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Book Review: A Boy Made of Blocks by Keith Stuart

Two things drew me to Keith Stuart’s novel, A Boy Made of Blocks: the first was that it was inspired by his own experiences with one of his sons, who was diagnosed with autism, and I hoped it might help me see the world through the eyes of someone with autism and those closest to them, and perhaps come to a better understanding of it. Secondly, what with the father and son in the book bonding over Minecraft, I figured A Boy Made of Blocks might finally shed some light on the (mysterious to me) appeal of console games for people like Sam, his dad, Alex, and my own husband.

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex
He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

Meet eight-year-old Sam
Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can’t solve on his own.

But when Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . .

Can one fragmented family put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

When the book opens, Alex is in a bad place: he can’t seem to do anything right, or hold anything much together. His family has reached crisis point and his wife, Jody, decides to show him some tough love in a last attempt to get him to sort himself out and start pulling his weight in the family. I could understand Jody’s frustration and how she felt that Alex was behaving just like another child of the family, rather than a real partner to her, but I had a certain amount of sympathy for Alex too. I’m not a parent, and I’ve definitely not been blessed with much patience, so I know that I would struggle to cope in Alex and Jody’s shoes, where they constantly feel as if they’re treading on eggshells and any paths to communication with Sam run through a minefield. Of course, that doesn’t mean that one parent can abdicate responsibility and leave it all up to the other either and Alex did frustrate me at times, as a character who is prone to wallowing in his own miserable situation while others get on with things around him. And yet, something about him had me rooting for him to find a way back to Sam, and Jody. Read more

Book Review: The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old by Hendrik Groen

Even before meeting those winning and winsome literary silver arctic foxes Harold Fry* and Allan Karlsson**, I’ve long held a special place in my heart for older men with a bit of a twinkle in their eye and a penchant for roguish mischief and storytelling, thanks to a much-loved and missed uncle, and a godfather who wrote the best letters I’ve ever received. Through university, I soon migrated away from the student’s union bars to the spit-and-sawdust pubs of Cardiff, in search of their kind. So it feels only natural that I still look for them in the pages of books I read. This year, he appeared in the form of Hendrik Groen.

‘Another year and I still don’t like old people. Me? I am 83 years old.’

Hendrik Groen may be old, but he is far from dead and isn’t planning to be buried any time soon. Granted, his daily strolls are getting shorter because his legs are no longer willing and he had to visit his doctor more than he’d like. Technically speaking he is … elderly. But surely there is more to life at his age than weak tea and potted geraniums?

Hendrik sets out to write an exposé: a year in the life of his care home in Amsterdam, revealing all its ups and downs – not least his new endeavour the anarchic Old-But-Not Dead Club. And when Eefje moves in – the woman Hendrik has always longed for – he polishes his shoes (and his teeth), grooms what’s left of his hair and attempts to make something of the life he has left, with hilarious, tender and devastating consequences.

You may not immediately warm to Hendrik Groen: he might come across as a grumpy old man, grisly and grouchy, cantankerous and difficult, looking only to cause trouble and upset the staff and other residents of the Dutch care home where he lives under a myriad of regulations. But stick with him because under that irascible surface is a fighter, a survivor, and a man with a good heart. All his attempts at obstruction, and subversion of the rules of the home, are simply his way of asserting himself: of refusing to be a number, a burden, an object in the way to be moved around by others, and instead saying that he’s still alive and is very much a human being like you and me, the only difference being that he’s a little further along his life path.

As you get to know Hendrik a little better, as he opens up to you and others within the home, this is where the book really comes into its own. I enjoyed getting to know him and the other characters, and seeing how their relationships develop and deepen. It’s interesting to see how Hendrik himself changes when he is given a purpose and has people who he comes to care about. It’s touching how much of a difference it seems to make to him and makes you think about how that could be done for others in real life. Read more

Croeso i Nut Press! Welcome to Nut Press!

This is the online home of writer Kathryn Eastman.

It’s full of book reviews, chocolate tasting, adventures with squirrels, a lot of tea drinking, and a snoring pussy cat, among other things.

Oh, and very occasionally, some writing gets done.