Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Mrs Mac suggests - What to read in APRIL

Hello! hello! and Springtime greetings. Well the date has come and gone, and the daffs are flowering, but there isn't enough of that lovely Spring sunshine just yet..... come on, come on!

While we are all waiting, let's have a look at what to read in April.

   How about a book starring your favourite literary sleuth?

Yes!  that sounds like a really good idea, and I think I will look for and read a book by Rex Stout, starring that overweight, clever, short-tempered food loving Nero Wolfe.  He wrote so many - novellas and short stories too, so there are plenty to pick from, but the very first was:


Take your pick though - they are stand-alones although the characters appear in book after book.


Tuesday, 28 March 2017

The Spring is Sprung....

My  Mum, who has been gone a very long time, pops into my head from time to time, unannounced.  I had not thought about this little rhyme for some years now, but my Mum used to say it on the first day of spring every year when I was small.

What is it?  Where does it come from?  And where would a little country lady who knew no Americans and only left the country once in her life get this from?  And it sounds as though it should be said in a New Jersey accent......

The Spring is sprung
The grass is riz
I wonder where dem boidies is?

They say the boid is on the wing
But that's absoid
Because the wing is on the boid!

Answers on a postcard please.........!

Pereira Maintains - Antonio Tabucchi

 Doctor Pereira was a newspaper reporter, crime pages, for years.  He finds himself now in late middle age editing the "culture" page of a new evening newspaper.  It's 1938, Portugal is under the grip of the dictator Salazar, who is supported politically by Franco in Spain, Hitler in Germany Mussolini in Italy. Guernica has been bombed.  So it's no different at that time than other countries today - where ordinary people have to get on with their lives and do ordinary things.....

When Periera meets Rossi, a young Italian man who needs a job and tells him he can write "in advance" obituaries for him (ready for the death when it occurs) he employs him on an ad hoc basis and pays him from his own pocket for starters.  Rossi has no money, and gets a few free lunches from Periera.  In return he produces obituaries that Periera cannot use.  We, the readers, can see that something is going to happen from very early on, although of course, the characters cannot.  We find Periera a bit of a blank sheet - fat, lazy, disinterested in politics and not a hero - yet.

Short, less than 200 pages, and for me, beautifully described.   I never mind reading a new author, I just have to like the subject and the style.  Tabucchi is Italian and this is the first time I have happened upon him.  It is interesting to read a book originally written in another language - as long as it's well translated.  I really enjoyed this book, a book about nothing really, starring a rather boring man,  which is actually a neat little thriller.

Sunday, 12 March 2017

The Draughtsman - Robert Lautner

 Set in Germany towards the end of WW2, this extraordinary tale explores that old adage about what happens when mankind sees something but does nothing. Ernst is married to a beautiful wife, his soulmate. They live hand to mouth in a couple of small rooms, paying too much rent, she working in a bar/cafe a couple of nights a week, and he having not worked at all since university. But he is a trained draughtsman, and there is a large engineering firm in town. After an interview, he is surprised and pleased to be offered a job, redrawing engineering plans so that a layman will understand them. His job is in the Special Ovens Department, under the management of Hans Klein, a showy kind of guy, fast car, nice clothes etc. It is he who arranges for Ernst and Etta to move out of their crummy accommodation and into a new house, with several rooms, and for the installation of a telephone.

It is not long before Ernst realises what it is he is working on, but as is so often the case, he decides that "I am just doing my job". His wife is not so sure, and when his childhood friend Paul, who has made a substantial living out of running his own crematorium talks to him about that job, he is still dismissive. At first, I questioned why he would continue at his job, but realization dawned as I realised that no job meant no home, no food, and nothing at all to look forward to - for when would the war end? At least the town Ernst and Etta live in is away from the fighting and bombing, food is readily available, and they are near the wonderful Beech Tree Forest..... Buchenwald.

Written in the first person, we see Ernst's views remain the same for a very long time - just doing his job - but somehow, somehow, his mind begins to change. But will it change enough?

The research for this novel is impeccable. It is fiction, but so much of it actually happened. Lautner says in his afterward (which simply must be read) that he wrote the book because he wanted to ask the question "What would you do?" And for Ernst, that is the question. After all, he was only doing his job.

*Robert Lautner's first book was The Road to Reckoning.

Thursday, 9 March 2017

Sweet Thursday - John Steinbeck

Last year (Wednesday 10 August 2016, so that you can find it on my date index if you want to read it), I spoke about John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, an American classic and a book new to me. Oh! I loved it all - the prose, the larger than life characters, and Steinbeck's style.

And now I can tell you about it's companion volume, Sweet Thursday.  Another short novel, this is set just after the end of  WW2.  The Canneries are closed, fish stock depleted totally, but down on the row life goes on.  Doc is back from his war, feeling a little different about life now and faced with a big clear up job in  his laboratory - the pal he left in charge having scooted.  The Bear Flag brothel has a new madam;  Lee Chong's grocery shop is now under the ownership of a Mexican, Chong having sailed off into the sunset on his boat purchased with the sale proceeds of the shop and any other holdings.  And Mack?  Mack is still there, resident in charge at the Palace Flophouse along with all the other down-and outs.

