Book Review: Wilderness

Wilderness by Roddy Doyle

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wilderness is a book for younger readers. I usually enjoy such books, but something about this one just didn’t do it for me. I didn’t connect with the characters. I couldn’t relate to them.

It’s a story of two boys who are taken on a wilderness holiday by their mother. She is keen to be away from home while her husband’s first wife visits their daughter, who lives with her dad. I enjoyed the mother/daughter relationship — the fear, anger and getting to know each other scenes. However, I didn’t enjoy the wilderness side of the book. It bordered on boring. It didn’t feel realistic. And the climax wasn’t very suspenseful.

It’s a story that explores relationships within dysfunctional families, which is a situation I know well, but that’s where my connection with this book ended.

Having said this, it wasn’t a terrible book, just not meaningful enough for my liking.

Genealogy: 1901 & 1911 Irish Census Online

I have a few Irish connections, but not many considering the number of people in my tree. G, on the other hand, has a direct ancestor who was Irish and moved to Scotland; one of his children (or maybe a few of them, I can’t clearly remember offhand) emigrated to Australia. This is a clear indication that genealogists can easily be looking in the wrong place for the information they seek.

Anyway, I was thrilled to discover that the Irish Census records for 1901 and 1911 have been made available online. From what I can see, the records are searchable and free. This is courtesy of The National Archives of Ireland.

About the 1901 and 1911 censuses

The 1901 and 1911 censuses are the only surviving full censuses of Ireland open to the public. Both censuses cover the island of Ireland. They were released to public inspection in 1961, because of the stream of requests for information about people’s ages, particularly those born before civil registration of births began in 1864.

The 1901 census was taken on 31st March 1901. The 1911 census was taken on 2 April 1911.

What information does the census contain?

Ireland is unusual among English-speaking census-taking countries in that our original household manuscript returns survive. These are the forms filled out and signed by the head of each household on census night. Most other countries only have Enumerators’ books, where family details were transcribed by the person charged with collecting the census information.

The basic topographical divisions for the census are: County; District Electoral Division; Townland or Street. This is a simple hierarchical structure which makes it easy to access any area in the country. The returns are arranged in clusters by townland/street within district electoral division within county. For each townland/street, there are a number of original household returns, filled in and signed by heads of households, and three statistical returns, dealing with religious denominations, classification of buildings, and out-offices and farm-steadings, filled out by the Enumerator for that townland/street.

– taken from The National Archives of Ireland website

Book Review: When I Forgot

When I Forgot by Elina Hirvonen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I saw this in a second hand bookshop and, liking the blurb, decided to buy it.

When I Forgot is a dark, contemporary story of only 180 pages. It’s written in a way that I found to be quite confusing at times, as it moved back and forth between time periods frequently and I became a bit lost. Yet the information being slowly fed to me was intriguing, which meant I had to keep reading to find out what was happening.

Anna is a young woman sitting in a café trying to read a book. Yet the content of the book brings memories of her childhood to mind. She spends the entire day lost in thought, remembering a childhood wrought with fear and distrust. She also remembers the day dreams she had to help keep herself sane – a child’s effort to hold on to hope. As her story unfolds the darkness shifts and it’s easy to relate to why a person wants to forget, why Anna chose to forget. But in forgetting the bad times she also forgot the good memories too, because rarely is life all bad.

This story is about mental illness, the effects of war and the perspective of a child who doesn’t fully understand what is happening to her family. It’s a story that clearly shows how one person’s actions can affect so many lives. It’s a story that shows that love can be so deeply buried you don’t know it’s there.

I could really relate to the theme, the emotions and the feeling of hopelessness. The author’s writing style, however, was not for me. The confusion I felt whilst reading was distracting and, in the end, irritating. I’m glad the book was short because I don’t think I could have dealt with it much longer, which is a shame, because if it had been written with a smoother style this would have been a very moving reading experience.

Book Review: Some Kind of Normal

Some Kind of Normal by Heidi Willis

My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

I finished this on Monday 7 June 2010. I was on the train, surrounded by people, trying to hide the fact that I was crying. It was extremely difficult and I’m not sure if I succeeded or not. But in the end it didn’t matter. I didn’t care. I stared out the window into the dark night and let it happen.

