Friday, 29 April 2016

The Light Between Oceans - M L Stedman

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                                                                    Tom Sherborne is a lighthouse keeper on an island off the West coast of Australia.  He fought in Europe in WW1, got a gong for his bravery, and desparately tries to keep his feelings and his memories of that time deep inside himself.  When he meets Isobel on shore leave, he is so struck with her and his feelings for her he can think of nothing else, and so, three months later, when he again is on shore, he asks her to marry him and she accepts.  So Tom and Izzie start their married life, on their own, on a tiny island where they can just be themselves, and their early days are a joy - until the first miscarriage.

I have never lost a child, never borne a child, but it is obvious that the first loss hurts, the second loss is even more painful to both Izzie and Tom and there are more heartbreaks to bear as the years pass.  Until, that is, the day when a boat washes ashore.  In that boat is a dead man and a living baby.  As a lighthouse keeper, Tom must report the findings and Izzie knows that - but begs for just one day with the baby before he telegraphs his report. 

The results of her plea form the rest of the story.  A story so sad that I couldn't read too much at a time because I just knew that bad things were around the corner on the next page or two.  But of course, one always wants to get to the end of a good read, and there will be many twists and turns before the last page.  I liked this very much, even though it was a heartbreaking tale for most of the characters.  Well written, with a good feel for the place and the time, I can recommend this, but do bear in mind that the story is about a child who has lost one mother but found another and that like real life, it will not be all blue skies.

Monday, 25 April 2016

British Home Stores - how did that happen?

Yet another chain on the decks and I have steam coming out of my ears..... this morning I heard someone say that they just didn't move fast enough when Primark arrived on the high street.

WHAT????  Primark arrived at least 20 years ago, didn't they?  Well, yes, they did - the first Primark store was in Derby in 1 9 7 3 ...yes, that's right, 1973.  OK, OK, I know that it didn't spread to every town very fast, but to say that BHS didn't move fast enough - they've had a long time to move, haven't they?  So let's  leave Primark out of it.

The Verdant Green (you know who I mean) sold BHS to the current owner for £1 just a few years ago, after he gained a knighthood for services to retail.  He's got a lovely luxury yacht now, and today, in a tiny fit of guilt perhaps, offered some of his own millions to pour back into the pension pot.  Mmmmmm.

And did you know that someone or other sold BHS franchises to places outside the UK?  There's one in the Falklands;  one in Bahrain too (would you go there on holiday and then, spotting BHS, say "ooh, lovely, must just pop in for some knickers?).

I'm not a business person.  But it seems to me that if you could not compete with a cheapo but popular store like Primark, maybe you should have got out of the clothing business some years ago, and revamped to make yourself a chain of just  "Home" Stores.  Yes?

So all those staff can only be paid until the end of this month, and goodness only knows how much all those pensions will be worth after this lot.  Remember Comet?  The same scenario. 

Is it only me that gets bloomin' cross about this sort of thing?  Poor show.

Thursday, 21 April 2016

Wonder - R J Palacio

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August (Auggie) is a child with a facial disfigurement.  He will tell you about that at the beginning of the book but he won't actually describe himself.  What he will do is to tell you about his family, his dog, and his first year at school following his homeschooling regime by his mother.

Other people will tell you about their connection with Auggie too - his sister and people at school have voices in this book too - and you'll get a background.  As you go forward you will also find out what exactly is wrong with Auggie's face, the medical term for it, how rare it is, and how he deals with it and how other people deal with him.

This is a fiction, and if you change things round just a little, it is the story of how a "different" child copes with life in the real world.  Insert the "different" you want, i.e. Aspurgers, other religion, different language, other colour........ No, it isn't a preachy kind of book, it's just a book about a child who has learnt to live with his difference, and how others  have to learn how to do that. 

It's aimed at the YA market, but I think any good reader from around 10 years up could read this.  I am an adult who happens to like YA reads, and I thought this a clever approach to a difficult subject, and (very important this) a great book to read.  I ploughed through it wanting him to find good friends at school, wanting him to be accepted, wanting what everyone should have - a normal life.

Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Victoria Wood, a woman of my times, dead at 62

"Prawns?  They hang around sewer outlet pipes, treading water with their mouths open".

That line, or something very near it, was written for Julie Walters.  I loved everything Victoria Wood wrote, but most of all I loved those lines which were surely overhearings, kept and treasured and then added to either a comedy routine or a sketch.

