Monday, 2 March 2015

Crooked Heart - Lissa Evans

I read Lissa Evans' Their Finest Hour and a Half a couple of years ago, but it didn't really grab me.  And then I read this one and really enjoyed it!  Every major character in this novel is a (very) small time crook, from Vera (Vee for short)  Sedge, who would like to have money but doesn't know how to go about getting it; her son, Donald, who does know how to go about getting it, to Noel, who thinks up a couple of schemes for Vera to get out there and make it.

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Set in WW2, this is a book where you can't help but love Vee and Noel, although at first you are not sure why.  Noel's godmother Mattie, with whom he lives on the edge of Hampstead Heath, is that wonderful kind of guardian - loves Noel, loves life and loves being who she is.  So when after her death and a short stay with distant family of Mattie Noel is evacuated to St Albans you'd think it was all for the best.  In St Albans he is lodged with Vera Sedge, and as a child who hardly ever talks, she is confused as to how to deal with him.  Vera has to perform the odd sexual favour for her landlord because her son is working for him (but not really pulling his weight) and the rent is due again.  She makes hat trimmings just to bring in a bit of cash to help feed herself, Donald and her mother, mute after a fall.  They live in a damp, dirty, half empty flat above the scrapyard where Donald works. But Donald has a secret.  He is actually a self made man with a Gladstone bag full of cash on top of his wardrobe - he has a specialist line which he does every once in a while.  And so, as Noel settles in to this odd little family group, he finds his voice, and takes some decisions.  Some for himself, and some for Vee.

We do sometimes disremember wartime in this country.  Perfectly described is the way petty crime was conducted amongst the bombed streets of London, and how those that knew turned a blind eye because that's just how it was. A nicely judged novel, for YAs and adults alike.  Little bits of stuff float into your memory, like the peice of cold potato that Noel had to ask for whilst in a shelter during a bombing raid.  Like the collection box scam that must have been operated all over the place.  I liked the writing style, enjoyed the tale.  Would make a decent TV drama, too, and no surprise there as Evans has worked in both radio and tv production.

Sunday, 1 March 2015

Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe - Benjamin Alire Saenz

Sexuality. Teens get this thrust upon them - one day they are a child, the next things start to happen.  Hair sprouts, voices break, breasts burst, and somehow they have to get through to the other side and become fully formed adults.  That's a big ask at the best of times, besides what is going on in their heads.  Aristotle (that's his second name, for what boy would want to be called Angel?) or Ari for short, is growing up in El Paso, with a Mexican heritage, getting through school, talking to his parents and anyone else who crosses his path in one word sentences.  He's definitely a loner, has no friends, hasn't kissed a girl yet, is the family's "baby", and has three older siblings -twin sisters, old enough to be married with children of their own, and a brother who no-one talks about.  At the local swimming pool one day, Ari hears a voice.  "I can teach you to swim if you like?" - and there is Dante.  Dante who doesn't look like someone from a Mexican background;  Dante who speaks using whole sentences and words Ari has never even come across;  Dante who hates wearing shoes....  and the two become friends in the blink of an eye.

Dante likes boys.  Ari can't wait to kiss a girl.  Somehow this doesn't matter at all, and they spend a lot of time together, discovering life. I want to tell you more, but I want you to read this one, so my story-telling stops here.  Suffice to say, on the way to adulthood, these two find out a lot about themselves, others, and sexuality in general.  They fall out with each other, they fall back in,  their friendship something they both want.

Lovely characters in this book.  The boys are well-drawn, one more full of teen angst than the other but both having to face adulthood.  The parents, not perfect but described well, so that you can see that adults have troubling times too.  A couple of girls at school - Ari's friends, although he doesn't realise at first and tries to shake them off.  A couple of family secrets too - when Ari finds out that life can be as difficult for adults as it is for him.

The prize winning author Benjamin Alire Sáenz grew up in New Mexico speaking only Spanish.
He's written several books for children and young adults.  He teaches, so he's in the right place to observe the growing up process and transfer it on to the printed page.  I enjoyed the read - and the reminder of my earlier years.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

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

For March, how about reading a book with a party or a celebration in the title?

