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.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

Garden, midsummer 2017

 Some years are better for certain plants than others. This has been a stupendous year for day lilies..... an apricot one here;  and for crocosmia (formerly mombretia) too.  Sometimes the weather plays a trick on you before you can do anything about it!  The horizontal blue in the pic on the left is Russian Sage.... after two days or pouring rain and a gale force wind - and because I had not tied it up this year. 

I have more pictures of all the new day lilies.... but cameras and computers?  They transfer the pics and then hide them.  For the life of me I cannot find that last set of pics.  Never mind, plenty of summer colour here.


Below some lovely Hot Pokers - lovely because of a mini-heatwave this summer so at the time of budding and blooming, no slugs!  Some years I don't get a bloom!

I had a new bed to fill this year - and I filled it as much as I could with an assortment of red, orange and yellow   That little geum has been flowering non-stop since the end of May with careful deadheading. 

  So... two of the new day lilies in the new border, red cosmos and a white delphinium there too.

  The orange in the centre of this pic is a perenial mimulus (hardy-ish), so have planted amongst other stuff that is hardy to protect it from frost.

And below, just before it flowered, a new crocosmia from a private garden open to the public  (The Yellow Book).  The leaves have a grey shading, and this is echoed in the yellow flowers too.  And it is a baby one!  Sorry I don't have a name for this one.

Finally the big boy!  Here's crocosmia Lucifer, which gives a lovely show from the house (100 ft away) because of it's red brilliance.  Some might say "common as muck" and never have it, but I love the show. And to the left, Moorland Sunset, which is half the height of |Lucifer and has bright yellow stamens.

I think I have been very lucky this year.  Loads of colour and more coming.  Clematis Bill MacKenzie is flowering his heart out but I think that's because he heard me telling someone that he has to be moved - he has completely taken over an ornamental tree and several perennials!

Wednesday, 16 August 2017

A House Unlocked - Penelope Lively

 Because of divorced parents, Penelope Lively spent whole summers in Somerset with her grandmother in a large Lutyens-style house which she has almost photographic recall of.  Her memories become a small but fascinating historical document, her memory jogged by items within the house.  Her grandparents moved into the house in the early twentieth century. and her grandmother died towards the end of it.  Lively remembers the house and it's inhabitants from the 1940s onwards, but with the aid of photgraph  albums and items around the house, she recalls the history of the house and of course the family for around 70 years of the twentieth century.

And so this book becomes a small but telling history of that century and how the influences of the past are echoed in the house.  A whole chapter about the garden will inform you about plant collectors, garden designers and ha-has; another about the Church and it's place in society.  There are reflections on hunting, Alice in Wonderland and the class system.  A sideways look at life after the Russian revolution of 1917, and kindertransport from Germany in the early days of WW2.  Her unmarried and eccentric aunt was an artist whose ironwork still remains in a small village church in Somerset, and the grand piano remembered from childhood is still in possession of the family somewhere in North London. 

A short read at just over 200 pages, it's a fascinating insight into a time now gone, but a time that left so many memories - the way good manners were so important, mode of dress (gloves must be worn) and how it has changed,  and her thoughts on the changes she herself has seen.  Her own grandchildren join her in bed for a breakfast "cuppa", but this would have been unheard of when she herself was small.

Fascinating reading if recent history is something you want more of.  I enjoyed it!


Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Dead Sand - Brendan DuBois

Shortly after a 40 year old corpse is found in the sand dunes at Tyler Beach, various nasty things start to happen.  First the body of a teenager is found hanged in a holiday cottage on the shoreline.  Then an old fisherman dies when his boat blows up early one morning after arranging to meet  Lewis Cole.  His friend, Diane Woods, is the only detective on the local force and cutbacks and spending elsewhere combine to ensure that whilst there should be a second, it's unlikely, so she's certainly overworked.   Cole tells her he has a "column to write" and becomes involved in the investigation from a distance, made stranger because an acquaintance, Felix Tinios, is a small-town mobster with Mafia support. 
Set on the New Hampshire coast, here's a great read for a beach holiday, (or a holiday at home), in fact wherever you choose to read! I saw somewhere in a review about this book that the style was somewhere between Dashiel Hammett and Mickey Spillane.  Mmm.  DuBois certainly has for a hero a laid-back guy on the surface, but underneath he is a man of mystery and certainly there are a few nice one-liners. But the style is his own.  His hero, Lewis Cole,  has several scars on his body, the cause of which will not become clear until later in the book.  He has a past life, which we know about but his characters don't, and he loves his little house on the coast. He keeps several guns, all loaded and ready.  He was in love - he isn't now,  and he writes a monthly column for a tourist magazine based in Boston, Mass.   So how does he live?  how can he afford his coastal house, his car, his meals out?  You'll find out the back story as you read, and that back story will help you understand the man he is and  how he got there.
This isn't a cozy; it is a proper murder mystery.  But it doesn't have the blood and gore of a lot of modern police procedural novels which is great for me as I am totally uninterested in how the CIS team finds out the trajectory of any given bullet through a body!   For me, this is the best kind of  detective story.  Flawed hero, man with a past, and with other characters who you want to find out more about.
This was the first of the Lewis Cole mysteries from 1994, and the last (and tenth) in the series so far  was published last year.  So if inclined, you can read your way through the rest and keep tabs on Cole; or you can just read this one and enjoy it.  I certainly did!
A big thank you to Nan of the blog Letters from a Hill Farm where I found this book in the first place.  Nan has a smallholding, six retired sheep, a donkey, a husband and three grandchildren.  She may blog about them, or her monthly floral arrangement, a recipe she's tried, or books she has read.  She shows a list of blogs she visits too, and as you do when browsing the Internet, you may find yourself sidetracked off to one of those other bloggers.........

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

From understairs glory-hole to a smart corner of the house PART 2

THE REVEAL - as they say in the USA!  For me, Mrs Mac, I just say "here it is then".  Not 1st class pics, but then I mostly blog about books and I can steal pics from elsewhere on the net to show you the covers.  Here it has to be all my own work.....

Wooden blookcase removed, new metal cupboard and shelves fits right in!

And finally a real home for the printer - and wait till Mr Mac makes a "pullout" for it, too!

That top shelf there..... I could treble park a lot of paperbacks up there if I wanted!!

How it fits in..... very nicely - and you can get to all of it without moving anything else! 

A closeup of the panelling which was installed plank by plank, not just a sheet of MDF.

 So there it is!  The floor has to be tiled, we can get same-size tiles at B&Q but we will do that in the autumn - this is far too busy a summer!  But what a joy it is to have all the stuff that might require a spare bedroom or a whole corner of another room in one tiny place, and to have been able to "tidy up" that corner for good! 
 And at some time in the distant future, when someone else takes over our little house, perhaps this will become a reading nook.... my measurements tell me that a large comfy chair or a small sofa with a little table for a cuppa would certainly fit well in here!

And Major Tim?  He's a little light which plugs into the pc and comes on when you switch on.  You can turn him off if he gets on your nerves by closing his visor, but he was a wee present to myself for only £9.99!  Here he is floating in front of the screen ........

Metal cabinet and shelves from IKEA's Hindo range of outside furniture at a total cost of £90; and the shelves come with 4 matching hooks, which can be removed or moved around.

Tuesday, 1 August 2017

From understair glory-hole to a smart corner of the house Part 1

So - the "office" before the makeover, tiny make-do desk, paperbags, printer on a make-do shelf, stuff all over the place!
200 years plus means lots of holes for hooks, screws, etc.

Desk (the proper one this time) is  a bit untidy too!
If you put a shelf up using just a big nail, this is what happens when you remove it all ...
And if you paint round a shelf, when it goes this is what you get!

But if you start the panelling......

.... and add new paint when you've finished, this is what you get


So at last, 15 years after we moved in, the space under the stairs is done.  Panelled, painted and with a new hold-all piece of furniture next to the desk, here we. are.  Done!

The underneath of the stairs has had a coat of the same blue,  also the half bookcase, which sits right under the stairs full of shoes because we have no hall, now also has a new blue jacket.  You can see what it looked like originally in the top pic, bottom right corner.

The first few brushstrokes were a bit of a shock.  The colour is the same as our living room, so we are used to it, but in this little space?  It's a wowser!  Once finished we loved it.   We added a new piece of furniture which holds all our files, paperwork, the printer, travel and language books (oh, and the bag of jiffybags and polythene wrapping).  The vacuum cleaner is no longer on display and everything is clear, clean, tidy.  Yay!

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...