Monday, 23 December 2013

The Feathered Man - Jeremy de Quidt

 I thought that this book was translated from possibly German, but I now find that in fact the author is from the UK.  He has a nice scarey turn of phrase, though! 
Set a couple of centuries ago, in a small middle European town, the toothpuller steals a diamond from the mouth of a dead man.  His little runner, Klaus sees this, and this starts a dreadful tale of dead bodies, ghosts from the past, bad people, good people turned bad, a manevolent tale indeed!

Klaus is a small boy, but not young enough not too realise the worth of the diamond, but of course others know the worth of it too, and several deaths occur before that diamond reaches its final resting place.  Priests are not what they seem, dead men come alive, tattoos on bodies move, and throughout all of this, Klaus attempts to keep his mouth shut about what he knows; and Liesel, a kind girl, treated badly by her mistress, wants him to give up on the diamond, and to get out of trouble.  She could not save her own brother, but she wants desperately to save this little boy.

At first, this dark tale brought to mind Grimms' Fairy Tales, but as I read on, I got to thinking about old fashioned real adventure stories like Treasure Island.  No holds barred in the Urrgh! stakes with some awfully gruesome descriptions, so I imagine that this is a good one for older children or young adults to enjoy. But please don't let me put adults off.... Horrible and exciting!

Monday, 16 December 2013

The Prankster - James Polster

The Prankster: A Novella 
 109 pages of sci-fi joy! The Prankster is Pom Trager, a celeb back there on his home planet. He travels through time, changing history on Earth for a TV programme. Who knew that the Egyptians were planning to inter their Pharoahs in square buildings until the Prankster showed them how good a pyramid looked? When a new sponsor drops in the watch the latest programme being made, things start to go wrong for Trager, currently in 21st century America, and it looks as though a rescuer will have to be sent to get him. 

Money and fame is everything, especially to Trager, desperate to get back to his own planet, and fame and fortune - until life throws him something he had never thought of.

James Polster is a film producer as well as a writer, and this little novella certainly reads like a film I wouldn't mind seeing. Poking fun at all that reality and celebrity TV stuff, Polster has nailed it. 

Monday, 9 December 2013

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock - Matthew Quick

Leonard Peacock is looking forward to his eighteenth birthday; because then he can shoot his ex-best friend and then himself. His mother has moved out of the family home and gone to work in New York, his father, an ancoholic, hasn't been seen for years. His ex-best friend Asher seems to be at the root of the problem, but it takes most of the book before you'll find out why.... Leonard thinks that there is no-one out there who gives a damn about him, so really, he'll be better off dead, but of course there are people who care, as there always are. His Holocaust class teacher, Herr Silverman cares, for one - and it is Herr Silverman's idea of writing letters from someone in your future life that just may make Leonard change his mind.

A very odd little novel, but one I couldn't stop reading. I didn't want an eighteen year old boy to kill himself or anyone else, and there was so much angst in his young life it was difficult to see how he could find a way out of his troubles. It's always fascinating when an author takes on another persona. Did Matthew Quick dig deep into his own memory bank to find the things that made Leonard so believable? Whatever he did, I believe he got it right. He made me worry about Leonard, he made me think that if he got old enough to look back he might do it with a wry smile, and it made me hope that Leonard could not pull the trigger.

This is the second book by Quick I have read that deals with problems that come with poor mental health (The Silver Linings Playbook was the first), and I liked them both. Aimed, perhaps, at older Young Adults, any age that needs to understand why some people just cannot say what is wrong can read this with confidence. You know, those among us who, when asked "what's wrong?", just can't put it into words - and that has happened for most of us at some time.

Odd and quirky - I liked it.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Random Acts of Kindness......

Read a post on an American blog about encouraging kids to do these random acts of kindness.... but someone did one to us this week, and she didn't know she'd done it .....

We were doing a small amount of supermarket shopping this week, and there was a special offer on rotisserie chickens at only £1.21.  A good price for a quick lunch and plenty left over for another meal and a share with the cats.  When Mr Mac got to his place at the counter, no more left, now priced at £5 plus.  It's not that we can't afford that price, but I can knock up a lunch for much less than that, and it was only the bargain price that had caught Mr Mac's eye in the first place!  So a quick no thank you and he continued on his way.

A quick tug at his sleeve came next.  The lady who had bagged the last cheap chicken said "have this one, I live on my own and I will be eating it for days - I was only attracted by the knock-down price!"  Mr Mac tried several times to say no, but she insisted and went on her way smiling - he brought the chicken over to me, and we had a lovely hot chicken lunch with some crusty bread, with lots left for other things.  THANKS that lady!!

