Thursday, 18 October 2018

Gap Creek - Robert Morgan

I've seen this compared to These is my Words - the diary of Sarah Prine. Different setting, but that same kind of  'history within a novel'  kind of thing.   And  it is certainly worth reading. From  the Appalachian Mountains of  North Carolina, Julie and Hank, newly married, walk down the mountain into Gap Creek, South Carolina, to start a new life. When you are young, in love and very naive, it's surprising how many things you have to learn. The subtitle of the book is "the story of a marriage" - but in fact it's the the first year of a marriage we find described

If you thought you had ever been hungry, wet, cold, lonely or frightened - read this one and weep, for the descriptions of everything are well drawn and make you understand how hard it was for this young couple who were still finding out about life, let alone themselves.  But Julie is a strong character, and she will prevail. Hank is a good looking boy, spoilt by his Ma, unable to deal with hardship of any kind, prone to starting arguments. Will he come through this period of time like Julie?  Life throws everything at this couple and then some.  They do some stupid stuff, but ultimately they learn that every day is a new day and can be got through.  We don't now we're born these days!  We have electricity which gives us washing machines, freezers, heating, cooking facilities;  and this book, set at the turn of the 20th century, will show you how hard life was then, and how far we have come.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

The Santa Kaus Murder - Mavis Doreil Hay

Golden Age of Crime....... you either love it or hate it.  Lots of middle class or upper class people called Buntie, or Dicky, or Mumsie are usually involved.   A Murder.  A plodding detective and then Voila!  the murderer is revealed!    If this sounds like Agatha Christie, or several other 1930s publications you have come across, you'd be right.  It does follow a pattern.  But this particular novel has a distinctly different way of telling it's tale.

There has been a murder - "up at the House".  Sir Osmond Melbury - family patriach though not well loved, has been shot in the head on Christmas day.  Colonel Halstock, Chief Constable of the county is called.  Everyone who was there at the time is placed under house arrest.

Several persons involved are asked to write their own versions of the day before the murder i.e. Christmas Eve.  Those documents form the first five chapters of the book, until Halstock takes over the rest.  And as he works the case, you will have to see if you can beat him at his own game - I had two suspects, and one of them turned out to indeed be the murderer.   At the front of the book is a map of the downstairs area of Flaxmere, the family seat, and there is also a list of characters and their relationshp to the others.   Cripes!  what fun!

As the story is set over Christmas, and you may just be drawing up your list of presents to be to be early and prepared, there may be a reader on your list who has not come across this title from the British Library Crime Classics.  You just may want to read it yourself.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Euonymus alatus (spindle berry) in Autumn

Eonymus Alatus
Have I done this before?  Have you seen this lovely shrub?  Forgive me if you have...... I grow this for the glorious show, two weeks in early Autumn/Fall every  year.  It's spread is around 6 ft, height 3 foot or so.  Bare in the winter, lime green once the leaf buds open, insignificant flowers.  But Oh!  that wonderful pink.

 Gardening is like that for me.  I don't do bedding plants unless it's to fill in spaces, and then it  will be nasturtiums, nigella, or something that may seed itself for next year.  But I love colour, and I try to have something flowering every month of the year.  These are leaves, not flowers of course, but there is no other shrub that gives me this glorious show - and it's two steps from my front door.  When the leaves first start to turn, they are just pink tips to the leaves.  If you look at the bottom of the pic you can see some leaves not fully turned to pink, but very quickly, the entire bush is PINK! PINK! PINK!...... and then the leaves start to fall and it's over.

Never mind, next year will come soon enough.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Some Kind of Fairy Tale - Graham Joyce


"Read it - it's special in all kinds of ways - but try to remember it in May, when the bluebells are flowering"  Joanne Harris.

She liked it a lot!  And so did I.  A girl taken by fairies who manages to return.  What would you think if a family member disappears, leaving no clues at all.  Like the police you would call that missing presumed dead - except that she isn't;  for twenty years later she returns to her family, thinking that she has only been away for six months.  Tara is home - and for her parents it's a mixed blessing.  For her brother and his family the same.  For her boyfriend, left bereft (and accused of the crime - what crime? - at the time) time has stood still and now she is home for him to love.

