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review 2018-01-15 15:12
The Old-But-Not-Dead Club strikes again. A truly inspiring read, whatever your age.
On the Bright Side: The New Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 85 Years Old - Hendrik Groen

Thanks to Net Galley and to Penguin UK-Michael Joseph for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.

A while back I read The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83 ¼ Years Old (check my review here) and loved it. I was on the lookout for the next one, and when I saw the next one was available for download at NetGalley I did not hesitate. It has now been published and I could not pass the chance to share my review.

Hendrik explains what has happened since his last diary (yes, he is older now) and decides to write his diary for another year, as a way to keep his brain going. He is now 85 and he needed some time to get over some of the sad events of the last book. But the Old-But-Not-Dead Club is still going strong, with new members and plans, including regularly exploring international cuisine (more or less), a short holiday abroad, and an attempt at local (extremely local) politics. Hendrik’s voice is as witty and observant as it was in the first book, although there is perhaps a grittier and darker note (he is feeling low, everything is getting tougher and unfortunately, life gets harder as the year goes along). But not all is doom and gloom and there are very funny moments, as well as some very sad ones. His comments about politics and world events, always seen from an elderly population’s perspective, are sharp and clear-sighted and will give readers pause. Some of them are local and I suspect I was not the only one who did not know who many of the people where or what anecdotes he referred to at times (I must admit that although I know a bit about Dutch painters, I know little about their politics or music, for example), but even if we cannot follow all the references in detail, unfortunately, they are easily translatable to social and political concerns we are likely to recognize, wherever we live. Funding cuts, social problems, concerns about health and social care, crime, terrorism, global warming feature prominently, although sometimes with a very peculiar twist.

The secondary characters are as wonderful and varied as in the previous book. Some of them have moved on (physically, mentally, or both), and we get to know better some of the ones that only briefly appeared in the previous volume. We also have new arrivals at the nursing home, and a more direct involvement in the home’s politics (with anxiety-provoking news present as well. Is the nursing home going to close?). I loved some of the proposed and adopted rules (a complaint-free zone to avoid wallowing in conversations about ailments and illnesses, a high-tea facilitated by the residents, an art exhibition, even if the artist is not the most sympathetic of characters…) and the sayings of the residents. Of course, life at a nursing home comes with its share of loss and although I don’t want to reveal too much, I can say the subject of death is treated in a realistic, respectful, and moving way.

I shed some of the quotes I highlighted, to give you a taster (although I recommend checking a sample and seeing what you think. And, although it is not necessary to read the first book first, I think it works better knowing the characters and their journey so far):

The idea of using care homes to look after the comfort, control and companionship of the elderly is fine in principle. It just fails in the execution. What old age homes actually stand for is infantilizing, dependence, and laziness.

One in four old people who break one or more hips die within the year. That number seems high to me, but it’s in the newspaper, so there is room for doubt.

It’s always astonished me to see the wide support clowns and crooks are able to muster. Watching old newsreels of that loudmouth Mussolini, you’d think now there’s a bloke only his mother could love. But no, millions of Italians loved him.(Yes, I’m sure this can make us all think of a few people).

Difficult new terms that tend to obscure rather than clarify, especially when uttered by policy-makers. It often has to do with hiding something —either a budget cut, or hot air, or both at once.

Managerial skills alone don’t make for better care, it only makes for cheaper one.

And, a great ending (and one we should all take up this year):

A new year —how you get through it is up to you, Groen; life doesn’t come with training wheels. Get this show on the road. As long as there’s life.

The tone of the book is bitter-sweet, and, as mentioned, it feels darker than the previous one, perhaps because Hendrik is even more aware of his limitations and those of his friends, and is increasingly faced with the problem of loneliness, and with thoughts about the future. But, overall, this is a book that makes us think about the zest for life, about living life to the full, and about making the best out of our capabilities. As I said on my previous review, I hope I can meet a Hendrik if I get to that age, and I’ll also make sure to join the Old-But-Not-Dead Club and be an agitator and enjoy life to the end. Don’t ever settle for the easy way out.

A great book for those interested in the subject of growing old, in great characters, and in an out-of-the-ordinary setting. It has plenty of adventures and events (even trips abroad and international cuisine), although it is not a book I’d recommend to people who love fast action and high-octane thrillers. If you enjoy first-person narrations, love older characters, and don’t mind thinking about the long-term (ish) future, I recommend this very inspiring book.

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review 2017-04-12 11:03
A wonderful look at Alzheimer’s, with sci-fi, inspiration, genetics and metaphysics thrown in.
Pale Highway - Nicholas Conley

Thanks to the author who offered me an ARC copy of his novel that I freely chose to review.

