Saturday, 30 August 2014

The Best of August's reading



August's reading was a mixed bag of fiction and non-fiction, proper books and e-books, and these are some of the best.

Santa Montefiore is for me, an author who never fails to please, and this, 'The Beekeeper's Daughter' was yet another exceptional read. The story moves between generations of two families, the 'upstairs, downstairs' if you like, and between Dorset and New England, two of my favourite places. Grace grows up as the beekeepers daughter, working on a large Dorset estate and living in a tied cottage with her father, where as a young teenage girl, she develops a crush on the young Lord and Master, Rufus. But she knows that despite his being kind and relaxed and friendly with her, there could never be anything between them, and in time she marries Freddie, destined to be farm  manager on the estate. But war intervenes. And an unusual turn of events sees the young couple move from Dorset to New England where their teenage daughter meets and falls in love with Jasper. Her love is returned but duty calls for Jasper, and he returns to the same Dorset estate that Freddie and Grace left all those years ago. Grace had to give up her true love, will her daughter have to do the same and for the same reasons of duty, obligation etc?

'Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase' by Louise Walters is the story of Roberta, who collects and keeps notes, postcards and so on, that she finds in old books in the bookshop where she works for Philip, the owner. (It later transpires that he is not all  he seems to be, but that's right at the end and I won't spoil it for any potential readers!) It's when she's looking through her grandmother's books though, that she finds something that stirs her curiosity - a letter from her supposed grandfather, dated after he died. The story goes back between the present day, and wartime when her grandmother was an unhappily married young woman, who by chance met and fell in love with a Polish Squadron Leader, whose name Roberta carries. It is a mystery she has to solve. There's romance here too, not just for her grandmother, but her also. This is another extraordinarily good debut novel.

Jenny Uglow's 'The Pinecone'  is the first of my non-fiction reads, which in all honesty, has been on the go for some time. It's an intense read, lots of information, and was one of those books I dipped in and out of, as the mood for something more serious took me. Sarah Losh was born into an old Cumbrian family, heiress to a fortune, and builder of a small church in the village of Wreay, filled with carvings of ammonites, poppies, and lots of pinecones, her signature in stone as it has been called. The family was involved with great writers of the time, friends with the likes of Wordsworth and Coleridge, and the book tells of them, as well as sisterly love, village life, what the arrival of the railways meant amongst other things.

'Her' by Harriet Lane - I loved her previous book, 'Alys, Always' and so had to get this and was a bit disappointed that for me, it didn't live up to the 'thriller of the year' hype I'd read about. Nina and Emma knew each other, not very well and briefly as girls in their mid-to-late teens. When by chance Nina sees Emma at a distance, she recognises her at once, but even when she has inveigled herself into Emma's life, and that of her husband and children, Emma still hasn't recognised her. But you just know that at some point she will. Just as you know that Nina's memories of Emma are not happy ones, that something occurred for which she seeks retribution. But what was it, and how, if at all, will she get her revenge. The pace picked up, it was a really good read, but I still doubt the hype.

Nicci Gerrard's 'The Winter House' tells the story of three friends from school days - Marnie, Ralph who was quiet and shy, and Oliver, the extrovert glamorous and slightly dangerous. Marnie loved Ollie. Ralph loved Marnie. Years later they get together and stay  in a remote cottage in the Scottish Highlands, coming together as a threesome one last time to be with Ralph, who is dying. They spend their time reminiscing, remembering the heartbreak, the passion, the falling out. Can the past be buried and forgiven before Ralph dies?

