Saturday, 30 December 2017

Mrs Mac suggests...... what to read in JANUARY 2018

Hello!  Hope you had the Christmas you wanted.  And now it's time for me to wish you the New Year you hope for.  If you think it odd that neither of my comments contain the words "Happy" or Merry", it's because life is not the same for everyone - and maybe we are not all filled with joy on those occasions when the world and the media think we should be!

Now it's time to move on to reading, which is the important thing, eh?  I read loads last year, and certainly have a top 10.  Shall I add that at the bottom?  Good idea!

My suggestion for January is to find and read

a short book, a light book

because just like holiday food, one can  have too much of a good thing.  I had read several heavy and dark tomes in the last couple of months, so I'm looking for something like meringue to lighten things!   And so I have chosen

Pippa Passes by Rumer Godden

And my 10 best reads last year?  Check these out.  In no particular order,  I loved them all:

Not Forgetting the Whale - John Ironmonger
Dirt Music - Tim Winton
The Lady Who Liked Clean Restrooms - J P Donleavy *
The Draughtsman - Robert Lautner
Should You Ask Me - Marianne Kavanagh
The Secret Rooms - Catherine Bailey N/F
Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves - Rachel Malik
A Gentleman in Moscow - Amor Towles  BOOK OF THE YEAR
I'll Be Seeing You - Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan
Last Bus to Wisdom - Ivan Doig
The Girl With All The Gifts - M R Carey

(* I got this one just for a challenge (a book with a long title) but I loved it - who knew!  It gets my HONOURABLE MENTION as it makes the list number 11).

Wednesday, 20 December 2017

Hello in December from Mrs Mac

Saturday, 16 December 2017

The Death of Sweet Mister - Daniel Woodrell

Daniel Woodrell writes of what he knows - and he knows the Ozarks.  Whilst I wouldn't want to know the characters in this short book, I did get to know them, and very quickly.  If you were an overweight thirteen year old whose father calls you fatso and who beats you at the slightest provication, you might well hate him.  And if your beautiful mother, who refers to you as Sweet Mister and who is as pretty as a picture is also beaten, and is reliant on pocket change to get by, you might well want to protect her from him.  What if you can't?  What if this just goes on and on?  And then, what if your mother takes up with a new man friend?

The characters are drawn so well you can smell the drink on their breaths, the sweat on their bodies, and know the hate in their hearts.  This is a harrowing read, but one that I won't tell you to steer clear of;  for in reading this, you may come to an understanding about how crimes happen and why, and how some children don't get the breaks they deserve (and frankly may not know what to do with anyway).  The tale is told in the first person by Shuggy, the Sweet Mister of the title, whose real name is Morris. He has a particular rythm which took me a few pages to get into.  After that I was off and running and couldn't put it down even though I was filled with dread from early on.  And then, that ending...... oh, I couldn't contemplate it, but somehow knew it was coming.

Wednesday, 13 December 2017

The Empress of Ice Cream - Anthony Capella

History and Ice cream together in one book?  Oh yes!  And to think I would never have picked this one myself.  This was passed on to me by a friend because I was short of a book for a category in a challenge I'd entered.  But I digress.

The lady in question was one of many mistresses of King Charles II of England, a girl from the landed gentry of Brittany, France.  Her job was to get the King to do the bidding of Louis XIV of France, and join him in a war against the Dutch.  Oh! and to persuade him to become a Catholic.  Her name? Louise de Keroualle, anglicised to Louise Carwell.  The intrigues of the English Court and parliament at that time were as much an eye opener to me, as they were to her.  Alongside her story is that of Carlo Demirco, the man who (supposedly) invented ice cream.  His story is a fiction, although certainly icecream was served to the King and Court at that time, and in any case, the descriptions of his flavours and how he got them are really worth a book of their own - although there are definitive books about ice cream which are described in the acknowledgements at the end of the book.
She decided that love would never take the place of politics; and he?  Well, he loved her but was never going to have her to himself.

This is historic faction and a lot of fun.  Easy to read, I polished off the 400 pages in a couple of days and enjoyed every mouthful!  And tell me, if you can, whatever happened to white strawberries?


