Saturday, 27 June 2015

Nora Webster - Colm Toibin

Looking on Amazon for other people's views, this is another marmite read.  I'm always disappointed at the views of people who say "boring", or "nothing happened".  Quite a lot happens to Nora, a widow with two older teenage girls, and two younger teenage boys, in rural Ireland with a quiet but telling background of the start of "the troubles" in Northern Ireland towards the end of the 20th Century.  

She has to sell the little tin-roofed seaside house where her family spent all their Summers - it has to be patched and mended every year, and she cannot deal with that alone (and the money will come in handy).  The two girls need to get through college, one on to teachers' training, and one to University in Dublin.  The boys, one with a stutter, and an unhappy time at school taught by the Christian Brothers, and the other, a worrier about everything.  

Nora really isn't a sociable animal, particularly after her husband dies.  She doesn't really want to make the right noises when yet another acquaintance knocks on her door and asks how she's doing.  She has to take a job to pay her way, and ends up in the accounts department of a local factory, under a harridan of a supervisor.  She must somehow find her own way in life, and although she has family who would support her if she let them, she really wants to do it on her own.  She wants to be Nora the woman, not Nora the mother, Nora the sister, Nora the widow.  This is her story.

Colm Toibin has a wonderful way with words - he has this woman perfectly portrayed, how did he do that?  One of the reviewers that didn't like this book said that they didn't like Nora.  Well, she isn't particularly likeable, but that doesn't make it a bad read!  I felt I knew her well (and liked her better) by the time I got to the end.   I was pre-occupied with other things when I started it, and it is a book better read in large chunks I think, so if it passes your way, do have a go.
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Friday, 26 June 2015

A good year for....... dandelions, foxgloves, mares tails - especially mares tails, damn them!

Image result for mares tail pic               Image result for mares tail pic

 In full flush!  Part of my garden is full this year.  Above, all stages, from right to left.

First it was dandelions.  Everywhere, but what a show earlier in the year!  Had to rush around taking the deadheads off before the seed heads formed  though.  Then I noticed that foxgloves where also everywhere, on banks and verges where I had never seen them before.  Both of those were ok, but the mares tails isn't.  I don't do weed killer, but I will have to succumb for this little bugger or I am lost.  Have a few every year;  but this year?  they have gone mad and so have I!!  I know I will never get rid of them, they have been around in this form since prehistoric times, but even though I live in the Jurasic Coastal Area - please!  take them away! 

Good luck if you have them too.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Truth According to Us - Annie Barrows

As I have had some time on my hands to just sit still for a few days, I gave the 482 pages of this book my all. My favourite book size is around 300 pages, so this was a smidge outside my comfort zone - but it didn't matter, I really loved it all.   And what a perfect title, because all of us see the truth of something in a slightly different way to the next person, and the book certainly reveals much in this wonderful read.
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Willa loves Felix her father, of course Jottie her aunt plus several other family members, but it's Felix she loves most.  Jottie loves Willa, her sister Bird and of course, Felix her brother.  Jottie is bringing up Felix's daughters, the mother has flown, and Felix is often on the road selling chemicals. The year is 1938, and into Macedonia, a small town in the state of Virginia comes Layla Beck, employed to write the history of the town.  It's she who will the the catalyst for truths to be told, loves to be lost and found, history to be re-written.
It was a glorious read, great chunks of it inhaled over a two day period.  The characters are so well-drawn, each has their flaws, their charms, their burdens. The truths that come out along the way will surprise you sometimes - but some of them will confirm your inklings of truth from earlier in the read.  Get to know all these characters, you are going to remember them I think! 
Written in an odd but for me a wonderful style - when Willa's talking it's first person, in Layla's case, her thoughts are often recorded in letters to family and friends, and for the other characters, well, they don't have their own voices, but they have plenty to tell you if you keep reading.  Sometimes Willa's first person voice will appear half way through a chapter, but I didn't find that disconcerting in any way.
Congratulations to Annie Barrows, who co-wrote The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with her late aunt.  As they say across the pond - You nailed it!

Tuesday, 16 June 2015

Elizabeth is Missing - Emma Healey

Elizabeth is Missing final UK cover copy 
Something rather different here, and a book which I enjoyed very much.  I wonder if I should use the word "enjoyed" for a book whose heroine is a very elderly lady suffering from dementia?   Well... yes, I can.  A well written book with a subject that probably worries us all as we get older - when we forget the word for something and say something like "you know what I mean, the stick thing, for cutting a loaf" and then five minutes later remember it's called a bread knife!  This doesn't mean dementia is on the way for you, but here is a book that will help you if you know someone who suffers already, or someone you cared for very much that is now gone - I suddenly realised how hard it must be for the sufferer.