I am a lover of bookshops. I want to have a  bookshop. It's my dream, I even have two properties I know of locally that would make the ideal bookshop, one attached to a lovely Victorian house, in the centre of a thriving village/holiday spot nearby, good footfall all year round. The other is a tiny intimate space, I can see it with Christmas lights, different window displays depending on the time of year. But it's occupied by a long-standing business, no chance of them going. Which is just as well, because as usual, money is the main sticking point. And so these pipedreams remain just that, but when I find a book about someone who did it, or a novel set within a bookshop, then I have to have it. 'The Bookshop That Floated Away' by Sarah Henshaw is her story of buying an old barge and turning it into a home cum floating bookshop that Sarah took for six months on canals and rivers. She met some interesting people along the way, bartered books for food and a hot bath, and cake. You can follow her continuing life aboard the barge via Facebook or www.thebookbarge.com

And on my Kindle, an excellent book - 'When I Wasn't Watching' by Michelle Kelly. As far as I know this is Michelle's first novel, and I can't wait for her next. This is the story of young Jack, abducted and murdered eight years ago by Terry Prince, himself a teen at the time. When another little boy, similar age and looks to Jack goes missing in similar circumstances close by, the police fear the worst. At the time of Jack's disappearance Matt was the leading DS on the case. Now he's the DCI dealing with this second case, and the realisation that the attraction he felt for Jack's mother all those years ago, inappropriate at the time, was however real. It may still be inappropriate in the eyes of his boss when he discovers there may be a growing friendship between the two, but for both, it's real. This is a love story mixed with a detective story, which has a satisfying, happy ending.

So,once again I hope there's something there to tempt you, and that August has been a good month for you. 

Thanks as ever for dropping by. Happy Reading!

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

August Ramblings

When I first began this blog almost a year ago, I had no real idea what I was going to do with it. I don't lead a wildly social life, in fact to most people I probably seem anti-social or a bit of a snob. In reality I'm just a bit reclusive, happy in my own company, my own home, doing my own thing. But writing about that seemed a tad boring, and hardly worth the effort of my writing and anyone else reading. So it was a delight when I found the Year in Books started by Laura over on her Circle of Pine Trees blog. At last, something I could definitely join in with, since books and reading form a big part of my everyday life.
But posting about books is only a once a month event, I felt I wanted to write more, even though I probably don't have much to say. So I've decided to start my 'ramblings', just random bits of this and that, my everyday life in fact for the most part. I hope someone other than me will read it!

                                                                 THE GARDEN


As with most people who garden, July and August are very productive and busy times. For us with our large garden, part of the gravel garden you can see in the above picture, it has meant lots of deadheading of flowers, harvesting of soft fruit and vegetables, and late sowings too, of yellow courgettes and peas. All the peas and broad beans had been harvested by the beginning of this month, and now the runners, stringless and dwarf French beans have kicked in and I pick every other day. Tiny yellow courgettes are harvested a couple of times a week too. Herbs have grown really well this year, in fact, very few disappointments, with the exception of a pack of Giant Larkspur which have turned out to be something completely different. I have no idea what they are, about six inches tall, with foliage like that of carrot tops, and with the promise of some sort of flower waiting to bud. Hardly what I wanted, and letter of complaint will be on its way to the producer of the pack. But with my allergy to the heat, and severe skin problems which mean I am not supposed to go out in the sun, my forays have been early morning and late evening, when I think the garden is at its nicest in a way... the searing  heat we've had here in our corner of Norfolk, with little or no rain compared to many other areas, has dissipated, and the garden has a calmness to it. This is when I do a little weeding and meditating. Thankfully of late the temperatures have dropped and we have had much-needed rain.

                                                                  CRAFTY STUFF



One of the great things about blogging is the ideas you glean, the inspiration that you get from other bloggers, and thanks to Lynne at Textile Treasury, last year I got interested in working with felt and this month I made the above cushion. I know he's not brilliant, or terribly arty in a way, not over-embellished or anything, but this is how I like it. I used an old soft brushed cotton shirt of my husband's which was destined for the car polishing/rag bag, until I salvaged it, using it with the buttons at the back as a means of easy removal of the pad. (I don't know who first thought of doing this but it's a brilliant idea!)

I've also done knitting, quite a lot. It seems that it's the easiest of the crafts on my hands, and it is so calming. I love to listen to Radio 4 and knit, or just sit quietly with my needles in the conservatory, watching the birds come to feed or bathe, neighbours cats passing through, often sticking their nose in the open door to say Miaow at me before wandering off again. It has been shawls of late, just simple triangles using a beautifully soft four ply merino (half price in a sale ages ago, I knew I'd find a use for it!), started on short needles, then onto normal length, and then onto circular as it gets wider.