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Mistress Masham's Repose - T H White

T H White was the author of The Once and Future King which is much better known than this book, first published in 1947 and out of print for a while.  It was certainly available in the late '60s when it was issued as one of Penguin's Peacock books for older children .  I had never read it before but it crossed my path in a new edition from 1998 with a forward by children's writer Anne Fine who tells us that this was her favorite read as a child.

Imagine that some of the Lilliputians from Gullivers Travels were actually transported back to England by a sailor with an eye to making money.  Imagine that they escaped and found their way to the island of Mistress Masham's Repose, in the middle of an ornamental lake in the grounds of a moldering country house somewhere in the English Midlands.  In this house lives ten year old Maria, parents dead, with her governess and the cook for company.    The governess is very thick with the local vicar, and it is not long before the reader comes to the conclusion that the governess and the vicar are not only in cahoots, but are a pair of rogues who are after Maria's money - not that she knows there is any!  But when Maria, out one day getting away from homework and the governess, discovers a way through the bramble surrounding the shore of the island, she is in for a great surprise.  For there, past the brambles, is a beautifully manicured green with a small doric temple in the middle.  And there, inside the columns, in the foundations and up in the roof, the Lilliputians live and conduct their lives, more by night than by day for fear of discovery.
Maria has to learn several things on her journey and whilst not moralistic in the least, T H White made sure that there was a moral to this story!  Do the vicar and the governess get their 
comeuppance?  It's certainly touch and go for a while there - and   Maria also has a lot to learn whilst working her was through a very grand adventure.  The book is full of Greek references, long words, things that go over your head, but it doesn't matter a jot (you can always look 'em up later!), just go with it and enjoy Maria's adventure with her.
I enjoyed reading this book slowly - it's only 158 pages - and whilst I have shown the cover of the paperback edition here, I read a hardback version with lovely coloured illustrations by Martin Hargreaves, and if you are going to read this to, or with a child, it would certainly be worth looking out for this one, as there is a "map" of the country estate of Malpaquet House, Maria's home, and some other lovely full page illustrations.  

Friday, 22 November 2013

Don't always get what you want!

It will be no surprise to some of my readers that I review for Amazon ..... I am an Amazon Vine member, which means that every month Amazon sends me a list of things from which I can choose up to two for review.  As I am a great reader, my reviews are almost always for books.  And every month, on a list apparently aimed just at me, I will probably find a book that I want to read and don't mind reviewing.

This month though, I believe that Amazon's computer sent me someone else's list to choose from.  Otherwise, why on earth would my list be so short, and have Durex on it?!!!  Anyway, "my" list this month gave me a choice of:

A coffee table book about hunting lodges (no thank you)

Durex (don't have to worry about contraceptives since a large surgical procedure a few years ago)

D*ttol cleaning products assorted (ah, how did Amazon know I am not the best housewife in the world?)

So - the best of a bad job saw me asking for D*ettol spray, for cleaning table tops and kitchen work-tops.  Hopefully the computer will be on top form next month and I can find a book on my list!!

Monday, 18 November 2013

More Than This - Patrick Ness

  Imagine waking up in a world you sort of remember, but is not yours. Seth is drowning. He dies. He wakes. And he lies, on the pavement, outside a house he lived in until he was eight. Everything around him is covered in a thick layer of dust; he is naked apart from a few bandage type things wrapped around his trunk and legs, the house looks sort of familiar, but he knows his family emigrated to the US some years previously, so why are things that should be in America in this house? There is no electricity, nothing is working, the tap does not run and he is oh so thirsty - and outside all is silent.

This is the start of Seth's adventure, and the start of a book that hooked me in from the very beginning, for I was as desperate as Seth to find out who? where? why? I felt much empathy towards this 16 year old, alone in a very strange place, with no human contact. It must be what people who are shipwrecked feel like, but with a difference, for here there are clothes shops to pilfer, and some food is still available if you can use a tin opener (for it is obvious that whenever this is happening, its been happening for several years).

To say more about the story itself would give away too much, but imagine what is wrong with the world, imagine things you do every day being the cause of his loneliness, imagine ... well, just imagine what you might think, what you might do.

I first came across Patrick Ness when I read A Monster Calls, a book he finished from the notes of the late Siobhan O'Dowd; a different style to my usual reads, and a clever way of dealing with a tricky subject. What an imagination Ness has. I know, in another book of his (The Knife of Never Letting Go) that there is a talking dog - got to read that one very very soon!

