Saturday, 28 February 2015

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

For March, how about reading a book with a party or a celebration in the title?

You might find The Birthday Party by Harold Pinter worth a read if you can read plays....
or perhaps  The Wedding by Nicolas Sparks?    Have a look on your shelves!

Remember your teens? Ten memories from mine!

You may remember those years with love, laughter or angst...... but there may be times that will always stick.   For me?  Here are ten in no particular order.l

1.  My first kiss - his name was Roger, it was during a game of Postman's Knock at a party, and I really wanted to be kissed by my "crush", Malcolm McKay.  Not a chance, so Roger I got. 

2.  Rushing home  from youth club every Thursday in case The Beatles were on Top of the Pops, and rushing back again in case I missed anything good!

3.  Being in the local paper as the "mystery woman" who was reading a book instead of dancing at a local dance......and the book was My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier.

4.  Realising that music did things for you - after I first heard "Will you still love me tomorrow?" by the Shirelles on a transister radio in the school playground.

5.  My first real holiday without my parents - to a holiday camp (Hi De Hi!) with several friends.

6.  Being "in love" with Colin for several years.  Unrequited.  And realising later that teenage crushes are usually about wanting what you can't have.  I grew out of it!

7.  Discovering coffee shops, and spending hours following boys from one to the other and back again, drinking coffee and trying not to be seen looking at those boys!

8.  Lovely Lotus shoes which cost £4.19.11 (£5) and which I had to save up for at 2/6 (23ish pence) per week.  Brown leather, little heel, and a bow on the front with cream spots.

9.  Doing the upstairs cleaning every Wednesday afternoon (two bedrooms and a bathroom) because my Mum was not in good health.  A job that I'd do now in an hour took the entire afternoon because I didn't realise then that a job you hated should be done as fast as possible, thus leaving you loads of time for yourself.

10.  School trip to Bad Homburg Germany on an exchange visit,  and (boys again) realising that Pete really didn't fancy me and I'd just have to put up with it.

Monday, 23 February 2015

Housebound - Winifred Peck (Persephone)

With an "afterword" by the author's niece,  Penelope Fitzgerald, herself a writer, this is a rather dated but certainly readable book.  It starts funny and ends sad but redemptive and is, I think written for women readers.  Not that a man couldn't read it, but it has insights that lots of women might recognise.  Rose, family woman, one daughter from earlier marriage, one step-son and one son from her second marriage, finds herself at the agency in an effort to hire staff at the beginning of the book.  The year is 1941, the boys all off at war, the girls taking the jobs the boys left behind them.  Her current staff are off to the local armaments factory, and Rose wouldn't know how to wash a potato to save her life (do you use soap?).   There are simply no staff available, sorry.   She can't cook, either.  Her solicitor husband arrives home every night for a bath, a change of clothes, supper and a drink, and then retires to his library, so there's no relying on him then.  Truly, you don't know whether to feel truly sorry for this upper-class woman, or rather to give her a good shake.  But this is exactly what life was like for them - they ran a house, but didn't actually do things; and running it took all day.

Her three children, in their late teens are joining up in various ways - her daughter for ambulance driving, her step-son the RAF and her younger son off to be trained for the army.  Rose and her husband Stuart are living a solid middle-class life - i.e. they don't talk about the important things in life.  They don't discuss the war.  They sleep in separate rooms and the affection between them is the peck on the cheek and see you later darling kind.  Her best friend has already lost a son to the war,  and has to cope with an aged grandmother who knows best - so they seek solace on the phone with each other.  And then one day over a cup of coffee, an American Major enters their (or rather Rose's) life.  Not what it seems - he is not necessarily in love with Rose but he loves to help.  He can cook too, and before she knows where she is he has visited her home, told her what to do, and prepared supper.  Not long after this the agency finds a woman who will "do" for Rose, three mornings a week, so perhaps all her troubles are over now?

This was a republication from Persephone - no. 72.  They do a good job of finding lost gems and presenting them to us in their lovely grey jackets.  Subject matter doesn't  take your interest?  Doesn't matter, I have never read one yet that wasn't worth the read.  I found myself hoping that Rose would get things right; that her daughter (with a very moody constitution) would learn that her mother loves her; that she wouldn't loose any of them to the war, and that generally things would work out for her.  Things do work out, not in the way you might imagine, but you have to take that journey with Rose to find out.  You might find, in this secular western world of the 21st century that there is a little too much sentimentality, a little too much searching for a religious answer, a little too much stiff upper lip.  You might - but then again, like me, you might not.  So if it crosses your radar, give it a go.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Animal Dreams - Barbara Kingsolver

This isn't a new book.  This isn't her more famous "The Poisonwood Bible".  But this is the second Kingsolver book I have read recently and I find her unputdownable.  It isn't a thriller, there are no dead bodies of the kind we find in police procedural tomes;  it's set in a very small town in the canyons of Arizona, mostly peopled by Hispanics and the decendants of miners.  So - not worth picking up then?  Oh yes.  Definitely.

