Saturday, 20 May 2017

Beloved Stranger - Clare Boylan

Another of those "Cinderella" books (left on my shelves for too long) which I am pleased to have found and read at last.  Superficially, this is the story of a marriage - a marriage of 50 years. Married young;  Dick, young, handsome and sexy; Lily, young, pretty and submissive.  Their marriage has been long and happy,  it has produced one child.

But after a frightening incident one night, Dick is diagnosed as bi-polar.  As we read, we realise that his "moods" throughout the marriage have a root cause.  And when he suffers an episode of paranoia, he is sectioned.  And now we begin the see how Lily has relied on Dick for their life.  We also see how much Dick has relied on Lily for every home comfort.  We also realise that we only know what people want to tell us and behind closed doors, things may be very different.  Dick's paranoia worsens; Ruth their daughter attempts to help but she has a different view of the marriage to her mother.  Very readable with a metaphorical "kick in the bollocks" at the very end.

A serious look at mental illness through the looking glass of a loving couple, this may make you think "what if.....".  Sady, Boylan, who died in 2006, didn't write enough books for me.  This is the last one I had on the shelves, although there are a couple to seek out.    

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Secret Rooms - Catherine Bailey

A mystery discovered whilst researching for another book altogether meant that the author, with the permission of the current Duke of Rutland, set out to solve a riddle from the past and in doing so found two more.

The 9th Duke of Rutland died in 1940, in a small set of rooms on the ground floor of Belvoir Castle, Rutland.  His wife, the Duchess had called the doctor as a matter of urgency but when he arrived he was not permitted the enter, the Duke's footman had been ordered by the Duke not to let him in until he had "finished something" - he died next day, and his son ordered the rooms locked and sealed.  They stayed that way for over 60 years.  And there the mystery starts, although it begins much earlier, in 1898 when Haddon, the first child and heir and the elder brother of the 9th Duke, dies.

Catherine Bailey discovers three gaps in the family papers, and when she sets out to find out what those gaps covered in the history of the Manners family she finds things that you couldn't make up!  For me, this was as exciting as a thriller, only better;  it was shocking - the word Machiavellian comes to mind when thinking about John, Duke of Rutland's mother Violet!  It was truly a tale of power that goes with place;  it will bring you up with a shock on on sorts of subjects; and it was a real page turner!  Oh, and it will give you a feel for the way things were then in the upper classes and in society and Parliament.  You may think again about how politicians behave now;  and it is certain that our current armed forces are better supported by senior staff now than they were then..... If you remember the last series of Blackadder and the running joke about Haig's Drinks Cabinet - well, think again.

The book Catherine Bailey started out to research was originally about the number of workers from Belvoir Castle and the Belvoir estate who marched off to WW1, and she has added the entire list of the war dead from Belvoir towards the end of the book.   Recommended.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Run - Ann Patchett.

As you may have noticed, I have read several books this year that have been on the shelves far too long. I am continuing to do the same because it seems a shame if I miss another lovely read because I am too keen to pick a new book!  This is one of those Cinderella books ( left on the shelf).

Today's book, recommended to anyone who loves a well told tale that does not involve murder and mayhem, is by an author I have only read one other of.  That was Bel Canto.  Ann Patchett seems able to get beneath the skin of people so that you understand easily that what you see is not always what you get.

Doyle is the father of a mixed family and he's a widower.  His oldest son Sullivan is white, and living in Africa, seldom home, and then for only very short visits. Why did he leave home?   His two younger brothers are adopted, black, and in their late teens.  Good school, nice area, they are doing well, and Doyle looks forward to them leading rewarding lives - politicians perhaps?  The boys themselves, Tip and Teddy, have other ideas.  Tip wants to be a ichthyologist (scientist who studies fish) and Teddy, because of a much loved uncle, is leaning towards the priesthood.

There is another family that has a connection with that one.  Tennessee, a single black mother, and her daughter, Kenya.  And on the night of a dreadful snowstorm when Tennessee pushes Tip to safely out of the path of an oncoming vehicle, the two families will become linked forever.

