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.

Image of a cheetah lunging at the viewer with a blue circle stating: Book Review Read-a-Loud, Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman brought to you by Peachy Books
Blog Roll, Saturday in Stereo

Saturday in Stereo – Book Review Read-a-Loud: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

This week for Saturday in Stereo we have the reading for the Peachy Books review of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman, which still reigns as my favourite read so far this year.

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 Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine and see the Phoenix from the Flames bookmark I was inspired to make, please click here.

Advertising Artwork for The Read-a-Loud Book Review of Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski, from Peachy Books, with a bar top holding empty margarita glasses in the background.
Blog Roll, Saturday in Stereo

Saturday in Stereo – Book Review Read-a-Loud: Ham on Rye

In case you missed it, last Sunday was Father’s day, and I wrote a review of Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski, in honour of the day. For your listening pleasure, this week on Saturday in Stereo I’ve published the read-a-loud for that review.

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!

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
Advert for Peachy Books website and book review with a picture of a glass of whiskey on the rocks beside the front cover of Charles Bukowski's Ham on Rye that says: Happy Father's Day... Sort Of. If you can handle the dark, don't miss this book review and biting 'ode' to (some) Fathers.
Blog Roll, book reviews

Father’s Day Book Review – Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski

Listen to the read-a-loud for this review

“Fiction is an improvement on life.”

Charles Bukowski, Ham on Rye

Dedication in Ham On Rye: ‘For all the Fathers’

*This review has some spoilers*

There was a time in my life when thinking of Father’s Day would conjure up the prose of Charles Bukowski, as opposed to the angelic verse you find in the greeting card section of your local shop. It’s been a passing thought, more than once, that I would prefer a brand of greeting that was honest about the failings of the recipient, not some gilded version of what they could have been, had they been someone completely different. Why must those of us with the misfortune of having bad parents be tortured twice a year into pretending that our dear old dads taught us everything we know, or how our magnificent moms used to cut the crusts off our nut butter and organic preserve sandwiches, just right?

When I used to think of fathers – the ones that most of my classmates seemed to have, those on sitcoms, or even the one my mother had – I would get a little Bukowski-esque: bitter, resentful, and then after enough alcohol, apathetic. Father’s day was nothing but a week-long leadup to a depressing day with torturous reminders that everyone else seemed to get handed a protective and nurturing knight for their Dad, and instead, I would spend the rest of my life trying to heal from the gaping wounds left by mine. My father was a toxic mixture of Bukowski the drunk, and his strop-wielding maker, with some extra poison for good measure. This review, were he alive today, would be the closest thing to a tribute that he would ever receive.

I want to be clear, I hold nothing against those good people out there that were fortuitous enough to have such shining examples of greatness at the helm of their beginnings, at least in this stage of my journey. My bitterness surrounding the issue of these commemorative days has more to do with a system that inflates them into commercial spending sprees and does so by media manipulation and over-saturation throughout society. (Please note, I am now a cog in this machine, as of late, with my post about the Top 5 Books For Dad, so welcome to the height of hypocrisy). 

Of course, in the last decade this type of toxic marketing, amongst others, has become amplified via the monster that is social media, properly slaying nations and their children. This beast is a malevolent force that reminds a person what they are lacking, in glaring and constant ways, thus pushing insecurities deeper, whilst eroding confidence and drive. Sounds almost like what happened to Bukowski, except for him it was due to a different ogre: his father.

Life wasn’t easy for Henry, the literary stand-in of Bukowski’s creation, and agonist of this semi-autobiography, Ham on Rye. One doesn’t know exactly what parts of the book weren’t truly Bukowski’s story, but you don’t have to look too far into his other work to see the pain and trauma that he asserts came at the hands of his detestable, racist, and raunchy father. 

Henry was a young boy growing up in the depression era, a time which saw many families with fathers out of work, his being no exception. Poverty and malnutrition were commonplace in his neighbourhood, but his was the only father that simultaneously pretended they were rich.

