Saturday, 29 December 2018

Dear Mrs Bird - A J Pearce

Emmie and Bunty are the closest of best friends.  They share a small flat at the top of Bunty's grandmother's house  in London.  The year is 1940 and Emmie wants to be a journalist, particularly a war correspondent - working as a typist for a solicitors' office is never going to get her anywhere, so when she sees an ad for a job in the very newspaper she reads it in, she applies immediately.  After a rather strange interview she is thrilled to be offered the job.  But she didn't ask any questions, and it turns out that the job is actually typing for the Agony Aunt (Mrs Bird) of a magazine in the same group as the newspaper, and with a very low circulation, things don't bode well.

But she makes new friends, and despite the fact that Mrs Bird should never have been given the job of agony aunt (she has a huge list of subjects that she will not discuss, will not answer letters containing, and will drop straight into the waste paper bin despite there being a stamped addressed envelope from the writer) Emmie begins to think that she could help some of those women who have written.

Between her job at the magazine, and her three nights a week on the switchboard of the local fire station, Emmie and friend Bunty have time to discuss Bloomin' Hitler; go dancing; put the world to rights, and from time to time spend the night in a nearby bomb shelter.  But things are going to change.  This is wartime and some of the things they experience are, well, not very nice and hard to deal with.  Bunty is in love with a local fireman who risks his life every night attempting the put out the fires and rescue people from under the rubble of bombed out building whilst Emmie has just been "let down". But life must go on.  Tragedy will rear it's  head as it must, but as the book changes from light-hearted to heartbreaking, Emmie will do her best - after all, there's a war on.  This is the author's first book.  I'd like to read more!  Recommended. 

Friday, 21 December 2018

The Best Kind of Snow for Grown-ups..... somewhere else!  Well somewhere in Canada actually..... but so beautiful, isn't it?  And my fingers are not getting frozen, nothing is turning to slush, and I am warm and dry.

So here's Seasons Greetings to everyone, and of course, 
a better New Year than last.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

The Wardrobe Mistress - Patrick McGrath

It's not often that I buy a newly published book, as my shelves are still full of books yet to be read; friends pass on books they think I might like and I spot books in charity shops that "look interesting".  But on a recent visit to a book shop looking for presents for others, I found two new books that looked interesting enough to buy, and this was one - it's a good one.

Joan Grice is the Wardrobe Mistress.  Her husband of nearly 30 years, a Shakespearean actor of some reputation, has died and she is bereft.  She is the permanent Wardrobe Mistress at a small theatre, and must return to work. At home she she has the same job, for Charlie Grice was a snappy dresser, and there is a wardrobe full of his clothes  for her to cry at, to inhale his left-behind smell of, and to generally grieve about the man who is never coming back.  The year is 1947, that long-gone cold winter, and the understudy who takes over Charlie's part as Malvolio in Twelfth Night is poor, shabby and ill-dressed for the cold weather.  But..... he is Charlie Grice - how did he pick up every movement, the posture, the wobble in the voice? At first, Joan believes that Charlie is attempting to "come through" from the other side, and is drawn to the actor.  But of course, as Charlie is definitely dead, perhaps some of those lovely clothes can be passed on.  And then, one day, she finds a small item in a coat that will turn her world on it's head.

Thursday, 13 December 2018

WW2 Reads

I saw recently on Goodreads, a review for a book with a comment that the reader had been "searching for months for a good WW2"  novel.  In another place, a small group of people including me,  who used to swap books have listed books that they thought worth recording as WW2 reads.  We also have a WW1 list and a between the wars list.

It's easy on the Internet to find a synopsis for any of the titles, so be my guest.  I   have read several of these titles, but am not going to recommend any because there are so many different kinds of books listed here..... but I have marked one in red as I have read it and would recommend to anyone who wants to know what life is like on the other side.... these were letters written to her children by a German mother.  Also have marked one in grey/blue as it was just fascinating!!

