practice – essentially the time when yield was beginning to be prized over flavour, a sad trend that’s come to its lacklustre fruition in our supermarkets today. This book is a strike back in defense of taste. It’s full of simple ways to boost flavour in all sort of fruit and vege crops – and the thing I love best is that all of its tips are firmly rooted in science. (You see what I did there?)

Yep, Wong is a scientist as well as a herbalist and a gardener, which means that his observations, remedies and treatments all have solid scientific research behind them – a nice change in this subject area, where solutions are so often presented without a lick of evidence stronger than “Well my great Aunt Hilda swears by it!”

It’s one of those books I think my partner secretly hates. Inevitably, when I get hold of a volume like this, his quiet evening will be peppered with interruptions along the lines of “Hey, did you know I hate coriander because I have the OR6A2 gene that makes it taste like soap and bleach?” or “Can I turn the laundry bin into a fungus farm?” It’s not uncommon for these exclamations to turn completely nonsensical, like “Aspirin and molasses on tomatoes? Genius!” (Well, it made sense to me…)

We’re well into planting season now, so grab a copy today. You too can be making inscrutable garden related exclamations in no time…

The Atomic Weight of Love

Book cover of The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J ChurchThe Atomic Weight of Love is the debut novel of Elizabeth J. Church and I hope we see a lot more books from her. This book is an ideal Christmas present. It appeals to a wide audience and will make a great holiday read and is not without a little racy love interest.

Meridian has won a place at the University of Chicago where she studies ornithology working towards a graduate degree and eventual doctorate. Just as her wings are opening and she starts to glimpse new horizons she falls in love with a college professor two decades older than herself and her wings are clipped.

It is written in a memoir style following Meridian as a woman growing up in the 1940s through the fifties and sixties into the seventies and the emergence of women’s liberation. You will find yourself reflecting at times how so much has changed yet still remains the same.

Meri marries Alden and follows him to Los Alamos where she attempts to fit into the group of ex-academic wives she meets there. It is the era when a wife is expected to follow their husband and make the best of it. She struggles to be a good wife while salvaging something of her studies by continuing to study Crows, having left her graduate study dreams behind her.

The novel’s dual strands, the place of women with the emergence of the women’s liberation movement, and the atomic bomb with its resulting anti-war Vietnam and Korean war movements, almost splits it characters by gender over its two themes.

Some of the characters could do with more development – they feel a little clichéd. It seems women have little to say on war in this novel and men little say on the home front. Even for the times this feels a little stretched. She skims over the women who Meridian meets in Los Alamos except her best friend Belle, a strong woman who urges her not to minimise herself yet when it comes to the crunch still tells her to stay in her marriage and try to make it work.

That being said bird studies draw amusing parallels between human and bird society. Each section of the novel starts with an ornithological reference “A Parliament of Owls”, “A Deceit of Lapwings, “A Murder of Crows”. When Meridian meets Clay, a young hippie ex-marine about two decades younger than her, it seems they are about to repeat past mistakes. Her husband seems not to understand her sacrifice while her lover urges her to soar again.

Read the novel to find out if she does.

It is an enjoyable debut novel with a poetical style and reminds me of The Guernsey Potato Peel Literary Society, The Light between Oceans and The Shipping news. If you like nature and have a slightly scientific bent you will enjoy it and even learn a little physics on the way.

The Atomic Weight of Love
by Elizabeth J. Church
Published by HarperCollins New Zealand
ISBN: 9780008209292

A magnificent disaster, or a really good read?

Cover of Crinoline: Fashion's most magnificent disasterI’m a sucker for Victorian fashion, the sillier the better – and it’s hard to beat the Victorian crinoline for ingenuity, ridiculousness, and sheer presence. So I was pretty excited to get my hands on a shiny new copy of Crinoline: fashion’s most magnificent disaster.

Co-authored by Denis Pellerin and Dr Brian May (yes, that Brian May – no stranger to extreme fashion himself), Crinoline documents the rise and fall (metaphorically!) of this most capacious of undergarments through a rather unexpected record – stereoscopic images. It’s a sumptuous boxed set, containing a richly illustrated history and a stereoscopic viewer (designed by May, patent pending). This nifty little fold-up apparatus allows you to see the images in the book in 3D, as they should be viewed.

Victorian crinoline
Crinoline, circa 1869, United Kingdom, by W.S. & E.H. Thomson. Gift of Elizabeth Ridder, 2000. CC BY-NC-ND licence. Te Papa (GH007988)

The second work by the pair on this subject, the book is meticulously researched and very readable. Through 3D images and other documentary history, we get a real sense of the outrage, amusement, and titillation the undergarment caused in Victorian “social media” – cartoons, pamphlets, periodicals, and that hugely popular parlour entertainment, the stereoscopic viewer.

The crinoline was actually a huge (sorry!) improvement on previous womenswear fashions, replacing the layers of heavy petticoats needed to achieve fashionably bell-shaped skirts. Its lightness and ease of movement was a liberation (and also an excellent personal space generator – I can attest to this, having worn a couple to fancy dress events). However it also had its hazards: there were many cases of women being horrifically injured, or even killed, when their crinolines caught fire, became caught in trams, or suffered other wince-inducing vehicular mishaps.

