Thursday, 30 June 2011

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness (from a sketch left by Siobhan Dowd)

Another book brought to my attention by fellow blogger Lovely Treez Reads.  It's rare that I buy hardbacks, but this one is going to be a birthday present, so it had to be the fully monty.  And of course, I had to read it first (carefully!) before it was packed.

Conor is a boy whose mother has cancer. (is this a book for children?  Yes it is, keep reading!).  He has a recurring nightmare every night; and spends his days getting his own breakfast, being bullied at school, and worrying about his Mum.  She is on her third or fourth round of chemo, and is getting weaker.  Conor knows she will recover, she always has. 
Then why, just after midnight, does the yew tree in the churchyard up sticks and walk into his garden, and peer in through his window?  He's not asleep - God! he only just woke up from the nightmare, and here is another.  The yew tree has stories to tell.  He is part of the old ways, the green man, the earth itself, and he will tell Conor four stories on the proviso that at the end, Conor will tell him a story, which must contain THE TRUTH.  Conor's grandmother arrives at the house, and it is obvious that she wants Conor to live with her, a move that cannot be contemplated - her antique filled, cold and tidy house is not like his home at all.  And then when he hears his Dad is coming over from America, where he now lives with a new wife, Conor wonders if he will take him back with him.  And regularly, the yew tree arrives for a little chat........

When I first started to read this book, I was unsure whether I was going to rate this book as highly as others, but by the time I had finished, I knew it was a special kind of book.  The truth is a powerful thing, and in Conor's nightmare, there is something that he cannot speak of, even to the yew tree.  But that truth must be spoken of, and in the telling of his own story, he must find the words.   Ultimately this book explains how Conor deals with grief - how might we deal with the same thing?  And yes, it is a book for older children, for young adults, for those of any age who love to read something different.  The book was based on a sketch of the story by Siobhan Dowd, who was suffering from cancer and could not get the book written.  She was posthumously awarded the Carnegie Medal for one of her four books; and Patrick Ness, who took up her idea and made it into this story, has just been awarded the Carnegie Medal for this year for the third in a trilogy of YA books.  Illustrated entirely in black and white by Jim Kay, who brings the darkness necessary onto the pages.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Update - The yellow and white border

Last year (2010) we cleared an area of brambles, put in fence posts and wire for a "see through" fence, and this is part of the border, showing the result of the first year's planting and growth.  Not bad so far! 

Also the first of the day lilies has arrived, so a quick pic of Crimson Pirate as, of course, he will be gone tomorrow! 

Did you know you can eat the flowers of Hemerocallis?      I have never tried myself, but I saw a nurserywoman who specialises in these eating them (she says only first thing in the morning).... but I couldn't do that!  Fancy wanting to eat a flower that only lasts a day...... I want to see the beauty, not taste it!!

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

An Evening with Danny Kaye -1981 Part 1

Got a couple of hours to spare?  Its raining, or you are awake at 2.00 am?  Just go to YouTube and type in the above.  Danny Kaye conducting the New York Philharmonic in 1981, when Zubin Mater was the conductor and director.  It was a fund raising concert, and full of fun and some lovely music too.  So you have to keep on clicking for the next segment?  There are 17 segments - its the whole concert.  You have time for this one.  I loved every minute and it finishes with a John Philip Sousa march that will have you cheering!  Lovely way to (not) waste a little time.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Strings Attached - Judy Blundell

Product Details  Even better than Blundell's first, I think.
Kit Corrigan's dream is to star in a Broadway show. She has a dance teacher who encourages her, and at 17, in 1950, she sets off for New York from Rhode Island with stars in her eyes. A part in a chorus is not long coming, and rooming with other chorus members is fun, even if you are poor. But then her boyfriend's father arrives one day and takes her off to a small furnished apartment with its own front door,and tells her that its for her and Billy, his son, once he has returned from the Korean war. No strings. Oh, but there are! shortly afterwards he turns up again with a small suitcase and asks her just to keep it overnight..... and that's how her payback begins. For she once asked him to do a great favour for her family, and even though she was only 12 then, they shook hands on the deal, and now he wants payback and more...... Billy, her fiance, is a troubled soul with a bad, bad temper from time to time. She loves him dearly, but is frightened of that temper. It's when he comes to her prior to shipping off to Korea that things start to fall apart - although the reader already has some idea of the troubles ahead.

