Friday, 23 February 2018

Angel - Elizabeth Taylor

Angel  For me a perfect little novel, only 240+ pages.  The story of an inverted snob, brought up by a single mother above a small grocers’ shop, who dreams of wonder, riches, romance and a “nice” home.  Starting at the end of the 19th century,   the book swiftly covers WW1 and WW2 without saying much about either (unless it concerns her).  Her first novel is published when she is  15.  The first publisher returned it quickly with a rejection slip;  the second publisher  thought it so funny he decided to publish.  But to Angel,  it wasn’t funny at all, but  a “bodice-ripper” in which she uses wrong phrases and words, and describes things she knows nothing of.  She will publish more books like the first, will gain an army of fans, she will make money, she will  fulfil her dreams – but she will never be happy  And she has the sharpest tongue imaginable.  Extremely dislikeable but a wonderful character to read.

There are a multiplicity of paperback covers available via Amazon, but I chose thise because it felt "right" (even though Angel never used a typewriter). I certainly didn't like Virago's 2008 cover - they were doing a whole set with close-up photographs - I guess to make them fresh, but I dislike every single one I have seen.  Your choice!  And of course the book is the thing, and one should never judge a book by it's cover.........

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Young Jane Young - Gabreille Zevin


Got to hand it to Gabrielle Zevin, she never writes the same book twice. This one is odd but very readable. Odd, not in the subject matter, but in the quirky style.
 Aviva Grossman is 20, a young intern who falls in love with a congressman. Guess what, he doesn't love her, but he likes sex (of any kind, a lot). So that brief affair - will it ruin her life? Well... let's go back to the beginning. The first third of the book is told in the voice of Rachel, Aviva's wonderfully portrayed Jewish mother. She worries that her daughter is too fat, too clever too, well - too everything really, and then she finds out about the affair. The second third of the book is told by Aviva's daughter Ruby, in emails to her Indonesian pen-pal. So we get to find out that Ruby doesn't know who Aviva is/was because her Mom is Jane Young, Events Organiser. A name change and flight to another state seemed the best way to go after her youthful affair hit the headlines. And finally, we go back to Young Eviva and the choices she took to get her where she is today, in the style of those children's books where you get to choose the next event. Refreshing to read a different kind of book, even if the subject is as old as the hills. This was a really enjoyable read for me.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   Thanks to Amazon who gave me a copy of this book in exchange for a review                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          

Thursday, 15 February 2018

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - Gail Honeyman

Eleanor Oliphant - a very old fashioned name to go with a woman who is "frozen" somewhere in her head and can only do things in a certain way (including three nights of vodka drinking at the weekends). Which is fine, as she does not do much else. She works in an office, her colleagues find her odd; she doesn't care for them either; she's doing a repetitive job which suits her personality.... and I found myself asking the question "Asbergers?"  Something in her life has made her close down when it comes to personal relationships, and it is only when she has an IT problem and the new IT guy - laid back, badly dressed, in need of a haircut - arrives at her desk that we see that Eleanor just might be worth saving.  At this point I should point out that this is not a romance as such, although Eleanor and IT guy become close friends, mostly at his instigation.  My heart was breaking for her, and I couldn't see anyway out of her lifestyle, but then slowly, things start to change.  She was like the Ice Queen to start with, but her thaw and the revelations it brought were heartwarming.

As the book unravels, small clues are dropped and the ultimate revelation is ...... no - I won't say more for fear of spoiling your enjoyment. I enjoyed the read very much. Odd Eleanor may be, but I liked her anyway at the beginning, and a lot more at the end.

UK cover shown 

Thursday, 8 February 2018

Happiness for Humans - P Z Reizin

  When Jen, employed to "talk" to Aiden so that he learns lots of new words and ideas, finds herself discussing her favourite film with him, we know that this is going to be an interesting ride.  Certainly Aiden has some sympathy (really?  are they supposed to feel that ?!) for her having been recently dumped by her partner because well, he just found someone else.  Aiden wants to try his hand at matchmaking, and here you have to suspend belief because of course, AIs are not supposed to step outside of their programming, and who would programme one to match make?  The characterisation is very good, Poor Jen, who just needs to get a spark back in her life; her tough but lovely best friend Ingrid, Aiden the AI, and Aisling, another AI and ..... well if you come across the book, just get stuck in.  The Ais have definite characters, and the humans are not bad either.  By the way, Aiden and Aisling have escaped from the lab, and are whizzing around the world wide web, finding out interesting things for their selves, and generally having a bloody good time.  Until.... well, there is a villain out there - had to be really - and a very bad one indeed.  Which is when things start to go badly wrong.