Sunday, 10 December 2017

The Blessing - Nancy Mitford

One of those books that has remained on the shelf for years..... and so glad I read it when I was looking for something short and light.  This entertaining tale, set immediately after WW2 is an eye opener if you know nothing of the English and the French class system. (Ooops!  the French have a class system?  What about the Revolution?) You have to take this book at face value remember the year it was published (1951).  If you do that you should find yourself amused by the behaviour of the French aristo's and their circle in Paris.  Poor Grace, who marries Charles-Edouard in haste because in true Parisian fashion he sweeps her off her feet, finds life in Paris very different indeed from a rural gentrified upbringing in England.  How she copes with it is the basis of the book.  The Blessing?  Ah now.  That is Sigismonde (Sigi) their son, and he is less than a blessing due to the influences of Nanny, an absentee father, a perhaps too-loving mother and many others. 

[Nancy Mitford was herself a member of the English upper classes, and was one of six sisters who together form a very interesting and colourful family group.

 Deborah went on to become the Duchess of Devonshire;  Unity was a guest of Hitler at the 1938 Nuremberg Rally and attempted suicide at the outbreak of war in 1939; Pamela never married;  Diana's second husband (the first was heir Bryan Guinness) was fascist Sir Oswald Moseley; Jessica eloped with her second cousin and became a journalist in America.]

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Guernica - Dave Boling

I'll bet you thought I had won the lottery and run away, no?  Sorry faithful readers.  New kitchen being fitted does slow down the reading, but here I am:

Because of the the goings-on in Barcelona earlier this year, I pulled this one off the shelf for my Remembrance Read in November.  Guernica is in Spain, but in the Basque region, and they have always been fiercely independent.  Prior to the Spanish Civil War and WW2, they declared total independence from Spain, and elected their first president.  And then along came Generalisimo Franco, a fascist, supported by Mussilini and Hitler who changed the face of Spain.  What he also did was encourage the Nazi party to bomb a Basque town (a sort of practice for the Blitz in London?).  Guernica, the centre of Basque culture and tradition was chosen, and the commander of the bombing squadron was a relative of Richthofen the Red Baron.

Picasso, a Spaniard living in France, never returned to Spain, but he painted a large canvas of the same name, based on reports received in Paris shortly after the bombing.  It is now on permanent exhibition in the Queen Sophia Museum, Madrid.

The book is the story of a family and those that come in contact with it. The story of love of many kinds; love of town, love of family, love of culture.  It is also full of truth too, for this dreadful thing really did happen, and it behoves us not to forget it.  I do not look lightly on things that came after - the Blitz in London by the Luftwaffe; the carpet bombing of Dresden by the RAF;  Hiroshima by the American Air Force - and any other dreadful warfare that is currently happening around the world.  The words "Never Again" are used too often, because somewhere in the world, as I write, someone hates another enough to start planning the same kind of thing.  How sad that is.

But this is a book worth reading for many reasons.  If you are interested in the Basques as a people, their traditions, their family ways, this may appeal.  If you are interested in Spain as a nation and why small groups of people all round the world want their independence, you will find this an eye-opener.

Monday, 6 November 2017

The Reminders - Val Emmich

I really enjoyed this refreshing and different book about death and a worrying condition - because of an injury, ten year old Joan has a photographic memory for certain things, and Gavin has just lost the love of his life. The two come together because Joan's parents are friends of Gavin and his dead lover Sydney. When Gavin realises that Joan can remember things Sydney did on his visits to New York from California, he wants to know everything..... and that's when the mystery starts - because he made several visits he never told Gavin about.
This is the author's first novel - and it's a good one. Written in alternate chapters by both Joan and Gavin and told in the present - I am going; he points; etc, this is just the right style for the storyline. And how nice to find a book that is a little different - a love story, but one of an entirely different kind, with characters I loved too. It's divided into sections headed by Beatles song titles, and within those sections, each chapter is quite short. A different style, and a book I kept wanting "just another chapter" of.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Mrs Mac says OOOPs! because she forgot What to Read in November

Visitors from Canada, a completely new kitchen fitted,  complete (or nearly!) exhaustion, loss of a set of front door keys (found them) and all sorts of small stuff.  Remember that book called Don't Sweat the Small Stuff?   Sadly, whilst excellent advice, that is exactly what I have been doing for a month.  but now the cupboards are filled, the drawers are stocked, and only the tiles to go on the walls, and the new cooking facilities to be wired.  So let us move on, people!

