Friday, 11 May 2018

Peacock butterfly (female) seen in the garden this week - early May

Related image

Pretty girl!  I don't recall seeing one of these in the garden before, but every year I spot a "new" (to me) butterfly or moth.  Maybe I am just more aware of them, the more plants I grow for bees and other creatures. 
I had to look it up because although I was familiar with the name of the butterfly, I wasn't familiar with the creature - and I know it was female because the male's marking are the same but brighter.  That was what made me inspect her carefully, because she seemed to be sort of "dulled down" for one so highly coloured.  

Anyway,  there she is in all her glory.  Our garden is in West Dorset about a mile from the coast for anyone interested.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Anne of Green Gables - L M Montgomery (and more!)

Well!  here's Anne Shirley, arriving at Green Gables to live with Marilla and Matthew, brother and sister both over sixty. They had "ordered a boy" to adopt;  to help out on the farm, and Anne is what they got.  What a shock she's going to be for them.  She's an orphan, who never thought she would have a "real" home;  she can't stop talking, she makes up stories, she invents names for the places around her (The local pond becomes The Lake of Shining Waters).  She makes friends, particularly Diana who lives nearby.  She's always in trouble too because she's had no-one to guide her - Marilla "harrumps", and Matthew smiles and gradually Anne settles in to life at Green Gables, doing chores, going to school, making friends. There is joy, laughter and tears too in this tale of a child who is finally loved and who loves back fiercely.

This was going to be a one off as they say these days, but the book was so enjoyed by its readers, the publishers demanded a follow up.  That became Anne of Avonlea, and Anne is now seventeen.  No chance of college for her, she has become the local schoolmistress, and new children are at Green Gables too, for a second cousin of Marilla's has died and there is no-one to take on the six year old twins.  So Davy and Dora come to Avonlea to live with Marilla and Anne.  More adventures ensue, and every page is a delight.

Were these books written for children?  Of course they were - but children of all ages.  I read Anne of Green Gables in my early teens, and now, many years later I came to it afresh and loved it so much I decided to read the whole series which I had never read previously.  Next up will be Anne of the Island  followed by Anne of Windy Willows, Anne's House of Dreams and Anne of Ingleside.

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Mrs Mac Suggests - What to read in MAY

Hello!  Well, here in the UK we have a Spring Bank Holiday to come, so people are hoping for good  weather - Spring is very changeable and sunshine cannot be guaranteed!  It could be nice.  Here's hoping.

What are we going to read then, this May month?  Well.... there's a dearth of hedgehogs here now, something that was very common 50 years ago becomes  rarer  every year.  Those little prickly creatures may even go the way of the Dodo.  So when I got a book to review with the tiniest hedgehog on the cover, I thought that it might be just the book for May.  So I'm going to read

A Handful of Happiness - Massimo Vacchetta

(Vacchetta is an Italian vet, and this is the story of his rescue and care of Ninna, a small hedgehog).

Any non-fiction about an animal (although possibly not A Street Cat Called Bob which I feel has been done to death now!), but rescued or not, there is sure to be something out there for you.

Enjoy the sun when it breaks through, my friends. 


Saturday, 21 April 2018

The Song Collector - Natasha Solomons

 Several different kinds of love stories intertwined in this dual-time story set in Dorset.  Just after WW2 and the start of the 21st Century are the two time settings, but the characters remain the same except for those born after the early chapters.

Love of all kinds.  Love of the land;  love of a country house that costs so much to heat and keep standing that it is the catalyst for the breakup of a family.  Love of a woman, and the love of two men for that woman; love of music.  All these things contained within the pages of a book by an author I like a lot.

Certainly, after WW2 and on into the 1950s and 1960s, many of the country houses requisitioned for use during the war were returned to their owner with bits missing, badly damaged, some then unlivable in at all.  Use Google and you will find many country houses were just sold off or even blown up, so that the land could be used for building or farming.  For the war brought a real change in the way people lived.  The folk who had always worked in "the big house" and doffed their caps metaphorically (and sometimes for real) as the owners of said big house passed by,  had found that there were other chances for them at higher wages; and so only the older workers stayed on, doing the best they could.