There are several threads in these pages, and eventually they will all come together.  Patchett has a gentle style, even when things that are not so gentle are being discussed, or when things happen that make the reader silently say "oh no!".  But she seems to understand that behind every family there is a story, and behind closed doors there is sometimes a mystery.  Liked this one a lot.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Fledglings - what are they?

The birds in the picture are collared doves.  Easily identified by the dark feathers at the neck. I have some that visit my garden, although this is not a post specifically about collared doves (or doves of any kind!)  It is about fledglings - and until I found an article in the newspaper about fledglings, I was totally ignorant of what that actually meant.

So when I spotted a smallish bird with the same colouring but without the dark feathers, sitting quite happily on a garden bench, I wondered what the hell I had found.  I was worried not only about cats (we are on the end of a route taken by several neighbourhood cats and as the main road is next, they return they way they came); but also because we have lost several birds to sparrowhawks.  I know raptors are glorious - but not when they take another bird in front of me.  Anyway, I kept my eye on the one on the bench.  He seemed to disappear about 8pm and reappear around 7 am for about a week.  Sometimes two adults would join him - and appeared to be showing him how to stretch his wings..... and I still never caught on!!  Then I saw the article in the paper an appeal from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) - part of which I reproduce here, for interest, information, and general edification!

Just before baby birds are ready to tentatively extend a wing, wiggle a tail feather and take flight for the first time, they leave their nest - "fledge" as it's called.  They then spend a couple of days on the ground and round the nest developing their final flight feathers.  The fledglings will appear fully feathered, and will hop around your garden in broad daylight - hence why members of the public are convinced they need rescuing.  Fledglings are extremely unlikely to be abandoned.  The parent birds are either gathering food, or more probably nearby with a beady eye on their youngster waiting for you to leave.  They know best about rearing their young.  Removing a fledgling from the wild (or your garden) significantly reduces it's chances of long time survival, so please don't "kidnap" the baby, even in a well-meaning way.  There are only a couple of situations when the public should give a helping hand.  If the bird is found on a busy road or pathway, pick it up (carefully) and move it a short distance to a safer place. It must be within hearing distance of where it was found.  

Similarly, if you find your cat or dog eyeing up a fledgling, keep the animal in for a couple of days (or the dog on a lead).  If you find an injured fledgling, contact (in the UK) the RSPCA.  You might phone your local vet as they do sometimes treat wild birds for free.  

Finally, if you discover a baby bird on the ground either with no feathers or covered only with a little coat of "down", it has likely fallen out of the nest ahead of schedule.  Occasionally it is possible to put these babies back in the nest, but only if you are 100% sure of the nest it fell out of.

So now you know.  Why, at my age, didn't I know how fledglings behaved?  We have at least two sets of nesting blackbirds in our hedges every year, and at some point there is always a lot of running up and down the grass and bobbing up and down with several of them at once.  Now I know that they are using our grass for take-off practice!  Keep your eyes open now, you may come across a fledgling for the first time.
Image result for collared dove

Friday, 5 May 2017

Elsewhere - Gabrielle Zevin

  What happens when you die?  An interesting question, and a rather lovely answer in this Young Adult read.  Liz awakes on a boat.  In the bottom bunk of a cabin.  In the top bunk is another girl and neither of them know how they got there and where they are going.  At last the boat reaches shore, and on disembarking, Liz is greeted by a woman who says she is her Grandmother, even though Liz has never met her before.  And where is she?  She is Elsewhere.

Yes, the woman is Liz's grandmother, dead before Liz was born, but certainly appears younger than she should be.  And that's because life in Elsewhere goes backwards - one begins to get younger from the day one arrives.  And one has to get a job, too.

Liz never wanted to die - she wasn't a suicide, she was the victim of a hit and run driver and now she's never going to see her family of best friend again - is she?

There are lots of books about the afterlife, some are best sellers, some are constantly borrowed from  library shelves, some never sell.  This one is probably one of the better ones, and certainly has a lot of charm.  Written for a younger audience, I see no reason why any age group should not read and love this.  I did.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

After Moses - Karen Mockler

Why was this on my shelf for eight or nine years?  No idea, especially now I have read it and know that it is a damn good read!!   I looked it up for reviews after I'd finished, and could only find one on Amazon UK.  When I look at the US reviews there were only about five - and yet this book has been floating around since 2003.  I've reproduced the UK cover, but although clever and does have a bearing on the story, it is not striking in any way and perhaps that is the problem.  Even on Goodreads the book has quite a small group of readers.

