Wednesday, 30 December 2015

Mrs Mac Suggests - What to read in JANUARY (2016)

Well Christmas and all that accompanies it is over.  The cards will soon come down, the tree undecorated and the glitter swept up.  And then, apart from New Year, which I really don't like, January stretches out before us, seemingly endless and with no money as we spent that all before Christmas!!  Storms, floods, and even perhaps the cold winter promised us by the surfeit of holly berries.
So I am recommending a long read.  Some evenings before the fire, curled up with one you can get your teeth into, and by long I mean 500+ pages.  Here's one I really enjoyed last year:

The Truth According to Us -  Annie Barrows

Happy New Year, everyone! 

Saturday, 19 December 2015

A Parachute in the Lime Tree - Annemarie Neary

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I don't mind what a book is about, as long as I can enjoy reading it.  And as I only review and recommend books I've enjoyed, you will probably have noticed a dearth of reviews recently, due to several duff books passing through my hands!  This does not fall into the duff category - indeed, it was rather a novelty for me as it was a love story, and that is not my usual genre.  But a quite different kind of love story from those modern chick-lit tales, churned out by the dozen by publishers who know how to make a lot of money fast.
Four young people – two of them German.  One an  Luftwaffe conscript, and one a young Jewish pianist, which live next door to each other in Berlin;  and two of them Irish – one a young girl caring for her widowed mother, and the other a trainee doctor in Dublin.  Their stories are knitted together beautifully.
Oskar who we meet first, is young, has high morals, and intensely dislikes the Nazi party and all they stand for, but cannot find a way out when he is conscripted into their airforce. Elsa is his "girl next door", literally.  They have known each other since childhood in their home city, Berlin.  And then, in 1941 when she is 17 and he just a little older, their world falls apart, and she finds herself just being young enough for the Kindertransport from Germany, and is put on the train, bound eventually for Belfast, by parents who she must leave behind in Holland, where they have fled away from anti-Jewish Germans.

Charlie and Kitty?  They are both Irish, Charlie training to be a doctor in Dublin, Kitty at home in the countryside, caring for her recently widowed mother.

Fate has a tangled web prepared for those four. They do not all meet each other, but their youthful lives are each affected by the others and the author has managed to do this seamlessly and beautifully, with plenty of research to back the story up; and I will certainly be looking out for another tale from her.  Well done Annmarie Neary!

Thursday, 17 December 2015

Just in time for Christmas - my blue living room!

This was the year that a big job was done.  Cheap pine flooring up, new damp-proofing for the walls (200 year old house has no damp course), new floor down, walls replastered.  And the biggest change?  The colour of the walls from a sort of duck egg blue to dark dark darkest!  Have a look and enjoy the living room!
Just some views of the "before" first; well, I mean "in between" stage, with the flooring ready to be laid, but everything else in a state of flux and mayhem.... Above is our rather sooty fireplace complete with woodburner.  Below is the window that looks out onto the next door cottage.

The wooden shelves below the window will be lovely cupboards shortly.
And finally, what will become the little windowseat and another cupboard.  If you look towards the right of the picture, about 3 inches above the floor, you will see a little wood "box shape".  These window recesses contained short normal radiators, and all the plumbing was on show, with the pipes just bent round things that were in the way.  The lovely old window framing was just butchered to run the pipes along.  So the lovely OH made up a perfectly matched insert for both windows and now, finished and painted, the problem has disappeared!  Brilliant!!

 So, let's just go round the room as best we can.  Cleaner fireplace, mantelpiece done for Christmas (which is a minimalist style in this house)  New lovely bookcase with just a few spaces left in case books arrive for Christmas !!!
And here is the window that overlooks the next door cottage - now complete with cupboard doors and hiding all the junk lovely stuff that has to be hidden for Christmas...... (and in case you ask, no, we are not awaiting curtains - this is it!)
 Here's Fred who cannot keep off the sofa..... especially if I have just got up to get a drink - that warm spot is too tempting. Spot that carrier bag hiding just under the arm of the sofa - oooops!

Here's the door, now (after only 13 years) painted and only awaiting it's lock and handle.  Yes, that is a framed picture on the door and you can thank Ed, the CEO at Libertys' of London for that bright idea.  Ed - you are a genius!  That window overlooks the garden, and beneath the blind is a little window seat now (cushion to follow).
 Yes, the set of drawers are permanent, we love painted furniture and acquired this earlier as it is perfect for the TV plus look at all that storage! It's part of a 1980s bedroom suite.  On that chair to the left is the damned knitted cushion - finished at last and with a couple of red buttons still to go.
Finally the new rug and a little stool given to me years ago by a friend no longer with us.  I believe, judging by the wear on the foot rungs, that this was a pub stool at one time, and it's seat was worn to a velvet finish by many bums....... I gave it  a cream overcoat and little red boots, and it's just right for the Radio Times, the TV controls, and a cup of tea!  The red basket holds videos and DVDs yet to be watched or re-watched.