I loved the song "Let's Do It";  I loved the pathos Julie Walters brought to the "Two Soups" sketch;  I loved Housewife 49 in which she starred herself, and which was not her usual comedy poke in the eye.  In the old days of video recorders I kept loads of her shows to cheer up a bad day or a wet evening.

I loved "Acorn Antiques" - her clever and funny observation  of all those bad soap operas - especially the lines for Mrs Overall.   "Another cup of coffee Miss Babs?" doesn't have a whiff of a smile about it until you see Julie Walters delivering it as she was meant to.

Goodbye Victoria - You made me laugh.

Tuesday, 19 April 2016

Special Celebrations for an old un!

So there are times when something special comes along.  A family member has reached 90 which, although she is in good health considering everything, is a bit of surprise as both parents died at 64.  Myself and another (step)family member decided that a "do" in a posh hotel might be nice if she would like that.

She would!

So we organised a hot buffet lunch for 30, and met up in a very old and rather nice hotel in town.  She didn't know about the cake, but as the day was one week before her actual birthday, and she had chosen the words for the invitation as "I'm nearly 90, and I'd be delighted....etc" I thought about that as the wording on the cake.  A rich fruit cake with royal icing was just too much.  A sponge with soft white icing would be just too sweet.  And then I found a cake maker who would do just what I wanted!  This was a heavy sponge, flavoured with real lemon juice.  It had two layers of buttercream inside and on the outside, it was covered in buttercream (not too thick!) done in ombre (on all sides a darker colour at the bottom graduating to nearly white at the top).   The top is a sheet of soft icing, marked to look quilted, and the flowers  edible.

And for the slogan?  "I'm nearly 90!" of course!  She loved it, and it just goes to show that sometimes a special day can be marked with something different from Happy Birthday.

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Spring Cleaning without breaking the bank.

Found this on another blogger's website.  As it comes with it's own label from the originator, you can see it, and I don't have to ask permission to reissue it.  Even if you only find one new way to clean up on the cheap, I'm glad I could help.

Anyway, I thought this was a real treat (and an eye opener) for those of us who don't want  to spend so much on cleaning products.  The Amazing one was Coca Cola...... if it cleans toilets, what does it do to human pipe works haha!

Sunday, 3 April 2016

How Steeple Sinderby Wanderers won the FA Cup. J L Carr

You don't need to love football in order to enjoy this little book.  I see that Penguin are re-issuing it this Spring, and I hope that it will find some fans.  Yes, it's about football - well, sort of.  So let's just  have a look at the premise.  A small village team of mostly amateurs beat Glasgow Rangers and win the FA cup.  Is it true?  Well, it could be, but records seem to be missing.....  The teller of the tale, a young man who writes the rhymes for birthday cards, becomes the secretary of the club, and so the recorder of meetings where decisions are taken, the team is chosen, and the notetaker of all the Chairman's decisions and asides. The team is built around a set of "postulations".. from Doctor Kossuth, a Hungarian schoolteacher residing in the village, who takes the time to observe football games and comes back to the team with his thoughts on which to build the team.

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At just 140 pages, I laughed to myself throughout.  Improbable characters are somehow very familiar. Apart from Doctor Kossuth, you'll meet the Chairman of the team (and chair of every committee in the village as well as a successful beet farmer) Mr Fangfoss;  Alex Slingsby (short career professional footballer and team captain, and various other colourful characters.

J L Carr who died in 1994, is more famous for another short book, A month in the Country.  He  was a schoolteacher for many years, and produced a lot of short novels.  The style is 1920s, rather than 1970s when this was first published and you might like a dictionary for a few words no longer in common usage.  But it doesn't matter.  If you are outside the UK and an anglophile, you might just enjoy this! (and you don't need to know the rules of football either).  If you like football at all, you might enjoy it; if you want to be amused, you might enjoy it.  You just might enjoy it and have a few quiet chuckles to yourself just because you came across it.

Thursday, 31 March 2016

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

So Spring is here and we are still reading!

For April I am suggesting you read A book set in a school.  

You might go way back to Enid Blyton's Mallory Towers!  You may only go as far back as Down with Skool byGeoffrey Willans with illustrations by Ronald Searle, but go on, find a book set in a school and enjoy yourself.