Maud's friend Elizabeth is missing.  She's been to her home several times, but there is no-one there; she's phoned too, but no-one ever answers the phone. She's reported this several times at the local police station, but the sergeant on the desk just laughs.  She has come across Elizabeth's son too, who just shouts and swears at her.  She just does not know where Elizabeth can possibly be.  She keeps notes on small scraps of paper that are supposed to help her through the day, like "don't make toast" (she's putting on weight); but the most important ones are, of course, about Elizabeth.

Older memories sneak in now, and the writing changes, for all the memories of her childhood and teens seem crystal clear, and her sister Sukey, who left home when she married, also disappeared.  The younger Maud is desperate, like their parents, to find their missing sister and daughter.  She visits Sukey's home, she discusses the disappearance with Douglas, their young lodger, Frank, Sukey's husband, and her parents are often on the train up to London, in case Sukey just ran away. 

So I really liked how the author showed the difference between old and new memories here.  Maud remembering everything from 70 years ago, but not very much at all of yesterday.

Specialists who deal with dementia will confirm that as the memory starts to go, the new memories disappear very quickly, the old memories are much more clear, and stay with the patient longer.  A friend who's Mum suffered in this way was told by her doctor to perhaps imagine it this way.  Think about an old-fashioned pantry or larder, full of shelves of food, bottles, packets, bags.  As the memory starts to go, the shelves nearest to door start to collapse, and all the fresh foods and recently bought packages fall,ruined, on the floor.  But there at the back, on the dark shelves, are jars of jam and pickles made years ago, and the shelves holding them up are sturdy, and not collapsing.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves - Karen Joy Fowler

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    This truly is a marmite book, judging from reviews on Amazon, but never let that colour my judgement (or yours!).  It is a decidedly odd read, but compelling nonetheless.  If you decide to read it, I wonder if you will feel the same. 
    Rosemary is going to tell you the story of her family.  Her sister Fern, her brother Lowell, and her mother and father.  She's going to tell you how her sister disappeared when she was five years old, and how Lowell walked out of the family home in his last year at high school and just never came back.
    I want to tell you why, but for readers who are going to read this and don't know about the twist revealed about a quarter of the way through the book, I will keep silent on the subject.  The trauma of all their lives is explored by Rosemary, who has never felt complete since the disappearance of Fern.  And at college, when Lowell appears back in her life for just 24 hours, she realises that she is not, and can never be like most of the population.
    The time frame jumps about a bit - after all, the first line is "So the middle of my story comes in the winter of 1996" - but it wasn't hard to follow her thought processes.  I found the loss of both her sister and her brother heartbreaking, although not in the way a bereavement might do; and I was sad for her inability to make friends.  Let Rosemary tell you about her odd and extraordinary life.
    WARNING!  Do not read the back of the book (acknowledgements, book group guidance etc.) at all if you do not know the subject matter before you start.... in fact, leave it till afterwards even if you do - but do read all those pages afterwards.  Illuminating!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Glory Beeeeeeeee! The Bees are back!

Just so pleased to report that the ladies are back, working hard and finding lots of good stuff in  the garden.  This is the first year that they were late in arriving and I don't mind telling you I was very worried.  I had a bumble in one of the bedrooms on Friday, so desperate to get back out, and I managed to direct her to an open window, so that's all good.  And today, there were so many that I could hear the buzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ...... and that's what I like!

Annie Dunne - Sebastian Barry

Annie Dunne is an old fashioned spinster.  Irish, living with a cousin on a smallholding somewhere in Ireland, she is there because her cousin took her in.  She works hard (they both do), in the old-fashioned way - the milk cow is milked, the chicken are fed, eggs are searched for, land is dug, potatoes are planted, and the pony and trap is taken to the village for shopping.  It's the 1950s, and this summer Annie and her cousin Sarah are to look after two small children, their grandniece and grandnephew, whilst the parents are off to England looking for a job, accommodation and a better life.

The children arrive, are happy to be there, and the cousins are happy to have them.  It's going to be a good summer.  But in the background, little niggles are aired by Annie and suddenly she's not quite as nice as she seems.  Or perhaps she is just human, airing the kind of thoughts we all harbour but never let out.  Several things happen that summer:  the pony attempts to throw off the trap;  Annie sees in the  children the fact that they lie (but then, all children lie - she just finds that hard to come to terms with); and you get to learn some family secrets.  Reading this was like sitting in the garden on a sunny day, and just as you think it will last forever a cloud covers the sun and you get a feeling of trepidation and you hope the cloud will move on.

Every book Sebastian Barry has written is different.  Every one readable, and this one - well, this one is like reading poetry.  Told in the first person by Annie herself, and told in the present time it might take take a while to get used to, but it really is worth the read. 

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Tuesday, 2 June 2015

Baby Pea Soup

I was looking for something light for friends who are dropping in for lunch, and I remembered this recipe which I blogged about a few years ago.  Thought I had printed it out but no.  Anyway, found it, printed it out and then thought that someone reading me now might not have been reading me then...... so here is the link to a real easy Summer soup.  It's made with frozen petite pois, but at pea time, if you grow them, of course you can replace the frozen with fresh.

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...