Wednesday, 7 December 2016

Podkin One-Ear - Keiran Larwood

It's December and the time of year when we think about presents (or not!);  how much we should spend and what we should buy.  Well, you know me, I'm a booky person and I want all my friends to be too) although sadly they are not!  But here's a new one that might be just the thing for a booky child - say a good reader of seven years onwards up to ten or so depending on what they like. It's also a great book to read aloud.     


Podkin, who at the beginning of the book still has both ears, is the son of a chieftain.  Not a human but a rabbit, living in a large warren in a pleasant place, leading a fun life, mitching off lessons, eating too much and generally enjoying a life like any eight year old rabbit would.  Until one day the unspeakable happens.  Raider rabbits arrive at the warren and force themselves in.  Podkin's father is killed, an aunt helps Podkin and his siblings to safety, but does not leave herself.  They are running, running, running, away from the Gorm, the most terrible of rabbit enemies. 

It isn't Watership Down, it's not The Lord of the Rings either, but it is closer to the latter in it's tale of bravery, seeking that which is lost, and fighting the enemy.  In their flight, they are helped by a witch and a blind soldier - and Podkin, his sister Paz and the baby Pook are soon living a life so far removed from their old one in the home warren that it might have been a dream.  There is violence and scary stuff in this book - just the sort that children like!  Just wait till you see what havoc Podkin can wreak with his very special bronze knife which is one of the twelve articles that the Gorm want to find and destroy.  Some nice black and white pencil drawing illustrations too, which were very close to my imaginings. 

Just right for a stocking!

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Mrs Mac Suggests - what to read in DECEMBER

Well..... What comes near the end of December?  Christmas of course, and even if this is not your religious choice, or if you simply have no faith, it is probable that you have some kind of celebration at the end of December.  I always wish my pagan friends a "Cool Yule!"

What to suggest?  I suggest that whatever you choose, it should have the word Christmas in the title, and for me this year, I have two reads.  One I found for myself, and the other a friend passed on to me.


The one I found was  
Crime At Christmas - C H B Kitchin 

because I love a golden age of crime read every now and again and this one looks good, published in 1934 the first time. Cripes!

The one passed on to me was

The Christmas Mystery - Jostein Gaarder 

which is about time travel, a child's disappearance, and a strange man who made an advent calendar a long, long time ago.

Whatever you choose for December, enjoy the read.  Take some time out from phoning/texting, wrapping and cooking and stretching the money, and have a few hours curled up with a good book - that's my wish and my present to you!  

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

The Autumn Statement 2016.......... and magically, a drop in the standard of living!!

A Letter published in a daily newspaper  this week, from a Mr Michael Clemson in Kent, rang a bell with me, when the words ",,,,, led to believe that our standard of living is back to the way it was in the Twenties".  That's the 1920s for younger readers.  He then goes on to say that his own memory only stretches back to the 1940s. and then he lists the things he remembers from that time.

In bold italics are my own memories of my childhood.....

His father a factory manager on a modest income
My father, an upholsterer on a modest income

One holiday a year at a bed and breakfast
Our annual holiday was only once spent in a B&B; thereafter, camping or hired caravan 

Little cash for luxuries
Little cash for luxuries (in fact if I saw Jaffa Cakes on top of the groceries, it was holiday time)

So far, so similar.

And them Mr Clemson goes  on to comment that now most families own at least one car, several TV sets and the games that go with; children have mobile phones, computers and the games that go with them.  Continental holidays are the norm, and supermarket trolleys are piled high with the weekly shop.

We had a second hand car, but outside of large towns and cities now, bus services are nearly non-existent, so a car is necessary to get to work perhaps 30 or more miles distant.

I was about 10 when we got a TV - just the one, black and white. 

Games were things in boxes you got out of the cupboard.  They had names like Monopoly, Halma, Snakes and Ladders,  Cluedo, Ludo.

To make a phone call you made sure you had loose change and walked to the phone box.

Apart from fruit and veg, our groceries were delivered by the grocer on Friday nights, and my Mum got meat from a butcher next door to the Grocer.

So we get to the end, and its still a similar list!!

