Thursday, 31 March 2011

Hand Me Down World by Lloyd Jones

Ines is a black African, working in a hotel in Tunisia. She becomes pregant and bears a child by a handsome guest. Soon after the birth, he removes the baby and disappears, and she sets off for Berlin to find her child. This is the same story told twice - first by those she meets on her fraught journey as an illegal immigrant to Europe, and then by herself. What people see when they meet Ines is not necessarily the truth, and the question you must ask at every point is "would I do this for my child?" Lloyd Jones is an interesting author. Every book he writes is in a different style, and the subject matter varies widely. Other titles I've read are Autobiografi , about Enver Hoxha of Albania (what an insight into the old, Eastern Europe that was!); Mr Pip, civil war on a Pacific island, and a school teacher with only one book to use for every lesson; and Here at the end of the world we learn to dance, set in NZ and Argentina and about war, love and dance - the dance in question being the tango. You may find Lloyd Jones hard going, but if you come across him, have a go. I am always ultimately satisfied when I get to the end of one of his, even if at the beginning I think "what is this all about?"

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Maisie Dobbs - a nice little series

I started to read these a few years ago, and am currently reading the latest in paperback.  The author is English, but has lived in the USA for many years.  Maisie Dobbs, a working class girl who by good fortune, gets a first class education, and makes a couple of friends  that will help her in life - with support, not money, is a real heroine.  She lives and works in London - her office is near Warren Street Tube station.  The books are set in the period between WW1 and WW2, and each can be read as a stand alone, but as a series they knit together well, and if read in order they will tell a whole story.  Maisie had a fiance, a doctor, but he was shell shocked in the first world war and never recovered from that.  What makes her different from the usual detective is that she is a phsychologist , and has great empathy with those who need it.  She is also a "new woman" quite unusual at that time - single, own business, employs a male assistant, and manages, throughout each book, to take you with her, through her investigations and her own private thoughts and feelings, in a quite different way from the normal detective series.  Indeed, the crimes she solves are not always murders, and quite often she must deal with the feelings of a client rather than any crime she has been asked to solve.  She drives a rather dinky sports car too.  I like her very much.  The series is as follows:

Maisie Dobbs
Birds of a Feather
Pardonable Lies
Messenger of Truth
An Incomplete Revenge
Among the Mad
The Mapping of Love and Death

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Last Dance with Valentino - Daisy Waugh

Last Dance with ValentinoRudy Guglielmi, gigolo, exhibition dancer and handsome man, is the lover of a wealthy married woman, Blanca de Saulles, when Jennifer Doyle arrives to be the nanny of her son. Jennifer is an immigrant from England, together with her father, a portrait painter who likes to drink too much, and he soon falls in love with Mrs de Saulles whilst attempting to complete her portrait.   Rudy and Jennifer meet one day, and in the course of that day dance on the terrace and find themselves drawn to each other. He will become Rudolf Valentino (the first international sex symbol), and she just may be the mysterious Jennifer he calls for on his deathbed.

They loose contact with each other for several years, although both are living and working in Hollywood. There are some very nice studies of early Hollywood characters woven in here, Mary Pickford, Anita Loos, Clara Bow amongst them. Not too much of the famous names, but the characters come alive on the page; Jennifer herself, who is taken up by Perry, a coke-sniffing dealer, who she can't resist (the sex is brilliant); the twins Phoebe and Lorna who become Jennifer's real friends (one who dyes her hair white blonde and dresses in black, and the other who dyes her hair black and dresses in white). There is a real feel for the way Hollywood operated back then and it doesn't seem to have changed much at all. This is a book about the movies as well as the characters and whether or not it was written with this in mind, it would make a brilliant film.

Daisy Waugh, grandaughter of novelist Evelyn Waugh, and journalist, author and mother of three has pulled off quite a clever stunt, weaving truth and fiction together in a dual time line love story which must have an unhappy ending. For Valentino did die a horrible death and there was a reported deathbed declaration of love for a "Jennifer". This then, is Jennifer's story - involving love, hate, life, death and cocaine - and I couldn't put it down.