Told by (or about) each major character in turn, you will learn what results her disappearance had on those who loved her, and what occurs now that she is back.  Life is not the same, for in those twenty years people have grown older, but Tara has not, neither in body or looks.  In her head she has learned many things which may be of no help at all in the real world.  And the thing is, no-one really believes her fairy story.

NB.  I have read some Amazon reviews, where readers are offended by swear words and sexual descriptions..... there are not many of those, and perhaps those readers were looking for a "real" fairy story.  The title rather gives the game away, no?

Monday, 1 October 2018

Mrs Mac Suggests - What to read in OCTOBER 18

Readers, I am sorry!  September just slipped into October, and with only one post last month you might just have wondered if I had mitched off!!  Well...... I did, but only for a week, a little holiday in the Cotswolds.  Couldn't settle to read much but managed one book.  Now back to the real world and lots of reading through the Autumn/Fall.

So what shall we read in October?  The days are shorter, the mornings have a little chill, but my garden is still full of colour, including some lovely red leaves which cheer everyone up.  This month I am going to read the last in a trilogy.  So I was thinking - as always - about you lot out there.  How about

a book in a series?

This  may be the first in a series you are interested in reading, or the second or third in a long series, or the last (and perhaps the best) in a series you have loved but didn't want to finish!  Now is the time.  Settle back and enjoy an episode.  Me?  I am going to finish the Old Filth trilogy, with

Last Friends - Jane Gardam 

Sunday, 16 September 2018

No. More. Plastic. Martin Dorey

I'm not a campaigner really.  I do my own thing because I can't change the world alone.  Yes, I recycle all I can.  But when I spotted this little book on the counter in my local bookshop I thought "hmmmmm, it might be interesting".  It was.

Written in a simplistic style, this book does not hit you over the head and try to convert you into wearing a hair shirt for the rest of your life.  It just gives you some facts and figures, and suggests ways you can help.  I mean - who knew that the freshly baked loaf at the supermarkets of the UK is wrapped in a paper wrapper (good) with a transparent plastic window (BAD! because that particular plastic is  not recyclable).  And how brilliant to suggest that if you buy a sandwich from a local sandwich bar daily, then why not take along an empty lunchbox and get your sandwich popped straight in, unwrapped.  What a novel idea!!

Some good stuff in there aimed at schools and businesses too, which is only to be encouraged.  So don't imagine that I am feeling holier-than-thou, just a tiny bit inspired as to how to use a little less plastic and how to ensure that the stuff that crosses my path gets recycled in the right way.

I am an Air BnB host.  Right from the beginning I decided on "no plastic water bottles for guests".  So I have large glass bottles which first contained a product like fizzy lemonade.  These get washed and filled with tap water every use, and not one guest has ever complained!

When I first started using tampons, the brand I used had cardboard applicators, easy to use and of course, dispose of,  as the card would break down over time.  Fabulous.  And then, suddenly, the company changed to plastic applicators.  Why??  Take a backward step you guys round the board table.  You know who I mean!

No. More. Plastic.: What you can do to make a difference – the #2minutesolution

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Mrs Mac suggests - What to read in SEPTEMBER 18

Hello, hello!  That heatwave is well and truly over then!  And here in the UK it was followed by rain, wind, rain, rain, and then grey skies.  However, the sun peeps through every day at some time, even if only for an hour.  And things are happening in the garden again.  Lots of roses are suddenly budding up, hardy geraniums who went to sleep in the heat are suddenly coming alive again.   The mystery of growing things!

What to read in September, then?    I have a whole pile to read .... but what to suggest.  How about

A book written by a celebrity?

Yes!  that's it!  and who shall we choose?  Well, dear readers, you may choose who you like, but I have one on the table that was given to me by a friend, and for me it's a murder mystery written by a chat show host:

Holding - Graham Norton

Enjoy September, and remember, for three weeks of it, it's still Summer!    

