Sunday, August 11, 2019

Finally, an update and some book reviews

I am shocked to see how long it is since we last posted. I know that you have been viewing our web-site, and I am so pleased that you, do, but I am sorry for being so hopeless at updating it. The reasons are, that I work full-time, our house in Cornwall is a lifelong project and needs loads doing to it, we are trying to reduce our use of plastics, and therefore, we are doing lots more cooking from scratch, and in my spare time, I love to read books. So, where is the time to blog!?! But I do also enjoy blogging, so here we finally are. I should say, that one day, we would still like to open Pilchard Books, but at the moment, we are happy doing what we are doing, and exploring the options open to us.

We live on the outskirts of a fantastic town, called St Just, about 9 miles from Penzance, (the best train station to come in to), in Cornwall, UK. It is the most wonderful community, with amazing people, fabulously, useful shops, heavenly cafes, and just so much to do! In July, we made a 13ft Snow White out of willow/withies, and paper, for our local festival, Lafrowda, to promote Pendeen Pantomime. Anyway, I am digressing…in our lovely town, there is a post office, which also sells second-hand books for 20p (money going to Cancer Research). I always find treasures in that pile of books, and one of those treasures helped me discover a new author, who I hadn’t read before: Susan Wittig Albert (https://susanalbert.com/), a best-selling author in America, but not one I had heard of in the UK, which, if you read the rest of this post, you may find truly surprising!


So I started off with “The Darling Dahlias and the Cucumber Tree”, (one of a series of 5 books), and I loved it. It isn’t deep, but it is engaging, entertaining, and educational. It is set in the 1930s, in a small town called Darling, and is about the members of a gardening club, The Darling Dahlias, who unravel the story behind the mysterious death of a local blond bombshell. Being a small town, there are lots of rumours, leading to speculation and drama. The story is full of wonderful characters, and at the start of the book, there is a brief biography for each one. For example, Miss Dorothy Rogers, is Darling’s librarian. She knows the Latin name of every plant and insists that all the garden club members know them too! The author writes really well, and clearly researches her topic, because there are useful details about gardening, and at the back of the book there is a section called “Makin’ do: 12 ways to stretch whatever we have”, which is full of useful advice, still relevant in today’s society. For example, “Save old letters and envelopes and use the backs or notes and lists. But be careful not to use a letter you don’t want someone else to read.” Finally, there are recipes, along with interesting facts, from food that is described in the book, for example, Florabelle’s Soda Bread, and Euphoria;s Peanut Butter Meringue Pie. The author seems to include recipes in all her books, some more appetising than others 😊

Once I had finished that book, I was intrigued to know more about this author. I soon found that she has written lots of books. Two series are along the same lines as the first Darling Dahlias book, set in small American towns, with lots of gossipy and earnest characters. But she has also written a series of books which feature Beatrix Potter as a character, and not only in her capacity as an author, but also as a sleuth! Now, being a huge fan of Beatrix Potter, I was a little concerned about an American author turning the most wonderful Beatrix Potter into a detective, so I ordered just one of The Cottage Tales of Beatrix Potter series of 8 books. I started off with “The Tale of Briar Bank”, and it was absolutely charming, and so clever. The author portrays Beatrix Potter, just as one might imagine her, describing her life in the Lake District, the challenges she faces with her family, and being a new farmer in a man’s world, and her growing romance with Will Heelis, whom she eventually married in real-life, I believe. It is so well-researched, it is difficult to tell what it fact and what is fiction. I really love this series of books, because it not only presents such a brilliant picture of what it was like in the Lake District at that time, but it also integrates Beatrix Potter’s characters so well, alongside new animal characters. So, you have wonderful human characters, along with the original Beatrix Potter animals who meet new ones created by Susan Wittig Albert. Beatrix Potter is still a successful author, but is also a very well-respected part of the community, with many friends and admirers. In these stories, she has a knack of being very perceptive and manages to resolve any issues between other characters in the book. And this proves very useful, because in this series, there are many problems which need a calm and fair person to find a resolution. But, on top of the usual village goings-on, there is also a mystery to be solved, and in this book, someone is killed, and treasure is involved. Beatrix Potter does solve the mystery, along with Brock the Badger, and Rascal, a Jack Rascal Terrier, and in the two books I have read of this series, the answer is not at all what I thought! 
The second book I read in this series, is The Tale of Hawthorn House, another mystery, about an abandoned baby, and the sad demise of a farmer. The villagers, suspect fairy-folk involvement, but Beatrix Potter, despite having such a wonderfully creative mind, figures out what really happened, and ensures that everything becomes right with the world again. In this book, you are reminded of the story of poor Jemima Puddleduck, who just wanted to raise ducklings, but everyone thought she was too fickle to remember to look after them. In this book, the story continues, and you find out what happens next to Jemima. There is quite a troubling section about badger baiting, which I didn’t like, because it explained it quite thoroughly, but it did also make me understand quite a bit, so I found that very educational. Once again, at the end of each book, there are useful additions, including a list of resources, which the author used to inform the book, recipes from food mentioned, and a glossary to explain the dialect. I am not from the Lake District, so I don’t know how accurate it is. If you like Beatrix Potter, then I think you might like this series. The books are so well-written, magical, informative, and I really treasure them. I have managed to track down another two, which I will read once I have
finished a book from another series by Susan Wittig Albert, about a lawyer turned herbalist, who solves crimes. Wormwood is set in a Shaker community, and I am learning so much about what is involved in this religion. I know they had a unique style with regards to the furniture they built, but I didn’t know that Shaker comes from dancing and singing, which was part of their religion. There are really interesting facts about herbs, which are actually making me want to take a herbalist course, and recipes, although I am not too convinced by Vinegar Pie.