We all came from depression families and most of us were ill-fed, yet we had grown up to be huge and strong. Most of us, I think, got little love from our families, and we didn’t ask for love and kindness from anybody.’

Henry’s father would see beans and weenies on his plate and boast of how they were eating the finest meal. He would rise early each morning and leave the house, only to return after the length of a typical workday, just so the neighbours wouldn’t know that he too was unemployed. He was larger than life.

‘I heard my father come in. He always slammed the door, walked heavily, and talked loudly. He was home. After a few moments the bedroom door opened. He was six feet two, a large man. Everything vanished, the chair I was sitting in, wallpaper, the walls, all of my thoughts. He was the dark covering the sun, the violence of him made everything else utterly disappear. He was all ears, nose, mouth, I couldn’t look at his eyes, there was only his red angry face.’

All of that emasculation, frustration, and delusion resulted in an angry tyrant who felt no weight about taking things out on his son. Playing with local ‘hooligans,’ writing stories, or the old standby: a failed attempt to remove every last blade of rogue grass missed with the mower; anything could result in Henry incurring his father’s strop, often 2-3 times a week.

Charles Bukowski Quote from Ham on Rye, with a backdrop of bottles on display at a bar: 'I felt even the sun belonged to my father, that I had no right to it because it was shining upon my father's house. I was like his roses, something that belonged to him and not to me...'

As this terrible man continued to treat Henry in these vile ways, while his mother just sat there agreeing with everything he said and calling him ‘Daddy,’ *cringe* I could feel my jaw clenching. I was reminded of the man we meet in the first chapter of the book, Henry’s alcoholic grandfather, and questioned what role he had to play in who his father had become. It is likely to have been considerable, as both his uncles were also alcoholics, and his aunt was estranged from the family. Shit rolls downhill, as they say.

“My father didn’t like people. He didn’t like me. “Children should be seen and not heard,” he told me.”

I became hopeful for a moment, with the appreciation his writing received from his fifth-grade teacher for an embellished paper that he had submitted about having attended a local visit from President Hoover. This gave Henry a sense of pride and satisfaction for the first time. He had a skill, with value. He had found currency, not only with his teacher but with the other students, even the bullies. But it wasn’t enough to last, and he was soon destitute once again.

Given Henry’s isolation from other children whilst growing up, and his needing to withstand his childhood within the confines of his mind, he acquired a propensity to daydream, and a survivour’s need of dissociation. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that he became the writer he did, and explains both his imagination and his inability to form real connections with others throughout his journey.

‘… since some people had told me that I was ugly, I always preferred shade to the sun, darkness to the light.’

Henry had a protective nature towards animals and other vulnerable beings in general, a quality that I’ve noticed in many others who have lived a life mired in trauma. He had an affinity for collecting strays and misfits. At school, the outcasts were drawn to him, and whether he liked it or not, he couldn’t shake them because he knew what it felt like to be cast aside. When he wasn’t able to sufficiently protect whatever sorry soul he was in defence of, he castigated himself for being a weakling.

‘He was so pitiful that I couldn’t tell him to get lost. He was like a mongrel dog, starved and kicked. Yet it didn’t make me feel good going around with him. But since I knew that mongrel dog feeling, I let him hang around.’

In 7th grade, he tried alcohol for the first time at a friend’s house. Life began for Henry that fateful day, as the clouds parted and the sun shone on his face from the heavens above; after 13 years he had finally found a way to feel good.

‘Never had I felt so good. It was better than masturbating. I went from barrel to barrel. It was magic. Why hadn’t someone told me? With this, life was great, a man was perfect, nothing could touch him.’

Except for his father and the strop, especially when he found out his son was partaking in an activity that he despised. After seeing the effects of alcohol on his father and brothers, Henry’s father wanted nothing to do with drunks, which no doubt made the drug all the more enticing to our rebellious antihero.