My suggestion to you is   -

  Gentlemen and Players - Joanne Harris

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Heroic Measures - Jill Ciment

  • Heroic Measures  Ever been to New York?  Never been to New York?  It doesn't matter at all which way you answer, for here is a joyous taste of Manhattan just for you - which doesn't involve fashion, concert halls, shows, Central Park, the Statue of Liberty, or even Grand Central Station.  It's a little bundle of small time real life, and it stars two elderly Jews and one elderly dachshund.
    Ruth and Alex Cohen are selling their apartment on the fourth floor of a block with no lift (elevator).  They are looking for an apartment in the same neighbourhood  that has one.  Not least because they are elderly but it would be nice to just get in the lift and go home, rather than drag yourself up four floors, wouldn't it?  So an open day for viewing their home is arranged, but not before Dorothy the dachshund has to be hospitalised and may not recover.  With the worry about the dog, they are not really interested in the viewers, and even when a bidding war starts, their concerns are with Dorothy;  and in any case, they haven't found a new place for themselves yet.   When they do  find just the place, overlooking a cemetery (such quiet neighbours!), they put in their bid.
    Whilst they are dealing with their own small (but the same as all of us) problems, New York is having a bad time of it when a petrol tanker is stuck, jammed across all lanes, in a tunnel and the driver is seen running away.  Is he a terrorist?  Don't worry, the networks will let you know!  Every channel is showing the same thing, every channel has a spokesperson with a slightly differing view, and in the meantime, Ruth and Alex have to get on with their life. 

Friday, 25 March 2016

Hester & Harriet - Hilary Spiers

I found this new title reviewed on another blog.  The blogger I am long aquainted with - so when she had a few good words to say about this I took a chance.  So glad!  What a lovely read!

Hester and Harriet are two fiesty widowed sisters who now live together in comfortable near-harmony in rural Hampshire.  They love food, they love good wine, they holiday every year in the Scilly Isles (same rooms too), and they don't like excitement.  So when, on Christmas day, they find a very young woman with a tiny baby hiding in a disused bus shelter, it would be better perhaps to drive on by.  But like the good Samaritan of old, they take these two into their home and on finding that they have a possible illegal immigrant and child to deal with, proceed to try and find out what is going on, what she is so frightened of and who.  Almost at the same time, their 15 year old nephew turns up and is not going home either.  For a few days, the sisters and Daria, the mother of tiny Milo live uncomfortably with Ben, spotty and single-word conversationalist, until they realise that Daria needs help;  Ben needs to get his act together, and they are going to find life more exciting that they really want.

The characters are all well drawn.  Spiers has captured the worry of the new mother and her illegal status well, the spotty Ben gains our sympathy early on; the two sisters themselves, like an old married couple, have a charm (and a little spitefulness!) of their own.  The lesser characters are also  well described, and at around 400 pages this was a great read which has a few laugh out loud moments but does not shy away from the problems some folk face.  I saw this described somewhere as a "cosy" - and noted the very British spelling,  for it's Americans who use "cozy" and there are a lot of them around with a lot of fans;  maybe not so many on this side of the Atlantic.  I think the description was right - it is a cosy, and a very British one indeed.  Written in the present tense, which suited the story very well, taking place in less than a week between Christmas and New Year.  And Ben's world is full of modern idioms - if he wants to know how something works or how it's done, he just Googles it or looks to Youtube.  His mobile phone is never out of his hand, and you can just imagine him saying "whatever.....".

I romped through this in a a couple of days.  Light it may be, but well written with an utterly believable storyline, and a little subplot which is bang up to date.  Great Stuff Hilary Spiers - this will definitely be one of my top ten reads in 2016!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Modern stained glass - a little bit of joy

I often see old stained glass windows hung or placed close to an existing window for the look of it. 
But have you ever thought about modern stained glass?

Here's my lovely hanging piece of glass..... bought at a gallery in Cornwall several years ago.  You should hang glass up where the light will catch it and this is the west facing window in my living room (I have an east facing also, but I like the situation of the stained glass in this window for a couple of reasons).  The view from this window is into someone else's front garden, so it serves at a bit of a blocker.  Also, afternoon light is really good through the colours in this class.  Finally, we have UPVC windows and this lovely peice of artwork makes you look at it, rather than the plastic!

If you walk into the room at the right time of day, the light through it reflects the colours right across the room.

Monday, 21 March 2016

To Bed With Grand Music - Marghanita Laski

First published in 1946, this was picked up and re-issued by Persephone in 2009.  And it was originally published under a false name too, perhaps because Laski thought people would consider that the Deborah in the book just might be her?