Moses is a small boy.  Around five when his mother is murdered and her will decrees that he should be brought up by his Aunt Ida.  Ida is the middle of three siblings (Shoe (Susan) the mother of Moses, Ida and Johny).  There is a father, but Shoe leaves him before he knows she is pregnant with his child because she realises that he is not the man she wants as a father for that child.  She didn't know she was going to die, but she had left a will, and so Moses goes to live with his grandparents, with Ida being the surrogate mother.  Ida's an artist - she could probably be a best selling artist, but she lives at home, paints her dreams, and is not worried about sales.

And then a man called Max arrives in her life.  This is when the book takes a completely different turn, and I found myself sort of drawing myself away whenever Max spoke.  At first I regarded him as seedy, then manipulative, and then..... then...... No, you are going to have to get hold of a copy somewhere and see what this man really is.  But it will be worth it.  You know those fat books you buy at the airport for a long flight?  Me too.  And I usually forget the story about three days after I turn the last page - but not this one.  This is not the usual page turner at all.  It is beautifully written, and that feeling of dread that crept up on me was so well drawn that I believed that some harm would  come to someone before the book's end.  I was compelled to finish it, and read it in just 24 hours. 

It seems that this is Mockler's only book - pity.  She has been writing another for some years, but I guess life has taken over and she may or may not get round to finishing it.  Wish she would if it is as good as this one!

 ** Please note there are a couple of scenes of a sexual nature in this book.



Saturday, 29 April 2017

Mrs Mac Suggests....... what to read in MAY

May is such a lovely month here in the UK.  Trees are flowering, summer flowers are budding up and ready to go, the world is a pretty place, even when war is tearing countries apart and bullies are winning.  Be that as it may, I looked on my shelves tonight for

A book that looks boring!
 Adopt that old maxim that you can't judge a book by it's cover and see what you can find on your shelves that looks boring at first sight.  I don't know where I got my choice, but it's been on the shelves a while.  The cover is a group of adolescents showing off in the street, a black and white photograph, which has never looked interesting enough - but now it's off the shelf it seems to be much more interesting than it looks.... it's

Liza's England by Pat Parker


Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Emperor of Paris - C S Richardson

Product Details 

 A quiet little gem, this one.  If you like beautifully written sentences, fairy tales, a hint of romance, then you might seek this one out.  There are several characters in this book and at first their lives seem to have nothing whatsoever to do with each other. Time skips about a bit too.  But wait.  And read on.  At about the half way mark the threads start to knit up.

There is Octavio, born on the 8th August, 1908 (what else would he be called?), the son of a baker; and there is Isabeau,  with her scarred face, painting restorer at the Louvre.  Both are shy and lonely.  Then there is Octavio's father, who returns from the Great War mentally broken; Jacob the artist who cannot sell a sketch; and Henri, the second hand bookseller - together with other lesser characters, these threads will eventually come together and form a wonderful picture of Paris in the first part of the twentieth century, and involve you in some stories about life, some hopeful, some sad.  Lovely.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Brown Angus Butterfly

Did I see a Brown Angus in my garden a few days ago?  What I thought I saw was a brown butterfly with yellow spots.  I have looked at dozens of pics of both butterflies and moths since then, and the nearest both in identity and location would seem to be the Angus Brown.  I am not a lepidopterist (is that the right word?).  There is a blue that is similar (not true blue with with the blue tinge, but it was not that), but this was def. brown.  Sadly I did not see the underneath - or rather did not notice, perhaps - as it was there and gone in a couple of seconds.  But I had never seen one before, so tried to identify it.  This is not my picture, either, but it does give a clear identity of the Brown Angus.       
Brown Argus (upperwing)

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

This is only the third Steinbeck that I have read.  I came to him rather late, probably because when I was at school we didn't have to analyse the arse off a book to know what literature was (and still is).  From Amazon, I learn that there are loads of editions of this with notes to help you understand........ Really?  This is a novella of just over 100 pages, and even if you are a slow reader, you could polish this off in a couple of days and you'd understand it, too.  And I know from remarks from other booky folk that they don't "do" Steinbeck because they were sick of him before school ended.  Sad, sad, and a loss for them, for they are books to grip the heart in a number of different ways.