                        
                                                                  WORDS

Writing is something that's a big part of my life as well. At one time I used to write regularly for county magazines, and then I turned my hand to fiction, short stories I enjoyed some small measure of success with. But the idea for a novel was never far away, in fact it was in a drawer, handwritten, sitting waiting for me to resurrect it and do something with it. I'd been meaning to 
do something with it for several years, but left it, knowing that when it was the right time, I'd go back to it. Well, the right time was early this year, when I took it out, dusted it off, edited, scrubbed out, re-wrote for months. And the end result has gone to a publisher, my tutor on the novel writing course tells me that the digital route seems the best option for new writers. It's not going to set the world on fire, it's not a brilliant first novel, not like some I read in July (see previous post), but I love it. It's my little novel, I love the story, the place it's set in and some of the characters I am particularly fond of, they often surprised me with things they said or did. Whether it will get accepted or not, who knows? It would be lovely if it did, but if not... well it matters not 'cos I've already started the next in the series of three. Ever hopeful.

                                                                   LIFE

My life, is as anyone who knows me will tell you, is quiet. Usually this is from necessity as good health deserted me long ago and there are times when put simply, I'm not up to much. Osteoporosis of the spine and Type 2 diabetes were the latest to hit me last year, and I don't wonder 'what next'. Life's too short - and it's a shame we don't realise that when we're much younger than when we're an OAP. That's Older Aged Person if you don't mind, not the other definition.

But occasionally we venture out of our comfortable, cosy little old house and last month it was off into Suffolk, to a lovely antique centre at Risby. I recently acquired two of these small printers trays....






and so have been on the lookout for tinies to put inside, and at Risby one of the cabinets has vintage toys, Dinky little old Dinky and Corgi cars, all well-loved but the chipped paint and wonky wheels adds to the charm. And thanks to my husband's interest in model N gauge railways, I have access to catalogues with lots and lots of tiny vehicles, like the Blackpool tram, reminding me of my teenage working years when I travelled on one to and from my job in Blackpool.

Most of our outings are unplanned, we just go when and where we feel like it, with my husband having the mid week free from work obligations, this is an ideal time. It tends to be quieter in the places we like to visit, and neither of us is fond of crowds and noisy children! But one outing I had been going to plan was to the Status Quo concert at nearby Holkham Hall, but with the news a couple of weeks ago of the group having to cancel several concert dates on their European tour, I decided against it. I would hate to be disappointed if it were cancelled at the last minute. There weren't going to be fireworks anyway!

So there is my mid-month ramblings of my quiet Norfolk life. Hope you found something to interest you! And thanks for visiting.




Friday, 1 August 2014

Just July's Books


   Linking up once more with Laura over at her Circle of Pine Trees blog, hosting the Year in Books.


One of the best books I've read in a long time, 'The Collected Works of A.J. Fikry' by Gabrielle Zevin was devoured, the only word for it, in a few afternoons when it was too warm to do anything but sit and read in a room away from the sun, with a fan gently blowing cool air in front of me, and a glass of iced peach tea alongside. A.J. owns Island Books, a secondhand bookstore, and since his wife died he's lost heart, drinks too much too. Then one day two things happen; someone leaves a baby in his store with a note explaining they can't look after it any more, and a valuable old edition goes missing. Things start to look up, and get even better when he falls in love again. Life can't get better for A.J. but in the way of real life, it can get worse. But that's for you to find out! Brilliant read, highly recommended.

'Missed Connections - Love lost and Found' by Sophie Blackall isn't a novel, but a book of words and pictures. Sophie came across a website called Missed Connections, where people left messages for other people they didn't know. Which sounds odd I know.... it could be a man on the subway happened to give up his seat to a beautiful young woman, wished afterwards he'd asked her name, for her number. So he leaves a message on this site... 'to the beautiful young woman with the wonderful smile, wearing a red coat on Saturday when I let her have my seat....' that kind of thing. Sophie has put her own unique drawings to a selection of messages, and made this fun book. If you are a people watcher, this is the kind of book you'll probably enjoy.