But back to More Than This. First, the cover. My copy is hardback, but I do hope they keep the doorway when this is published in paperback. Yes, there is a doorway cut into the actual cover of this book, which is opening onto the title page. And this should give a new reader a clue, as it is all about opening doorways that might lead you to the answers. The style has good, shocking, stops and starts which make you gasp, make you fearful of turning a page, but definitely make you want to read on. And reading on, you find yourself thinking aloud "oh! yes!.... that is already happening"; and "oh! my goodness that could happen now and if it did....." It's a clever concept, and dystopia is one of those subjects that can conjure up a new world so easily but will not necessarily make a good read. More Than This is more than a good read, it's a scary read but with no zombies or vampire or werwolves; it's a thoughtful read, with the future not the one we expect, and above all it's an exciting read because really, you do want Seth to come out of this OK and above all alive! The ending is open and in this case that's not a bad thing at all. I think that this was aimed at Young Adults - say from 12 onwards, but if you like dystopian tales, your age will not matter a bit.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Come Home Charlie and Face Them - R F Delderfield

Product DetailsSet in the 1920s, written in the late 1960s, this is the kind of book that is rather hard to pidgeonhole now, in a world taken over by blood and gore, killers, vampires, etc. But the story here is likely to stay with you longer than many of that genre. 

Charlie is a bank clerk, at the bottom of the ladder and with only 40 plus years of boredom and ledger entry work to look forward to.  He's lodging with the bank manager, Evan Rhys-Jones, who has a mouthy wife and a lumpy daughter.  But it's the lumpy daughter, Ida, who gives Charlie his first sexual encounter, and this opens the way for other happenings; not least of all his infatuation with the gorgeous Delphine, who runs the local cafe with her brother Beppo.  Somehow, Charlie and Delphine come up with a seemingly foolproof idea for robbing the very bank Charlie works in and therefore gives him to chance to have Delphine all for himself, always.

The book starts with the end..... rather like that old movie trick where the screen disolves and the story proper then starts.  I liked that.  I wanted to smack Charlie, silly young man that he was, taken in by a pretty face or the chance of a lay, but I was absorbed most of all by a beautiful writing style - one that is not fashionable today, but one that makes for comfortable reading, all the while wanting Charlie not to go on with this crazy idea.  Whilst aware that he is being led on by Delphine, I defy anyone to realise the well-crafted end of the tale before the author!  Enjoyed very much, and if another Delderfield crosses my path, will definitely read it.

A new way to display Christmas cards!

This is from a lovely blog called Morning Creativity - the blogger is Erland from Norway, and he has some brilliant ideas over morning coffee, hence the name of the blog.

When I saw this I thought how lovely it would be to display Christmas and/or birthday cards, and you could make as many as you like, make them as long as you like, and roll 'em up and use them year after year.  Brilliant!  What d'you think?  What I think is "Thank you, Erland - you are a genius!"

Monday, 11 November 2013

The Paperbark Shoe - Goldie Goldbloom

Product DetailsDo you ever wonder about what is happening in another place whilst you know what is happening in yours? The Toads are a farming family in Australia, two parents, two kids and another on the way, fighting to make enough money to live on and feed themselves. Into their lives come two Italian prisoners of war, two of the 18,000 POWs sent to Australia between 1941 and 1947. Toad never joined up - he's too short. Gin, his wife is an albino, a trained concert pianist who never got to play for money, incarcerated in an asylum (where Toad first came across her) by her stepfather because, well...... read on and find out why. When the POWs become part of their lives, love and lust rears it's head, and for around a year, the air quivers with the longing, the wanting, the doing - and all the while Gin has to get on with life, Toad has to keep farming, and the two POWs have to keep working. Toad has a strange fantasy; he keeps ladies' corsets in the barn. Gin dreams of being truly loved, rather than taken from behind like an animal (and Toad see's no wrong in this - he's a farmer, this is what animals do). Whilst they are living their strange little life on the other side of the world, Italy is changing sides, the partisans are trying to fight off the Nazis, and there in the outback they hear so little of the the actuality. Sadly, neither does anyone else, for in the nearest township, gossip spreads like wildfire about Toad and the nasty little setup he allows out on his farm.

Reading this novel is rather like shutting your fingers in a drawer. You can see what's coming but you can't get your hand away in time. It's a beautifully imagined book, about a dreadful time in the World's history, written with a skill which makes you continue to turn a page for "just a little more".

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

On the Other Side: Letters to My Children from Germany 1940-46 by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg

If you have read Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson (published as this one is by Persephone), a telling exploration of what it was like living in London during  WW2; you could do no better than read this shorter book which tells you what it was like living in Hamburg, Germany, at the same time.  Did you know that Germans were subjected to food rationing?  At the start of the war each person could expect 60grms semolina/oats, 125 grms butter per week - and 1lb meat/sausage per month - anything else, vegetables, eggs, fruit - would be what you could lay your hands on.  by the end of the war the meat ration had shrunk to 1/2lb per month, accompanied by whatever else could be found.  Did you know that as well as the near-total distruction of Dresden by the RAF, most of Hamburg, where Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg  lived, plus many other large towns were also continually bombed until not very much remained?  For all those books (and there are many) written about life in WW2 in the UK from the point of view of housewives, soldiers, doctors, midwives, shopkeepers, children etc., there is very little available from the same point of view in Germany.  The Book Thief, a good fiction and one I recommend is one of them, but this is non fiction, and so gives you a real point of view.  From the radio messages in the early days of continued bombing telling Germany that "everything is going to be restored ever so much more beautifully than before" to the never ending tramp to the shelters every time the sirens sounded, wearing several layers of clothing in case your building was bombed plus any food you could carry for the same reason:  this was the hell that ordinary Germans too, lived with.