You might find The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter worth a read if you can read plays....
or perhaps  The Wedding by Nicolas Sparks?    Have a look on your shelves!

Remember your teens? Ten memories from mine!

You may remember those years with love, laughter or angst...... but there may be times that will always stick.   For me?  Here are ten in no particular order.l

1.  My first kiss - his name was Roger, it was during a game of Postman's Knock at a party, and I really wanted to be kissed by my "crush", Malcolm McKay.  Not a chance, so Roger I got. 

2.  Rushing home  from youth club every Thursday in case The Beatles were on Top of the Pops, and rushing back again in case I missed anything good!

3.  Being in the local paper as the "mystery woman" who was reading a book instead of dancing at a local dance......and the book was My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier.

4.  Realising that music did things for you - after I first heard "Will you still love me tomorrow?" by the Shirelles on a transister radio in the school playground.

5.  My first real holiday without my parents - to a holiday camp (Hi De Hi!) with several friends.

6.  Being "in love" with Colin for several years.  Unrequited.  And realising later that teenage crushes are usually about wanting what you can't have.  I grew out of it!

7.  Discovering coffee shops, and spending hours following boys from one to the other and back again, drinking coffee and trying not to be seen looking at those boys!

8.  Lovely Lotus shoes which cost £4.19.11 (£5) and which I had to save up for at 2/6 (23ish pence) per week.  Brown leather, little heel, and a bow on the front with cream spots.

9.  Doing the upstairs cleaning every Wednesday afternoon (two bedrooms and a bathroom) because my Mum was not in good health.  A job that I'd do now in an hour took the entire afternoon because I didn't realise then that a job you hated should be done as fast as possible, thus leaving you loads of time for yourself.

10.  School trip to Bad Homburg Germany on an exchange visit,  and (boys again) realising that Pete really didn't fancy me and I'd just have to put up with it.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Housebound - Winifred Peck (Persephone)

With an "afterword" by the author's niece,  Penelope Fitzgerald, herself a writer, this is a rather dated but certainly readable book.  It starts funny and ends sad but redemptive and is, I think written for women readers.  Not that a man couldn't read it, but it has insights that lots of women might recognise.  Rose, family woman, one daughter from earlier marriage, one step-son and one son from her second marriage, finds herself at the agency in an effort to hire staff at the beginning of the book.  The year is 1941, the boys all off at war, the girls taking the jobs the boys left behind them.  Her current staff are off to the local armaments factory, and Rose wouldn't know how to wash a potato to save her life (do you use soap?).   There are simply no staff available, sorry.   She can't cook, either.  Her solicitor husband arrives home every night for a bath, a change of clothes, supper and a drink, and then retires to his library, so there's no relying on him then.  Truly, you don't know whether to feel truly sorry for this upper-class woman, or rather to give her a good shake.  But this is exactly what life was like for them - they ran a house, but didn't actually do things; and running it took all day.

Her three children, in their late teens are joining up in various ways - her daughter for ambulance driving, her step-son the RAF and her younger son off to be trained for the army.  Rose and her husband Stuart are living a solid middle-class life - i.e. they don't talk about the important things in life.  They don't discuss the war.  They sleep in separate rooms and the affection between them is the peck on the cheek and see you later darling kind.  Her best friend has already lost a son to the war,  and has to cope with an aged grandmother who knows best - so they seek solace on the phone with each other.  And then one day over a cup of coffee, an American Major enters their (or rather Rose's) life.  Not what it seems - he is not necessarily in love with Rose but he loves to help.  He can cook too, and before she knows where she is he has visited her home, told her what to do, and prepared supper.  Not long after this the agency finds a woman who will "do" for Rose, three mornings a week, so perhaps all her troubles are over now?

