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Dancing Shoes

Sally Red Shoes Book Cover Sally Red Shoes
Ruth Hogan
death, bereavement, romance, literary fiction
Two Roads
(3 May 2018)

Masha's life has stopped. Once a spirited, independent woman with a rebellious streak, her life has been forever changed by a tragic event twelve years ago. Unable to let go of her grief, she finds solace in the silent company of the souls of her local Victorian cemetery and at the town's lido, where she seeks refuge underwater - safe from the noise and the pain.

But a chance encounter with two extraordinary women - the fabulous and wise Kitty Muriel, a convent girl-turned-magician's wife-turned-seventy-something-roller-disco-fanatic, and the mysterious Sally Red Shoes, a bag lady with a prodigious voice - opens up a new world of possibilities, and the chance to start living again. But just as Masha dares to imagine the future, the past comes roaring back ...

 

Like her bestselling debut, The Keeper of Lost Things, Ruth Hogan's second novel introduces a cast of wonderful characters, both ordinary and charmingly eccentric, who guide us through a moving exploration of the simple human connections that make life worth living.

In homage to this book I visited Abney Garden cemetery. This is technically an Arboretum and was planted with 2500 trees when first opened, many of them being unusual species brought in by the local nurseryman in Stokey, who at that time had the largest greenhouse  in Europe. Sadly, after around 100 years of business, his business collapsed and the greenhouse is no more.

I took a photo of my take on the Inebriated Field and also the most wonderful Davidia tree – aka the Handkerchief tree in full flower – a rare site and never one to be timed but lucky happenstance.

The leafy paths were full of dog walkers, in particular a lovely chocolate lab who wanted to walk with us rather than his owner!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And – well, Lidos are clearly an ‘in’ topic having just The Lido and they are very cold indeed when outdoors.

[ Fun fact: New Scientist has just published an article about crows and their face recognition. Not only do they recognise you, but they can tell other crows how to recognise you!]

And now, what did i think of the book?

It was different. It was sad and yet not sad – it reminded us that grief takes a long time to get over, especially the loss of a child.

Ruth Hogan writes in an empathetic manner that tells us much about human emotions and her portrayal of Sally demonstrates this.

But, although I loved the writing, the style and content, and everything about the story, the interspersing of the two women and their stories made the ending rather obvious to those of us who read crime/thriller/suspense stories. So there was no surprise there, which was a shame.  This downgrades a 5 to a 4 as I really don’t think we should know the ending that soon.

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Reading, Writing, and Women

The Words in My Hand Book Cover The Words in My Hand
Guinevere Glasfurd
literary fiction, historical fiction
Two Roads
February 9, 2017
414

The Words in My Hand is the reimagined true story of Helena Jans, a Dutch maid in 17th-century Amsterdam, who works for Mr Sergeant the English bookseller. When a mysterious and reclusive lodger arrives - the Monsieur - Mr Sergeant insists everything must be just so. It transpires that the Monsieur is René Descartes.
But this is Helena's story: the woman in front of Descartes, a young woman who yearns for knowledge, who wants to write so badly she makes ink from beetroot and writes in secret on her skin - only to be held back by her position in society.
Weaving together the story of Descartes' quest for reason with Helena's struggle for literacy, their worlds overlap as their feelings deepen; yet remain sharply divided. For all Descartes' learning, it is Helena he seeks out as she reveals the surprise in the everyday world that surrounds him.
When reputation is everything and with so much to lose, some truths must remain hidden. Helena and Descartes face a terrible tragedy and ultimately have to decide if their love is possible at all.

A story based in speculation about facts – what caused Descartes to have a friendship with Helena, a maid? And how did Helena manage to learn to read and write when it was extremely uncommon amongst women of the Quality, let alone a maid?

Well, the author has made some suggestions within this book that link the facts in a way that makes total sense – with perhaps a little embroidery here and there, just to flesh out the known characters and known occurrences.

This is a sensitive tale of a young girl, Helena, who is forced by family circumstances to become a maid in the household of a bookseller in 1635.

Helena narrates this story as it happens to her and she tells us of the way in which she manages the household and her work, and how she learnt the rudiments of reading and writing (on her hand for lack of knowledge or access to, paper, quills, and ink) from her brother who was schooled by tutors.

The bookseller, Mr Sergeant, ekes out his living by renting the attic rooms of his house to like minded gentlemen and thus Descartes comes to stay. And Helena encounters him and his servant, and learns to write properly. All this at a time when paper was extremely expensive and not for the ‘common sort’ to have access to.

Helena and her maid friend, who she teaches to read and write,  wonder what life would be like if all women could read and write. Perhaps they could then manage their own businesses and not be dependent on men for their livelihood and income? A world that they do not get to see.  As they live in a world where books are still extremely expensive and a man (never a woman) who has a library of 100 books is considered a scholar and wealthy.

Meeting Descartes changes Helena’s life forever, and not just because she learns to read and write properly.

I found this a fascinating and sensitive story and could not put it down. I wanted to know more of this strange relationship between the maid and the renowned scholar.

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Have you lost anything?

The Keeper of Lost Things Book Cover The Keeper of Lost Things
Ruth Hogan
Women Writers & Fiction , Women's Popular Fiction, humour, literary fiction
Two Roads
(26 Jan. 2017)

Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.
Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.
But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters...

With an unforgettable cast of characters that includes young girls with special powers, handsome gardeners, irritable ghosts and an array of irresistible four-legged friends, The Keeper of Lost Things is a debut novel of endless possibilities and joyful discoveries that will leave you bereft once you've finished reading.

I loved this story – its gentle, almost old-fashioned – style of writing; the inter-weaving and inter-leaving of the stories – two main plus the stories of the ‘lost things’.

The book is rich in characterisation, humour and sadness. You can visualise the dogs and Portia and everyone else so clearly. Sunshine is a delight to meet and the way she understands the ‘lost things’ is wonderful. And yet a sense of melancholy pervades so much of the story.

Even the first paragraph draws the reader in a world where someone who has lost something profound consoles himself with collecting the items lost by others – in the hope – that after his death – they may be reunited with their owners.

And there was the portrayal of Altzheimer’s. So empathetically told.

I have a number of neighbours who have had this sad disease. You see the confusion and loss in their faces. One consoled himself with playing on the piano as that he could remember how to do even when names escaped him.

 

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