Tellingly, Hamburg was a town that was not supportive of Hitler and his ideas.  Towards the end of the book this mother and letter writer records her thoughts thus:  "Our beautiful and proud Germany has been crushed, ground into the earth and smashed into ruins, whilst millions sacrificed their lives and all our lovely towns and art treasures were destroyed.  And all this because of one man who had a lunatic vision of being 'chosen by God'.  May he and his followers be caught in just retribution."

"Tilli" Woldff-Monckeberg was an educated woman married to a professor of English, the stepfather of Tilli's children that were outside Germany during the war years.  She didn't write books, but every word of hers is worth reading - every word she recorded (in the form of letters to those children) were for the eyes of her children only but now they are here for us all to read, thanks to her youngest daughter, who discovered them, edited and published them in the 1970s.
You should look here  to read more, but don't let this little book slip under your radar.

Friday, 25 October 2013

Sleeping at the Starlite Motel - Bailey White

I don't know how I found this video of an interview with Bailey White but have a look 

When I listened to this quiet, unassuming schoolteacher from Georgia, I wondered to myself what she wrote, and what her style was?  So, as you do, I clicked on that button and bought Sleeping at the Starlite Motel.

Product Details
It's not a novel, but neither is it a book of short stories, although if you treated each little tale as a short story you wouldn't go far wrong.  These little "rememberings"; are they one hundred per cent true?  or is the truth embroidered?  It really doesn't matter, because all of them reveal a Southern way of life and even though I have never been to that part of the States, if I did, I would recognise it straight away! I loved finding out that her father was a Hollywood B movie scriptwriter, and that her mother spotted her father's feet in a ghost film!  I loved her tale of sneaking out of a computer training course and going off to the dog track.  In fact, for different reasons, I loved each chapter.  It's the kind of book you might read a chapter of each night in bed whilst dropping off with a smile on your face.  There is nothing to race to the end for, there is no gasp of horror as you turn a page, but for me, it was just a lovely find.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013

A Virtuous Woman - Kaye Gibbons

Forget about love as in chick-lit.  Forget about happy ever after.  Here is a small book, and inside it's pages you will learn of a love that is probably like many others, but unlike anything you have known.  In alternate chapters, Ruby and Jack Stokes tell the reader how they feel about each other.  Ruby tells the reader how she met Jack, how she settled with him and what she is doing now that she has been diagnosed with lung cancer.  Jack tells you that Ruby was the love of his life - for it is clear from the first couple of paragraphs that Jack's telling starts after Ruby has died.

Hard to say where and when the book is set, but that does not really matter.  Certainly the author lives in North Carolina, and I'd say that the book was set there, sometime in the 1940s or 50s.  What is necessary is that you read this short book slowly, so that you don't miss the beauty amongst the words.  Written in the colloquial style of the place they live in, it takes a little while for the rythym to click, but when it does, you'll get it.  And the last chapter?  read that slowly, because it involves three people's thoughts and is written in a stream of conciousness style.  Unless you have a heart of stone, I defy you not to be moved by this bitter-sweet gem of a book.

NB For non US readers, towards the end of the book the word "haint" appears a couple of times.  It's a spirit, or a haunt.........

Thursday, 12 September 2013

The Botticelli Angel - Harry Cauley

I borrowed this lovely read from a friend, and so glad I did.  It's set in America, in the 1920s, in the years before the Depression when John Tree, a grifter (but not a good one), a sometime teacher with a false diploma, and an eye for a pretty woman, comes across an angel.  An angel whose mother has just been waiting for another angel to take him to heaven.  John Tree can do that;  but his heaven just happens to be California.  For if he can get the angel to Hollywood, he can make a fortune.  His adventures across America, with Michael, a simple soul with small boney growths on his shoulder blades are a joy to read.  The village of Paradise, the circus folk, the visit to the Grand Canyon all hold joy for Michael, who asks, at every one of them, "is this heaven?".

Harry Cauley has a light touch writing style and a lovely sense of humour as he takes us along for the ride through all the ups and downs of the journey to California.  Told in the first person, John Tree struggles with his own morals whilst he protects Michael but only because he sees money at the end of the journey.  Funny and heartbreaking in turns, this is an odd little novel which really does deserve more readers.  Make one of them you!