(this is a copy of my Amazon review)

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

The Yellow and White Border

What a good title for a book (would-be authors feel free!).  In fact, I am talking about the garden.  Last year I had an old border full of brambles dug over, and added 2 tons topsoil.  Then empty, my decision was to choose a colourway.  Too many "white" borders around, and this garden is no Sissinghurst, so I decided on yellow and white.  During the winter I bought a witchhazel, which comes in many flower colours, but of course mine was yellow, and that will be planted out very shortly, now flowering is over.  When the original area of land was dug over, loads of bulbs came out (I do remember seeing a lot of daffodils when we first came to view the house 9 years ago this month), and were put in a small bucket for replanting.  Call it lax, but I never did replant last autumn, and then we had two lots of snow, and then Christmas, and then..... suddenly, a couple of weeks ago, I realised that all those old bulbs were budding up!  Who'd have thought it?  Anyway, the majority of them are now back in their old home, and the buds getting fatter by the day.  I think that I may have created a good show for each spring in that new boarder - it's like painting, but even though I can't paint, I can create something lovely to look at. 

Saturday, 12 March 2011

The man who invented "Babe"!!


Product Details Dick King-Smith wrote the book "The Sheep Pig" from which came the children's film "Babe".  He wrote over 100 others, and all of those in the second half of his life; for first he was a farmer - not a good one, but a farmer who loved being a farmer.   He married young, and produced three children, but most of this book is taken up with stories of the animals that lived (and died) on his farm, not all of them farm animals.  A succession of well-loved dogs are here, and a succession too, of cheaply purchased milk cows, who gave milk, although not a lot; cows that stamped on his feet, kicked him, and shat on him.  Chicken that gave eggs and were eaten by foxes.  Badgers who lived in the woods, and pigs that shared with woods with them.  When he eventually lost the second farm (he was no business man!) he took the decision to train as a teacher, and for the latter part of his working life taught in a local school, and wrote in the holidays.  He also had a short, but enjoyable career on children's television.  His first book was turned down twice, but eventually accepted by the publishing firm Victor Gollantz who published several, but he wrote so many that he was published by various houses.  What a lovely man!  He died earlier this year at 91, having lived a life full of very small adventures, many of which are described in this short, delightful book.  Look out for little line illustrations throughout by Harry Horse, who is a children's book illustrator - they are delightful too.  I read huge chunks of this out loud to Mr Mac because they were so funny - as descriptions of animals getting the upper hand often are. 

Saturday, 5 March 2011

The Angel Maker - Stefan Brijs


Brijs is a Belgian, the book is set in Holland on the borders of Germany and Belgium in the latter half of the 20th Century, and it's dark, dark, dark!   It is a truly gothic and page-turning read.  A doctor returns to his father's village house to practice medicine; accompanied by three babies, all of whom have hare lips.  The babies, he tells everyone, are his, and it would be hard to argue with this, because like him, they have ginger hair, and like them he has a hare lip.  And although we do not realise at first, the doctor has Asperger's syndrome, so it is very difficult for him to meet people's eyes, he doesn't have a sense of humour, and he is very intense.  He employs a retired schoolmistress in the village to help out with the children. Due to his own childhood, his distorted (or is it?) view of God and Jesus, will affect all that he does.   Told in three parts, the middle section of this novel will throw light on the first section, and lead you, with your hands over your mouth into the third, and it may keep you awake nights! 

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Royal Opera House Chairs......

Well, 6 spares from a production of The Queen of Spades sit round my dining table.  I've had them for around 8 years now, and the friend I bought them from had them for a couple.  The seat and back covers are dark grey damask, and have done well and worn well, considering that they were only meant to be looked at!  But today, oh joy!  I was in our local house clearance warehouse, and found a huge length of fabric in a tiny herringbone pattern, still grey, enough for every chair to have a new seat and a new back pad for .......wait for it!.......
£12.50 - I kid you not!

Of course, will have to pay an upholsterer, but that's like free fabric, isn't it!
Sometimes luck just goes your way.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

The Land of Green Ginger - Noel Langley

Product Details Book for children which is truly a pantomime!  It has Aladdin emperor of China, a genie; two naughty princes; Widow Twankey; a charming hero, who is looking for the land of green ginger which has mysteriously disappeared; a beautiful  princess and her selfish and greedy guardian, and the poet Omar Khyam.  Phew!  A lovely romp, and the Faber and Faber p’back cover makes you want to pick up the book at once it’s so beautiful.  Good for reading aloud with different voices.  This was originally a story from the 1930's, rewritten by Noel Langley in 1966, and gloriously, it has survived!