Friday, 3 July 2015

Love - Tony Morrison

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    Well, well, well. 

    Why did I not read some Toni Morrison earlier?  What a fabulous writer she is.  I have read a couple of novels by Pearl Cleague (another black American) and loved her style, which is quite different to Morrison's - in this book at least.  This is a well-woven short novel, around 200 pages, where we will find out how one man can be the downfall of so many women.

    In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, Bill Cosey owned and ran a resort hotel on the American East coast.  It was a classy spot, where musicians could enter by the front door and sleep on the same cotton sheets as the paying guests.  Where you could drink cocktails, dance all night to great bands, have sex with someone other than your spouse or regular partner and no-one would tell.  And in the day, you could lay on the smooth white sands, and swim in the ocean.

    If You Were Black.  For this was a resort owned by and catering for only black Americans.  Actually, black Americans with money.  For the locals, even if they saved the money for a celebration, perhaps a wedding, the hotel was always "booked" the day they wanted it, and it was always that way.

    The book starts and ends with the thoughts of "L", a woman with no other name who was cook at that hotel, producing wonderful food.  In between, you will find out a lot about Heed (Heed the Night) Cosey's second wife, and  Christine, his granddaughter, the two key characters.  How they first met, how they loved and then hated each other. The book isn't called  Love for nothing.  All aspects of love are covered in this powerful story, and my advice is to read it without anything to disturb you - you may miss a clue or two!  It's powerful stuff, and a world was opened up to me that made me want to read on.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

What to read in JULY!

Well, nearly forgot you were out there........ Not really, just a couple of busy days so I missed the first of the month.  Anyway, what shall we read in July?   I am reading a book set on the east coast of America:  So I am suggesting something set in a coastal area.  Mine is -

Love by Toni Morrison

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Nora Webster - Colm Toibin

Looking on Amazon for other people's views, this is another marmite read.  I'm always disappointed at the views of people who say "boring", or "nothing happened".  Quite a lot happens to Nora, a widow with two older teenage girls, and two younger teenage boys, in rural Ireland with a quiet but telling background of the start of "the troubles" in Northern Ireland towards the end of the 20th Century.  

She has to sell the little tin-roofed seaside house where her family spent all their Summers - it has to be patched and mended every year, and she cannot deal with that alone (and the money will come in handy).  The two girls need to get through college, one on to teachers' training, and one to University in Dublin.  The boys, one with a stutter, and an unhappy time at school taught by the Christian Brothers, and the other, a worrier about everything.  

Nora really isn't a sociable animal, particularly after her husband dies.  She doesn't really want to make the right noises when yet another acquaintance knocks on her door and asks how she's doing.  She has to take a job to pay her way, and ends up in the accounts department of a local factory, under a harridan of a supervisor.  She must somehow find her own way in life, and although she has family who would support her if she let them, she really wants to do it on her own.  She wants to be Nora the woman, not Nora the mother, Nora the sister, Nora the widow.  This is her story.

Colm Toibin has a wonderful way with words - he has this woman perfectly portrayed, how did he do that?  One of the reviewers that didn't like this book said that they didn't like Nora.  Well, she isn't particularly likeable, but that doesn't make it a bad read!  I felt I knew her well (and liked her better) by the time I got to the end.   I was pre-occupied with other things when I started it, and it is a book better read in large chunks I think, so if it passes your way, do have a go.
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Friday, 26 June 2015

A good year for....... dandelions, foxgloves, mares tails - especially mares tails, damn them!

Image result for mares tail pic               Image result for mares tail pic

 In full flush!  Part of my garden is full this year.  Above, all stages, from right to left.

