Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands - Natasha Solomons


The Gallery of Vanished Husbands This is the hardback cover of a lovely lovely book.  A book which, if you are Jewish will ring a bell or two (I think).  If you are not Jewish you will find out things about the Jewish faith that will surprise you.  Either way, this is a book which has family and Judaism at it's heart, but it's not really about being Jewish, more about love and how that will affect a life.
Juliet is Jewish, married with two small children.  One morning she gets out of bed as usual, goes downstairs to make breakfast as usual, and notes that a painting of her as a child has been cut out of it's frame and taken, together with some money in an envelope attached to the back.  It is at that minute she knows that her husband George is gone.  She waits a couple of days before telling her parents, and then realises that under strict Jewish rules, she cannot remarry (because  he is not dead) unless he divorces her.  As he has completely disappeared, how will she ever find out where he has gone?  That's the "vanished husband".

But this book is so much more than that.  How Juliet copes with being almost invisible to the Jews in her neighbourhood, how she brings the children up in an almost secular way, how she finds a way to get on with her life.... it's all there.  There are men who love her, there are men who want just to paint her, there are those who want both.  So throughout her life, Juliet will take a lover, think sometimes about the vanished husband, and collect all those paintings of herself.  And at the very last, she will receive in the post, another painting to add to all those others.

This Natasha Solomons' third book, and they've all been worth reading, and have been for me easy to recall later (if a book "sticks" with me, it must be good!). I do recommend this one, and look forward to her next.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Crimson Rooms - Katharine McMahon

Buy *The Crimson Rooms* by Katharine McMahon online 
Here's another that's been on the shelves for far too long, and one I am so glad I decided to read.  My copy was around 370 pages, and I couldn't stop turning the pages.  For this is a murder mystery, a thriller, a family tale, with added strands of WW1 and a possible love story woven in between the pages.  I was rather remined of Maisie Dobbs (who I love), although Evelyn Gifford tells this story in the first person.  I'm also pleased to say that I have found there is a follow-on to this book "The Woman in the Picture" which continues Evelyn's story, and which I shall certainly be looking to acquire in the very near future.

Evelyn is thirtyone, a graduate of Girton college, and has passed all her law exams.  But in Britian in 1924, it is nearly impossible for women to be taken seriously as lawyers, and when she gets the chance to be taken on as an articled clerk by a small firm, she has to take it.  Even though her job seems to be sorting files in a damp basement; even though the firm's secretary has more leverage and certainly a better office than she does and even though she seems to be given only mundane enquiries to deal with, she grits her teeth and pushes on.  And then, in fast succession, two different cases are taken on by the firm she is employed by.  One, the probable murder of a woman by her husband two weeks after her marriage; the other, a poverty-stricken mother who has given her children into the care of a children's home and how desparately wants them back.  In both cases there is more than meets the eye.  

There is another sadness for Evelyn, she lost her beloved brother James to WW1, and she is stunned when, late one night a woman arrives at her home with a small child in tow, which she swears is the child of James. Mystery upon mystery between the pages of this very readable book.  Recommended (a lot!).


Friday, 16 January 2015

The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver

Why have I got several Barbara Kingsolver books on my shelves, and why is this the first one I have read?  No idea, except that it certainly will not be the last!  I first came across her name when she published a non-fiction account of her life on her country house and small-holding a few years ago, and thought it might be interesting.  And so it might be, as it's still unread, although not for long I feel.  I am trying to read books that have hung around unread for far too long, because why acquire them at all if you are never going to read them?  And of course, the new, shiny ones, especially those for review are grabbed, read and gone in the wink of an eye, leaving those treasures as yet to become friends, unloved on the shelves.


