Books, life the universe

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Possible Booker Prize Winner?

Mick Jackson's The Widow's Tale is really really good - well in my opinion it is. A widow leaves her house in London and drives to the north Norfolk coast where she rents a cottage. She is never named and the story is written in the first person. There are glimpses into her past life interspersed with her life in the cottage - walking on the saltmarsh, eating in pubs and restaurants, visiting second hand bookshops and drinking - perhaps too much.

The narrator is unsparing of her own and other's faults and there is wry humour and irony in her telling of her tale. Grief and the effect of bereavement are explored. But this is not a sad book by any means and it is ultimately hopeful - the start of a new life with new choices ahead of her. I felt as though I would recognise this woman if I met her - and I would like to meet her. She is very much a character you can imagine standing in front of you and telling you about her life.

I had the feeling that perhaps this book was originally a lot longer and that it has been pared down to its essentials but the shadow of the excised text is still there giving a depth and breadth to the story. This is a strange phenomenon that happens with writing - a piece becomes even stronger because of what has been cut away.

All I can say about this is - read it - and if it doesn't make the Booker Prize longlist I will be surprised.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Another quirky gem

I am currently reading Mr Rosenblum's List: or Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Englishman by Natasha Solomons. It is one of those books which I might not have looked twice at if it hadn't been offered to me as part of the Amazon Vine programme. Jack Rosenblum and his wife Sadie come over to England before the last war determined to integrate - well Jack is more determined than Sadie and insists they speak English all the time rather than their native German.

On arrival they are provided with a pamphlet that tells them what to do and what not to do and how to behave in order to blend into the background. Jack quickly develops a thriving carpet making business. His cup of happiness would be full if anyone would let him join a golf club - 'An Englishman plays golf'. But he cannot find a club which will allow him to join. So he buys a house and some land in Dorset and leaves the business in the hands of a manager while he sets about building his own golf course.

The book is in a category of its own though it could be said to belong to the same stable as Major Pettigrew's Last Stand or the No 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

A Time of Mourning

Christobel Kent is an author who deserves to be better known. A Time of Mourning is her latest book and it features Sandro Cellini who appeared in A Florentine Revenge. He has now been 'retired' from the police and at his wife's urging has set up as a private investigator. His first client is the widow of a Jewish architect who apparently committed suicide by walking into the River Arno. But things are not as simple as they first appear.

On the same day, a student from one of Florence's many international schools of art goes missing and her mother asks Sandro to find out what has happened. When he finds a connection between his two cases his old spirit of enquiry is reawakened. Full of murky goings on and complex characters with mysterious motives, this is an excellent subtle and understated read. Florence is displayed in a guise unfamiliar to tourists as the action of the story takes place during a very rainy week in November. I enjoyed it and I hope the author is going to write more about Sandro Cellini who is far from being the traditional tough guy Italian cop and is more made in the mould of Donna Leon's Guido Brunetti.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

The Girl on the Wall

I came across The Girl on the Wall by Jean Baggott mentioned elsewhere on the Internet and just had to buy a copy. The author decided in her 60s that having spent her life doing things for others she was going to spend some time fulfilling her own ambitions. She then enrolled on a university course and designed and stitched an embroidery recording her life in little pictures. But it wasn't just her life she recorded but historical events - the moon landings - and life with rationing during the war and after. The title of the book refers to a photograph of the author at the age of 11 which she had converted into a chart so that she could embroider it.

Her promise to do things she wanted to do was made to the girl on the wall. The book refers to the embroidery as a tapestry but it is actually done on linen with cross stitch and other types of straight stitch. I used to do a lot of cross stitch so I was intrigued by the idea. The book is beautifully produced with a short chapter devoted to each circle on the embroidery. There is a fold out reproduction of the embroidery at the back of the book.

This is autobiography of an ordinary individual and every day life but at the same time it is the story of an extraordinary lady and her extraordinary achievement. This is one book which I shall not be selling when I have read it.