Help yourselves to the list.  Copy and paste or whatever.  If you love books and you love a list, this is a little present from Mrs Mac!!

(Hill Farm Nan, if you see this, and you email me your address, I will send you my copy of Can Any Mother Help Me?  which I think you may enjoy) x)

22 Britannia Road – Amanda Hodgkinson (displaced Poles)
Address Unknown – Kressmann Taylor
After the Mourning - Barbara Nadel
A God In Ruins - Kate Atkinson
A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
All the Light We Cannot See - Anthony Doerr
An Interrupted Life - Etty Hillesum
Band of Brothers – Stephen E Ambrose
Bernie Gunther series – Philip Kerr (set in Berlin during Weimar Republic, WW2 and Cold War)
Can Any Mother Help Me? - Jenna Bailey(Handmade magazines circulated during WW2) N/F
Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis de Bernieres
Carrie's War - Nina Bawden
Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks
City of Thieves - David Benioff
Code Name Verity - Elizabeth Wein
Code Talkers - Chester Nez (Navaho Indians using their own language to send codes messages that could not be broken) N/F
Das Boot by Lothar-G√ľnther Buchheim (excellent - set on a German submarine)
Doreen - Barbara Noble
Early One Morning – Virginia Baily
Eleanor's Story - An American Girl in Hitler's Germany - Eleanor Ramrath Garner (told from a child's POV) N/F
Enigma - Robert Harris- (about Bletchley, Turing and cracking the Enigma Code)
Far to Go - Alison Pick
Few Eggs and No Oranges - Vere Hodgson Diary format N/F
Five Quarters of the Orange – Joanne Harris
Good Evening, Mrs Craven - Mollie Panter-Downes
Goodnight Mr Tom - Michele Magorian
Hanns and Rudolf – Thomas Harding N/F (focuses on hunt for the Kommandant of Auschwitz, but spans period from WW1 through to post WW2)
Henrietta’s War: News from the Home Front 1939-1942 – Joyce Dennis (sounds like NF from the title, but actually fiction)
HHhH – Laurent Binet
Hitler's Canary - Sandy Toksvig
Homeland – Clare Francis (set just after WW2)
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet - Jamie Ford (Japanese internment in America)
Housebound - Winifred Peek
If This is a Woman - Sarah Helm (N/F)
King Rat - James Clavell (set in a prisoner of war camp)
Kisses on a Postcard – Terence Frisby (N/F)
La's Orchestra Saves the World - Alexander McCall Smith
Letters from the Lighthouse - Emma Carroll
Letters to the Lost - Iona Grey
Life After Life - Kate Atkinson
Little Boy Lost - Marghanita Laski
London War Notes - Mollie Panter-Downes
Love and War in London (Mass Observation Diaries)* - Olivia Cockett N/F
Maman, What Are We Called Now? - Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar
Manja - Anna Gmeyner
Miss Boston and Miss Hargreaves - Rachel Malik
Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
Mrs Miniver - Jan Struther
Mrs Sinclair’s Suitcase – Louise Walters
Night - Elie Wiesel
Noonday – Pat Barker
On the other Side (Letters to my children from Germany 1040-46) - Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg N/F
Operation Heartache - Duff Campbell (ficton but based on a true story)
Our Hidden Lives - Simon Garfield (austerity after the war)* N/F
Private Battles -Simon Garfield * N/F
Resistance – Owen Sheers
Resistance – Anita Shreve
Restless - William Boyd
Sarah's Key - Tatiana de Rosnay
She Goes to War - Edith Pargeter
Schindler's List - Thomas Keneally
Some Girls, Some Hats and Hitler - Trudi Kantner N/F
Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky
Sweet Clarinet - James Riordan
Tallgrass - Sandra Dallas (Japanese internment camps in America)
That Summer - Andrew Greig
The Book Thief - Markus Zusak
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas - John Boyne
The Burning Blue - James Holland
The Collaborator - Margaret Leroy
The Darkest Hour - Barbara Erskine
The Diary of Anne Frank N/F
The Draughtsman - Robert Lautner
The Empty House - Claude Gutman
The English Patient - Michael Ondaatje
The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng
The Good Italian - Stephen Burke (set in North Africa)
The Greatcoat - Helen Dunmore
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
The Information Officer – Mark Mills
The Invisible Bridge - Julie Orringer
The Iron Necklace – Giles Waterfield
The Land Girls – Angela Huth
The Machine Gunners - Robert Westall
The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan (Australian PoWs working on the Burma Death Railway)
The Nightingale - Kristin Hannah
The Night Watch - Sarah Waters
The Postmistress – Sarah Blake
The Railway Man - Eric Lomax N/F
The Report – Jessica Francis Kane
The Rescue Man Anthony Quinn
The Road Between Us – Nigel Farndale
Their Finest Hour and a Half - Lissa Evans
Three Day Road - Joseph Boyden (First Nation Canadians used as snipers)
Three Miles – Robert Dinsdale
To Bed With Grand Music - Marghanita Laski
Two Brothers – Ben Elton
Unexploded – Alison MacLeod
War Crimes for the Home - Liz Jensen
War Horse – Michael Morpurgo
We Are At War - Simon Garfield N/F *
When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit - Judith Kerr

