Saturday, 30 May 2015

What to Read in JUNE

Well, if you are in the Northern hemisphere, you'll feel like Summer is on the way, so for June, let's find something with a holiday/vacation destination in the title, shall we?   For example:

Honolulu - Alan Brennert


Where are all the bees?

I have a garden full of bee-loving plants but no bees.  I have probably seen 3 bumbles and a dozen others since March.  I should be seeing (and hearing the buzz) every day now, but no.  Even though a huge Rosemary bush is in full flower.  Even though my Cotoneaster is in full flower.  Even though nearly all my flowering plants are "singles" (bees don't like doubles), even though this was a brilliant year for dandelions;  still no bees.  I have a yellow clematis (Bill MacKenzie) which is just now coming into bloom and that will have hundreds of flowers.  Perhaps they will come for a feast on that?
Red tailed bumble queen

I don't use weedkillers (except Roundup gel for dandelions in my paths, and even then I cover with a flowerpot after application until the dead plant can be removed).  I have bee hotels for mason bees, but don't see many.  I used to see loads of bumbles, but not this year.  It's so sad not to see the little workers out and about - but that's just sad for me.  The worry is where are they at all?  Someone told me this morning that if they are out at the rape fields this does them no good in the winter as the rape honey sets too hard for them to use. 

Here's an interesting article from a local (Dorset) magazine a couple of years ago.  Still relevant.  I hope they will be off the rape and back in my garden soon, I miss the buzz.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

The Sisters From Hardscrabble Bay - Beverly Jensen

Having read loads of comments on "Goodreads" and elsewhere, I have to tell you this is obviously a Marmite book - you either love it or hate it.  I even read a review somewhere which stated that that the reviewer didn't like the book because the sisters were not very nice people.  Another one included the word pottymouth.......Mmm. Well, it's fiction, and you either liked the story or you didn't, and you need to know whether you liked the style of writing, the settings, the way the characters are drawn, etc. rather than the fact that a character is not very nice or that the character swears!   I am firmly in the I LOVED IT camp and it will definitely be one of my top 10 reads of the year.
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Stretching from 1916 up until 1987,  this is the entangled life of two sisters who, in 1916, are awaiting the birth of a new sibling.  They won't have a mother for long, because although the baby survives, she does not. Idella is 8, Avis is only 6.  Suddenly life turns into something else.  Their brother, who is 12,  is fishing and bringing in lobster from the bay.  Their father is attempting to farm potatoes and other root vegetables. There is no money, and to ease the pain of his beloved wife's death, there is a tot of whisky each night for Dad.  A French-speaking Canadian girl comes on board as a housekeeper, but when she declares her love for Dad, it is clear that she will have to leave and Avis and Idella will also have to be sent away.  So from a hard life of toil and growing up too soon, they are sent from New Brunswick in the Canadian Maritimes, down to Maine in America to family who will bring them up, get them schooled and see them right.  Until, two years later, they are on the train back home to Bay Chaleur, New Brunswick.

 In this wonderful book, the sisters lives are laid bare.  They will grow up, make choices, get married.  One will go to prison for a short while, one will run a country store for a long while.  I have some experience of the  areas of the Canadian Maritimes.  It can be bleak now, and was certainly bleak back then in 1916.  Perhaps we don't know how good life is now - no wonder they both wanted to get away and find again the pleasure in living that they experienced in Maine for that short period.  The characters here are fabulous.  You may not like them, but you can sure "see" them. And I loved the fact that this is no charming whimsy, either.  Sisters are jealous, they can hide things from each other, they can tell themselves that they are right and the other is wrong.  That's real life.  It's what Idella and Avis do all their lives, and altogether, it makes a fantastic read.

It is divided into parts, quite easy to find by the contents list at the beginning of the book.  I know that some reviewers thought it too bitty, and one even stated that if she had known it was a set of short stories she wouldn't have bought it.  But for me, that was the joy of it, because it doesn't feel like a set of short stories, it feels like a well written whole.  Yes, it started as a series of short stories, all about the same characters, and so it will have been the choice of the author's family and friends to publish them together as a novel after her death.  Well, Elizabeth Strout (Olive Ketteridge) did the same thing, and if you loved Olive, I think you will settle down with Avis and Idella very well.