Let me tell you how much I loved this one!  I started to read it at about 10.00 in the morning, and got  finished it by 4.00 pm with a gap for shopping, lunch and a spot of housework  A glorious read, and one that tells a similar story to many others I have read, although superior to most. It reminded me of Because of Winn Dixie,  which is the tale of small child who adopts a stray dog outside a supermarket.  This is the tale of a small child who is thrust into the car of an adult at a filling station.  Both set in the United States and both have that magical quality about the very best of human actions, although you won't know it at first.  The child is"stunned"; wide eyed and seemingly unable to cry nor make any other noise, and in the motel Taylor Greer stops at that night with the child in tow, she finds that the child has been badly treated - not to put too fine a point on it. The child is a girl, and clings on tight with both hands to Taylor, who nicknames her Turtle.  And thus begins the story of how children can change a life, many lives. New friends and acquaintances all have a connection with this child in some way, even if it does not seem clear at first.   It didn't leave me with a tear in my eye, but it did make me laugh aloud several times.  I loved Turtle, and wondered how on earth Taylor was going to get to keep her for more than one reason.  Recommended.

Just one little flaw and nothing at all to do with the book, the writing or the author.  This cover, which is the UK paperback, is like all of the other covers I can find for this novel.  At least this one leads you to believe you might be in Arizona.... but all the others feature either trees, or plants in a garden.  The bean tree of the title is actually Wisteria, a glorious flowering  vine which, if happy will grow a trunk.  But it doesn't look like a tree, as most gardeners will know.  If you want to find out why "bean tree", you need to keep reading.  Turtle knows the name of every vegetable, every plant.........

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Lost & Found - ~Brooke Davis

                                                   First book, new author.  Great Debut.   


When you first start to read this book you will think it's all about Millie, who got left behind in the ladies underwear department by her Mum.   Well... it is, and then again it isn't.  Because there's also Agatha, who hasn't left her home since her husband died some years ago, and Karl, who has been dumped in a residential home because his daughter-in-law doesn't want him "... to die in my home".  How they are connected, and how that connection helps all of them is the story in the book.  The publishers compared this book with Harold Fry, or The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window, etc etc etc, but this book is like none of those.  I loved Millie straight off.  A sensible child who, rather than tell someone she has been left, writes notes for her Mum to find her straight away when she comes back.  When she comes across Karl, (in his late eighties and greiving for the loss of being "A Man"), and when both of them get together with Agatha something very odd and kind of magical happens, and you find yourself cheering them on.

I felt for both the elderly Karl, with too much ear hair and not enough head hair, and for Agatha, who had never loved anyone really and I wanted to know why.  And Millie?  I just desperately wanted her to find her Mum and be alright.  The descriptions of how Karl and Agatha feel about the aging process is just perfect..... and it had never occured to me that men actually do get to the point where they have to admit they are never going to have sex again, and how sad they feel about it (or certainly Karl does).  Agatha?  She's never enjoyed sex in her life, so perhaps the aging process for her is just something to be dealt with because she doesn't need and never did need sex so why worry when it's all over?

 And the end of the book, just half a page, is just right.  Not mawkish and manipulative, so no tears in the eyes, but a perfect, perfect finish to a lovely read.

Publication date 29 January 2015

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Bed and Breakfast guests we remember!

I offer occasional bed and breadfast.  I have no sign outside.  I don't make a fuss about it, but I love doing it!  So when I get a message that someone wants to stay, I say yes.   So far, lots of lovely people have stepped over the doormat into our house.  We do mostly one-nighters, because we are on a trunk road, so people are travelling from here to there, and we are a convenient stop.  We like one night stoppers, because if they are not our cup of tea, in the morning, as they leave we breathe a sigh of relief; and if we do like them, are always sad to see them go.

Just recently, we had two really young folk to stay the night, on their way to babysit some chickens for a week.  He asked what my blog was about, and did I not blog about my guests?  Told him I didn't, and he said I should!  I laughed at the time but I've been thinking about it a little bit........

I'll be totally anonymous, for I would not upset anyone who had been a guest for the world.  but you know, there is a story (or several out there!).

Our first guest was a lady who stayed for several days during a happening in our town.  We enjoyed having her, she ate her breakfasts, and was quiet as a mouse!  Having taken the step to do B and B,  I was absolutely sure it would be fun, but the OH was not quite so sure, we were both pleased to say we'd stick with it and do it again!  And we have, many times!