Saturday, 1 December 2018

Mrs Mac Suggests - what to read in DECEMBER '18

Got any snow?  Here in the south west of England it's raining (again) - so what can you do except do a bit of Christmas decorating, and have friends over for lunch!

And then there's the reading!  This is a busy time of year for some of us.  How to fit in several more books before New Year's Eve is the question  on my lips.  So my suggestion for you is a light book, a funny book, an amusing book (and a short one!!)

I've pulled out of the pile

A Children's Book

One I found second hand (preloved) and the author's name amused me enough to pick it up.  It's

Jammy Dodgers on the Run - Bowering Sivers 

Monday, 26 November 2018

Upcycling - the Fourth Table!

Not the Forth Bridge, which it has felt like sometimes.  When we moved here some years ago, we bought an oblong IKEA table, the biggest one we could fit, as we sometimes had 12 for lunch in the early days here.  But it proved to be too big, so after a year or two, we took 9 inches off the width which proved perfect, as people could then get out of seats and do stuff, rather than being trapped for the entire meal!

But I always hankered after a round table, and finally, we found one, second hand, a badly stripped G-Plan with drop leaves.  Got it home and ... problem.  We have a tiled floor and the table was too light.  Consequently if leaned against, it slid off and away!  Sold it to my sister for half the price paid, and she is carpeted, so it's been perfect for her.  But still no table!

The third table was a real bargain in a sale, it started square, but had a "butterfly" in the middle, which extended it to much the same length as the old IKEA table. Got it home, used it once and decided I hated it.  Why would I do that?  who knows!  Anyway, eventually I owned up to hating it and the hunt was on again.  And then, one day........ there she was!

Found in a second-hand emporium, edged buggered, so much beeswax on it that you could take it of with your nails.  It took some removing, but Mr Mac just got at it ........................
And, as you can see, (this was the third go) there was a lot of it!  He used metal pot cleaners, not steel wool.    But eventually, it was all gone, and we had a blonde table.

Mr Mac also did a brilliant job on the edge - smoothing it back so that it was like new again.

The leg(s) were painted grey, and distressed a bit.  I was about to change all that!

So.  Some hard work, but really, a pleasure to get it ready for our own refinishing.  Should I paint the top?  I thought I might.  Perhaps some watered down emulsion so that you could still see the grain of the wood?  How would that stand up  to constant use? -  for as my friend in Nova Scotia says - "your dining table is Mac-Central - everything gets done there"!!

