Sunday, 23 April 2017

Brown Angus Butterfly

Did I see a Brown Angus in my garden a few days ago?  What I thought I saw was a brown butterfly with yellow spots.  I have looked at dozens of pics of both butterflies and moths since then, and the nearest both in identity and location would seem to be the Angus Brown.  I am not a lepidopterist (is that the right word?).  There is a blue that is similar (not true blue with with the blue tinge, but it was not that), but this was def. brown.  Sadly I did not see the underneath - or rather did not notice, perhaps - as it was there and gone in a couple of seconds.  But I had never seen one before, so tried to identify it.  This is not my picture, either, but it does give a clear identity of the Brown Angus.       
Brown Argus (upperwing)

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck


















This is only the third Steinbeck that I have read.  I came to him rather late, probably because when I was at school we didn't have to analyse the arse off a book to know what literature was (and still is).  From Amazon, I learn that there are loads of editions of this with notes to help you understand........ Really?  This is a novella of just over 100 pages, and even if you are a slow reader, you could polish this off in a couple of days and you'd understand it, too.  And I know from remarks from other booky folk that they don't "do" Steinbeck because they were sick of him before school ended.  Sad, sad, and a loss for them, for they are books to grip the heart in a number of different ways.

Let me tell you a little about this one.  There is no date or time line for it, but as it was published in the late 1930s originally, it's a sure thing that the setting was the American Depression.  It's about men.  About how they do things, how they feel about things, how they get along.   It shows it's age - remember that sexism was not invented in 1937;  people still called those with a dark skin "niggers"; and in this book a woman with just a bit too much rouge, lipstick and curled hair is a "tart".  But don't take offence.  The world was a different place then.

Lennie is a giant of a man, tall, broad, huge hands and with a heart of gold.  A mental age of maybe 5 years, and not much of a memory, except for the things George tells him.  We don't need to know what the original relationship was when they were children, but they have certainly known each other most of their lives, and George is now stuck with Lennie.   The two of them are drifters.  They hitch lifts, they walk, they take menial farm jobs all over California.  They do what they can, and they dream.  The same dream for both of them.  They are going to save enough to buy a small farm, some hens, enough vegetables to feed themselves, a couple of pigs for slaughter every year, and the rabbits.  Lennie is addicted to soft things - animal fur, velvet; so the thought of keeping those soft furry creatures is his part of the dream.  But Lennie has no idea of his own strength.  And that is how trouble creeps into their itinerant life.

If you've never seen a film of this book, don't go looking for it, because no-one can, I think, do justice to Steinbeck's word pictures.  Just read the book, with all its beauty, its hardship, its cruelty, its sadness.  But do read it.
    

Friday, 14 April 2017

Should You Ask Me - Marianne Kavanagh

I loved this.  I couldn't put it down, and read it in a day.  Has just the right amount of mystery that keeps you reading, and the ending is just right too.
In the weeks approaching D-Day, 1944, Wareham in Dorset is full of Amerian soldiers.  The Second World War is in full flow.  London is being bombed and people are tired.  When two bodies are discovered near the coast it seems likely that they are old bodies, and they are likely to be the result of an old quarry accident.  That is, until Mary Holmes walks into the local police station and states that she knows about the bodies and she killed them both.  She's over eighty, and the Sargeant asks a young policeman to take her statement. She tells a long and meandering tale, and it may not even be true.  And wihilst William, the war damaged constable listens to Mary, he is thinking.  For he too has a tale to tell and it is tearing him apart.
Set on the Isle of Purbeck, Kavanagh has got everything so right.  The village names, the  geography, even the names of businesses in town (Frisby's shoes, for goodness sake!).  She has a style that is easy to read, involves you staight away, and produces empathy for both the leading characters. A real page turner, a short of old-fashioned thriller (no serial murders or drugged wives here!), so good that I'd recommend it it anyone who enjoys a read a little off the mainstream. 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

These Dividing Walls - Fran Cooper











 