A delight to read. I just ploughed through this in one day, and loved every page.  If you spot this one, do have a go.   Just over 400 pages, and I had a spare and long afternoon in front of the wood burner.  Nice way to spend the time!   Definitely will be in my top ten for this year.


Sunday, 4 February 2018

Palm Oil free - Trevarno Soaps and other products

Sometimes, even at my age, I want to change the world.  And I get upset that I can't.  The plastic in the oceans; the loss of rain forest..... just two of the things I cannot change on my own.

When I have B and B guests the drinking water I supply them comes out of my drinking tap and goes into a glass (and therefore washable and reusable) bottle for their bedroom.  There.  That was easy, wasn't it?  Perhaps you could change the bottles you buy for just one glass bottle and fill it from your tap daily.

Palm oil plantations replacing original forestation including areas of jungle and rainforest.  What to do?  It's in everything in the bathroom.  But not for much longer since a friend of mine gave me, as a gift, a bar of the soap below.  Today's blog is not an advertisement.  I don't know anyone from Trevarno, and Trevarno did not approach me nor pay me.  What happened was that this little gift made me think about my little one person stand.  Then I thought maybe if I told readers about it it could be a few persons stand.... and so on. It might become a "thing"!

The company is not owned by Big Pharma, and it's products smell out of this world, too, so when my bar is finished, I am going to order more.  And other products too - because I don't need to put money in Big Pharma, and I want to save the world.  And of course it's a UK company which helps our economy.  Here's a link to their website:

Organic Rose & Jojoba Soap Trevarno Skincare

Maybe you won't like the products.  But you might find something palm oil-free that you do like, You only have to read the label!  And by the way, thank you Mary for buying me the first bar!

Thursday, 1 February 2018

Minnow on the Say - Philippa Pearce

A book for children  - but children of all ages. This wonderful tale of a canoe (Minnow), two boys and a hidden treasure enchanted me, and I suspect, many other readers.  If this title is new to you, seek it out, have a go, it may do the same for you.  The late Philippa Pearce was also the author of Tom's Midnight Garden, rather better known - but may I suggest that you find this one and read it.  I was taken up almost immediately when the boy who finds the canoe, and the boy who is the rightful owner, find each other and become friends one long English Summer.

 David finds the canoe at the bottom of his garden after a stormy few days, lodged against a little wooden landing stage.  His Dad suggests that it could do with waterproofing, reminds him that it must have an owner, and that he should at least make some effort to find out who that owner is.  But of course, being a grown-up, also suggests that David reports the find to the police, which he does.  The village policeman is not very interested..... so David takes the cannoe out on the river, and of course comes across the rightful owner, Adam.  A boy similar in age to himself, and a boy, just like him, wanting adventure!  The friendship is forged very quickly, and when Adam tells Tom of a lost family treasure that he needs to find soon or disaster will overtake the little family that he has left, Tom is only too keen to join him and solve his friend's problems with the aid of a sixteenth century verse.

  Their adventures whilst seeking a that treasure are just wonderful.  I was in that canoe myself!  But nearer and nearer comes the day when it will too late if the treasure is not found, and the boys are desperate.  The sort of adventures that any child worth their salt would want! 

For good readers 8+;  for reading aloud,  and for a child of any age at all - 9 to 99.

Wednesday, 31 January 2018

Three Day Road - Joseph Boyden


It is not often that when I close a book I don't tell my partner if I liked it, and then give him a little synopsis.  This morning I closed a book and could not speak.

Despite having christian names, Xavier and Elijah are Canadian First Nation people.  As small children they were removed from their people and taken into a "proper" educational facility, to be taught to read, write and forget their tribal ways.  They remained close friends and joined the Canadian forces to cross the Atlantic and fight in WW1.  As first class hunters at home, they were soon given the job of snipers at the front, and from then on the reader is thrown into the visceral horror of the battlefield.  Readers' feeling are not spared, and if you are faint hearted, this book is not for you.