November 11 is Remembrance Day - remembering the fallen of World War 1.  Around this time I always want to read a book either about that time, set in that time, or moving on from that time.  Sometimes that "moving on" means a book set in WW2.  Whatever I read, I am joined by a group of bookie internet friends. 

So this month I suggest you do the same - there are a lot of titles available. I am going to read

The Return of the Soldier - Rebecca West

Friday, 27 October 2017

The Girl With All The Gifts - M R Carey

I kept seeing this on people's lists.  People liked it.  I just didn't know why - and then I read it myself.  Dystopia and Zombies?  I don't think so!  I like a bit of dystopia and I never, ever read books which have  zombies in; until this one.  The end of the world as we know it in this scenario is caused by a ........ no, I don't think I'll say what it's caused by, because that would be half the excitement of the read done with, and it would be so much better to ease yourself into this odd beginning.  A child, who has a cell to herself to sleep in, gets buckled into a wheelchair every morning, hands and neck restrained, and is pushed into her classroom along with several other children, all similarly restrained.  A selection of teachers help the children to learn with 30 year old text books and stories - and Melanie, the brightest child in class is keen to learn.  But why is she restrained all day?  And why are the children only fed once a week?  And showered once a week also?  And actually, where the hell are they?
I read huge chunks of this at one sitting and it gets a 10/10 for me, although I have to say this is not a book for everyone and the squeamish amongst you may not enjoy this. The best kind of thrillers are those which are different.   After all, those with garrish covers bought at the airport for a holiday read are ten a penny, and this is definitely not one of those.  There are some odd characters within the pages too, a couple of soldiers, a scientist, an few teachers.  But it is Melanie I felt empathy with and she will stay with me a long, long time.

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Spinning Heart - Donal Ryan


 The tiger economy of Ireland is done for.  There is a downturn.  Ghost estates all over the place, full of built but empty houses, for there is no money to buy them.  And on the edge of a small town one of those estates grinds to a halt when the builder tells his team they are all redundant, does a runner and leaves them to pick up the pieces.

We'll find out pretty quickly that the builder paid no national insurance, pension pot, nothing, so all those men who thought that at least they could claim unemployment benefit find themselves with nothing.

Each chapter is told by a different member of the town. Each voice is different.  But slowly we will see how every character is linked to another, and ultimately to the whole town.  There is cruelty, swearing, abuse.  Is this real life?  I'm inclined to think it is.  This is what would happen in your town if you lost everything.

A brilliant first novel which gets high praise from me.   And his second is even better - and just as quirky.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Last Bus To Wisdom - Ivan Doig

It has taken me a while to read this fabulous book.  Not because the book is bad, but because things at home got in the way.  But this weekend, in between the housework, I ploughed through it, wanting to find out "what happens", but not wanting it to end.  This was Ivan Doig's last book, but thank goodness I have only read one other, as he may well be my favourite author of all time.   I've been reviewing my lists of books read over the last ten years, and to my surprise, I see I have read a lot of American fiction.  If you had asked me if I'd done that I would have answered, "well, maybe a few..."
If you think you won't like American fiction, if you have no interest in American writers, if you only stick with one kind of book, all I can say is break away!  Find this book and read it.
Donal lives with his grandmother following the death of his parents.  In the summer of 1951, Donal is sent from Montana to Wisconsin, to spend the summer with his Aunt Kate, grandmother's sister, whilst she has "female trouble" surgery.  And so he sets off, courtesy of Greyhound buses, all the way to Aunt Kate's.  The people he meets even before he gets there are described so well, so full of life, that I found myself on the bus with him.  And when he gets there, although he is expected, Aunt Kate is not what he expected, and neither is Uncle Dutch.  Within a couple of weeks Dutch and Donal have struck up a lasting friendship.  So strong that when Kate decides that the boy is not worth the trouble and packs him back to Montana, it is no surprise to the reader that Dutch is on the same bus, and looking for adventure.  And what adventures they have, that Summer.  If I was a kid of 11, in the 1950s, I think this is what I might be dreaming of, too.  A glorious romp, rich with a certain kind of language, huge characters, and an insight into a way of life now almost gone.   