This was a republication from Persephone - no. 72.  They do a good job of finding lost gems and presenting them to us in their lovely grey jackets.  Subject matter doesn't  take your interest?  Doesn't matter, I have never read one yet that wasn't worth the read.  I found myself hoping that Rose would get things right; that her daughter (with a very moody constitution) would learn that her mother loves her; that she wouldn't loose any of them to the war, and that generally things would work out for her.  Things do work out, not in the way you might imagine, but you have to take that journey with Rose to find out.  You might find, in this secular western world of the 21st century that there is a little too much sentimentality, a little too much searching for a religious answer, a little too much stiff upper lip.  You might - but then again, like me, you might not.  So if it crosses your radar, give it a go.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Animal Dreams - Barbara Kingsolver

This isn't a new book.  This isn't her more famous "The Poisonwood Bible".  But this is the second Kingsolver book I have read recently and I find her unputdownable.  It isn't a thriller, there are no dead bodies of the kind we find in police procedural tomes;  it's set in a very small town in the canyons of Arizona, mostly peopled by Hispanics and the decendants of miners.  So - not worth picking up then?  Oh yes.  Definitely.

Cosima (Codi) Noline left her widowed father and the small town of Grace for med school.  She found a nice guy - an emergency room doctor, and lives with him and her sister Hallie for several years, stopping short by only three months of getting her certification as a doctor.  Why?  A sort of "there's got to be more to life than this" voice, in her head.  Hallie goes of to Nicaragua, to teach peasants how to grow crops  and start to live again after the US went in and removed Noriaga (remember that?  it was a long time ago) and is unlikely to come back. So when Codi gets the call from a neighbour about her father's confused state of mind, there is nothing really to give up where she is and she arrives back home.  And there is the difficulty, for the town of Grace after fifteen years is just as strange to her as it was the day she left.  She'll have to find herself, her old memories - as well as keeping her eye on Dad.   She'll also have to find out what her life is really about.
If you happen across this one, don't give up if the first few chapters seem slow and rather troubled.  This, I think, is intentional, for this is how Codi feels.  It turns into a kind of love story, love of life, love of family and love of the land; and woven in there is a love story for Codi and a fight against the "big companies" that might just be the making of her.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Runaways - Elizabeth Goudge (formerly called Linnets and Valerians)

Yes, you were just thinking "I don't remember a book by Elizabeth Goudge called The Runaways", weren't you? I liked the old title so much better, but if you want a book to sell and the old title doesn't seem to mean much, perhaps change it.  That's what seems to have happened.  But you know, as a fan of Elizabeth Goudge (particularly her children's books), if you asked me name those children's books, it would be:  Little White Horse; Henrietta's House, and Valley of Song.  How could I have forgotten Linnets and Valerians from my childhood?  I had to get three quarters of the way through before I suddenly thought "I know how this book ends!" Then I remembered that I had recently found and read Smokey-House which I liked too; and I can tell you there are several others waiting for me (and that's without the adult books).   And before I review it, I want to tell you that this particular book won a competition in 2013, many many years after Elizabeth Goudge died.  The reason?  Well, the competition was called Uncover a Children's Classic.  The person who uncovered this little classic was Adrienne Byrne, who has presented a short but lovely introduction to this Hesperus Minor paperback edition.  If you have got this far reading my thoughts, I urge you to find it and read it - and this is why:
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The four Linnet children, with their mother dead and their father currently out in Eygpt with the British army, are staying with their grandmother, a woman who is too old to cope well with four children and a dog under her roof.  For every misdemeanour they are locked up, separately, and this makes them cry and shout all the more. So one morning, urged on by the oldest child Robert, who has managed to get out of his prison first, they escape, over the wall and away.  Actually not very far at all, but when you are a child, an adventure is an adventure!  They walk through the town and onwards where they discover, outside an Inn, a pony and what was called in those days a governess cart, into which they get, and the pony returns to it's own home in the next village with the children.  Home turns out to be the house of their Uncle Ambrose, who they didn't even know they had, and it is his decision to let them stay that changes them for ever.  Ambrose, a retired classical scholar and headmaster of a school probably like Eton is very strict indeed.  They can stay, but if they stay they must submit to an education, and they must also work for their pocket money.  Ezra, the handiman, gardener, housekeeper and cook to Uncle Ambrose is overjoyed - he has taken to the children immediately, and he (and his bees) will take good care of them all.

