Saturday, 31 January 2015

A Robot in the Garden - Deborah Install

Man finds broken robot, wife leaves him, man sets out to find someone to repair robot.  Whoa! rewind a bit there!  That was it in a nutshell but such a special nutshell that I want to add more.  Ben is married, his parents are dead, he has plenty of money.  His wife is a barrister, loves her job, and used to love Ben.  Used to?  Well..... Ben gave up his veterinary school place because he has money in the bank, his wife works, he doesn't mind doing the odd bit of housework, and generally he has become a bit of a dosser. And then one day, whilst he is looking out to the garden he sees a small, dirty robot sitting under a tree.

A Robot In The Garden

 Please don't think this is a book for children (although I am sure lots of children will come across this and enjoy it) despite the charming cover, which for me was the reason for picking this up in the first place.  The book is set just a few years in the future.  Robots have sort of come and gone, and many homes now employ androids for cleaning, driving, gardening, etc.  Amy, Ben's wife, would like an android to do the housework, but Ben doesn't see the point when he is at home all day and could do that himself.  Amy certainly does not want a dirty old robot inside the house, so Ben is told to take the robot to the tip. But first, he says "hello?" and the robot whirs a bit and when Ben points to his chest and says "Ben", the robot whirs a bit more and says "Tang!" "Tang!" "Tang!".  Well you can't really dump a bloke now you know his name, can you?  Amy leaves, and it's then that Ben takes the decision to find Tang's maker and get him repaired.  So the first stop is California, where he believes he will find the factory that made him.

I loved the fact that we were in a world where androids and robots were accepted.  I loved the way Tang learned new words and tried them out, slowly, like a small child would learn.  I loved the way Ben just had to keep going to try to get his friend back into proper working order.  It made me smile, it made me laugh - and the last chapter or two had me laughing out loud several times. Don't dismiss this little book because it's about a robot.  Nice easy reading style, plenty of adventure (descriptions of people the pair come across in their travels are little gems) and a not quite perfect ending make this a book I want to buy for every friend who reads.  Not a classic, not a prizewinner, just a lovely funny book for readers everywhere.   (And don't you love that cover?).

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands - Natasha Solomons

The Gallery of Vanished Husbands This is the hardback cover of a lovely lovely book.  A book which, if you are Jewish will ring a bell or two (I think).  If you are not Jewish you will find out things about the Jewish faith that will surprise you.  Either way, this is a book which has family and Judaism at it's heart, but it's not really about being Jewish, more about love and how that will affect a life.
Juliet is Jewish, married with two small children.  One morning she gets out of bed as usual, goes downstairs to make breakfast as usual, and notes that a painting of her as a child has been cut out of it's frame and taken, together with some money in an envelope attached to the back.  It is at that minute she knows that her husband George is gone.  She waits a couple of days before telling her parents, and then realises that under strict Jewish rules, she cannot remarry (because  he is not dead) unless he divorces her.  As he has completely disappeared, how will she ever find out where he has gone?  That's the "vanished husband".

But this book is so much more than that.  How Juliet copes with being almost invisible to the Jews in her neighbourhood, how she brings the children up in an almost secular way, how she finds a way to get on with her life.... it's all there.  There are men who love her, there are men who want just to paint her, there are those who want both.  So throughout her life, Juliet will take a lover, think sometimes about the vanished husband, and collect all those paintings of herself.  And at the very last, she will receive in the post, another painting to add to all those others.

This Natasha Solomons' third book, and they've all been worth reading, and have been for me easy to recall later (if a book "sticks" with me, it must be good!). I do recommend this one, and look forward to her next.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Crimson Rooms - Katharine McMahon

Buy *The Crimson Rooms* by Katharine McMahon online 
Here's another that's been on the shelves for far too long, and one I am so glad I decided to read.  My copy was around 370 pages, and I couldn't stop turning the pages.  For this is a murder mystery, a thriller, a family tale, with added strands of WW1 and a possible love story woven in between the pages.  I was rather remined of Maisie Dobbs (who I love), although Evelyn Gifford tells this story in the first person.  I'm also pleased to say that I have found there is a follow-on to this book "The Woman in the Picture" which continues Evelyn's story, and which I shall certainly be looking to acquire in the very near future.