The two friends have many "kills" under their belt, but when one of them become addicted to morphine he becomes different - a better than ever shot with a kind of madness taking over.  How they deal with their place in the war and with each other as the horror mounts is not an easy read. But their story is intertwined by Xavier's aunt, his last family member, who has gone to meet a boy returned from the war and to take him home.  And so she relates to him stories of her childhood and his childhood, whilst she paddles the three day journey.

Perhaps I should not use the word recommend about this book even though for me it ranks as one of those books about war that everyone should read.  It is not "All Quiet On The Western Front"  - but as a description of how men cope (or not) with warfare, it is difficult not to recommend it.  And although we refer to Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome these days as though it was always known of;  until very recently men who returned traumatised  from WW1 were referred to as shell shocked.  However, it is made very clear indeed in Three Day Road that it would be easy to go off the rails and become shell shocked.  War is hard, and life is harder still if you survive another day whilst living through it.

Monday, 29 January 2018

Mrs Mac Suggests - what to read in FEBRUARY

Well - we've got January over with - the longest month because it starts sometime shortly after Christmas!!  Hope you've read some good stuff - I have - and have a pile of "what to read next" somewhere handy.  February is a slightly shorter month (good), but it's the month of Spring Fever for me (bad), when I start to itch about getting out in the garden but it's just a wee bit early for that.  So of course, I fall back on a good book!

For February, let's read something slightly different.  I recently got a book for review, and so of course it has to be read pretty soon.  But I'm not asking you to review a book, just read something with a subject that is up to date and a wee bit different. 

A book that has AI (artificial intelligence) as a subject. 

The book I am going to read in February involves a piece of software needing to learn what makes humans happy:

Happiness for Humans  by P Z Reizin

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Unexpectedly, Milo - Mathew Dicks*

January has been a good reading month (rain, cold, repeat!), so I have spent much time curled up on the sofa in front of the woodburner - fitting in the odd spot of house cleaning between the good times!  Whilst I've read several books this month, this is only the third I have really wanted to tell you about.

Milo is a thirty plus man with an extreme and odd form of OCD.  Not in the way that most of us  imagine, either.  He does not turn lights on and off X number of times a day; he does not reclean the toilet bowl several times a day.  What he does is suffer compulsions.  The compulsion to unscrew a jam/jelly jar to hear the "plop" when the seal goes;  to score a strike at a bowling alley (even at 3.00 am); to sing 99 Red Balloons in the original German.  And he's unhappily married (or at least his wife of three years is - he wonders why she keeps asking for space).

When Milo moves out of the family home into a little apartment with the dog, he thinks it's only for the short-term.  Then, one day he finds a video camera and a set of tapes on an empty bench in the local park and takes them home to see if he can identify the owner from the content of the tapes.  What he finds is - well, read and find out for yourself, for Milo is going to make a big journey.  He is going to talk to people; he is going to make new friends, and who knows, maybe even get divorced along the way.  I really felt for Milo, keeping the secrets of his OCD from everyone - classmates, parents, wife, friends - but I just kept wondering why he was so worried.  I wanted to shout at him "just tell someone!".  But of course that's not how this condition works, is it?

A slow start, but do persevere, it is charming, funny and will make you understand OCD just a little better.

* Matthew Dicks is published as Matthew Green in the UK, as the publisher thought that the surname might make people shy to buy.... US readers - for dick read pecker.  Honestly!  We are all grownups here - and I am smiling!

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Ther View On The Way Down - Rebecca Wait

We know, very near the start of the story that a boy is dead.  Not a small child, but someone in their late teens/early twenties.  We know there is a brother who left home the day of the funeral and has not returned.  We know that there is a younger sister, and parents who no longer know how to deal with each other following the death.  What we don't know, at the beginning, is how the boy died, and why his brother feels so guilty.  The truth of the matter is revealed in the middle section of the book in a series of letters from the remaining brother to his father. 

This book is a revelation to anyone who knows little of depression.  But if you do, you will know why Churchill called his depression "black dog".  If you have family and friends who suffer, you will have seen some of the results, and if you suffer from time to time yourself, you will understand.