Deborah has a baby and a husband and a cottage in the country (oh! and a housekeeper too), and life is sweet.  Funny how things can change, eh?  Her husband Graham is due to be sent to Egypt, and for the duration of the war, because of his job, he is likely to get no home leave at all.  So, the night before he leaves, he explains that if he is to be away for a long time, he may well find comfort and sex in the arms of a  woman or two, but of course he will not love them, he only loves her.  At first she gets very cross indeed because she wouldn't even consider the same thing herself.  But off he goes, and she soon gets very bored indeed.  She considers taking a job to help the war effort but lets several chances pass her by, until she realises that life in the country with a small boy and nothing else to do is just not enough.

And so, she goes to share a flat temporarily with a friend;  an unmarried friend, who has certainly found her way around the party-time spirit that wartime London evokes, and of course it's not long before Deborah joins the party.  The first man she sleeps with is a one night stand, and she is revolted with herself, and spends hours telling herself that she doesn't even know why she did it, except that Graham is probably at it already.  The next man she sleeps with stays around longer.  An American, married, lonely, charming; is just what she needs.  Dinners out, dancing, parties, and all with a wonderful companion who she enjoys sex with too.  Then he's posted elsewhere.   I don't need to tell you much more about Deoborah's life, except that her true character is revealed to us - a selfish b.itch who wants the good life more than the sex, but is able to achieve the nice clothes, the perfume, the evenings out etc. on the strength of it. 

I can see that this might have been considered strong stuff on initial publication, but only, I believe, because people didn't like to talk about this kind of stuff then, and were hypocritical enough to pretend that it didn't happen much, and in any case, the tale is just the story of a tart.  It isn't.  It's a great small read (under 200 pages).  It conjures the wartime feel very well, and lets you into the head of a woman you may not want to meet, but you'll be glad to make her acquaintance between the pages.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

The People in the Photo - Helene Gestern

 I loved this book.   It is the story of a hidden past, told by two desparate people, connected only by family histories but nevertheless connected by a feeling that they want to be together and know each other better, as well as finding out some truths about both their families.  Helene's stepmother is near death, and in a nursing home, now sufferingwith Altzeimers, she cannot be questioned about Helene's real mother, who died when she was a small child.  So an advertisement is placed in a couple of French newspapers, and a reply arrives.  The reply is from a man who has a copy of the same photo as Helene - her mother, his father, and another man.  He can tell Helene that this was a picture taken after a tennis tournament in the 1970s; he can tell her the name of the other man because he is his godfather.  And now they will set out to find out how her mother and his father came to be pictured together at all.

You could say that basically, this book is about a love story that gradually creeps up on you (and them), but it is so much more than that.  It is about the way that people love; the love parents have for children, the love that friends have for each other, the love that keeps secrets so that no-one is hurt - as well as love that causes strife and family problems.  Written in the form of letters, the style reminded me so much of the Griffin and Sabine books by Nick Bantock (although they are nothing at all like each other).  If you enjoy this style of writing, and you know that the past in a family can be different from the one shown to the world, that every family has a skeleton somewhere in the cupboard, you will enjoy the mystery of it.  It is brilliantly written, and for that we have to thank the book's translators (Emily Boyce and Ros Schwartz), who brought this to our attention from the French original.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Beloved - Toni Morrison

If ever there was a book I wanted to read but couldn't bring myself to start, it was this one.  I knew a little of the story, I knew it would be full of sadness, I knew it might even make me ashamed of the human race.  But you know, in the end, you need to take that book off the shelf and read it.  And what a brilliant read it turned out to be for me.  And it will stay with me - how could it not?

 It does jump around in time.  It is a story told by several of the characters.  Some of the language is written in the vernacular.  Do not let any of that put you off,  for this is a book that will tell you as much about the lives of black slaves in the Southern states of America in the mid to late 18th century as a textbook.  And believe me, that is where the shame came into it -  for although I somehow could not believe how those blacks were treated I knew it to be true.  Much has been written about the slave trade.  I know how many people in the UK relied on it to live well (more than you think).  I know how many banks made a lot of money from it.  None of that is described in this brilliant book;   you will need to do a bit of research if you want to know more.
But this book is about a few men and women who had to live their lives owned by others.  Some kinder than others, some owners so cruel to be unbelieveable.  But it is, finally, a book that hopefully will make you see that hating people that are different from you, either in language, colour, belief does nothing for the human race, and that love is a multi-faceted thing.  I don't want to give too much of the story away, for you need to discover everything ab out Sethe and the people she loves page by page, thereby revealing the awfuls truths and the love within. 
Sethe lived her early life at a farmstead owned by white people who appeared to be forward thinking. They treated their blacks well, they gave them decent living quarters, they spoke to them as though they were human beings and also as though they were not enslaved, the men were taught to shoot, and all in all that might have been a nice enough life if you didn't know any better.  But there is always darkness somewhere, and when the master dies, his brother the schoolteacher takes over.