They will meet nice people and not so nice.  They will become very nice people themselves, but not in a sloppy or wet way.  They will meet a very big negro and a monkey who behaves like a human, both of which are new to them but once the initial shock is over will learn that they are both to be loved. They will also have some quite frightening adventures, as well as lovely ones.  And all children need to be frightened a little bit, don't they?

Describing a time (probably during Queen Victoria's reign) that is unfamiliar to any child now, this is a story full of magic.  The descriptions of things and people are so beautifully drawn you can see them before your eyes.  As a child, maybe you will not understand so readily the problems that adults face; as an adult, you will see the magic and understand what makes a good tale.  As with all Goudge's books, there is the constant fight between good and evil (hardly surprising as her father was a vicar and she never lost her own Christian faith).  Good and evil not of the kinds we hear and see on a daily basis in the 21st Century, but good and evil nonetheless, and when the evil is overcome, it is in a rather extraordinary way.  How to explain the draw of this darling book?  Delicious.  Not like cake although every page made me want another slice.  Wonderful.  There is a spot of magic in it that is wonderful.  Unexplainable.  Set in Devon rather a long time ago, the geography described takes you there, but to a different Devon;  a place where Ezra can still remember the old tales of pixies, good and evil, fallen angels, and you know perhaps that pixies have pointed ears?  So does Ezra.  I review books that I have enjoyed for many reasons.  This one is "just because I found it", but actually, it is more than that - an exciting book for young readers, that taps into the feelings that any child might experience, even though now that experience might be slightly different.  And a wonderful read-aloud too.  If I had children, I would certainly want to read this one with them.  Go on, get a copy and enjoy.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Bad Traffic Directions! and I mean BAD!

Today, I went to a funeral in a town that I was familiar with in my childhood.  The funeral was for a 92 year old cousin who was a great part of that childhood, and we have been in touch ever since.  Just so you know, it was a great day, and I got to see distant family members I had not seen since my early teens, and for the deceased, everyone had fun, laughed and talked and drank coffee - just the kind of gathering she'd have enjoyed.  So that was the good part.

The bad?  After a church service, we were all off the the crematorium for the final commital.  Not being familiar with this part of town, and the GPS not accepting Xtown Crematorium I asked the vicar in which direction the crematorium was.  His reply?

"It's not far, just drive towards Xtown and when you want to go right, go left"

Think about it.

What kind of instruction is that at all??!!  in the event it was several miles, involved driving through a town centre, driving along about 2 miles along a dual carriageway (still no sign for Crematorium), and finally asking for directions at a Harvester Restaurant ("have you ever been to a Harvester before?").  In the event, we had to reverse our journey by about a mile, and only then was the first sign for the Crematorium visible.

Now that vicar must get asked this question many times.  Also the church is on a narrow road with no car park, so people park on the road, and then set off, but with other traffic cannot possible follow each other or  the hearse with any guarantee of sticking together.  Know what I'd do?  I'd have little printed and laminated cards with directions on in my surplice, and hand them out every time that question was asked.  Doesn't really take much thought does it?  Well ... perhaps his mind  was on higher things!

Monday, 2 February 2015

The History of a Pleasure Seeker - Richard Mason

I was given this as a gift, and it sat on the shelf, just waiting to be read. Again, a very nice cover, showing a row of Dutch superior houses, on the canalside in Amsterdam, reflected in the canal - in rather a cartoon like style.  Just to ensure that you know we are talking about Holland, a row of tulips bloom along the bottom edge of the cover.

