A Peachy Books graphic showing a thorn crown and a diagram of the planets revolving around the sun, on a sand coloured background, that says What Did Jesus and Galileo Have in Common? in brown lettering.
Blog Roll, book reviews, Kids Books, Middle Grade, non-fiction, Sciences

What Did Jesus and Galileo Have In Common?

One might think that the Father of modern science would bear no commonality with the Father of Christianity (son when in the flesh), but there were similarities. 

Jesus grew up in Nazareth, a city in Galilee, and Galileo’s last name was Galilei. Ok, maybe that one is a coincidence. More to the point, both were courageous enough to challenge previously held beliefs about the universe, and both were (at best) misunderstood and punished for their messages. Galileo lived the last of his days under house arrest, and Jesus perished on the cross.

Whether a Christian, a follower of science, or a believer in both, one must admit that history shows how people have rejected change and are unwilling to accept new ideas, beliefs, or innovations.

How is it that we remain unaccepting with thousands of years of separation and drastically different lives? Fear of the unknown is a timeless contributing factor, to be sure, yet I am inclined to believe it is the voices at the top that lead the charge who have the most influence over what is allowed as truth. 

No matter what point in history, there has always been a narrative elicited by those in the power positions, who seek to keep things as they are and as they can control. The proletariat, continually the victims of the prevailing propaganda du jour via politicians and other governmental authorities. By design, the controlling force directs the thoughts of the masses, inert in their apathy, as they are either too comfortable or too afraid to ask questions, myself included.

A people divided are a people easily controlled. Polarisation being the continually viable schtick used by the puppet masters to obfuscate what they benefit from behind, and off, the backs of the citizenry.

The time to question everything is now, like never before. The mechanisms to assist those at the top when manipulating our minds are perfectly manifest in the modern technologies of AI, social media, and the internet at large.

I do not expect change, as this has been the way since time immemorial, but I also cannot help but feel that given the current technologies mentioned, we have the power to turn some of this on its face.

It feels like we are at a fork in the road. If we could only band the people together, we could use the technology that they are so skillfully using against us, to unify and defend against their divide and conquer. 

Am I a dreamer? Probably. But I prefer dreaming big over accepting a scripted nightmare designed to keep me hating my fellow man. I have never been one to roll over and play dead, no matter how impossible things seem, so with something as important as our children’s future as a driving force, I sure as hell am not going to start now. 

There is always common ground to be found, even when belief systems and world views appear to be opposed. You must, however, be willing to look.

Below you will find my reviews for the two Who HQ series volumes detailing the very different, yet sometimes similar, Jesus and Galileo. 

Book cover for Who Was Galileo? by Patricia Brennan Demuth showing a bobble-headed Galileo holding on to a telescope on top of a roof, with a globe sitting beside him.

Who Was Galileo? was the Who HQ book that sparked my, and my son’s, love of this informative and fun series. We were so excited to try out one of these slim, non-fiction paperbacks with the amusing bobblehead covers when searching the library’s website.

We highly enjoyed the rudimentary summary of Galileo’s experiments and discoveries and were deeply frustrated by all that he had to deal with when battling the Inquisition in Rome.

Galileo’s defence of the belief originally put forth by the mathematician Copernicus – that the planets, including Earth, orbited around the sun – was contradictory to the teachings of the Greek philosopher Aristotle, who believed that the Earth was the centre of the universe and everything else orbited it. 

The Catholic Church, at that time, saw the denial of Aristotle’s beliefs to be heresy, and as such Galileo became disgraced and was banished to house arrest for the last eight years of his life. 

Eventually, in 1992, Pope John Paul II proclaimed his despair over the church having persecuted Galileo and his later proven scientific assertions. Too little too late, as they say, but a nod to science and truth, nonetheless.

After enjoying its concise information and the black and white sketches adorned throughout, I decided to take a peek and see if there were any more books in the series available at my favourite discount bookstore. As it turned out, there was a whole slew of these little historical gems just waiting for me, and we now have a big pile to draw from, so stay tuned for our thoughts. 

Book cover for Who Was Jesus? from the Who HQ series, written by Ellen Morgan showing an illustration of Jesus standing by the waters edge with a basket of fish, and fisherman on a boat out in the water.

After being absorbed by the book Who Was Galileo? a couple of weeks ago, my son and I immediately placed an order for a tonne more of the series. I may have gone a little crazy, but they were a good deal, so… Each book offers an escape into the life of a fascinating figure, but after sifting halfway through the pile the lad selected Who Was Jesus? as our first.

My husband and son are of Greek descent, and all of us are baptised Greek Orthodox, so stories about Jesus are not new to our reading rotation. Although not extensive, the timeline gave an appropriate and complete picture of Jesus’ story for my 8-year-olds intellect.

We learned about: Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, his disciples, the miracles he administered, his enemies, his Crucifixion, the Gospels, and symbols of the Christian faith. We also enjoyed the section that detailed how Jesus was represented in Judaism, Islam, and Hinduism.

Again, I was impressed by the breadth of information provided in such a slim book. The sketches add a richness to the narrative that will keep readers riveted. I am sure most of you have read these already, and I am just late, but if you have not yet, get into them, you won’t be disappointed!

Today’s post is bought to you by the Beatles! Please stop and enjoy this musical interlude to brighten up your busy day. 😉

Graphic for the Peachy Books review of Educated by Tara Westover, showing a Idaho mountain in the background and a cover of the book beside a blurb that says: Don't miss the book review for this inspiring memoir, Today on Peachy Books
book reviews, non-fiction

How a Woman Found Strength to Shed Her Family’s Mountainous Shadow

Book cover for Educated by Tara Westover

Book Review: Educated by Tara Westover

*Some Spoilers Within*

‘Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds’

– Redemption Song – Bob Marley (as quoted in Educated)

Welcome to one of the lengthiest book reviews I have ever written, as there was a lot to find here and many poignant quotes to share. What follows is a mix of summary, commentary, and admiration for the fierceness of a woman who was able to persevere in the face of endless adversity.