 I felt quite at home in Paris reading this book. It has a familiar ring - a large city, trouble brewing in a hot Summer, and the residents of a apartment block, which at one time was a whole house or two. I got to know several of the people who live there, some better than others and some not really at all. Into this building comes Edward, a young Englishman who has taken the offer of the use of a friend's flat for a while, after suffering the devastating loss of his beloved sister in a traffic accident. I think it is fair to say that when people live in blocks of flats or apartments, they get to guess things about their neighbours, but don't necessarily get to know them. There's a family with three children under five, the mother washed out and on the verge of a breakdown. There's a couple in love and married for 30 years but she doesn't know that he no longer has a job to go to and leaves the house every morning to go across Paris and sit in a cheap cafe reading the paper all day. Then, a newly married Muslim couple buy one of the apartments, and move in...... It's a really hot Summer in Paris, tempers are frayed, things go wrong, and in the middle of it all the man without the job has a conversation with a new "friend".
The tension can be felt, just there, under the surface. What is going to happen? Someone is going to get hurt, aren't they? I found myself worrying about Edward;  the wife with the children, and the man without a job, and the rough sleeper across the road - and the others too. I dislike the mob mentality that large groups wear, I just see no way to stop them. Perhaps something that hot Paris Summer will change things for everyone concerned.
The author is English, but spent three years in Paris, and she certainly gives you a feel for it. I liked her style a lot - just a story about people, but the mounting tension made it a page turner for me. I recommend this and look forward to more by Fran Cooper.




Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Mrs Mac suggests - What to read in APRIL


Hello! hello! and Springtime greetings. Well the date has come and gone, and the daffs are flowering, but there isn't enough of that lovely Spring sunshine just yet..... come on, come on!

While we are all waiting, let's have a look at what to read in April.

   How about a book starring your favourite literary sleuth?

Yes!  that sounds like a really good idea, and I think I will look for and read a book by Rex Stout, starring that overweight, clever, short-tempered food loving Nero Wolfe.  He wrote so many - novellas and short stories too, so there are plenty to pick from, but the very first was:

 Fer-De-Lance

Take your pick though - they are stand-alones although the characters appear in book after book.




  

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Spring is Sprung....

My  Mum, who has been gone a very long time, pops into my head from time to time, unannounced.  I had not thought about this little rhyme for some years now, but my Mum used to say it on the first day of spring every year when I was small.

What is it?  Where does it come from?  And where would a little country lady who knew no Americans and only left the country once in her life get this from?  And it sounds as though it should be said in a New Jersey accent......

The Spring is sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where dem boidies is?

They say the boid is on the wing
But that's absoid
Because the wing is on the boid!

Answers on a postcard please.........!
 
 

Pereira Maintains - Antonio Tabucchi



















 Doctor Pereira was a newspaper reporter, crime pages, for years.  He finds himself now in late middle age editing the "culture" page of a new evening newspaper.  It's 1938, Portugal is under the grip of the dictator Salazar, who is supported politically by Franco in Spain, Hitler in Germany Mussolini in Italy. Guernica has been bombed.  So it's no different at that time than other countries today - where ordinary people have to get on with their lives and do ordinary things.....

When Periera meets Rossi, a young Italian man who needs a job and tells him he can write "in advance" obituaries for him (ready for the death when it occurs) he employs him on an ad hoc basis and pays him from his own pocket for starters.  Rossi has no money, and gets a few free lunches from Periera.  In return he produces obituaries that Periera cannot use.  We, the readers, can see that something is going to happen from very early on, although of course, the characters cannot.  We find Periera a bit of a blank sheet - fat, lazy, disinterested in politics and not a hero - yet.

Short, less than 200 pages, and for me, beautifully described.   I never mind reading a new author, I just have to like the subject and the style.  Tabucchi is Italian and this is the first time I have happened upon him.  It is interesting to read a book originally written in another language - as long as it's well translated.  I really enjoyed this book, a book about nothing really, starring a rather boring man,  which is actually a neat little thriller.










Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Draughtsman - Robert Lautner

 Set in Germany towards the end of WW2, this extraordinary tale explores that old adage about what happens when mankind sees something but does nothing. Ernst is married to a beautiful wife, his soulmate. They live hand to mouth in a couple of small rooms, paying too much rent, she working in a bar/cafe a couple of nights a week, and he having not worked at all since university. But he is a trained draughtsman, and there is a large engineering firm in town. After an interview, he is surprised and pleased to be offered a job, redrawing engineering plans so that a layman will understand them. His job is in the Special Ovens Department, under the management of Hans Klein, a showy kind of guy, fast car, nice clothes etc. It is he who arranges for Ernst and Etta to move out of their crummy accommodation and into a new house, with several rooms, and for the installation of a telephone.








It is not long before Ernst realises what it is he is working on, but as is so often the case, he decides that "I am just doing my job". His wife is not so sure, and when his childhood friend Paul, who has made a substantial living out of running his own crematorium talks to him about that job, he is still dismissive. At first, I questioned why he would continue at his job, but realization dawned as I realised that no job meant no home, no food, and nothing at all to look forward to - for when would the war end? At least the town Ernst and Etta live in is away from the fighting and bombing, food is readily available, and they are near the wonderful Beech Tree Forest..... Buchenwald.

Written in the first person, we see Ernst's views remain the same for a very long time - just doing his job - but somehow, somehow, his mind begins to change. But will it change enough?

The research for this novel is impeccable. It is fiction, but so much of it actually happened. Lautner says in his afterward (which simply must be read) that he wrote the book because he wanted to ask the question "What would you do?" And for Ernst, that is the question. After all, he was only doing his job.

*Robert Lautner's first book was The Road to Reckoning.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sweet Thursday - John Steinbeck

Last year (Wednesday 10 August 2016, so that you can find it on my date index if you want to read it), I spoke about John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, an American classic and a book new to me. Oh! I loved it all - the prose, the larger than life characters, and Steinbeck's style.

And now I can tell you about it's companion volume, Sweet Thursday.  Another short novel, this is set just after the end of  WW2.  The Canneries are closed, fish stock depleted totally, but down on the row life goes on.  Doc is back from his war, feeling a little different about life now and faced with a big clear up job in  his laboratory - the pal he left in charge having scooted.  The Bear Flag brothel has a new madam;  Lee Chong's grocery shop is now under the ownership of a Mexican, Chong having sailed off into the sunset on his boat purchased with the sale proceeds of the shop and any other holdings.  And Mack?  Mack is still there, resident in charge at the Palace Flophouse along with all the other down-and outs.

Mack who still wants to help Doc even though every time he tries to do so things go horribly wrong and Fauna, the Bear Flag madam,  comes up with a plan for Doc.  He's lonely but  won't admit it.  Suzy, a new recruit to the brothel is not really much good at whoring, and in Fauna's view, is prime material for a wife for Doc.  What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Just before Spring at Pine Tree Cottage



daffodil 'TĂȘ

Anything popping up in your garden yet?  Some years ago I took the decision to plant only miniature daffodils (there were no daffs, big or small at that time).  They are small, and they don't multiply fast, but this year is definitely the best, and they are giving me a good show.   Most of them are the common "tete a tete" which I believe are raised in their thousands because they are really hardy and easy care which is why supermarkets sell so many of them!  No matter, I love the little yellow fellas.


Mini Daffodil Bulbs - Minnow
 However, what they are also telling me is that I have not yet planted enough yet!  So whilst in another town  at the weekend, I found just two trays of a new-to-this garden shown left - "minnow"- so they have to go in, together with the the pot of "tete a tete" which were on our table Christmas day and so of course quickly over.  I think the "minnow" may be a bit taller than "tete a tete", so will put them in further back in the borders.

 Also, I see that my Ceanothus (Californian lilac) is full of buds this year, so both of this and the daffs  are obviously happy about last year's weather whatever it was. It's up at around 7 feet this year with a wide spread, and the picture below is from the Internet, not my garden, because although the buds are set, it will be around 3 weeks before they are out and look like this.  They have a short life, so I don't know how many more years I will have this one, so I'm going to love it every year it blooms for me.
   