A violent and soul-crushing family life wasn’t all that Henry had to contend with, as he had hormonal issues that resulted in debilitating acne. The vivid descriptions of the medical procedures that he had to withstand, and the pain that he had to endure multiple times, for months, were hard to read. Other than the friend he eventually found in alcohol, there was no form of solace or saving grace for Henry throughout this story, save for a kind nurse that he never saw again once his invasive acne treatments were complete. I felt perpetually sad for him, increasingly so.

The beauty of healing through art was one of few tools that Henry availed himself of, as he spent his spare time recovering from his devastating acne by filling a notebook with the escapades of his hero and creation, Baron Von Himmlen.

‘The Baron went on doing magic things. Half the notebook was filled with Baron Von Himmlen. It made me feel good to write about the Baron. A man needed somebody. There wasn’t anybody around, so you had to makeup somebody, make him up to be like a man should be. It wasn’t make-believe or cheating. The other way was make-believe and cheating: living your life without a man like him around.’

I also empathised with his existential confrontation with God during those lonely days of healing. I’m sure religion and faith are laughable things when you are a young man suffering through the hardships of the depression-era, unloving and abusive parents, and trapped in absolute isolation. It is almost certain that one would feel forsaken.

‘All right, God, say that you are really there. You have put me in this fix. You want to test me. Suppose I test you? Suppose I say that You are not there. You’ve given me a supreme test with my parents and with these boils. I think that I have passed your test. I am tougher than You. If You will come down here right now, I will spit into Your face, if You have a face… I think you have been picking on me too much so I am asking You to come down here so I can put You to the test.’

The library was a saviour for Henry, as it has been for much struggling youth, myself included. He was thrilled by the possibility found in the words of others, and the healing that reading books can offer.

Charles Bukowski Quote from Ham on Rye: It all came rushing at me. One book led to the next...It was a joy. Words weren't dull, words were things that could make your mind hum. If you read them and let yourself feel the magic, you could love without pain, with hope, no matter what happened to you.'

There came a point when Henry needed to forge his path, and find his own identity; one that wasn’t an extension of his father’s. He found that route through alcohol and a tough-guy persona. He was proud when his coach from middle school referred to him as one of the ‘bad guys,’ or when the girls were shocked by his brutish antics. At least he could be someone of his own making.

At times disgusting, and others hilarious, it was always interesting to read the locker room banter between the young lads, where Henry vacillated between victim and perpetrator, and they all, collectively, struggled to find out who they were, and where their place was in the hierarchy that is high school.

Bukowski pontificated on the insufferableness of the limited choices for a young and poor person making their way through school. How things are tailor-made to break one’s spirit, to better facilitate the transition and assimilation into the adult world, and I found myself in agreement.

‘The problem was you had to keep choosing between one evil or another, and no matter what you chose, they sliced a little bit more off you, until there was nothing left. At the age of 25 most people were finished. A whole god-damned nation of assholes driving automobiles, eating, having babies, doing everything in the worst way possible, like voting for the presidential candidate who reminded them most of themselves.’

He was bitter and felt it unfair that he would have to work a dead-end job because he didn’t have the means to be properly educated to get a high-paying one. He claimed that his apathy and lack of drive were a direct result of his father’s desire to be rich, which in turn made him want to be a bum. Part of that is likely true, but another aspect could be that he made himself believe he didn’t want anything and became lazy so as not to be exceedingly disappointed by not being able to have these things afforded the lucky ones. A get them before they get me, mentality.

‘Now, I thought, pushing my cart along, I have this job. Is this to be it? No wonder men robbed banks. There were too many demeaning jobs. Why the hell wasn’t I a superior court judge or a concert pianist? Because it took training and training cost money. But I didn’t want to be anything anyhow. And I was certainly succeeding.’

