Adding all the time! [note Mr Mac's choices are headed in red]
Little White Horse - Elizabeth Goudge:
Like all EG's children's books, set in earlier times. A small child is sent to live in the west country with her governess and dog, to the Manorhouse at Moonacre. Her adventures delighted me as a child, I wanted to be her, and I wanted her bedroom ceiling - dark blue and painted with gold stars!
Rare Birds - Edward Riche:
The story of a man who'se wife has left him and the restaurant they ran together, and who decides that suicide by the consumption of the entire wine cellar (together with the odd snort of coke) is the way to go. That is, until a friend comes up with the ficticious sighting of a 'rare' bird. Set in Newfoundland, Canada, this is a book I recommend to anyone needing cheering up (or not - it doesn't matter. My other half, who has only read about 3 novels in his life, loved it too).
Fall on your knees - Anne Marie MacDonald:
Epic family story of a family from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. The story of four daughters of a mixed marriage which shifts around in time releasing all sorts of secrets, and travelling between Cape Breton, Europe in the First World War, and the emerging Jazz era in New York. A fantastic mix of family, ambition, passion.
The Borrowers (all of them) - Mary Norton:
I loved every one of these (even the final one which came years later), but my first introduction to Pod, Homily and Arrietty was an introduction to a wonder world behind the skirting boards - tiny people who just got by in life by 'borrowing' things. And to whom full sized humans and animals were more frightening than any prehistoric monster. A delight because of the description of everything is just so - and I could imagine all of it.
Not wanted on the Voyage - Timothy Findley:
Noah and his wife Mrs Noyes, Yarweh (who is old and irritable), Mottyl, Mrs Noyes' talking cat, a unicorn who will die a dreadful death (of course!, no unicorns around now, are there?!). This was the first Timothy Findley I read, but not the last (see further on in the list), and it was a magic moment for me. I could not put it down. It is a beautifully told story that we all thought we knew, but with such imagination that it took my breath away.
His Dark Materials - Phillip Pullman:
I was lent the first volume and what an eye opener that was! I loved the business of everyone having a daemon (their soul in animal form) , and Lyra and her story will stay with me forever. Her bravery at all points was just a perfect counterpoint to the evil of some of those who rule her worlds (and ours!), and it was a joy to know her. I didn't like the film at all, but was lucky enough to see the first production at the National Theatre some years ago, in two 3 hour sessions, so that I could see it all on the same day. We were 4 adults, and we were stunned by the production, as were loads of children in the theatre who were the quietest I have ever seen. We all loved it so much, and I had a job to keep my emotions to myself for the last 10 minutes (very wet dress front!). The stage production was faithful to the books.
Winter's Tale - Mark Helprin
The most beautiful fantasy novel, which includes Peter, who lives up above Grand Central Station, an area of New York state which doesn't really exist, snow, horsedrawn carriages and so much more. When I was reading it I wanted to be there for real...but where to find it?
The Lumpton Gobelings - Ernest Elmore
I found this in a second hand shop in 1961, and can never let it go. "When the Gobbelings first come to Lumpton, the villagers split into two camps. Those like Parson Throstle have compassion on the pretty, naked Little People,; others like Colonel Bumphrey, want to liquidate them. Old Hickory sees them as God's creatures and the Visitation as a miracle; but Trug lumps them in with sawfly and turnip-flea- blights to be destroyed - and sets to work concocting his traps...." At publication, this tale was described as "..a commentary of priggishness and prudery, neighbourliness and Christian charity...". A lesson for every generation, methinks.
The Various - Steve Augarde, also Celandine and Winterwood.
Stories of little people, piskies, fairies, whatever you call them, the stories have always been there. Midge is 12 years old, and one day she discovers the truth - that there are extraordinary litlle people, struggling to survive within the human world. One of these little people befriends Midge and she begins to understand that no-one must know about them, no-one. The description by that little person of the three blocks of wisdom, and how he saw one fall open at a meeting of the elders is breathtaking in it's simplicity.... if you know ( which he does not) what those blocks are.
Lost Horizon - James Hilton
What's known in this family as a bit of old tosh!, but I loved this when I read it in my late teens. Hugh Conway falls in love with a beautiful Chinese girl, Lo-Tsen,and Shangri-La, the place behind the mountains where she lives. When she tells him how old she really is, he cannot believe it, and plans to take her "home" to the outside world.
Famous Last Words - Timothy Findley
I cannot fault Findley. Each book is entirely different, but each a masterpiece on its own. Selwyn Mauberly is held prisoner in a castle in the Austrian Alps and in the final days of the Second World War, without paper, he must tell his tale, his sordid truth. When the liberating army discover his frozen corpse, they also discover, on every wall, from ceiling to floor, the extraordinary scandal which involves The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, von Ribbentrop, Hitler, Charles Lindbergh, Sir Harry Oakes. Weaving fact and fiction together, this is epic!