See more about the author and the book at

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Bed I Made

The Bed I Made is the title of an excellent atmospheric thriller set on the Isle of Wight written by Lucie Whitehouse. Kate - and English/French translator - decides on the spur of the moment to move to the Isle of Wight after the break up of her volatile relationship to Richard. This is not the Isle of Wight the tourists see but an island lashed by storms and pounded by high seas as it is the middle of winter.

Kate finds it is not so easy to get away from Richard who keeps leaving her phone messages and sending her e-mails which gradually become more threatening and sinister. As we get to know her daily life on the island we also hear about her relationship with Richard. Kate - almost as displacement activity - is fascinated by the disappearance of Alice Frewin from her boat on a stormy sea. When Kate gets to know Alice's husband, Peter, through the owner of a second hand bookshop, she becomes more and more involved in their lives. Why did Alice disappear? Was it a suicide attempt or a tragic accident? But Richard has not finished with Kate yet and the tension is mounting even though for a time her does not know where she is living.

I really enjoyed this book and cared what happened to Kate. It is written in a subtle understated style which makes the build up of tension even more convincing than if it had been written in a melodramatic style. My only reservation about it was that I could see ways of combating Richard's stalking - change her mobile phone number (which she did eventually) and change her e-mail address as well as reporting the threatening e-mails to the police. But in that case there would have been no story and I found myself quite able to suspend my disbelief until I'd finished reading.

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Sick nursing

I am currently playing my role as a nurse and no I'm not very good at it. MJR had a sinus operation on Wednesday and came out of hospital yesterday having spent nearly 24 hours in the High Dependency Unit because of his oxygen levels and his diabetes. I went to see him on Thursday and spent about 3 hours sitting in the car in the hospital car park because he was still in HDU and I wasn't allowed to visit him until he was returned to the private wing. No we're not millionaires - we're in BUPA.

The reason why I spent so long sitting in the car was because having got a car parking space I was damned if I was giving it up! Car parking - like most hospitals - is a nightmare. Fortunately I'd provided myself with a book and a bottle of water and the hospital cafe was a short walk away so I survived the experience. It was a nice sunny days as well. When I finally got to see him he was patently obviously not well enough for visitors so I departed after about half an hour.

I went in early yesterday - there are no set visiting times for the private ward - and just as I was walking in through the door MJR rang to say he could go home so that was good timing. He is very sore has a certain amount of bruising and has blurred vision - which he was told he would have. So he's lying in bed asleep at the moment with my wrap-around sun shield sun glasses on!

If it was me I think I would have put up with the congestion - and several of the nurses said the same thing. Let's hope it's worked a bit better than the last two attempts. He's grumpy today when he's awake so I'm assuming he's getting better whatever he says.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Currently reading

Trisha Ashley's Chocolate Wishes - escapist women's fiction involving chocolate and very attractive vicar who used to be a rock star and various varieties of witches - both male and female. Everyone needs to escape sometimes.

In contrast I am reading Betty Friedan's The Feminist Mystique - first published in 1963 but still relevant today. Those who advocate women confining their attentions to domesticity and living through their husbands and children need to read this book. It isn't good for anyone's physical or mental health to live their lives through someone else's achievements. If you need pills to adjust to your feminine role in life then there just maybe something wrong with the stereotype of the ideal feminine - especially if a large number of 'housewives' need to take pills to get through the day. One quote I love from this book suggests that most domestic work could probably done by an 8 year old child - and yet people suggest - even now - that this a fulfilling role for an adult woman?

I have also just started Georgette Heyer's Envious Casca - no thoughts on that as yet because I've only read about 20 pages.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Now I know it's Spring!