One of the comments on the back cover is:  Readers of a sensitive disposition be warned - this comment offered by the rather ladylike magazine, The Lady.  So do be warned, because not one third into the book there is the first desciption of a sexual  happening and just once, a fruity Anglo Saxon word!  Actually, I sound as if I am writing to titilate my readers.  Not at all, but there are a few more very graphic descriptions of sex in various forms, although don't let that put you off.  This is the story of an adventurer - not the explorer or pirate kind, but Piet Barol, a very attractive young man who is desperate to escape from the small village life he has lived up until the day he secures a post as tutor to the young son of a wealthy family in Amsterdam; to a boy whose fears will not let him leave the house, and make him take several ice cold baths a day.  Here Piet will learn how to behave in exhalted company, how to refuse the flirtations of at least one member of the family, to keep friends with the rest of the staff;  as well as tutoring the son of the family and dispelling his fears, setting him on the road to a normal life.  But there are several inhabitants in that house who seek more than a flirt with Piet.  Is he going to get what he wants out of life?  Well maybe, but you'll need to read this to find out!

Set in the first years of the twentieth century, the writing style of Richard Mason is perfect, there are no mistakes here about the kind of grammar that a writer of that time would have used, no words used in the wrong way or with modern terminology.  Well done Mr Mason.  And 50 Shades of Grey it ain't!  There is no "oh my", and certainly no inner goddess and it's all the better for it.  A different kind of book for me, and a pleasure to read.

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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Mariah Mundi The Midas Box - G P Taylor

My dear readers -you must know that I love books, but did you know that I am also a little bit in love with great covers (scroll down to see The Robot in the Garden, for one).  And this cover I really do like.  Thank you, David Roberts, you get a little nod from me for this smashing cover, and I believe you gave a nod to Edward Gorey?  Look at those little pointy feet, and Mariah's lovely windswept hair!

Mariah Mundi is a new hero to me, although this is the first book in a series of tales about the orphaned Mariah, the boy with the girl's name.  This is certainly not explained in this story, but of course it might come up later somewhere.

Mariah is given a train ticket by his school where he has lived and learned until at age 15, he's given a rail ticket and the confirmation of a job at The Regent Hotel, somewhere up on the cold east coast of England.  When he arrives, things are certainly not as expected, and having met some very odd passengers on the train, nothing is as it seems, either.  Many adventures, spooky in the extreme, very naughty people and others who may or may not be villains are mixed up with Mariah and his friend at the hotel, the girl Sacha.  Not only are things not as they seem, several people are not who they seems either!

I think this might appeal to people who are reading or who liked Harry Potter.  Mariah isn't a wizard (in training or otherwise), but at least one of the other characters is!  And the descriptions of the passages and rooms in the underground areas of the hotel are truly creepy and a lot of fun.  If you are a steampunk fan (adult or otherwise), this may also appeal, especially as the entire hotel - including a very speedy lift - seems to run on a giant steam boiler, somewhere in the depths.  Great fun!

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

A nom nom book!  What's that I hear you cry?  Well, finding a US library website whilst looking for book titles to suggest this month, it seems that on their blog page they refer to books with recipes and food within as nom nom books.  It made me laugh.  So that's what we are looking for in this cold month in the Northern Hemisphere (go for it in the Southern Hemisphere too if you follow this monthly post!);  something that makes us feel warm inside and as I don't read ordinary love stories and chick-lit, it has to be food or animals.

So it's food, .... and this month, find a fiction that is about food, or that has recipes.  Something like -

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones

Good reading everyone (or should that be Food reading? haha!)

Saturday, 31 January 2015

A Robot in the Garden - Deborah Install

Man finds broken robot, wife leaves him, man sets out to find someone to repair robot.  Whoa! rewind a bit there!  That was it in a nutshell but such a special nutshell that I want to add more.  Ben is married, his parents are dead, he has plenty of money.  His wife is a barrister, loves her job, and used to love Ben.  Used to?  Well..... Ben gave up his veterinary school place because he has money in the bank, his wife works, he doesn't mind doing the odd bit of housework, and generally he has become a bit of a dosser. And then one day, whilst he is looking out to the garden he sees a small, dirty robot sitting under a tree.