At 79 years of age, Susan Wittig Albert is still going strong, and has another book published this year – “A Plain Vanilla Murder”. The common themes to all of her books are that they involve natural history in some way, they have strong female and feminine leads, they contain recipes and other, useful supporting material, and they are just a very good read. Let me know what you think!  

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The wombles go round the world by Elisabeth Beresford

I am delighted that people are still looking at Pilchard Books. I am sorry that we haven't posted for quite a while. We still have not opened our bookshop and there are no plans to do so at the moment, as I am working and P is writing. Who knows what the future will bring, but for now, we will try to be more regular with our book reviews, and if you have any book recommendations, then please do share.

So, I have been reading about the wombles. For those of you who do not know who the wombles are, they are gentle, furry creatures who live on Wimbledon Common in London, and collect and recycle all the rubbish that humans leave behind. There are a series of books about the wombles and their various adventures, and they were originally written in the 70s. They are children's books, but beautifully written, and very suitable for all ages. The wombles in England are led by Great Uncle Bulgaria, the oldest of the wombles. All wombles are named after place names, so you have Orinoco who loves food, and does a lot of thinking and resting, Tobermory, who takes all the rubbish that the other wombles find, and recycles it, Madame Cholet who is the much-loved chef, and many others. There is even a womblegarten for the youngest wombles. These books are so clever, and have wonderful insights, such as "cor blimey", frequently said by Tomsk, which actually means God blame me. 

The book I have just read is called "The wombles go round the world" and it is about the wombles travelling around the world to other womble burrows to create a new volume of the womble history. Their experiences are so brave and exciting, and the tales so creative! Four of the wombles travel in two hot air balloons to America, Japan, Germany, Russia, Australia, and New Zealand, experiencing the wonders of the world and collecting stories and recipes to share with the rest of the wombles in Wimbledon. They are lovely stories, but they also have such strong messages for today's world, and it appears that we have learned nothing about protecting the environment in the past forty years. Womble wisdom! Here is a quote "Our big problem is the objects we tidy up, most of which are some sort of plastic. Plastic is not an easy kind of material to make good use of." Further on in the book, they talk about the issues with air pollution. So sad, that forty years on, we are still using plastic and polluting the air. I wish these books could be read in every primary school so that perhaps the next generation can take better care of our planet. Better still, I wish it could be compulsory reading for the decision-makers of this world.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Piranha To Scurfy And Other Stories - Ruth Rendell