We have a gardener who keeps the front garden in order for us during the period March to November. Today was his first appearance of the new season - so I know Spring is here. Having a gardener makes us seem really posh but it's easier to pay someone else to cut the grass - rather than maintain a lawn mower and a strimmer to cut a piece of grass about 30 feet by 10 feet and cut a hedge about 4 times a year. He does it far better and quicker than I can anyway. I shall be putting the Weed and Feed on it myself as I quite like doing that.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Currently reading . . . .

I have just started Catherine Aird's Past Tense - the latest in the Sloan and Crosby series. I first came across Catherine Aird's traditional mysteries way back in the early 1970s when I decided I would read a new crime author and didn't know who to try next. Her books were the first in the fiction section on the library shelves and happened to be crime so I picked one at random. It was Complete Steel I read first about a body in a suit of armour in a stately home open to the public. I thought it very good and went on to read all the books she had written at the time and have read each new one as it came out since.

The stories feature DI C D Sloan and the blundering DC Crosby - who occasionally has flashes of inspiration which help solve cases. These are country mysteries with little on the page violence and a nice line in gentle humour as well as realistic characters. If you like M C Beaton - both Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin; and Veronica Heley, Hazel Holt or Simon Brett you will probably enjoy Catherine Aird.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Funny how little things please . . .

Amazon have just changed how they calculate their reviewer rankings and I'm now in the top 100 under the new system. They have also started using software which deletes votes from reviews where they are part of a campaign for or against that reviewer or that product. Heaven alone knows how they do that but presumably from how many votes an individual posts on someone else's reviews. Trolling - going through the first few pages of reviews - and voting negatively has been a problem for some time and it looks as though it has been eliminated under the new system - as well as kind people who go through and give positive votes! I lost over 200 votes from my reviews - two thirds of them negative. Apparently the software has been in use for a couple of years on the American site and seems to work well.

I was disproportionately pleased at my elevation to the peerage - as it were - and under the new system I shall need to work hard to maintain my place.


Sunday, 7 March 2010

Currently reading . . .

I am currently engrossed in Catherine Alliott's One Day in May - chick lit with something of a hard centre involving the war in Bosnia. It is good and well written and the dialogue is believable and it is definitely better than some. I'm mentally classifying it as a 4* read at the moment but it may increase to 5* when I see what the ending is.

Then there's Alexander McCall Smith's latest No1 Ladies' Detective Agency offering - The Double Comfort Safari Club. As ever a charming excursion into old fashioned values.

I am also re-reading Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique - which is surprisingly still relevant to the modern world.

So a pretty mixed bag at the moment - but that's how I prefer my reading.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Breast feeding in public

Yes all right it is absolutely nothing to do with me but I am somewhat astonished at the fuss over the last few days in the media about instances of women breast feeding in public. To me there is nothing wrong with it at all. The majority of women do it so discreetly that unless you were actually watching them like a hawk you wouldn't realise what they were doing. Even if you did realise you still wouldn't be able to 'see anything'. In my opinion this is not a feminist issue - it is a human issue.

It seems there are a great many double standards at work here. Page 3 of the Sun is fine. Naked breasts on television, in magazines and on adverts are all right but a women feeding a child is not. An adult eating a McDonalds burger in public is acceptable - a baby drinking milk is not. I would rather the baby was fed than that it screamed its head off - especially on a crowded bus. As for people saying it is disgusting - they seem to have some hang ups of their own to deal with - especially if they are not also objecting to pictures of naked breasts all over the place.

Ultimately there is no law against breast feeding in public and I would say if you don't like it - don't watch. I hate to see people snogging in public - but again as there is no law against it I just turn away and look at something else. My mother - over 50 years ago - breast fed me in public on a train from London to Brighton in front of a clergyman who was polite enough to go on talking to her and ignore what she was doing. Afterwards he apparently commented that as far as he was concerned it was perfectly natural and she should not be embarrassed (my mother was 22 at the time) about it - anyone who criticised her was the one with the problem in his opinion. This was in 1952. So why do so many people have an issue with it nearly 60 years later?