Let me tell you a little about this one.  There is no date or time line for it, but as it was published in the late 1930s originally, it's a sure thing that the setting was the American Depression.  It's about men.  About how they do things, how they feel about things, how they get along.   It shows it's age - remember that sexism was not invented in 1937;  people still called those with a dark skin "niggers"; and in this book a woman with just a bit too much rouge, lipstick and curled hair is a "tart".  But don't take offence.  The world was a different place then.

Lennie is a giant of a man, tall, broad, huge hands and with a heart of gold.  A mental age of maybe 5 years, and not much of a memory, except for the things George tells him.  We don't need to know what the original relationship was when they were children, but they have certainly known each other most of their lives, and George is now stuck with Lennie.   The two of them are drifters.  They hitch lifts, they walk, they take menial farm jobs all over California.  They do what they can, and they dream.  The same dream for both of them.  They are going to save enough to buy a small farm, some hens, enough vegetables to feed themselves, a couple of pigs for slaughter every year, and the rabbits.  Lennie is addicted to soft things - animal fur, velvet; so the thought of keeping those soft furry creatures is his part of the dream.  But Lennie has no idea of his own strength.  And that is how trouble creeps into their itinerant life.

If you've never seen a film of this book, don't go looking for it, because no-one can, I think, do justice to Steinbeck's word pictures.  Just read the book, with all its beauty, its hardship, its cruelty, its sadness.  But do read it.

Friday, 14 April 2017

Should You Ask Me - Marianne Kavanagh

I loved this.  I couldn't put it down, and read it in a day.  Has just the right amount of mystery that keeps you reading, and the ending is just right too.
In the weeks approaching D-Day, 1944, Wareham in Dorset is full of Amerian soldiers.  The Second World War is in full flow.  London is being bombed and people are tired.  When two bodies are discovered near the coast it seems likely that they are old bodies, and they are likely to be the result of an old quarry accident.  That is, until Mary Holmes walks into the local police station and states that she knows about the bodies and she killed them both.  She's over eighty, and the Sargeant asks a young policeman to take her statement. She tells a long and meandering tale, and it may not even be true.  And wihilst William, the war damaged constable listens to Mary, he is thinking.  For he too has a tale to tell and it is tearing him apart.
Set on the Isle of Purbeck, Kavanagh has got everything so right.  The village names, the  geography, even the names of businesses in town (Frisby's shoes, for goodness sake!).  She has a style that is easy to read, involves you staight away, and produces empathy for both the leading characters. A real page turner, a short of old-fashioned thriller (no serial murders or drugged wives here!), so good that I'd recommend it it anyone who enjoys a read a little off the mainstream. 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

These Dividing Walls - Fran Cooper


 I felt quite at home in Paris reading this book. It has a familiar ring - a large city, trouble brewing in a hot Summer, and the residents of a apartment block, which at one time was a whole house or two. I got to know several of the people who live there, some better than others and some not really at all. Into this building comes Edward, a young Englishman who has taken the offer of the use of a friend's flat for a while, after suffering the devastating loss of his beloved sister in a traffic accident. I think it is fair to say that when people live in blocks of flats or apartments, they get to guess things about their neighbours, but don't necessarily get to know them. There's a family with three children under five, the mother washed out and on the verge of a breakdown. There's a couple in love and married for 30 years but she doesn't know that he no longer has a job to go to and leaves the house every morning to go across Paris and sit in a cheap cafe reading the paper all day. Then, a newly married Muslim couple buy one of the apartments, and move in...... It's a really hot Summer in Paris, tempers are frayed, things go wrong, and in the middle of it all the man without the job has a conversation with a new "friend".
The tension can be felt, just there, under the surface. What is going to happen? Someone is going to get hurt, aren't they? I found myself worrying about Edward;  the wife with the children, and the man without a job, and the rough sleeper across the road - and the others too. I dislike the mob mentality that large groups wear, I just see no way to stop them. Perhaps something that hot Paris Summer will change things for everyone concerned.
The author is English, but spent three years in Paris, and she certainly gives you a feel for it. I liked her style a lot - just a story about people, but the mounting tension made it a page turner for me. I recommend this and look forward to more by Fran Cooper.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Mrs Mac suggests - What to read in APRIL

