Thursday, 30 July 2015

Mrs Mac Suggests: What to read in AUGUST ...

Well now..... here in Europe we are still in the holiday season, and holiday reads are what people seem to like - perhaps something different from their usual genre.  So I am, for the first time, suggesting a time with a title.

Read a book set between the two World Wars - so the 1920s, or the 1930s.  I have just finished and reviewed on here a light read,  set in the 1930s, which I read in 24 hours.  I'm not on holiday, but if I was, I would have enjoyed curling up outside with: 

High Rising - Angela Thirkell

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

High Rising - Angela Thirkell

This was the first book that Angela Thirkell wrote, published in 1933.  It's a time and place long gone - upper middle class England, a few servants, and a different language.  But a lovely place to spend a wet afternoon, or a day in bed with, for there is something about the people in Thirkell's book(s), even when you don't like them!  Village gossip, people falling in love with people they didn't even guess they might love, the odd disagreeable bod who no-one likes.  If you are familiar with the Miss Julia books, by Ann B Ross set in Southern States of the USA, and Miss Julia's snobbery, her love of a little excitement even whilst complaining about it, and her detective work you may think "what is she talking about?  They are not at all the same"! and wonder why I liked this book  Well, a different world, a different place, a different time, but actually - it was Miss Julia who came into my mind when I was reading this.

Thirkell has a nice style, full of irony, her heroine a widowed mother of four boys, all but one having flown the coop writes books (oh joy!).  Not very good ones she thinks, but they sell well and pay her youngest son's school fees, pay for her little cottage (probably bigger than the house I live in  but I did say different times), her flat in London, and put food on the table.  She was obviously a great observer of folk, people come to life on these pages and you sort of recognise them all as people you have come across.  Short (275 pages) comforting (it all turns out right in the end) and entertaining (Alexander McCall Smith loves them!) It was a lovely little interlude for me and I am off to order the next in the series.   Also congratulations to Virago Modern Classics for the choice of cover designs -if they are all the same artist it's Mick Wiggins - hats off to you, Mr Wiggins, they are an absolute delight!
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Thursday, 23 July 2015

Bed and Breakfast Tales - 5

Life has some great optimists - I am one!  But sometimes I find someone even more so than myself.  A while ago we had a couple staying with us who came from further West.  He ran a little second hand shop.  We talked about different things, politics, money the state of the nation - as you do!
And then it came round to "finds" in the antique world.  I thought he was going to tell me he had found something wonderful, and flogged it for a fortune.

Well.  He had found something sort of wonderful.  A pair of leopards, or similar, cast in bronze, black in colour, probably French.  I have watched enough Antiques Road Shows to know what he meant, and also to know that the signature of the sculpture will be somewhere on the bronze itself.  This had no signature, but in his own words "usually they have a wooden base and if I can find it, I know the signature will be on it and it will be worth a fortune".  What can you say?  If you are also a diplomat, and sometimes I can be, you say nothing, nothing at all...........

The Misremembered Man - Christina McKenna

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This is a debut novel by an Ulster woman, who has captured the characters and their surroundings perfectly.  The bachelor farmer Jamie, living in a house that has not been cleaned nor tidied for many years; a man prescribed Valium by his doctor for the depression;  a man with friends but no real company.  And Lydia, the spinster schoolteacher, similar age, who advertises for a man in the lonely hearts pages of the local newspaper only because yet another schoolfriend is getting married and she just cannot face taking her mother and being asked again "when is it your turn, Lydia?"  Most of us look for love in many places, we know there are different kinds of love, we don't want to make a fool of ourselves so perhaps we miss a chance, and Jamie and Lydia are two ordinary people like that.

  I loved this book.  Loved it.  In parts, it made me laugh out loud for there are some fantastic lines in there, for example the description of a lazy woman as the type that would keep a shovelful of dung on the table to keep the flies off the butter. 

And it also made me cry.  I think we all know now about those places in Ireland (the last of which only closed in 1996) run by those who should have known better (I mean how could you profess to love God and follow his rules when you will beat a small child because his mother bore him out of wedlock and then gave him up into the care of the church??).

So this lovely story of two people seeking love has that dark storyline intertwined, but that does not make either thing less because of it.  And it just has the most superb and perhaps unexpected ending, when I was laughing and crying both at the same time.

Recommended.  Get a copy, read it - I just don't believe you will not enjoy it.