After having spent the first 15 years of my life caught in the crosshairs of an unstable and abusive alcoholic father, without the assistance of any adults that would stand up to him, there was much I could relate to in Tara Westover’s struggle. Her story personally affected me much more than I had expected, and I was all in from beginning to end.

Educated is a candid recounting of Tara’s sojourn to self-discovery. With an obvious gift for writing, hers is a memoir that reads like literary fiction, so at no point did I feel trapped in the depths of her despair. I was often taken away by her contemplative and affective prose instead of feeling laden with sadness, as can sometimes be the case with life stories.

I have always supported homeschooling (done right), and had I the patience and resolve for such a task would have had my son learn at home as well. The Westover’s, however, were unaware of their limitations. What Tara and her siblings endured on that mountain was merely indoctrination that left them woefully unprepared for the real world. The minimal instruction their parents provided them was instead of an education, willful neglect, and dereliction of duty. 

With a parent often floundering in the recklessness of mania, the disregard the Westover children met with due to their bipolar father and silent mother frequently caused me to seethe. The persistent bodily harm the children were subject to was shameful. Whether when being coerced to work in the family junkyard or whilst enduring the near-fatal car wrecks they landed in when their father was in a depressive episode, their fate was always in his hands. The continual isolation from school and doctors meant no checks and balances from the authorities, and the children were left to fend for themselves. 

The hypocrisy in the home was rich and would be laughable if it were not so disastrous. They were strictly monitored concerning clothing choices, fraternising with members of the opposite sex, or being a part of a dance class, only to be left unprotected while dodging flying objects – or being set ablaze – in their junkyard.

A lack of parental guidance may force a child to depend on instinct, instilling in them a sense of hypervigilance. What forms as a necessity for survival when younger can root into a fortress of fear and isolation later in life.

‘Those instincts were my guardians. They had saved me before, guiding my movements on a dozen bucking horses, telling me when to cling to the saddle and when to pitch myself clear of pounding hooves. They were the same instincts that, years before, had prompted me to hoist myself from the scrap bin when Dad was dumping it, because they had understood, even if I had not, that it was better to fall from that great height rather than hope Dad would intervene. All my life those instincts had been instructing me in this single doctrine – that the odds are better if you rely on yourself.’

Trauma can turn you to stone, may convince you that you are impervious to pain, that you could never fall victim again. And this, in and of itself, is the effect that renders you impenetrable. This imposed encasing of your emotions leaves you incapable of letting in the good while you incessantly battle against the bad.

‘How I hollowed myself out…. I had misunderstood the vital truth: that it’s not affecting me, that was its effect.’

Tara commenced her education by reading math textbooks in the balcony section of the local theatre, where she was allowed to sing. Finding a way to make sense of the world was a step towards enlightenment, while the logic and order found within trigonometry helped to eclipse the chaos she was living.

‘I began to study trigonometry. There was solace in its strange formulas and equations. I was drawn to the Pythagorean theorem and its promise of a universal – the ability to predict the nature of any three points containing a right angle, anywhere, always. What I knew of physics I had learned in the junkyard, where the physical world often seemed unstable, capricious. But here was a principle through which the dimensions of life could be defined, captured. Perhaps reality was not wholly volatile. Perhaps it could be explained, predicted. Perhaps it could be made to make sense.’

It can be impossible to break the chains of dysfunction that tie us to our abusers, as we instinctively push anyone who tries to love us away, unable to reconcile what love even is. When chaos is all that you know, how can you feel comfort or solace in the calm embrace of an outsider? When will they realise who you are, and from whence you came?

‘If someone had asked me, I’d have said Charles was the most important thing in the world to me. But he wasn’t. And I would prove it to him. What was important to me wasn’t love or friendship, but my ability to lie convincingly to myself: to believe I was strong. I could never forgive Charles for knowing I wasn’t. I became erratic, demanding, hostile. I devised a bizarre and ever-evolving rubric by which I measured his love for me, and when he failed to meet it, I became paranoid. I surrendered to rages, venting all my savage anger, every fearful resentment I’d ever felt toward Dad or Shawn, at him, this bewildered bystander who’d only ever helped me.’

Tara continued to struggle with her identity when making choices based on her newly acquired knowledge. Her personal growth and strength implanted with it a sense of sadness, as it served to further divide and alienate her from her family, pushing her nearer estrangement. Although finding her own way was a necessity, as well as a reflection of her inner fortitude, it left her with a void that a family of origin fills, be they toxic or safe, loving, or detrimental.

‘ The truth is: that I am not a good daughter. I am a traitor, a wolf among sheep; there is something different about me and that difference is not good…I am not sorry, merely ashamed.’

The mistreatment Tara suffered was never exclusive to her father, her relationship with her brother Shawn mimicking that of a battered wife trying to survive her tyrannical husband. After countless beatings that kept her mired in shame, she blamed herself, as a traumatised brain is wont to do. It seemed that over the years, she coped by vacillating between fear and fondness for what she told herself was a special relationship they shared.

‘I begin to reason with myself, to doubt whether I had spoke clearly: what had I whispered and what had I screamed? I decided that if I had asked differently, been more calm, he would have stopped. I write this [in her journal] until I believe it, which doesn’t take long because I want to believe it. It’s comforting to think the defect is mine, because that means it is under my power.’

Not until Tara had heard accounts of Shawn’s abuse towards other women – even needing further admission from the men in their lives – did she trust her thoughts or the words in her journal.

We can speak endlessly about the damage inflicted by her father and brother, but I feel her mother needs to take a fair share of the blame, as well. 

Not only did Tara’s mother not protect her, in many ways, she ‘parentified’ her. Like when trying to guilt her into caring for her abusive brother; that which her mother certainly had not prioritised the time to do herself, given how he turned out. 

This ‘mother’ was often more concerned about covering up the image and fragility of her son, to the detriment of her daughter, and was quick to cut her off if she did not comply with the instructed narrative.

The exemption that Tara’s parents afforded their son at her expense saw her struggle with self-reliance and self-worth. I assume their allegiance to him is due to him being male, but it may also be for them to stay firm in their denial of how he turned out. 