Some Kind of Normal is different to what I usually read. It’s a book that I probably wouldn’t have taken any notice of, except for the fact that I’ve been reading the author’s blog for about eight or so months. The author writes well balanced, informative posts which I always enjoy and it was for that reason I decided to take a chance on her book.

Babs Babcock is a wife and mother. She’s not special in any way. She considers herself unintelligent, uninformed and unlikely to ever amount to anything. She is even unsure in her faith. Her family are normal, everyday battlers. Her husband barely holding on to his job. Her son rebellious and distant. Her daughter a typical pre-teen. When her daughter collapses in the driveway one morning, their lives change forever. Everything they know is thrown aside and the threat of death looms around them constantly.

This is a story of a family battling with difficult decisions that go against everything they believe in. They must fight their inner demons, but they also find themselves fighting against each other and the community. They must sit and watch someone they love deal with pain, discomfort and possible death. They must do this without knowing if their lives will ever return to some kind of normal again.

It’s a story that challenges the reader to think about what they would do if they found themselves in a similar situation. It’s a story that reminds us that we have no right to judge other people’s actions and decisions.

Babs is fictitious, but she’s so well written you’d swear she was a real woman with real problems. Because of this, it felt like I was privy to her personal diary and that drew me into the family’s crisis and held me tight. Having a family history of type 1 diabetes (although I don’t have it myself) I also learned a lot about this medical condition and now understand what aunts and cousins are going through, which I never fully appreciated before.

The book isn’t filled with dragons or made up worlds or brave men carrying heavy swords. You won’t find action scenes filled with blood and gore or murderous villains with evil thoughts of taking over the world within these pages. What you will find is a mother’s battle to keep her daughter alive…and it’s so real, it’s heart wrenching.

It’s an excellent book and I highly recommend it.

Book Review: Dreamer

Dreamer by Steven Harper

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

I actually finished this book at the end of May but am only just getting around to writing about it. Dreamer is a science fiction book and I haven’t read anything of that genre for several years.

The prologue showed a world in chaos after civil wars and battles for leadership between planets. It showed a couple’s attempt at survival in a world where there was little food or water. And…in a world where money meant the difference between life and death, they had none. It was a strong piece of writing and I quickly grew attached to the characters and setting.

When chapter one started with different characters and an obviously different time period, I was utterly disappointed. I wanted to know what became of the couple and wasn’t particularly interested in the new characters. But I read on and with time the new characters grew on me and I eventually gave up trying to work out where the couple fit in to the story and just went with the flow.

Kendi is a brother in a religious order called Children of Irfan (no, it’s not a religious story). Sejal is a rebellious teenager living on planet Rust. Their paths cross when something strange starts happening in the Dream – a place where certain people can meet and communicate, no matter where they are located, even if they are light years apart. A darkness is ascending into the usual tranquil Dream and a black hole is swallowing the minds of the people who can go there. This leaves them emotionless which in some cases turns violent, forcing some people to take their own lives or the lives of others.

It seems that Sejal is the key, he is a powerful Silent (person who enters the Dream), but has no idea about any of it until Kendi takes him under his wing and starts training him. But the Children of Irfan were not the only ones looking for Sejal. He is being sort by many. All have an agenda of their own. All want to use him to achieve their goal. Sejal is unsure who he can trust and flees. Meanwhile the chaos caused in the dream is affecting many worlds and is becoming increasingly dangerous.

It’s an interesting story, with a different look on Australian Dreamtime. My only issue with this particular area of the story was that it felt vague and unsure – hesitant, may be the better word. In fact, I had read a huge chunk of the book before I realised Kendi was an Australian aboriginal. I have since researched the author and found that he is not an Australian and doesn’t live in Australia, so I suspect this is the reason for the vagueness.

This small point aside, Dreamer is a book that will make the reader confront issues such as sexuality and death. There are some graphic scenes concerning suicide too. And, of course, the couple at the beginning of the story were there for a reason.

Dreamer is the first book of the Silent Empire Series. I have the second book and look forward to finding out where it will take me.