A Robot In The Garden

 Please don't think this is a book for children (although I am sure lots of children will come across this and enjoy it) despite the charming cover, which for me was the reason for picking this up in the first place.  The book is set just a few years in the future.  Robots have sort of come and gone, and many homes now employ androids for cleaning, driving, gardening, etc.  Amy, Ben's wife, would like an android to do the housework, but Ben doesn't see the point when he is at home all day and could do that himself.  Amy certainly does not want a dirty old robot inside the house, so Ben is told to take the robot to the tip. But first, he says "hello?" and the robot whirs a bit and when Ben points to his chest and says "Ben", the robot whirs a bit more and says "Tang!" "Tang!" "Tang!".  Well you can't really dump a bloke now you know his name, can you?  Amy leaves, and it's then that Ben takes the decision to find Tang's maker and get him repaired.  So the first stop is California, where he believes he will find the factory that made him.

I loved the fact that we were in a world where androids and robots were accepted.  I loved the way Tang learned new words and tried them out, slowly, like a small child would learn.  I loved the way Ben just had to keep going to try to get his friend back into proper working order.  It made me smile, it made me laugh - and the last chapter or two had me laughing out loud several times. Don't dismiss this little book because it's about a robot.  Nice easy reading style, plenty of adventure (descriptions of people the pair come across in their travels are little gems) and a not quite perfect ending make this a book I want to buy for every friend who reads.  Not a classic, not a prizewinner, just a lovely funny book for readers everywhere.   (And don't you love that cover?).

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands - Natasha Solomons

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands This is the hardback cover of a lovely lovely book.  A book which, if you are Jewish will ring a bell or two (I think).  If you are not Jewish you will find out things about the Jewish faith that will surprise you.  Either way, this is a book which has family and Judaism at it's heart, but it's not really about being Jewish, more about love and how that will affect a life.
Juliet is Jewish, married with two small children.  One morning she gets out of bed as usual, goes downstairs to make breakfast as usual, and notes that a painting of her as a child has been cut out of it's frame and taken, together with some money in an envelope attached to the back.  It is at that minute she knows that her husband George is gone.  She waits a couple of days before telling her parents, and then realises that under strict Jewish rules, she cannot remarry (because  he is not dead) unless he divorces her.  As he has completely disappeared, how will she ever find out where he has gone?  That's the "vanished husband".

But this book is so much more than that.  How Juliet copes with being almost invisible to the Jews in her neighbourhood, how she brings the children up in an almost secular way, how she finds a way to get on with her life.... it's all there.  There are men who love her, there are men who want just to paint her, there are those who want both.  So throughout her life, Juliet will take a lover, think sometimes about the vanished husband, and collect all those paintings of herself.  And at the very last, she will receive in the post, another painting to add to all those others.

This Natasha Solomons' third book, and they've all been worth reading, and have been for me easy to recall later (if a book "sticks" with me, it must be good!). I do recommend this one, and look forward to her next.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Crimson Rooms - Katharine McMahon

Buy *The Crimson Rooms* by Katharine McMahon online 
Here's another that's been on the shelves for far too long, and one I am so glad I decided to read.  My copy was around 370 pages, and I couldn't stop turning the pages.  For this is a murder mystery, a thriller, a family tale, with added strands of WW1 and a possible love story woven in between the pages.  I was rather remined of Maisie Dobbs (who I love), although Evelyn Gifford tells this story in the first person.  I'm also pleased to say that I have found there is a follow-on to this book "The Woman in the Picture" which continues Evelyn's story, and which I shall certainly be looking to acquire in the very near future.

Evelyn is thirtyone, a graduate of Girton college, and has passed all her law exams.  But in Britian in 1924, it is nearly impossible for women to be taken seriously as lawyers, and when she gets the chance to be taken on as an articled clerk by a small firm, she has to take it.  Even though her job seems to be sorting files in a damp basement; even though the firm's secretary has more leverage and certainly a better office than she does and even though she seems to be given only mundane enquiries to deal with, she grits her teeth and pushes on.  And then, in fast succession, two different cases are taken on by the firm she is employed by.  One, the probable murder of a woman by her husband two weeks after her marriage; the other, a poverty-stricken mother who has given her children into the care of a children's home and how desparately wants them back.  In both cases there is more than meets the eye.  