That's it then, got the dark blue room I wanted, and at night you can see how cosy it is.  The before pics have already shown you the natural light in this room as it has east and west facing windows. so it never looks gloomy.

The true colour is the second "after" picture. 

Monday, 30 November 2015

Mrs Mac suggests - What to read in DECEMBER

A book you would give to your younger self is the subject I've chosen this month.

Well! there are loads of books I would give to my younger self so what to choose!  It's December, so I guess lots of you are thinking about Christmas presents.  And, I hear you say, how young a younger self does she mean?  As young as you like, but not one you actually did read back then.  After all, the younger you will know about it, won't they?!

 I'm going to send my younger self a wonderful Young Adult book that I just loved

                                    Meg Rosoff - The Way I Live Now

Thursday, 19 November 2015

A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night - Harry Nilsson

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We've had a makeover in our living room, which meant furniture was removed, stuff was stored in the dining room, and decisions were made about what to keep, what to sell, what to send to the charity shop.  The vinyl is up a a shelf in the dining room. Will we replace them with CDs?  Get them re-recorded onto CD?  Will we just download the stuff we like?  Later, later for that decision.

Now to put the CDs in their new home...... and a real chance to have a listening session and see what the classics of the collection will be.  And the first one is:

I have just replayed A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night - Harry Nilsson which I have loved from the first time I heard it. Arrangements of mostly old standards (It had to be you; What'll I do; As time goes by), it reminds me of a good time in my life (not that it hasn't been mostly good!) and I am never getting rid of this one!

Every track is linked by an intro that "mentions" one of the other classics on the album, although not necessarily the next one you will hear.  A couple of little jokes in the words of songs, too;  it's just glorious.  Are you an old sentimentalist?  Very young with no experience of the standards of the 1930s?  Someone like me who just loves a song with wonderful words?  If you don't have this album, give yourself a treat.  Available for not much money, and I can almost guarantee you will play it many times and find yourself falling in love with the late, great Nilsson.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Christmas decorating - early thoughts!

Just a little idea for Christmas..... I don't mention that word until November each year, even though cards are in the shops in September (when I may not even have had my holiday!!!).  This is the mirror in my dining room..... and the branch was one that fell off my cherry tree in the garden.  If you are going to do this you need to check that your own mirror is nice and secure.

Tie string in three places and attach to mirror with drawing pins (press pins).  Get the level and the look of it right.

Choose your decoration colour (this time it was red, silver and plain glass), and make sure the step ladder you use is steady, and off you go.  I hung all this stuff either with thin silver string, or with the cord that came with the ornament - most of the hearts are cloth, and came from a string of them which I took apart to use them singly on here.

This is something that requires little money (you all have a box of ornaments somewhere, yes?) and only your time.  This was the first time I had done this, but it's been up there a while now...... (the ornaments come off after Christmas, of course!!).  But if, like me, you are a lazy old bat, just dust it with a feather duster and move on to the next idea.  I had miniature eggs hanging on it at Easter.

Keep it up as long as you like, and eventually you may get fed up with it.  At that point, take it down and use the wood for kindling if you have a woodburner or open fire, and if not, cut it into a few even pieces and put it in a corner of the garden, where beetles and such will find it and use it.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Mrs Mac Suggests: What to read in November

The Clocks are back, the nights are longer, and perhaps it's time to look for something different to read.  My suggestion this month is for something written from a child's point of view.  There are lots of them, some much better than others, but if this kind of book is new to you, perhaps it's time to read a new genre.

A famous book in that genre is  To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee, and if you have not yet read this gem, please seek it out and give yourself a treat.

For me, a recently read book comes to mind, that I really enjoyed.  It was

Waltzing Through Flaws by Paula Sharp


Wednesday, 14 October 2015

A Fifty-year Silence by Miranda Richmond Mouillot

  • Fifty-Year Silence, A
Miranda Richmond's maternal grandparents were Jews, who by some miracle escaped internment and death in WW2.  She was Romanian, he stateless (although eventually with French nationality) and they met and married, spend short periods together, and finally after only around five years and the purchase of an old house, Anna left Armand, taking their only child,  and they never spoke again. 

