Sunday, 31 January 2016

Mrs Mac suggests - What to read in FEBRUARY

Well - after a wet January, when you must have spent more time than you hoped cooped up inside, and February looks like continuing that wet theme.  So we have to keep reading, no?!

My suggestion for February, therefore, is the kind of crime novel that you would not normally read.  For example, if you read lots of "golden age of crime", come on out of the 1930s and forwards to the new century.  If you read a lot of current crime, try going back in time a bit.  Perhaps you don't read crime novels at all?  Sometimes it's good to break out of your comfort zone.  My suggestion for February is therefore a book set in the years just following WW2 - 1946/7 -

A Commonplace Killing - Sian Busby

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Fin & Lady - Cathleen Schine

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Sometimes I read a book and want to tell everyone about it - resulting in a resounding silence all round!  Sometimes other people pick up on it and read it too, loving it as much as me.  Here is one of those "other people pick up on it" kind of books, I hope.  Published here in paperback in 2013, it only has 6 reviews on UK Amazon, so I hope it is just a sleeper, rather than a book to be ignored.  I loved this one, so let me tell you about it.
Fin is an eleven year old boy, living on a farm in Connecticut, when his mother dies.  He's now orphaned, and has no-one.  Well, that's not strictly true, as he has Lady, a half sister, living in New York city, old enough to become his guardian.  And so he's taken to NY to live with her, a girl who might be described as "flighty", but in the heady days of the 1960s perhaps free thinker might be a little nearer the mark.  Not quite near enough though.  For she longs to be free herself, even though she does not know what she really means.  What she does know is that marriage is something that removes freedom, so it's not for her.  She longs for adventure, and so she and Fin set out to have those adventures, riding bikes in Greenwich village, visiting museums, drinking in cafes, until it's time for Fin to be enrolled in school.  Her choice for him is a school where kids sit on the floor in circles whilst the teacher (called by his first name if you please) discusses "stuff".  For this is a time when Flower Power was at it's height, the Beatles were big everywhere, the Vietnam war was on everyone's mind, and people were marching for peace in the streets. 
If you lived through the 1960s, you will recognise a lot of things.  If you didn't, it will give you an insight of NY at that time.
As Fin grows up, Lady is his best friend, his sister, his mother, his companion.  Full of fun, but with an unsettling view of men, marriage, babies.  It takes some time for Fin to unravel her life and what she thinks.  The book is told by someone who was close to them both, although you will not come to find out who that is until towards the bittersweet ending of this lovely novel.  Just the kind of book to curl up by the fire with; or as Spring comes along, to find a patch of sun somewhere, to start at the beginning and just go for it.

Thursday, 28 January 2016

Visitation Street - Ivy Pochoda

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Imagine you are poor in the richest country in the world. Imagine that you live in the run-down end of Brooklyn NY. Imagine that you are never going to leave. And in these few streets and this little strip of water from where you can see Statton Island, New Jersey, Manhatten, there are people whose lives have been hit by tragedy. The girl who comes back from the dead after taking an inflatable out for a moonlight adventure with her friend who does not come back;  The boy whose father was shot dead when he was very young and his mother, haunted by the ghost of her husband.  Then there are the little people, the people who are always hoping that business will improve, even though the reader knows that this will never happen;  the down and outs, the drinkers, the parents who want more than this for their kids even though the readers knows this will never happen either.
A brilliant telling of poverty and what it does to a soul. Val, the girl who didn't drown; Cree, the black kid whose father was shot, Ren, a secretive older teen who seems set on looking out for Cree - these are the major characters here although everyone else is worth listening to.
But there is a righter of wrongs, here. Someone who can put a few things right. And because of what he does, things will change for some of those characters in the book.
The author lived in the area described so well for some years, and although I don't know it at all, she has captured it so that you can see smell and taste the lives of those who star in this book.Told in the present tense (She listens, he walks etc) but please don't be put off if this is not a style you normally like. An Amazon reviewer asks why this book is not better known, and I wish I knew, it is a compelling story and deserves a greater readership.

Thursday, 21 January 2016

Rumi - Sufi poet of 13th century

Just came across details of a book about Rumi and one of his companions/teachers.  The book didn't mean anything to me, but I had never heard of Rumi, and wondered what his poetry was like.  There is a lot of it..... but I found this one, and thought it beautiful altogether, describing his thoughts of a lover who he wanted to be with on that particular day.  Lovely isn't it?

“I want to see you.

Know your voice.

Recognize you when you
first come 'round the corner.

Sense your scent when I come
into a room you've just left.

Know the lift of your heel,
the glide of your foot.

Become familiar with the way
you purse your lips
then let them part,
just the slightest bit,
when I lean in to your space
and kiss you.