Mack who still wants to help Doc even though every time he tries to do so things go horribly wrong and Fauna, the Bear Flag madam,  comes up with a plan for Doc.  He's lonely but  won't admit it.  Suzy, a new recruit to the brothel is not really much good at whoring, and in Fauna's view, is prime material for a wife for Doc.  What could possibly go wrong?

Tuesday, 7 March 2017

Just before Spring at Pine Tree Cottage

daffodil 'TĂȘ

Anything popping up in your garden yet?  Some years ago I took the decision to plant only miniature daffodils (there were no daffs, big or small at that time).  They are small, and they don't multiply fast, but this year is definitely the best, and they are giving me a good show.   Most of them are the common "tete a tete" which I believe are raised in their thousands because they are really hardy and easy care which is why supermarkets sell so many of them!  No matter, I love the little yellow fellas.

Mini Daffodil Bulbs - Minnow
 However, what they are also telling me is that I have not yet planted enough yet!  So whilst in another town  at the weekend, I found just two trays of a new-to-this garden shown left - "minnow"- so they have to go in, together with the the pot of "tete a tete" which were on our table Christmas day and so of course quickly over.  I think the "minnow" may be a bit taller than "tete a tete", so will put them in further back in the borders.

 Also, I see that my Ceanothus (Californian lilac) is full of buds this year, so both of this and the daffs  are obviously happy about last year's weather whatever it was. It's up at around 7 feet this year with a wide spread, and the picture below is from the Internet, not my garden, because although the buds are set, it will be around 3 weeks before they are out and look like this.  They have a short life, so I don't know how many more years I will have this one, so I'm going to love it every year it blooms for me.
Image result for californian lilac
 Tulips are up now, showing their green.  I am always surprised to see the leaves because in my last garden I could never get tulips to do anything at all, and when I moved to this garden several existing bulbs shot up in the spring and have continued to perform for the last 14 years.  After about three years of re-appearance, I realised that the conditions were good for them here, and so I bunged a few in - they performed - then the next year a few more - ditto.  So every year, just a few more to give me joy.  Then last week at a farm shop and cafe for a cup of tea, I saw that there were pots of tulips for sale, very overcrowded, but healthy and one flower which gave me the key - a sort of dark peach.  They appear to me miniatures too - but of course that might be the overcrowding, so they are going in shortly and I'll have to wait till next year to see how tall they grow!

And then for flowering later this year, some plants arrived by post.  When I read the label of this one, I laughed, for whoever considered growing Greater Sea Kale in a border?  Me!  And this is why - from nothing at all (dies right back) you get a spread of up to 5 feet of white froth beloved by bees - who could resist?   Again, this is not mine but a picture from the Internet.  But I can hope, can't I?

Image result for greater sea kale

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Come and say hello!

I am as guilty of being a stalker as most blog followers - I mean, how many times do you open a blog, read the contents and then skip on to the next?  I know!  Me too!  Every now and then I am moved to make a comment - but not every day.

When I first started blogging I had a few followers and when my "looks" passed 3,000 I got really excited!  Now I am getting loads of lookers, and my review posts often get 100/200  looks within a month of posting.  But of course, I have no idea if those readers are actually tuning in to me, or whether my blog comes up  on a Google search when someone is seeking mention of  the book I reviewed.  So help me out guys......

Scroll to the bottom of this post and you will see a tiny grey numeral and the word comment - mostly this says "1 comment" and if you click on it you will see that the 1 comment is actually me.  Just type in the reply box, I'd be glad to have any comments about anything I post - although if you're looking for love (as in a comment I did get a little while ago), move on, this is not the blog you're looking for.

Looking forward to hearing from you!

Friday, 3 March 2017

Gathering Blue - Lois Lowry

This is a companion volume to The Giver - and there are two more, making a quartet.  But don't think that this follows the story of The Giver on, because is does not.  It isn't meant to.  It is another tale of the future, but a different future.  Perhaps it is a future alongside that of The Giver but in another part of the world, perhaps it is later than the time when The Giver is set....... but importantly, it informs us that power of the few is everything unless we fight it.  

Kira is a girl with a damaged leg.  Right at the beginning we are aware that her mother is dead, and that she is not wanted in her own village by some of it's inhabitants.  She is grieving for her Mother, her Father is long dead, and she will be unable to earn enough credit for food in the weaving shop where she clears the floor of cloth scraps every day.   We see that two things are important, and both things are introduced to the reader in quick succession - she has a friend, a scruffy and dirty little orphan boy called Matt; when having a friend is important, and she meets an elder at a village meeting where she has been accused of being a drain on the village, and eating too much.  The elder offers her hope and a home, for he knows she can sew and embroider and there is an important item of clothing to be repaired and completed.  So she moves into what we would describe as luxurious quarters after the dirt and filth of the mud and wattle huts the villagers live in.  
In those new surroundings, she meets Tom, a boy who is doing a similar job to her, but in wood. He is also an orphan and he is to repair, recarve and complete an historic staff, a staff on which the people's history is recorded.  They have rooms alongside each other, they eat their meals together, and they talk together after their workload is finished for the day.  There is a mystery..... sometimes, in the night, Kira hears a small child crying.  
I do like Lois Lowry's style - a great childrens' and YA author.  This one could be read by good readers of say 9-10 upwards. I am much older than that, and I enjoyed the journey immensely - a real page turner this one, as we hold our breaths and hope that everything turns out alright.

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...