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

Mrs Mac says sorry! and suggests what to read in OCTOBER

Apologies!   I got rather caught up at the end of September because I was away for the last week on holiday in Cornwall.  Accompanied by an elderly family member I came back to a day of frantic emptying cupboards in the  kitchen as the builder was arriving on Monday.... Phew.    Kitchen being stripped out now so that a new one can go in, and believe me, I am NEVER doing that again!! 

Anyway, moving on, a few days late.  We are into Autumn now, and whilst there are lovely days ahead, the mornings will be a little chilly, like the evenings.  But it isn't time yet to get the logs in for the woodburner, nor is it time to wrap up in a blanket.  But it's always time to read!

For October, I suggest

 a book about friendship

and so for myself, I have chosen -

Talk Before Sleep - Elizabeth Berg

Friday, 22 September 2017

Large White male - Pieris brassicae

Spotted in the garden in August (and onwards)  this is the Large White.  Quite often see them in pairs in the summer months (are they mating on the wing, then?) flitting around.  But until t this year never bothered to find out exactly what they were called - just knew the old fashioned name of cabbage white because the caterpillars love cabbage leaves.  And look!  brassicae in the name!
Well here is the male, so look out next summer.                           

Large White-Newdigate Surrey-30.08.2014

Celmatis Viticella "Kermesina"

 I do like clematis, and in a former garden I was never lucky.  Bill McKenzie was my first in this garden, and he just loves it - forgot to cut him back in February and he is RAMPANT!!  He's going to be cut back a bit in October, as I need to do some work on the border he is situated in.

A new bright red clematis I bought back in the spring , Madam Julia Correvon, went in with shoots all over the place.  It took a week for a bas**rd slug to find it  and eat every one.  So..... start again and put a copper collar round it.  It took 2 months for her to pluck up the  courage to shoot again, and this  time the bas**rd slug took 24 hours to find a way over the copper colour (or probably down from the shrub above it) and eat the new shoots.  All I am going to say is the root is not dead.... watch this space!!

However, To cheer myself up, I bought another viticella - Kermesina, with small flowers, and a wine colour petal.  I planted it, added a support and a copper collar and waited for it to grow up into a nearby silver birth, and over to the nearest fence.  Pah!  None of that nonsense thank you, not when there is a lovely support to grow round in circles! I haven't a picture of it taken by myself, but found this one on the internet from Sverre Lund, so thank you for that!
Image result for clematis viticella kermesina

It's full height is around 3 metres, and they suggest growing it on an obelisk,  so I guess it's support is just what it likes.  Pretty on those long stems, eh?

They require no work at all, the viticellas, except to cut back to the first pair of shoots in February.  How easy can that be?  So if you have never tried on before,  Try one in this group (and don't forget the copper collar to start with).  Rarely gets clematis wilt, either!

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

PAX - Sara Pennypacker

Product Details
This one, new in paperback,  caught my eye on the front table of the bookshop.  The assistant told me she "loved" it!  I didn't buy it on the strength of that comment, but the cover is wonderful and the comments on the back drew me in.

Pax is a fox.  A pet, though, not wild.  He was found in a litter of three, the only kit still breathing, the parents both dead.  So Peter, Pax's boy, takes him home and saves his life and they are inseperable for some years, until the day the boy has to let go.  He has to open the car door, put him out and let his father drive off.  The reason for the abandonment becomes clear as we read the book.    No country is mentioned, although it sounds like America, but it could be anywhere in the northern hemisphere;  a war is coming, but it becomes obvious that this war is a civil war and is about access to water.   So it has a slightly dystopian feel about it.

Pax knows his boy will come and collect him.  But Peter is taken to his grandfather whilst his father goes off to war.  How Peter solves the problem of finding Pax, and how Pax remains in the area because he just has to wait for his boy to return is beautifully told.  There is violence because of the war and also because life in the wild is violent for any animal, whether in the hunt for food or the attack of another species;  there is love and care to for both the animals and for the boy, who finds a friend where he least exects it.   Will Pax survive?  and will Peter ever find him?