First it was dandelions.  Everywhere, but what a show earlier in the year!  Had to rush around taking the deadheads off before the seed heads formed  though.  Then I noticed that foxgloves where also everywhere, on banks and verges where I had never seen them before.  Both of those were ok, but the mares tails isn't.  I don't do weed killer, but I will have to succumb for this little bugger or I am lost.  Have a few every year;  but this year?  they have gone mad and so have I!!  I know I will never get rid of them, they have been around in this form since prehistoric times, but even though I live in the Jurasic Coastal Area - please!  take them away! 

Good luck if you have them too.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Truth According to Us - Annie Barrows

As I have had some time on my hands to just sit still for a few days, I gave the 482 pages of this book my all. My favourite book size is around 300 pages, so this was a smidge outside my comfort zone - but it didn't matter, I really loved it all.   And what a perfect title, because all of us see the truth of something in a slightly different way to the next person, and the book certainly reveals much in this wonderful read.
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Willa loves Felix her father, of course Jottie her aunt plus several other family members, but it's Felix she loves most.  Jottie loves Willa, her sister Bird and of course, Felix her brother.  Jottie is bringing up Felix's daughters, the mother has flown, and Felix is often on the road selling chemicals. The year is 1938, and into Macedonia, a small town in the state of Virginia comes Layla Beck, employed to write the history of the town.  It's she who will the the catalyst for truths to be told, loves to be lost and found, history to be re-written.
It was a glorious read, great chunks of it inhaled over a two day period.  The characters are so well-drawn, each has their flaws, their charms, their burdens. The truths that come out along the way will surprise you sometimes - but some of them will confirm your inklings of truth from earlier in the read.  Get to know all these characters, you are going to remember them I think! 
Written in an odd but for me a wonderful style - when Willa's talking it's first person, in Layla's case, her thoughts are often recorded in letters to family and friends, and for the other characters, well, they don't have their own voices, but they have plenty to tell you if you keep reading.  Sometimes Willa's first person voice will appear half way through a chapter, but I didn't find that disconcerting in any way.
Congratulations to Annie Barrows, who co-wrote The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with her late aunt.  As they say across the pond - You nailed it!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Elizabeth is Missing - Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing final UK cover copy 
Something rather different here, and a book which I enjoyed very much.  I wonder if I should use the word "enjoyed" for a book whose heroine is a very elderly lady suffering from dementia?   Well... yes, I can.  A well written book with a subject that probably worries us all as we get older - when we forget the word for something and say something like "you know what I mean, the stick thing, for cutting a loaf" and then five minutes later remember it's called a bread knife!  This doesn't mean dementia is on the way for you, but here is a book that will help you if you know someone who suffers already, or someone you cared for very much that is now gone - I suddenly realised how hard it must be for the sufferer.

Maud's friend Elizabeth is missing.  She's been to her home several times, but there is no-one there; she's phoned too, but no-one ever answers the phone. She's reported this several times at the local police station, but the sergeant on the desk just laughs.  She has come across Elizabeth's son too, who just shouts and swears at her.  She just does not know where Elizabeth can possibly be.  She keeps notes on small scraps of paper that are supposed to help her through the day, like "don't make toast" (she's putting on weight); but the most important ones are, of course, about Elizabeth.

Older memories sneak in now, and the writing changes, for all the memories of her childhood and teens seem crystal clear, and her sister Sukey, who left home when she married, also disappeared.  The younger Maud is desperate, like their parents, to find their missing sister and daughter.  She visits Sukey's home, she discusses the disappearance with Douglas, their young lodger, Frank, Sukey's husband, and her parents are often on the train up to London, in case Sukey just ran away. 

So I really liked how the author showed the difference between old and new memories here.  Maud remembering everything from 70 years ago, but not very much at all of yesterday.