A pot of tea on the lawn in the sunshine and The Song Collector would perhaps be enjoyable!

Saturday, 14 April 2018

Geranium Nodosum (a hardy geranium)

So - it's been a nice afternoon for gardening (well, mostly weeding!)  I have no idea what kind of weather encourages weeds to grow in certain areas but grow they do.  Curse the Romans for bringing in Ground Elder!  The roots spread for miles, and I hear they can go downwards that far too.  I have a long thin border up at the top where the car parking area is, and it has several good shrubs and hardy perennials in it; but I need to get weed smotherers in there too and at one end there is too much bare earth. 

At the farm shop today I spotted rununculas.  Not weed smotherers, and certainly not perennials, but a cheery show for a short time in spring, so a bright read one came home and is "in".  I also had, ready to plant, 3 dark red saxifrage which should form a good size non-weedy clump, so they are also in.  Finally, the geranium below, which I bought last September.  The reasons for not planting about 20 poor souls at the right time are not going to aired today, but nevertheless they are gradually going in and (hopefully) spreading their roots and settling in.  This geranium, one of the rather wilder kinds, is a nice lilac pink, and blooms for a lot of the summer.  It will spread too, and apparently is great for naturalising under shrubs and is happy almost anywhere.  So in it went. It's flowers are rather bigger than they look there in the pic, although not as big as the flashy flower-show type.

Geranium nodosum

Friday, 13 April 2018

The Wild Air - Rebecca Mascull

We are nearing the end of a four year remembrance period for WW1. Reading this book, I found it an excellent way to learn about a small part of that war as well as the early days of flight. Of interest to me as my father's only cousin and "best pal" was a flier in the RFC (Royal Flying Corps) and lost his life in that war.  

This book covers a period from the turn of the 20th century until 1920 or so, and is the story of Della, a quiet mousey child, beloved by Ma, dismissed by Pa (after all, she is just another girl) and is "lost" until the return of Aunt Betty from North Carolina where she lived for many years. Whilst there she saw the early fights of the Wright Brothers, and because she can see Della's worth, takes her under her wing and teaches her the rudiments of flight by building kites with her, to fly along the beaches of Lincolnshire. As Betty has some money, she pays for flying lessons, and up there in the sky, Della finds her true self.  A fascinating section of the book shows her at air shows, here and in Europe (plenty of aviatrixes then) making some money, and knowing that flying is what she wants to do for all of her life.                                                                              
 And then WW1 arrives.  Women will not become fliers for their country.  They need to be at home, keeping the home fires burning. People die, hearts are broken, and the best Della can do is to be a motor mechanic working for a woman who's husband and son are both at war.  And there is a marvellous love story here too, for those who like them, though it does not detract from the tale but only enhances it.  And - there is just one big adventure still to come.  

A wonderful book with a female heroine - and heroine she is, learning to fly when women should know their place, which is at home and certainly not in the skies . Don't forget the Author's Notes, where she points out how few female pilots there are, even in  2017.  She also has lots of info about avaitrixes at the time depicted in the book.   Research for this? Impeccable. Knitting this together with fiction? Fabulous.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

The Finding of Martha Lost - Caroline Wallace

And now for something completely different.  This is a fairy story for grownups. It isn't a children's book. But it's about a child. A child who was abandoned at the Lost Property Office, Liverpool Lime Street Station, and is brought up by the manager of said lost property office. A religious Zealot, she ensures that the child is too frightened ever to leave the station, to have no friends, and to believe that the devil lives in the cellar.   When she, whom the child refers to as Mother with a capital M, dies one afternoon,  what is the child to do?  She is taken under the wing of Elisabeth, who runs the cafe and cake shop next door.  At sixteen, the child can actually take over her Mother's job (in fact she has been doing her Mother's job for several years already), but not without papers and a National Insurance number.  What to do?
The book is a hymn to Liverpool - the city and it's people, to the Beatles, and to the kindness in some people's hearts.  Little bits of Liverpool history are tucked away in the text, and are fun to discover.  And with  just a touch of magic realism in there somewhere though a rather slow start, all in all this  is worth pursuing.