An early guest arrived in the company of a very large, secondhand motor mower which he had acquired on his journey but could not leave in the car - the smell of the petrol was overwhelming in there, and if left overnight he was sure would knock him out on the journey home!  We hid it round the back of the house (in case, by some slim chance, a passer-by spotted a secondhand mower, inside a not very new car, and took a chance to attempt ownership).  I thought probably not, but as I was told early on in my working life, "the customer is always right".  After a huge breakfast, he rode off into the sunrise, windows open, complete with the stinking motor mower. We talked about him for days!  And then there was the antique seeker; the sailor from Switzerland; the Doctor Who Fan from Oregan and .......

I'll be back with a few more stories soon, so that you, and the chicken babysitter, won't be disappointed!




Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Death of Bees - Lisa O'Donnell



The Death of Bees
Marie and Nelly are sisters, the children of two alcholic drug takers, so when Marnie finds her father dead in bed next to a pillow from Nelly's room, and a short while later her mother's body hung in the garden shed - all sensibility goes out the window.  For Marnie is only 15, and until she is 16 she cannot become the guardian for Nelly, her strange, violin playing younger sister.  Decision taken, they attempt to bury the bodies in their garden, but having only hand tools and no strength, they don't bury them deeply, and you know - you just know, that sooner or later all will be revealed.  They are taken under the wing of Lennie, the old gay bloke next door, who, following his loneliness after the death of his partner, is only too pleased to love and care for them with no strings.  That is until the children's grandfather turns up, looking for his own daughter -  their mother.  And that's when their troubles really start.
The story is told, in the first person, by the three main characters, Marie, Nelly and Lennie.  They each have their own style, and they each have a slightly different slant on the same story.  They also have secrets.  Secrets they will tell only you, the reader.
Yes, it's a dark, dark book.  Not without humour, although of course even that is of the blackest kind.  But behind all this is the little conscience that pricks us all, and reminds us that there really are kids out there like Marnie and Nelly, hanging on to life until they are old enough to be together officially, living lives of brutal misery.  Often separated and put "into care", although I do sometimes wonder what kind of care the authorities think they are offering when siblings are separated (and like Marie and Nelly, really only have each other).

Out of touch with internet friends? What to do!

I'm part of a large group of internet friends.  The link is books.   We are members of a website that is currently "down" and so we are missing each other.  I say that because I am missing them and hope that feeling is reciprocated!  What do you do when that daily shot of togetherness is removed temporarily?

1.   You return to the internet on a regular basis just to "see if it's back"
2.   You do other mundane jobs you  wouldn't even have considered if this had not happened
3.   You finish off the ironing
4.   You read a bit more than usual.

So 2, 3 and 4 are at least getting things done - but oh, how I hate that out of contact feeling, and I suspect I am not alone!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Stephen's Light - E M Almedingen

E M Almedingen was born and privately educated in St. Petersburg (now Leningrad), Russia.  She asked permission to leave the country and  arrived in London in 1923 with sixpence in her pocket.  She was a medieval scholar, and I found this at a book warehouse for £1.  Love those serandipidous finds!
 Stephen's Light: E. M. Almedingen
  If you know nothing of the Hansiatic League (or Hansa), here's a tiny bit of information from Wikipedia:  The League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe. It stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period (c. 13th to 17th centuries).
The League was created to protect economic interests and diplomatic privileges in the cities and countries and along the trade routes the merchants visited. The Hanseatic cities had their own legal system and furnished their own armies for mutual protection and aid.

Sabrina is the only child of a Hansa merchant, a dealer in cloth, in Europe  at the time of the Wars of the Roses in England.  His house (the Stephen's Light of the title) is the biggest in the city, for it also includes the "shop" -although that is really a room for trading, rather than the shop as we know it today. Sabrina has been educated by nuns, and is now betrothed to a travelling trader from the French town of Troyes - the betrothal arranged by her father.  Just two weeks before the marriage is due to take place, he absconds with a young nun from the convent across the water - the very convent where Sabrina was educated.