Ultimately, we found that we owned a whole tin of OSMO  Polyx Oil for floors.  Said to be hardwearing, I slapped a thin coat straight on the table top.  Ooops!  Dries within 24 hours it says on the tin, so no using the table tonight,  maties!  And no using it after the first 24 hours either, as I did a second coat.  But it was the right thing to do.  We love the colour.

The finished top, 48 hours and two coats after starting!

Leg(s) now the same blue as the kitchen walls - a perfect match in fact.

Drop your keys and loose change on the plate, please!

It can be done then - it has been, and I have the round table I've wanted for several years.   We also took six dining chairs to the sale rooms, because we had already taken them out of the dining room as they looked really bad with this table (just no kind of match at all, and just wrong).  We already had the four white chairs in use, and as these are cheap copies of the real thing, we can bide our time until we find some for "keepers" (or not, remember this is the fourth table!!).

As it's nearly December, I just did a little something with ivy and rose hips for the fun of it!   Well, that's the tale of the fourth table.... and I guess I could say Everything Comes to He Who Waits, couldn't I?  Nah!  I'll just say  that it makes me smile every single day.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

The Tobacconist - Robert Seethaler

A short but superb novel set in the three years before World War II about little people. You know, those anonymous folk who live through enormous world events but are unknown, unseen, unsung.

Franz is just 17 when he leaves his Mother and his tiny home on a lakeside in Bavaria to take up an apprenticeship with a tobacconist in Vienna. The year is 1937 and in a few months Germany will annex Austria - and things will change for ever. He's only ever read the monthly local paper until he arrives in Vienna, and the Tobacconist makes sure he reads some of every newspaper on sale. Boring, yes, but he does get to absorb the news, and the closer to Germany's take-over, the more we, the reader,  see what is happening. He meets Sigmund Freud; he falls in love with a bohemian girl, and trouble gets ever closer.

The book, original published in German, has been translated to English.  I don't speak or read German so never read it in the original, but there didn't seem to be any slip-ups here (as there are sometimes in translations), so full marks to the translator Charlotte Collins.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Sometimes a change is as good as a rest!

Compare this with the header picture.  I grant you that the header was taken on a sunny evening and this was taken on a grey morning, but you can see the difference in the new colour here.  We really like it!

These two sheds sit side on to the house - the left hand one is the woodshed and the right hand one has the tumble   dryer, bottles of car windscreen cleaner, spare tins of paint etc.  lots of "stuff".   But you can see the new colour green on the doors.

And here is our new front door, all draught proofed for winter and open to any friends who may find themselves in the  neighbourhood - and welcome!

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

This Ghastly Affair - Jerome Farrell

At the end of the four year period of remembrance of World War One, I took this book off the shelf as a Remembrance Read, something I do every year - read a book based in either WW1 or WW2; sometimes about one side, sometimes the other; sometimes about civilian life, sometimes the life of those who fought and lived, and sometimes those who fought and died.

Every one of the books I have read about the two world wars, whether fiction or not, over the years, has educated me in a way that school never could, and in any case, the years I was at school,  "history" was something that  had old kings and queens in it, and something called strip farming, oh! and the Romans.  Thank goodness I am interested in things and always want to find out more. ( It wasn't until I watched the complete series of The World at War, narrated by Sir Lawrence Olivier that I knew anything about WW2).  

This one came into my hands about a year ago as a birthday gift from a friend.  I purposely saved it until this year so that I could read it around the time of the 100th anniversary of the Armistice on 11 November 2018.

The book describes a very small part of WW1 in letters, not to family or friends, but to the same employer, The Leathersellers Company;  one of the City of London's ancient Livery Companies.  The author (Archivist for the Leathersellers) found, in amongst personnel files in the the archives, some letters written on flimsy paper, and all addressed to the Clerk of the Leathersellers.  It become clear very quickly that these were letters from the front line sent to the mens' employer - who, incidentally,  kept their positions open if (with luck) they should return from war, and also sent half pay to either their wives or families for the duration.

