February, 2012

Feb 12

Diving Belles, by Lucy Wood

Diving Belles, by Lucy Wood is like nothing I have ever read before – and that’s a good thing!

I’d heard a lot about this book and had read the very high praise it was receiving so was intrigued to see what all the fuss was about. I certainly wasn’t disappointed. The jacket sleeve alone is enough to wax lyrical about, with it’s enticing  imagery and wonderful colours.

Diving Belles is a collection of twelve short stories, all of which are set around the Cornish coast and which, to offer a simple explanation, combine Cornish folklore with the everyday. But these are not simply stories about tin mines, pixies and fishermen. Far from it and I’m sure Lucy would wince at the thought!  These are intriguing, magical, other-worldly, truly original stories which really defy genre or description.

As the blurb on the inside of the book states: ‘Along Cornwall’s ancient coast, the flotsam and jetsam of the past becomes caught in the cross-currents of the present and, from time to time, a certain kind of magic can float to the surface….Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Magpies whisper to lonely drivers late at night. Trees can make wishes come true – provided you know how to wish properly first.’

It doesn’t feel quite right to say here what Lucy’s stories are ‘about’ – I think each reader will decide that for themselves – but I will admit to particularly enjoying ‘Countless Stones’ and the title story, ‘Diving Belles’.

This is certainly a book for lovers of words and imagery, for readers who want a book to immerse them in another place completely, to whisk them away from their suburban sitting room and deposit them among the standing stones, underwater worlds and soaring clifftops of Lucy’s creation. It is, perhaps, the best sort of fairy tale book for grownups.

I thoroughly enjoyed Lucy’s stories and while I was certainly taken into the world of Cornwall’s ancient coast, I suspect Diving Belles could become even more magical if read while sitting on a bench on a windswept coastal path.


Lucy Wood has a Master’s degree in Create Writing from Exeter University.  She grew up in Cornwall. Diving Belles is is her first work.

Diving Belles is published by Bloomsbury in hardback. Many thanks to Eleanor Weil for sending the review copy.

Feb 12

Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, by Amy Chua

When Amy Chau’s ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ was first published in 2011 and an excerpt appeared in the Wall Street Journal, a huge media backlash began, condemning Amy for her Chinese parenting techniques and seriously questioning the concept of the ‘Tiger Mother’.

I had my own opinion on the matter and wrote on my blog about how shocking it all was and why I would never be a ‘Tiger Mother’ myself. But I hadn’t read Amy’s book. Now, having read the paperback edition which is published by Bloomsbury, my opinion has changed slightly.

‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’, apart from anything else, is an excellently written, humorous, intelligent and, at times, self-deprecating  memoir. Amy’s writing is sharp, her account of family life is brutally honest and yet she isn’t afraid to laugh at herself and point out her own flaws.

From the outset, Amy paints a revealing picture of family life with her husband Jed, her daughters Sophia and Lulu (and the dogs who eventually join the family – Amy’s Chinese Mother approach to ‘parenting’ a dog is part insanity, part hilarious account of how she recognises she cannot always be in control).

Of course, Amy’s approach to raising her daughters is vastly – and sometimes shockingly – different to the approach taken by the majority of ‘Western’ parents. And yet, having read ‘Battle Hymn’, I’m not angry with Amy, as I expected to be. I don’t despise her, I don’t even condemn her. I actually applaud her unbelievable self-discipline and drive, even if I cannot understand it and certainly don’t feel that there would be a place for it in my own home.

Her continual, and often very dramatic, battles with her daughters over piano and violin practice may be extreme, but there is a part of me – the coaxing my children to eat their dinners part – which completely gets where Amy is coming from, as a mother, putting herself into an unpleasant situation in the belief that you are trying to do what you believe is best for your children.

There are some very painful low points between Amy and her daughters, but these always seem to be countered by the most amazing high points as they reach a seemingly unattainable goal and shine in their public performances, playing the piano or violin. Amy’s pride and absolute love for her girls, at these times, is hard to deny.

From the gasp-inducing episode of the ‘Birthday Card’, to the relentless pursuit of excellence which involves booking the grand ballroom of the hotel they are staying in while on holiday so the girls don’t miss out on any piano practice time, to dealing with two family illnesses, to the final showdown with her youngest daughter in a restaurant near Red Square, this is an account of family life which I couldn’t put down.

With the paperback edition comes a post script from Amy, which gives us an additional insight  into her reaction to the media storm which followed the initial publication of the book. Her re-telling of just one of the many interviews she experienced is hilarious. We also have the letter written from Sophia which was posted in the New York Post: ‘Why I love my Tiger Mother’. This, perhaps above all else, tells the real story of ‘Battle Hymn’.

Perhaps all parents face their own battles when it comes to raising children. ‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ certainly makes you think about your own parenting style. Ironically, I read the closing chapters of the book as I sat sipping a coffee, waving occasionally to my children as my husband played with them in the swimming pool. I could almost feel Amy breathing over my shoulder admonishing me for my shockingly lazy parenting techniques!

Amy Chua’s battle is definitely one to open your eyes – and one which you simply cannot offer an opinion on until you’ve read the book.

‘Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother’ is published by Bloomsbury.

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