Before I Go, Colleen Oakley

Synopsis: Twenty-seven-year-old Daisy already beat breast cancer three years ago. How can this be happening to her again?
On the eve of what was supposed to be a triumphant “Cancerversary” with her husband Jack to celebrate three years of being cancer-free, Daisy suffers a devastating blow: her doctor tells her that the cancer is back, but this time it’s an aggressive stage four diagnosis. She may have as few as four months left to live. Death is a frightening prospect—but not because she’s afraid for herself. She’s terrified of what will happen to her brilliant but otherwise charmingly helpless husband when she’s no longer there to take care of him. It’s this fear that keeps her up at night, until she stumbles on the solution: she has to find him another wife.
With a singular determination, Daisy scouts local parks and coffee shops and online dating sites looking for Jack’s perfect match. But the further she gets on her quest, the more she questions the sanity of her plan. As the thought of her husband with another woman becomes all too real, Daisy’s forced to decide what’s more important in the short amount of time she has left: her husband’s happiness—or her own?

Somehow to say you enjoyed a book about a young woman dying of cancer seems callous; nonetheless I did enjoy this novel. One reason is, the characters are very believable leaving me wondering if this is a true story, disguised as fiction. I like both Daisy and her husband Jack; their dialogue sounds authentic; it is easy to appreciate how two people who love each other totally, cannot talk about the elephant in the room. I’m sure many of us have experienced a total inability to communicate when simple communication is what is needed most.

I almost didn’t read Before I Go, because I have a young friend with the same cancer as Daisy, triple negative breast cancer, and I expected it to be a very depressing story, yet, in so many ways, this is a funny book.

Daisy is not above taking the mickey out of herself, such as her assertion that she has always been an overachiever and now her “Lots of Cancer” just shows she excels even here. Rather than depressing it is life affirming.

This is a debut novel from Colleen Oakley and I hope it is not her last. Thanks to Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books for my ARC. In Australia this novel is published by Allen and Unwin.

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Ode to Fifty Shades of Grey

I love Pam Ayres, her funny bone resonates with me, so I couldn’t resist sharing one of her recent poems. I have learned, however, that Pam is not responsible for the above ditty – the author is in fact John Summers. Poor John he has written a poem so many people are enjoying but the credit is going to Ms Ayres.  To be fair, Pam Ayres did take to Twitter to declare ‘I DID NOT write this poem… It is nothing to do with me.’  I still think it is very funny, so here is:

Ode to Fifty Shades of Grey 

by John Summer 

The missus bought a Paperback,
down Shepton Mallet way,
I had a look inside her bag;…
T’was “Fifty Shades of Grey”.

Well I just left her to it,
And at ten I went to bed.
An hour later she appeared;
The sight filled me with dread.

In her left hand she held a rope;
And in her right a whip!
She threw them down upon the floor,
And then began to strip.

Well fifty years or so ago;
I might have had a peek;
But Mabel hasn’t weathered well;
She’s eighty four next week!!

Watching Mabel bump and grind;
Could not have been much grimmer.
And things then went from bad to worse;
She toppled off her Zimmer!

She struggled back upon her feet;
A couple minutes later;
She put her teeth back in and said
“I am a dominator!!”

Now if you knew our Mabel,
You’d see just why I spluttered,
I’d spent two months in traction
For the last complaint I’d uttered.

She stood there nude and naked
Bent forward just a bit
I went to hold her, sensual like
and stood on her left tit!

Mabel screamed, her teeth shot out;
My God what had I done!
She moaned and groaned then shouted out:
“Step on the other one!!”

Well readers, I can tell no more;
Of what occurred that day.
Suffice to say my jet black hair,
Turned fifty shades of grey

Miss Daisy Conquers Britain

Author: Pamela Hunt

What a laugh out loud, delightful book this is!

Miss Daisy is 80 years old and proud of it. Some of her bits and pieces are wearing down and give her trouble more frequently than they used to, but many of us know exactly how she feels.

Just when she expects to relax and write her memoirs, (Miss Daisy has led an interesting life with many different people) she meets Her Ladyship and life becomes a series of adventures.