When I first came across mention of Crinoline, I thought the combination of topics could be a little forced or gimmicky, but this really isn’t the case. Pellerin and May have actually hit upon a very real convergence of two tremendously popular coexisting technologies that, when looked at together, provide a vivid and altogether fascinating glimpse of Victorian fashion and attitudes.

More information

Lyttelton Library

Mockingbird Songs

There are very few books that I would give five stars to in a review, however Mockingbird Songs is one.

Cover of Mockingbird SongsR. J. Ellory is one of my favourite authors and I have enjoyed many of his award winning novels. However with his latest novel Mockingbird Songs I felt he had taken his writing to a different level due to the descriptive prose and the depth of characterisation.

This novel is set in a small town in West Texas and is essentially a tale about two brothers, Ethan and Carson, who have had a complex relationship from early childhood because of one parent favouring one brother over the other. The ill feeling that comes from this one-sided relationship simmers throughout their teenage years  and is further complicated as a result of their ongoing rivalry for their childhood sweetheart.

A powerful story unfolds, about keeping a promise no matter the outcome because of loyalty to a friend. A very dark tale, a tale of  revenge, hidden secrets of a lost daughter. At times it felt like a very long journey, a saga as well as a mystery.

Cover of I Know This Much Is TrueCompelling reading. R. J. Ellory hooked me in from the very beginning. I found this to be a ‘can’t put down’ novel and was very fortunate to be able to read it when I had time on my hands; otherwise there may not have been much done around the house for a few days and takeaways may have been on the menu!

Another absorbing read about two brothers is I Know This Much Is True, by Wally Lamb. This story is about twin brothers, with one brother feeling totally responsible for the other and how that affects his life. I would rate I Know This Much Is True as a four star novel.

Are there any novels about siblings that you’d particularly recommend?

A rollickin’ good yarn

Cover of The Fair FightAfter reading two bleak stories I needed a complete change. For this reason I chose an historical first novel by Anna Freeman titled The Fair Fight. It turned out to be a rollickin’ good yarn from beginning to end.

When I read historical fiction I want to be transported to another time and place. I want true characters that I can commit to and stories I can believe in. I want real voices and language that evokes the period of the time. I was lucky as Anna Freeman skilfully and naturally blends these elements to create a story that comes alive.

From the first pages I was immersed in 18th century Bristol where pugilists, brothels, brawling and gambling rule the day. I enjoyed discovering and absorbing new/old words like “mollies”, “pugs”, “cullies”, and “swells”.

Three of the main characters, Ruth, Charlotte and George, are the storytellers with each voice adding suspense and vibrancy to the drama. This is a well realised and oftentimes brutal tale.

elizabeth stokesBy the end I wanted to know more about women and boxing during these times so turned to the 17th – 18th Century Burney Collection of Historical Newspapers available from the library.

I found an advertisement from Oct 1st, 1726, about a Mary Welch and Elizabeth Stokes. They talk up their fighting skills to excite readers and announce they will “mount at Four” and “fight in cloth Jackets, short Petticoats coming just below the Knee, Holland Drawers, white Stockings, and Pumps”. Cor blimey!

A fascinating account that all started with historical fiction.

And I’m still trying to clear the clutter…

Cover of Inside storiesWell, I think I chose completely the wrong time to de-clutter the house. Mr K is working on a DIY bathroom re-do which means that the house is currently strewn with boxes of things that would live in the bathroom, but can’t, as well as a plethora of tools and plumbing supplies. Once he’s finished though, I reckon the bathroom will definitely be “magazine worthy” – at least until I clutter it up!

Needless to say, I haven’t made an awful lot of progress on the clutter front, but I’m working on forming a couple of good habits that I think will help. For example, I am trying to take my shoes off and put them away as soon as I come home, rather than kicking them off when I sit down for the evening, which meant that virtually every pair of shoes I owned regularly migrated to my spot on the couch.

I’ve made some progress in my sewing room, and I’ve decided that the best thing to do in there is to finish all my UFOs (no, I don’t mean flying saucers, I mean “Un-Finished Objects”) so I’ve made myself a goal not to start any new projects till I’ve finished all the things I’ve already got started.  Or at the very least, to finish more than I start.  Now I’m wondering if things count as “started” if I’ve already bought the fabric? What if I’ve already got it planned, but not bought anything yet? And of course I had to make an exception for the Young Lad’s pirate costume for book day at preschool (he went as Cut-throat Jake from the Captain Pugwash books, and he looked fantastic!). But I have finished some curtains that have been hanging around un-hemmed for longer than I care to mention, so at least that’s progress.

If you want to join me on the clutter crusade, here is a quick review of some of the books I’ve read:

The accidental Organiser: When I first picked up this book, I was a bit un-enthused about it, I mean, it’s got no pictures to look at and keep my interested. But I actually enjoyed reading it.  The best tip for me was:

If you need or love it then keep it. If you think someone else expects you to need or love it, get rid of it.