Tuesday, 21 July 2015

My Sister, My Love - Joyce Carol Oates

If you remember, by any chance, mention of the murder of a small star of what the Americans call Beauty Queen Pageants, JonBenĂ©t Ramsey in Colorado some years ago ........ you may recall that this small child was found dead in her own home, the suspects her family, and in the end, no-one ever paid for that crime.  Here Oates has taken that true and dreadful occurrence as a base for her similar fiction-based-on-fact novel; named the child in her novel Bliss Rampike, and made her a very small, very young skating champion.  Like JonBenet, this little girl has a brother.  Like JonBenet, this little girl has two parents.  The story is a wandering one, mostly told from Skyler's (the brother) point of view, but in varying styles, which may confuse if you are not concentrating, but I found it a rather clever way of telling a complicated tale.
Skyler is the first-born in the family; Mummy's "little man", Daddy's "Skyboy", and is leading a lovely life, with loving parents when his sister arrives.  Named Edna Louise after her paternal grandmother, she is only four years old when she shows some skill at ice skating, and is renamed "Bliss".  Skyler is pushed aside - but is that in his head?  Certainly, his sister loves him, and looks on him to help her when she is frightened, when she wets the bed, when Mummy gets cross.  And this is only the start of the siblings problems, for it becomes clear very soon that Mummy drinks - and Mummy takes drugs (the kind that doctors prescribe), and Mummy is going to live her life vicariously through Bliss and her skating.  Daddy?  Well,  Daddy is a go-getter in the work place, he's heading for the top of somewhere or other and he's always staying away from home for "work".  Is work a blonde or a brunette?  Mmmmm - maybe he really is at work?

Both children are soon taking drugs like Mummy.  Bliss to make her sleep, both at night or for the afternoon rest, and also to perk her up so that she skates well; she has to take vitamins; and then there are the injections - apparently to make her bones strong (after all a broken bone for a skater is the finish, isn't it?)  Skyler?  who knows what drugs he takes, just accepts the handful from Mummy.

There are sharp pokes at the American Dream in this book.  As a Mummy, your kids should do well; you should go the right church every Sunday; you should have friends who's husbands are like yours.  Your children should have "play dates", arranged by Mummies, for they are too young to pick friends, especially the ones your parents want/need you to have.  You  need to attend the hairdressers and the beauty salon on a very regular basis, you need to be a brilliant hostess - in fact you need to be a kind of Stepford Wife for real.  And the children?  What they have to suffer is truly dreadful but not because they starve, or have no fresh water, or nowhere to sleep - but the pain for them is as bad, just in a different way.   Well, we know straight away that Bliss is dead, and we have several suspects including Skyler.... but it will be very near the end of the 562 pages that we find out who did the killing.  Between the start and the finish my heart broke for Skyler - Skyler who might be the killer -  and his broken life.

I was just horrified about the way some people live the American Dream and if you think it's not real, just look at the Real Wives of Texas/New Jersey/wherever  somewhere on your TV - it's not for me!    A complicated novel, but with not too many characters.  An eye-opener, a fat read.  I like Oates and her "under the microscope" tales of American life (We were the Mulveneys was another deeply sad but worth reading novel).  I had to concentrate, but I enjoyed the read.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Heading Out to Wonderful - Robert Goolrick

I do enjoy North American fiction.  Is it because it's so different?  Perhaps the pull of a continent so different, but with the same language, entices me.  This is Robert Goolrick's second novel, the first being A Reliable Wife, which was an extremely readable tale, and this too was a page turner, although it is rather darker, and for me, the better of the two.

Charlie Beale arrives, at the end of WW2, in a small town in the shadow of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.  He has cash in one suitcase, and clothes and a set of butchers' knives in the other.  It is unclear where the money or the knives came from, although at some point in the narrative we find the knives are French, so probably he picked them up in France, so he must have seen action?  He doesn't talk much about his past, and all he wants is peace and quiet.  Having found a tiny parcel of land down by the river, he sleeps out there nightly, near the river, under the stars, and finds peace.  He makes friends too, particularly a little boy, Sam, and Sam's parents, Alma and Will.  Will is the town butcher and takes Charlie on in the shop.  Alma helps Charlie by finding him a house to live in and accompanying him to auctions, to fill the house with furniture, kitchen ware and the like.  And that too is a peaceful existence, especially as he takes the child Sam under his wing.  Yes, everything is peaceful, and as in the book title, wonderful.

 Until,one day, a woman in a white dress walks into the butchers. She is Sylvan Glass, wife of the richest man in this little town;  and for Charlie, this is love at first sight.  Trouble ahead for everyone concerned, for there is a secret about Sylvan that she cannot disclose.

You will not find out until the last page or so who is telling the story, and indeed, it does not matter, for it is a story of love and loss, greed and pride, loss of childhood innocence - all so beautifully put together with a sense of foreboding that is tangible.  Be prepared for people behaving as humans always behave, for avoidable things happening, for love to turn out bad.  I'll look forward to another book by Robert Goolrick, any time.
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Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Just In Case - Meg Rosoff

This was Rosoff's second YA novel (the first was How I Live Now).  An American author, married to an Englishman and settled in London, she has the gift of getting inside a teen's head.