Specialists who deal with dementia will confirm that as the memory starts to go, the new memories disappear very quickly, the old memories are much more clear, and stay with the patient longer.  A friend who's Mum suffered in this way was told by her doctor to perhaps imagine it this way.  Think about an old-fashioned pantry or larder, full of shelves of food, bottles, packets, bags.  As the memory starts to go, the shelves nearest to door start to collapse, and all the fresh foods and recently bought packages fall,ruined, on the floor.  But there at the back, on the dark shelves, are jars of jam and pickles made years ago, and the shelves holding them up are sturdy, and not collapsing.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler

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    This truly is a marmite book, judging from reviews on Amazon, but never let that colour my judgement (or yours!).  It is a decidedly odd read, but compelling nonetheless.  If you decide to read it, I wonder if you will feel the same. 
    Rosemary is going to tell you the story of her family.  Her sister Fern, her brother Lowell, and her mother and father.  She's going to tell you how her sister disappeared when she was five years old, and how Lowell walked out of the family home in his last year at high school and just never came back.
    I want to tell you why, but for readers who are going to read this and don't know about the twist revealed about a quarter of the way through the book, I will keep silent on the subject.  The trauma of all their lives is explored by Rosemary, who has never felt complete since the disappearance of Fern.  And at college, when Lowell appears back in her life for just 24 hours, she realises that she is not, and can never be like most of the population.
    The time frame jumps about a bit - after all, the first line is "So the middle of my story comes in the winter of 1996" - but it wasn't hard to follow her thought processes.  I found the loss of both her sister and her brother heartbreaking, although not in the way a bereavement might do; and I was sad for her inability to make friends.  Let Rosemary tell you about her odd and extraordinary life.
    WARNING!  Do not read the back of the book (acknowledgements, book group guidance etc.) at all if you do not know the subject matter before you start.... in fact, leave it till afterwards even if you do - but do read all those pages afterwards.  Illuminating!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Glory Beeeeeeeee! The Bees are back!

Just so pleased to report that the ladies are back, working hard and finding lots of good stuff in  the garden.  This is the first year that they were late in arriving and I don't mind telling you I was very worried.  I had a bumble in one of the bedrooms on Friday, so desperate to get back out, and I managed to direct her to an open window, so that's all good.  And today, there were so many that I could hear the buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ...... and that's what I like!

Annie Dunne - Sebastian Barry

Annie Dunne is an old fashioned spinster.  Irish, living with a cousin on a smallholding somewhere in Ireland, she is there because her cousin took her in.  She works hard (they both do), in the old-fashioned way - the milk cow is milked, the chicken are fed, eggs are searched for, land is dug, potatoes are planted, and the pony and trap is taken to the village for shopping.  It's the 1950s, and this summer Annie and her cousin Sarah are to look after two small children, their grandniece and grandnephew, whilst the parents are off to England looking for a job, accommodation and a better life.

The children arrive, are happy to be there, and the cousins are happy to have them.  It's going to be a good summer.  But in the background, little niggles are aired by Annie and suddenly she's not quite as nice as she seems.  Or perhaps she is just human, airing the kind of thoughts we all harbour but never let out.  Several things happen that summer:  the pony attempts to throw off the trap;  Annie sees in the  children the fact that they lie (but then, all children lie - she just finds that hard to come to terms with); and you get to learn some family secrets.  Reading this was like sitting in the garden on a sunny day, and just as you think it will last forever a cloud covers the sun and you get a feeling of trepidation and you hope the cloud will move on.

Every book Sebastian Barry has written is different.  Every one readable, and this one - well, this one is like reading poetry.  Told in the first person by Annie herself, and told in the present time it might take take a while to get used to, but it really is worth the read. 

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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Baby Pea Soup

I was looking for something light for friends who are dropping in for lunch, and I remembered this recipe which I blogged about a few years ago.  Thought I had printed it out but no.  Anyway, found it, printed it out and then thought that someone reading me now might not have been reading me then...... so here is the link to a real easy Summer soup.  It's made with frozen petite pois, but at pea time, if you grow them, of course you can replace the frozen with fresh.

Saturday, 30 May 2015

What to Read in JUNE

Well, if you are in the Northern hemisphere, you'll feel like Summer is on the way, so for June, let's find something with a holiday/vacation destination in the title, shall we?   For example:

Honolulu - Alan Brennert


Where are all the bees?