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Bettyville - George Hodgman

 The author is a magazine and book editor. So having spent a lot of time putting an article or a book in order, he has acquired a lovely style all of his own, and it was a pleasure to read this.  
It is the story of two things. His mother's descent, at around 90, into dementia and his care for her; and his offloading to you, the reader, of a life kept secret from his parents. Like a lot of gay men he knew he was different, and so he escaped from a small town environment to the big city. He seemed to have a crazy, fun but empty time because he could not let himself get close to people. You will see, as you read, how similar in character he was to both parents, but we don't want to admit that, do we, when we are young - it took George Hodgman until he was in his fifties.
 Drugs played a large part in his life in the city, and a part too in grieving the loss of friends (the early 1980s AIDS epidemic was hugely felt in and outside gay communities around the world). Eventually he kicked the drugs; but from time to time still craves the lift they gave him.  
When George goes home to visit his elderly mother, he finds that he needs to stay. I loved Betty, and the fight she put up not to "loose it" entirely.  I loved George, a man with a bigger heart than he thinks he has.   I don't have parents now. I am not gay. I don't live in small town America. But I do recommend this book as an eye opener, a source of joy; a book to tell you much about the care and respect of the elderly;  and also as a short history of the death of small town America, and a book I think a lot of people would pass over as "not interested" but shouldn't! 

Friday, 10 August 2018

The Darling Buds of May - H E Bates

Perfect for an afternoon in the garden, or by the riverside, on the beach.  But for me this was a "perfick" summer read, and at only 137 pages was not a struggle to finish. I think it may have been back in the 1980s that this was made into a TV series - where Catherine Zeta Jones first makes an early appearance;  as the flawless Marriette - eldest daughter of Pop and Ma Larkin.

Pop Larkin leads a life of pure delight (or as he would say, perfick) with Ma Larkin and quite a lot of children.  The time?  middle 1950s.  The place?  the South of England.  Pop is a junk dealer (scrap metal, second hand vehicles, things other people want to discard) and has made a healthy living out of it.  Well, you have to, don't you, with this many mouths to feed - and don't they all eat?!!  Ma is a great cook, and she cooks huge amounts of food for family meals including the daily full English breakfasts.  After all, if it's Sunday lunch and you are going to kill a goose for a roast, why not two?  You may be lucky and have a little bit of leftovers for tomorrow - that is if someone doesn't raid the larder for supper.  And drink?!  Pop must have a cast iron liver, that's all I'm saying.

When Cedric Charlton arrives one afternoon to talk about Pop's tax return, it seems that Pop doesn't do tax returns, he never earns enough to pay tax (why, all those kids with a healthy appetite, animals to feed, the truck to put petrol in;  why, some weeks he has nothing in his pocket at all!).  So how can he be persuaded to fill in his tax  return?  With a great deal of difficulty.

Here is a description of a life that no longer exists, and probably we are all the poorer for that.  It's a bit non-PC in places too, but remember that this was first published in 1958.  This is the first of five books Bates wrote about the Larkin family - all short, but all charming; the tale of a near-illiterate man and his family.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Holly Blue in my Dorset garden - August 2018

Well, look what we found today in the garden!  This is a male open and closed.  The top picture shows you that the underside is white with little black dots.... so small, too, just over one inch across when open.  I only record butterflies I have never seen before, and since I have now found out that these breed on holly in the spring and ivy in the summer, I should have seen them before because we have both in the garden; but never did.  Such a dainty sight and we were so pleased to find him.                                                                                       The pics came from the UK Butterflies website, which I always refer to first when I see a new one, before contacting my friend Sarah whose hubs is an expert "flittery" person.  That way I can get it right when I tell you about it!

Saturday, 4 August 2018

The Ballroom - Anna Hope


The Ballroom is a deeply moving tale of life in an asylum  around 1911, told in short chapters, each headed with a character's name.  Each chapter reveals a little bit of history, or current life of the character whose name appears at the start.   Many people were incarcerated in asylums in those early days that were not mentally ill in the then accepted sense of the word; perhaps severely depressed because of a trauma, or perhaps like the character of Ella, because she had broken a window at the factory just to see the sky.... can you imagine that?  Or like John, because he had ended up in the poorhouse, and was not well enough to work.   Ella and John are inmates and will meet, one Friday in the ballroom of the title;  and Charles is a staff member;  a young medical man from a wealthy family on the staff who has a secret of his own..