David Case is 15, and he has a baby brother, Charlie, who is 18 months old.  The day he sees his brother perched on the windowsill of his bedroom preparing to leap off into the unknown, he knows he has only a split second to save him, which he does.  When he grabs him, Charlie shouts "birdie fly!"  because, as you know, before you can speak properly you can converse with birds and animals - and once you learn to speak properly, that lovely skill disappears.  And a bird had just flown by, telling Charlie it was easy to fly, and lovely to do.
David knows that he only just saved Charlie.  But what if he hadn't?  What would fate have decreed for him then?  And in fact, what has fate in store for him now?  He's frightened, because fate is going to intervene in his life at every turn, and he will have no control over it.  Unless........ unless he disguises himself so that fate cannot find him.  And so he changes his name to Justin.  That's Justin Case (see book title), and Justin is taken in hand by a girl photographer who sort of adopts him in a charity shop and chooses clothes so unlike his own for him that he believes he is now truly hidden from fate.  When he has his first sexual encounter with her he believes that not only has fate lost track of him but also that he has found the love of his life.  Neither is true and there are bigger things out  there for Justin to deal with.
Easy to read, It only took a day to finish. It's a great book for adolescents I think, but it's also a great read for those of us who have left adolescence far behind, or perhaps those parents who are looking at the adolescence of their own child and wondering how the hell to cope.  Clever concept, and I really enjoyed it. 

Monday, 6 July 2015

Mrs Kimble - Jennifer Haigh

Ken Kimble must be an accomplished liar.  He persuades lots of people that he is something when he isn't that something at all, throughout his life.  Especially women.  But how does he do that?  How can three different women love this nondescript man at different times in his life?  All well, there's the rub, as Will Shakespeare might say.

  • Product DetailsIt is no secret to tell you that Ken Kimble is dead.  This is described on the first couple of pages.  Once that's over, you will meet the Mrs Kimbles as we come across them,  and later they come across each other later in the book after each of their stories of life with Ken Kimble has been told.  The first one he just walks away from after eight years - leaving two small children and a twenty six year old wife.  He moves on to a woman older, but with physical health problems - and then on to a woman with whom he has another child, and stays around for longer.  Do they call those cold, emotionless people sociopaths?  Mmmmm, I think so.  He lies when convenient, and loves fame - his pic in the newspaper or his business on TV.  He sets his alarm for early, and jogs every single morning at 5.30 come rain or hail.  He eats badly, food down his front or on his shirt cuffs, and making love is beyond him.  Oh yes, he can perform the sexual act by fitting the appropriate parts together and grinding away for five minutes after which he rolls away, but that's that. And that's sex for him with each of those wives - and still he can keep them close and make them think they love him.  Is there something about a man who tells you nothing of his background?  There must be for some of us - but not me, as I want to know the ins and outs of everything.

                                                    Really enjoyed this odd, well written first novel.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Love - Tony Morrison

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    Well, well, well. 

    Why did I not read some Toni Morrison earlier?  What a fabulous writer she is.  I have read a couple of novels by Pearl Cleague (another black American) and loved her style, which is quite different to Morrison's - in this book at least.  This is a well-woven short novel, around 200 pages, where we will find out how one man can be the downfall of so many women.

    In the 1930s, 40s and 50s, Bill Cosey owned and ran a resort hotel on the American East coast.  It was a classy spot, where musicians could enter by the front door and sleep on the same cotton sheets as the paying guests.  Where you could drink cocktails, dance all night to great bands, have sex with someone other than your spouse or regular partner and no-one would tell.  And in the day, you could lay on the smooth white sands, and swim in the ocean.

    If You Were Black.  For this was a resort owned by and catering for only black Americans.  Actually, black Americans with money.  For the locals, even if they saved the money for a celebration, perhaps a wedding, the hotel was always "booked" the day they wanted it, and it was always that way.

    The book starts and ends with the thoughts of "L", a woman with no other name who was cook at that hotel, producing wonderful food.  In between, you will find out a lot about Heed (Heed the Night) Cosey's second wife, and  Christine, his granddaughter, the two key characters.  How they first met, how they loved and then hated each other. The book isn't called  Love for nothing.  All aspects of love are covered in this powerful story, and my advice is to read it without anything to disturb you - you may miss a clue or two!  It's powerful stuff, and a world was opened up to me that made me want to read on.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

What to read in JULY!

Well, nearly forgot you were out there........ Not really, just a couple of busy days so I missed the first of the month.  Anyway, what shall we read in July?   I am reading a book set on the east coast of America:  So I am suggesting something set in a coastal area.  Mine is -

Love by Toni Morrison

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...