The book roams around between 1946 and 1950, so you do need to concentrate on the date at the top of each chapter, but I didn't see this as a fault - rather as an interesting way of linking happenings up. It's aimed at the Young Adult market, but even my advanced years didn't stop me enjoying this one bit - and I can't see any reason why it should stop you, either. It has a sparse style, so the pace is kept up, and you want to keep reading. A good yarn, a thriller, a love story - with a few shocks to the system along the way.
[copy of my Amazon Vine review]

Friday, 17 June 2011

The Legend of Colton H Bryant - Alexandra Fuller (where truth is uglier than fiction)

  Product Details  Part of the review from The Times Literary Supplement says "... must be read as fiction".  Not because it is fiction, it isn't, it's just the telling of a young man's short life, but the style of the author makes it read like fiction, and for those who do not like non-fiction this is a real bonus, because Colton Bryant's short life is full of small things, and they are described so beautifully that you just have to keep reading. Even his death was a small thing, a fall that could have been avoided with the installation of safety rails for $2000.    I know nothing at all about Wyoming; have no idea at all why anyone would choose to stay in Wyoming:  a state full of wind that kills people, empty of much else except money makers (oil now, previously coal) and those who help to make them their money.   And it seems to me that having read the book I know a little more about Wyoming, and those who like wide open spaces must love what's left of those spaces,  even after the oil men have sliced off the topsoil and moved on.  The total disregard of their workforce by moneymakers all over the world is well described here, the conditions on the rigs, and in the dormitories for the workers, the disregard also for health and safety measures,  but it is woven together like magic with the story of Colton Bryant at school (not the place he wanted to be), in his teens (fun with other teens), and his marriage and short life, thoughout which his mantra was "if you don't mind, it don't matter"
I had tears in my eyes for the last couple of chapters, even though I knew before I started that he was dead, but it is in truth, two stories; first, the carelessness of American big business and the amount of profits involved, and second but much more importantly, a love story involving Colton, his best friend Jake, and his family.  I was glad to have made the boy's acquaintance.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Lust in the dust: In search of a new genre


The day I saw a book cover of a cowboy with a large stetson, his shirt open to the waist, and a glistening six pack on view, I wanted to find out what this was!!  So with the help of some friends, I decided on three titles to gain an insight into a new (for me) world.

First I attempted  The Twelve Month Marriage Deal by Margaret Mayo.  This is not a cowboy romance, but I think it needs to be said that we have to have something to compare the other two with, and that isn’t hard, as it is probably the worst written piece of drivel I have had the (bad) luck to get my hands on for years, if not ever.  Her thong was discarded with a flick of the wrist” is a real sentence in this book,  and it’s one of the better ones.  The story of Elena, a Spaniard home to Seville from Los Angeles because her sister has just run away from her fiancĂ©  the dark and handsome banker Vidal Marquez,  has to be read (or not, is my recommendation) to be believed!  Hearts beat so hard that they nearly leap out of chests, gasps are common, whooshes of pleasure are experienced  (I kid you not),  emotions are all over the place, and so is the author.  Considering that all but one of the characters are Spanish,  I found it very odd that for a breakfast business meeting Elena and Vidal chose to eat toast  in a cafe in Seville...... With the odd Spanish word or three, the idea that these are Spanish characters are conveyed, but all you need to know is that she is asked to take the place of her errant sister and marry Vidal to save her parents’ bank. I gave up at page 70 because it was so bad, and skipped to the last sentence just to see what had happened.  Dear reader, I leave it to you to decide whether you want to read this pile of old tosh or not, complete with errors of all kinds (was the proof reader drunk?).
Next came  Cinderella and the Cowboy by Julie Christenberry.  No sex in this one, but lots and lots of kissing, which made hearts beat faster, and made our hero  Jack more determined to win Elizabeth than ever!  Very large print which meant it was all over in two hours, but unlike the book above, was not badly written;  it was just written for a certain kind of reader (who is not me, but I gave this one a chance).  It involves a widow arriving at her father-in-law’s house, with the clothes she and the two kids stand up in after the death of her errant, rodeo star husband.  Her father-in-law takes her in, and is glad to do so, not least because with the two children he has a ready-made family now, and someone to leave the farm to.  Jack, his foreman and close friend, falls for Elizabeth as soon as he claps eyes on her, but she’s having none of it.  Having experienced life with her  ne’r  do well husband, who didn’t stay round much and left for ever straight after the announcement Elizabeth’s second pregnancy, she cannot possibly become involved with another man.  It is enough that her father-in-law knows how badly his son behaved, and wants his family with him.  Light and fluffy nonsense, and no sex before marriage (except for the kissing).
Finally I read Marriage, Outlaw Style by Cindy Gerard.  A quick dip into this and I knew I must expect lots of sex.  A heavy sigh, a pleasured groan, and the sensual journey of lips and breath and stubbled jaw began a downward descent”.  Well, don’t all cowboys have stubbled jaws,  I thought as I started at chapter one?   There’s more of the same:   burning, sizzling, hot, sweet, etc.... you get the picture!  Written by someone who really enjoys describing  sex, but isn’t quite as good at writing a book... too many references to Stetsons (I know this is America, but the guy is a builder, for gawd’s sake, not a cowboy!), feelings that cannot be stated, steely eyes, grim determination – and from this you   have probably realised that the two main characters love each other but just don’t know it.   Even a week up in the mountains in a log cabin with no transport can’t get them to see it!  Not as bad as book one, and I did get to the end by skimming over the oft repeated denials  of love in the loneliness of the dark hours of the night until, like all of those books beloved by people who are romantics at heart, realisation dawns for the two lead characters.  I made it sound so good you nearly wanted  to read it, didn’t you?!   Although the author has won several romantic writing awards in the US, for me it was badly written, repetitive,  and  I must be wrong because obviously there is a good living to be made out there writing this kind of dross.  I can’t recommend it, although the lusty bits might give some people ideas.......
Will I read any more of the like?  NO!  It was the discovery of that book cover that made me think there was a whole new genre out there.  But I think not.  Mills and Boon and similar publishers (Marriage, Outlaw Style was publised by Silouette Desire)  have always  had themed stories:  Doctors and Nurses, Executives and Secretaries etc, I just missed the fact that a man in a Stetson has a great appeal to the readers of these books!