Monday, 9 September 2013

The Women in Black - Madeleine St John

The Women In Black
What a lovely little read!  Several women, from different backgrounds, with different views on life and with different hopes for their own lives..... described beautifully over a short period of time working at F G Goode's department store in Sydney, Australia in the 1950s.  And for three of them, in that short period, great changes do occur - and are hopes fulfilled?  It would only take you an afternoon to read the 141 pages and find out.
It starts rather slowly, and I found myself wondering if I was really interested enough in any of these women to bother reading on.  But so glad I did.  Her observations on the conversations of different kinds of women (men hardly get a chance to say much in this book, but as you read on you will see that it does not matter too much) is crystal clear, their hopes and dreams expressed quietly to themselves whilst having to just get on with real life and hope for the best.  For all the changes the world has seen since the 1950s, my guess is that we all know at least one of these women even now, wishing and hoping for something.  There is a delightful story running through with everyone else's stories which sees a result because of the purchase of a pretty negligee......   A quiet little charmer of a book.

Saturday, 31 August 2013

Here on Earth - Alice Hoffman

Here On Earth
March (Marcheline) Murray, and her daughter Gwen, arrive in the small Massachusetts town March grew up in for the funeral of a woman who cared for her and her father after the death of her mother.  For Gwen it is the first visit; and for March it's the first time that she's come home in nineteen years.  She married a local boy and they made their home in California.  And now March discovers that the boy she lost, the love of her life in her teens until he left town and didn't come back is home, and owning most of it.  This lost love seems stronger than her marriage, stronger than her bond with her daughter, stronger than the strings of old friendships because he wants her back and somehow it seems that he can get her.
This is the kind of love story you don't want to experience.  The dark side of a man who only wanted March, and will do anything at all to keep her this time round.  The dark side of a violent character.  How many times have you seen a woman with bruises and thought "how did that happen"?  This is the first of Alice Hoffman's books I have read, and boy, is she a wordsmith.  This one is worth reading for the pictures in those words which conjure up feelings and colours and temperatures and  everything needed to weave a heartbreaking story about the wrong kind of love, but also the way families can split and reform in different ways, and about how the conduct of one person alters the conduct of another.  Truly a book you need to read.

Saturday, 17 August 2013

Tru and Adam's Big day!

Order of service

Just a pair of bridesmaid's footwear!

Well...... think that went off OK then?

Bridesmaids (and others) transport of delight!

and for taking the newlyweds to the reception?

What's a wee shower doing?

One of the bridesmaids!

and one of the pages

Just waiting for high tea now!

Bit of a chat at the top table......

sit in the right place, and ......

....... then it's time for tea!

in good company with the "kahlans"......

....Lisa, Sach and Nat.....

me and him!

Pretty cake, with Tru, Adam, Jethro and Dexter (just room for everyone up there!)

The Bride's bouquet

Lots of children at this wedding.... loved this "Strawberry Princess"!

and how fab is this...... shop for your own party favours!

And there wasn't a soul who didn't stop at this table!!

Monday, 12 August 2013

She Went to War - Edith Pargeter

Product Details

First published during WW2.   Catherine Saxon is the story teller - and in the form of letters, she tells her story to a male friend who is bedbound following injuries received during WW1.  She is a person who wants to do what's right, and in that to make the world right and be a person to be looked up to - and she did so hope that the world would put itself right after the war was over... pity.  I have to say that this little book was worth the read and, because it was based on Pargeter's own experiences, gave me a great insight into WRNS activity during the war, and also the way the population seemed to be able to carry on working and dealing with being bombed on a day in day out basis.  She describes the way that women have to bunk together, and guesses that men can do this better, but then just gets on with it.  So many little insights about her life and the life of other WRNS are contained in this excellent depiction of life during the early years of WW2.  It also had me in absolute tatters towards the end of the book when the end of Crete was described and with that end, the death of her lover.  If you can find a copy, I urge you to read this if you have any interest in Greece, why they feel like they do today, how hard they fought with nothing to defend themselves, and how many allies died because of the stupidity of those very politicians that she railed against, wanting them to be honest and far thinking but knowing that they were not - and of course are still not. 