 I have all the trimmings now, but not everything that's on offer of course, I don't want it all.  But  a PC with a keyboard is a great thing to have, because I am a professional typist, and I have a lot to say!!  I take a couple of holidays every year, sometimes they are biggies (but not always!).  We have a mobile/cell phone each, and a land line.  So all in all, my circumstances are way better than they were in my childhood.  I know things are different now,  I just wish everyone didn't think they needed so much!

Is this Bah Humbug! from Mrs Mac?  Nah! it's only November she says, *laughing*!

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Waiting for Columbus - Thomas Trofimuk

The year?  Well, hard to say but somewhere a few years before Christopher Columbus set sail across the Atlantic, funded by Spain.  That is what the patient in the mental asylum in Seville, Spain, says.  He was found washed up on the coast of Spain in dreadful shape, lucky to be alive, but  mentally damaged.  He begins to tell his story and he is Columbus, he has the ear of Queen Isobella, eventually he will get ships.  He will sail across the Atlantic.  He knows this, and yet it cannot be.  The first doctor who sees him is not long for his job, when it is found that has sexual enounters in his office with the nursing staff.  So it is only Consuela, a nurse, who at first listens, taking notes and falling in love with the romance of the tales he tells, and of course with the patient himself.



Later, a new doctor takes over the case.  He is more diligent and he knows that Columbus is only Columbus because his mind has completely obliterated something else, and work has to be done to get that memory back, hopefully get the patient to forget Columbus, and get him back to sanity.

I was irritated at first, because Columbus mentions mobile phones, televisions and all those things that we know and love now, but that for the fourteenth century would have been witchcraft and heresy, and a visit from the Inquisition.  But once I took stock, knowing that the patient in question was not actually Columbus, but just a deeply disturbed man who had put himself in the shoes of the man, I began to understand more how a damaged brain might  work, and was filled with dread for him and what his mind had covered up.

Despite some of the reviews on Amazon (and this will always be a true Marmite book), I liked it very much.  I understood that we were inside the mind of a man who had re-invented himself so as to cover some deep hurt or shock, and after the first mentions of items out of place in Columbus' time, I just rolled with it.  The final chapters and the epilogue reveal all, and were shocking, but expected.  Just as a novel it was a great read for me,  but as an example of a particular mental condition, it was an eye-opener.

Friday, 18 November 2016

The Strange Fate of Kitty Easton - Elizabeth Speller

Speller's first book, The Return of Captain John Emmett, had at it's centre a widowed ex-soldier, returned from WW1 with  pain in his heart  and a mystery to solve on behalf of a friend's wife.  I really enjoyed that, and her second book has the same ex-soldier at it's heart.

 He is Laurence Bartram, who is asked to help his wheelbound chum William Bollitho with a job he is doing at a country house.  A country house with a dark secret at it's heart - the disappearance of a five year old girl, some fifteen years previously. He knows nothing of this mystery until he arrives, and even then it is not really spoken about.  This book, and it's predecessor, both have a background of WW1, and the flashbacks to the war itself are important to the characters and to the reader also.

The family at the house have spent years not really talking about the important things in life, and it seems as though they will continue to do so, particularly in the case of the missing child.  Laurence gets to know the family but is increasingly convinced that there is more than one secret to be uncovered.  And then a body of a woman is found in the small family church.

I like the character of Bartram.  A flawed hero, a wee bit po-faced, but dogged, and therefore right for the job of unearthing several truths.  The book has that "just one more chapter" quality, and indeed around half way through there is a bit of a shock that makes the need to get to the end even more urgent. 

Describing WW1 veterans  and their coping mechanisms after the Great War has been well handled, and this a well researched book, certainly one worth reading.  Recommended.

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Dog On It - Spencer Quinn

Spencer Quinn - now here's a guy who observes dogs closely!  I just couldn't resist the thought of a dog telling me a story and Chet (the Jet) is such a lovely dog I wouldn't mind meeting him myself.  This is the first in a series of mysteries, where Chet tells the tales of Bernie's adventures as a private eye;  although of course whilst he knows he's Bernie's partner, we see him as a faithful companion who can only bark.  However, there is much more to Chet than barking - he has a delicious sense of humour and a sort of a "Sam Spade" voice too.