Hello! hello! and Springtime greetings. Well the date has come and gone, and the daffs are flowering, but there isn't enough of that lovely Spring sunshine just yet..... come on, come on!

While we are all waiting, let's have a look at what to read in April.

   How about a book starring your favourite literary sleuth?

Yes!  that sounds like a really good idea, and I think I will look for and read a book by Rex Stout, starring that overweight, clever, short-tempered food loving Nero Wolfe.  He wrote so many - novellas and short stories too, so there are plenty to pick from, but the very first was:


Take your pick though - they are stand-alones although the characters appear in book after book.


Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Spring is Sprung....

My  Mum, who has been gone a very long time, pops into my head from time to time, unannounced.  I had not thought about this little rhyme for some years now, but my Mum used to say it on the first day of spring every year when I was small.

What is it?  Where does it come from?  And where would a little country lady who knew no Americans and only left the country once in her life get this from?  And it sounds as though it should be said in a New Jersey accent......

The Spring is sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where dem boidies is?

They say the boid is on the wing
But that's absoid
Because the wing is on the boid!

Answers on a postcard please.........!

Pereira Maintains - Antonio Tabucchi

 Doctor Pereira was a newspaper reporter, crime pages, for years.  He finds himself now in late middle age editing the "culture" page of a new evening newspaper.  It's 1938, Portugal is under the grip of the dictator Salazar, who is supported politically by Franco in Spain, Hitler in Germany Mussolini in Italy. Guernica has been bombed.  So it's no different at that time than other countries today - where ordinary people have to get on with their lives and do ordinary things.....

When Periera meets Rossi, a young Italian man who needs a job and tells him he can write "in advance" obituaries for him (ready for the death when it occurs) he employs him on an ad hoc basis and pays him from his own pocket for starters.  Rossi has no money, and gets a few free lunches from Periera.  In return he produces obituaries that Periera cannot use.  We, the readers, can see that something is going to happen from very early on, although of course, the characters cannot.  We find Periera a bit of a blank sheet - fat, lazy, disinterested in politics and not a hero - yet.

Short, less than 200 pages, and for me, beautifully described.   I never mind reading a new author, I just have to like the subject and the style.  Tabucchi is Italian and this is the first time I have happened upon him.  It is interesting to read a book originally written in another language - as long as it's well translated.  I really enjoyed this book, a book about nothing really, starring a rather boring man,  which is actually a neat little thriller.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Draughtsman - Robert Lautner

 Set in Germany towards the end of WW2, this extraordinary tale explores that old adage about what happens when mankind sees something but does nothing. Ernst is married to a beautiful wife, his soulmate. They live hand to mouth in a couple of small rooms, paying too much rent, she working in a bar/cafe a couple of nights a week, and he having not worked at all since university. But he is a trained draughtsman, and there is a large engineering firm in town. After an interview, he is surprised and pleased to be offered a job, redrawing engineering plans so that a layman will understand them. His job is in the Special Ovens Department, under the management of Hans Klein, a showy kind of guy, fast car, nice clothes etc. It is he who arranges for Ernst and Etta to move out of their crummy accommodation and into a new house, with several rooms, and for the installation of a telephone.

It is not long before Ernst realises what it is he is working on, but as is so often the case, he decides that "I am just doing my job". His wife is not so sure, and when his childhood friend Paul, who has made a substantial living out of running his own crematorium talks to him about that job, he is still dismissive. At first, I questioned why he would continue at his job, but realization dawned as I realised that no job meant no home, no food, and nothing at all to look forward to - for when would the war end? At least the town Ernst and Etta live in is away from the fighting and bombing, food is readily available, and they are near the wonderful Beech Tree Forest..... Buchenwald.