Image result for californian lilac
 Tulips are up now, showing their green.  I am always surprised to see the leaves because in my last garden I could never get tulips to do anything at all, and when I moved to this garden several existing bulbs shot up in the spring and have continued to perform for the last 14 years.  After about three years of re-appearance, I realised that the conditions were good for them here, and so I bunged a few in - they performed - then the next year a few more - ditto.  So every year, just a few more to give me joy.  Then last week at a farm shop and cafe for a cup of tea, I saw that there were pots of tulips for sale, very overcrowded, but healthy and one flower which gave me the key - a sort of dark peach.  They appear to me miniatures too - but of course that might be the overcrowding, so they are going in shortly and I'll have to wait till next year to see how tall they grow!

And then for flowering later this year, some plants arrived by post.  When I read the label of this one, I laughed, for whoever considered growing Greater Sea Kale in a border?  Me!  And this is why - from nothing at all (dies right back) you get a spread of up to 5 feet of white froth beloved by bees - who could resist?   Again, this is not mine but a picture from the Internet.  But I can hope, can't I?

Image result for greater sea kale

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Come and say hello!

I am as guilty of being a stalker as most blog followers - I mean, how many times do you open a blog, read the contents and then skip on to the next?  I know!  Me too!  Every now and then I am moved to make a comment - but not every day.

When I first started blogging I had a few followers and when my "looks" passed 3,000 I got really excited!  Now I am getting loads of lookers, and my review posts often get 100/200  looks within a month of posting.  But of course, I have no idea if those readers are actually tuning in to me, or whether my blog comes up  on a Google search when someone is seeking mention of  the book I reviewed.  So help me out guys......

Scroll to the bottom of this post and you will see a tiny grey numeral and the word comment - mostly this says "1 comment" and if you click on it you will see that the 1 comment is actually me.  Just type in the reply box, I'd be glad to have any comments about anything I post - although if you're looking for love (as in a comment I did get a little while ago), move on, this is not the blog you're looking for.

Looking forward to hearing from you!


Friday, 3 March 2017

Gathering Blue - Lois Lowry

This is a companion volume to The Giver - and there are two more, making a quartet.  But don't think that this follows the story of The Giver on, because is does not.  It isn't meant to.  It is another tale of the future, but a different future.  Perhaps it is a future alongside that of The Giver but in another part of the world, perhaps it is later than the time when The Giver is set....... but importantly, it informs us that power of the few is everything unless we fight it.  

Kira is a girl with a damaged leg.  Right at the beginning we are aware that her mother is dead, and that she is not wanted in her own village by some of it's inhabitants.  She is grieving for her Mother, her Father is long dead, and she will be unable to earn enough credit for food in the weaving shop where she clears the floor of cloth scraps every day.   We see that two things are important, and both things are introduced to the reader in quick succession - she has a friend, a scruffy and dirty little orphan boy called Matt; when having a friend is important, and she meets an elder at a village meeting where she has been accused of being a drain on the village, and eating too much.  The elder offers her hope and a home, for he knows she can sew and embroider and there is an important item of clothing to be repaired and completed.  So she moves into what we would describe as luxurious quarters after the dirt and filth of the mud and wattle huts the villagers live in.  
In those new surroundings, she meets Tom, a boy who is doing a similar job to her, but in wood. He is also an orphan and he is to repair, recarve and complete an historic staff, a staff on which the people's history is recorded.  They have rooms alongside each other, they eat their meals together, and they talk together after their workload is finished for the day.  There is a mystery..... sometimes, in the night, Kira hears a small child crying.  
I do like Lois Lowry's style - a great childrens' and YA author.  This one could be read by good readers of say 9-10 upwards. I am much older than that, and I enjoyed the journey immensely - a real page turner this one, as we hold our breaths and hope that everything turns out alright.

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Mrs Mac suggests..... What to read in March

March being a longer month than February, perhaps a fat read is in order?  Fantasy?  Perhaps you don't like it, although you may have read all the Harry Potters. Yes, for March, I am suggesting: 

A book with a fictional animal



Because in case you hadn't heard (where have you been?!) we are expecting more from Phillip Pulman (author of His Dark Materials).  Those three books had wonderful fictional animals within, and it just may be worth looking into these if you have never tried them.  Myself? I loved the whole concept of those three books and I am going to re-read them to get myself ready for the first of the new ones!