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

The Brief History of the Dead - Kevin Brockmeier

This was one of those "I really must get round to reading" kind of books, and I had no preconceived ideas before I read it, choosing to stay away from reviews and lengthy, in depth articles about the subject matter.
The inhabitants of a city.  How did they get there?  How come some people know each other but others don't?  The population ebbs and flows - sometimes the city is so large that you can't walk to the other side in day, and at other times, whole neighbourhoods become empty and run down. Because this city is a place where people go after death, and they can stay there all the time that a person still alive has a memory of them.  This of course may mean that they have another whole lifetime to lead in this city, but some disappear within days of arriving.  Back in the world of the living, three Americans are in Antarctica, supposedly researching whether it's feasible for  a major soft drinks manufacturer to take polar ice and use in in the manufacture of their product, and therefore advertise it as being made with truly "clean" water.  And then things start to go wrong, and the single woman amongst the three is left alone for what seems a rather long time.   How these two worlds link up is indeed the brief history of the dead - a new and altogether fascinating journey.  As I closed the book I found myself disappointed in the last page or so of the book; but, given a while to think about it, I changed my mind and realised that it was exactly the right ending.  Whatever your views on life after death (or not, as the case may be), this will give you some definite food for thought.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Whole Business with Kiffo and the Pit Bull

Product Details
Never judge a book by it's cover..... isn't that what they say?  Well, maybe, but not in this case, as the Converse All Star depicted on this cover has a staring role in this one.  Calma is a teen with large breasts, glasses, and a great imagination.  Her Mum works two jobs because her Dad ran out on them years ago, She loves to learn but is always amused in class by the one pupil who can stop any teacher dead in their tracks - one Jared Kiffing, or the Kiffo of the title.  He, and the rest of the class have managed to get rid of several in their time - that is, until they get Miss Payne.   She's big, ugly, and brooks no arguments.  Kiffo hates her, and Calma thinks he has every reason to do so, and so they turn amateur detectives, staying out all night and stalking Miss Payne and her dog.  She does some strange stuff, stuff that looks as though it might be the other side of the law. 

Calma is writing this book, and that imagination of hers can get her into trouble, although she may make the reader laugh!  But woven through this story is great pathos and a back story that you will find out about in dribs and drabs.  Brilliant depiction of lives going wrong, and kids who feel there is no-one they can turn to except their friends.

Older children and younger teens is, I think the market this book is aimed at, but as an adult I found it easy to read, and it's another book that has insights into the mind of a child.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Lud-In-The-Mist - Hope Mirrlees

Product Details
Well, well!  I am not even sure how I heard about this one,  but it took my imagination enough to buy a new copy..... rare for me these days.  Neil Gaiman fans may like to know that Neil Gaiman thinks this is "....a little golden miracle of a book".  It is a fantasy, but unlike any fantasy novel written in the last 50 years.  It put me in mind of The Lumpton Goblings, which I retain on my shelves and will now have to re-read;  and the style of writing reminded my of the late Elizabeth Goudge (Little White Horse, Carnagie medal winner 1946).  First published in 1926, republished in the 1960s and still around.

Lud-In-The-Mist is a small, self-important harbour town in the country of Dorimare, whose inhabitants are referred to as Ludites..... The Mayor of Lud (and therefore the most important person in the country) is one Nathaniel Chantacleer, he too is self-important and moves socially within a group of town worthies and burgers who know each other well, tell the same old jokes, swear the same old curses - and life goes on as it has for many years, with the town worthies studiously not mentioning fairies - and there lies the problem!  For they do exist, somewhere over the hills to the west;  and when the also unmentioned fairy fruit is eaten by certain members of the population, and Nathaniel's son is packed off to a lonely farm for safety things start to go badly wrong for those worthy burgers.

As I started to read this, I was taken into Lud-In-The-Mist immediately, I understood the town, it's worthies, the fear of faerie and therefore the studied ignorance of it; and was enchanted - which is as it should be!  Each of the major characters has their own flaws, a few of them are worryingly dislikeable and we find out why as we read on; an unlikely hero emerges and it's altogether a lovely fairy story for grown-ups.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

shabby chic mirror makeover in an hour, with a little hard work....

I have some plans.  In about a month, we are having a summerhouse delivered.  What to do inside?  Well, I have those plans, but from time to time I have to do more than just plan.  I found this little old mirror in a secondhand shop.  Cost very little, but loved it because the mirror backing is marked and starting to go - and I love that imperfect look.  So this afternoon, I spent an hour in the garden.

Old mirror painted white some time ago, junk shop find for £12

Dirty, paint on mirror, etc etc but had potential!

Masked off mirror with Frag Tape

And this is the magic stuff with applicator!  It's from an artist 
shop (the silver, not the toothbrush!)

Start to apply......

Finish, leave for five minutes, and polish with a wad of old cotton (Tshirt or similar)

Looking good, eh?

And there she is!  polished, glass cleaned, and ready to hang.... and here's a view of the path at the front of the house - only backwards, of course!  Must sweep up those holly leaves (every five years or so the holly "dumps" all its old leaves.... weird, I know, but it does).  Anyway, the cost of the mirror and some elbow grease in the sun gave me a lovely new-to-me mirror. The the paste we had already - and really it's for highlighting things and can be applied with your finger.... but this was too good to resist, and it dries in under five minutes. Probably only used a 1 inch squeeze altogether.