I have a garden full of bee-loving plants but no bees.  I have probably seen 3 bumbles and a dozen others since March.  I should be seeing (and hearing the buzz) every day now, but no.  Even though a huge Rosemary bush is in full flower.  Even though my Cotoneaster is in full flower.  Even though nearly all my flowering plants are "singles" (bees don't like doubles), even though this was a brilliant year for dandelions;  still no bees.  I have a yellow clematis (Bill MacKenzie) which is just now coming into bloom and that will have hundreds of flowers.  Perhaps they will come for a feast on that?
Red tailed bumble queen

I don't use weedkillers (except Roundup gel for dandelions in my paths, and even then I cover with a flowerpot after application until the dead plant can be removed).  I have bee hotels for mason bees, but don't see many.  I used to see loads of bumbles, but not this year.  It's so sad not to see the little workers out and about - but that's just sad for me.  The worry is where are they at all?  Someone told me this morning that if they are out at the rape fields this does them no good in the winter as the rape honey sets too hard for them to use. 

Here's an interesting article from a local (Dorset) magazine a couple of years ago.  Still relevant.  I hope they will be off the rape and back in my garden soon, I miss the buzz.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Sisters From Hardscrabble Bay - Beverly Jensen

Having read loads of comments on "Goodreads" and elsewhere, I have to tell you this is obviously a Marmite book - you either love it or hate it.  I even read a review somewhere which stated that that the reviewer didn't like the book because the sisters were not very nice people.  Another one included the word pottymouth.......Mmm. Well, it's fiction, and you either liked the story or you didn't, and you need to know whether you liked the style of writing, the settings, the way the characters are drawn, etc. rather than the fact that a character is not very nice or that the character swears!   I am firmly in the I LOVED IT camp and it will definitely be one of my top 10 reads of the year.
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Stretching from 1916 up until 1987,  this is the entangled life of two sisters who, in 1916, are awaiting the birth of a new sibling.  They won't have a mother for long, because although the baby survives, she does not. Idella is 8, Avis is only 6.  Suddenly life turns into something else.  Their brother, who is 12,  is fishing and bringing in lobster from the bay.  Their father is attempting to farm potatoes and other root vegetables. There is no money, and to ease the pain of his beloved wife's death, there is a tot of whisky each night for Dad.  A French-speaking Canadian girl comes on board as a housekeeper, but when she declares her love for Dad, it is clear that she will have to leave and Avis and Idella will also have to be sent away.  So from a hard life of toil and growing up too soon, they are sent from New Brunswick in the Canadian Maritimes, down to Maine in America to family who will bring them up, get them schooled and see them right.  Until, two years later, they are on the train back home to Bay Chaleur, New Brunswick.

 In this wonderful book, the sisters lives are laid bare.  They will grow up, make choices, get married.  One will go to prison for a short while, one will run a country store for a long while.  I have some experience of the  areas of the Canadian Maritimes.  It can be bleak now, and was certainly bleak back then in 1916.  Perhaps we don't know how good life is now - no wonder they both wanted to get away and find again the pleasure in living that they experienced in Maine for that short period.  The characters here are fabulous.  You may not like them, but you can sure "see" them. And I loved the fact that this is no charming whimsy, either.  Sisters are jealous, they can hide things from each other, they can tell themselves that they are right and the other is wrong.  That's real life.  It's what Idella and Avis do all their lives, and altogether, it makes a fantastic read.

It is divided into parts, quite easy to find by the contents list at the beginning of the book.  I know that some reviewers thought it too bitty, and one even stated that if she had known it was a set of short stories she wouldn't have bought it.  But for me, that was the joy of it, because it doesn't feel like a set of short stories, it feels like a well written whole.  Yes, it started as a series of short stories, all about the same characters, and so it will have been the choice of the author's family and friends to publish them together as a novel after her death.  Well, Elizabeth Strout (Olive Ketteridge) did the same thing, and if you loved Olive, I think you will settle down with Avis and Idella very well.