*Beverly Jensen died at age 49 from pancreatic cancer.  It took seven years to get the stories together and published as a novel.  Like other authors who die too young, it is a pity there will be no more from Jensen.

Sunday, 24 May 2015

Garden News at Pine Tree Cottage (more!) - Small flowers out in May

 Well, I did say that I would take some pics of small flowers, and I seem to have got a bit carried away, although I am sure someone will like this look round.  They all came labelled, but through the years, I have forgotten the names, lost the labels, and you know, I am just that sort of gardener.  Sorry!

Californian Poppy - always seeds itself.

Don't be misled by this picture on the left..... the flowers are held on long stems, above spear-shaped leaves.  This one just happens to be growing through something else altogether!

And then below - Aquillega - this is a beauty and I didn't plant it, seed or otherwise.  Garden is full of these in the spring, but doesn't this look rare? Saving the seeds definitely!

Forgotten the name of this white lady.  Like little balls of fluff.  Short season, but the leaves which are like maidenhair fern will stay all summer.

Erodium Chrysanthum "Pink".  One of two Erodiums I had to have after seeing one in Sunil's Garden Blog

 Two rock roses, the one above is really scarlet, and it's new so I have great hopes that it likes it in this garden. The one on the left is dark, dark
orange and forms a huge clump.

And then, below, on to the hardy geraniums.

Pale and lovely "Ballerina" - forms large clumps

Another short one, but not so clump-forming in style

Newest - chocolate colours leaves, and tiny pink flowers in there!

Earliest of all, this tumbles over a little wall,forming a huge clump

Lovely tall one, works its way through other plants (this grows through a day lily)

Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Visiting Angel - Paul Wilson

Why didn't I know anything about this book?  I never read a review, never saw it mentioned on here, and it was published in 2012, so it's been on the radar (but not mine) for 3 years.  I can't say it's everyone's cup of tea, and certainly the cover would not have attracted me.

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A very satisfying read for me, bringing together what you might call lost souls.  Patrick, running a charitable halfway house for people with mental problems; Sarah, a nurse who lost her child in an accident; Edward and Lillian, both with their own special problems and former residents of the halfway home.  Into this mix throw a pregnant Angolan woman and her daughter, and Saul, with no shoes, a pocket full of peanuts and who swears he is an angel with a special task to perform.  How these characters have come to where they are now has meant that  they have each had a hard path to tread, and are still finding the journey arduous.  Slowly, slowly the story of each life is revealed.  The chapters are rather long and contain more than one subject at a time, sometimes with only an extra line between paragraphs.  But stick with it, as the story of each life is revealed.  Saul has only a few days to get things right, and it is unclear until very near the end what that task is.  When revealed, I found myself holding my breath.    I gained an insight into mental health and the way "the system" deals with it these days, too, and as the author has worked in a range of social care settings, it's obvious he is describing what he has come across in his working life.  Not a light read, but a very worthwhile one, and it came together wonderfully at the end. 

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Garden news at Pine Tree Cottage

It seems so long since I posted anything about my garden!  I think the last time was when we had the summerhouse put in, and that was nearly two years ago....... OOOOps.  So, with new camera available and a sunny day outside, I thought I might just show you some colour and flowers.....

I love little shots of colour that help before flowers come in the garden.  I have had this blue pot for years, inside and outside.  This year it's going to sit here, on a little step, glowing away.  Don't worry, plenty of planting in this garden!

This is my yellow and white border..... and if you think you can see other colours here, well, aquilega doesn't have boundaries and seeds where it will!  Such a short flowering season, so why worry?  They will be gone soon, and I shall pull them out before the seed heads form - there are loads more.  And perhaps you can't see any white or yellow?  About one third down from the top of the picture, some yellow is spilling onto the edging;  The large grey lump in the bottom third of the picture is good old curry plant, and will be blooming shortly, as will the other green lumps which bloom as small cream buttons.  On the right you can see a climber... that's the clematis Bill Mackenzie, and I love it.  It never fails.  It's yellow when it blooms.