 The power that staff had over the inmates as described here was truly awful, particularly if they were employed only because of their strength (to hold a patient down whilst they fought to be free), a case of brawn not brains.   Some more senior staff held views which would simply not be acceptable today.  I found this a particularly well written book, with a lot of good research by the author including facts about her great great grandfather, transferred to an asylum from the poorhouse, dying there 9 long years later.  Do read the author's note at the back - for those unfamiliar with asylums as a way of housing the mentally ill this will be an eye-opener.  So will Churchill's early views on Eugenics.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Mrs Mac Suggests - What to read in AUGUST

Phew!  that was a hot one, wasn't it?!  Lots of sun, but a little too much heat was how I would describe July, but after  24 hours of rain last weekend we are now sitting more comfortably!!

So it's time to select a read for the month.  I hadn't given it much thought until this morning, but I think sometimes it's a good idea to try something new, yes?  And for August something new is:

Read a book by an author you have never tried before!

So the author I picked for myself is someone who has written loads of different stuff.  He created Foyle's War for TV, he has written a James Bond novel, he has written a series for children  which has sold more than nineteen million copies round the world.  So from my  shelves I have pulled out

Magpie Murders - Anthony Horowitz.

Enjoy August, everyone.  

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

On losing an old friend.....

About two months ago I lost one of my oldest friends. Someone I had known since I was around 15 years old.  I had wanted to put something on my blog, but found it hard to express what the loss felt like to me.  And then, today, I found an extract from Anna Quindlan's new memoir/autobiography, and it fit the bill.  And yes, everything she says is correct.  Old friends -  they know you.  They remember things.  They have grown older along with you.

Old friends are not necessarily best friends.  But they are friends who hold part of your past and so they hold part of you.  And when they die, a little part of you dies too.  I remember a very elderly relative saying , aged one hundred and one...... "everyone I knew is gone.  There is no-one left that knows me now".  Not quite true, as of course there was still some family members left, but I understood the sentiment.  So thank you Anna Quindlan, for your fitting words:
“The thing about old friends is not that they love you, but that they know you. They remember that disastrous New Year's Eve when you mixed White Russians and champagne, and how you wore that red maternity dress until everyone was sick of seeing the blaze of it in the office, and the uncomfortable couch in your first apartment and the smoky stove in your beach rental. They look at you and don't really think you look older because they've grown old along with you, and, like the faded paint in a beloved room, they're used to the look. And then one of them is gone, and you've lost a chunk of yourself. The stories of the terrorist attacks of 2001, the tsunami, the Japanese earthquake always used numbers, the deaths of thousands a measure of how great the disaster. Catastrophe is numerical. Loss is singular, one beloved at a time".

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Beck - Mal Peet (with Meg Rosoff)

 Peet's last book - unfinished before his death and tidied up and finished  by his friend, author Meg Rossoff.  Well I liked it - a lot.  But be warned, it is a rather dark story.  Some of the low score reviews on Amazon seemed to miss the point.  Or rather, they seem to have been written by persons who don't keep up with late 20th and early 21 century news.  For hundreds of orphans were sent from the UK to both Canada and Australia - to help ease the burden on state coffers one supposes.  And some of those children were abused by the very people that were supposed to help them.  The trick was that they were told they would be sent to new homes, where they would work, but be loved and fed.  And some  were.  A lot were not.....