I love short stories, and I enjoy crime fiction, but I have never read any books by Ruth Rendell. I had seen her characters come to life on the television, but never read their original stories. This collection of short stories, Piranha To Scurfy And Other Stories, was a great surprise, and I enjoyed them immensely. The macabre twist of the first story, the title cleverly reflecting a volume from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, and the disturbing nature, but satisfying ending of The Wink. The High Mysterious Union really reminded me of the Wicker Man, with its 'loving' community, and the Myth was wonderfully creative, with the idea of the Garden of Eden being in Wiltshire.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

nectar for food

a rabbit speaks:

he wrote poems about me
before i was kitten-born
black ink, no taste, smell
on paper, tree-like, thin
rustles beneath feet.

i did not hear them.
i lived, green fields
slopes
field banks
burrows dark, warm.

but i sensed what he said
he gave us names, lives
singled us to
within our kind.

now i am alone
live lone life.
myxie, he calls me
poem words
rabbits sniff, smell
butt blind, sickened
rabbit from my home.

i will die.
i eat bright colours
garden dark, dawn
petal flavoured scent
i am king, god
nectar for food.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

A Room With a View - E.M. Forster

It's a novel I aspire to.  It begins with a babble, Miss Honeychurch at table, her aunt in attendance; and it continues as such - a minimum of Forster comment and all narrative.  Of course, it would have been wonderful if Forster had come out, told life, love as he really saw it.  But he didn't, and we must live with this.  He tells the tale of girl expecting boy, not expecting the boy who turns out to be her true love.  And that is what is fantastic - the eternal love that is proclaimed.  And truth.  The girl belongs to boy.  And boy to girl.  The narrative entertains, and confirms this as it progresses.  Love is wonderful - the best we can get, if we can get it.  Read this, and read it again - if you believe in love (or maybe more so if you don't).  Each reading is an assertion of achievable purpose and hope.

I Sing To The Air - Padraig De Brun

A bird speaks:

I slouch, some beggar starved of hope,
Feasted on the stale discards of past,
Towards dawn. I am wing-tired, slow,
A body, prime-passed, not now dead,
Long dying. I think morning thought,
What birds do, their always living,
Being, since the hour birth begins.
And other thoughts come, as thoughts must:
"Remember soon!" I do no know
As day arrives what this day is.

'Round me - again I do not know -
I live it now - it is just there -
Are roof-tops, grey, acute, spartan,
Dense, green bush, barbed as dwellings are,
My dwelling, my unwelcome hearth.
And then wires, black, unearthed wires
Hum beneath feet, chanting on, on.

Others stand as well - I know this.
No need for thought as I awake.
They wait. I wait. There is stillness.
We watch the ever-present night.
It is tense now, alert, frozen,
The movements of creatures, studied,
Preyed upon. And it is soon dead -
Night must know this - the lamb of dark -
Night risen, always daily dead.

And without a sound, new doom falls,
Rises with seeing, sight of things.
The sun comes from the east, jewelled
Like Juliet - a star of day.
It slaughters what it finds, rest's sleep,
Scavenges the corpse it kills, dark.
And night, recently gloried, fat
Is gone. All dreams, shivering, pass.

And then the song. Others sing first.
I wait. I will remember. Day.
Until a voice - I know that voice.
There is a sweet, butterfly sound,
And notes, bright-coloured, gambolling,
Caressing thoughts as new lambs do.
And there is joy-ordinary
All about. The very air breathes
Delicious life, speaks memories,
High shrilling, not now forgotten.
And I reply, gladly reply,
Remember the known, always known,
And I sing to the air, loudly,
I sing day's coming to the air.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Endless Night - Agatha Christie

Okay, she can write.  That's how she made her name, I suppose - sold a few books.  And as ever there's an economy of style - "it's the narrative, Stupid".  Christie doesn't waste words; she keeps us on the action.  I was surprised in a "that's interesting way" to find myself making a link between Agatha Christie, The Doors and William Blake.  After that came a slight disappointment.  Endless Night, as expected, is rich with fantastic characters and intrigue.  To resolve her complex mystery, however - no, I didn't guess who did it - Christie does a complete character make-over towards the end; the villain suddenly acquires qualities, a history that had not been there before.  This left me imagining that the villain was a convenience - someone had to be guilty; and more importantly I imagined that like me Christie did not know who did it until she had invented her convenience.  The novel then loses its sense of being crafted from the start, clever clues and distractions woven into the plot - there were none.  As a result I will take a pause from her mysteries for now.  I will only return when I have forgiven her.  This should not take too long.