Anna, her grandmother, left Europe, and settled in America where she became a psychciatrist; whilst  Armand had been amongst other things in his long career, a translator during the Nurenberg trials.  Two very different people, two very different personalities.  Anna, an open and caring woman who wanted the best for her granddaughter, and Armand, a closed book, who was very bitter about life and who referred to his (ex?)wife as "that witch", amongst other insults, all the while showing love to his granddaughter so long as his wife was not mentioned.  So with the Atlantic between them, they never met and never talked again and somehow, Miranda Richmond had to find out why this happened.

I thought it was going to be rather dry when I started to read, but it wasn't long before I was engaged in this odd, mysterious family history.  The author will tell you everything she found.  Both grandparents would not tell her anything about why they couldn't stay together, and that mystery is solved only by the author towards the end of the book.  Fortunately, her grandmother kept a great many papers which helped, but I must say Miranda Richmond was tenacious.  It took ten years, and a lot of research - and here's the book!

If you are interested in Jewish history and/or WW2,  this has a very different slant from records of Holocaust survivors and their testimonies.  Nevertheless, it is a record of a time and place that those born without memories of war and the horrors that man can inflict on his fellow man may find intriguing and fascinating.  Certainly the author was intrigued enough to continue digging and I thank her for that - for this rather sad, but understandable and ultimately redeeming story is another part of the jigsaw of WW2, as well as a little piece of her own family history.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Prayers for Sale - Sandra Dallas

Hennie Comfort, 86 in the 1930s, widowed twice, mother of a long dead child, and knowing that her daughter may well be right when she says that she can't continue to live up there in the mountains, in the little mining town of High Swan, but must come down and live with her in Iowa.  Maybe she will, but only for the winters, for her plan is to return each Summer until she can't do that any more.

She has a nice house, much larger than the one room cabins that most miners and their families have, she has some good friends, and she has many tales to tell.  These she relates to her new friend Nit Spindle, only 17, with a husband and a stillborn child buried already.  Nit has a lot to learn about life up there in the thin air on the mountains, and Hennie will pass on all she knows.  Nit can't stitch well, either, but she'll get better at it, and when the quilting circle meets up at Hennie's, that's a good way to get the quilters to befriend Nit.

Thoughout this book, there will be chances for Hennie to tell yet another tale about the community, and gradually we will feel we know everyone so much better.

A smile here and there, a tear too, but most of all a tale well told - a story of love, hate, and quilts.  Just what Dallas does best, really.  I really like her books, but they don't have much of a following in the UK - even though I am ever ready to encourage people to read them!  Maybe a viewer or two of this particular post will think again, and get hold of one of hers....... and become a fan like me.

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Bed and Breakfast tales - 7

River Cottage fans sometimes stay here....... and two of our guests this year arrived using public transport only.  Fine as it stands, but we reckoned that a taxi one way would be around £30.  So we told them we would drive them there.  Two friends, one Danish, one Swedish who had met in a kitchen many years ago.  Loved each others company, and that was fun for us too!

Anyway, we piled them in the car and off we went, delivering them to the River Cottage carpark.  They got out of the car, and the Swede promptly burst into tears.  What on earth?

Nothing wrong at all, she just said "My tummy is all wobbly!, I have waited for this moment for years!". 

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Mrs Mac suggests: what to read in October

October already........ and with it the season of mellow fruitfulness is nearly at an end, for later, November will bring colder weather, windy days, and probably lots of rain.

So for October what about something to curl up in front of the first fire of the year, or next to the radiator when you switch the heating on?

So I suggest that you read a book that you have been looking forward to reading for a while, and put aside because summer was just too busy.

I've been saving   
                                                               all the summer!

Monday, 28 September 2015

The Knife of Never Letting Go - Patrick Ness

Not new, but still worth finding and reading this wonderful YA read.  Indeed, there are two more to read as this is part of the Chaos Walking Trilogy, so I'll be searching out the others soon.

Our hero, Todd, is with his dog Manchee, and from the very first page you know you are in for a strange and extra-ordinary journey because the dog is talking to Todd, and Todd is replying.  Manchee needs a poo...... and tells Todd so.  Manchee is a great character in this first book - there are other animals that talk too, but with much less vocabulary, including a huge herd of cattle of some kind, who just sort of sing "Here", "We are Here" to each other all the time to keep the herd intact.  Brilliant concept all round - a new planet, where settlers are still attempting to settle, but finding it difficult for various reasons including the strange phenomenon of all thoughts being audible to all men (Todd's town has only men in it).  There were resident creatures on this planet, but the new settlers seem to have killed off most of them;  in this way it reads rather like North America and the European Settlers in the early days.

Written in the first person (Todd's voice) and the present tense, we accompany Todd and Manchee when they run away from  town and we find that there is a kind of price on Todd's head;  and he's going to have to keep running, and keep out of trouble.   Not easy when he comes across a silent girl, a survivor from a scoutship, sent down from another settlers' spaceship waiting for a message to say Safe to Land.

