Monday, 29 May 2017

Mrs Mac Suggests...... what to read in June

Wet end to the month of May here in Dorset - but the garden is lapping it up!  And when you are tidying back and clipping and weeding, everthing gets wet - your trousers, shirt, shoes..... So the best thing is to come indoors and grab a book and a cuppa!

I wondered what to suggest because Springtime is not the time for a big chunkie read on the sofa with the fire alight, is it?  My attention span is always shorter in spring because I want to be gardening, and this year I am melancholy because a lovely friend died last week, and I am currently only reading mags and newspapers - and those with the attention span of a gnat!  So it didn't take me long to find an apt subject for a read in June, and I'm suggesting that even though you may never have read one before, just the thing for a quicker read might be

A graphic novel

You may huff and puff and mutter "comics!" under your breath, but believe me there is some good stuff out there.  Have a look in your local bookshop, or talk to your library.... you may be pleasantly surprised!  One of my favourites is some years old now, but in two volumes, I can really recommend

Maus - Art Speigleman

Set in WW2, all the characters are animals, Jews are mice, Hitler is a cat.  There are pigs and other animals too, but please don't imagine this is a children's book.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Beloved Stranger - Clare Boylan

Another of those "Cinderella" books (left on my shelves for too long) which I am pleased to have found and read at last.  Superficially, this is the story of a marriage - a marriage of 50 years. Married young;  Dick, young, handsome and sexy; Lily, young, pretty and submissive.  Their marriage has been long and happy,  it has produced one child.

But after a frightening incident one night, Dick is diagnosed as bi-polar.  As we read, we realise that his "moods" throughout the marriage have a root cause.  And when he suffers an episode of paranoia, he is sectioned.  And now we begin the see how Lily has relied on Dick for their life.  We also see how much Dick has relied on Lily for every home comfort.  We also realise that we only know what people want to tell us and behind closed doors, things may be very different.  Dick's paranoia worsens; Ruth their daughter attempts to help but she has a different view of the marriage to her mother.  Very readable with a metaphorical "kick in the bollocks" at the very end.

A serious look at mental illness through the looking glass of a loving couple, this may make you think "what if.....".  Sady, Boylan, who died in 2006, didn't write enough books for me.  This is the last one I had on the shelves, although there are a couple to seek out.    

Sunday, 14 May 2017

The Secret Rooms - Catherine Bailey

A mystery discovered whilst researching for another book altogether meant that the author, with the permission of the current Duke of Rutland, set out to solve a riddle from the past and in doing so found two more.

The 9th Duke of Rutland died in 1940, in a small set of rooms on the ground floor of Belvoir Castle, Rutland.  His wife, the Duchess had called the doctor as a matter of urgency but when he arrived he was not permitted the enter, the Duke's footman had been ordered by the Duke not to let him in until he had "finished something" - he died next day, and his son ordered the rooms locked and sealed.  They stayed that way for over 60 years.  And there the mystery starts, although it begins much earlier, in 1898 when Haddon, the first child and heir and the elder brother of the 9th Duke, dies.

Catherine Bailey discovers three gaps in the family papers, and when she sets out to find out what those gaps covered in the history of the Manners family she finds things that you couldn't make up!  For me, this was as exciting as a thriller, only better;  it was shocking - the word Machiavellian comes to mind when thinking about John, Duke of Rutland's mother Violet!  It was truly a tale of power that goes with place;  it will bring you up with a shock on on sorts of subjects; and it was a real page turner!  Oh, and it will give you a feel for the way things were then in the upper classes and in society and Parliament.  You may think again about how politicians behave now;  and it is certain that our current armed forces are better supported by senior staff now than they were then..... If you remember the last series of Blackadder and the running joke about Haig's Drinks Cabinet - well, think again.

The book Catherine Bailey started out to research was originally about the number of workers from Belvoir Castle and the Belvoir estate who marched off to WW1, and she has added the entire list of the war dead from Belvoir towards the end of the book.   Recommended.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Run - Ann Patchett.

As you may have noticed, I have read several books this year that have been on the shelves far too long. I am continuing to do the same because it seems a shame if I miss another lovely read because I am too keen to pick a new book!  This is one of those Cinderella books ( left on the shelf).

Today's book, recommended to anyone who loves a well told tale that does not involve murder and mayhem, is by an author I have only read one other of.  That was Bel Canto.  Ann Patchett seems able to get beneath the skin of people so that you understand easily that what you see is not always what you get.

Doyle is the father of a mixed family and he's a widower.  His oldest son Sullivan is white, and living in Africa, seldom home, and then for only very short visits. Why did he leave home?   His two younger brothers are adopted, black, and in their late teens.  Good school, nice area, they are doing well, and Doyle looks forward to them leading rewarding lives - politicians perhaps?  The boys themselves, Tip and Teddy, have other ideas.  Tip wants to be a ichthyologist (scientist who studies fish) and Teddy, because of a much loved uncle, is leaning towards the priesthood.

There is another family that has a connection with that one.  Tennessee, a single black mother, and her daughter, Kenya.  And on the night of a dreadful snowstorm when Tennessee pushes Tip to safely out of the path of an oncoming vehicle, the two families will become linked forever.

There are several threads in these pages, and eventually they will all come together.  Patchett has a gentle style, even when things that are not so gentle are being discussed, or when things happen that make the reader silently say "oh no!".  But she seems to understand that behind every family there is a story, and behind closed doors there is sometimes a mystery.  Liked this one a lot.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Fledglings - what are they?