The first few pages made me say "I don't like this book".  But I read on, and was soon enveloped in something so dark, so sad, and so heartwrenching that I couldn't stop until the end.  And when I did I was glad I had read it and wondered how the author could possibly have got the book out of her head and on to paper.  She reveals at the end of the book that she had a breakdown in her teens and later felt she had to write this book.  Harrowing, but recommended.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

The Strange and Beautiful Sorrows of Ava Lavender - Leslye Walton

Blessings of all kinds for the New Year.  Glad to see you and hope that all is well in your part of the world.  My friend in Nova Scotia reports strange extremes of weather, and of course, sub-freezing temps.  Here in the English south west, we missed the last big snowfall, and whilst yesterday was grey and cold, today is only sunny and cold!  Hurray! 

Well now, on to one of my first books of the year.   A book I bought only because of the cover bit fickle that, isn't it?).  And also because a bit of magic realism once in a while is not a bad thing, is it?  
Ava is the third generation of women with special powers.  She doesn't seem to have any, but as she was born with a set of wings perhaps that is enough.  The wings, by the way don't let her fly, they just are.
As she grows towards adolescence, life may get harder for her, even with the help of a friend who wants her to enjoy life as much as she does, even though Ava has those damned wings.  And then there is the new boy in town, and he rather fancies the look of those wings.  Ava is going to find that life can be harsh;  and love must be avoided if you are going to get through it.

Short, easy to ready but strange.  Then, what magic realism isn't|?  Perhaps you will like it too.




Saturday, 30 December 2017

Mrs Mac suggests...... what to read in JANUARY 2018

Hello!  Hope you had the Christmas you wanted.  And now it's time for me to wish you the New Year you hope for.  If you think it odd that neither of my comments contain the words "Happy" or Merry", it's because life is not the same for everyone - and maybe we are not all filled with joy on those occasions when the world and the media think we should be!

Now it's time to move on to reading, which is the important thing, eh?  I read loads last year, and certainly have a top 10.  Shall I add that at the bottom?  Good idea!

My suggestion for January is to find and read

a short book, a light book

because just like holiday food, one can  have too much of a good thing.  I had read several heavy and dark tomes in the last couple of months, so I'm looking for something like meringue to lighten things!   And so I have chosen

Pippa Passes by Rumer Godden

And my 10 best reads last year?  Check these out.  In no particular order,  I loved them all:

Not Forgetting the Whale - John Ironmonger
Dirt Music - Tim Winton
The Lady Who Liked Clean Restrooms - J P Donleavy *
The Draughtsman - Robert Lautner
Should You Ask Me - Marianne Kavanagh
The Secret Rooms - Catherine Bailey N/F
Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves - Rachel Malik
A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles  BOOK OF THE YEAR
I'll Be Seeing You - Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan
Last Bus to Wisdom - Ivan Doig
The Girl With All The Gifts - M R Carey

(* I got this one just for a challenge (a book with a long title) but I loved it - who knew!  It gets my HONOURABLE MENTION as it makes the list number 11).

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Hello in December from Mrs Mac

Saturday, 16 December 2017

The Death of Sweet Mister - Daniel Woodrell

Daniel Woodrell writes of what he knows - and he knows the Ozarks.  Whilst I wouldn't want to know the characters in this short book, I did get to know them, and very quickly.  If you were an overweight thirteen year old whose father calls you fatso and who beats you at the slightest provication, you might well hate him.  And if your beautiful mother, who refers to you as Sweet Mister and who is as pretty as a picture is also beaten, and is reliant on pocket change to get by, you might well want to protect her from him.  What if you can't?  What if this just goes on and on?  And then, what if your mother takes up with a new man friend?

The characters are drawn so well you can smell the drink on their breaths, the sweat on their bodies, and know the hate in their hearts.  This is a harrowing read, but one that I won't tell you to steer clear of;  for in reading this, you may come to an understanding about how crimes happen and why, and how some children don't get the breaks they deserve (and frankly may not know what to do with anyway).  The tale is told in the first person by Shuggy, the Sweet Mister of the title, whose real name is Morris. He has a particular rythm which took me a few pages to get into.  After that I was off and running and couldn't put it down even though I was filled with dread from early on.  And then, that ending...... oh, I couldn't contemplate it, but somehow knew it was coming.