I also really liked Wendy Davie’s de-cluttering playlist. What a great idea to put on some boogie music and wash that clutter right out of your hair!

I used her tips to help me defragment my sewing room. I can now get in the door without tripping over something, and I can see my work table again! And I found a couple of pairs of trousers for the Young Lad that I’d totally forgotten about – I’d put them in there so I could take the hems up…well they fit him now, so that saves me a job!

I think this is a great book to use if you have a spare room that you need to clear a mountain of junk from.

Cover of What's a disorganized person to doWhat’s A Disorganized Person to Do? has lots of pretty pictures and will suit you if you like lists, since it is really a list of 300-odd organising ideas. Some of the ideas are really great, some seemed rather obvious, and others just left me scratching my head. After reading Stacey Platt’s “kitchen drawer theory” I’ve decided that I’m not so much lazy as a reverse-kleptomaniac – I don’t steal things without realising I’m doing it – I’m forever putting things down without noticing. I really think my brain is just wired that way.

Living Normally made me think that my house is a lot more “normal” than the ones in this book (!) and that if they can get their houses in a book, then maybe my house is “magazine worthy” after all!

Organizing for Dummies looked quite promising, but I really didn’t find anything useful. It’s really a very basic DIY book with a couple of tips on organising thrown in. Check it out if you think you’d like to know how to make a bedside table out of a rubbish bin (I won’t be making one, myself!).

Cover of Banish Clutter foreverBanish Clutter Forever: Sheila Chandra “had me at hello” by asking if I aspired to a home like the picture-perfect abodes in magazines.  I like her theory that things need to be organised by function rather than type, and then I realised that I actually already do that, for the most part. The thing I will take with me from this book is that

Your house won’t stay tidy (however beautiful your storage boxes) until you make the habit of ‘completion’ automatic.

In other words, if I want my house to stay clutter free, I need to learn to put things back where they are needed IMMEDIATELY. I think most of the clutter is stuff that I started and didn’t finish, whether it is the mail (did I deal with those bills and file them? No, I just left them on the end of the bench), the laundry (did I put away that folded laundry? No, it’s still sitting in a pile on the arm of the couch), or a craft project (I know I won’t have a chance to work on that quilt again for weeks, did I leave all the bits spread on my work table? Yes. Along with the bits of half finished toys, and new blouses, and dresses, and mending, and the left over bits from Christmas gifts I made…). Yup, I just need to learn to finish what I start, including the tidying up at the end (Mr K has been telling me this for years “tidy as you go!”)

My best piece of advice: pick ONE book to get ideas, and then get down and DO something about your clutter!!

As for my house, well, our special-order bathroom vanity has just been finished, so all Mr K has to do now is put the cabinet handles on, fit the sink top, and plumb in the taps. Then the bathroom will be all done! Then I’ll be able to put everything back in the bathroom, and really get stuck in to the de-cluttering… Oh, I guess that means I’ve got work to do… No more excuses, gotta get down and DO something!

The Believers by Zoe Heller

Notes on a scandal
Notes on a scandal
Zoe Heller is the author of two previous novels, Everything you need to know, and the Booker nominated Notes on a scandal (also made into a movie starring Judi Dench and Cate Blanchett). Like these two novels The Believers is full of dreadful characters who make reading a real pleasure!

The awful Audrey is married to Joe Lativinoff, a radical New York lawyer who suffers a massive stroke leaving him in a coma.  Audrey is by far the star of the book, and is one of those people who likes to “tell it as it is”…

She had never felt guilty about her lack of maternal zeal.  Hers was the sane response to motherhood, she thought.  The shiny eyed parenting maniacs she encountered when she dropped her daughters off at school…..they  were the crazy ones.

Her daughter Karla suffers stoically from her mother’s jibes about her weight, while other daughter Rosa risks her mother’s wrath when she announces that she is going to follow a path to become an Orthodox Jew.

Audrey laughed…”My beliefs are based on observable fact and scientific deduction.  Rosa thinks there’s an old man in the sky who has a F………. heart attack every time a time a Jew eats a prawn!”

Lenny, the adopted son is the only one of her children for who Audrey feels any true affection.  His addiction to heroin is not of huge concern to Audrey, and in fact it keeps him close by and in need of her constant support.  Her son’s sponsor, who, has the temerity to suggest that “family is often a big part of an addict’s problem” gets a frosty, “excuse me” in response.

At times there was a sense of disbelief that a family such as this could really exist, but the writing is so good that I felt myself increaslingly drawn into the ghastly drama of it all.  Would Audrey become a nicer character and realise her faults, was it possible that Lenny had kicked his addiction, could the impossibly good Karla have an affair with the local newsagent, and would Rosa don a wig and a headscarf and head off to Israel?

To find all this out you will have to read the book – and perhaps there will be a film, I could think of some wonderful actresses of a “certain age” who would make a wonderful Audrey.