Saturday, 25 October 2014

Mrs Caldicot's Cabbage War - Vernon Coleman

Mrs Caldicot has been married for over 30 years to a dour, ignorant man who "worked in sewage".  She has learned to think but not speak, as she has nothing worth saying, apparently.  When he dies, she is not bereft, but finds herself not knowing quite what to do with herself.  She has a large, three bedroomed house and a garden, but no hobbies, no friends, and no interests.  That doesn't last long, for her son is determined to sort things out and arranges for her home to be sold, and for her to reside in a retirement home, which smells of cabbage, and where residents are drugged up to the eyeballs.  She is quick to stop swallowing her drugs, and persuades (or rather teaches) her two roommates to do the same.  She refuses to eat cabbage, and insists that her cat comes to live with her.  That's just the start of this heartwarming tale, where we learn that even the old should have a voice.  (In telling the tale, Vernon Cole has observed how badly the elderly can be treated when foisted off to care homes unnecessarily.  Somehow, the care home business in general still has some dreadful stories to tell 40+ years after this book was written, as we see in the news).  But if that sounds bleak, it isn't at all, Mrs Caldicot is suddenly able to rise above all that and Do Something About It!  

That was my view, but I found this review from 2006 on Amazon after I'd read it, and thought you'd enjoy reading it.....
" 5.0 out of 5 stars A great read - revolution for older folk, 16 May 2006

Mrs Caldicot has a bummer of a husband. He dies. Her relatives want to dump her in a nursing home so they can sell her house. And then it starts. Good old Mrs C suddenly gets a bit lively. She stands up for herself and won't put up with the boss of the nursing home. She starts a revolution. Its sad and funny all at the same time. And underneath it all there is the message. I loved it."

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Perfect - Rachel Joyce

I really must apologise for not reading this sooner.  To both Rachel Joyce, the author, and to you, my readers.  Because if you have not found this one yet, add it to your list and find it now!  First, it's so well-written, that to a pedant like me, my eyes just rolled along the lines with joy, not finding "wrong grammar" and that kind of stuff.  Second, a brilliant idea for a story.  Third, some shocks as the book moves along. Enough of me, let's get on.

The Perfect of the title can mean many things.  It may be the way that Byron's mother tries to behave, because that is how her husband Seymour wants things.  Who would want a Stepford Wife?  A difficult thing to live up to, and following the news that two seconds were to be added to time in 1972 because time itself was out of joint with Earth's movement, Byron begins to panic that things cannot therefore be perfect.  It is that panic that causes an accident.  Not fatal, not even nasty, but the events which follow make Byron and his friend James conspire to make things perfect again.  We have two stories beautifully woven together within the covers.  One set over a few short months in the Summer of 1972, where following that little accident, things seem first to be out of kilter at Bryron's home, and second when Bryon and his best friend James try to make things right again, when perhaps leave well alone would have been a better bet.  The other story is now.  Jim, who has been in and out of mental hospitals since his teens, is finally discharged for ever when his current hospital closes down.  He has little rituals he has to perform, and he knows he is different.  He has no friends, he lives in a broken down motor home, and works as a table clearer in the cafe of a large store.  How Jim and the two boys are linked will become clear towards the end of the book, but before you get there you will gasp as I did when adults behave badly, whether to Byron and James, or to Jim, and you will have some tears to shed as the truth unfolds.

Rachel Joyce is clearly a people observer.  She, like most of us, has met adults who show their dislike of people who are different; kids who don't always understand what they see or hear, and also, adults who have no idea of the effect of what their words thoughts and deeds might be upon children.  But her keen observation has produced a story that I am unlikely ever to forget.

 It is a thriller, a love story, a reflection on how when kids get things wrong there are knock-on effects, but the important thing is that it's a well-told tale, and yet it seems not to have got the kudos that Harold Fry did.  I wonder why?  I believe it to be the superior book, and I recommend it wholeheartedly.