Beck is one of those orphans, his father gone, his conception the result of a quick coupling for money following the loss of a job by his mother who desperately tries to look after two parents addicted to "patent" medicine of some kind and her own brother, mentally handicapped and locked away.  When they all die in the Spanish flu epidemic, Beck finds himself in an orphanage.  Being of mixed race parentage, no-one wants to adopt him, and so here he is, on a ship out of Liverpool bound for Canada, where he will find himself in the care of the Christian Brothers.  If you do not know who you are, or what is expected of you, you will lead a life of confusion, and that is  exactly what Beck finds in the "care" of the Brothers.  Beaten and raped for a misdemeanor not of his making, he is passed on from the Brothers to a farm to help out.  Watching the family eating good healthy food whist he is just offered bread and the gravy from the stew he is lost.  What to do, how to do it, where to go?  And so, just a year after leaving Liverpool, he finds himself running with nowhere to go.  But go he must, and he will have many other adventures.
  • Beck

Thursday, 12 July 2018

The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett

For a small reading group who read a "classic" monthly, we picked this lovely children's story which I had read in my childhood.  It was such a pleasure to read it again, especially as I only remembered
the outline story.


 Mary Lennox has been sent from India to Yorkshire, to her uncle's home, Mistlethwaite Manor, on the moors.  Mary is a bad tempered child, using to having her own way with the Indian staff in her home, and frankly neglected by her parents, who are disinterested in children in general and their own in particular.  Fate takes a hand when an outbreak of cholera leaves her orphaned, and the hand it deals her doesn't seem much better when she arrives at Mistlethwaite to find that her uncle does not want anything to do with her either.  It's winter; it's cold and she has no-one to give orders to - for the staff of the manor house are not showing her any respect at all!

And then there are the mysteries - first, some walls around a part of the garden which has no entrance; and second the noise of a crying child, which all the staff deny hearing.  Gradually Mary makes friends, and this becomes the story of three children, who will each take a delight in being alive.

The vocabulary may be a bit dated, but then so is Dickens, and people still read him.  Go on, get a copy and treat yourself to a spot of Magic.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk - Kathleen Rooney

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Mrs Mac recommends - What to read in JULY 2018

Phew!  Too Hot to bother?  The UK (and some of Europe too) has been in the grip of a heatwave.  Lucky me, I live in a 200+ year old stone built cottage. The walls are thick, so in the winter they help to keep out the cold, and now they are keeping some of that heat outside!  I am finding it difficult to settle to read anything over 100 pages just at the moment.

So I got to thinking about books I have loved in the past and tiny volumes came to mind.  Buddhism for Sheep is amongst the books I keep in my guest room, but you will see that I haven't emboldened this title as it is a five minute wonder - a stocking filler.

So another in the quick reads basket is this month's recommendation.   I have loved it, and I really want to recommend a real classic this month.  So here is

The Specialist

This is a kind of recorded oral history - fiction? perhaps, but probably based on someone the author came across.  Clem Putt is the the specialist.  And he builds..... well; just find a second hand copy, or have a look for a Kindle version (where hopefully the illustrations have been included, because it would be a shame not to see them) and find out what his specialism is.  Because you need to.  Really.  Enjoy July!

The Specialist

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

First love.... D'you remember?

That heart that beat so loud you thought everyone could hear it?

That blush that rose from somewhere near your waist up to the tips of your ears?

The wanting to be near in case he touched your arm?

That yearning that he would arrive soon when everyone else was already there?

That knowledge that he was "the one"?

Adolescence is a wondrously awful time, isn't it?   But we usually get over it, find a new love and eventually get together with the right one, and perhaps live happily ever after.

When I was 17, some girlfriends and I met a whole group of lads, we liked their company and they liked ours.  One of them was my first love.   And what I described above was how it felt.  Let's call him Col.  Like several of the lads he had his own car.  We used to fill the cars up and take off for somewhere every Sunday night, usually to a pub, where we would order a toasted sandwich or similar, and sit talking and laughing over a glass of something until closing time.  He was always there.  I desperately wanted him, but the other lads teased him unmercifully, and he never did ask me out - although some 5 years later I bumped into him at a party and he said "what about if we........".   I was over him by then and so able to say "Sorry Col, you should have asked me way back when".  I met the real love of my life about a year later and we are still together.  Col met his partner too, and that, as they say, is life.

Until yesterday, at a funeral, I came across him again in the company of a couple of the other lads -   men with a few lines and less hair now.  We spoke in general terms about people we knew, and what we were all doing, and where we were living, and it was nice.  Until it was time to go home and the most bizarre thing happened.  I suddenly found him standing behind me. I spouted the usual niceties, and said  "Bye then, Col, nice to have seen you again".  He looked me straight in the eye and said "should I know you?, who are you?".