*Beverly Jensen died at age 49 from pancreatic cancer.  It took seven years to get the stories together and published as a novel.  Like other authors who die too young, it is a pity there will be no more from Jensen.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Garden News at Pine Tree Cottage (more!) - Small flowers out in May

 Well, I did say that I would take some pics of small flowers, and I seem to have got a bit carried away, although I am sure someone will like this look round.  They all came labelled, but through the years, I have forgotten the names, lost the labels, and you know, I am just that sort of gardener.  Sorry!

Californian Poppy - always seeds itself.

Don't be misled by this picture on the left..... the flowers are held on long stems, above spear-shaped leaves.  This one just happens to be growing through something else altogether!

And then below - Aquillega - this is a beauty and I didn't plant it, seed or otherwise.  Garden is full of these in the spring, but doesn't this look rare? Saving the seeds definitely!

Forgotten the name of this white lady.  Like little balls of fluff.  Short season, but the leaves which are like maidenhair fern will stay all summer.

Erodium Chrysanthum "Pink".  One of two Erodiums I had to have after seeing one in Sunil's Garden Blog

 Two rock roses, the one above is really scarlet, and it's new so I have great hopes that it likes it in this garden. The one on the left is dark, dark
orange and forms a huge clump.

And then, below, on to the hardy geraniums.

Pale and lovely "Ballerina" - forms large clumps

Another short one, but not so clump-forming in style

Newest - chocolate colours leaves, and tiny pink flowers in there!

Earliest of all, this tumbles over a little wall,forming a huge clump

Lovely tall one, works its way through other plants (this grows through a day lily)

Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Visiting Angel - Paul Wilson

Why didn't I know anything about this book?  I never read a review, never saw it mentioned on here, and it was published in 2012, so it's been on the radar (but not mine) for 3 years.  I can't say it's everyone's cup of tea, and certainly the cover would not have attracted me.

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A very satisfying read for me, bringing together what you might call lost souls.  Patrick, running a charitable halfway house for people with mental problems; Sarah, a nurse who lost her child in an accident; Edward and Lillian, both with their own special problems and former residents of the halfway home.  Into this mix throw a pregnant Angolan woman and her daughter, and Saul, with no shoes, a pocket full of peanuts and who swears he is an angel with a special task to perform.  How these characters have come to where they are now has meant that  they have each had a hard path to tread, and are still finding the journey arduous.  Slowly, slowly the story of each life is revealed.  The chapters are rather long and contain more than one subject at a time, sometimes with only an extra line between paragraphs.  But stick with it, as the story of each life is revealed.  Saul has only a few days to get things right, and it is unclear until very near the end what that task is.  When revealed, I found myself holding my breath.    I gained an insight into mental health and the way "the system" deals with it these days, too, and as the author has worked in a range of social care settings, it's obvious he is describing what he has come across in his working life.  Not a light read, but a very worthwhile one, and it came together wonderfully at the end. 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Garden news at Pine Tree Cottage

It seems so long since I posted anything about my garden!  I think the last time was when we had the summerhouse put in, and that was nearly two years ago....... OOOOps.  So, with new camera available and a sunny day outside, I thought I might just show you some colour and flowers.....

I love little shots of colour that help before flowers come in the garden.  I have had this blue pot for years, inside and outside.  This year it's going to sit here, on a little step, glowing away.  Don't worry, plenty of planting in this garden!