Evelyn is thirtyone, a graduate of Girton college, and has passed all her law exams.  But in Britian in 1924, it is nearly impossible for women to be taken seriously as lawyers, and when she gets the chance to be taken on as an articled clerk by a small firm, she has to take it.  Even though her job seems to be sorting files in a damp basement; even though the firm's secretary has more leverage and certainly a better office than she does and even though she seems to be given only mundane enquiries to deal with, she grits her teeth and pushes on.  And then, in fast succession, two different cases are taken on by the firm she is employed by.  One, the probable murder of a woman by her husband two weeks after her marriage; the other, a poverty-stricken mother who has given her children into the care of a children's home and how desparately wants them back.  In both cases there is more than meets the eye.  

There is another sadness for Evelyn, she lost her beloved brother James to WW1, and she is stunned when, late one night a woman arrives at her home with a small child in tow, which she swears is the child of James. Mystery upon mystery between the pages of this very readable book.  Recommended (a lot!).

Friday, 16 January 2015

The Bean Trees - Barbara Kingsolver

Why have I got several Barbara Kingsolver books on my shelves, and why is this the first one I have read?  No idea, except that it certainly will not be the last!  I first came across her name when she published a non-fiction account of her life on her country house and small-holding a few years ago, and thought it might be interesting.  And so it might be, as it's still unread, although not for long I feel.  I am trying to read books that have hung around unread for far too long, because why acquire them at all if you are never going to read them?  And of course, the new, shiny ones, especially those for review are grabbed, read and gone in the wink of an eye, leaving those treasures as yet to become friends, unloved on the shelves.

Let me tell you how much I loved this one!  I started to read it at about 10.00 in the morning, and got  finished it by 4.00 pm with a gap for shopping, lunch and a spot of housework  A glorious read, and one that tells a similar story to many others I have read, although superior to most. It reminded me of Because of Winn Dixie,  which is the tale of small child who adopts a stray dog outside a supermarket.  This is the tale of a small child who is thrust into the car of an adult at a filling station.  Both set in the United States and both have that magical quality about the very best of human actions, although you won't know it at first.  The child is"stunned"; wide eyed and seemingly unable to cry nor make any other noise, and in the motel Taylor Greer stops at that night with the child in tow, she finds that the child has been badly treated - not to put too fine a point on it. The child is a girl, and clings on tight with both hands to Taylor, who nicknames her Turtle.  And thus begins the story of how children can change a life, many lives. New friends and acquaintances all have a connection with this child in some way, even if it does not seem clear at first.   It didn't leave me with a tear in my eye, but it did make me laugh aloud several times.  I loved Turtle, and wondered how on earth Taylor was going to get to keep her for more than one reason.  Recommended.

Just one little flaw and nothing at all to do with the book, the writing or the author.  This cover, which is the UK paperback, is like all of the other covers I can find for this novel.  At least this one leads you to believe you might be in Arizona.... but all the others feature either trees, or plants in a garden.  The bean tree of the title is actually Wisteria, a glorious flowering  vine which, if happy will grow a trunk.  But it doesn't look like a tree, as most gardeners will know.  If you want to find out why "bean tree", you need to keep reading.  Turtle knows the name of every vegetable, every plant.........

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Lost & Found - ~Brooke Davis

                                                   First book, new author.  Great Debut.   

When you first start to read this book you will think it's all about Millie, who got left behind in the ladies underwear department by her Mum.   Well... it is, and then again it isn't.  Because there's also Agatha, who hasn't left her home since her husband died some years ago, and Karl, who has been dumped in a residential home because his daughter-in-law doesn't want him "... to die in my home".  How they are connected, and how that connection helps all of them is the story in the book.  The publishers compared this book with Harold Fry, or The hundred year old man who climbed out of the window, etc etc etc, but this book is like none of those.  I loved Millie straight off.  A sensible child who, rather than tell someone she has been left, writes notes for her Mum to find her straight away when she comes back.  When she comes across Karl, (in his late eighties and greiving for the loss of being "A Man"), and when both of them get together with Agatha something very odd and kind of magical happens, and you find yourself cheering them on.

I felt for both the elderly Karl, with too much ear hair and not enough head hair, and for Agatha, who had never loved anyone really and I wanted to know why.  And Millie?  I just desperately wanted her to find her Mum and be alright.  The descriptions of how Karl and Agatha feel about the aging process is just perfect..... and it had never occured to me that men actually do get to the point where they have to admit they are never going to have sex again, and how sad they feel about it (or certainly Karl does).  Agatha?  She's never enjoyed sex in her life, so perhaps the aging process for her is just something to be dealt with because she doesn't need and never did need sex so why worry when it's all over?

 And the end of the book, just half a page, is just right.  Not mawkish and manipulative, so no tears in the eyes, but a perfect, perfect finish to a lovely read.