The book has violence, cruelty, bad spelling (not mistakes, just the way Todd and others talk), but I whipped through it in two days, just turning page after page.  I really like Patrick Ness, and have read some of his later books.  Don't know why I didn't pull this off the shelf before, but glad I got there in the end.  I had tears in my eyes several times, and I cared for many of the characters I came across.  Do find it and read it. Dystopian reads are not everyone's cup of tea - this was definitely mine!

Sunday, 27 September 2015

Slammerkin - Emma Donahue

 Central London (Covent Garden and surrounds) 1760.  What d'you think it might have been like then if you were truly poor?  Mary Saunders lives with her mother, stepfather and a baby brother, in a basement room.  She is fortunate that her own father left enough money for her to have an education at a charity school.  Her stepfather is truly only interested in the brother - of course, it's his - and so Mary gets on with life as best she can.  Every day, on her way home from school, the whores are out for business at Seven Dials, and one of them, with a knife scar across one cheek and a grey powdered wig, has a scarlet ribbon in her hair.  Mary wants that ribbon, or one just like it, to colour her grey and dreadful life.  And the evening she looses half the money for the winkles she's sent out to buy for the family's supper, she meets the ribbon seller.  She has no money of her own but covets his wares, and when he offers a scarlet ribbon for a kiss, she's tempted into saying yes, and the kiss becomes a rape against the wall of an alleyway.  And in the daylight, the ribbon he gave is brown, not red.  And of course, the rape must result in a pregnancy. 

She's 14 years old and thrown out by her mother and stepfather.  To her rescue comes Dolly, the whore with the scarlet ribbon, who takes her in, cares for her, and teaches her the business, which she soon becomes very good at.  But she wants more than sex in an alleyway.  Surely there is more to life than watching thieves hung at Tyburn as a day out?  For a while, drinking gin and giving the punters what they want is a good life for Mary and Dolly, but several things change for Mary......

No more of the story as it's too good to tell you the whole tale.  But if you thought being poor in the 21st century was not an attractive deal, read this and see what it was like in the 18th century.  It's described so well, warts and all, and that part of London has not changed its street layouts at all, so if you are familiar with Covent Garden and The Strand, it's easy to recognise.  And if you are not familiar, a map of the time is supplied at the front of the book.  I am unsure how most of the inner city poor survived to adulthood frankly.  Little food, little money, no running water, no sewers (your pot was emptied into the street, and the delightfully named "night soil" was taken to be spread on fields to provide compost to grow food).  The descriptions of the dresses the working girls wore (slammerkins both - for loose woman and whores' dresses) will tell you much.  It's the oldest profession and you'll probably understand why as you read.  There are a lot of sexual descriptions in this book, but as it is about prostitution, it's to be expected.  There are lots of interesting facts in there - including a description of what "hangers on" were, originally.  Who knew?

Donahue has written several books since this was published around 2000, but if she'd only written this one I'd have recommended her.  From two or three lines in public records, she found a character in Mary and put flesh on her, and gave here a character you may not ever like but a character you should empathise with.  I did.

Wednesday, 16 September 2015

The President's Hat - Antoine Laurain

Ah!  a French author!  Don't turn away.... for if you have anything against foreign authors, you may miss a trick.  This short novel (208 pages) just tells you the story of a hat.  Not exciting? Not romantic?  Not breathtaking?  Well..... that's right, but let's have a closer look.

Francois Mitterrand, president of France in the 1980s, out for supper at a Paris restaurant with two colleagues one night, leaves his hat behind in error.  Daniel Mercier had been sitting at the next table, not quite a guest at the table, but near enough to follow the conversation and to realise that when Mitterrand leaves, the hat stays.  It seems that fate has dealt a good hand to Daniel, for when he puts the hat on his head he feels different, and it's not long before he begins to act in an entirely different way.

The hat will not stay with Daniel, it has several more heads to sit on, but every wearer appreciates that it changes their life in some way.  Sometimes it's a huge change, sometimes just something that needed a little nudge.  It's a wonderful little novel, tells you a lot about human nature in all it's guises, including human failings,  I loved all the characters once they had got the hat on, my especial favourite was the lovely Peirre Aslan, perfume "nose" who had lost his skill after a long period of depression.

I think you might enjoy this, it's a little different, and good because of that. Certainly it's a marmite book.  I had a look at the reviews on Amazon, and the majority are 5 star.  But there are a few 1 star, and one of those is short and succinct.  It just says "Rubbish" - bit strong, eh?  and certainly not true, even if it's a book to make you smile rather than get the goosebumps going! 

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...