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Hoot - Carl Hiaasen

Roy Eberhadt - ecowarrior!  Although he doesn't know that yet.  Moving from Montana to Florida is a big deal for Roy, he loved the horses and the wide open spaces, and Florida just seems flat (and hot!). He moves a lot - his father's job takes him all over (and it's only when you get about half way through the book that you find out why), and every move Roy has to find friends at a new school, try to keep out of the way of bullies (he's small for his age and quiet), and generally get on with his life.  This move, however, may become something higher profile for him!  It's because of the bully on the bus that he sees a kid with no shoes running for the schoolbus - but no! he doesn't get on the bus, he runs on and over back gardens and away.  It takes a while for Roy to find out who he is and why he's running;  and meanwhile, a food chain is attempting to open a new restaurant on the corner.

Clever cover, clever title;  for you'll not be very long into the book before you discover that the creatures that need saving  are burrowing owls, a real species, and protected in the USA.  Cute, too.  This is where Roy finds out who his friends are, that grownups often lie to save their own skins, and that not all parents are good parents.  Oh, and that big business is often corrupt!  So easy to read, such a good story.  I cannot imagine that kids from say 8 or 9 up to early teens will not enjoy the adventure.  As an adult I enjoyed it very much, and I know several other readers I lent it to felt the same.
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Friday, 17 October 2014

Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures - Kate DiCamillo

Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated AdventuresI've been a fan of Kate DiCamillo since I came across Because of Wyn-Dixie.  This is an entirely different book, but a wonderful adventure for younger readers (or to be read aloud as there are some wonderful shouty bits!)  Flora saves a squirrel from certain death when he is sucked up by a very powerful vacuum cleaner.  Somehow, this dreadful event turns him into a super-hero, and Flora names him Ulysses.  In a strange turn of events, Tootie, the lady next door who was operating the vacuum cleaner at the time, has a nephew (William) foisted upon her for a few weeks as he has misbehaved following the re-marriage of his mother to a man who insists on calling him Billy.
Flora's Mum seems to enjoy the company of her typewriter more that that of her daughter; Flora's Dad does not live at home any more, and Flora is a little odd ..... well, not really, as you'll see the further into the book you get.  Anyway, there are some great adventures to be had along the way, and those which have Ulysses being a super-hero are done in graphic novel/comic book form, whilst the rest of the book is a normal reading book.
I polished it off in a couple of hours, but then I am rather older than the aimed-at reader!  What child does not feel left out sometimes, or unloved sometimes, or wanting an adventure sometimes.  That's Flora, and I liked this little girl very much indeed. 

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Most popular post about such a small room!

 What a funny thing!  I have feedjit on my blog.. a little tool which tells me who has visited recently/who is visiting right now.  I love it, and I wonder sometimes who these visitors are, and how they came across me.  I'm not a professional blogger (I don't have any advertising, I sometimes post only a couple of times a month), and no-one offers me new beds, new paints, new books;  but somehow I have a most popular post......  my regulars number around 35 - but in a year, this one has had 1,111 yes! one thousand one hundred and one hits.  Why?  And one of the funniest thoughts I had was - how have the Americans( they've hit the most) found this?  Because the first few words of the title are "Downstairs toilet, change of colour...." and Americans, (bit of a sweeping statement coming up), to my knowledge, call these rooms anything but toilets!  I don't mind of course, the more the merrier that view my smallest room, but I am intrigued as to why that post is sooo popular.  Any ideas?

Sunday, 5 October 2014

The Night of the Burning - Linda Press Wulf

Although this is a children’s book, aimed, I think, at good readers of 10 years upwards, it is an excellent introduction for a reader of any age one who knows little of the fate of Polish Jews towards the end of, and after, WW1.