Book  1 scored half a point out of a possible 10 and that because it is a book.
Book 2 scored 5/10 because believe it or not, there was a half decent story in there.
Book 3 scored 3/10 because there was a story.
The opinions expressed in the above article are purely my own and are not aimed at any author in particular.  In advance I apologise for any hurt my opinions may cause, and now I am going back to reading some good stuff.  Hallelujah!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Those of a squeamish disposition, look away now as I am about to describe the great mousie mystery at Pine Tree Cottage!

I was on holiday in Portugal at the beginning of May, and two friends came to have a holiday in our house and to cat-sit Fred and Mabel.  When we returned, Lou asked me, with a smile, how often I cleaned the floor in the dining room.  As I had cleaned it the day I left, I wondered why she'd asked.  She said she had found a dead shrew near their food bowls.  I thought that a great mystery, but thought no more about it.  Then, a couple of weeks ago, in the living room, I found a dead house-mouse without a mark on him.  Searched for signs of infestation, but found nothing, so I don't think he was living here prior to his untimely death!  Certainly he must have been in the house overnight because the cats are locked in at night, and there he was, at 7.am, dead as a dodo.  And now, today, Mabel is giving me a good shout about something whilst I am at the computer.  She had a good breakfast, so maybe she is thirsty?  I rinse out the water bowl and refill, and whilst I am placing it on the floor, I spot a small object in the corner next to the food bowls.  Further investigation reveals a perfect pigmy shrew - dead, of course.  And that's him/her above.  Deceased but perfectly formed and photographed for posterity.  Size?  the body is as long as the short side of a credit/debit card.   Soooo ....... is it Fred, or is it Mabel?  Because someone in this house is a mouse murderer.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

News from the garden!

Tree peony in full bloom but sadly one of the things that suffered with too much heat too early.

Well! after thinking that the game was up with all that sunshine but no rain, things are improving. The heat in Spring made things come into flower too early and they didn't last long. The rule in my garden is that I don't water. I do break that rule sometimes of course, and all new stuff is well watered for a few days, but I could see a few established things wilting, so had to break the rule this time. Anyhow, with a few big storms and quite a lot of rain, things are on the move bigtime! In the yellow and white border, the tangutica clematis Lampton Park is just covered in buds, with a few flowers out... probably more than 100 buds, and this is only its second year. A lovely clump of astrantias are in full bloom and will last for ages, because they have flowers which go dry and remain on the stems.


On the other side of the garden, the last peony to flower is showing its colour for the first time - a deep carmine pink, with ruffled inner petals; so beautiful.  And,  joy of joys, all the day lilies (Hemerocallis) are budding up including a newly planted white one Arctic Snow - the blousy ladies of the Summer are on their way.