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.

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!