Without marriage to look forward to, the only other place for an unmarried daughter is the convent, except the nuns turn down her father's request to take his daughter (the family are not nobility, merely trade), and so Sabrina asks her father if she may learn the family business instead.  Grudgingly it seems, he agrees, to the confusion of her mother who cannot contemplate the girl sitting in the counting house alongside her father.  But it is not long before she shows her true mettle, wheeling and dealing for better prices with the best of them.  Meanwhile, on the island across the water, the internal politics of the nuns proves a real eye opener!  Convents at that time in that part of the world were peopled by rich women, unmarried women who were sisters and daughters of titled persons, who brought huge dowrys with them.  They dressed in expensive cloth, they had their own lapdogs, they wore religous but huge stone-studded jewelry, and they were constantly using the law to up their income by suing for one reason or another any one they thought had slighted them.  They ate better than the peasantry too, rich foods as befit their station.  Interesting concept.

Sabrina does learn the business, and when her father dies suddenly, after a stroke at breakfast one day, she finds herself having to call on inner strengths and take on the business completely,  Something new to the town and the League; but not altogether new, as Hansa members had certainly heard of women merchants in the City of Bristol, England, including one Alice Chester, who with her son had done so well that she had a huge shop with a hall above it.  How she digs deep to stop the city rabble attacking the nuns on the island, and how she comes to terms with her life makes a fascinating historical novel - written back in the 1950s to suit young adults.  It is rather old fashioned, but worth the reading for all that.


Thursday, 1 January 2015

Provincial Daughter - R M Dashwood

I picked this off the shelves at the end of December - wanted something light that could be picked up and put down at random.  We had several "callers-in" just prior to Christmas, my sister was here as a house guest for a week, and then on 30 December we were off to take her home and then on to a supper party nearby with friends, sleeping over and coming home on 31 December.  So I really did read up to the wire on this one, finishing it around 7.30 pm on New Year's Eve.

R M Dashwood was the daughter of E M Delafield, author of The Diary of a Provincial Lady and the books that followed it.  Dashwood says that it was intended as "an equally light-hearted continuation..." of the Provincial Lady books - "...the Provincial Lady's daughter in the nineteen fifties".  Originally published in 1951, it was republished as a Virago Modern Classic in 2002.  And I'm glad, because it was a delight to read.

The nameless writer of the diary with doctor husband Lee, and three charming but dirty, messy and cheeky boys (just like anyone else's kids, I guess!) struggles with never enough housekeeping money, new clothes for the children, idiosincratic husband, friends who are always better dressed than she.  Also the worry of a thickening waist - just like us all, in that she thinks she is fatter than she was (even though clothes that are years old still fit, thank goodness!); the search for the husband's dress shirt eventually found in a bag in the bottom of the wardrobe where she stuffed it after last year's annual wearing; the expensive outing to London to a top class hairdresser recommended by a friend which was fine until washed....... It may be a little out of date, but it reminded me that nothing really changes.  She's desperate to write - anything really, short stories, articles for newspapers, comments she hopes the BBC will broadcast, and we follow her whilst she clears up after another family disaster or three.  It made me smile a lot, and laugh out loud a couple of times.  If you see it somewhere and you like the diary format, I'm sure you'll enjoy this quick read - I did!

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What to read in January - Mrs Mac suggests......

Well, I suggest that first, you have a year filled with good health and joy.

And for your January read, I am suggesting you find a book with up or down (or the equivalent) in the title -
e.g. The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

and don't worry, my list is very very long.  We won't run out for ages!!

Here's to some good reading in 2015.

 

Friday, 26 December 2014

Jane of Lantern Hill - L M Montgomery

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So glad to have come across this L M Montgomery - the last novel she wrote from what I've found.  If you loved Anne of Green Gables, or any of her others, this one is worth seeking out and reading.  This comes in a new paperback edition from Virago Modern Classics (number 620) with just the most beautiful cover by Daniela Jaglenka Tetrazzini.  I saw a review on Amazon which said "I first read this when I was seven....".  If I had read this when I was seven, it would not have made the impression on me that it has now, for woven into this children's story are things that seem common to us now, in a world where everyone knows everyone's business via social media.  But when it was written, I think it might have seemed extraordinary to any young reader that it brings in the jealousy that adults feel when things do not go their way; the way children have to cope when adults manipulate things to suit themselves; that PTS (post traumatic stress) is mentioned, but of course not by name as it wasn't invented back in the 1930s.