In short chapters, this book tells the story of sisters Devorah and Nechama, who live in abject poverty in Poland, near the Russian border.  It speaks of the hatred of Christians (Jews killed Jesus - that old chestnut) and what that kind of thinking will ultimately turn into.  This is a historical fiction based on real characters, and follows the two sisters on their long journey after the death of their parents - one from typhoid, and one (probably) from starvation - rescued by one of those heroes who not enough people hear about, Isaac Ochberg, who managed to get 200 Jewish orphans to South Africa. 

Do read the "Afterward" and "Author's note" at the end of the book - there are some questions answered there.  And Devorah, who tells the story, was the mother-in-law of the author.

Friday, 3 October 2014

A thank you to Booketta!

Jane awarded me this lovely blog award. So I want to thank her for that.  What I am supposed to do is find several other bloggers I want to award this to and go on from there.  Sadly, Jane has awarded this to all the book bloggers I know personally!  Not so sadly, it was lovely to get it.  If my blog amuses, great - if it does not then just pass on along the road.  Thank you again Jane. x
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Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Dear Mr Bigelow - Frances Woodsford

I am really unsure how I found this book, but I must have seen in mentioned somewhere, as I ordered it, and when it came it sat on the shelf for a year or so.  And now I've read it and what an enjoyable read it is, too.  That is, if you like ordinary life with no sex, no murders, no mobile phones, no computers etc!  Frances Woodsford started to write to Paul Bigelow as a  'thank-you' to his daughter .... whom she had met whilst on holiday in the USA just after the war.  At that time, dressed in homemade clothes made from other second-hand items, she obviously struck a cord with the American, who sent her a bundle of rather nice (and new)clothes on her return to England.  And as there was nothing she could do to thank that  woman enough, she started to write to the elderly Mr Bigelow - a correspondence that lasted from 1949 to 1961 when he died.  No love, no inuendo, nothing except a transatlantic friendship.  He kept all her letters and after he died they went missing and that was the end of that.  Except that it wasn't, and they re-surfaced 40 years later - and here are some of them for your delectation.

In another life, Frances Woodsford might have become a writer herself, her style, aimed at not only telling Mr Begilow all the news but making him smile too, would have done nicely in fiction.  Whilst it is true that the letters are of their time (I don't know anyone who talks like that these days, in the world of "Laters" and "Where R U ?"), they are enjoyable because of that.  Add to which the  fact that I am familiar with the town of Bournemouth and the period the letters cover are the early part of my own life, I found it a lovely companion for a few days. It's just letters, together with a few reproduced pencil sketches and photographs.  That's it, but a lovely book to dip in and out of, or to just settle with and keep reading.

Frances Woodsford died in 2013 at the age of 99, and if you click on the link below you will find a lovely tribute for a woman who wrote to lots of other people too, and who this niece-in-law obviously apreciated very much.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

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

......  a book with a number written in letters in it's title - for example

Six Years by Harlan Coben   or
Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George

Summerhouse - from start to finish(ish)

We used to have a garage.  Full of things we couldn't find a home for and things we couldn't decide what to do with.  Not a car of course(!).  The car lives permanently outside.  But this pic was taken in Spring 2012, when we finally decided enough was enough.  What's that you say?  "Can't see the garage?"  Look again - stealthily disguised behind the cherry tree completely overgrown.... are you sure you can't spot it?!!!
So we decided that we'd turn it into a Summerhouse.  We called in a builder, who went inside, poked about and said "Not  going to take your money.  Whatever I do to this to make it into a summerhouse, you will never be able to use it for that in the cold months, as it's all concrete with a concrete floor and you can't get it warm".  What a nice guy - and he didn't charge for that advice, either!

