My Last Confession by Helen Fitzgerald

Val Penny's Book Reviews

Helen Fitzgerald was born in 1966 in Melbourne, Australia.  FitzGerald was the twelfth of thirteen children and is now is a novelist and screenwriter.   She was brought up in the country town of Kilmore in Victoria but moved to the UK in 1991.   She started writing while working as a criminal justice social worker and she latterly worked with serious sex offenders in the notorious Barlinnie Prison in Glasgow, Scotland.  She now lives in Glasgow with her husband and two children.

My Last Confession“, is the third novel by Fitzgerald but it was the first of her books I had read.   I think I picked it up from the library by accident!  Apparently the main characters, Krissie and Chas, are from her first novel, “Dead Lovely” but this book can be read as a stand alone very acceptably, should you want to read it at all!  It is not for the mushy amongst us, it has to…

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Clube Humbria, Algrave, Portugal

Val Penny's Hotel and Restaurant Reviews

humbriaMy husband and I just got back from an all inclusive 7 night Spring break at Clube Humbria, Algarve, Portugal. We enjoyed our trip so much we plan to book again for next year! Clube Humbria is lovely and the staff are very polite and helpful.


The sites say that it is in Albufeira, but it is actually in the village of Olhos de Agua, about 5 miles outside Albufeira. The village is quiet and very pretty. It is a short walk along the road to the shops and the Supermarket or down the hill to the beach.

Our apartment was North facing, but still very bright and spacious. It was scrupulously clean. The cleaners came in 6 days out of 7.   During our stay their work was more of a cursory tidy and a swipe round the bathroom than a proper clean. Having said that, there was bedroom chnot…

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Freaky Cancer Friday

Surviving Breast Cancer Now!

I was amazed when the hospital arranged an appointment for me to meet with my surgeon, Mr Osman on Friday, just two days after I got my diagnosis of the tumour. All of a sudden every thing seemed to be moving. In a few days I had gone from feeling fine, to having a battery of tests and then being told that I had a potentially fatal disease. It was too much to take in. I could not believe how fast everything was happening. Looking back, I am ashamed to say tat I simply had not recognised the discharge from my nipple nor my extreme tiredness as signs of breast cancer.

I called my friend across the road and told her. She asked me the name of my surgeon.  I had slightly misheard his name and told her it was Mr Osmond. I joked that I hoped it was Donny…

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Time to recover: watching, reading, listening, sharing

Surviving Breast Cancer Now!

It was over 20 years since I had spent time recovering from surgery. Then a caesarian section had delivered a beautiful baby, this time less glamorously a cancerous tumour about the size of a baked bean had been removed from my body. I had difficulty, even yet, accepting my limitations and giving in to the time I would need to rest to give my body the time it would need to heal.

Luckily, my husband set more realistic limitations than I was willing to admit were sensible. The care and attention he lavished on me with unquestioning love made me feel so cherished.

During this period, before I went back to have my wound examined by Mr Osman, I needed to rest but also to avoid isolation and boredom. These can quickly result in a deepening depression that can be hard to shake during cancer treatment. Facing cancer alone must…

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Surviving Breast Cancer Now!

So here I am, the beginning of my radiotherapy, four weeks of travelling up and down from the Beatson Hospital in Glasgow, Scotland.  The journey takes more than an hour each way and while the treatment only takes ten minutes, it rarely starts on time. Image When I eventually get called through I have to walk along a lengthy corridor with a large room at the end of it.  Two technicians were there setting the machine up for me.  It has to be changed and cleaned after each patient and that was still being done as I entered the room.  There is no where take off my clothes but in the room in the full view of the technicians.  Now, I appreciate there is nothing special about me, however I am, by nature quite reserved.  I am not given to disrobing readily and I was quite embarrassed when I was told…

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After Radiotherapy

Surviving Breast Cancer Now!

It is hard to imagine a treatment that only lasts a few seconds, minutes if you count the set up time, causing after effects.  Believe me when I tell you that it does.  There are side effects of any medical treatments, of course.  With radiotherapy these can be quite frightening.  There is some concern that after treating the brain (particularly if combined with chemotherapy) the patient may develop memory problems.

Radiation therapy works by damaging the DNA (genes) of tumour cells.  DNA damage stops tumour cells from dividing, growing and spreading.  Radiotherapy is a useful tool for treating cancer because cancer cells grow and divide more rapidly than most normal cells around them.  Although some normal cells are affected by radiation, most normal cells appear to recover more fully from the effects of radiation than do cancer cells. Radiation oncologists carefully limit the intensity of treatments and the area being…

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The Broker by John Grisham

Val Penny's Book Reviews

John Grisham born on February 8, 1955 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, to a construction worker and a homemaker.    As a child he dreamt of being a professional baseball player.   He shifted ultimately majored in accounting at Mississippi State University.   Then, after graduating from law school at Ole Miss in 1981, he went on to practice law for nearly a decade in Southaven, specializing incriminal defence and personal injury litigation.   In 1983, he was elected to the state House of Representatives and served until 1990.

Before his name became synonymous with the modern legal thriller, he was working 60-70 hours a week at a small Southaven, Mississippi, law practice, squeezing in time before going to the office and during courtroom recesses to work on his hobby which was writing his first novel.


Grisham has great strengths as a writer.  He moves the plot along in a gripping, relentless fashion.  He also  makes the…

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Th Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery

Val Penny's Book Reviews

Muriel Barbery is a most interesting woman.  She was born in Casablanca, Morocco, Africa but raised in France.  Now she and her husband live in Japan.  She is a professor of philosophy, as a result of which this book is not only very French in attitude, but also peppered with philosophical theories.

This is a very French book, both in subject and in the style of writing.  That is why it is interesting that the book is so successful worldwide.  It is beautifully written and has a delicacy of touch that is charming.  “The Elegance of the Hedgehog,” is  a best seller in France and several other countries and is an accessible book that flatters readers with its intellectual veneer.

The novel’s two narrators alternate chapters they are Renee and Paloma.   Renee is  a widowed concierge in her fifties who calls herself “short, ugly and plump.” She is a self-consciously…

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Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin

Val Penny's Book Reviews

I cannot really remember how or where I came by this book, Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin.  However, I remembered being told by my mother about a white man who pretended to be black and people were rude and unkind to him because they thought he was black. I recall, even as a young child, thinking this was very odd.  However, I was being raised on the liberal West Coast of California, not in the deep South of the USA.

John Howard Griffin was a white American journalist who is best known for his book “Black Like Me” .  In this he details the experience of darkening his skin and travelling as a black man through through the states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia in 1959.  The racism that he encountered was so disturbing that he cut short the time he had allotted for this experiment.


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From A to B by Gerry McGrath

Val Penny's Book Reviews

I know Gerry McGrath personally.  He lives in the village but grew up in Helensburgh, Scotland.  He graduated from Strathclyde University, Glasgow and taught for some years.  More recently, he moved to the south west of the country to concentrate on his poetry.  He is a stimulating poet.

Gerry McGrath is also a poet concerned with humanity, with nature, with love and loss and how the prosaic and the poetic interact in day to day life.  In his first anthology, “From A to B” his use of unconventional metaphors and similes gave many pleasant surprises as I saw things expressed in a way in which made perfect and beautiful sense however strange.


The poet describes ‘Untamed Lightning, Knees like Emaciated skulls, the sky…clean-shaven, Drowsy sail-cloth of your skin, Gossamer rain, Zany Butterflies, Pastry Roofs and Nicotine Grass.’ These are just a few examples of the arresting imagery which runs through this…

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