A world apart from mine..... read on

Sometimes, out there in blog-land, you come across a little gem - and that's amazing, considering the amount of bloggers we are, around the globe (I guess millions!).  Here is an African American woman who, amongst other things, gardens.  This post at Sho'Nuff Sista's Guide to Organic Gardening is that gem - I smiled and smiled and could just imagine it all, which of course, is the sign of a good writer (she's a gardener, but maybe she sould take up writing!)    Take five minutes of your day and go there.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

Bee Food!

We have a large area of grass - it's not a lawn, but it's nice to have, and we do nothing to it except cut it, and from time to time dig weeds out of it.  We don't water it in hot weather, we don't feed or re-seed, and every year, there will be a flush of wild flowers.  This year we had huge patches of clover, which bees love.  Couldn't bring ourselves to deny the bees, so here is our answer:  a very bad picture (!) taken from the bedroom window, showing the two patches of clover we left for the bees.   Every day we have at least 12 bees on each patch, constantly, throughout the day, buzzing away.  And of those bees, there are many different sizes, shapes and colours....... a bee follower would be fascinated! 

If you have clover in your grass, why not be creative, and provide nurture for these lovely creatures.  They are in such a bad way in the world just now.... every gardener could help just a little.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Black Elder, or Sambuca Nigra "Black Lace"

I was out yesterday, looking for screening ..... for the garden.  We will have our  summerhouse up and ready to use in a few weeks, and its aspect is our garden (lovely!) and neighbour's garage (not so lovely!).  So thinking ahead, I want to plant a few big shrubs or small trees to screen the neighbour out.  I have a few things in mind, and this is the first .... 
Lovely, I think and quite, quite different.  The common elder is green leaved, and plain, not split leaves like this, and a very ordinary green, whereas this is dark dark reddish black - fabulous, and the flower heads are pink, not white.  I bought the biggest I could find (the picture is not mine but at least mine is around 4 ft high already, so I am hoping that within a couple of years it will be up at 10 ft. It will sit on my boundary, where I plan to have a few more trees (silver birches are nice and have catkins at the end of winter) and shrubs.  When we moved here 10 years ago, it was a 100 ft blank canvas.  We had the hedges, and the remains of a border near the house.  Over the years, I have planted, moved, split and done the usual things, and at last it is beginning to be a garden I really like!  And the lovely thing about gardening is that it's like painting a picture - if it doesn't look right you can always change it!

Monday, 17 June 2013

Bilgewater - Jane Gardam

Front Cover
If you are a Jane Gardam fan, you may just have let this slip past you because it was written with young adults in mind and you've perhaps thought  it wasn't for you.  Oh, change your mind, please!  And if you have never read any of hers, maybe you should start with this 200 page novel.
  When I found this recently in a second hand bookshop I felt I needed to read it - and so glad that I did.  She writes beautifully, wordy but never boring or condescending and you don't have to be in your teens to appreciate the feelings described.  You don't need to have any knowledge of boarding schools either (the book is set in one).
Marigold Daisy Green was born and her mother died.  A lumpy child with curly and unruly hair, thick lenses in her glasses, a father who is a housemaster at a boarding school in the North East of England and is one of those vague men who say little on every occasion.  So Marigold is brought up by Paula, the house matron, who spots the child's intelligence, and coaxes her along, teaching her to read, telling her that self pity is not something acceptable and dressing her in old clothes.  Paula, who hails from Dorset, is a lovely character, who knows what's right at all times -  and Paula is in love with Marigold's father.  The blurb on the back of this edition says "....falls in love three times...... Twice it is disastrous, but she is less ridiculous at the end than at the beginning......"   Gardam takes us on that adolescent journey, reminds us how it feels to grow from childhood to adulthood with all it's knocks and uncertainties; and when a crisis occurs in the adult world, reminds us that even academic children can do the right thing.  A lovely, lovely read.  Oh!, and Bilgewater? Marigold's father's name is William, or Bill, so she is Bill's daughter or Bilgewater to all the boys at school.

Tuesday, 11 June 2013

The Supremes at Earl's All-You-Can-Eat

Putting yourself in other women's shoes is always interesting - and if you're male, don't let that put you off, because the author is a man, and he has managed to fill those female shoes spectacularly well!  Earl's All-You-Can-Eat is a diner in Plainview, Indiana and three of it's regulars are The Supremes - not the pop group, but three African-American women who have been sitting at the same table at least once a week since the 1960s, when the owner gave them their joint nickname. They've watched their town through the diner windows, they've exchanged news and gossip, they've told each other their secrets. Well - some of their secrets.

