Monday, 23 June 2014

The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole - Stephanie Doyon

I had this on my shelves for a while and just thought it might be a good'un.  It was a lovely read, and I'm so glad I took no notice of the reviewer and Goodreads member who said "nothing happens".  Well - yes and no.

Set in a very small town in an unmentioned US state; where everyone knows everyone else, affairs are noted and talked about, people like it enough to live there, but don't hate it enough to leave, it covers the story of two boys and their families through a period of around 20 years.  But don't be tricked into thinking this is just a family chronicle, because it isn't. Two boys in class together but not friends:  Robert J Cutler, who is bright as a button, and from a dysfunctional family where Mom is holed up in the house and eating until she cannot go on; and Francis "Spud" Pinkham, from another kind of dysfunctional family altogether where several sisters born before him have perfected the art of bullying.  In the way that the film It's A Wonderful Life is a great example of how one person's life impacts on others, this too shows how people's lives are affected by the people around them.  But it's not too deep and soulful, and there are some wonderfully funny bits of conversation tucked in there too.  And in the end, the person you would least expect does become The Greatest Man in Cedar Hole.   Recommended to anyone who likes some soul.

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

Eyrie - Tim Winton

I do like Tim Winton - every book different, every tale believable, and just an all round good story teller. This one is so believable that you find yourself saying "no!" under your breath as you read.
Tom Keeley had a reputation - that is until he lost his mind, his marriage and then his job, and now he has nothing and wants to keep it that way. He's bought himself a cheap top floor ex-authority flat in a ten story block and there he is, drinking too much, taking a cocktail of painkillers and sleeping tablets every day. He has little episodes of blankness, often awaking on the floor or walking somewhere in his city, Freemantle, Australia. This kind of loss of memory happens quite often - his mother is worried, his sister is worried. Tom is not. In fact he just wants to be left alone. And then one day he meets a woman who his parents saved from parental danger when he was a child. She has a child in tow now, her grandson. She works nights in a supermarket, and locks the kid in her flat. Tom soon makes friends with the boy, a bright but odd child, who is possibly on the low end of the Aspergers scale. Kai, the boy really takes to Tom - he is a hero to someone at least, even though that child is only six. And then, after he has sex with the boy's grandmother, worrying things start to happen, it seems that there is danger somewhere and Tom becomes desparately worried for the child's safety.
I jumped between believing that someone was running drugs, to blackmail, and various other causes of this sense of danger; and had to keep reading. Tom Keeley is a broken man, and during the reading of this tale you will find out some things about him and his family which perhaps explain a little, but not too much about what makes him what he has become. The sense of danger grows with every one of the short chapters, which make the book very easy to read, even late at night when you eyes are closing but you need "just another chapter". Not a thriller in the best seller/accepted sense of the word, but a book I needed to get to the end of as quickly as possible, to find out if Tom could ever really be the hero that Kai thinks he is. Great stuff, Tim Winton.
[copy of my Amazon review]

Friday, 13 June 2014

The Small Book - Zina Rohan

I first heard about this book some time ago, when a bookie friend brought it to my attention.  When it arrived in my house, it went straight to the bookshelf - I could not bring myself to read it, it looked so boring.  So now, in the year celebrating (if that is the right word, should be remembering I think) 100 years since the  outbreak of WW1, I have read it.  I'm sorry I left it so long, but perhaps this was the best year to read it.  The cover does not represent the book and therefore I have not reproduced a picture of the cover, which shows 4 soldiers walking on duckboards above the slime and mud of France.  Yes, the book does start with a short chapter set in WW1.  But it is not about that war, but about the effect of something that happened in that war on three generations of a small family.  A small and rather disfunctional family too.  Each chapter is headed by the name of the character that it's about.  So as you work your way through the book you will come to know the character of each of the family members, and why they are as they are.  The  "small book" of the title is not explained until near the end of the book, but that is no matter, in fact it is working towards that ending that racks up the tension here.  This is simply a wonderful book by a wonderful wordsmith.  Why is this book not more well known?  And why, oh why, did the publisher choose this cover, which has nothing going for it at all, the title and author are shown in a too-plain typeface, and, (as a reviewer on Amazon states) has Australian soldiers on it and the scene depicted bears no resemblance to any part of the book.  That aside, I urge you to read this "small book" ( 240 pages) and not be put off by the cover.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady - Florence King

I have no idea how I came by this book, (I know that a bookie friend sent me a copy to read but I don't know where I read about it first) but I am so glad I found it. What a charmer! Based on fact, this is the coming of age of Florence in the 1950s, describing her family, her friends and her lovers with great style and humour. She wanted to graduate in French Language, and found herself at a college that "didn't do" that. She found herself in a group of girls who only wanted a husband - she didn't. She found several lovers where the sex was more important than the person. Failed Southern Lady? That's because her grandmother ached for her to be just that, a southern lady - something she had never acheived with Forence's mother, so guess what, she tried it (unsuccessfully) on Florence. The discriptions of conversations involving sex are gems - her grandmother, when confronted with anything that involved penetration, would change the subject by always saying "your grandfather was such a gentleman" - a sort of code for "he never bothered me much! I don't think I would have picked this book up in a bookshop, so I must have read someone else's views, and I am so glad I did. The cover shown is the UK paperback.... I found two American covers, neither of which had very much to do with the contents of the book - one has bare legs up in the air, wearing a garter and on the feet a pair of stiletto heeled red slingbacks; the other shows a solitary walking boot and a flower (magnolia). Take your pick, but do take the book. You won't regret it and and you may even learn something!