The mystery starts when a mother pays Bernie in cash to find her daughter who has disappeared from home, aged 15.  Strangely, the father of the girl insists that she has just gone off somewhere to "find herself".  Making a few mistakes, Chet is soon on the trail, and in fact finds the girl before anyone else does - but he's just a dog, right?  And so he cannot tell anyone where she is and in fact cannot find the place he saw her.  But of course, he's telling the tale, and so we all know where she is and why, and it's for Bernie to struggle on and try to find her.

Better than any cozy - a strong storyline, and told with humour, this is a light read for a cold afternoon in front of the woodburner - add a cup of tea and you'll soon be in there, in Chet's wonderful, smelly, food orientated life.

Friday, 11 November 2016

A God in Ruins - Kate Atkinson

Today is Armistice Day, when at the 11th day of the 11th month we remember those whose lives were cut short in WW1 (and  also now WW2).  Every year, a group of bookie friends and I choose to read a "Remembrance Read" in November.  A book either set just before, during, or just after either of those two wars.  I lost no-one at all in either war, but my father lost his only cousin and best friend, a pilot in the first world war.  It doesn't mean that I don't think about all losses of wars - losses on both sides, whatever the cause and the uniform. For whoever they were, they were someones.  A son, a wife, a father, an uncle, a lover, a daughter.

This year I have just finished a book which I was recommended by a friend.  It is A God in Ruins and the title comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson -  A man is a god in ruins.  When men are innocent, life shall be longer, and shall pass into the immortal, as gently as we awake from dreams.  
 
 This is a book that has a certain style.  If you do not like a story that jumps about in time, you may not like this one.  I loved it.  We follow the life of Edward (Teddy) Todd, a bomber pilot in WW2, from his childhood onwards - but not in a straight line.  We read, and we wait for that life to unfold, which it does, together with revealing chapters detailing his RAF career in WW2.  His whole life, his family his successes and (mostly) failuresThose he loves, those who love him.  We go back and fore in Teddy's life and in the lives of those he touches Descriptions of bombing raids  are horrific, as are those of coming home, planes on fire, wheels locked up and rear gunners trapped with no escape.  Don't be put off by this.  Life is real and so is war.

It is rare that I call a book magnificent.  This is one of them.   This is a companion to her earlier title, Life After Life - the story of Ursula, Teddy's sister.  I have not read that, and I probably won't (only because there are just too many books on my shelves), but even the author says that it is not necessary to read Ursula's story first, or at all. Whatever you decide, I can recommend this one.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Trump - thoughts from the UK

You get the Government you deserve.  That's an old quote here in the UK.  The American electoral college is so different from the way we do elections, but like the US, actually we don't vote for the person, but for the party...... The face of the party at Presidential Elections is who you see though, isn't it?   Anyway,here are my own, very personal views about the news, based on the first hour I listened to the radio.

1.  I wonder whether Trump will continue to push for building a hotel and a golf course in Scotland where one little family in a tiny home are refusing to move out and let him in?

2.  The current US Ambassador to the UK - what a diplomat.    They had a party last night at the US Embassy, and this morning he just would not be drawn about his own personal opinion.  Brilliant.

3.  Trump turned into another person when announcing to his supporters that he was the winner.  Humble, with a quiet, sensible way of telling them their party had won,  and announcing what he was going to do.  Out of character?  Will it last?

4.  Will anyone want either of the Clintons to come and speak for money now?  If they don't, what are they going to live on?