War has no fascination for me, a peace loving woman, but somehow, politicians and their supporters of all colours and creeds seem not to be able to make (and keep) the peace for long, anywhere in the world.  However, this is not a book not about defeating an enemy, but about how it felt to be a serving man who only went to war for love of country and in the hope that he could perhaps have some effect on the shortening of the ghastly affair, this is worth taking the time to seek out.  Three different stories about the lives of three different men - fascinating, haunting, and full of facts that I didn't know but am glad I do now.

I guess that public libraries would be the place to go to get hold of this for a read, as I see that Amazon has only  secondhand copies currently.  All proceeds are to go to the British Red Cross, so perhaps worth contacting the Leathersellers themselves if you want to buy one.

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Mrs Mac Suggests - What to read in NOVEMBER '18

Autumn is well and truly here then.  Gutters full of fallen leaves, cold winds from the North, and yet somehow the sun still comes out and cheers us.  And in a few days, on 11 November, we will think about remembering that it is 100 years since the end of the First World War.  A war which really could have finished a few hours earlier.... except that politicians thought it would be a nice idea to round the date off.  Really?  Yes really.

My suggestion then for a November read is something you may never have thought about before.

Read a book about, or set in, World War One

I have a very special book set aside for this one.  Written by a friend of mine who is the historian for one of the City of London Companies (The Leathersellers), it tells of the war primarily via a very different channel - letters sent from the front to the soldiers' employer..... not, not a wife, a father, mother, lover, child, but to the Leathersellers.  There is a great deal of small life history between the pages, and many photographs.  The book is                                                                                                    
 This Ghastly Affair - Jerome Farrell

All sales proceeds will go to the British Red Cross.

Thursday, 18 October 2018

Gap Creek - Robert Morgan

I've seen this compared to These is my Words - the diary of Sarah Prine. Different setting, but that same kind of  'history within a novel'  kind of thing.   And  it is certainly worth reading. From  the Appalachian Mountains of  North Carolina, Julie and Hank, newly married, walk down the mountain into Gap Creek, South Carolina, to start a new life. When you are young, in love and very naive, it's surprising how many things you have to learn. The subtitle of the book is "the story of a marriage" - but in fact it's the the first year of a marriage we find described

If you thought you had ever been hungry, wet, cold, lonely or frightened - read this one and weep, for the descriptions of everything are well drawn and make you understand how hard it was for this young couple who were still finding out about life, let alone themselves.  But Julie is a strong character, and she will prevail. Hank is a good looking boy, spoilt by his Ma, unable to deal with hardship of any kind, prone to starting arguments. Will he come through this period of time like Julie?  Life throws everything at this couple and then some.  They do some stupid stuff, but ultimately they learn that every day is a new day and can be got through.  We don't now we're born these days!  We have electricity which gives us washing machines, freezers, heating, cooking facilities;  and this book, set at the turn of the 20th century, will show you how hard life was then, and how far we have come.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

The Santa Kaus Murder - Mavis Doreil Hay

Golden Age of Crime....... you either love it or hate it.  Lots of middle class or upper class people called Buntie, or Dicky, or Mumsie are usually involved.   A Murder.  A plodding detective and then Voila!  the murderer is revealed!    If this sounds like Agatha Christie, or several other 1930s publications you have come across, you'd be right.  It does follow a pattern.  But this particular novel has a distinctly different way of telling it's tale.

There has been a murder - "up at the House".  Sir Osmond Melbury - family patriach though not well loved, has been shot in the head on Christmas day.  Colonel Halstock, Chief Constable of the county is called.  Everyone who was there at the time is placed under house arrest.