This is my yellow and white border..... and if you think you can see other colours here, well, aquilega doesn't have boundaries and seeds where it will!  Such a short flowering season, so why worry?  They will be gone soon, and I shall pull them out before the seed heads form - there are loads more.  And perhaps you can't see any white or yellow?  About one third down from the top of the picture, some yellow is spilling onto the edging;  The large grey lump in the bottom third of the picture is good old curry plant, and will be blooming shortly, as will the other green lumps which bloom as small cream buttons.  On the right you can see a climber... that's the clematis Bill Mackenzie, and I love it.  It never fails.  It's yellow when it blooms.

Here on the North side of the garden (but facing South, of course) is a mixed bed full of colour.  You can see a Ceanothus, nearly over now, and two similar but different Acers, both of which have put on some lovely height this year.  Sadly, the hedge behind is just bloomin' box, but at least it serves as a nesting area for blackbirds every single year and it sheilds us from the road!  And on the same side of the garden, just a little further along from the Acers, is the summerhouse, in all her glory.

I am going to take some more pics - closeups of small flowers.  It occurs to me that I do favour small flowers (not that I don't like others of course, tulips are lovely in the spring, roses all the summer please, peonies and day lilies are showy and wonderful) especially tumbling over walls and in pots.  Watch this space, it's been too long!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

No physical contact

Watching a documentary recently about London's night buses.  One of the passengers was a very elderly gent who had recently lost his wife of 60+ years, and we found that he was on the night bus because he had been out dancing.  Recently widowed?  Out dancing?  Shocked?

You shouldn't be, and maybe this will tell you why.  An widowed elderly family member of mine, on holiday a few years ago with me and group of friends of varying ages, was dancing by herself to some music she liked whilst the rest of us were drinking and chatting.  No-one really noticed until one of our party said "Care for a dance, M'am?".  Yes, she definitely would care for a dance, because as she explained, if you are without a partner then there is very little physical contact anymore.  It's a lonely feeling not being held.  So she got a little smooch, c/o of a friend.

Whilst I was watching the documentary, on the sofa next to the other half, this memory came back to me, and I suddenly thought how much I would miss the closeness of another body if he was no longer there (of course I would miss the person, I love him dearly, but imagine trying to cosy up to a stranger just for a hug?).  And then, at my yoga class yesterday, we did back massage on another person, who then did the same for us.  Again, it was the closeness of others.  We don't all have families and really close friends who we can be physical with.  Some of us are really reserved and that's fine if you don't like the touch of another.  But I do, and so many are denied it, like the widower on the London night bus.  As it happens, a youngster got on the bus and sat next to the old boy.  They were both Irish, so that commonality helped.  But the arm went along the back of the seat and round the shoulders, and the young man, sober, had a bit of a craick with the widower, and made him laugh before he left the bus.

So a hug every now and again won't go amiss if someone looks as though they need one - or even a linked arm whilst chatting or walking - just for the warmth of human contact.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Table decs at next to no money? Of course you can!!

You should start saving clear glass containers..... in this pic are two different perfume bottles with spray and metal collars removed, also the bottle from one of those room perfume kits with the little sticks......

This one was a beautiful frosted glass which held a scented candle... can't use it for drinking out of, so........

Two different bottles which were once sold as drinking water.....

Here's an assortment ready for use.

And here, something called a "custard cup"  picked up for next to nothing on a second hand stall

.... and finally, one of a set of three which were found in a craft store at rock bottom prices.

The flowers were one bunch of gypsophilla from the florist at £25 which filled every container and some left over!    A good choice as white goes with anything and the gyp has lots of little branches up the stems, so they can be cut to size as you go.  So most of the containers cost nothing, and a few of them cost just a little.  Tissue paper is cheap but looks good if you want to wrap it round some of your containers.  Mine were arranged in a straight line down the centre of each table at differing heights on white tablecloths (which were actually bedsheets and after laundering went straight back into the airing cupboard!).  Just change your ribbon and tissue paper colour to suit.  You don't have to be arty farty, just a little patience will do.

Oh, and a tip.  Spray the flowers with a little shot of your favourite perfume - as not everyone will thank you for the strange and rather cat-like smell of the gyp.  But there you go - four big party tables for around £30, and a bit of patience collecting your containers.