5.  Will Trump keep US protectorates?  (e.g. Guam)

6.  Finally, How much will the House of Representatives and the Senate agree with Trump?

Monday, 7 November 2016

Zoli - Colum McCann


 Let's get serious for a little while.  I had this on my  shelves, chosen, I  expect, because of the cover, although the subject  when I turned the book over was what hooked me ultimately. If you look on Amazon, you will notice that there are about 7 different covers for this book.  Perhaps the publishers just couldn't get it to sell.  Pity.  This is a story that, whilst sad, will inform, will anger, will open your eyes.
Let me first say that whilst this is a fiction, it is based on the life of a Romany/Gypsy singer and poet called Papusza.  Zoli is a real gypsy.  a girl who lives in a caravan drawn by a horse, and her country is Slovakia, her tongue Slovac.    She is orphaned as a small child, by the Hlinkas, the Slavic version of the Nazis.  Look them up.  At six, suddenly, she and her grandfather are all that are left of the family group they travel with.  Travelling at night, keeping away from the Hlinkas, they eventually find and join a group of Roma musicians. The story takes us from the 1930s up until the beginning of the 21st century.  It makes fascinating reading, albeit sometimes very grim indeed.  Because she has a beautiful voice, she falls in with the new "comrades" in Slovakia - those who want everyone to share in everything that is good and for a while she becomes famous.  Just for a while.    A friend of mine is from Roma blood, and this made the book more interesting to me  A fascinating culture, left behind by civilisation, by their own choice.  But then - the bright new comrades of Slovakia think it isn't fair for the Roma to miss out - they will want the heated homes, the proper floors and doors that everyone else is going to get - Won't they?
          
There is a Polish film (2013) called Papusza, using the Polish and the Roma languages, shot in black and white, which is Papusza's story. |If this has interested you, I suggest you read the book and then get hold of the film.  Get as much from this very small but important life - and remember though it was the Nazi party that wanted to rid the world of  Jews and Gypsies.... they were not the only group that wanted that result.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

My Name is Leon - Kit de Waal



This is not a book to make the reader smile.  But it does compel the reader to turn the pages, getting

ever more angry with each of them.  If you can, imagine you are 9 years old, with a new baby brother.  You have a black father, he has a white. Your Mum is addicted to prescription drugs, alcohol and is suffering for post natal depression.  Imagine being a carer for that new brother.
 
 Leon loves that little baby very much, and he does what he can.  When his Mum will not get out of bed and the food in the cupboards is gone,  the formula milk for the baby nearly finished, Leon must tell Tina upstairs who has often cared for him.  Things do not go well when Social Services are brought onto the scene, for Leon's Mum needs hospitalisation, and there is no other family.  This is Leon's story.  This is how he learns that even people you love can let you down even when you are sure they are not going to.  This is how he learns that people are not always what they seem.  This is how he learns that loving someone may not be enough.   
 
Set in London, in the year leading up to the wedding of Prince Charles and Diana Spencer, there were dark deeds aplenty, the police were not the police we know today, and somehow, at nine years old, Leon has to find his way in life.   This is an adult read,   but I think many younger adults would get a lot from this.  This was a time I lived in London.  This was a period I remember, and yes, it was a dark time.  But not all of it.  Maybe Leon will find a home and someone he loves.  Maybe..... 
 

 




Sunday, 30 October 2016

Mrs Mac Suggests - What To Read in November

Well.... here in the UK the clocks have gone back, so the evenings are dark and long.  Never mind, this means that the woodburner can be lit if it ever gets cold, for the warmth is still with us, and it needs to be chilly before I light that up!

It's November reading then.  And in November, I and several other bookie friends try a "Remembrance" read.  That is to remember WW1 (which officially ended on the 11th day of the 11th month 1918);  or any book set either before and leading up to, or between that war and WW2 - or set in WW2.

You might like that idea, or you might shy away, muttering, "Oh no! - to heavy for me".  So this month I suggest a choice -

                                   War or Not.


Myself?  For War it's going to be a post WW2 novel -  

  A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

 and  for Or Not it's going to be a much lighter read -

Campari for Breakfast by Sara Crowe



Enjoy your November reading, whatever it is.

The Buried Giant - Kazuo Ishiguro



It would simplify this book to say that an elderly couple set off across Britain seeking their estranged son in another part of the country.  

But whilst they are the glue that holds it all together, this is a richer, deeper tale.  They are Britons.  This is a dark time.  The Romans are long gone.  King Arthur is dead, and only the elderly (and last) knight of the Round Table, Sir Girwain is left.  His mission is to kill the last dragon in Britain.  There are, of course, others in the country who are not Britons.  They are Saxons, and there is still a fragile peace between the two groups, although there is that feeling that civil war could break out at any time.  Then there's the Saxon warrior on a mission, sent by his lord, and a young boy excluded by his village and taken under the wing of Beatrice and Axl, the elderly couple on their journey.