Several persons involved are asked to write their own versions of the day before the murder i.e. Christmas Eve.  Those documents form the first five chapters of the book, until Halstock takes over the rest.  And as he works the case, you will have to see if you can beat him at his own game - I had two suspects, and one of them turned out to indeed be the murderer.   At the front of the book is a map of the downstairs area of Flaxmere, the family seat, and there is also a list of characters and their relationshp to the others.   Cripes!  what fun!

As the story is set over Christmas, and you may just be drawing up your list of presents to be to be early and prepared, there may be a reader on your list who has not come across this title from the British Library Crime Classics.  You just may want to read it yourself.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Euonymus alatus (spindle berry) in Autumn

Eonymus Alatus
Have I done this before?  Have you seen this lovely shrub?  Forgive me if you have...... I grow this for the glorious show, two weeks in early Autumn/Fall every  year.  It's spread is around 6 ft, height 3 foot or so.  Bare in the winter, lime green once the leaf buds open, insignificant flowers.  But Oh!  that wonderful pink.

 Gardening is like that for me.  I don't do bedding plants unless it's to fill in spaces, and then it  will be nasturtiums, nigella, or something that may seed itself for next year.  But I love colour, and I try to have something flowering every month of the year.  These are leaves, not flowers of course, but there is no other shrub that gives me this glorious show - and it's two steps from my front door.  When the leaves first start to turn, they are just pink tips to the leaves.  If you look at the bottom of the pic you can see some leaves not fully turned to pink, but very quickly, the entire bush is PINK! PINK! PINK!...... and then the leaves start to fall and it's over.

Never mind, next year will come soon enough.

Tuesday, 2 October 2018

Some Kind of Fairy Tale - Graham Joyce


"Read it - it's special in all kinds of ways - but try to remember it in May, when the bluebells are flowering"  Joanne Harris.

She liked it a lot!  And so did I.  A girl taken by fairies who manages to return.  What would you think if a family member disappears, leaving no clues at all.  Like the police you would call that missing presumed dead - except that she isn't;  for twenty years later she returns to her family, thinking that she has only been away for six months.  Tara is home - and for her parents it's a mixed blessing.  For her brother and his family the same.  For her boyfriend, left bereft (and accused of the crime - what crime? - at the time) time has stood still and now she is home for him to love.

Told by (or about) each major character in turn, you will learn what results her disappearance had on those who loved her, and what occurs now that she is back.  Life is not the same, for in those twenty years people have grown older, but Tara has not, neither in body or looks.  In her head she has learned many things which may be of no help at all in the real world.  And the thing is, no-one really believes her fairy story.

NB.  I have read some Amazon reviews, where readers are offended by swear words and sexual descriptions..... there are not many of those, and perhaps those readers were looking for a "real" fairy story.  The title rather gives the game away, no?

Monday, 1 October 2018

Mrs Mac Suggests - What to read in OCTOBER 18

Readers, I am sorry!  September just slipped into October, and with only one post last month you might just have wondered if I had mitched off!!  Well...... I did, but only for a week, a little holiday in the Cotswolds.  Couldn't settle to read much but managed one book.  Now back to the real world and lots of reading through the Autumn/Fall.

So what shall we read in October?  The days are shorter, the mornings have a little chill, but my garden is still full of colour, including some lovely red leaves which cheer everyone up.  This month I am going to read the last in a trilogy.  So I was thinking - as always - about you lot out there.  How about

a book in a series?

This  may be the first in a series you are interested in reading, or the second or third in a long series, or the last (and perhaps the best) in a series you have loved but didn't want to finish!  Now is the time.  Settle back and enjoy an episode.  Me?  I am going to finish the Old Filth trilogy, with

Last Friends - Jane Gardam 

Sunday, 16 September 2018

No. More. Plastic. Martin Dorey

I'm not a campaigner really.  I do my own thing because I can't change the world alone.  Yes, I recycle all I can.  But when I spotted this little book on the counter in my local bookshop I thought "hmmmmm, it might be interesting".  It was.