I think this is aimed at the YA market but it doesn't matter because this is a good read for any age however old.  I have to disagree with a one star rating on Amazon where a reader said that this was not suitable for children...... why not?  they can be little brutes themselves, so why would they be steered away from a wonderful read?

Saturday, 16 September 2017

Tribe - Sebastian Junger

Just 136 pages long, this is a fascinating essay about belonging - whether to your tribe, or your army unit, or your family.  I found this a book worth reading.  It is a thought provoking little volume.  Why do people join tribes?  Why do suicide rates drop during periods of war?  Why do people feel deflated after a war is over? 

It was recommended to me by a young American woman, who told me I just "had" to read it!  Her mother had, apparently,  read it 5 times already.  I can see the fascination it held for her because Junger looks at groups of people from the other end of the usual angle.  It starts with the question of why did many early early European settlers in North America join Native American tribes, either by choice or kidnapping (and if the latter, why choose to stay if they had the chance to leave?); and ends with a short but succinct observation about helping others or being just dead inside if you didn't.

You don't have to be American, you don't have to be - or know of - a veteran of war, you just need to be interested in life in general.  A great little study - and this from someone who left education many years ago.  This was a real food for thought read for me.

Monday, 4 September 2017

Niagara Falls All Over Again - Elizabeth McCracken

American vaudeville, early talkies and double acts.  That's the subject here, isn't it?  Well yes and no.  Certainly, the double act Carter and Sharp (think Abbot and Costello, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis) have a winning formula - one is a funny man, one a straight man and once they meet, this takes them on a money-making career path, through vaudeville theatre, and when that starts to dry up, into the movies.  It's a love hate relationship, they are very funny together, but when not "on", they fall out several times.

Product Details
If I said this was an in depth analysis of a double act it might be true, but it is deep in a different way;  we find out about Sharp's early life, but nothing about Carter's.  This is because Sharp is telling the story, and so we start at his childhood and move throught his entire life, encompassing the partnership with Carter.  Of Carter's early life, indeed, much of his life until he and Sharp meet is never spoken of, and Carter is always the funny man.  Always. On stage and off.  The pair drink, party, seduce women, get married, have children:   but for both men these things are not quite so important as fame and the trimmings that go with it.

McCracken did  a lot of research to get this book right (there are acknowledgements at the end of the book), and possibly it took her a long time to write it, but how wonderfully she describes down town Iowa; touring vaudeville theatres; Hollywood in the dearly days of movie making - the houses, the parties, the booze etc. There are also losses, when women move on, or take new partners, or die.  All of these things will have an affect on the duo.   Little known in the UK, this is a book about a certain time and type of American.  Deserves to be read.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

Visiting a garden and finding treasures!

Today it rains...... yesterday it didn't.  So it was a good thing that yesterday I went to see a garden open for the day featured in The Yellow Book.  Look - try as I might, I don't think I am ever going to get into that book, even though 15 years ago when I started this garden that little thought twinkled there in the back of my brain.  But I love the planning of a new bed, or the changing of an old one and I especially love, in someone else's garden, the sight of something I have to have in mine!

And this is what I found yesterday.  It's a mouthful.  Eupatorium Maculatum Atropurpureum.  But it's common name is Joe Pye Weed, and that's what I will remember!  In the garden I saw yesterday it was over seven feet tall, and covered in bees of different kinds.  The owner of the garden says that butterflies love it too.  It was lovely.  So I sat in the sun, with my slice of lime cake and a cuppa (all proceeds for charity), wondering where I could put it.  And today, after much thought I know exactly where it is going!  Now I just have to order three so that I can get a large group in flower next August/ September.

I have a path right up the side of my garden that stretches for about 125 feet.  My next door neighbour has a right of way over it, as his garden is up beyond mine.  My big plan for next year is to set at least 4 arches over that path, and plant climbing or rambling roses and clematis.  There are already 3 birches (2 silver and one red), a black alder and a red smoke tree on that path, and I think this will fit in with them a treat.  But for now, just have a look!