When the author approached me about this novel, I didn’t know what to say. I don’t read a lot of science-fiction (although I’ve really enjoyed some of the sci-fi I’ve read. I think my main problem, and the same goes for fantasy, is that I don’t have much patience for world-building and descriptions) but he explained that although it was classed as science-fiction, and indeed it purports a world that is very similar to ours but with some differences (mostly, the protagonist of the novel, Gabriel Schist, years back discovered the HIV-vaccine but , rather than simply creating a vaccine against that illness, his vaccine reprograms the immune system of the person that receives it and protects them against many other illnesses), it was a bit different to most science-fiction. He told me, as mentioned in his biography, that he had worked in nursing homes and the novel was also about Alzheimer’s disease. I read the description of the novel and was intrigued. And yes, I agree with him, his novel is not a standard science-fiction novel, although it’s true that some of the best sci-fi looks at what makes us human and explores metaphysical issues.

The protagonist of the novel, Gabriel, a famous scientist who won the Nobel Prize for his discovery,  is in his early seventies and suffers from Alzheimer’s, fairly early stages, but noticeable enough. He is trying to hold on to his identity, testing his memory and using tricks to orientate himself and hold onto reality, but it is not without difficulties. The book wonderfully describes the residents of the nursing home, some of their peculiar behaviours, but also the persons behind the behaviours. The novel goes back and forth in time, as does the memory of the character, from 2018 to the 1950s, when Gabriel was a weird young boy (he seems to have presented some traits suggestive of autistic spectrum disorder, likely Asperger’s) already determined to solve the problem of future infectious diseases, and also covering the years when he met his wife, the dissolution of his marriage, his great discovery and how he eventually connected and got to know his daughter. All this is interspersed with what is happening now (well, in the very near future) at the nursing home, as Gabriel never goes out. Suddenly, some of the residents start getting ill, and the virus (if that’s what it is) puzzles everybody as it acts as no known illness. Gabriel starts to have strange experiences that he’s not sure if they are hallucinations or real (the readers are free to make up their own minds about this, although if one chooses to go with a rational explanation, there are enough clues within the story to suggest how his mind might have come up with such weird events) and becomes convinced that he’s the only one who can fight this terrible illness. His is a desperate race, not only against the illness itself but also against Alzheimer’s and the progressive degeneration of his mind.

The novel is written in the third person, although always from Gabriel’s point of view, giving the readers a great insight into the processes and difficulties of a mind coming undone, of the strength of memories of the past, sometimes more vivid than the present, and the style is fluid, with some beautifully descriptive passages, and some very vivid moments, particularly Gabriel’s memories, filled with emotion. Gabriel is a scientist and a keen observer, even in his current state, and that serves the novel well.

The characters are realistically drawn and it’s impossible not to care for them. Gabriel is confused and unclear at times, he hesitates and his self-confidence is marred by his illness and by previous experiences. He feels guilty for letting people down in the past, for his use of alcohol (initially to try and fit in with social expectations, as he was too different and too intelligent for most people, but later he got to like it and used it as a coping strategy but also as something he enjoyed), for allowing his wife to leave, for not being there for his daughter … He also feels guilty because he’s always said that human beings are predictable and not interesting enough and he hasn’t loved or cared for many of them. But his experiences through the novel put him to the test more than once and he discovers that it’s never too late to learn more about yourself. The author, who evidently has first-hand knowledge, depicts well the changes in humour, the confusion, the fear, the loneliness, the disorientation, and also the tenacity and the spirit of the elderly residents, including those moments when their personalities shine through the illness. The character of Melanie, Gabriel’s daughter, and her difficulty coming to terms with the illness of her father (all the harder because of his once brilliant mind), reflects well the difficulties of the families, with their guilty feelings for not visiting more often or for not being able to do more and their difficulty accepting the new circumstances (although not everybody is the same, of course).

The running of the facility, Bright New Day, also rings true. Understaffed, with routines to suit staff rather than residents, and with a mix of staff, some very caring and professional and others not so much. The novel is not an indictment of nursing homes, and other than one of the staff members, everybody works hard and is caring, but it does reflect the difficulties of running such facilities within a limited budget and trying to care for residents as individuals.

The plot is intriguing and the issue of if and how Gabriel might manage to defeat the virus is a page turner, although there are some very quirky aspects of the story that some readers might find challenging (not the scientific part as such. Although I’m a doctor I don’t think readers without medical knowledge will have difficulty with the general concepts behind Gabriel’s discovery. It is a fascinating idea). The story requires some suspension of disbelief although it is also possible to read some of the clues offered through the fragments of Gabriel’s memories as proof that a less fanciful interpretation of events is also possible. That is up to each reader.

I have to confess to feeling very moved by the story and being teary-eyed a couple of times but don’t worry, there are fun moments too and it is not a sad story but a life-affirming one. The ending, whatever interpretation we choose to go with is joyful and positive and might be meaningful to many readers.

This is not an easy novel to categorise in any genre. I think most people who are interested in Alzheimer’s will enjoy it, and people who like books on medical subjects, as long as they have a well-developed imagination. I recommend it also to people interested in memory, identity and in the big questions, and to those looking for a positive and inspiring read.