Written in a simplistic style, this book does not hit you over the head and try to convert you into wearing a hair shirt for the rest of your life.  It just gives you some facts and figures, and suggests ways you can help.  I mean - who knew that the freshly baked loaf at the supermarkets of the UK is wrapped in a paper wrapper (good) with a transparent plastic window (BAD! because that particular plastic is  not recyclable).  And how brilliant to suggest that if you buy a sandwich from a local sandwich bar daily, then why not take along an empty lunchbox and get your sandwich popped straight in, unwrapped.  What a novel idea!!

Some good stuff in there aimed at schools and businesses too, which is only to be encouraged.  So don't imagine that I am feeling holier-than-thou, just a tiny bit inspired as to how to use a little less plastic and how to ensure that the stuff that crosses my path gets recycled in the right way.

I am an Air BnB host.  Right from the beginning I decided on "no plastic water bottles for guests".  So I have large glass bottles which first contained a product like fizzy lemonade.  These get washed and filled with tap water every use, and not one guest has ever complained!

When I first started using tampons, the brand I used had cardboard applicators, easy to use and of course, dispose of,  as the card would break down over time.  Fabulous.  And then, suddenly, the company changed to plastic applicators.  Why??  Take a backward step you guys round the board table.  You know who I mean!

No. More. Plastic.: What you can do to make a difference – the #2minutesolution

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Mrs Mac suggests - What to read in SEPTEMBER 18

Hello, hello!  That heatwave is well and truly over then!  And here in the UK it was followed by rain, wind, rain, rain, and then grey skies.  However, the sun peeps through every day at some time, even if only for an hour.  And things are happening in the garden again.  Lots of roses are suddenly budding up, hardy geraniums who went to sleep in the heat are suddenly coming alive again.   The mystery of growing things!

What to read in September, then?    I have a whole pile to read .... but what to suggest.  How about

A book written by a celebrity?

Yes!  that's it!  and who shall we choose?  Well, dear readers, you may choose who you like, but I have one on the table that was given to me by a friend, and for me it's a murder mystery written by a chat show host:

Holding - Graham Norton

Enjoy September, and remember, for three weeks of it, it's still Summer!    

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Bettyville - George Hodgman

 The author is a magazine and book editor. So having spent a lot of time putting an article or a book in order, he has acquired a lovely style all of his own, and it was a pleasure to read this.  
It is the story of two things. His mother's descent, at around 90, into dementia and his care for her; and his offloading to you, the reader, of a life kept secret from his parents. Like a lot of gay men he knew he was different, and so he escaped from a small town environment to the big city. He seemed to have a crazy, fun but empty time because he could not let himself get close to people. You will see, as you read, how similar in character he was to both parents, but we don't want to admit that, do we, when we are young - it took George Hodgman until he was in his fifties.
 Drugs played a large part in his life in the city, and a part too in grieving the loss of friends (the early 1980s AIDS epidemic was hugely felt in and outside gay communities around the world). Eventually he kicked the drugs; but from time to time still craves the lift they gave him.  
When George goes home to visit his elderly mother, he finds that he needs to stay. I loved Betty, and the fight she put up not to "loose it" entirely.  I loved George, a man with a bigger heart than he thinks he has.   I don't have parents now. I am not gay. I don't live in small town America. But I do recommend this book as an eye opener, a source of joy; a book to tell you much about the care and respect of the elderly;  and also as a short history of the death of small town America, and a book I think a lot of people would pass over as "not interested" but shouldn't! 

Friday, 10 August 2018

The Darling Buds of May - H E Bates

Perfect for an afternoon in the garden, or by the riverside, on the beach.  But for me this was a "perfick" summer read, and at only 137 pages was not a struggle to finish. I think it may have been back in the 1980s that this was made into a TV series - where Catherine Zeta Jones first makes an early appearance;  as the flawless Marriette - eldest daughter of Pop and Ma Larkin.