She found solace in her studies, as she took the ACT admissions test (twice) and stumbled through Brigham Young University. Accustomed to isolation, Tara suffered from social awkwardness and untold ignorance regarding societal issues and events in history. But, she stayed the course, and through ability and dedication, found herself with an opportunity to take her education to England.

Quote on a graphic of a stacked cord of wood, that says: The skill I was learning was a crucial one, the patience to read things I could not yet understand by Tara Westover - Educated

In what seems like poetry, Tara went on to study historians at Cambridge. By escaping the dark shadow of misinformation cast by her father’s teachings, she was enlightened and able to study experts in the details of the past. 

‘From my father I learned that books were to be either adored or exiled. Books that were of God – books written by the Mormon prophets or the Founding Fathers – were not to be studied so much as cherished, like a thing perfect in itself. I had been taught to read the words of Madison as a cast into which I ought to pour the plaster of my own mind, to be reshaped according to the contours of their faultless model. I read them to learn what to think, not how to think for myself. Books that were not of God were banished; they were a danger, powerful and irresistible in their cunning.’

In the eyes of her father, all of her hard work and fearless determination still were not her own. He dared to take credit for her successes, declaring that it was on behalf of her homeschooling that she achieved such honours. He believed she should publicly relay more gratitude to her parents for this.

Picture of a junkyard with a quote in brown letters on a moss green rectangle that says: 'My life was narrated for me by others. Their voices were forceful, emphatic, absolute. It had never occurred to me that my voice might be as strong as theirs.' Tara Westover, Educated

No matter how far she travelled, she forever felt tethered to her family and her responsibility to her roots. Often there were opportunities for the Westover’s to drag Tara back into the family fold of delusion and deceit. 

Being asked to forsake all that she had amassed, to fall right back into that which marred her start, was not only selfish on the parts of her parents but impossible for such a devoted and transformed person to allow. To do so would have been a sure contradiction to the mountainous acts of bravery, grit, and dedication that she channeled to become the person she now knew herself to be. 

‘Everything I had worked for, all my years of study, had been to purchase for myself this one privilege: to see and experience more truths than those given to me by my father, and to use those truths to construct my own mind…. If I yielded now, I would lose more than an argument. I would lose custody of my own mind. This was the price I was being asked to pay, I understood that now. What my father wanted to cast from me wasn’t a demon: it was me.’

Quote with a backdrop of a pink sky and mountain tops that says: "To admit uncertainty is to admit to weakness, to powerlessness, and to believe in yourself despite both. It is a frailty, but in this frailty there is a strength: the conviction to live in your own mind, and not in someone else's.' Tara Westover - Educated

The rejection she received because of her integrity almost caused her to fail her Ph.D. at Harvard. She became consumed with depression and loss as she bore witness to the tug-of-war between where she was going and where her family needed her to be.

‘The thing about having a mental breakdown is that no matter how obvious it is that you’re having one, it is somehow not obvious to you. I’m fine, you think. So what if I watched TV for twenty-four straight hours yesterday. I’m not falling apart. I’m just lazy. Why it’s better to think yourself lazy than think yourself in distress, I’m not sure. But it was better. More than better: it was vital.’

The entirety of her family’s love, save that from her brother Tyler and his wife, was conditional. An offer of reacceptance into the cult of Westover was eventually put forth, via ultimatum, that would see Tara throw herself on the altar of their perceived righteousness, seemingly as a sacrificial gesture of humility. 

In the end, the fool’s paradise that her family expected her to reside in was too ridiculous for her emotional education to allow. She could exist with the guilt that she continued to allow them to assign her, or she could move on and live a life grounded in truth, taking pride in herself and her hard-won achievements.

‘But vindication has no power over guilt. No amount of anger or rage directed at others can subdue it, because guilt is never about them. Guilt is the fear of one’s own wretchedness. It has nothing to do with other people.’

Ultimately, I think the unresolved conflict that she waged within herself was rooted in her need to accept the different parts of who she was without shame or guilt. She had to reconcile that the girl that hailed from that dangerous mountain, living in the shadow of its demons, was also a part of the woman she now was. The convergence of these two personas would allow her to move forward in good faith and good health. Sadly – or graciously – this would have to be without the stranglehold of her family.

When perusing Goodreads, I saw that Tara’s mother had written a retaliatory book to her daughter’s claims laid out in Educated. From what I observed in various reviews, it was nothing more than an attempt to gaslight and invalidate Tara’s experience of her childhood. 

She vehemently denied that Tara and her siblings were insufficiently educated or raised. In fact, she spent a lot of time defending her husband and his deranged behaviour. 

In my view, their book provides proof that Tara continues to be the recipient of bad parenting. The Westover’s had no interest in protecting their children when they allowed unmitigated mental health issues to fester, and it was their (ignorant and paranoid) way or bust. She could not have proven Tara’s case any better than with the writing of their tone-deaf book.

Educated has made me a fan of Tara and her writing. I patiently await any lead she has left in her pencil. 

I found myself thinking about Landslide by Fleetwood Mac a lot when reading this book, and even took a break to listen to it; it feels like a song that just fits the story.

Quote on a grey square with a background graphic showing a snow-covered mountain with fir trees covering its base, that says: Oh, mirror in the sky, what is love? Can the child within my heart rise above? Can I sail through the changin' ocean tides? Can I handle the seasons of my life? Fleetwood Mac, Landslide n
Listen to the song here.

Almost forgot to post this! My Free Bird Pencil Bookmark, inspired by Tara.

Crochet bookmark with a bird flying away on one end and a pencil on the other.

Have you read Educated? What is an inspiring memoir that you favour? I’d love to expand my collection with some stories of resilience, and would be interested in what you’ve enjoyed.

Graphic for the Peachy Books blog post 5 Creative Crochet Books with a background of yarn balls in assorted colours
Blog Roll, Lists, non-fiction, The Gallery

Friday Favourites: 5 Creative Crochet Books

I just did the math, and I have been crocheting now for 35 years. That explains why my wrists groan under the worsted weight of cotton, an 11-gram hook, and a moderately tight stitch.

I try to limit myself to small timespans: two hours or breaks every 45 minutes. Instead, I get tangled up creating something and don’t want to stop until I see my vision through. Art is like that for me, all-encompassing and urgent.