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text 2016-09-27 05:59
How a Home Nurse Can Help a Person Recover From an Illness?

The demand for home nurses has increased significantly in India. A home nurse not just provides medical care to an ill or injured individual but also provides support and companionship. This can go a long way when it comes to helping a person recover from a major illness.


A nurse is a health care professional who provides medical care to people who are ill or disabled. They are responsible for the treatment and recovery of patients. They are an important part of the healthcare team and mostly work with physicians and therapists. They may also work independently as nursing professionals.

Over the past few years, the demand for home nursing professionals has grown significantly. In home nursing, a nurse provides medical and personal care to an ill person at home. It is a more personal form of care. Most people feel better and more comfortable in their homes than in hospital rooms. Most people want to be taken care of in their own homes as it helps them recover in a warm and safe environment. With home nursing, it is possible to provide the best medical and personal care to an ill or injured person.


The Role of a Home Nurse


Medical Care


The first and the most important duty of a home nurse is to provide the best medical care to the patient. Right from monitoring the vital signs (pulse rate, respiration rate, body temperature etc.) of the body to looking for any changes in the patient’s condition, nurses perform many important functions. They draft a care plan after assessing the medical condition of the patient. They ensure that the medications are taken on time and in the right doses. Although, home nurses cannot prescribe medicines, they can administer medicines to the patients. All these services can prove to be very useful when it comes to helping a patient recover from an illness or injury.


Support and Companionship



Providing support and companionship to ill individuals is one of the most important duties of home nurses. This is particularly useful for elderly and disabled people who need companionship. Nursing at home makes it easier for elderly people to enjoy their Independence without giving up supervised care. The emotional support provided by a home nurse can prove to be very useful when it comes to helping a patient keep depression at bay. Home nurses ensure that the patients don’t feel socially isolated. Regular, meaningful conversations can greatly improve the emotional well-being of an individual.


Support to Family Members


A major illness not just affects the life of the patient but also his family members. Many patients require round-the-clock care. As a result, the family members have no choice but to take a break from their careers. Such a situation can be avoided by availing home nursing services. Home nurses make life easier for the family members of an ill individual. A nurse ensures that the family members don’t face any inconvenience. The services provided by a qualified home nurse can prove to be very useful when it comes to helping family members carry on with their lives.

As the demand for home nursing continues to rise, many home nursing services have emerged in India. These home care service providers work with qualified and experienced nurses. The patients can easily avail the services offered by these nurses.


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review 2015-06-21 22:46
A very special and very normal little boy and his mission
What Milo Saw -


Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a free copy in exchange for an honest review through Net Galley.

It has already been suggested that readers of The Curious Incident… might enjoy this book, and I can say I have enjoyed both. As other reviewers have noted, one of the main differences it that What Milo Saw offers a variety of points of view, not only that of nine year old Milo, but also his mother, Sandy, his grandmother Lou, Tripi, the Syrian chef at the nursing home (and an illegal refugee) and although the story belongs to Milo, we get other perspectives and a kaleidoscopic effect.

One of the many strengths of the novel is Milo. He suffers from retinitis pigmentosa (that means he sees everything though a pinhole as it were, and eventually he will end up blind) and as many characters tell him, that allows him to focus and see things that many others miss. But despite how extraordinary and insightful Milo proves to be at times, he’s also a little boy. His placing his trust in somebody because of a passing remark, his catastrophizing and disappointment in adults in general, his black and white way of looking at things, his quick judgements and misunderstanding of situations, his enthusiasm and tantrums, the good and the bad, make him real and human. He is not a mini-adult; he is a believable and fully-fledged child.

The adults in his life are living through crises and difficulties (his grandmother is losing her memory and physically unwell, his mother has not recovered from her husband’s abandonment and finds it difficult to get organised and carry on with life, and Tripi is desperate to find his sister but scared of being found out as an illegal immigrant) but Milo inspires them to never give up and to be a better version of themselves.

Milo, his little pig Hamlet (growing suspiciously fast), Al (a Scottish undercover reporter and relative), Tripi, Sandy, all the residents and eventually even Mrs. Hairy and the whistling neighbour, join forces to try and bring down the horrible owner of the Forget Met Not nursing home, Nurse Thornhill. She is the bad witch of the fairy tales, although, unfortunately she might not be miles away from some real examples.

The book’s style is smooth offering an easy read, and the language used is well adapted to the specific characters. The protagonists are easy to root for (some irresistible from the beginning, like lovely Tripi, others grow into their own, like Sandy), and the novel achieves a communitarian and choral effect conveying and optimistic and life-affirming message.

This is a touching and warm-hearted book, set up in a recognisable modern Britain (for good and bad) full of unforgettable characters and a fairy tale ending. A fabulous read I recommend wholeheartedly to anybody who likes little books with big stories.

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