Planning to escape as a family, Sethe and her man and children are told about the underground railway, and make arrangements to flee.  She and the children arrive eventually at her mother-in-law's house, there to await her man.   And some years later, having lived through the death of her mother-in-law and the rejection of the family by the rest of the town's black population not least because the house is haunted -  a young black woman appears on the doorstep as if from nowhere.  Her name is Beloved .......

Thursday, 3 March 2016

On losing a pet

Mmmmm .... looks like more visitors then.  AirBnB anyone?
Did I tell you about Fred?  How we spirited him (and his sister Mabel) away from a home in a town nearby eight or nine years ago?  And did I tell you why?
Someone that I worked with at the time said she knew of two cats that needed a home.  On further investigation it seemed that the owners were off on holiday, and the man of the house seemed to think this was a great way of getting rid of them altogether, as he said when we arrived "if you can't deal with them or don't want them when we come back in two weeks, just bring them back".  Mmmmm.  Let's just not bring them back, I thought to myself.  So home to us they came.  They were very timid in their former home, and here in their new home they retreated to a space under the kitchen cabinets for 5 weeks.  They came out for food, and to use the litter box.  All we ever saw of them during that time were their tails disappearing back under the cabinets.
Gradually they got over the shock.  They didn't disappear at once when we appeared, they ate their food, they went out into the garden, they enjoyed sunshine on their fur.  Fred was double the size of his sister - a great lump of ginger, who had a major operation that cost us the price of a holiday when he had been here about 3 years.  Not that that matters a jot.  Because after that he began to purr..... I mean after 3 years!  and he took to laying along the back of the sofa near us when we sat down on it.  Something had happened in their former life, something they were afraid of, because they only liked being on the same level as us.  When we stood up - whoosh! they were gone.  Because of Fred's op., (colon removed) we were advised to feed fresh chicken and brown rice only.  It took about three days before he worked out that he could separate the rice from the meat, and never ate rice again......

He started loosing weight and not caring for his fur a couple of months before last Christmas, at first the vet thought it was arthritus of the spine, and after some suppliment to his food, he got back to his beautiful self for a little while.  But he started to loose weight again, and quickly.  And I realised that he wasn't eating, just sucking food for moisture but not swallowing.  (Mabel, who had always had to take second place at the food bar, was polishing off everything he left.... new for her as he was adept at elbowing her out of the way so that he could eat half of hers too!).  Back to the vets - nothing found, no improvement either.  So it was a scan, and that was the end, really....... a mass in his gut which was obviously a tumour that grew quickly and didn't allow him to eat.  

So.  You take that decision for them, don't you?  I took up a slab in the garden, and buried him there where he was happiest in the sun.  And we cried buckets.

Fred and Mabel

Monday, 29 February 2016

The Red Necklace - Sally Gardner

  • The Red Necklace 
    Older Children/Young Adult read set at the beginning of the French Revolution which will not bore you with too many facts, but will have you turning those pages over as fast as you can, following the adventures of a young orphan lad Yan, his mentor and teacher - a dwarf called Tetu,  a girl called Sidone and of course, a wonderfully bad villain!  Yan is a magician's assistant, and one of his skills is throwing his voice - so he can be used off-stage and nobody knows he's doing it.  When what looks like a terrible accident befalls the magician,  he and Tetu are convinced that it was no accident.  But how to prove it?

    This is a real adventure, and not for those with faint heart, either, as there are some descriptions in the book that may make you a bit queasy, for the beginnings of the French Revolution was not a pleasant time.  When Yan sets out to help the magician on that fateful night, he has no idea how his life will change, what enemies he will make, and what strangers will help him.  
    If you read and enjoy this one, it has a follow-on "The Silver Blade" which I have ordered as I enjoyed this one so much.

    At the back of the book are three pages which explain coherently what caused the French Revolution - three pages worth reading for all that knowledge!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Mrs Mac suggests - what to read in MARCH

Ah! March!  the month when spring starts. Or as my Mum used to say -
  "The Spring is sprung
                         The grass is riz
                                   I wonder where dem boidies* is?"   

Something completely different this month I think, and so my suggestion to you is to read a book that should have had a sequel.  Some people just have one book in them, and some authors just die too soon.  To Kill A Mockingbird didn't have a sequel (Watchman, published recently, was not a sequel, just the book she wrote that eventually became Mockingbird, so let's not worry about that).