And what adventures she has! Her Ladyship decides that she and Miss Daisy will leave their comfortable home in Pembrokeshire and join some of Miss Daisy’s relatives in completing the John O’Groats to Land’s End rally. Her Ladyship assures Miss Daisy that although getting to John O’Groats may pose some small difficulties, “It’s downhill from then on Old Girl, all the way to Land’s End.”

Miss Daisy is not convinced; this is not the first time her Ladyship has taken her on a simple trip, only to then finish up in dire circumstances – not that Her Ladyship notices; she always blames Miss Daisy for any misadventure. Of course, Her Ladyship wins the discussion, sends Miss Daisy for minor surgery and without any further “by your leaves”, packs herself and Oscar the Asthmatic Barking Dog and they are off to John O’Groats. Oh, perhaps I should tell you, Miss Daisy is an Austin Seven Tourer, born in 1934!

Now what could possibly go wrong? Well apart from being stolen and used in a robbery; having a hitchhiker almost die in the front seat; spending a night in a, probably, haunted B & B and having kippers wired to her underside, nothing much really. Her Ladyship? Well, it is really not up to me to say but, …… expect a little romance, a little lust and a brush with Royalty. Even Oscar, the Asthmatic Barking Dog is not immune from the odd adventure or two, including an encounter with an amorous, royal corgi and Boris the Borzoi!

The story of the whole trip, adventures, misadventures and romances is told by Miss Daisy in her inimitable style, feisty, observant, quirky and entertaining. Warning! Do not read this book on public transport unless you are prepared to brave the stares of the people who wonder why you are laughing loudly.

What I can’t understand is how this is the first I’ve heard of Miss Daisy? She has a previous book, The Miss Daisy Diaries, her own website, writes a diary and a blog! Why wasn’t I told? Having found Miss Daisy, I intend to keep in touch; she is definitely my kind of lady!

This review is published on Starts at Sixty http://bit.ly/1ADbRrl

Elizabeth is Missing

Maud Horsham writes notes; where she lives; the days of the week; not to eat any more toast; instructions not to leave the house; notes telling her not to go to the shops and these notes live a life of their own in her pockets. Mostly they don’t mean much to her, there are no dates and she can’t remember why she can’t eat toast if that’s what she wants.

Not that Maud is left to her own devices. There are people who come to visit her like the carer who tells her every story about old people being bashed and robbed, cautionary tales apparently. Two other women visit frequently; one says she is Helen, her daughter, but Maud thinks she looks too old to be Helen. The one who looks the right age to be Helen says she is granddaughter Kate.

Maud’s cupboards are full of tinned peaches, or they would be if someone didn’t keep stealing them; she doesn’t know if Helen is the thief, but she does know Helen gets angry with her for buying them. Helen gets annoyed with Maud for many things these days.

But why? Is it unreasonable for an 82-year-old to ask her daughter, a professional gardener, to point out a good spot to plant marrows? Maud wouldn’t have to keep asking if Helen would stop huffing and sighing and just answer her question. Granddaughter Kate is more understanding; she doesn’t mind telling Maud her name, or reminding her where they live.

Maud knows some things get mixed up in her mind, but she is not confused when she tells everyone “Elizabeth is missing”. Elizabeth Markham and Maud became friends when they volunteered at Oxfam; now Elizabeth is not at home and her “possibly” valuable collection of “possible” majolica ware is no longer on display in the sitting room.

Maud knows about losing a loved one; seventy years earlier her beautiful sister Sukey went missing and Maud’s parents went to their grave never knowing what happened to her. The sorrow of that loss has stayed with Maud and finding Elizabeth consumes her thoughts. Why will no one listen to her? Even the police treat her like an infant, showing her no respect.

Maud is the book’s narrator and at the beginning, her mind is quite clear; she is totally articulate in her internal world. Some things she says aloud may not make sense to other people; there is a slip twixt mind and mouth. As the novel progresses, however, Maud’s dementia is more pronounced and a story she starts in one era is completed in another. The stories of Sukey and Elizabeth are intertwined and simple events take on a sinister aspect as they borrow from, and lend to, the past. The line between the two disappearances is blurred.