I want to know the joy
of how you whisper

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

A House in Flanders - Michael Jenkins

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    A little delight to keep on the shelves, ready to lend out, read again yourself, or just suggest to other booky friends.  
    (Sir) Michael Jenkins died, aged 77, in 2013.  He only wrote two books and this is a memoir of his 14th Summer, spent in Northern France in the company of a whole family of elderly not-really-relatives.  
     He was a diplomat, a mover and shaker in the early days of the European Union, a money man; spoke three languages fluently.  A wonderful life - and I believe from this tiny book (171 pages) that his diplomacy was learnt from his Aunt Yvonne, the chatelaine of the house where he spent that 14th Summer. 
     It was obviously a Summer where he learned many things, where he started to grow up, where he learned to appreciate the company of those much older than he.
    Each chapter is headed by the name of one of the characters.  The chapter describes that character perfectly, and one might think that this would be a boring read, because nothing much happens.  But it's the characters themselves, his descriptions of them and the feelings that he remembers those characters conjured up that make this little book a gem.  I found it in a second hand warehouse for £1 - small money well spent!
    You can read his obituary here, but do read the book first.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Breath - Tim Winton

  • After trawling around Amazon reviews for this I find that the 5 stars far outweigh the 1 and 2 stars.  I came to this as a Winton fan already, but it stayed on the shelf for a long while because it’s about surfing, a sport that has no effect on me except the appreciation of the Beach Boys surfer songs of yore.
    But what I do appreciate is a well written book.  This is one.  The lower scores were given by folk who for a start did not like the lack of “speech marks” as they could not tell where a conversation began and ended.  They also did not care for what they describe as the foul language.  Mmmm..... I have never worried about speech marks, and this book is quite clear about conversations, so no worries there.  I didn’t notice much foul language either, but when it was there it was part of the whole – so no offence taken by me.  And yet, those offended by foul language seemed not to have noticed a particular sexual practice...... 
    I know nothing of surfing.  I don’t want to do it, either, but Winton must know, and must have enjoyed or still enjoys the thrill of it – and now I  understand too.  But when you are a twelve year old,  just reaching adolescence with a thirteen year old friend who does not have a great home life, the thrills when doing something naughty; or banned, or just different cannot be ignored.  Led on by a fantastic surfer, who has travelled the world and studied the weather charts for the next storm and the waves that herald it, they learn to surf some big ones. For one of them enough is enough and other thrills beckon – for the other, the thrill of this wave will never be anything except the anticipation of the next.
    It’s short – 247 pages – and it isn’t “sweet” by any stretch of the imagination; but in those few pages Winton has captured something which you could feel,  and has written about it perfectly.  Add to that a first sexual encounter and a loss of friendship and this is a mighty coming of age story.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

The Dream Room - Marcel Moring

     This very short book (118 pages) is a beautifully put together novella, and for those of you who love a well constructed sentence, well written and leaving you wanting more, this may well be a good pick for you. Translated from the Dutch but with no acknowledgement of the translator, it looks as though he did the translation himself.
    It's a simple story - 12 year old David, a budding chef, is the only child.  He and his parents find themselves building plastic aeroplanes after his father has quit yet another job on the same day that his mother has been fired. This will keep the roof over their heads until other jobs turn up and they are relatively happy doing this for a while.   Then a friend from the past (an English ex-spy) turns up and here the book turns into a little mystery.
    Did so enjoy the read, until the last chapter.  David is now 40 and his current life is the subject of that last chapter - which, sadly for me, rather spoilt that lovely read because this seemed so much like an add on, and in fact it seems unnessary to the story to have it there at all. Still, I didn't write the book, and the author wanted that last chapter in, so who am I to say he was wrong?  Worth seeking out though - and I leave it to you to decide whether you read that last few pages or not.  The prose is lovely though.
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Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Bed and Breakfast Tales - 8

A bit of a stink!

Our visitors were out for the day.  Winter, but the sun was shining.  Around noon I went upstairs and opened the bedroom door, to change the cups and glasses and empty the bin.  I  was assaulted by that bit of a stink I mentioned, and worried that one of our cats might have been trapped in there for hours, and - well - you know!

I moved all the furniture, looked under the bed, but could find no sign of anything nasty.  But with the door open, the bit of a stink extended across the landing and into the bathroom.  I opened the bedroom window, I opened the bathroom window.  But an hour later I could smell it downstairs as well.  What to do?  Nothing, except explain when they came back that it wasn't my cats at fault!

In the event, it was a round of lovely ripe Camembert....  so panic over, but you know, they didn't think it smelled at all.  I must have a sensitive nose!

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...