Jane is Jane Victoria.  Two names.  Jane she likes, but her grandmother in whose house she lives does not, and refers to her always as Victoria. Jane lives in number 60 Gay Street, off Bloor Street in Toronto.  Remind yourself that gay meant something else altogether then - but it's not a gay house:  in fact, there seems no fun and joy in the house she shares with her mother, grandmother and aunt.  It's a sombre, bitter place and her grandmother can find what we'd now call a put-down in every remark she makes to Jane.  Not only that, but with a dead father and a mother who has a busy social life, it is a place where laughter is never encouraged, and neither is cleverness, nor the lower orders. And then, one early summer, a letter arrives.  Jane's father is not only alive, but requests that she spend the summer with him on Prince Edward Island.  It has to be done, and Jane sets out with dread on the long train journey from Toronto to stay with a man she does not know, that her mother is still married to and once loved, and that her grandmother detests with her entire being.  What she finds on the Island is an eye-opener and I will stop right there, for this is a book that needs reading, with few clues beforehand.  It's one of those cosy up on the sofa in front of the fire with no interuptions kind of books - and even at my age I loved it.

I found out whilst researching this book that only in 2008 did the heirs of L M Montgomery release the fact that Montgomery had committed suicide in the early 1940s, and that she had suffered from depression for a lot of her life.  Her husband, a church minister, also had mental health problems.  The family had always known, but it was brought into the public domain because they decided it was time to talk about mental health.  Good for them.  It's so often the silent illness (i.e. no-one wants to talk about it), and it shouldn't be.  You see, if you break your arm, everyone can see the plaster.  But if your head is not in the right place, often the remark made is "pull yourself together".  Do think kindly of Montgomery whilst reading (or re-reading her books).  She didn't do too badly with her writing at all!

Wednesday, 24 December 2014

We Are All Welcome Here - Elizabeth Berg

We Are All Welcome Here  Yet another Elizabeth Berg novel that I just happened upon.   She's an American writer, and I think sometimes, that in the UK, American writers are passed over by readers because the subject matter, whilst the same, is just that bit different.  Well, they would be, wouldn't they?  It's not home, is it?   Actually, yes, it is - just a slightly different one.  She writes a good story, she writes from the heart, but she's not a hearts and flowers type of writer at all.  She's another like Lori Lansens who writes about life as it actually is.  Or in this case, was.

Set in the very early days of the Civil Rights Movement in the USA, when a white man supporting a negro cause was just as likely to be killed as the negro he was supporting, Diana is the thirteen year old child of a paralysed mother, Paige, who contracted Polio before the birth of her daughter.  To everyone's surprise, she delivered the child in her iron lung and they both survived.  Her marriage did not.  Her decision to bring the child up on her own is frowned upon, but she has Peacie, the day housekeeper to help, and an evening helper too.  She's meant to have a night nurse too, but there is no money to pay for that, so over the years, Diana has done the night care.  This is, first of all, the story of relationships - how different people act with each other and with other folk.  And in Peacie, I found a real live heroine.  Black, hard faced, and perhaps buried deep a real heart, for it is she that ensures that Diana eats properly, that she has clean clothes, that she knows how to shop with very little money, that she doesn't mix with the wrong sort.  And of course Diana resents it, and hates Peacie - she's an adolescent! 