The pic below came from a lovely garden blog  -  and I am sure the owner of the garden and the blog won't mind his pic on my blog.  So thank you Rick, and I was pleased to find you!

Related image

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

The Silent Boy - Lois Lowry

I really like Lois Lowry’s books.  She has a knack of letting you read for enjoyment, but somewhere in there she throws in some education.  Her books are written for older children and young adults – but take a chance, they are worth reading at any age.  Here, at the beginning of the 20th century, somewhere in mid-America, we will meet Katy Thatcher, daughter of the local doctor.  The book describes only a couple of years of her life, but they are important years.  During this time she meets the silent boy, Jacob.  Referred to in the neighbourhood as “touched” (the kindest name people refer to him as), but if you are an adult reading this, as I was, it soon becomes clear that he is severely autistic.  He cannot talk, will look no-one in the eye, but is a caring child.  He knows how to quiet horses, has a dog that loves him, and he often roams over the four miles between he and Katy’s  house just to sing to the horses.  It is because he lives on a farm and is used to the care of animals that the event occurs  that will change his life and Katy’s too.  

There is not going to be a happy ending, but nevertheless this is a story worth reading.  Quietly, quietly, the clues are laid down and the book moves onwards towards its heartbreaking end. 


Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Mrs Mac Suggests - what to read in September

I am ignoring any blogs or articles about autumn/fall.  It isn't even the end of August as I write this!  Always ahead of the game, newspapers particularly are featuring coats, boots etc - and I haven't had my Summer holiday yet. 

So what to read in September?  I suggest

A book you've been saving as a treat

Could be anything at all, any subject, any number of pages.  I saved my particular choice for my holiday, coming soon.  OK readers, I can hear the question now - "Only one book for an entire holiday?"  Well maybe I'll take a couple more but this will be a busy time with several things planned, so no half a days on a beach or in the forest are available this time round.  So the book I am planning to read is 

Last Bus to Wisdom - Ivan Doig 

*  A little aside about Ivan Doig.  I read The Whistling Season earlier this year and loved it.  A friend sent me this one and promised a couple more as she read them.  and then I found out he was dead.  So although there are several books to be enjoyed, there are no more to come.

Enjoy September! 

Saturday, 26 August 2017

I'll Be Seeing You - Suzanne Hayes and Loretta Nyhan

Sometimes a book is so delicious you want the world to know about it.... which of course is why I blog.  And if you are a regular reader you know I do not often review new books.  This one is not new, although not old either.  Published in the UK in 2013, I picked it up second-hand for 50p.  Bargain!  I picked it up (good cover, caught my eye) and the thing that made my buy it?  Written by two women who had never even met at the time of publication....... I was intrigued.  At the end of the book, there is a "conversation" with both authors where you can find out more, but please do try not  to read that until you have finished the book!   So.......

Rita and Glory are penpals.  Rita lives in Iowa, and Glory on the coast of Massachusetts.  At a church group for women one afternoon in January 1943, they are finding penpals for women who have family members in service during WW2.  Glory's young husband Robert has not yet left the US, but will be gone shortly.  Rita is around 40 and married to a professor who enlisted for the war effort and he's somewhere in North Africa.  At first, both these woman tread carefully, just generalisations about how they feel, what it's like to have someone you love miles away and what happens in each's neighbourhoods on a daily basis.  But as the weeks and months go on, and letters continue to be exchanged, the friendship deepens, secrets are divulged, tears are shed and a life long bond is forged.

There is nothing in this novel except letters.  So if you think this is not for you, pass on by.  One Amazon reviewer (1 star) said it was "difficult to get into".  Well, you are reading letters, so there is nothing to get into, is there?  You're in already - but I do understand that this style is not for everyone.
There is a whole list of characters here, they come to life slowly through the letters.  Some you love from day one, some you come to love when you find out the reasons behind their behaviour, some you will never love.  But the characters that support the story of Rita and Glory are fully formed, not shadows in the background.  Both women have to be strong, they don't suffer hardships of food shortages, they are not bombed, the enemy is not in or over their country. They both suffer great sadness in different ways, and you feel for them both.  I am unsure why this book has not sold well here.  It is well written, has a good story, and strong characters.  I loved it, and finished with a few tears.

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...