Good reading, and don't forget - Spring is on the way   




Sunday, 19 February 2017

The House on Mango Street - Sandra Cisneros

Enchanting!  That's how I must describe this tiny little gem.  Sandra Cisneros is a Latino/Hispanic? American.  This is not an ethnic group in the UK like it is in the USA, but I find an empathy whenever I come across a writer from this group - even though my own ethnic background is certainly chilly Northern European.  This is a very short book.  Only 110 pages.  And it isn't a book of short stories, just a set of what I'd describe as musings, and the publisher calls "vignettes".

The House on Mango Street 
These musing are a sort of stream-of consciousness from the mind of a child, (but this is not a children's book)  describing things she finds, feels or experiences on the way to puberty.  Living in the house on Mango Street, she wants more - but how to describe what you dream of when you are only a child?  From singing games to the disappointment of not having shoes that match a party dress; and to playing in an empty garden where there are a couple of abandoned cars, and nature is taking over;  these are things I recall too, and my childhood was spent on the other side of the Atlantic - and at a different time, too.   
 
These small glimpses into another world are like the best poetry,  they are not poems,  just little jewels made with a pen and paper.  I cannot believe that for my entire reading career I have never come across Cisneros before - but this is not the last of hers that will pop through my letter box.  If you are like me, and the name means nothing, perhaps you should seek her out too. I think you might enjoy her!

Friday, 17 February 2017

Saturday, 11 February 2017

Tea at Four O'Clock - Janet McNeill

Product DetailsSometimes I read a book I don't choose, it's a book that just fell my way.  This is one of those, and very glad I am to have discovered it.  First published in 1956 (although it has an older "feel"), it was republished in 1988 by Virago.  It seems to be out of print now, but there are some secondhand copies available on Amazon, and I am sure a few more around the secondhand markets on the Internet or ask at your library. 

Set in Belfast in the years just after WW2, the story of three siblings, George, who has estranged himself from his two sisters; one who in the first chapter is already dead as we read about the day of her funeral, and the other sibling Laura - who nursed Mildred for some years until her death.  A short but heartbreaking tale of how a family can cause each other so much hurt in many ways, and how lies can affect the way others lives are led.

 Laura misses her brother George so badly it hurts, and on the day of Mildred's funeral he suddenly wants to be back in the bosom of his family.  As Laura is the only one left, we ask ourselves if he has an ulterior motive?  We also ask ourselves why Laura dedicated herself to the care of Mildred in her last six years;  surely not because twenty years previously Mildred was the head of the household whilst Laura suffered a complete mental and physical breakdown?   The mysteries of why and when unfold slowly, so take your time when reading this one - and finally, when all is revealed, you will understand how the lies we tell come back to haunt others.


Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Poisonwood Bible - Barbara Kingsolver

I had put off reading this since I acquired it..... too many pages, subject not for me and all that.  But this year I am attempting to read some books that have been hanging about for far too long, and this is one of them.  And what a surprise!

The book took me on a journey I really was not ready for, and one I had difficulty in dealing with.  As an atheist, the journey of a Baptist minister and his family was not something that appealed.  But how wrong I was to have left it on the shelf for so long.  in 1959, the minister, (without the full approval of the Baptist ministry) decides that he will minister in what was then the Belgian Congo.  He has a wife and four daughters, and so they must accompany him.  From the very first pages, when we find them readying themselves for a journey to God knows where for the purpose of baptising new Christians, we already know they are in for a difficult year ahead.  And when the small plane drops them in the middle of nowhere, and they are surrounded by natives who knew of their arrival and have killed a goat in their honour it is all so strange they recede into a kind of silent shock.  The shock really never leaves them.  The small village they have arrived at, following in the footsteps of a former missionary who has rumoured to have "gone native", is as different as it would be for you or me to land on the moon.