This is a beautifully crafted first novel by Emma Healey. I find it hard to believe she is only 29 as she exhibits an understanding of aging, not wholly explained by the fact that, “My grandmother was showing signs of dementia, and she said suddenly that a friend was missing”. There is maturity to the writing and the author produced a mystery/suspense story, full of wry humour. She displays an empathetic knowledge of aging and relationships.

Sometimes in mystery/suspense novels, the resolution makes no sense; it appears to happen just when the author reaches the page number where “all will become clear”. There is none of that feeling in Elizabeth is Missing, the story leads to a logical, justifiable solution.

I can’t recommend Elizabeth is Missing highly enough – it is such a good book.

About the author

Emma Healey grew up in London where she completed her first degree in bookbinding (learning how to put books together but not how to write them). She graduated from the MA in Creative Writing: Prose at UEA in 2011

She worked in a bookshop and then for art galleries in London’s Pall Mall area. It was during those three years spent working for galleries that she began to write in her spare time – lunchtimes, evenings and weekends. She had always been a big reader.

Elizabeth is Missing is her first novel and it sparked a nine-way bidding war between publishers, with Penguin winning out. The television rights were sold before it was even released. Ms. Healey said: “It all happened very fast. I almost feel guilty I don’t have one of those stories of being rejected by 30 publishers.”

There is a comprehensive interview with Emma published with Sarah Hampson, published in “The Globe and Mail” read the full article at this link http://bit.ly/1viv9Lj.)

The 13th Gift

Happy New Year to all my Starts at Sixty friends and Reading Readit fans; I wish you a wonderful 2015 with lots of everything you wish for yourselves, including good books.

Today is the Tenth Day of Christmas and, according to the Christmas carol, the day “my true love gave to me 10 Lords a Leaping”.

Don’t start throwing things at your computer screen!

It’s easy to feel deflated following Christmas and the New Year, let alone have someone remind you it’s two more days until, traditionally, you take down the Christmas decorations and pack them away for another year.

I saved this review until the New Year because it is The 13th Gift – an inspiring memoir of a family Christmas, made special by simple, loving kindness.  You know me; I love a good memoir and a good Christmas story, so to find the two in one book is truly a gift.

To say 1999 is not a good year for the Smith family is somewhat an understatement. In September, husband and father, Rick had heart problems requiring surgery. He decided to wait until the Christmas holidays so he could spend the recuperation time with his kids. Unfortunately, on October 8, Rick had a massive heart attack and died at home.

As you might expect, Joanne and her children Ben 17, Nick 12 and Megan 10 are not in the best of places. Joanne’s grief creates a fog where she is barely operating; mentally she is “missing”. Without their father, the family is showing cracks, as expressed by Joanne “We’re not falling apart; we’re just chipped a little bit.”

Just 12 days before Christmas, the only one showing any Christmas spirit is Megan; Mum hasn’t bought a single gift, the house is still devoid of decorations, including her extensive collection of Santa figurines, there is no tree, no turkey, no preparations at all.

Then on their doorstep they find a poinsettia with a simple card which reads “On the first day of Christmas, your true friends give to you one Poinsettia for all of you.”

This is not a great hit with the family and it is nearly consigned to landfill.  But, the true friends don’t stop with the Poinsettia.  Each day another inexpensive, seasonally appropriate gift arrives, accompanied by a Twelve Days of Christmas verse; gifts such as “Four gift boxes, Three rolls of gift wrap”.

Gradually the mystery gifts work their magic, Mum is as keen as the kids to learn the identity of the “true friends” and they set out, as a family, to solve their personal “whodunit”. Some of their ways of discovering the identities will leave you laughing, others, holding your breath.

All of us will relate to this story in various ways; loss of loved ones affects most us to a greater or lesser extent each Christmas; we sympathise and empathise with the family’s feelings of loss.

This is a book you could read in one sitting, but I chose to read it as written, one day of Christmas at a time. This heightened my enjoyment of the book, because I experienced some of the family’s anticipation. Nonetheless, it doesn’t matter how it is read, it is worth reading.