Sometimes authors die and you know that there would have been several more had they lived. One I've read and was sad to hear that the author had died even before publication was Dora Damage - I loved it!  and wanted more.   A sequel would perhaps have been about her son, or even another child not mentioned yet....... see if the library has it.

The Diary Journal of Dora Damage - Belinda Starling

Edited to say sorry, title of book now corrected.
You could have told me, folks!! 

Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Dog Who Wouldn't Be - Farley Mowat

That dog was called Mutt, bought as a puppy for a few cents at the front door when the author was a child; and Mutt and Farley became the greatest of friends.  His father felt that Mutt could be trained to be a good "bird  dog" - i.e. retrieving ducks etc. once shot - but it was not Mr Mowat the elder who trained Mutt, it was Mutt who taught himself!

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Writtten and published originally in the 1950s, the book is set in Canada in the early 1930s and will describe people and things, that are not only not around now, but that are long forgotten - until you read this little gem.  The car had a name - and a dickey seat.  What's a dicky seat?  Instead of the boot/trunk, was a seat, which when you opened the boot/trunk, opened out so that the back of the opening became the back of the seat.  Mutt loved the dicky seat and when it was obvious that dust and grit were no good for his eyes, Farley's Dad bought him motorcycle goggles (and Mutt loved to wear them!)  Then there was the Summer boat journey that Mutt joined; the skunk who ate the winter-stored apples; the owls that had the run of the house, and many other tales of the boy and his dog.  Of course, boys grow up and Farley Mowat went on to be an admired Canadian writer, who described his land and it's peoples and animals in a multiplicity of ways.  Great little read at just under 200 pages, and do have a couple of tissues up your sleeve for the last chapter.

Sunday, 21 February 2016

I Can't Begin to Tell You - Elizabeth Buchan

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    I can't remember where I first saw or heard about this book, but whatever tipped me off I am glad to report that this one is certainly worth the time taken to read. The blurb within the book led me to believe that this was one kind of story, when in fact it was that and so much more.

    Kay Eberstern, English-born, living in Denmark and married to Bror, landowner, farmer, nice guy and proud Dane. They have two grown children, and in their forties are enjoying their lives in the way that you do when you are happy and nothing is rocking the boat. But that is before WW2. When German soldiers begin to appear on the streets of Copenhagen and beyond, Denmark becomes a split country. For many Danes think it is a good thing that Germany is with them; they will be untroubled and protected. Others can see the problems that will and do quickly appear; those that report friends and neighbours to the occupiers are the danger for those loyal Danes who don't want Hitler's men in their country. Which side are we on, then? Kay Eberstern does not want to take sides at all until her husband has signed, early in the occupation, a document that confirms he is happy to deal with the Germans. The rift this causes is a terrible thing for a once happy marriage, and certainly when Kay offers to help a secret agent hide for a few days, we know that things are never going to be the same.
    There is something else important about this novel, for woven between the Danish chapters there is the story of those who didn't join any army, but served their country silently - the women who would never have been code breakers and cypher clerks in Britain if the men were not already in uniform and fighting the enemy. And the agents Britain trained for undercover work in Denmark because the allies were not sending forces there.

    I found this a very readable book; at around 500 pages I finished it in two days, not stopping much in a marathon read. Buchan's style is easy despite a lot of technical detail in the chapters about code and cypher staff. Don't be put off, it was fascinating. I always enjoy a novel that has fact woven in. Good research builds a good story.  One of those "phew!  what a read" kind of books!

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Alive, Alive Oh! - Diana Athill

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Possibly her last, and very short, memoir, Athill gives her views on several things that have been and are important to her.  I have read all her other memoirs and enjoyed every one, but this, being shorter and about several different subjects, is a rather different  book altogether.  She could nearly have called it "Rambling Thoughts".  Of course not! She doesn't ramble, she has a straightforward, rather old fashioned (for these days of texts and tweets) writing style - but as usual, she has a way of telling you about herself which make you want to know her better.  If you came across this book first, before all her others, I think if you enjoyed it you would rush off and find the others.  If you have read any or all of her others, you will appreciate this one.  But it is an acquired taste.   She's had a colourful life, taken lovers instead of choosing marriage (and that way of living has suited her well), she's had a career in publishing and now, creeping up towards 100 years, she isn't afraid of death.  So she's remembered a few things that were important to her, and she's telling us all about them.  A lovely book for the bedside, just to dip in and read a chapter now and then.