Griffin and Sabine - Nick Bantock, also included are the other two volumes The Golden Mean and Sabine's Notebook
Griffin Moss receives a postcard from Sabine Strohem. She has certainly written to him, from an address that does not exist. Yet when he replies, the reply certainly arrives, because she writes back. Who is she? Where is she? They are desperate to meet, but throughout the course of the three books this is not to be. These are picture books for adults, just like those books for children where there are notes in envelopes, and postcards are reproduced in Griffin's or Sabine's handwriting. Beautiful to look at, but safisfying to read.
Little Grey Men and Little Grey Men go down the Bright Stream - 'BB':
The last 4 gnomes left in Britain live in Warwickshire, on the banks of the Folly brook. Cloudberry has gone, gone to find the river's source, and the other three set out to find him. In the second book, it looks as though the Folly is drying up and the gnomes need to move and find a safe home. Part of my childhood.
The Young Visitors - Daisy Ashford:
Daisy Ashford wrote this little romance when she was nine, and the vocabulary and grammar shows! But its a little charmer that makes me laugh out loud. "Mr Salteen was an elderly man of 42 and was fond of asking people to stay with him. He had quite a yound girl staying with him of 17 called Ethel Monticue. Mr Salteen had dark short hair and mustache and wiskers (sic) which were very black and twisty...." But when Ethel fails for a young man called Bernard! Lovely book, lovely present, lovely!
Thats it for now. Am I at 50 yet? More to be added.
The House on the Strand - Daphne de Maurier:
Could include all her novels, but loved this the best. How would you feel if, by taking a measure of "untested" chemical formula, you were transported back to another time, and you could meet people there, and fall in love with one of them? And that the trip only lasted so long, and you had to get another measure of the formula.... and that one day there was going to be none left?
Private Peaceful - Michael Morpurgo
I class this as an anti-war book, and will be listing at least one more in this genre. The story of the last few hours of a very young soldier in the first world war who is going to be shot at dawn for what (blimey, they shot you even if you had gone mad with what you saw). The book will tell you what for, but the beautfully described thoughts of home and family and the clever ending of this book will make you think "No more, no more". I rate all his books, but this one has an appeal which crosses from children to adults.
Year of Wonders - Geraldine Brooks:
Beautifully told story, based on fact, of a village which received the Plague via bolts of cloth delivered from London, which contain the fleas that carried the plague all over the country. The priest and villagers took the decision to shut themselves off from the surrounding villages so that other people would not suffer as they were beginning to. A bowl of vinegar (as disinfectant) was placed at a chosen point; food and wants were delivered and left there, and the money was removed from the vinegar for payment. This book described so clearly what the plague must have been like, what fear does to people, and how this little village coped. I sent my copy to a friend in Canada, who passed it on, who passed it on, who passed it on..... Its been a well read volume of a well loved book.
Latitude - Dava Sobel
Nothing superfluous in this book, the true story of Harrison's H4 chronograph. Sounds dry? Nooooo! Harrison was the man who changed the world by producing a watch that would keep precise time at sea (something that had not yet been accomplished on land) No-one could measure longitude yet, to make navigation easy. This was in 1760, and this problem had not seen a solution for the previous 200 years. A tiny book, with so much of our best history involved. Is Harrison celebrated? Not enough. Read this and you will celebrate one man's achievements.
The Arcanum - Janet Gleeson
In the early eighteenth century, there was a quest. A quest to find the secret of porcelain, the mysterious ceramic that China had been producing for 1,000 years. An alchemist, Johann Friedrich Bottger, said it could do it, and then spent most of the rest of his life locked in a prison until he did do it. A fantastic true story which is Mr Mac's "best read ever".
Miss Garnett's Angel - Sally Vickers:
A virginal retired spinster takes herself off to Venice. That's all. She discovers herself, and many other things too. A quick read delight, and just the book to take to Venice if you have never been before!
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day - Winifred Watson
1930's London, a fairy story about a governess sent by an employment agency to the wrong address. Instead of being interviewed for a job teaching children, Miss Pettigrew comes across a bottle blonde night club singer with two lovers, which is a bit of a shock to a woman of Miss Pettigrew's calibre! I often give it as a present to friends. No-one who has read it hasn't loved it. Filmed with Frances McDermot (Fargo) as Miss Pettigrew.
How I live now - Meg Roscoff
I was stunned when I read this book, aimed at young adults, but suitable reading for anyone older than 20 also. The heroine, an American visitor, goes to stay with her Aunt and cousins in rural England for a holiday. Set at some time in the not too distant future, there is some kind war on, although it is never disclosed who is fighting whom, although there are soldiers around from time to time. Her Aunt, a reporter, is sent to Northern Europe to do a reporting job, and does not return. Two young adults, and two younger children, now have to fend for themselves. How do you keep clean, how do you eat, how do you acquire the food to eat, how do you live now? Sex, childcare, fear, joy, the need to hold the group together because this can't go on for ever can it? are all here in a more than believable mix.