We talked a lot.  Then we paid for the garage to be taken down and disposed of.  But first of course, we had to get rid of the contents, and the ivy and brambles that covered it!!  And this is what it looked like on a grey day when the stuff that was covering the roof had been removed.
It had an asbestos roof, so we had to pay extra for the removal of that too.  At this stage we had no idea exactly what we were going to do, but we still thought that a Summerhouse was a good idea. We turned out all the rubbish important stuff stored inside, gave some away, then found a place locally who would let us save the rest of the important stuff in their barn for a month or so.  It turned out to be nearly a year later that we retrieved it, but hey! who's counting. (By the way  - when we went to collect it, we took more decisions about what to keep, and do you know, in the end we kept spare tiles for the kitchen "just in case", a garden hose, and some bags of garden sand.  The rest was given away.)
The rest of that year we just let weeds grow and wondered what to do.  We visited a complany who supplied wooden buildings, had a look round, talked about the quality of the wood and the design of the buildings and said "yes.... probably".  Then came Autumn, then Winter, then Spring 2013.

And then our garden maintenance man (I only do design - hahaha!) came, built the retaining log wall, laid a path that would be at the back of the new building,  and worked his socks off on the hottest weekend of 2013. Lovely job too!  See the little pebbles under the logs?  That's for run-off, so that no water lays around in the wet weather.  (Clever, huh?)
So - we ordered the Summerhouse - 15ft x 8 ft, and one morning in July it was delivered in pieces with a team of two Polish gentlemen who were the "erectors".  They started at 9.30 am.......

refused a lunch break, accepted lots of drinks hot and cold  and were driving away by 2.30 pm.  They'd finished: doors on, windows in  roof on and ready to use.
This last pic is about half was through...... floor not down, windows and doors not fitted.  My only regret is that I didn't take more pics!  Anyway, it's been up and used for a year or so now. The outside is painted a turquoisey-green and the inside.... well, I have plans for that.  Watch this space for more Summerhouse news.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

The Road to Reckoning - Robert Lautner

Tom is a slightly built 12 year old, on the road with his salesman father, who has given up door to door spectacle selling for the touting of Samuel Colt's new revolver in the 1830s of Eastern America. Tom's mother is already dead of the pox, and he's only too pleased to accompany his father on an exciting journey. But as Tom says - "I, to this day, hold only one truth; if a man chooses to carry a gun he will get shot. My father agreed to carry twelve".

The cover will be clear by the time you have finished this short, poignant read. I liked it a lot (the cover and the read). This is the author's first novel, and the cover says it will enthral fans of Cold Mountain and True Grit - however, I am not sure at what market this is aimed at, as I took it to be a YA read, which I feel it most definitely is; as an older reader I enjoyed it immensly, cheering twelve year old Tom Walker on and hoping that he could get home without death catching his coat tails. I certainly felt that if you had read Cold Mountain and picked this up after reading the back cover you might be disappointed, as the print is large, the book is short (200+ pages), and is certainly a quick read. However, like True Grit, it has a larger than life character in Henry Stands; who this reader loved nearly on first appearance.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

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

that you find a book with an emotion in the title!  For example -

His Majesty's Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal


Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Good Italian - Stephen Burke

Here is war.  War at it's worst, but no different from any other war for men take sides and fight others, loyalties change, people are killed, people are hurt, both physically and mentally.  But the strength to survive also includes the will to love.  Enzo is the Italian harbourmaster at Massawa, Eritrean port and part of the growing Italian empire.  His friend, Salvatore, a colonel in the Italian army who has never seen battle, is posted at the local garrison, and is living the good life.  Salvatore has an Eritrean girlfreind as so many Italians in this area do, and he urges Enzo to take an Eritrean housekeeper, who will cook and clean for him.... and perhaps share his bed sometimes.  Then Aatifa comes into Enzo's  life.

A nice and quiet life - until Mussolini decideds that he wants Ethiopia, and the troops will come in via the port of Massawa.  It is then that things change very quickly.  Enzo, the beaurocratic form filler and decent man, finds himself in the middle of a war that he wants nothing to do with.  Someone decrees that taking an Eritrean as a wife or lover is against the law.  Italians soon ditch their exotic girlfriends, even those who have children with their Italian partners. 