With the majority of my time spent typing, playing with my yarn, and sometimes my Ukulele, I may need to get some repair work on these wrists in a few years. At least that should buy me some more time.

I’ve heard loads of people claim how they wish they had learned to crochet, or how it has always been a goal to do so. To all of them and you who may feel the same way, I say do it!

There are plenty of avenues for learning the craft these days, and with all the spare time people may continue to find themselves with, given our current pandemic situation, this is the time.

Get a beginner’s book, watch a YouTube channel, search for tutorials on blogs. There is no reason everyone can’t learn to do this with the will and a heavy dose of patience. Practice and time produce stellar results, and it won’t take 35 years!

Start slowly and give yourself the space to make mistakes; that’s how you learn best. I know I spent the first two years making scarves with only one or two stitches repeated. Accept your mistakes gracefully instead of getting frustrated. I’ve seen people get really discouraged when they have to rip back their work to fix an error, some even giving up in shame, which is silly, in my view. Repetition produces a better result, that is simply what practice looks like.

Get comfortable holding the yarn, maintaining consistent tension, and keeping a proper stitch count in place of rushing into making something you are not skilled enough for yet. That will only produce annoyance and disappointment. 

Before you run off to find some yarn and a hook – I love Clover hooks (in case you were looking for an opinion) – I hope you’ll be able to draw some fibre art inspiration from these 5 Creative Crochet Books.

Crochet 101 by Deborah Burger is the right place to begin. Starting with a proper foundation gives you the knowledge and the confidence to be better faster, and in our world of instant gratification, that is the best you can hope for when learning something new.  

Detailed chapters explaining all the necessary techniques needed to become competent in the art of Crochet are here, along with clear tutorial photos showing the appropriate placement of hands and yarn.

I really cannot say enough about this book, with its thoroughness, organised layout, and cute practice projects. I have bought it for two of my nieces and recommend it as an excellent place to start a journey into a beautiful and time-honoured hobby and skill.

Crochet One-Skein Wonders by Judith Durant & Edie Eckman has 101 projects! Woo hoothat’s what I’m talking about! If you are going to buy a book, you might as well get one stacked with practical patterns, and in this case, you would need no more than a skein’s worth of yarn to boot. 

With all of the free instruction online these days, as heavily doused in advertising as most patterns are, you may wonder why one would even get a book? For me, I hate to be a slave to technology, so I like the feeling that if I am ever without power, I could be just a candle away from crocheting as my ancestral grandmothers did. Between my books and my yarn, I’ll never be bored. 

These small and creative options are the perfect handmade inclusion to elevate a gift to the next level and are sure to be well-received treasures. 

Mindful Crochet provides you with an explosion of colour, a feeling of lightness, and a sense of grounding. Calming patterns using bright and cheery hues give you a sense of joy and peace whilst creating something beautiful.

Emma Leith has put together a thoughtful book that includes tips and wise words about the importance of being mindful and how you can achieve it. With today’s ever chaotic world this book makes the perfect crochet companion on a search for health and wellness.

Read the full review, including some delightful projects I made from this soothing collection, in The Gallery.

Granny squares are some of the most satisfying projects to make in crochet. Finishing a section in one session gives you an accomplished feeling that you miss when sitting down for hours with the endlessly repeating stitch of a simple blanket or scarf.

Use a basic stitch pattern leaving colours combinations to shine, or choose something more detailed to tell a story, as the options in this 3D Granny Squares book do. Adding one of these special themed squares to a simple granny square baby blanket would be just the thing to take it to the next level.

The hardest thing for me will be choosing which one to make first!

One of the biggest booms for the hobby of crochet has come via the popularity of the Japanese art called Amigurumi.

Mainly consisting of a single stitch repeated in a spiral, these creative toys can be a great tool to get people interested in learning the craft.

I love this book for its sea creatures and their actual likeness to the real deal! Kerry Lord is an amazing talent, and you can’t go wrong with any of her fascinating and fun menagerie patterns.

Do you crochet, knit, or enjoy any other fibre arts? Have you ever received a handmade item from someone, that you treasure? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

Graphic for the Peachy Books Book Review Read-a-Loud for Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe, with a background of the Irish coastline.
Blog Roll, book reviews, non-fiction, politics, Saturday in Stereo

Saturday in Stereo – Book Review Read-a-Loud: Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

This week on Saturday in Stereo we have the Peachy Books review for Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, read aloud by PeachyTO.

Please visit the Peachy Books YouTube channel or click on the video below to check it out. If you enjoy the reading, I’d be thrilled if you would ‘like,’ subscribe, and hit the notification bell; it will help my channel to grow, and you’ll be the first to know when the latest read-a-louds are available. Thank you so much for your support!

To find the written review for Say Nothing and see the Tricolour bookmark I was inspired to make, please click here.

Graphic with a crane lifting bricks for a brick wall being assembled that says: Gift ideas for constrction truck loving readers!
Blog Roll, Kids Books, non-fiction

Books as Gifts for Kids: Construction Vehicles

Construction vehicle books make great gifts!

If you’re looking for ideas for what to get little boys or girls who are interested in construction vehicles and big trucks, this is a fun option for a well-received present. This gift contained a build and take-apart crane, a book about cranes, and a crochet bookmark for a handmade touch.

I look forward to birthdays and celebrations so I can put together presents for people. I try to use my creativity to make a gift tailored to the person and their life. There is often a theme, something handmade, and always a book. 

For Canada Day last month, I made a Canadian Baby basket for my cousins’ baby shower. Today I’m sharing the crane-themed gift we gave to a sweet little boy in our family who has turned 3. 

The adorable photos below, graciously shared by his mom, show him busily building the crane and reading his book. She was thrilled to report that it kept him properly occupied, which spells a win in my book!

Books are windows to the world. Raising children to love reading gives them creative options for companionship, especially during times of isolation like a pandemic when travel and visiting aren’t always possible. With the crack of a cover, kids are welcomed into unknown lands teeming with characters and adventure.

A silhouette of a boy reading a book on the grass at sundown, with the quote: A book is a gift you can open again and again by Garrison Keillor

In an era where screens capture most of our daily attention, the gift of a book will treat the mind, body, and soul to the magic of imagination and the wonder of words.