There is another sadness for Evelyn, she lost her beloved brother James to WW1, and she is stunned when, late one night a woman arrives at her home with a small child in tow, which she swears is the child of James. Mystery upon mystery between the pages of this very readable book.  Recommended (a lot!).

Friday, 16 January 2015

The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver

Why have I got several Barbara Kingsolver books on my shelves, and why is this the first one I have read?  No idea, except that it certainly will not be the last!  I first came across her name when she published a non-fiction account of her life on her country house and small-holding a few years ago, and thought it might be interesting.  And so it might be, as it's still unread, although not for long I feel.  I am trying to read books that have hung around unread for far too long, because why acquire them at all if you are never going to read them?  And of course, the new, shiny ones, especially those for review are grabbed, read and gone in the wink of an eye, leaving those treasures as yet to become friends, unloved on the shelves.

Let me tell you how much I loved this one!  I started to read it at about 10.00 in the morning, and got  finished it by 4.00 pm with a gap for shopping, lunch and a spot of housework  A glorious read, and one that tells a similar story to many others I have read, although superior to most. It reminded me of Because of Winn Dixie,  which is the tale of small child who adopts a stray dog outside a supermarket.  This is the tale of a small child who is thrust into the car of an adult at a filling station.  Both set in the United States and both have that magical quality about the very best of human actions, although you won't know it at first.  The child is"stunned"; wide eyed and seemingly unable to cry nor make any other noise, and in the motel Taylor Greer stops at that night with the child in tow, she finds that the child has been badly treated - not to put too fine a point on it. The child is a girl, and clings on tight with both hands to Taylor, who nicknames her Turtle.  And thus begins the story of how children can change a life, many lives. New friends and acquaintances all have a connection with this child in some way, even if it does not seem clear at first.   It didn't leave me with a tear in my eye, but it did make me laugh aloud several times.  I loved Turtle, and wondered how on earth Taylor was going to get to keep her for more than one reason.  Recommended.

Just one little flaw and nothing at all to do with the book, the writing or the author.  This cover, which is the UK paperback, is like all of the other covers I can find for this novel.  At least this one leads you to believe you might be in Arizona.... but all the others feature either trees, or plants in a garden.  The bean tree of the title is actually Wisteria, a glorious flowering  vine which, if happy will grow a trunk.  But it doesn't look like a tree, as most gardeners will know.  If you want to find out why "bean tree", you need to keep reading.  Turtle knows the name of every vegetable, every plant.........

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Lost & Found - ~Brooke Davis

                                                   First book, new author.  Great Debut.   

When you first start to read this book you will think it's all about Millie, who got left behind in the ladies underwear department by her Mum.   Well... it is, and then again it isn't.  Because there's also Agatha, who hasn't left her home since her husband died some years ago, and Karl, who has been dumped in a residential home because his daughter-in-law doesn't want him "... to die in my home".  How they are connected, and how that connection helps all of them is the story in the book.  The publishers compared this book with Harold Fry, or The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window, etc etc etc, but this book is like none of those.  I loved Millie straight off.  A sensible child who, rather than tell someone she has been left, writes notes for her Mum to find her straight away when she comes back.  When she comes across Karl, (in his late eighties and greiving for the loss of being "A Man"), and when both of them get together with Agatha something very odd and kind of magical happens, and you find yourself cheering them on.

I felt for both the elderly Karl, with too much ear hair and not enough head hair, and for Agatha, who had never loved anyone really and I wanted to know why.  And Millie?  I just desperately wanted her to find her Mum and be alright.  The descriptions of how Karl and Agatha feel about the aging process is just perfect..... and it had never occured to me that men actually do get to the point where they have to admit they are never going to have sex again, and how sad they feel about it (or certainly Karl does).  Agatha?  She's never enjoyed sex in her life, so perhaps the aging process for her is just something to be dealt with because she doesn't need and never did need sex so why worry when it's all over?

 And the end of the book, just half a page, is just right.  Not mawkish and manipulative, so no tears in the eyes, but a perfect, perfect finish to a lovely read.

Publication date 29 January 2015