Here on the North side of the garden (but facing South, of course) is a mixed bed full of colour.  You can see a Ceanothus, nearly over now, and two similar but different Acers, both of which have put on some lovely height this year.  Sadly, the hedge behind is just bloomin' box, but at least it serves as a nesting area for blackbirds every single year and it sheilds us from the road!  And on the same side of the garden, just a little further along from the Acers, is the summerhouse, in all her glory.

I am going to take some more pics - closeups of small flowers.  It occurs to me that I do favour small flowers (not that I don't like others of course, tulips are lovely in the spring, roses all the summer please, peonies and day lilies are showy and wonderful) especially tumbling over walls and in pots.  Watch this space, it's been too long!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

No physical contact

Watching a documentary recently about London's night buses.  One of the passengers was a very elderly gent who had recently lost his wife of 60+ years, and we found that he was on the night bus because he had been out dancing.  Recently widowed?  Out dancing?  Shocked?

You shouldn't be, and maybe this will tell you why.  An widowed elderly family member of mine, on holiday a few years ago with me and group of friends of varying ages, was dancing by herself to some music she liked whilst the rest of us were drinking and chatting.  No-one really noticed until one of our party said "Care for a dance, M'am?".  Yes, she definitely would care for a dance, because as she explained, if you are without a partner then there is very little physical contact anymore.  It's a lonely feeling not being held.  So she got a little smooch, c/o of a friend.

Whilst I was watching the documentary, on the sofa next to the other half, this memory came back to me, and I suddenly thought how much I would miss the closeness of another body if he was no longer there (of course I would miss the person, I love him dearly, but imagine trying to cosy up to a stranger just for a hug?).  And then, at my yoga class yesterday, we did back massage on another person, who then did the same for us.  Again, it was the closeness of others.  We don't all have families and really close friends who we can be physical with.  Some of us are really reserved and that's fine if you don't like the touch of another.  But I do, and so many are denied it, like the widower on the London night bus.  As it happens, a youngster got on the bus and sat next to the old boy.  They were both Irish, so that commonality helped.  But the arm went along the back of the seat and round the shoulders, and the young man, sober, had a bit of a craick with the widower, and made him laugh before he left the bus.

So a hug every now and again won't go amiss if someone looks as though they need one - or even a linked arm whilst chatting or walking - just for the warmth of human contact.

Monday, 18 May 2015

Table decs at next to no money? Of course you can!!

You should start saving clear glass containers..... in this pic are two different perfume bottles with spray and metal collars removed, also the bottle from one of those room perfume kits with the little sticks......

This one was a beautiful frosted glass which held a scented candle... can't use it for drinking out of, so........

Two different bottles which were once sold as drinking water.....

Here's an assortment ready for use.

And here, something called a "custard cup"  picked up for next to nothing on a second hand stall

.... and finally, one of a set of three which were found in a craft store at rock bottom prices.

The flowers were one bunch of gypsophilla from the florist at £25 which filled every container and some left over!    A good choice as white goes with anything and the gyp has lots of little branches up the stems, so they can be cut to size as you go.  So most of the containers cost nothing, and a few of them cost just a little.  Tissue paper is cheap but looks good if you want to wrap it round some of your containers.  Mine were arranged in a straight line down the centre of each table at differing heights on white tablecloths (which were actually bedsheets and after laundering went straight back into the airing cupboard!).  Just change your ribbon and tissue paper colour to suit.  You don't have to be arty farty, just a little patience will do.

Oh, and a tip.  Spray the flowers with a little shot of your favourite perfume - as not everyone will thank you for the strange and rather cat-like smell of the gyp.  But there you go - four big party tables for around £30, and a bit of patience collecting your containers.

Of course, if you have lots of flowers for cutting available in your garden or next door's, or lots of ivy, or some kind of evergreen, then you save the £25.   Wild flowers, whilst lovely, will not last long when cut, so be choosy.  A rose in every container would be just lovely.