I have to admit that I bought 'From a Distance' by Rafaella Barker mainly for the fabulous cover and the fact I've read her in the past. The story is set over two different eras, one just after WWII ends when Michael returns to England but rather than go back to Norfolk, the family farm and Janey, the woman he left behind to go to war, he boards a different train at the station at the last minute and goes to Cornwall. He arrives at a time when the arty Newlyn Set is under way; he lives with Felicity and they have a son, though don't marry. She knows that at some point he will have to go back to Norfolk, will need to, when he realised what it's like to love a child of your own, and from that, realises how he has hurt his own mother by staying away. So he returns, where Janey still waits for him. A generation later and his son also moves to Norfolk, where he discovers a whole new family,  and an inheritance from his late mother of a Lighthouse! Very good story, another to recommend as a summer read.

'The Almost Moon' by Alice Sebold, not, in my opinion as good as 'The Lovely Bones' but a book that held my attention from the start, where the pace really picked up towards the end. Helen has killed her ageing  mother, not something she planned to do, it just happened that one minute she was going to wash the infirm old lady, the next she suffocated her. What to do? She calls her ex husband Jake, who lives several hours away, but as ever ready to help her, he tells her to do nothing until he can get to her. But instead of doing as he says, she tells her children. It is obvious that the police will then be involved, and she puts the blame on someone else, knowing that it's only a matter of time before the truth comes out. So she borrows a car, steals a gun, intends doing away with herself. She hides out in a neighbours house.... but will she go through with it, or will she be discovered along with the truth? Very good read again.

Amanda Prowse is a new to me author, but several of her books were in a set bought cheaply as summer reading from a wellknown online and mail order book company. 'Clover's Child' is set in the 60s, when Dot, a white working class girl in London, meets Sol, a black soldier, son of a high-ranking US Army officer and his socialite wife. It stands to reason that this is not a union that is met with joy all around. Sol's mother knows this girl has trapped her son by getting pregnant, so makes him an offer he can't refuse, which means he leaves England, returns to America without a word to Dot. She is doubly shamed, having a relationship with a black man, and now an unmarried mother. She goes into a home for unmarried mother, her son is taken away from her and she returns to the family home, to a miserable life. She meets Wally, a decent man, but when he discovers her true love, he does something totally selfless for Dot. Will it be a happy ending for her with Sol? Will she remain with Wally and a life she's unhappy with? Or will she have a change of heart about him? Great writing that had me hooked from the start.

Joanna Trollope's  modern day version of 'Sense and Sensibility' left me cold. I loved Austen when I was younger, in my teens and early twenties, not so much these days. But the Jane Austen project intrigued me, where modern day authors do their own take on her classic stories. This has put me off reading the rest. I shall say no more. It wasn't Trollope, a writer I have enjoyed for many years and whose books I have, at her best in my opinion. Maybe others will disagree?

'Miss Buncle Married' by D.E. Stevenson is one of my Persephone classics, and is the story of Barbara Buncle a published writer, who marries Arthur, her publisher and several years her senior. Very much in love, they move out to the country to escape suburbia and the endless round of dinner parties and so on, which neither of them likes very much at all. Here they settle down to the sort of quiet life they want, with no social demands of their previous life. Their happiness is complete when Barbara announces she is going to have a baby. This is one of those gentle stories so typical of many of the Persephone imprints, and a really relaxing, non-taxing read.

Finally, 'The Crying Tree' by Naseem Rakha. Irene Stanley thought her world had come to an end when her 15 year old son Shep was murdered. Daniel Robbins, a troubled and troublesome boy, gave himself up to the police, admitted his guilt. Nineteen years later, and his execution by lethal injection draws near. Unbeknownst to her family, Irene had forgiven him, they had been writing to each other for some time, and now she wants to stop his execution, which means her husband will find out about their correspondence. And she will finally find out what happened the day her son was killed, and it's not as she believed. Another author I've not heard of, another of the 'summer reading' set, and another I am glad I had the chance to read, it's not one I would have chosen for myself and just proves it's good to step out of your comfort reading zone now and then.

Hope you have enjoyed your July reading; I'm looking forward to more recommendations!