Here are a few more books from the QED Mighty Machines collection by Amanda Askew, that would make a great set for a budding reader. Consider including a book with a toy for the next gift you give. If you are on a strict budget as I sometimes am, you could get a book in lieu of a card, and write your wishes on the inside flap instead.

Do you give many books as gifts? Do you enjoy receiving a book that someone else has chosen for you? Do you have a favourite book to gift? Let’s chat in the comments!

Image of a mural in Northern Ireland showing 2 boys standing in front of a war torn complex with heaps of debris, with a red title on top reading: Summer of 69, which says: Don't miss Murals of Northern Ireland, a companion post to my recent review of Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe.
Blog Roll, non-fiction, politics, The Gallery

The Gallery: Murals of Northern Ireland

If you haven’t already read it, you can find my review for this riveting book here.

After spending a week with Patrick Radden Keefe‘s powerful book Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland, recounting The Troubles, I am left thinking of the horrors the Irish people in the North had to contend with during those trying times. My thoughts sent me on a mission to look for the murals that represented the suffering.

Living in a warzone is tragic, no matter where on the globe. People do their best to try and get by, to make it out alive. Art can be a reverberating gift of solace during times of strife. Asserting a silent yet resonant voice through pictures is a way for humanity to share its grief while creating something new and beautiful, even as things are falling down and dying around them. The murals that one could find on the buildings in the North during this conflict spanning thirty years – some of which are still there today – were one such outlet.

Children shown in wore torn rubble during the summer of '69, around the time when 'The Troubles' began
Children shown in wore torn rubble, during the summer of ’69, around the time when ‘The Troubles’ began

Paramilitary murals for either side of the religious and territorial divide were menacing reminders that violence could be around any corner, especially if you were caught on the wrong block.

Mural depicting UVF 1st Battalion soldiers
Mural of the UVF 1st Battalion soldiers
East Belfast Battalion of the UVF black and white mural
Black and white mural for the East Belfast Battalion of the UVF
IRA mural and memorial
IRA mural and memorial

Funerals were one of the things you could count on during The Troubles, in fact, some would say it was the only time they got to socialise with friends and family if things were too heated to venture out. 

Depiction of a mural honouring an IRA soldiers passing with a 21 gun salute
Depiction of a mural hounoring an IRA soldier’s passing with a 21 gun salute at the funeral

A brilliant irony amidst this powder keg of religious conflict between the warring Christian factions in Ireland was the solidarity found between the Catholic Republicans and the Palestinian followers of Islam. Palestinian flags were erected proudly in the Republican neighbourhoods to show reverence to the commonality of their struggle.

Palestinian solidarity mural in Norther Ireland
Palestinian and Republican solidarity mural
POW mural showing solidarity between Palestinian and IRA captives

Artistic tributes meant to lionize the heroes of the cause are tangible proof and validation of the bloodshed. Political prisoners who gave their life for the freedom of Ireland, as noble or destructive as they might have been, are immortalised on these walls for the younger generations to venerate.

Mural and memorial of Bobby Sands
Mural memorialising Bobby Sands, Irish Nationalist who led a fatal hunger strike that changed history
Mural of Irish Nationalist and IRA soldiers who lost their lives in battle.
Mural depicting Irish Nationalists and IRA soldiers who lost their lives in battle during ‘The Troubles’

With the mark of a new century, Ireland is more peaceful than she’s ever been comparatively. In the North, however, troubled waters receded could return in a flash. With the UK’s Brexit from the European Union threatening to explode smoldering battlefields, and as walls and militarised checkpoints jeopardise harmony, one can only pray that the streets will remain calm.

The Greater Village Regeneration Trust introduced this commemorative painting to mark the centenary (1921-2021) whilst covering a paramilitary mural that remained. A less intrusive demarcation as a sign of the times, lest we forget how bad things were for so long.

New Mural in South Belfast of Norther Ireland commemorating the centenary 1921 - 2021, and encourage solidarity
Paramilitary mural painted over by new artwork commemorating centenary

I was inspired to make some art of my own after spending an afternoon sifting through these paintings of pain and remembrance. I am saddened to think that a simple bookmark such as this, hanging out of a child’s storybook as they trotted home from school, could have caused an uproar decades ago. I’m hopeful that the Irish lay to rest the tired sectarian battles of their past to live for the health and regeneration of her future.


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Book Cover for Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe superimposed on a tricolour Irish Flag, saying: Read the book review for this harrowing true story of tribal lines
Blog Roll, book reviews, non-fiction, politics

Review: Say Nothing by Patrick Radden Keefe

Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland by Patrick Radden Keefe

“All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory.” – Vietnam, Thanh Nguyen as quoted in Say Nothing

Growing up in Canada has afforded me a comfortable life thus far, void of wars or societal conflict. A few minutes in front of any newscast will remind me of how fortunate I was to have won the birth lottery and had my start in a land with such opportunity, tolerance, and freedom. None of this would be even possible had my maternal grandfather’s parents not left Ballymena (in the North of Ireland) and immigrated to Ontario, Canada, near the beginning of the last century.

As politics and global conflict were topics omitted from the Sunday dinner table, I was mostly unaware of the history that plagued the place of my ancestry. Although never grasping the gravity of the situation, I remember watching the twisted expressions of anguish that would blanket my grandfather as he read through the papers and contemplated the fate of his left-behind relatives. As a young lass with no concept of sectarian strife, I chalked it up as one of those terrible things that happen in another part of the world, far away from the peaceful lands I inhabited.

Now that I’ve matured and grown less self-involved, I have become engrossed in the struggle that English Colonialism has imposed on the world for centuries. I crave answers to why the Irish were turned against one another, as I struggle to understand how this Christian conflict could result in the partition of her lands. 

In Say Nothing, Patrick Radden Keefe lays out a nail-biting recount of the three-decades-long dissidence that eventually ended in the Good Friday Agreement on April 10th, 1998 (in my 22nd year). I would recommend this courageous book to anyone, Irish or not, for the opportunity to bear witness to the terror that loomed over those devastating years.