Polio is one of those forgotten tragedies, but the description of how difficult life was for a sufferer brought me up sharp;   I couldn't imagine how awful it must have been.  And Civil Rights?  God, even towns were segregated into black and white areas, even though some whites lived poorer than some blacks they still thought themselves superior.    Well written, and at less than 200 pages still manages to pack a punch.  The story is not based on truth but was suggested to the author by someone who's own mother had been trapped in an iron lung but accomplished much.   I loved the characters here.  I knew Paige would never not have polio but I wished her a better life.  With Diana, I remembered adolescence.  And I loved Peacie - a huge character for a small book. Hugely recommended.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Island Magic - Elizabeth Goudge

I recently read one of Elizabeth Goudge's childrens' books, and it reminded me that she'd written a lot, and I'd read little.  So I decided to start at the beginning, and read a few of her adult novels.  Island Magic was published in 1934, and possibly set at the end of the 19th century.  It has a story which, if brought up to date, would involve tears, angst, bitterness, estrangement, at least one affair and all the other things that we expect (?) these days!

Island Magic is set on the island of Guernsey, an island that Goudge was familiar with from visits in her childhood.  The descriptions of the island itself lean towards the florid, but you get an idea that she was still developing her style - If I had been asked who wrote this without knowing the author, I probably wouldn't have guessed who it was.  The family at the centre of the story, the du Frocqs, live at Bon Repos; an old farmhouse with what would probably be described as a smallholding these days, for a few pigs, a couple of fields and a yard does not make for a large farm in any way.  The du Frocqs, it is very soon clear, are short of money, living in a house lent to them by the dreadful Doctor du Frocq - of the school of "don't do as I do, do as I tell you", widowed with two sons, one of whom he has not seen for many years, and the other, Andre - father of five children, husband of Rachell and living, by his father's grace, at Bon Repos.  Andre is not cut out to be a farmer, it is only because of his wife's money, now fast running out, that the family can stay on.   Into the lives of this family comes a shipwrecked sailor, Ranulph Mabier, who is certainly not all he seems.

It's not a book to rush through, but rather, a book to curl up by the fire with.  Each chapter is divided into sub-sections, so you can read a little or a lot at a time, and always have a stopping place.  My favourite of all Goudge's books was Little White Horse, a children's novel from the 1940s and a Carnagie Medal winner.  This book is not in that class, but interesting nevertheless and most certainly a picture of a way of life that is long gone.

A big thank you too, to Nan of the blog  Letters from a Hill Farm, whose recent post reminded me of this author.

Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Just to say - Have a Cool Yule!

ZsaZsa Bellagio


Whether it snows or not - have the Christmas-tide you want, stay warm, eat what you fancy and look forward to a better new year.  I'll be back at the very end of the year with your January book subject, so see you then.

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Tell The Wolves I'm Home - Carol Rifka Brunt

Tell the Wolves I'm Home


22 years ago, a friend of mine died.  Aids.  just a little time before that wonderful cocktail of drugs was found that would have kept him alive. So this novel was very close to home.  Some readers may find this painful, and very emotional; but told by a fourteen year old girl, whose sixteen year old sister hates her with a vengeance, some may find all sorts of truths within.

The girls' uncle, Finn, was a painter who's stock was rising when he died.  June, who tells the story, was in love with her uncle, and Greta, her sister was jealous.  It sounds simple, but think again, for there are truths and untruths here, and it takes most of the book for everything to become clear.  When Finn dies, June is heartbroken, and Greta becomes ever more cruel.  At the funeral, they see a man who their parents steer them clear of - Toby, Finn's "special friend",  who will play a large part in June's life for a very short time.

Set in the mid-1980s, the book reminded me of that time when it seemed that anyone could catch the damned disease, people were frightened, and so many died.  The anger, the fear, the despair are all here, seen through the eyes of people who are unlikely to die from it, but are affected by it.  The girls's mother, Finn's sister - who is so angry that her brother left her; the girl's father, taking his wife's side  and working hard to keep the family safe;  the boy at school who likes June, and Greta, jealous of Finn's treatment of June. Then of course, Toby, who is affected ..... all these people will be touched in some way by June's feelings. This is how teenagers feel.  This is how they lie, how they think no-one else knows, how they cope with grief.  Is it aimed at Young Adults?  It's a book for everyone, although some may love it, and some may not.  I am one of the former.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Smokey-House by Elizabeth Goudge