The birds in the picture are collared doves.  Easily identified by the dark feathers at the neck. I have some that visit my garden, although this is not a post specifically about collared doves (or doves of any kind!)  It is about fledglings - and until I found an article in the newspaper about fledglings, I was totally ignorant of what that actually meant.

So when I spotted a smallish bird with the same colouring but without the dark feathers, sitting quite happily on a garden bench, I wondered what the hell I had found.  I was worried not only about cats (we are on the end of a route taken by several neighbourhood cats and as the main road is next, they return they way they came); but also because we have lost several birds to sparrowhawks.  I know raptors are glorious - but not when they take another bird in front of me.  Anyway, I kept my eye on the one on the bench.  He seemed to disappear about 8pm and reappear around 7 am for about a week.  Sometimes two adults would join him - and appeared to be showing him how to stretch his wings..... and I still never caught on!!  Then I saw the article in the paper an appeal from the RSPB (Royal Society for the Protection of Birds) - part of which I reproduce here, for interest, information, and general edification!

Just before baby birds are ready to tentatively extend a wing, wiggle a tail feather and take flight for the first time, they leave their nest - "fledge" as it's called.  They then spend a couple of days on the ground and round the nest developing their final flight feathers.  The fledglings will appear fully feathered, and will hop around your garden in broad daylight - hence why members of the public are convinced they need rescuing.  Fledglings are extremely unlikely to be abandoned.  The parent birds are either gathering food, or more probably nearby with a beady eye on their youngster waiting for you to leave.  They know best about rearing their young.  Removing a fledgling from the wild (or your garden) significantly reduces it's chances of long time survival, so please don't "kidnap" the baby, even in a well-meaning way.  There are only a couple of situations when the public should give a helping hand.  If the bird is found on a busy road or pathway, pick it up (carefully) and move it a short distance to a safer place. It must be within hearing distance of where it was found.  

Similarly, if you find your cat or dog eyeing up a fledgling, keep the animal in for a couple of days (or the dog on a lead).  If you find an injured fledgling, contact (in the UK) the RSPCA.  You might phone your local vet as they do sometimes treat wild birds for free.  

Finally, if you discover a baby bird on the ground either with no feathers or covered only with a little coat of "down", it has likely fallen out of the nest ahead of schedule.  Occasionally it is possible to put these babies back in the nest, but only if you are 100% sure of the nest it fell out of.

So now you know.  Why, at my age, didn't I know how fledglings behaved?  We have at least two sets of nesting blackbirds in our hedges every year, and at some point there is always a lot of running up and down the grass and bobbing up and down with several of them at once.  Now I know that they are using our grass for take-off practice!  Keep your eyes open now, you may come across a fledgling for the first time.
Image result for collared dove

Friday, 5 May 2017

Elsewhere - Gabrielle Zevin

  What happens when you die?  An interesting question, and a rather lovely answer in this Young Adult read.  Liz awakes on a boat.  In the bottom bunk of a cabin.  In the top bunk is another girl and neither of them know how they got there and where they are going.  At last the boat reaches shore, and on disembarking, Liz is greeted by a woman who says she is her Grandmother, even though Liz has never met her before.  And where is she?  She is Elsewhere.

Yes, the woman is Liz's grandmother, dead before Liz was born, but certainly appears younger than she should be.  And that's because life in Elsewhere goes backwards - one begins to get younger from the day one arrives.  And one has to get a job, too.

Liz never wanted to die - she wasn't a suicide, she was the victim of a hit and run driver and now she's never going to see her family of best friend again - is she?

There are lots of books about the afterlife, some are best sellers, some are constantly borrowed from  library shelves, some never sell.  This one is probably one of the better ones, and certainly has a lot of charm.  Written for a younger audience, I see no reason why any age group should not read and love this.  I did.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

After Moses - Karen Mockler

Why was this on my shelf for eight or nine years?  No idea, especially now I have read it and know that it is a damn good read!!   I looked it up for reviews after I'd finished, and could only find one on Amazon UK.  When I look at the US reviews there were only about five - and yet this book has been floating around since 2003.  I've reproduced the UK cover, but although clever and does have a bearing on the story, it is not striking in any way and perhaps that is the problem.  Even on Goodreads the book has quite a small group of readers.

Moses is a small boy.  Around five when his mother is murdered and her will decrees that he should be brought up by his Aunt Ida.  Ida is the middle of three siblings (Shoe (Susan) the mother of Moses, Ida and Johny).  There is a father, but Shoe leaves him before he knows she is pregnant with his child because she realises that he is not the man she wants as a father for that child.  She didn't know she was going to die, but she had left a will, and so Moses goes to live with his grandparents, with Ida being the surrogate mother.  Ida's an artist - she could probably be a best selling artist, but she lives at home, paints her dreams, and is not worried about sales.

And then a man called Max arrives in her life.  This is when the book takes a completely different turn, and I found myself sort of drawing myself away whenever Max spoke.  At first I regarded him as seedy, then manipulative, and then..... then...... No, you are going to have to get hold of a copy somewhere and see what this man really is.  But it will be worth it.  You know those fat books you buy at the airport for a long flight?  Me too.  And I usually forget the story about three days after I turn the last page - but not this one.  This is not the usual page turner at all.  It is beautifully written, and that feeling of dread that crept up on me was so well drawn that I believed that some harm would  come to someone before the book's end.  I was compelled to finish it, and read it in just 24 hours. 

It seems that this is Mockler's only book - pity.  She has been writing another for some years, but I guess life has taken over and she may or may not get round to finishing it.  Wish she would if it is as good as this one!

 ** Please note there are a couple of scenes of a sexual nature in this book.



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...