Cosima (Codi) Noline left her widowed father and the small town of Grace for med school.  She found a nice guy - an emergency room doctor, and lives with him and her sister Hallie for several years, stopping short by only three months of getting her certification as a doctor.  Why?  A sort of "there's got to be more to life than this" voice, in her head.  Hallie goes of to Nicaragua, to teach peasants how to grow crops  and start to live again after the US went in and removed Noriaga (remember that?  it was a long time ago) and is unlikely to come back. So when Codi gets the call from a neighbour about her father's confused state of mind, there is nothing really to give up where she is and she arrives back home.  And there is the difficulty, for the town of Grace after fifteen years is just as strange to her as it was the day she left.  She'll have to find herself, her old memories - as well as keeping her eye on Dad.   She'll also have to find out what her life is really about.
If you happen across this one, don't give up if the first few chapters seem slow and rather troubled.  This, I think, is intentional, for this is how Codi feels.  It turns into a kind of love story, love of life, love of family and love of the land; and woven in there is a love story for Codi and a fight against the "big companies" that might just be the making of her.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

The Runaways - Elizabeth Goudge (formerly called Linnets and Valerians)

Yes, you were just thinking "I don't remember a book by Elizabeth Goudge called The Runaways", weren't you? I liked the old title so much better, but if you want a book to sell and the old title doesn't seem to mean much, perhaps change it.  That's what seems to have happened.  But you know, as a fan of Elizabeth Goudge (particularly her children's books), if you asked me name those children's books, it would be:  Little White Horse; Henrietta's House, and Valley of Song.  How could I have forgotten Linnets and Valerians from my childhood?  I had to get three quarters of the way through before I suddenly thought "I know how this book ends!" Then I remembered that I had recently found and read Smokey-House which I liked too; and I can tell you there are several others waiting for me (and that's without the adult books).   And before I review it, I want to tell you that this particular book won a competition in 2013, many many years after Elizabeth Goudge died.  The reason?  Well, the competition was called Uncover a Children's Classic.  The person who uncovered this little classic was Adrienne Byrne, who has presented a short but lovely introduction to this Hesperus Minor paperback edition.  If you have got this far reading my thoughts, I urge you to find it and read it - and this is why:
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The four Linnet children, with their mother dead and their father currently out in Eygpt with the British army, are staying with their grandmother, a woman who is too old to cope well with four children and a dog under her roof.  For every misdemeanour they are locked up, separately, and this makes them cry and shout all the more. So one morning, urged on by the oldest child Robert, who has managed to get out of his prison first, they escape, over the wall and away.  Actually not very far at all, but when you are a child, an adventure is an adventure!  They walk through the town and onwards where they discover, outside an Inn, a pony and what was called in those days a governess cart, into which they get, and the pony returns to it's own home in the next village with the children.  Home turns out to be the house of their Uncle Ambrose, who they didn't even know they had, and it is his decision to let them stay that changes them for ever.  Ambrose, a retired classical scholar and headmaster of a school probably like Eton is very strict indeed.  They can stay, but if they stay they must submit to an education, and they must also work for their pocket money.  Ezra, the handiman, gardener, housekeeper and cook to Uncle Ambrose is overjoyed - he has taken to the children immediately, and he (and his bees) will take good care of them all.

They will meet nice people and not so nice.  They will become very nice people themselves, but not in a sloppy or wet way.  They will meet a very big negro and a monkey who behaves like a human, both of which are new to them but once the initial shock is over will learn that they are both to be loved. They will also have some quite frightening adventures, as well as lovely ones.  And all children need to be frightened a little bit, don't they?

Describing a time (probably during Queen Victoria's reign) that is unfamiliar to any child now, this is a story full of magic.  The descriptions of things and people are so beautifully drawn you can see them before your eyes.  As a child, maybe you will not understand so readily the problems that adults face; as an adult, you will see the magic and understand what makes a good tale.  As with all Goudge's books, there is the constant fight between good and evil (hardly surprising as her father was a vicar and she never lost her own Christian faith).  Good and evil not of the kinds we hear and see on a daily basis in the 21st Century, but good and evil nonetheless, and when the evil is overcome, it is in a rather extraordinary way.  How to explain the draw of this darling book?  Delicious.  Not like cake although every page made me want another slice.  Wonderful.  There is a spot of magic in it that is wonderful.  Unexplainable.  Set in Devon rather a long time ago, the geography described takes you there, but to a different Devon;  a place where Ezra can still remember the old tales of pixies, good and evil, fallen angels, and you know perhaps that pixies have pointed ears?  So does Ezra.  I review books that I have enjoyed for many reasons.  This one is "just because I found it", but actually, it is more than that - an exciting book for young readers, that taps into the feelings that any child might experience, even though now that experience might be slightly different.  And a wonderful read-aloud too.  If I had children, I would certainly want to read this one with them.  Go on, get a copy and enjoy.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Bad Traffic Directions! and I mean BAD!

Today, I went to a funeral in a town that I was familiar with in my childhood.  The funeral was for a 92 year old cousin who was a great part of that childhood, and we have been in touch ever since.  Just so you know, it was a great day, and I got to see distant family members I had not seen since my early teens, and for the deceased, everyone had fun, laughed and talked and drank coffee - just the kind of gathering she'd have enjoyed.  So that was the good part.