Smokey-House is the name of the village pub in the village of Faraway, deep in a valley in Cornwall, bounded on three sides by the high moors, and the last by the sea.  In Smokey-House live a family of 5 motherless children, the oldest acting as housekeeper, and their father the publican.  Add to that two dogs (stolen from someone else) and a donkey with a bad temper.  The children are Jessamine, Genefer, Tristram, Michael and Jane; the dogs Sot and Sausage, and the donkey Mathilda.  They live a lovely life, rabbit stew every evening, space to run and play, and nothing to fear except the Man-With-The-Red-Handkerchief (although, frankly, he's the least of their worries, as you will see further on in the story).  The children know that people in the village are smugglers, or Free Traders, as they prefer to be known, they know that the local squire gives money away to the poor, that he loves to hunt, eats well - but have no idea where his money comes from.  When a fiddle-playing foreigner arrives in the village things change in the most dramatic way.   

Elizabeth Goudge won the Carnagie Medal for Little White Horse in 1946, and it has never been out of print since.  Smokey-House, not so well known, has been out of print for some time and it does not have quite the charm of LWH, nor of Henrietta's House, two of my own favourite children's books.  It isn't without charm though.  It has a rather Christian feel to it, perfectly understandable given Goudge's background (father a vicar) and her own deep faith.  But even if you are an atheist, an agnostic, or person of another faith, there is a lovely story here - if you believe in fairies, babies that just arrive, and the goodness of people.

I think I am going to push on and read (or re-read) several more of Elizabeth Goudge's novels.

Monday, 1 December 2014

What to read in December - Mrs Mac's choice for you

Well, well.  Every month happens once every year, and every December some of you celebrate Christmas.  And there are so many reads set round this seasonal time that I think you should read something different.....

So - will you read something snowy?  Perhaps The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey


Good Luck, and Yuletide Greetings all

A song for Issy Bradley - Carys Bray

A blooming good read - one to make you sit up, pay attention and (very possibly) count your own blessings.  If you have a faith, you may find yourself agreeing with much that happens - if, like this reader, you have no faith, you may find yourself gasping in horror at the throw-away comments made by members of this particular church.

For this is the story of a family broken apart by the death of their youngest child, who dies so quickly, they have hardly noticed she is ill.  Claire, the mother, copes for a couple of weeks, and then goes into such deep depression that she will not leave her dead child's bed; Ian, an important man in the church cannot leave his church duties alone just for his family; and the remaining three children just have to find their way on their own.  The belief of this particular church is that every one of them, if they follow the rules, will reach Celestial Heaven and all will be well, so death is not a hardship - hence the comment of a sister of the church who comes to visit, when Claire says "Im sad...." says  "Oh! is that all?".  Claire's decline within the family is all important to the book.  The lower she sinks, the lower her profile, the more the others are affected. 

It was a hard book to read.  It hurt.  But although it may never be a classic in the accepted sense of the word, it is wonderfully observed, well written, and I felt that the author, an ex-member of the church in question, had a lot to offer by way of explanation - and achieved it for me.  It was a must-read.  It was unputdownable.  It was bitterly sad, but in parts made me smile - viewing their faith (or not) though non-tinted glasses was illuminating.  It may not be the prizewinner on the list in question but it certainly deserves to be read.

Monday, 24 November 2014

A Foreign Field - Ben MacIntyre

On the 100th anniversary of WW1, as a nation here in the UK we have marked that event with a river of poppies at the Tower of London.  Some of us have read books set in that 1914-18 war.  A lot of fiction based on fact has been written on the subject, some of which would have a startling effect on you when read for the first time.  Michael Morpurgo's Private Peaceful is always one that I recommend if you wanted to read a little something (written for young readers, it is readable by any age) about that dreadful war.  And of course, War Horse  by the same author can be read by any age.  This year I also read All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque which looks at the German view of your average young soldier. Just change the names from Fritz to Joe, Heinrich to Henry, and the view is the same.  Then, for a female view of war, there is My Dear I Wanted To Tell You by Maria Young.  It touches on the terrible injuries inflicted on young men, who had to live on with those injuries and has it's title based on postcards made available in field hospitals and places of recuperation, made to be filled in, so that the first part of the card read:

My dear................... (insert name, or mother, brother, wife etc)
I wanted to tell you ....................(that I am alive/well/injured but alive etc)

So for my November anniversary read I chose a non-fiction book - A Foriegn Field by Ben MacIntyre - a journalist who finds a hardly known story and gives it to you complete, research done, and very readable.  You might like to try Agent ZigZag for a riveting tale of WW2.