This book has a very slow start, and for a while I wondered where it was going.  But stick with it is my advice, and you will soon find yourself caught up in Enzo's life.  The descriptions throughout the book are perfect, they give you the feel of everything - the port, Enzo's office, his home, even  the bedclothes in a brothel are there before your eyes.  But it is as fighting escalates that the shocks start.  Small men in big jobs become so foul that you hate them for it; good men must very quickly obey orders that go with the wearing of a uniform.  And Enzo, who has never wanted to be part of Italy's new empire, just took a job that seemed to him to offer a good life;  Enzo, who does not treat his Eritrean staff any different from his Italian staff;  Enzo has to find his way through this dreadful time and hope that he can protect Aatifa too

If you know nothing of WW2 action in North Africa, this is a fine book to start you down that road.  There are a couple of pages of excellent notes at the back which will fill in some history - and probably surprise you, too.  And finally, the author has recommended a couple of books that, if you are interesting in knowing more, are worth the read.  But don't forget, this is above all the story of a quiet man and his love for a damaged woman.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Diary of Mattie Spenser = Sandra Dallas

The book opens in the present day.... an elderly woman offering a neighbour some "treasures" from her home which is being sold so that she can move to sheltered accommodation. Among the treasures is an old, leather covered journal, whose original clasp is now replaced by a rusty safety pin.  The  neighbour doesn't want to take this item as it seems so personal, but the woman explains that she can't read it now;  perhaps the neighbour could do so and tell her about the contents.

Then Mattie's diary starts.   And it starts in 1865 with a proposal of marriage,  the wedding, and a long journey by wagon from a civilised life in Iowa to a life of toil on newly claimed land in Colorado.  Mattie opens her heart to her diary, for there is no close friend in the new life that she can confide in, and even her husband has no idea what she writes, nor, in fact, does he know of the diary at all.    There are losses right from the start, when the team of 6 good horses are traded in for an assortment of animals more suited to the new life.  People around them struggle, people die, people move away, gossip happens and for three years, Mattie faithfully records her life and her feelings - until something so big, so sad, so sore, stops her for ever.

The end of the book completes the circle, the neighbour having transcribed the book for the elderly woman, who has found something else for the neighbour to read.

I loved this little book (229 pages), and read it in only two days.  It will make you smile, it will make you laugh and cry, and it will surely tell you something about what it was like to be a frontier wife in the 1860s.  It's beautifully written too, the entire diary is written in the more formal style of the time and (bliss!) no modern expressions creep in through poor or shoddy editing!  For me, every Sandra Dallas book is a joy to read.  Never great classics, they have been books I remember fondly, and books I often recommend to others. 

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Monday, 18 August 2014

Crusoe's Daughter - Jane Gardam

There isn't a Jane Gardam book that I have read that wasn't enjoyable in some way.  This is no different, but is different as it has no chapter headings, just stars (*) as breaks every so often.  You can treat these as chapter headings if you like - that's what I did.  This is a rather sad novel, telling the story of an orphan child, who, having been left temporarily in the care of her maiden aunts by her seagoing father, finds it a permanent home when he is drowned.  Her aunts obviously love her but are unable to show the maternal kind of love that would suit this odd child, who wonders, always, how she should "fit in" with other people.

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She falls in love, twice, but in both cases she is thwarted - once by World War One, and once by the mother of the man she has fallen in love with.  After that she doesn't bother.  People arrive in her life, people leave her life.  People are kind to her, people treat her badly.  And all the while she continues to live in a large, yellow house, near the seashore in the North East of England.   And throughout her life the book Robinson Crusoe is a constant, rather like a bible to her.

I found it a wonderful read, I was engrossed.  But it is odd.  If you like the beginning, keep reading - it's worth it!  And if you get to the final few pages, you will find a couple of scenarios set out like a play.  If you feel you can't read both scenarios - please, please read the first, where a journalist is on the doorstep - because there are a couple of bombshells there that will round the book off.  Personally, I would not have included the second, a rather winding conversation with Mr Crusoe himself..... but then you may find that this completes the book.  Whatever!  It's a little gem.