Thursday, 29 March 2018

Mrs Mac Suggests - What to read in April

In my garden I have had the early daffodils (and there are later ones still to come), there are primroses all over, and the tulips are in bud.  So I think I can say Spring is on the way!  So even though it may be grey and cold, the plants know best.

So what's for April?  Something with a lot of scope, that's what!

A book set on an island.....

and for once, I am mentioning a children's  book I read in March, because it was magical and you might find a copy at the library  or treat yourself.  It may even be on your shelves already.  

The Island - Nicky Singer 
(with illustrations by Chris Riddell)  

Tin Man - Sarah Winman


See all 6 images


Ah. That is a sigh.  And maybe, just maybe, this will be my book of the year.  Whatever else I thought about it, it broke my heart.  This is a book that explores many kinds of love but in particular, the love of two friends who meet as children.  It's very short, and my advice is to read it all at once, or at the very least in a couple of big chunks - that way you can envelope yourself in the feelings described and remember what love means to you, or wonder what it should mean.  
The first half of the book is Ellis's story, the Tin Man, who has become emotionless because of circumstances.  A lot of history in this first half, his mother, his friend, his wife, and you can feel his hurt.  The second half of the book is rather different, told in the first person, a sort of diary, or perhaps just a "talking out loud" in the voice of Michael, describing his version of a life and breaking my heart as I read it. I did say that in particular this was the love of two friends who meet as children - but in fact, it is the love they have which is big enough to include a third - the wife of one, the friend of the other
The two parts do knit together, but I am going to read it again to make sure I get everything in the order I think is right on first reading..... don't be put off by that comment, just treat yourself to a wonderful, wonderful book.  
*Sarah Winman is the author of  When God Was a Rabbit and A Year of Marvellous Ways, both of which are very different, but worth seeking out.

Saturday, 24 March 2018

Moon Over Manifest - Clare Vanderpool

What a wonderful read this was, and it's certainly going to be in my top ten favourites of 2018.  Winner of the Newbery Medal (US) and published in 2010. I just came across this somewhere on the internet and ordered it.  Apparently aimed at good readers 9-12ish, I would dismiss that altogether and implore anyone of any age who loves a good story to beg, steal or borrow this, because it's so worth it.

It's a dual time novel,  1918 and 1936.  It includes some world history (Spanish flu epidemic, WW1) and a great deal of small town stuff, and therein lies it's certain charm.  The heroine of the tale is Abeline, who having been brought up by her itinerant father, suddenly finds herself in 1936, alone on a train, aged 12, and headed for the town of Manifest, where her father is sending her for the summer whilst he takes a railroad job.  She's taken under the wing of a preacher called Shady Howard (and let me tell you his past is more shady than his current life!); she makes friends, and she gets to know a woman who tells her about Manifest and what happened back there in 1918.   She and her friends are investigating an old mystery, not least because of the cigar box of bits and pieces she finds under a loose floor board in her bedroom.

When I had finished, suddenly, Anne of Green Gables came into my head.  Not that the books are similar in any way except that they are both about girls who have to make their way in a strange world;  but I guess if you love Anne, you will take to Abeline too.  Highly recommended.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Royal Rabbits of London – Santa and Simon Sebag Montefiere


Children’s book – cracking adventure about a small, runty rabbit with lots of lovely in-jokes for the adult read-alouder.... the rats who want a pic of the Queen in her nightie are called the  ....Ratzi;  a good looking Royal Rabbit who looks like James Bond in evening dress is called Clooney – and so on. 

Amazon reviewers show that this is a marmite book..... some love it and some hate it.  But some comments worry me, for example "violence"..... Nature in the raw is horrible - you only have to watch David Attenborough's programmes to see that, and yes, rats will eat anything they can, so why not threaten a rabbit?!   This is how children learn about life.   "No coloured illustrations" ..... Oh dear, why not just let the child imagine?  or like me, encourage them to fill in the black and white illustrations with their own colours?

We can't please everyone, but I thought this was brilliant for the read aloud crowd (and the littlies who listen) but of course, also brilliant for me and others like me!!

PS, there is a second book out now, and also I hear, a film in the making!