I was pulling for Henry, I wanted him to have a loving and dependable person stand up for him in his early life. I think that would have made all the difference, and that he might not have remained stagnant in his development if there were someone there to show him about love. But alas, there was no guardian angel, and he just continued to exist. Sure, it was on his terms, as he bolted from home early and lived in rooming houses; struggling, boozing, and brawling. It wasn’t what I would call, even mildly, ‘healthy’ living, never mind whether it was truly enjoyable.

Even as he was adamant in the later chapters of the book that his life was how he wanted it – without the anchor of a job, a wife, or kids – he offers glimpses into the loneliness that shrouded him. There were parts of Ham on Rye when Henry would request the company of strangers, almost begging for them to join him in his drinking binges. Those were the times when I felt the saddest for him. His defeat, however, was laced with pride, as he appreciated himself too much to simply just end it. I found this excerpt to be a clear view into his bitterness that was forever gnawing at his soul. 

‘Sitting there drinking, I considered suicide, but I felt a strange fondness for my body, my life. Scarred as they were, they were mine. I would look into the dresser mirror and grin: if you’re going to go, you might as well take eight, or ten or twenty of them with you…’

After I had finished reading this tragedy of a broken life I was left with pity, sadness, and an overwhelming sense of melancholy for a man that was too numb to feel any of these things himself. His prose is sparse but concise and pointed. I agreed with some of his commentary on society and war, but I didn’t find his words to be overly profound, so my rating sits at 4 peaches for Ham On Rye. It should be noted that my original rating was 3.5, but after assessing the book and his words deeper for the writing of this review, I’ve bumped it up. I will read the other Henry Chinaski books, partly because I’m curious about how much of a trainwreck this guy will become, but also for the dark humour bestrewn within the writing.

As for me and my Bukowski-like bitterness, I’ve developed an appreciation of what Mums and Dads should be, which I’ve acquired through life with my chosen clan, post-family-from-hell. I would surely hide in a technology-free zone, on the second Sunday of every May and June for the rest of eternity, drowning myself in spirits and the caustic words of Bukowski had I not my son’s father to love, or my cherished position as Mummy to fill. The reading of this book has reminded me how I’d narrowly averted that boozy bullet. I am forever grateful to my guys for lifting me out of my previous vitriolic existence, and I can’t help but feel sorry for Bukowski for not having had the same chance. Who knows? He clearly and repeatedly stated throughout his works that this sort of saving was something he not only didn’t need but was repelled by. Instead, he seemed to find solace in the bottom of a bottle, and redemption through words on a page, so maybe in the end that was good enough for him.

Happy Father’s Day to the amazing Daddies out there, like my son’s. The world would be much darker (and ‘drunker’) without you.

A young Charles Bukowski with his parents and the poem he wrote for his father.

Here is the sudsy beer mug bookmark I made, inspired by Ham on Rye.

Crochet bookmark of a sudsy beer mug with a flaming tassel in yellow, orange and red, with a tree bark background, superimposed on an orange painted background
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.
Peachy Books Graphic showing a rocket ship flying into outerspace with a purple coloured galaxy in the background and a planet with surrounding stars, with a text box below it in purple with yellow and orange letters that says: Visit the Peachy Books Review for the Who HQ Series Title: Where is Our Solar System? Today!
book reviews, Middle Grade, Sciences

Book Review: Where Is Our Solar System? by Stephanie Sabol

Book Cover for Where is Our Solar System? from the Who HQ series

Where Is Our Solar System?

Stephanie Sabol, illustrated by Ted Hammond

Children across the globe love to learn about the solar system. I’m in my 40s, yet I can remember doing my first oral presentation, standing up at the front of the class and nervously sputtering out the names of the colourful orbs I’d so carefully cut from construction paper and displayed on flimsy poster board.

With technology being what it is, kids have it too easy these days! How often do they even do a physical presentation, given the habits being adapted through COVID virtual learning? With the choice available to him, my son excitedly opts for online slide projects as opposed to the cutting, pasting, and printing required for a tangible design.

Never mind research trips to the library for facts and content – which I loved – this lad only needs to do a simple web search and he’s met with endless pages of info to draw from; easy, peasy!