Monday, 11 May 2015

Tallgrass - Sandra Dallas

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    Sandra Dallas, another American writer who has such a gift.  Every book is different, the "voice" is different, the tale is different, the era is different.  This one, comparatively modern, is set during WW2 in Colorado.  In case you didn't know, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour, all Japanese-Americans living on or near the West Coast of America were removed from their homes and interned in camps away from coastal areas for the duration of the war.    Although this is a fiction, it is based on a camp in Colorado and if you go to Dallas's web site, you can find out more about it.

    In the meantime, let me tell you a little of this gritty book, which for me was hard to read because of the subject matter, revealing much of human nature in general, and brings to the surface the hatred that some of us have for "different" folk.  And of course, in bringing up those feelings it made me hate those who hated the different others........

    Rennie has just turned 13 when the land is cleared and set up for the internment camp next door to her family's sugar beet farm.  The first few busloads of Japanese-Americans have hardly hit the ground when the signs start to go up in town - "NO JAPS".  Rennie has a brother and a sister;  Bud, who has joined up to fight in Europe, and Marthalice, who lives miles away in Denver. When most of the younger or single men in town have joined up or been called up, Rennie's Dad decides to employ some young men from the camp to help with the sugar beet.  At the same time, a child is raped and killed, and for those who should know better, the conclusion is that "the Japs must have done it".  This is a thriller and a historical novel.  Can't fault the research, and the voice of Rennie is just perfect.  You are a young teen, you get bullied at school, your sister is grown up now and living away, your Mother not in the best of health, and the whole town is taking sides.

    It's a book that made me very emotional, even though I knew nothing of these camps, living in a different country, and being born after WW2.  It is the old old story of fearing that which you don't know, and the problems that fear can bring.  I'd recommend this to anyone, but I particularly want to recommend it to the Young Adult readership, because it's a brilliant story of growing up and understanding adults, but also it is clear that the author does not take sides but points out a way forward without hatred.  The character of Rennie's father is based on her own father.  What a great dad he must have been.

Sunday, 10 May 2015

A Swift Pure Cry - Siobhan Dowd

Sadly the author died too young to reach her full potential - but she never wrote a bad book.  This one, aimed at Young Adults, tells Michelle's (Shell) story, following the death of her mother, leaving her to look after two younger siblings whilst her father drinks away any money he has.  Is he a thief?  Is he a n'er-do-well?  Is it grief of his loss that made him the man he has become?  It doesn't matter because Shell just has to get on with things, feed the family if there is money to do so, and go hungry if there is not.  Here in Catholic Ireland, the priest knows all and does nothing, for God will provide.

I don't know that I could have done any better than Shell under the circumstances.  The kids are always dirty - never enough money for soap power, and the washing machine, broken since her mother's death is not going to be repaired or replaced when the money can be used for Dad to drink.  The new Curate, Father Rose, is a breath of fresh air in the village - for some folk rather too fresh, for he is not the kind of priest they are used to.

This was hard to read, in the way that medicine is hard to swallow.  I really felt for Shell, reaching out for help without actually asking for it, reaching out for love and comfort without really understanding it.  This is a tale told hundreds of times before, but this one really made me feel that I understood the position that Shell was in.  A terrible dilemma, and no help available.  Harsh but with redemption on the horizon - this is a great read for 12 upwards, as an adult I found it easy to read and can totally agree with the reviewer from the Irish Independent, who said "...should be read by anyone who is or ever was a teenager." Click here if you want to find out more about the Siobhan Dowd Trust, set up by Siobhan before she died, and what they do for disadvantaged young readers.

A Swift Pure Cry (2006)

Friday, 8 May 2015

Standing in the Rainbow - Fannie Flagg

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You know that sometimes you just want a book that acts like a warm blanket and a cuppa.  This book is it.  Small town America - Elmwood Springs, Missouri.  If you like American fiction, and I do, this may have not made itself known to you so I think I had better do that!