But with A Foreign Field MacIntyre brings to you a story that is very definitely not fiction, Those written about really did exist, and this small book (261 pages excluding bibliography, notes and index) will tell you not only the truth about a small assorted party of soldiers trapped in occupied France, but also facts about the war in the area to the north east of the Somme that was totally devastated, how and why; about a small village which thrived on gossip, the personalities there, and what happened after those soldiers where taken in and hidden by the villagers.  The number of total dead on all sides in WW1 is so large I have never been able to take it in - but reading this, I found myself stunned by the numbers who died in a day in several battles over the course of the war in this area.  I found myself questioning what exactly was going on in Villeret and the other small villages around about.  Towards the end of the book I found my questions answered in a satisfying way, even though mostly by questions the author asks i.e. what was he doing?  did they know? why didn't they?
An excellent example of how good research tells a good story.  Recommended, especially if you want to find out about a small place in a big war.
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Monday, 17 November 2014

Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore - Robin Sloan

"In Blip Magazine, George Saunders called Penumbra
a real tour-de-force, a beautiful fable that is given legs by the author’s bravado use of the real (Google is in there, for instance, the actual campus) to sell us on a shadow world of the unreal and the speculative. Robin Sloan comes across as so bighearted, so in love with the world — the ancient world, the contemporary world — so in love with love, in love with friendship, in love with the idea that our technical abilities can serve as conduits for beauty, that the reader is swept along by his enthusiasm. It’s a lot of fun — but it’s also a powerful reading experience with a wonderful undeniability."
So - can I do better than George Saunders?  But that's a powerful  little description of a book I really, really enjoyed.  A book I finished with a smile on my face and a contented sigh - and let me tell you, not every book I read does that for me! 

Mr Penumbra is the elderly proprietor of a bookshop in San Francisco, where Clay Jannon works the night shift (it's open 24 hours, right?) after his failure as a website designer for a company that has gone bankrupt.  It's an OK job, not many customers during his hours of 12.00 midnight to 8.00 am, so plenty of time to surf the net, have a look at the books..... but only the new books.  On the orders of Mr Penumbra, he's not to remove any of the books in the back of the shop.  Any of those on the tall, tall shelves that require ladders to reach the volumes.  Any of those at arm's length.  Those near the floor.  They are old, dusty, and frankly, for a while, he has no interest in them anyway, and neither do many customers.  Those that are interested tend to be a little odd, mostly over 50, and the book they borrow (for they cannot be bought) must be recorded in a leather-bound ledger together with a description of the customer.....

This book is full of references.  Old books, other languages, typefaces,The Mechanical Turk, people who really existed, companies that exist - and it's such fun!  Yes, it contains a description of Google's real campus.... and it refers to lots of things that Google can do for Clay when he sets out to solve a 500 year old mystery.  If you like codes, if you love fantasy trilogies (Perhaps Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant), if you like a book with a villain, a hero, and some good friends,  if you are a bit of a computer nerd and sit up all night trying to write your own programmes; but most of all, if you like a book that makes you want to look up something on Wikipedia or elsewhere on the internet, but meanwhile makes you want to keep turning the pages, then this is the read for you.  And is the mystery finally solved?  Well, you'd have to read the book to find that out, wouldn't you?  But it's a great read, and for any of the reasons above that might make you think "she means me!" - I recommend it.

For information:  The yellow cover appears to be the US paperback, the other the UK paperback, and I note on Amazon that there is a new cover altogether which personally I don't like.  My favourite is the yellow.


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