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Book Review: On the Bright Side by Hendrik Groen

What better way to kick off 2018 than by spending some time with my favourite Dutch pensioner and rebel Hendrik Groen? I am so happy to see him pen a sequel to his first Secret Diary which I reviewed here. I’ve missed him and his friends and wondered how they were getting on in their care home in North Amsterdam.

85-year-old Hendrik Groen is fed up to his false teeth with coffee mornings and bingo. He dreams of escaping the confines of his care home and practicing hairpin turns on his mobility scooter. Inspired by his fellow members of the recently formed Old-But-Not-Dead Club, he vows to put down his Custard Cream and commit to a spot of octogenarian anarchy.

But the care home’s Director will not stand for drunken bar crawls, illicit fireworks and geriatric romance on her watch. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club must stick together if they’re not to go gently into that good night. Things turn more serious, however, when rumours surface that the home is set for demolition. It’s up to Hendrik and the gang to stop it – or drop dead trying . . .

He may be the wrong side of 85, but Hendrik Groen has no intention of slowing up – or going down without a fight.

As you can tell from the blurb, Hendrik is still rebelling against the system and trying to live his best life despite the draconian rules set out by his care home and the more understandable limitations due to his age, health and the local weather. Not that he lets any of those stop him very much and it’s good to see him still challenging penny-pinching bureaucracy and evasive jobsworths while venturing outdoors as often as he and his motorised scooter have enough charge to do so. The Old-But-Not-Dead Club is still going strong and setting itself new challenges, even if it’s inevitably missing a couple of its inaugural members.

If it seems on the face of it that not much has changed, that’s only partly true. Everything I loved about the first instalment of Hendrik Groen’s diaries – his irreverent side swipes against those running the country and his care home, his feelings about his fellow inmates and commentary on what’s going on in the Netherlands and the wider world outside – are all still very much in evidence here. But there’s a more reflective and more emotional Hendrik Groen within these pages than appeared in The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 1/4. In that, it felt as if he were only just opening up again to friendships with the Club members and a more romantic relationship with one in particular. Here, even though he hasn’t been writing the diary for a year when the book opens, he’s had two years worth of the Club meeting, a death of someone close to deal with and now in On the Bright Side, he’s facing fresh challenges which let us see a deeper, more vulnerable side to the outwardly gruff Groen. And this book is all the richer for that. Read more

Book Review & Giveaway: Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon

When a secret from the past resurfaces, Florence’s friends help her unlock the mystery in this gentle, moving novel about ageing, kindness, memory, identity… and the ripples our lives make.

There are three things you should know about Elsie.
The first thing is that she’s my best friend.
The second is that she always knows what to say to make me feel better.
And the third thing… might take a little bit more explaining.
84-year-old Florence has fallen in her flat at Cherry Tree Home for the Elderly. As she waits to be rescued, Florence wonders if a terrible secret from her past is about to come to light; and, if the charming new resident is who he claims to be, why does he look exactly like a man who died sixty years ago?

Joanna Cannon’s Three Things about Elsie takes a compassionate look at growing old and how it’s often hard enough to be seen as another human being, let alone understood or even believed. To some, Florence is little more than an uncooperative old lady who shouts too much. But she’s really battling to stay alert and independent and keep what little freedom she has left in her sheltered accommodation, in order to prevent being sent to a nursing home. She turns to friends old and new, as she tries to remember a traumatic past event and finally right a wrong, if she can.

Three Things About Elsie is a wonderful tribute to the importance of friendship and the impact small human kindnesses can have on the recipient, even if they go unremarked by most others. Cannon uses the perspective of Handy Simon and Miss Ambrose to great effect, gently nudging us away from judging people too quickly and offering a more nuanced understanding, allowing for those times when people have lost their way in trying to find their sense of purpose.

This gentle, soothing story is best enjoyed with a pot of tea and one, two, maybe even three slices of battenberg. Then try and find time for Florence’s long seconds and look for Elsie’s Three Things in yourself and others.

Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon is published by The Borough Press, an imprint of Harper Collins, and is out as an ebook and audiobook and in hardback today. You can buy it from Amazon UK, Audible UK, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop), Wordery and Waterstones. For more about Joanna and her books, check out her Author Website or find her on Twitter.

This review was originally written for Lovereading UK and appears on their website. My thanks to the publisher and Lovereading UK for the review copy provided.

I have one hardback of Three Things About Elsie and one paperback of Joanna Cannon’s first novel The Trouble with Goats and Sheep to give away (UK only). Tell me Three Things about yourself in the comments below and the squirrels will pick a winner on Sunday. 

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