We learn the identity of the “True Friends” and the reason for what they do, giving and gifts not limited to Christmas. On the website The 13th Gift, link http://bit.ly/1C5atih, there is further information about the book, the gifts and the family.

To learn how you can be a “True Friend”, please open this link http://bit.ly/13iwT0E. It contains inspiring suggestions for what you can do in your community and for yourself.

Happy New Year everyone, happy reading. This review is published at Starts at Sixty http://bit.ly/1BlrdQF.

Angels of Death, Emily Webb

Angels of Death is subtitled Disturbing Real Life Cases of Nurses and Doctors Who Kill.

This collection of real crime cases relates the stories of some of the most appalling serial/mass killing crimes through the reporting eyes of Australian journalist Emily Webb.

Ms Webb’s style is journalistic, as you would expect, and frankly the crimes in themselves are horrid enough without adding emotive language. Although many of us are familiar with the case of Roger Dean, the nurse who murdered 11 people at a nursing home in Mount Druitt New South Wales, most of the cases reported are overseas based.

Perhaps the worst feature is that all these murders were committed by people whose career, whose calling, is the preservation of life. It is chilling and shocking that the very people into whose hands we place our health and life, abuse the privilege. One nurse even cooed to her patients “it will be alright soon” as she gave them lethal injections.

The case of nurse, Beverley Allitt dubbed “Angel of Death” by the British press, was the impetus for the book, according to a comment on the author’s website. Allitt was convicted of murdering four children, attempting to murder three others, and causing grievous bodily harm to a further six children, for which she is serving 13 consecutive life sentences. In this instance the crimes were committed over only 59 days.
Another nurse, Genene Jones also murdered babies and young children in Texas USA. Although convicted on 11 charges, the number of deaths caused by Jones may have been as high as 40. We have seen TV shows and movies which depict people with Munchhausen’s by Proxy, and may think it a not unusual disease. In fact it is quite rare, but Jones was one person with the disease.

Her devotion to her small charges was exceptional even to death, a death she caused. Her pursuit of her victims was relentless; when a child she had “saved” was sent to hospital for further investigations, she insisted she accompany them, with a chilling outcome.

But the most chilling of all, in my opinion, was Dr Harold Shipman, suspected of murdering more than 200 patients over 20 years. A GP, he used lethal doses of morphine to kill his victims and in 2000 was convicted of murdering 15 of his elderly patients.

Webb revealed the extent of her research when she said in interview, “I read all six reports of The Shipman Inquiry, which the British Government launched after his conviction, and that was probably some of the most horrifying reading I have done for research. Shipman was such a trusted, almost revered, part of his community and he totally abused that position. He even stole trinkets and keepsakes from his victims and sometimes sent sympathy notes and flowers to the families of the people he had murdered.”

“Where were the authorities in all these crimes” I hear you ask. The most unbelievable aspect of the crimes is the number of opportunities the authorities, senior nurses, doctors, hospital administration, had to stop the killing. One newly graduated nurse reported one of her seniors and was sacked! The truth is that the system fears the loss of its reputation and the attendant monetary compensation. Instead they get rid of the offender and transfer the problem to another facility. Many of these murders were committed in multiple facilities!

In the media release accompanying this book it states “Perhaps most alarming is that it could be argued healthcare serial killing is the easiest type of murder to commit … and get away with for years, or possible forever ..”.
Sincere thanks to Emily Webb, via her publisher The Five Mile Press for my ARC of this fascinating true crime book. Despite the subject matter, it is an insightful, well researched look at the world of the medical serial killer.

About the Author

Emily Webb is a News Corp Australia journalist and young mum whose passionate specialty is true crime. Emily lives in Melbourne’s outer eastern suburbs, with her detective husband.

An avid crime devotee, Emily’s crime blog, http://www.truecrimereader.com, has a growing cult following of fellow crime devotees.
Emily is the winner of the 2012 Leader Newspaper Editorial Awards for her controversial story on the new McDonald’s store locating in the tourist town of Tecoma.