Stretching from just after WW2, the book starts in 1946, with Neighbour Dorothy broadcasting daily from her living room, across the state of Missouri.  Community radio was quite the thing in those days, the radio shows aimed at women, the sponsors soap powder manufacturers or cooking ingredient suppliers.  The adventures of this mother of two (a teen and a wayward 10 year old) start the book.  Other characters arrive.  Some stay, some go; some have a large part to play along the way in this wonderful tale which ends just prior to the end of the 20th century.  All the chapters are quite short, some only a couple of pages, which make it easy to dip in and out of - although I just kept reading in great chunks for all of the 495 pages.  If you like to read before you sleep, this would be a lovely bedside companion.  For me it was just the loveliest read, with heart, soul and people you recognise.

My own reading doesn't stick with a genre...... sometimes detectives, sometimes family tragedies, sometimes just an adventure.  Almost always fiction, I like a bit of fact thrown in.  Sometimes I want to be excited, but I don't much care for thrillers as I always forget the story within a few weeks.  What I like is a tale that "sticks".  One I will remember next year, the year after, and one I will tell you about and recommend.  This is one of those.  Read and enjoy.


Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Bed and Breakfast Tales - 4

Anyone know what a Raspberry Pie is?  I thought I did.  It's something you eat, right?   Well, if (like me) you are not up on things in the I.T. world it is a pie made from fruit and that's the end of it!

Sometime last year we had a Mum and Son stay for just one night.  The son was around 8 years old, and I found myself talking to a genius when he rose early, and engaged me in conversation.  The talk was of how he was going to build stuff using Raspberry Pies.  Imagine how it felt at my age to ask an eight year old what a Raspberry Pie was!  I know little about computing, being a front end user only, but I did think to myself during this conversation that this little chap may well be the next Stephen Hawkins, or Bill Gates, or someone equally famous in his field.  Such a pity that apart from the words "Raspberry Pie", I understood little of the conversation.

I've saved his name, so that when I am seriously old, and he appears on TV being interviewed about how he changed the world, I can muse on the fact that once, just once, I cooked breakfast for a genius!!

Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Gracekeepers - Kirsty Logan

In the watery world of the future, Callenish gets rid of the bodies.

She is a "Gracekeeper", a sort of undertaker at sea.  She receives the bodies, she cleans them, binds them in net, and gives them a sea burial, out there somewhere near the equator in an area that should you come across it will be marked by wooden pontoons, on which birds in cages wait to die.  The birds are the Graces, and whilst they live the mourners can mourn.  When a travelling circus arrives to bury one of their own, Callenish meets North, a girl who dances with a bear.  Their stories are separate but intertwined for much of the book, together with circus members, the military, those that who live on solid ground - the "landlockers", and those who live on the ocean - the "damplings".  For the story is set at least seven generations after what must have been severe global warming as there are only islands, patches of land here and there, and the landklockers don't want damplings taking up any space on their land.

It's one of those books that I couldn't wait to finish, but kept stopping my reading so that it didn't end too soon.  So why only 4 stars? Well.... I loved the characterisation, I loved the whole idea; but somehow, within this huge, watery tale, there was something missing, and when I got to the end I felt that I'd been done out of something.

It's wonderfully written, easy to keep reading.  Each character of any importance gets their own chapter headings, but don't worry, for those of you who don't like things written in the first person (I went, I was etc), this book is not.  The characters are wonderfully drawn, they came alive on the page very quickly, their emotions there for you to feel.  The world described needs (like a night at the theatre) suspension of reality - for the reality here is a fantasy, a fairytale, with larger than life characters in the circus, and others whose characters go with the job.  For example, Callanish the Gracekeeper - quiet, tidy, but wanting not to be out there looking after the watery graveyard; and Flitch the Messenger, taking and delivering messages between the islands and the boats is a shaven headed wide boy.   The cover is wonderful with a look of velvet about it and all in all at just under 300 pages, it just begs to be read. It isn't magic realism, it is fantasy, and I should have loved it, but this time I only liked it.  Full marks for the cover though!

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...