Add to this mix some fables, the boatman across the River Stix, and a few minor characters, and there you have it.  I wanted to love, love, love this book, and at first, I couldn't stop hugging myself for starting it.  The language is something different - of the time, you might say.  The descriptions, though bare, tell you everything you need to know about living conditions, landscape and people's personal habits.  When the young boy is thinking about a girl he once met, the reason she sticks in his memory is that she did not smell of excrement.  Don't be offended by that, just think about it.  In an age where there was no plumbing, and no soft paper on a roll, there must always have been a little hum around people......

Ultimately, I only liked it.  Maybe my opinion is wrong.  You may read and love every page, but towards the end I found my attention wavering - never a good sign.  It is certainly different, but not as good as I so wanted it to be.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Julius - Daphne Du Maurier

Unusually, I am telling you today about a book I am not sure I liked.  Unusual because (sure, you know this by now, eh?) usually I want to recommend a book I loved, or I at least enjoyed reading.  You also know, dear readers, that I don't talk about crime novels, airport pageturners and the like.  So.  This is none of those, but it is a book with a completely unlikeable lead character (the Julius of the title) and is simply the story of his life.

Starting with a small baby reaching up to the clouds, a baby born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother in the second half of the 1800s, this novel will take you through that baby's entire life.  The poverty he suffers at the start of his life doesn't seem to bother him so much, and eating scraps from the cobbles under his grandfather's market stall just means that he can fill his belly.  Does his life improve?  Well, yes, but not staight away - the Prussians take over Paris, various family members die, and eventually he ends up an orphan in Tangiers where he lives a life of lying, cheating, wheeler dealing, and discovers sex.  But he isn't going to stay in Tangiers.  Not enough for him there.  London beckons, and when he realises that somehow he needs to do something so that he doesn't starve, he takes on a job that may help him to get on in life.

He is simply one of the most unlikeable characters in fiction, I think.  he likes "something for nothing", he is single-minded about the direction his life needs to go, and he loves no-one at all - until his daughter is born.  He's met his match here, because she is also unlikeable.  Forged in her father's image, spoilt, with money, these two are a match made in hell.

No more about the story, because you need to get the flavour yourself.  Finally, I beg you, do not read the Forward until you have finished  the book, or you will have gleaned too much from it.  But do note that Du Maurier was only 26 when she wrote this. 



Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Whistling Season - Ivan Doig

Every so often I find a book that makes me evangelical - and here, set in the lonely hugeness that is Montana at the start of the 20th Century is one of those.

Three motherless brothers, a father, and an advertisement in a newspaper from a housekeeper seeking employment headed "Can't Cook, Doesn't Bite".  And there I was, hooked by this wonderful tale of what happens to everyone when the Rose the new housekeeper and her brother arrive on the afternoon train and alight, in the middle of nowhere to start a new life.  Morris, the brother, after a few false starts, is taken on as the school teacher, and Rose whistles her way through the dust and dirt and makes their home clean and loved again - but it's true, she can't and does not cook.  So the lumpy porridge and questionable stews continue to be made by Dad. 

Small fights, big problems, and a mystery.  Children growing into adolescents;  bullies and those who are bullied, and Morris is teaching all of them things that are not on the curriculum but that will fascinate and educate them in a far more important way than ordinary spelling, ordinary arithmetic....... In 1910 the arrival of Haley's Comet in the skies above is something they learn about and want to celebrate

The last couple of chapters will solve the mystery....... and had me putting the book down several times because I didn't want it to end.  And when I at last got to the last lines, it was with a sigh of total enjoyment.  

I was passed this wonderful book by a friend who hoped that I would like it - Oh! I did!, I did! but sadly, when I looked up the author -  who had never come into my sights before, I find that he died in 2015.  I hope he knew before he died that he was a glorious storyteller - and at least there are many books of his for me to look forward to.





Saturday, 1 October 2016

Mrs Mac suggests..... a book to read for OCtober


Well, leaves, mellow fruitfulness and all that...... here's October, and I'm sure, on your shelves, there will be

 A book you've not read yet but are saving as a treat.

I always have a few that are appealing to me - you know, the whispered "read me, read me" as you pass them by on the shelf, so I can't believe you don't have some of them too. The darker evenings will soon be upon us, time to light the fire, the woodburner, or turn on the heating.... and what better than to snuggle up with one you really want to read!

This month, for me, it's The Whistling Season by Ivan Doig passed on to me by a booky friend (thanks Jeannine!)