Friday, July 30, 2010

Mr Rosenblum's List by Natasha Solomons

This turned out to be a different read than I was expecting. 

Jack Rosenblum flees Nazi Germany in 1937 for England with his wife and small daughter and sets out to become the quintessential Englishman.  His wife, Sadie, desperately misses her family and the Jewish traditions which she holds dear.  Also, to say that she is a 'glass half-empty' sort of woman would be an understatement, she goes about being sad with ambition.  I have to say that she reminded me of my dearly departed mother-in-law in a warped sort of affectionate way.

My daydreams usually finds me riding a bike through a Midsomer Murder-type village so I was really looking forward to finding a kindred spirit in Jack.  What I didn't expect was that this story is rather quite a lot about his building a golf course!  The reason he builds his own links is because of racial prejudices at the time, Jews were not welcome at the esteemed clubs.  I did feel sorry for his disappointments, proud of his resolution and a little ticked that he didn't appreciate his wife until a near tragedy but Jack didn't quite become the character that I was expecting.

There are some villagers, like Curtis and Basset who love having a new member of the community to tempt with local folklore about a woolly-pig and their homemade cider. The wealthy Sir William turns out to be less than kind and the women spend many happy hours cooking and baking which had me craving cake a time or two.

But...yes, there's a but, the story was a bit too whimsical and convenient for me.  I wasn't as engaged as I had hoped to be and was annoyingly aware of the print the whole time I was reading.  When the print disappears and I'm visualizing the story until the phone rings to snap me out of that is a fabulous reading experience.

The cover states that a movie is on its way and I can envision a Chocolat sort of whimsy working quite well with this plot.  I did like the story but it was a tad too charming for me, perhaps it wasn't the right read for this sultry summer we're having.  My next read is a library book so I have to read fast.  It's Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benatar and I've read the protagonist goes slightly mad...should make a nice change of pace.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

London Belongs to Me by Norman Collins

The boarding house on 10 Dulcimer Street in Kennington shelters some very interesting characters. 

Set in the late thirties, Collins was writing about the London of his day.  Unbeknownst to many, war was looming between countries but there were also conflicts brewing on a smaller scale under this roof.  And in the charming way of the author he would say 'Step this way and have a look...'

Mrs Vizzard is a lonely widow who rents out rooms in her house.  The lodgers tend to be long-term residents and have become as good as family with each other.  Mr and Mrs Josser live there with their twenty-year old daughter, Doris.  The book opens with Mr Josser retiring from his job and carrying the contents of his desk along with his retirement gift, a huge mantle clock, home on the tram...which he proceeds to drop.

Connie lives with her bird, Duke, and never having much she struggles to make ends meet.  Trouble has a way of finding Connie and sometimes she goes looking for it.  A quirky characteristic of hers is that if there's a vehicle leaving Dulcimer Street then Connie makes sure she's in the passenger seat whether she has been invited or not.

Mr Puddy is a lazy night watchmen with a perpetually stuffed nose and his dialogue is written as such.  His daily grind is pretty much going to work and thinking about his next meal with tinned goods being about as good as it gets.  He has a serendipitous moment of glory when he's awarded a George Cross for saving a fireman's life during a drop of incendiary bombs.  The thing is...he was crawling his way out of a fire and the fireman just so happened to have grabbed onto him as he went past!

Mrs Boon and her delusional son, there's a creepy fellow.  A mechanic, he turns to the theft of cars in order to make more money.  With an eye for the Josser's daughter he figures the extra cash will go a long way to securing a future with her but things go bad....real bad.  There are court proceedings and bad press which bring shame to the boarding house and despair to Mrs Vizzard, who runs an upstanding establishment!  Poor Mrs Boon will never see the bad in her son and most of the time a quiet word with the Lord (and a hanky) sees her through.

Doris could care less about Percy in that way.  Being a modern girl and wanting independence she rents a flat with her less than pure friend, Doreen.  I burst out laughing when Doreen convinces Doris that the extra cash for a phone would be well rewarded by loads of phone calls to do exciting things but the phone never rings because nobody they know has a phone!

A sham of a mystic (is there any other kind?) appears one day in the form of Mr Squales.  Now there's a slippery character.  He knows all the right things to say and do and in short order has Mrs Vizzard falling in love.  She can barely look at the portrait of her dearly departed husband because of the thoughts she has in her head.  But 'Qualito' is always on the look out for other lonely widows whose bank accounts are more bountiful.  Such a cad!

In the latter bit of the book war breaks out and you experience shelters, rationing, bombings, fighter planes, child evacuation and telegrams.  There is also parliamentary talk and some discussion of the Fuhrer so not all kitchen drama in case you're wondering.

Norman Collins is an amazing writer who brought these characters to life for me.  There was no nuance too small for him to mention which explains some of the reason for its length at over 700 pages but in no way did this bog things down.  If this era, or London, interests you then you must read this book and if you love both...well then, you're in for a treat.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Teapot Mittens

With the sweltering temperatures we've been experiencing these last couple of weeks the thought of knitting has been less than inspiring.  With plans to knit another cardigan being shelved for now my thoughts turned to an adorable teapot mitten.  Stopping into Romni Wools on one of our trips to Toronto last week I was drawn to this cheery bright pink hue.  When it's finished it will look like this...

photo credit 'Bowtruckle'

I can already picture changing up the colours to suit the season. 

Monday, July 12, 2010

Holiday Bliss

Wow!  Did we ever pack a lot into one week!  R and I drove to Toronto to see some small boats...

and some tall ships!  The Europa is from the Netherlands and was built in 1911.  There are 68 bunks and if you're feeling adventurous they offer trips where you can live the life of a seafarer.  Trying to dress the part I wore my 'wench blouse' and proceeded to get such a burn on my decollete...ouch!  I'll never make a very good vamp.

Time for some culture.  It was to Niagara-on-the-Lake to partake in the Shaw Festival series of plays, we saw An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde.  It was over 40C with the humidex and the two pints R had at lunch were practically for health and safety reasons.  But once we were in a darkened air-conditioned theatre and the lights went down I looked over to catch R having a snooze!  Cue the elbow.  This is the tiniest bookshop but full of just the kind of books I like.  No time to browse though as the curtain was about to go up!

I couldn't resist taking a photo of some Anne of Green Gable Raspberry Cordial for those of you across the pond.  Perhaps I'll suggest some of this to R instead of the pints next time.

On one of the days which rain was forecast we saw The Girl Who Played with Fire by Steig Larsson.  Whilst everyone else was munching on popcorn, I snuck in an eccles cake leftover from Niagara-on-the-Lake and a cup of tea.  Very much a 'Hyacinth' moment.

Dinner out with friends and getting together on the patio was so nice and best of all...R and I didn't have to watch the clock.  Deacon had his fair share of swimming in the stream at Lowville Park and I discovered masses of wild blackberries which I had to gobble up straight away seeing as I didn't have a bowl.  R was worried about my tummy but as it turns out it was really Deacon he should have worried about.  Too much water and bark from chasing sticks caused him to empty the contents of his stomach on the back seat on the drive home one evening....ugh!  So perhaps not all bliss but hey...that's life.

And yesterday, on our last day of holiday, my true love gave to me...the most gorgeous diamond ring to mark our twenty-fifth year of marriage.  The actual date isn't until December but secrets and waiting can sometimes be too much to bear. 

So it's Monday and back to reality.  Who's on holiday next and what would you like to do?