Just for a split second there I thought he was taking the mickey, but why would he do that?  I told him my name.  I told him where I used to live - he had been there many times for parties, or meet-ups prior to going out with the crowd.  But no.  It was clear that I had been wiped entirely from his memory.  And then he said  "I'm sorry, I have memory problems".  I could only say I was sorry too.

Things I wouldn't have minded talking about with him were unavailable to him now and it made me feel so sorry.  Not just because of our shared past, but because he obviously has something wrong which is not dementia, but who knows what; and  I shed a silent tear for his lost memories.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Crenshaw - Katherine Applegate

You know that old saying "don't judge a book by it's cover"?  Think again, for in this case what a cover!  And inside, what a wonderful book!  I saw the cover first, and had to have it.  Applegate won the (US) Newbery Medal for her previous book The One and Only Ivan, which looked fun but didn't appeal.  But to have an invisible friend, a large cat called Crenshaw..... now that did appeal.  I think anyone of 8+ will enjoy this read, or having it read it them.
Crenshaw appears early on, riding a surfboard until he opens his umbrella and the wind lifts him off the board and brings him down to Jackson who is on the beach.  This is Crenshaw's second time round in Jackson's life..... at a time when he thinks he's far too old for an invisible friend, and in any case there are a lot of problems at home and he really has no time for this furry interloper.  
Jackson's family are what are described as working poor - never quite enough money to pay the rent on time, never quite enough to eat well on a daily basis.  And when the notice to quit arrives, Jackson is beside himself, for he's had to go through this once before, when his sister was a baby, sleeping in the family van for fourteen weeks;  and although he just cannot do it again, it looks as though he is going to have to.  Crenshaw's answer to this?  "Just tell the truth".  What on earth does that mean?
I was astounded by some facts and figures at the back of the book.  One in five  kids in the US are "food insecure" as policy makers might describe them.  I will take a guess and say that there are plenty of the same here in the UK, although I don't know that the figure is as high here.  Whatever the figure is, no child should be hungry - anywhere.  But they are.  Just think about the Middle East for a little while, then think about your home town.  Then think about the "celebrity culture".  The space between rich and poor gets ever wider.   After Katherine Applegate won the Newbery Medal, she visited lots of schools, and met kids like Jackson.  That's when she decided to write Crenshaw.  Buy it, borrow it - but do read it.  You will laugh at Crenshaw, but your heart will cry for Jackson and his family.... although with Crenshaw's help they just may get by.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Bright Turquoise Damselfly

Today we visited a private garden open to the public.... which included tea on the terrace afterwards.  But although the garden was full of winding paths, and what we saw were many different Acers, Roses, hardy Geraniums, Iris amongst other things, what fascinated us the most were these beautiful creatures.  The colour really was staggering - iridiscent  turquoise.  But no picture I found did them proper justic.  They were about 2 inches long, and just like little pieces of jewellery. At one point there were 9 or 10 flitting around in front of our eyes, but none stayed still long enough to get a pic.  Had to dig around to find out exactly what they were, but found this on the Canal & River Trust website.  Here's what they say:


Damselflies are brightly coloured insects who, like dragonflies, are acrobatic masters of the air as they hunt for their prey.
Damselfly, courtesy of Karen Arnold Damselfly, courtesy of Karen Arnold

Damselflies are delicate and very thin and fold their wings back over their bodies at rest. You can sometimes spot clouds of them flitting over the water surface and amongst vegetation on sunny days. They feed mainly on mosquitoes, midges and larger insects.
The reed fringes of many of our canals and rivers provide excellent breeding sites and hunting grounds for damselflies - our maintenance programme involves the creation and improvement of canal banks with damselflies in mind.
In the past, any work on canal banks would have involved steel sheet piles. Today, with our greater emphasis on habitat creation, soft banks are created either using coir roles or hazel faggots. This allows the growth of reed fringes, ideal habitats for many species of insects, particularly damselflies.

 Sometimes it is pure luck to be in the right place at the right time..... and we were today.