The spotlight of the narrative was on the Irish Republicans and their leaders, soldiers, and struggle, while the Loyalists were the elusive ‘other’ side, grouped with the British soldiers. While I can certainly understand this framing, I would have liked to hear more from the Protestants in fairness to the fullness of the story. However, the code of silence amongst the paramilitaries may have rendered their version impossible to hear.

Given the secret nature of The Troubles, it’s a wonder that so many were willing to discuss those dark days at all. If not for the recordings procured for future academic study at the Boston University, by a reformed Republican insider, Radden Keefe would not have been able to write this book, at least not as extensively.

Just the rumour of someone speaking about the atrocities of those years could mean certain death. There was no place for disloyalty in the eyes of the Provisional IRA, real or perceived, as Jean McConville and her ten children were to find out when she was abducted from her kitchen table, never to be returned.

Throughout Say Nothing, Radden Keefe chronicles the orphaned children’s search for their mother, and it is the deafening silence of so many that rang the loudest for me. Fear of reprisal shrouded civilians and members alike, which kept their mouths sealed. It was mortifying to read how a weapon in the humiliation arsenal of the Provos was to tar and feather women they deemed traitorous. The minor act of offering a pillow to a British soldier who lay dying in front of their door, as was the crime of Jean McConville, could incur lethal wrath.

‘In the febrile atmosphere of wartime Belfast, for a local woman to be seen consorting with a British soldier could be a dangerous thing. Some women who were suspected of such transgressions were subjected to an antique mode of ritual humiliation: tarring and feathering. A mob would accost such women, forcibly shave their heads, anoint them with warm and sticky black tar, then shower a pillowcaseful of dirty feathers over their heads and chain them by the neck to a lamppost, like a dog, so that the whole community could observe the spectacle of their indignity.’

Of course, scenes like this, plus countless other rationale laid bare within the history of the conflict, are the reasons why they said nothing. For some, the silent torture of daily terrorism ended up culminating in Belfast Syndrome, or what we now refer to as PTSD. No matter which side of the divide these stunned women found themselves on, they survived by being fed sedatives to drown out the sounds of firebombs and screaming children whilst white-knuckling it through their days, in prayer to the same God.  

‘Doctors found, paradoxically, that the people most prone to this type of anxiety were not the active combatants, who were on the street and had a sense of agency, but the women and children stuck sheltering behind closed doors.’

Reading of the deadly bombing campaigns issued by the paramilitaries, where many innocents ended up casualties, left me feeling nauseous. How terrifying it must have been to live with these cruelties in one’s everyday life, sometimes even at your front door.

Prior to the British construction of the Long Kesh correctional facility on the premises of an aircraft base 12 miles outside of Belfast, internees were incarcerated on a floating prison: The HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) Maidstone. This 500-foot ship had been used decades before, during WW2, and was described as a hell-hole, “not fit for pigs.” However, it was mainly Nationalist soldiers kept in these inhumane conditions, since, although terrorism was asserted by the Loyalists as well, they didn’t seem to be a target for capture; sort of like their brand of criminality was useful to Scotland Yard. 🤨

‘Just before dawn one morning in August 1971, three thousand British troops descended on nationalist areas across Northern Ireland…. Of the 350 suspects arrested that day, not a single one was a Loyalist…. The disparity in treatment only compounded the impression, in the minds of many Catholics, that the army was simply another instrument of sectarian oppression.’

We learnt about the tenacious spirit that saw various Republicans partake in lengthy internments and fatal hunger strikes, but, as noble as one might wish to see the Republicans, they had a longstanding tradition of failure that weighed heavily on the cause.

‘It was almost as if “defeat suited them better than victory,” in the words of one historian, “for there was a sense in which Irish Republicanism thrived on oppression and the isolated exclusivity that came with it.”‘

A glaring irony found within Say Nothing is the large chunk of the last half being devoted to Republican touts: double agents or betrayers. British Military intelligence estimated that by the end of The Troubles, 1 in 4 members was some type of an informant, with senior members nearing 1 in 2. You should take anything they report with a grain (or twenty) of salt, though, as this would be a helpful way to fabricate and disparage the loyalty of the Nationalists.

Fortunately for the masses, with the assistance of the Clinton government and the new British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, a final cease-fire was signed in 1997. Finally, there was a halt to the thirty-year tribal conflict, and The Good Friday Agreement was born.

‘Northern Ireland would remain part of the United Kingdom, but with its own devolved assembly and close links to the Republic of Ireland. The agreement acknowledged that the majority of people on the island wanted a united Ireland – but also that a majority of people in the six counties favoured remaining part of the United Kingdom. The key principle was “consent”: if, at some juncture, a majority of the people in the North wanted to unite with Ireland, then the governments of the UK and Ireland would have a “binding obligation” to honor that choice.’

As glorious as it is that the violence has stopped and people have forged ahead with a tolerance unseen in previous years, when I picture the Emerald Isle, I see her emaciated shadow as I pine for the fullness of what she could have been. Ireland’s soul lacks nourishment; hers, a people who have suffered through debilitating famine, only to live to fight injustice via hunger strike. Until the ravenous fangs of British gluttony are unclenched, she will remain detached, and starving for freedom.

Thanks for reading this review for Say Nothing, and please watch for my companion post coming up in The Gallery later this week, where I’ll showcase some of the murals found in Northern Ireland depicting the conflict.

Quote from Say Nothing: A True Story of Murder and Memory in Northern Ireland: If you could just get people to talk, he believed, the most bitter antagonists could discover common ground - Patrick Radden Keefe

Have you read any great books about The Troubles, or
other important times in Irish history? I’d love to hear
about them.

Blog Roll, book reviews, Middle Grade, non-fiction

Book Review: Who Was P.T. Barnum? by Kirsten Anderson

Book Cover for Who Was P.T. Barnum? written by Kristen Anderson and part of the Who HQ Series

Who Was P.T. Barnum? by Kirsten Anderson, illustrated by Stephen Marchesi

I wonder how many people have been to a circus. I was excited about reading this one, as I’ve never been. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to, it just wasn’t in the cards for me. Circuses weren’t around much when I was a kid, and they were pricey compared to carnivals. I’d been to a few fairs in small towns, and loved the travelling amusement park that would set up all of its rickety rides and RVs for a week, once a year, in the local mall’s parking lot. You could revel in the rigged games and attractions, without having to spend an arm and a leg. When I imagine a circus, it seems like it would be a mashup of The Zoo and one of these carnival-type places, resulting in the parading around of animals (and humans), with a dressing of swindle.