Where is Our Solar System? is not only a fun and interesting read, it would have been the perfect resource for doing a project back in the olden days. This one book would give you all the interesting data you needed for any middle grade project.

Historically speaking, we are taught about how the sky helped ancient people with navigating their ships based on the alignment of the stars, how the ancients told time with the position of the sun, and how they would organise planting schedules based on the moon’s phases for better yields at harvest.

We learn how planets were first discovered through the naked eye of early stargazers, and how the curiosity of early Greek scientists led to the study of astronomy. Visit the Mythology of the Solar System post in The Gallery to learn more about how Roman and Greek mythology inspired the names of the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn.

There are sections devoted to describing the planets and their sizes comparatively to Earth that I found enlightening, although my little space lover was quick to inform me, “You’re just late to the party, Mummy!’

We both learned a fascinating fact about Jupiter: its famous red spot is a storm that has been raging for over 340 years!

A Peachy Books graphic showing the red spot on Jupiter that says, The Great Red Spot is a persistent anticyclonic storm on the planet Jupiter, 22∘ South of the Equator, which has lasted at least 340 years.

And did you know that our moon is just a piece of Earth that was broken off from the planet after being hit by a very large object? 

Giant Impact Hypothesis diagram
Giant Impact hypothesis that resulted in our moon forming

To the thrill of my son, special attention was also paid to the planet Mars, and the Curiosity Rover that landed there in 2012.  

Image of the Mars Rover Curiosity in 2012
Mars rover Curiosity which touched down on August 5th, 2012

Learning is made easy as the informative diagrams and pictures throughout are not only eye-catching, but help to explain some of the concepts visually for little ones. For example, a basketball court is used to describe the Earth’s distance from the sun, the Earth’s axis, and the resulting season changes around the globe.

Minor mention of UFOs, and aliens, are part of the recount, as well as major innovations in space exploration like the Hubble Telescope, and the ISS are there to be explored.

Picture of the Hubble Telescope with the Earth in the background
The Hubble Telescope that was launched in 1990

Lest we forget why it all began, we are informed of the space race that spurred JFK to extensively fund space research, with the goal to beat the Russian Cosmonauts in putting the first man on the moon!

We really enjoyed reading this one from Who HQ, and this novice learned a tonne of new things since my early years when I was fascinated by our solar system. I’ve rounded up to 4.5 peaches for my rating, so make sure to share this educational book with your budding astronomer, they won’t be disappointed!

Here is the shooting star bookmark I was inspired to make when reading Where Is Our Solar System?

Shooting Star crochet bookmark being displayed on the first pages of the book Destination Moon.
Image of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine book with a crochet red, orange, yellow, and plum phoenix from the flames bookmark
book reviews, Contemporary Fiction

Book Review: Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Blue Book Cover for Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

Gail Honeyman

*Some Spoilers Within*

The month of May is about Mental Health Awareness, and as someone who has been battling with mental health throughout life, I am always eager to recognise the occasion. This year I am doing so by reading and reviewing Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman. Of course, Eleanor isn’t fine, and herein lies the façade of wellness that people masquerade behind, and that others are willing to accept to keep their own ‘wellness’ properly shielded. What a perfectly fine way to keep everyone teetering on the edge of madness. It’s time to change that, and it starts with honest and unflinching stories like this one.

Eleanor is not an easy woman to admire, as she is judgemental, unabashedly ornery, and wallows in misery. Some might find her downright annoying because of these attributes, but I am rather fond of her because of them. The realness that she exudes is exactly what I would expect of someone having gone through the traumas that she has shouldered, and Honeyman has written a phenomenally accurate portrayal of a broken and abandoned soul, arrested in development, and closed down to human connection.

I wasn’t good at pretending, that was the thing. After what had happened…given what went on there, I could see no point in being anything other than truthful with the world. I had, literally, nothing left to lose.