Now Odette has cancer, and is supported throughout her chemo by the other Supremes, piano-playing Clarice with her handsome, strong and cheating husband; and by Barbara Jean, recently widowed and drinking a lot.  During the course of the book, Odette takes some of the chapters and tells the story, whilst the rest of the chapters are written in the third person. An oddity, but doesn't make the book unreadable at all. And it hops back and fore in time, from school and teenage, to the present as the women get into their 50s.

These woman are the best of friends, the kind that support each other through thick and thin, who know what makes each of them laugh, and cry. There are more secrets to be discovered as you read on. Some may shock, some make bring laughter and tears. There is a description of a wedding that was the best tonic I've read for years because it is soooo awful that you can see every bit of it and just know what the next bad item on the agenda is going to be. Sex is mentioned - not lots, but enough to be real - especially the whoring lapdancer who arrives at a revival meeting to be saved but not before she has given the assembled congregation a blow by blow description of what she was up to at the moment she was moved to attend the service and ask for redemption!   And there are the ghosts..... that follow Odette around because she is not long for this world.  Her Mama, Barbara Jean's husband, Eleanor Roosevelt......

The back of the cover says "perfect for fans of The Help; Steel Magnolias, and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe". Maybe, maybe not. But it's a wonderful read, whether you are black or white, male or female. You'll meet some great characters too, besides The Supremes. I laughed out loud a few times, and a shed a few tears too. Maybe you will! Read it and find out, but most of all enjoy this lovely read.

[copy of my Amazon review]

Sunday, 9 June 2013

At Seventeen - Janis Ian and a wonderful picture of teen angst

Listening to the radio tonight I heard a song I had never heard in my life - but I recognised the name - Janice Ian....... from my own early years, perhaps?  Couldn't place it at all, so the wonderful internet came to the rescue, and as soon as I saw the title "At Seventeen", it all came flooding back  - that feeling that everyone is better, prettier, thinner than you are.  What a great song (you can hear it on youtube) and here are the lyrics.

I learned the truth at seventeen
That love was meant for beauty queens
In high school girls with clear skinned smiles
Who married young and then retired.
The valentines I never knew
The Friday night charades of youth
Were spent on one more beautiful
At seventeen I learned the truth.
And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the phone
Who called to say come dance with me
And murmured vague obscenities -
It isn't all it seems
At seventeen.

A brown eyed girl in hand me downs
Whose name I never could pronounce
Said, Pity please the ones who serve
They only get what they deserve.
And the rich relationed hometown queen
Married into what she needs
A guarantee of company
And haven for the elderly.
Remember those who win the game
Lose the love they sought to gain
Indebentures of quality
And dubious integrity.
Their small town eyes will gape at you
in dull surprise when payment due
Exceeds accounts received
At seventeen.

To those of us who knew the pain
Of valentines that never came
And those whose names were never called
When choosing sides for basketball
It was long ago and far away
The world was younger than today
And dreams were all they gave for free
To ugly duckling girls like me.
We all play the game and when we dare
To cheat ourselves at solitaire
Inventing lovers on the phone
Repenting other lives unknown
That call and say, come dance with me
And murmur vague obscenities
At ugly girls like me
At seventeen.

Friday, 31 May 2013

The Promise - Ann Weisgarber

The Promise

I didn't read Ann Wiesgarber's first book, so I came new to this author. If you like a story told by more than one character, like me, you will certainly be drawn to this book.
It's the story of two women. Two women who love one man. But it isn't a slushy tale of romance at all - in fact, the story is built around the hurricane that struck the island of Galveston, Texas in 1900; the worst natural disaster of the 20th century in the US. The two women could not be more alike - Catherine, a woman shunned by her family and friends for carrying on an affair with a married man; and Nan, an illerate young housekeeper, caring for the widower and son of her friend recently dead of malaria.
It's easy to tell who is talking as each chapter begins - Catherine is well educated, and has faultless manners, whilst Nan is a country girl, a homebody. The each love Oscar, a dairy farmer, in a different way, one for saving her reputation, and one because, well, just because. I don't want to say any more about these relationships because they are what the book is all about, and they are what makes the book worth reading. The storm itself happens towards the end of the book, but the descriptions of it and the aftermath, are chilling, and based on actual happenings.
Well written, background well researched, and a read that grips the heart because it is set at a time when people knew their place, and bad choices in life had to be paid for. There is a child in the story, too. Andre, who misses his mother, loves the housekeeper, and shys away from the new wife of her father. Great skill in describing how a child might feel when presented with a new "mama" when the grieving for the old one is not yet passed.

Early One Morning - Virginia Baily

I was attracted to this novel purely by the cover (as I suppose this is meant to happen!) and it has very little about the contents on the b...