Food?  not much and certainly not the right sort.  Running water? none.  Bath?  Not unless you walk to the river with containers, walk them back and heat them up..... and that is only the start.  The Betty Crocker cake mixes (four of them, brought for the celebration of each birthday of the daughters) set in the pack like concrete and everything, for them, appears to be a living hell.  And Father?  Nathan Price, a cruel man with mental health problems of his own, so quick to hurt physically as well as mentally his wife and all his girls, doles out punishment for all of them whilst preaching his gospel, trusting to the translator to pass the Word on correctly.

The book is told in parts, each with a biblical heading, and divided into chapters told in  the voices of the daughters, about their lives at the time, whilst at the beginning of each part the mother looks backwards to her time in Africa.

I was shocked how little I knew about the departure of the Belgians from the Congo.  Shocked at how much the US was involved in Patrice Lamumba's death.  Stunned at how the Western world still regards Africa.  Barbara Kingsolver is a wonderful author, and her research can't be beaten.   This is a book worth reading.  You can read it for the history.  You can read it for the breakup of a family.  You can read it to understand a bit more about political decisions and how they make a difference half a world away.  What it isn't is a cute story, a love story (although there is one in there), a book with a happy ending (although for some that will come).  There is horror and grief here in all kinds of ways, but it is so worth the read.




Thursday, 2 February 2017

Mr Golightly's Holiday - Salley Vickers

I have read several of Salley Vickers' novels, each one different, but all with a soul.  As I started to read this one I was reminded of a long dead author, Elizabeth Goudge, in that it was very descriptive, and in a not so modern style.  My problem for you, dear readers, is that I want you to read it, but I can't tell you much for fear of giving the game away!  But let's see what I can do.

Elderly Mr Golightly needs a holiday.  Not least because he once wrote a  best seller and wonders if he should re-write it and bring it up to date a bit as sales and readership have dropped off considerably.  And so he finds himself in a small Devon village on Dartmoor, not writing much at all, drinking coffee and the occasional beer at the pub, and taking long walks and getting to know the villagers.  All have their good and bad points, some more bad than good, but really, most are redeemable.  He remembers his son, long dead, and is pleased to make the aquaintance of Johnny, a young teen, who blossoms under Golightly's love and care, and becomes his research assistant, being a wiz on the internet.  His business he's left in the care of his excellent team of staff, who send the odd email in reply to his enquiries, but otherwise leave him alone to enjoy his holiday.

We view the entire village as Golightly does, we see the affairs, how sex changes people, how lonely people just need a friend, how some awful examples of human  being need taking down a peg or two, and how secrets will out in the end.  And that's all I am going to say about this thought-provoking book.  If you are a regular reader of mine, you will know that there is always a reason for me telling you about a book.  I realised something quite important about two thirds of the way through, but even if you miss that, you will have everything made clear by the end.  Don't go near the end until you get there!!  And then, do have a look at Vickers' reason for writing the book.  Interesting.




 

Monday, 30 January 2017

Mrs Mac suggests - what to read in February

How about a crime novel with no body, no blood, no murder?  I wonder how many of those there are around?  No - don't all shout at once!

 I am suggesting, for you in February

                             a crime novel more than 50 years old.  

There are loads of them available, and in the last few years there have been republications of books that have been out of print for a long while.... the style will be different - but what you may find, apart from the style of writing which is very different from today's style, is a glimpse  into a life quite different from that which we live today.  I have just read a book I mentioned in the first line of this post - no body, no blood, no murder and I recommend it to you.  It's:


The Franchise Affair by Josephine Tey

  

Friday, 27 January 2017

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away..... by Jim Smith


Darth Vader was really a welder from Fife..... WHAT?
This little clip from a radio recording is by a Scottish comedian, Jim Smith.  No matter what he does for the rest of his life, I thank him for this little chunk of wonderfulness.

Of course, being married for a very long time to a Scot means I understand (most of) it... but even if you are unfamiliar with any Scottish accent (and there are lots!) do listen a few times, and you'll get the hang of it, honestly!  You'll hear him say "I ken a boy" - roughly translated that's I know a guy".