Of course, if you have lots of flowers for cutting available in your garden or next door's, or lots of ivy, or some kind of evergreen, then you save the £25.   Wild flowers, whilst lovely, will not last long when cut, so be choosy.  A rose in every container would be just lovely.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Tallgrass - Sandra Dallas

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    Sandra Dallas, another American writer who has such a gift.  Every book is different, the "voice" is different, the tale is different, the era is different.  This one, comparatively modern, is set during WW2 in Colorado.  In case you didn't know, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, all Japanese-Americans living on or near the West Coast of America were removed from their homes and interned in camps away from coastal areas for the duration of the war.    Although this is a fiction, it is based on a camp in Colorado and if you go to Dallas's web site, you can find out more about it.

    In the meantime, let me tell you a little of this gritty book, which for me was hard to read because of the subject matter, revealing much of human nature in general, and brings to the surface the hatred that some of us have for "different" folk.  And of course, in bringing up those feelings it made me hate those who hated the different others........

    Rennie has just turned 13 when the land is cleared and set up for the internment camp next door to her family's sugar beet farm.  The first few busloads of Japanese-Americans have hardly hit the ground when the signs start to go up in town - "NO JAPS".  Rennie has a brother and a sister;  Bud, who has joined up to fight in Europe, and Marthalice, who lives miles away in Denver. When most of the younger or single men in town have joined up or been called up, Rennie's Dad decides to employ some young men from the camp to help with the sugar beet.  At the same time, a child is raped and killed, and for those who should know better, the conclusion is that "the Japs must have done it".  This is a thriller and a historical novel.  Can't fault the research, and the voice of Rennie is just perfect.  You are a young teen, you get bullied at school, your sister is grown up now and living away, your Mother not in the best of health, and the whole town is taking sides.

    It's a book that made me very emotional, even though I knew nothing of these camps, living in a different country, and being born after WW2.  It is the old old story of fearing that which you don't know, and the problems that fear can bring.  I'd recommend this to anyone, but I particularly want to recommend it to the Young Adult readership, because it's a brilliant story of growing up and understanding adults, but also it is clear that the author does not take sides but points out a way forward without hatred.  The character of Rennie's father is based on her own father.  What a great dad he must have been.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

A Swift Pure Cry - Siobhan Dowd

Sadly the author died too young to reach her full potential - but she never wrote a bad book.  This one, aimed at Young Adults, tells Michelle's (Shell) story, following the death of her mother, leaving her to look after two younger siblings whilst her father drinks away any money he has.  Is he a thief?  Is he a n'er-do-well?  Is it grief of his loss that made him the man he has become?  It doesn't matter because Shell just has to get on with things, feed the family if there is money to do so, and go hungry if there is not.  Here in Catholic Ireland, the priest knows all and does nothing, for God will provide.

I don't know that I could have done any better than Shell under the circumstances.  The kids are always dirty - never enough money for soap power, and the washing machine, broken since her mother's death is not going to be repaired or replaced when the money can be used for Dad to drink.  The new Curate, Father Rose, is a breath of fresh air in the village - for some folk rather too fresh, for he is not the kind of priest they are used to.

This was hard to read, in the way that medicine is hard to swallow.  I really felt for Shell, reaching out for help without actually asking for it, reaching out for love and comfort without really understanding it.  This is a tale told hundreds of times before, but this one really made me feel that I understood the position that Shell was in.  A terrible dilemma, and no help available.  Harsh but with redemption on the horizon - this is a great read for 12 upwards, as an adult I found it easy to read and can totally agree with the reviewer from the Irish Independent, who said "...should be read by anyone who is or ever was a teenager." Click here if you want to find out more about the Siobhan Dowd Trust, set up by Siobhan before she died, and what they do for disadvantaged young readers.

A Swift Pure Cry (2006)