Pop Larkin leads a life of pure delight (or as he would say, perfick) with Ma Larkin and quite a lot of children.  The time?  middle 1950s.  The place?  the South of England.  Pop is a junk dealer (scrap metal, second hand vehicles, things other people want to discard) and has made a healthy living out of it.  Well, you have to, don't you, with this many mouths to feed - and don't they all eat?!!  Ma is a great cook, and she cooks huge amounts of food for family meals including the daily full English breakfasts.  After all, if it's Sunday lunch and you are going to kill a goose for a roast, why not two?  You may be lucky and have a little bit of leftovers for tomorrow - that is if someone doesn't raid the larder for supper.  And drink?!  Pop must have a cast iron liver, that's all I'm saying.

When Cedric Charlton arrives one afternoon to talk about Pop's tax return, it seems that Pop doesn't do tax returns, he never earns enough to pay tax (why, all those kids with a healthy appetite, animals to feed, the truck to put petrol in;  why, some weeks he has nothing in his pocket at all!).  So how can he be persuaded to fill in his tax  return?  With a great deal of difficulty.

Here is a description of a life that no longer exists, and probably we are all the poorer for that.  It's a bit non-PC in places too, but remember that this was first published in 1958.  This is the first of five books Bates wrote about the Larkin family - all short, but all charming; the tale of a near-illiterate man and his family.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Holly Blue in my Dorset garden - August 2018

Well, look what we found today in the garden!  This is a male open and closed.  The top picture shows you that the underside is white with little black dots.... so small, too, just over one inch across when open.  I only record butterflies I have never seen before, and since I have now found out that these breed on holly in the spring and ivy in the summer, I should have seen them before because we have both in the garden; but never did.  Such a dainty sight and we were so pleased to find him.                                                                                       The pics came from the UK Butterflies website, which I always refer to first when I see a new one, before contacting my friend Sarah whose hubs is an expert "flittery" person.  That way I can get it right when I tell you about it!

Saturday, 4 August 2018

The Ballroom - Anna Hope


The Ballroom is a deeply moving tale of life in an asylum  around 1911, told in short chapters, each headed with a character's name.  Each chapter reveals a little bit of history, or current life of the character whose name appears at the start.   Many people were incarcerated in asylums in those early days that were not mentally ill in the then accepted sense of the word; perhaps severely depressed because of a trauma, or perhaps like the character of Ella, because she had broken a window at the factory just to see the sky.... can you imagine that?  Or like John, because he had ended up in the poorhouse, and was not well enough to work.   Ella and John are inmates and will meet, one Friday in the ballroom of the title;  and Charles is a staff member;  a young medical man from a wealthy family on the staff who has a secret of his own..

 The power that staff had over the inmates as described here was truly awful, particularly if they were employed only because of their strength (to hold a patient down whilst they fought to be free), a case of brawn not brains.   Some more senior staff held views which would simply not be acceptable today.  I found this a particularly well written book, with a lot of good research by the author including facts about her great great grandfather, transferred to an asylum from the poorhouse, dying there 9 long years later.  Do read the author's note at the back - for those unfamiliar with asylums as a way of housing the mentally ill this will be an eye-opener.  So will Churchill's early views on Eugenics.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Mrs Mac Suggests - What to read in AUGUST

Phew!  that was a hot one, wasn't it?!  Lots of sun, but a little too much heat was how I would describe July, but after  24 hours of rain last weekend we are now sitting more comfortably!!

So it's time to select a read for the month.  I hadn't given it much thought until this morning, but I think sometimes it's a good idea to try something new, yes?  And for August something new is:

Read a book by an author you have never tried before!

So the author I picked for myself is someone who has written loads of different stuff.  He created Foyle's War for TV, he has written a James Bond novel, he has written a series for children  which has sold more than nineteen million copies round the world.  So from my  shelves I have pulled out

Magpie Murders - Anthony Horowitz.

Enjoy August, everyone.  

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...