Written in the first person, we see Ernst's views remain the same for a very long time - just doing his job - but somehow, somehow, his mind begins to change. But will it change enough?

The research for this novel is impeccable. It is fiction, but so much of it actually happened. Lautner says in his afterward (which simply must be read) that he wrote the book because he wanted to ask the question "What would you do?" And for Ernst, that is the question. After all, he was only doing his job.

*Robert Lautner's first book was The Road to Reckoning.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sweet Thursday - John Steinbeck

Last year (Wednesday 10 August 2016, so that you can find it on my date index if you want to read it), I spoke about John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, an American classic and a book new to me. Oh! I loved it all - the prose, the larger than life characters, and Steinbeck's style.

And now I can tell you about it's companion volume, Sweet Thursday.  Another short novel, this is set just after the end of  WW2.  The Canneries are closed, fish stock depleted totally, but down on the row life goes on.  Doc is back from his war, feeling a little different about life now and faced with a big clear up job in  his laboratory - the pal he left in charge having scooted.  The Bear Flag brothel has a new madam;  Lee Chong's grocery shop is now under the ownership of a Mexican, Chong having sailed off into the sunset on his boat purchased with the sale proceeds of the shop and any other holdings.  And Mack?  Mack is still there, resident in charge at the Palace Flophouse along with all the other down-and outs.

Mack who still wants to help Doc even though every time he tries to do so things go horribly wrong and Fauna, the Bear Flag madam,  comes up with a plan for Doc.  He's lonely but  won't admit it.  Suzy, a new recruit to the brothel is not really much good at whoring, and in Fauna's view, is prime material for a wife for Doc.  What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Just before Spring at Pine Tree Cottage

daffodil 'TĂȘ

Anything popping up in your garden yet?  Some years ago I took the decision to plant only miniature daffodils (there were no daffs, big or small at that time).  They are small, and they don't multiply fast, but this year is definitely the best, and they are giving me a good show.   Most of them are the common "tete a tete" which I believe are raised in their thousands because they are really hardy and easy care which is why supermarkets sell so many of them!  No matter, I love the little yellow fellas.

Mini Daffodil Bulbs - Minnow
 However, what they are also telling me is that I have not yet planted enough yet!  So whilst in another town  at the weekend, I found just two trays of a new-to-this garden shown left - "minnow"- so they have to go in, together with the the pot of "tete a tete" which were on our table Christmas day and so of course quickly over.  I think the "minnow" may be a bit taller than "tete a tete", so will put them in further back in the borders.

 Also, I see that my Ceanothus (Californian lilac) is full of buds this year, so both of this and the daffs  are obviously happy about last year's weather whatever it was. It's up at around 7 feet this year with a wide spread, and the picture below is from the Internet, not my garden, because although the buds are set, it will be around 3 weeks before they are out and look like this.  They have a short life, so I don't know how many more years I will have this one, so I'm going to love it every year it blooms for me.
Image result for californian lilac
 Tulips are up now, showing their green.  I am always surprised to see the leaves because in my last garden I could never get tulips to do anything at all, and when I moved to this garden several existing bulbs shot up in the spring and have continued to perform for the last 14 years.  After about three years of re-appearance, I realised that the conditions were good for them here, and so I bunged a few in - they performed - then the next year a few more - ditto.  So every year, just a few more to give me joy.  Then last week at a farm shop and cafe for a cup of tea, I saw that there were pots of tulips for sale, very overcrowded, but healthy and one flower which gave me the key - a sort of dark peach.  They appear to me miniatures too - but of course that might be the overcrowding, so they are going in shortly and I'll have to wait till next year to see how tall they grow!

And then for flowering later this year, some plants arrived by post.  When I read the label of this one, I laughed, for whoever considered growing Greater Sea Kale in a border?  Me!  And this is why - from nothing at all (dies right back) you get a spread of up to 5 feet of white froth beloved by bees - who could resist?   Again, this is not mine but a picture from the Internet.  But I can hope, can't I?

Image result for greater sea kale