Publication date 29 January 2015

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Bed and Breakfast guests we remember!

I offer occasional bed and breadfast.  I have no sign outside.  I don't make a fuss about it, but I love doing it!  So when I get a message that someone wants to stay, I say yes.   So far, lots of lovely people have stepped over the doormat into our house.  We do mostly one-nighters, because we are on a trunk road, so people are travelling from here to there, and we are a convenient stop.  We like one night stoppers, because if they are not our cup of tea, in the morning, as they leave we breathe a sigh of relief; and if we do like them, are always sad to see them go.

Just recently, we had two really young folk to stay the night, on their way to babysit some chickens for a week.  He asked what my blog was about, and did I not blog about my guests?  Told him I didn't, and he said I should!  I laughed at the time but I've been thinking about it a little bit........

I'll be totally anonymous, for I would not upset anyone who had been a guest for the world.  but you know, there is a story (or several out there!).

Our first guest was a lady who stayed for several days during a happening in our town.  We enjoyed having her, she ate her breakfasts, and was quiet as a mouse!  Having taken the step to do B and B,  I was absolutely sure it would be fun, but the OH was not quite so sure, we were both pleased to say we'd stick with it and do it again!  And we have, many times!

An early guest arrived in the company of a very large, secondhand motor mower which he had acquired on his journey but could not leave in the car - the smell of the petrol was overwhelming in there, and if left overnight he was sure would knock him out on the journey home!  We hid it round the back of the house (in case, by some slim chance, a passer-by spotted a secondhand mower, inside a not very new car, and took a chance to attempt ownership).  I thought probably not, but as I was told early on in my working life, "the customer is always right".  After a huge breakfast, he rode off into the sunrise, windows open, complete with the stinking motor mower. We talked about him for days!  And then there was the antique seeker; the sailor from Switzerland; the Doctor Who Fan from Oregan and .......

I'll be back with a few more stories soon, so that you, and the chicken babysitter, won't be disappointed!

Thursday, 8 January 2015

The Death of Bees - Lisa O'Donnell

The Death of Bees
Marie and Nelly are sisters, the children of two alcholic drug takers, so when Marnie finds her father dead in bed next to a pillow from Nelly's room, and a short while later her mother's body hung in the garden shed - all sensibility goes out the window.  For Marnie is only 15, and until she is 16 she cannot become the guardian for Nelly, her strange, violin playing younger sister.  Decision taken, they attempt to bury the bodies in their garden, but having only hand tools and no strength, they don't bury them deeply, and you know - you just know, that sooner or later all will be revealed.  They are taken under the wing of Lennie, the old gay bloke next door, who, following his loneliness after the death of his partner, is only too pleased to love and care for them with no strings.  That is until the children's grandfather turns up, looking for his own daughter -  their mother.  And that's when their troubles really start.
The story is told, in the first person, by the three main characters, Marie, Nelly and Lennie.  They each have their own style, and they each have a slightly different slant on the same story.  They also have secrets.  Secrets they will tell only you, the reader.
Yes, it's a dark, dark book.  Not without humour, although of course even that is of the blackest kind.  But behind all this is the little conscience that pricks us all, and reminds us that there really are kids out there like Marnie and Nelly, hanging on to life until they are old enough to be together officially, living lives of brutal misery.  Often separated and put "into care", although I do sometimes wonder what kind of care the authorities think they are offering when siblings are separated (and like Marie and Nelly, really only have each other).

Out of touch with internet friends? What to do!

I'm part of a large group of internet friends.  The link is books.   We are members of a website that is currently "down" and so we are missing each other.  I say that because I am missing them and hope that feeling is reciprocated!  What do you do when that daily shot of togetherness is removed temporarily?

1.   You return to the internet on a regular basis just to "see if it's back"
2.   You do other mundane jobs you  wouldn't even have considered if this had not happened
3.   You finish off the ironing
4.   You read a bit more than usual.

So 2, 3 and 4 are at least getting things done - but oh, how I hate that out of contact feeling, and I suspect I am not alone!