The bad?  After a church service, we were all off the the crematorium for the final commital.  Not being familiar with this part of town, and the GPS not accepting Xtown Crematorium I asked the vicar in which direction the crematorium was.  His reply?

"It's not far, just drive towards Xtown and when you want to go right, go left"

Think about it.

What kind of instruction is that at all??!!  in the event it was several miles, involved driving through a town centre, driving along about 2 miles along a dual carriageway (still no sign for Crematorium), and finally asking for directions at a Harvester Restaurant ("have you ever been to a Harvester before?").  In the event, we had to reverse our journey by about a mile, and only then was the first sign for the Crematorium visible.

Now that vicar must get asked this question many times.  Also the church is on a narrow road with no car park, so people park on the road, and then set off, but with other traffic cannot possible follow each other or  the hearse with any guarantee of sticking together.  Know what I'd do?  I'd have little printed and laminated cards with directions on in my surplice, and hand them out every time that question was asked.  Doesn't really take much thought does it?  Well ... perhaps his mind  was on higher things!

Monday, 2 February 2015

The History of a Pleasure Seeker - Richard Mason

I was given this as a gift, and it sat on the shelf, just waiting to be read. Again, a very nice cover, showing a row of Dutch superior houses, on the canalside in Amsterdam, reflected in the canal - in rather a cartoon like style.  Just to ensure that you know we are talking about Holland, a row of tulips bloom along the bottom edge of the cover.

One of the comments on the back cover is:  Readers of a sensitive disposition be warned - this comment offered by the rather ladylike magazine, The Lady.  So do be warned, because not one third into the book there is the first desciption of a sexual  happening and just once, a fruity Anglo Saxon word!  Actually, I sound as if I am writing to titilate my readers.  Not at all, but there are a few more very graphic descriptions of sex in various forms, although don't let that put you off.  This is the story of an adventurer - not the explorer or pirate kind, but Piet Barol, a very attractive young man who is desperate to escape from the small village life he has lived up until the day he secures a post as tutor to the young son of a wealthy family in Amsterdam; to a boy whose fears will not let him leave the house, and make him take several ice cold baths a day.  Here Piet will learn how to behave in exhalted company, how to refuse the flirtations of at least one member of the family, to keep friends with the rest of the staff;  as well as tutoring the son of the family and dispelling his fears, setting him on the road to a normal life.  But there are several inhabitants in that house who seek more than a flirt with Piet.  Is he going to get what he wants out of life?  Well maybe, but you'll need to read this to find out!

Set in the first years of the twentieth century, the writing style of Richard Mason is perfect, there are no mistakes here about the kind of grammar that a writer of that time would have used, no words used in the wrong way or with modern terminology.  Well done Mr Mason.  And 50 Shades of Grey it ain't!  There is no "oh my", and certainly no inner goddess and it's all the better for it.  A different kind of book for me, and a pleasure to read.

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Sunday, 1 February 2015

Mariah Mundi The Midas Box - G P Taylor

My dear readers -you must know that I love books, but did you know that I am also a little bit in love with great covers (scroll down to see The Robot in the Garden, for one).  And this cover I really do like.  Thank you, David Roberts, you get a little nod from me for this smashing cover, and I believe you gave a nod to Edward Gorey?  Look at those little pointy feet, and Mariah's lovely windswept hair!

Mariah Mundi is a new hero to me, although this is the first book in a series of tales about the orphaned Mariah, the boy with the girl's name.  This is certainly not explained in this story, but of course it might come up later somewhere.

Mariah is given a train ticket by his school where he has lived and learned until at age 15, he's given a rail ticket and the confirmation of a job at The Regent Hotel, somewhere up on the cold east coast of England.  When he arrives, things are certainly not as expected, and having met some very odd passengers on the train, nothing is as it seems, either.  Many adventures, spooky in the extreme, very naughty people and others who may or may not be villains are mixed up with Mariah and his friend at the hotel, the girl Sacha.  Not only are things not as they seem, several people are not who they seems either!

I think this might appeal to people who are reading or who liked Harry Potter.  Mariah isn't a wizard (in training or otherwise), but at least one of the other characters is!  And the descriptions of the passages and rooms in the underground areas of the hotel are truly creepy and a lot of fun.  If you are a steampunk fan (adult or otherwise), this may also appeal, especially as the entire hotel - including a very speedy lift - seems to run on a giant steam boiler, somewhere in the depths.  Great fun!

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

A nom nom book!  What's that I hear you cry?  Well, finding a US library website whilst looking for book titles to suggest this month, it seems that on their blog page they refer to books with recipes and food within as nom nom books.  It made me laugh.  So that's what we are looking for in this cold month in the Northern Hemisphere (go for it in the Southern Hemisphere too if you follow this monthly post!);  something that makes us feel warm inside and as I don't read ordinary love stories and chick-lit, it has to be food or animals.

So it's food, .... and this month, find a fiction that is about food, or that has recipes.  Something like -

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones

Good reading everyone (or should that be Food reading? haha!)

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...