Before there was Barnum and Bailey’s Circus, there was P.T. Barnum, informally called ‘Taylor.’ Who Was P.T. Barnum? affords us a look into the life of ‘The Great American Showman,’ as he was widely known – and likely named himself. Inheriting more than just his grandfather Phineas’ name, from a young age Taylor shared in his namesake’s trickster sense of humour, and fierce entrepreneurial spirit. He started his journey into business by selling refreshments in town and saved up the proceeds to purchase livestock at the age of 21. And so it went until he had a general store, sold lottery tickets, and even owned a politically focused newspaper named The Herald of Freedom.

Quote from P.T. Barnum: "If you hesitate, some bolder hand will stretch out before you and take the prize." with a yellow and red striped background to mimic a circus tent

As one of the original purveyors of fake news and media manipulation, Taylor had a penchant for advertising and knew how to drum up excitement for any idea he wanted to sell, whether it was based in reality or contrived. When a customer at his store tipped him off to a lucrative opportunity, it ignited what would be a lifelong endeavour into the exploitation of humans and animals alike, an undertaking that was all the more successful due to his talents of persuasion.

P.T. Barnum quote: "Without promotion, something terrible happens...nothing!" on a red and yellow striped background, to mimic a circus tent.

The impetus for this path was a woman named Joice Heth. Taylor was eager to ‘rent’ the enslaved, weak, and blind woman, who regaled audiences with songs and stories where she claimed to be 161-years old, and the former nanny of George Washington. He booked a theatre, advertised her amazing story all over the city, and wrote rave reviews for the show. With the exhibit’s newfound success, Taylor sent Heth on tour in New England, until her eventual death in 1836.

Newspaper advertisement for Barnum's first live exhibit, showcasing a 161-year old woman named Joice Heth
Newspaper Advertising the Joice Heth Show

Taylor had promised a curious doctor wanting to investigate her age, the rights to an autopsy of the miraculous woman. The merciless showman continued to profit from Heth’s death as he did her life, producing a public autopsy, which he thirstily charged admission to. It was proven that she was likely no more than 80 years old. Even though there was talk that Taylor had altered documents to assist with his trifling claims throughout the show’s run, he maintained that he knew nothing of her real age, and presented himself as shocked as anyone, when the news came out.

He made a handsome sum from these shenanigans, and off the back of Joice Heth, but more importantly to him, Taylor learned how a human exhibit could provide for his pocketbook. With this new model of entertainment being en vogue, from here he expanded to open The American Museum, which he eventually took on the road as the P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome, before venturing under the big top in his 60s.

This HQ Series Biography explores some of Taylor’s more popular exhibits such as the Bearded Lady, General Tom Thumb, and the highly deceptive Feejee Mermaid attraction. We learn how Taylor would move on to politics and write an autobiography that, like all of his ventures, he adeptly marketed producing mammoth sales. He even spent time doing seminars, where he promoted his self-help book entitled: The Art of Money Getting. If this is sounding a little Trumpian to you, you’re not alone.

An image of the encased Feejee Mermaid, with a sign reading: P.T. Barnum's 'Fiji Mermaid' on loan from [sic] Boston Museum

Overall, this middle-grade history book provides a lot of fascinating details about the inventive and highly ambitious Taylor, even if it chooses to leave out some of his more unappealing attributes. The beautiful sketches throughout are the perfect accompaniment to his story and shine a spotlight on the whimsy of his special brand of entertainment. Regardless of all this, I will hold back and rate this one 3.5/5 peaches, in reverence to authenticity, or the lack thereof.

Have a look at the crochet circus tent bookmark that I was inspired to make from reading Who Is P.T. Barnum?

Crochet Bookmark of a red and yellow striped circus tent with a yellow flag on top
Image advertising the Where Is The Eiffel Tower Book review by Peachy Books with a crochet bookmark of the Tricolore Flag
book reviews, Middle Grade, non-fiction

Book Review: Where is the Eiffel Tower? by Dina Anastasio

Book Cover for Where Is the Eiffel Tower? by Dina Anastasio, from the Who HQ Series.

Where is the Eiffel Tower? by Dina Anastasio, illustrated by Tim Foley

March 31, 1889, marked a triumphant day for France, as the ‘Tricolore,’ blue, white, and red flag was displayed atop the newly erected, bold, and beautiful Eiffel Tower, an astounding 934 feet in the air. This marvel of artistry and architecture would, at that time, hold the title of the world’s tallest structure. Gustave Eiffel was properly impressed by his tower and its distinct beauty, but its critics, however – and there were many – called it a ‘monstrosity,’ a ‘giant ugly smokestack.’

Gustave wasn’t the only one who appreciated this modern wonder, as others reveled in its great size and uniqueness, but unfortunately, there were also a great many who questioned what the iron thing even was. Some French people were so put off by it that they wrote letters to the editor protesting the tower. France was a country patterned with gorgeous, old stone buildings and historical monuments, and the new tower’s detractors felt it just didn’t fit in. Little did they know that the Eiffel Tower would go on to become one of the most famous landmarks in the world!

Image of the Eiffel Tower with a beautiful blue and cloudy sky as the backdrop
Eiffel Tower

Where Is the Eiffel Tower? is another installment of the lovely Who HQ series of books, that we have grown to love so much in my household. As an avid history buff at the ripe old age of seven, my son really appreciates this wonderful series, as do I. Among many other fascinating details about the Eiffel Tower and the European French Republic, this book shares with us the details of Gustave’s early life and his ascent into an engineer and inventive businessman.

As a clever young boy, he found himself bored by school, and his grades reflected his disinterest. With his parents owning a successful coal transporting company, he would much prefer to watch the ships loading and unloading coal at the canal port in Dijon, France. Eventually, he met the right teachers who helped him foster an appreciation for literature, history, and science, and his grades soared. It was at college that Gustave met his first true love: metal.