As uncomfortable as her behaviour might be for others, it is her reality that has moulded her, and most would likely carry on the same way if handed her experiences. Do we just cast away and ignore broken people, those who make us feel uneasy? At the very least we shun them socially, thus we’re not reminded of their pain.

Favourite Quote by Gail Honeyman in the book Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine: "If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn't spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say."

Imagine, if you will, living every day of your life without a parent that loves you. As sad as it is, a lot of people in the world have a void in place of ONE of their parental figures. Either of the two people charged to love, cherish, and support a child instead have either used, abused, or abandoned them, sometimes all three. But being dealt the double whammy of having two duds for a mom and dad, now, that’s a rough ride. Add foster care and no other family to the mix and you’ve got a recipe for the social pariah that is Eleanor.

I wondered if that’s what it would be like in a family–if you had parents, or a sister, say, who would be there, no matter what.

Life is full of suffering, and making it in a world that will chew you up even when you’ve been sent in fortified with a force field of unconditional love is one thing, but what happens to those without a stitch of armour? They become hardened, disconnected, fearful, and live by the mantra, ‘I will get them before they get me.’ Not a very pleasant way to be, but a harsh reality, nonetheless.

I had no one, and it was futile to wish it were otherwise. After all, it was no more than I deserved. And really, I was fine, fine, fine.

At times you’ll see people invalidate the struggle of someone like Eleanor, lambaste them and instruct them that all they need to do is pull up their bootstraps and deal with their childhood issues like it’s just a rite of passage or a hill to climb; besides everyone has problems, right? But when you haven’t a soul that cares for you, how do you know how to care for others, least of all yourself? How do you realise that you are even worth it?

I pondered this. Was that what people wanted for their children, for them to be happy? It certainly sounded plausible.

It has been my experience that it takes just one person to show kindness and affection to someone who has lived a life in survival mode, to make all the difference and set things in motion towards betterment, and for Eleanor, Raymond is that person.

Quote from Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: "Sometimes you simply needed someone kind to sit with you while you dealt with things."

Raymond is a kind and endearing chap that fate has dangled in the path of Eleanor, and not a moment too soon. Although she hasn’t the ability to recognise the fortune that their becoming friends affords her, we the readers are able to see how his lightness of spirit is able to envelop the darkness of Eleanor’s heart, and how she slowly evolves into whom she was always meant to be.

Raymond is a saint, that’s for certain, as Eleanor undoubtedly tests the limits of his friendship with her quirky, bold, and destructive ways, but because he is a true friend who cares for her unconditionally -something she has never personally experienced before – her fortress of fear and judgement cracks, and she makes a metamorphic shift.

Eleanor, I said to myself, sometimes you’re too quick to judge people…The voice in my head – my own voice – was actually quite sensible, and rational, I’d begun to realise. It was Mummy’s voice that had done all the judging, and encouraged me to do so too. I was getting to quite like my own voice, my own thoughts. I wanted more of them. They made me feel good, calm even. They made me feel like me.

This novel will tear you down and toss you up, spin you around and leave you coming out dizzy by its surprise ending, but it is so worth the read. Eleanor is mistrusting, damaged, frightened, and unaware of the possibilities that life holds for her, but she is also a survivour and an inspiration. No matter the devastating circumstances that we are made privy to throughout, by the novels conclusion we are left uplifted, cheery, and exalted by a life headed in the right direction. A perfect selection for a discussion about the importance of mental health, and the ways to achieve it.

“In the end, what matters is this: I survived.” I gave him a very small smile. “I survived, Raymond!” I said, knowing that I was both lucky and unlucky, and grateful for it.

Favourite New Word:

sybarite – (noun)  /ˈsɪb.ər.aɪt/ A person devoted to pleasure and luxury; a voluptuary.

Eleanor inspired me to make a bookmark of the phoenix rising from the flames.

Image of Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine book with a crochet red, orange, yellow, and plum phoenix from the flames bookmark