Sunday, 4 January 2015

Stephen's Light - E M Almedingen

E M Almedingen was born and privately educated in St. Petersburg (now Leningrad), Russia.  She asked permission to leave the country and  arrived in London in 1923 with sixpence in her pocket.  She was a medieval scholar, and I found this at a book warehouse for £1.  Love those serandipidous finds!
 Stephen's Light: E. M. Almedingen
  If you know nothing of the Hansiatic League (or Hansa), here's a tiny bit of information from Wikipedia:  The League was a commercial and defensive confederation of merchant guilds and their market towns that dominated trade along the coast of Northern Europe. It stretched from the Baltic to the North Sea and inland during the Late Middle Ages and early modern period (c. 13th to 17th centuries).
The League was created to protect economic interests and diplomatic privileges in the cities and countries and along the trade routes the merchants visited. The Hanseatic cities had their own legal system and furnished their own armies for mutual protection and aid.

Sabrina is the only child of a Hansa merchant, a dealer in cloth, in Europe  at the time of the Wars of the Roses in England.  His house (the Stephen's Light of the title) is the biggest in the city, for it also includes the "shop" -although that is really a room for trading, rather than the shop as we know it today. Sabrina has been educated by nuns, and is now betrothed to a travelling trader from the French town of Troyes - the betrothal arranged by her father.  Just two weeks before the marriage is due to take place, he absconds with a young nun from the convent across the water - the very convent where Sabrina was educated.

Without marriage to look forward to, the only other place for an unmarried daughter is the convent, except the nuns turn down her father's request to take his daughter (the family are not nobility, merely trade), and so Sabrina asks her father if she may learn the family business instead.  Grudgingly it seems, he agrees, to the confusion of her mother who cannot contemplate the girl sitting in the counting house alongside her father.  But it is not long before she shows her true mettle, wheeling and dealing for better prices with the best of them.  Meanwhile, on the island across the water, the internal politics of the nuns proves a real eye opener!  Convents at that time in that part of the world were peopled by rich women, unmarried women who were sisters and daughters of titled persons, who brought huge dowrys with them.  They dressed in expensive cloth, they had their own lapdogs, they wore religous but huge stone-studded jewelry, and they were constantly using the law to up their income by suing for one reason or another any one they thought had slighted them.  They ate better than the peasantry too, rich foods as befit their station.  Interesting concept.

Sabrina does learn the business, and when her father dies suddenly, after a stroke at breakfast one day, she finds herself having to call on inner strengths and take on the business completely,  Something new to the town and the League; but not altogether new, as Hansa members had certainly heard of women merchants in the City of Bristol, England, including one Alice Chester, who with her son had done so well that she had a huge shop with a hall above it.  How she digs deep to stop the city rabble attacking the nuns on the island, and how she comes to terms with her life makes a fascinating historical novel - written back in the 1950s to suit young adults.  It is rather old fashioned, but worth the reading for all that.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Provincial Daughter - R M Dashwood

I picked this off the shelves at the end of December - wanted something light that could be picked up and put down at random.  We had several "callers-in" just prior to Christmas, my sister was here as a house guest for a week, and then on 30 December we were off to take her home and then on to a supper party nearby with friends, sleeping over and coming home on 31 December.  So I really did read up to the wire on this one, finishing it around 7.30 pm on New Year's Eve.

R M Dashwood was the daughter of E M Delafield, author of The Diary of a Provincial Lady and the books that followed it.  Dashwood says that it was intended as "an equally light-hearted continuation..." of the Provincial Lady books - "...the Provincial Lady's daughter in the nineteen fifties".  Originally published in 1951, it was republished as a Virago Modern Classic in 2002.  And I'm glad, because it was a delight to read.

The nameless writer of the diary with doctor husband Lee, and three charming but dirty, messy and cheeky boys (just like anyone else's kids, I guess!) struggles with never enough housekeeping money, new clothes for the children, idiosincratic husband, friends who are always better dressed than she.  Also the worry of a thickening waist - just like us all, in that she thinks she is fatter than she was (even though clothes that are years old still fit, thank goodness!); the search for the husband's dress shirt eventually found in a bag in the bottom of the wardrobe where she stuffed it after last year's annual wearing; the expensive outing to London to a top class hairdresser recommended by a friend which was fine until washed....... It may be a little out of date, but it reminded me that nothing really changes.  She's desperate to write - anything really, short stories, articles for newspapers, comments she hopes the BBC will broadcast, and we follow her whilst she clears up after another family disaster or three.  It made me smile a lot, and laugh out loud a couple of times.  If you see it somewhere and you like the diary format, I'm sure you'll enjoy this quick read - I did!

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What to read in January - Mrs Mac suggests......

Well, I suggest that first, you have a year filled with good health and joy.

And for your January read, I am suggesting you find a book with up or down (or the equivalent) in the title -
e.g. The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan

and don't worry, my list is very very long.  We won't run out for ages!!

Here's to some good reading in 2015.


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...