Gustave’s fondness for this revolutionary building material came with an abundance of curiosity, as he began to investigate how he could bend, shape, and use the element innovatively. After enrolling in engineering school, and working as an unpaid apprentice at his brother-in-law’s iron foundry to learn all he could, he went on to open his own company, the Société des Établissements Eiffel. His team consisted of engineers, architects, and designers, and from 1879 to 1883 they would work on their most famous project to that date, creating the metal framework inside the USA’s Statue of Liberty.

Photo depicting the Inner framework of the Statue of Liberty as constructed by Gustave Eiffels company
Inner Framework of the Statue of Liberty

After adding such an important element to the fabric of American society, Gustave went on to produce a structure equally as majestic for his homeland. The Eiffel Tower was introduced to the French people and the world, by providing the entry point to the Exposition Universelle, an internationally celebrated fair held in Paris that year, which hosted exhibits from all over the world. Some 61,000 exhibitors displayed products, artwork, and held performances of dance, music, and theatre. A few of the more popular American offerings were Thomas Edison’s electric lights, and tin-foil phonograph, Alexander Graham Bell’s line of telephones, and a Wild West show put on by Buffalo Bill.

The abundantly successful fair went on for three months, and after its completion, Paris officials called to have the Eiffel Tower removed. At once clever and determined, Gustave Eiffel was narrowly able to keep his tower a part of the city’s skyline. Where is the Eiffel Tower? lays out for us how his resourceful mind was able to save one of the world’s most iconic structures for millions of tourists and dilettantes to continue to enjoy more than a century later.

Not unlike other volumes in the Who HQ series, this informative book treats us to detailed sketches that depict the various buildings and sites discussed within, which helped to give this reader a well-rounded and visually enhanced perspective. The lattice ironwork and creative details that are a part of the Eiffel Tower’s construction were stunning.

Enjoy a short video of historical images of the tower:

Eiffel Tower Construction 1887-1889 Paris Photos by mycompasstv on YouTube

Take a look at the ‘Tricolore’ flag bookmark I was inclined to make upon reading Where is the Eiffel Tower? I think it makes an excellent addition to our growing collection!

So if architecture and history are your (peach) jam, and your littles love non-fiction books as much as my lad does, be sure to pick this one up, as you’re all sure to learn something, and have a great time doing so!

Flyer for the Peachy Books review of The Library with accompanying crochet bookmark inspired by the book.
Blog Roll, book reviews, non-fiction

Book Review: The Library Book by Susan Orlean

Listen to this review read-a-loud

The Library Book by Susan Orlean

My local library was my first true love, and will always remain the top place holder on my literary dance card. Growing up with a portal to unknown and enchanting worlds, only a ten-minute walk from my home was a blessing I took for granted in my early years, but is in no way lost on me now.

The nostalgia that Susan Orlean was able to elicit in The Library Book, transported me back in time to my childhood happy place. I would tear off on my bicycle and spend lazy summer days walking up and down the aisles, my eyes full of wonder at all there was to soak up about the world. It was an escape into better lands, ones filled with promise and hope, others offering solace in their dark authenticity. It was a refuge that I didn’t know I desperately needed at the time, and I’m so grateful for it when I look through the window of hindsight.

Quote From The Library Book by Susan Orlean: "Destroying a culture's books is sentencing it to something worse than death: It is sentencing it to seem as if it never lived."

The Library Book’s focal point is the Los Angeles Public Library in downtown LA, as it chronicles the history, architecture, and most profoundly, the devastating fire that left more than 1 million books damaged or destroyed in its wake. April 29th of 2021 marked 35 years since this tragic disaster. The greatest loss to any public library in the United States history, the (first) LAPL fire was both a sad and fascinating story that begged to be told. Orlean offers us a true-crime retelling of the happenings on that fateful day in 1986, as we try to figure out why someone would do such a destructive thing to historical data, art, and literature that was as important to the citizens of LA as it was to humanity as a whole.

I enjoyed reading about the influential role libraries play in society, and how they are a hub for the young, new immigrants, and the homeless; where they can assist in education, and offer coordination for community resources. It was powerful to read about the City Librarian for Los Angeles, John Szabo, and how he had teamed up with local outreach programs, to assist his patrons, and the greater community.

Quote From The Library Book by Susan Orlean: "The Library is a gathering pool of narratives and of the people who come to find them. It is where we can glimpse immortality; in the library, we can live forever."

Orlean had spent some time shadowing employees at the LAPL and shares with us the day-to-day of the motley cast of characters she encountered there. We get to know the people that served the position of head librarian over the years at the LAPL, learn about patrons, and community volunteers that lent their time and hearts to the teardown and restoration of the fire-damaged library. There was a long list of admirable philanthropists who donated their dollars to the costly and noble cause of its repair, celebrities included. Some participated in the Save The Books Telethon that aired to raise money for the replacement of the books that were lost in the blaze. If you’re interested, take five minutes to watch this spooky advertisement that was aired during the fundraiser.

I appreciated the intimate parallels Orlean shared, of her writing the book whilst her mother, the inspiration for her passion behind books and libraries, was fading away with dementia. I did, however, struggle with some of the excessive detail afforded some of the less interesting, fringe characters peppered throughout, and the more mundane events that were strung together to complete the timeline. At various intervals I had to really push myself to keep going. It could be that a local to LA might find these specifics more entertaining, but for this Canadian girl, it caused the story to drag on.

Overall, this was still worth the slow read for the shared library appreciation, fond memories, and some blogworthy quotes. And it was fun to web search all the LA libraries as they were mentioned along the way, just to add some visuals to the story. I love when a book has a game with it, haha. I’m not the only one that does this sort of thing, am I?

A 6.5 minute video recapping the fire:

Saving Central Library: Remembering the Fire and Recovery – LA Public Library

Here is the bookmark I made in honour of The Library Book:

Crochet bookmark of red books with flames on the front, inspired by the The Library Book by Susan Orlean, and made by Peachy Books.