Monday, 9 June 2014

Rick Mayall dead at 56

So sad.  And too young.  All the comedy he did was larger than life, and I loved him most of all in Blackadder - here he is, arriving as best man to Edmond Blackadder.

Smile at the joy he gave people.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

Timbuktu - Paul Auster

This is a short book (186 pages) with a big heart.  Mr Bones is a dog, and this story is about him.  However, it's not written by him, and there is no sweetness and cuteness here.  What there is the tale of a dog who can think, a dog who loves his master, a dog who has to make choices.  I have never read another Paul Auster book, but this would have to go on my all time favourite reads if for no other reason than Auster's gift with words, particularly in the first half of the book when Mr Christmas, Mr Bones' master is describing things, and thinking things.  For Mr Christmas has been a drug-taker, and has fried his brain.  This means that sometimes he says the same thing three times, sometimes he uses the same theme for three different comments, sometimes he uses several similar words.  And all the time, Mr Bones listens and thinks. When Christmas is on his last legs, he urges Mr Bones to run when the ambulance arrives.  He runs into his future.   Highly recommended.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

HS2 line overbudget already and not a sleeper yet laid....

HS2, the controversial new rail line is exceeding itself in every way.  Latest spends are for consultancies only.  By the end of February this year (2014), a total of £188 million had been spent on contracts for consultants ..... this exceeds the budget by 86% - and that budget was originally £101 million.

Don't all answer at once, but I fail to see how it can cost £188 million to "consult".  If I was an engineer, and someone asked me to cost out the total of (say) bridgebuilding for this scheme, even if I had to employ specialist bridgebuilders to give me a cost, I would not expect to have to work any longer than a couple of months on supplying a price - and even if I had a team of ten working for me - it just would not cost millions.  And yet, looking closely at the figures, every group of experts, or "consultants", as they are now referred to, pick a juicy price, and we pay it! 

About 12 years ago, I did 4 months consultancy work. It doesn't matter what the work was, but I was the only person at that time who had the knowledge necessary to produce a guide for others to use.  I probably earned £4,000 total.  Even if I had a team of 10 working for me (I didn't!) I make that total £44,000 including me for four months intensive work.   

I'M JUST SAYING..........

Monday, 2 June 2014

American Road Trip - Off towards the airport, discover Route 1 and Fredericksburg - Part 17 (the last one!)

Raine, our host at the little apartment gives us a tip.  She never uses the 95 between Richmond and Washington, but goes up on Route 1.  And so shall we!  We pack, strip the bed and put all whites in the shower as per instructions and off we go.  It's another glorious day, the trees are in full leaf, and we head north on this lovely, lovely highway.  What a surprise.  The 95 is full of traffic in both directions, and this one?  every now and again a vehicle passes us...... it's a slower maximum speed on here, but we have all day to tootle along, looking and enjoying.   The route is full of historic markers too.  This is the place to start your Civil War explorations! See what Wiki says. We see so many things that make us ooh! and aah!, and we pass this little dinner and takeaway.  It makes us smile and we drive on by.  The sign says "Pop's Dogs - Ma's Burgers".

We see, on the other side of the road, i.e. driving away from Washington, loads of yard sale signs, fleamarkets and barns marked 'Antiques'.  No room in our cases, and so sadly we drive past every one.  Next time, perhaps?  Then suddenly, we are approaching Fredericksburg Virginia - a small city but with huge Civil War connections that we missed on our way out on our road trip, because we came across from Charlottesville to Richmond.  We need a comfort break, and why not have lunch at the same time?  Lots of history here, and the town and surrounding countryside has enough interesting stuff to keep you going for quite a few days.  We had no time, so had a lovely lunch and moved on.  But if you'd like to know more, have a look at this.  Lunch eaten, we press on towards the airport to drop the car off and go home.
Sunken Road and Stone Wall at Fredericksburg
Fredricksburg Battlefield site -calm now

We are at the airport after a little blip when, on the road to Fairfax to drop the car off where we picked it up, we realise that we are going to be late because of huge traffic buildup in the area.  Calling the office we are told that it closes at 2.00pm and it's 1.35pm now.  "Take it to the Airport" - and so we have to do the one thing we least wanted - to rejoin the main roads, and get into Dulles  Airport.  But we make it.

Here is our trusty steed.... and hopefully Maccers is telling me he is not having another nosebleed! No, what he's saying, is "Look! No Noseplugs!"  Well, apart from getting inside the airport and onto the plane, it's over.  Holiday of a lifetime?  Yes, it was for us, and we'd do it all again tomorrow.  The kindness of strangers, the things we saw, the food we ate, and especially the people who opened their homes to us - thank you all - you made our holiday what it was.

And last - a few random thoughts.

  • How great to have known Hazel before she left the UK - a lovely three days of chatting and eating and getting to know Miss Hannah better - how tall she is now.  Thanks y'all!
  • The policeman at Union Station who stopped us using a public phone "because it makes you vulnerable - you look like out-of-towners!", and gave us the use of his own mobile/cell phone.
  • Finding (and finding out about) Jamestown and the island.
  • Pepsi Cola's birthplace in New Bern.
  • The surprise of Fredericksberg.
  • Wanting to hear from Kathleen in Charleston about how her plans are shaping up.
  • And of course anyone who hosted us who said they would look us up if they came over - Just do that!


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...