Never let me go - Kazuo Ishiguro
Why do the children at this school never get holidays? And why don't the staff either? The story brought to mind "Brave New World", and various other books since then, but in the writing, the description and the subject matter, this book is a little gem. It will stay with me forever.
Here at the end of the world we learn to dance - Lloyd Jones
I cannot say that every one of Lloyd Jones' books appeals to me, but this one, so short, so sparse, but so beautiful, describes the story of a girl in New Zealand who hides two lads, and an older man in a cave on the coast, so that the two lads do not have to get called up for the war. The older man teaches them dance steps. Love, dance, travel - an odd little novel that I loved.
Journey to nowhere - Eva Figues
A staggering memoir which explains much about how German Jews existed under the *** before, and during, WW2; how Zionists campaigned for a state of Israel, how it happened. How only the "right kind of people" were wanted as settlers in that new land. A quite different view of Israel, written by a Jew.
Once and also Then - Morris Gleitzman
Glorious and sad tales of a little Jewish boy, left at a catholic orphanage by his parents for his own protection during WW2. Based on true stories heard by Gleitzman - these are part of a trilogy to read at one sitting childrens book - for adults!
Buster Midnight's Cafe - Sandra Dallas
Three children, May Anna, Whippy Bird and Effa Commander grew up in Bute, Montana, during prohibition in the 1930s. May Anna becomes first a prostitute, and then a Hollywood star. Whippy and Effa talk to each other about their memories of childhood, and why the cafe was called Buster Midnight's. Odd subject, beautifully told. Recommended.
Yesterday Morning - Diana Athill
Not the first, but the earliest of Diana Athill's memoirs. Athill worked in publishing for over 40 years, and met many famed authors, not all of whom she liked at all. But this book is about her early years, and I was entranced by her descriptions of a childhood I did not experience, but was jealous of. This book urged me on to read all her other memoirs.
Sleeping Arrangements - Laura Shaine Cunningham
Another memoir, from America (The Bronx, NY) this time. An 8 year old child, left an orphan when her mother dies, is taken under the wing of two elderly uncles and a Russian Jewess Grandmother. The family unit is different in every way from that she had experienced before, but a lot of fun most of the time. Imagine being served a bowl of popcorn for breakfast - "Well, its corn, isn't it? and they make bread from corn, so......? "
Miss Savidge moves her house - Christine Adams
Would you, at age 60, move a medieval hall house across several counties, and then attempt the rebuilding of it on your own, beam by beam, brick by brick, and nail by nail whilst living in a caravan in the garden? The author is Miss Savidge's niece by marriage, who completed the build after Mis Savidge died at 93. This is not the best written book in the world, but the subject matter enthralled me. A single lady who wanted to save a small slice of English history. I simply could not believe the singlemindedness of this woman, and I don't believe there are many like her left.
Can Any Mother Help Me? - Jenna Bailey
Jenna Bailey is an American, who was over here doing research and came across a whole bundle of handmade magazines. During WW2 and right up until the 1970s, a group of women wrote articles for the magazine, answered questions, offered help,and the magazine was put together and circulated by post. I found it a fabulous glimpse into the social history of a quite recent time.
The Help - Kathryn Stockett
Set in the 1960s in Alabama, when a white college graduate decides that the black "help" should be given their own voices. How she goes about this, and how the maids tell theire stories to her is certainly illuminating - this is a fiction, but based on truth. I was able to tie up other bits of recent American history, which helped broad the picture. To understand what it is like to be black when you are not is a difficult trick to pull off, but the voices of these woman will certainly go a long way to put you in their shoes for a short while.
The Immortal life of Henrietta Lacks - Rebecca Skloot
Mrs Lacks died around 60 years ago but left the world an ongoing legacy. She died from a virulent form of cancer, and the cell tissues removed from her for testing are still reproducing and being used all over the world today. If you work in a lab, or if you went to med school, you will have used HeLa cells in your casework. A tale of racism, medicine, money and ordinary humans. This book took 10 years of research, but was worth it. You may be left with a lot of questions, but ultimately the one I asked the most was "why did Henrietta's cells do what no other cells did?"
Mr Rosenblum's List - Natasha Solomons
Jacob and Sadie arrive in England as German Jewish refugees just prior to the outbreak of WW2. On arrival on English soil, they are handed a list of things that will help them integrate faster. Jacob becomes Jack and takes the list to heart, adding more of his own ideas. He becomes rich by starting a carpet factory, and his dream is to be a member of a golf club. All applications refused, however because he is (and this is unspoken in every reply) Jewish. So. He decides to build his own, and decamps to Dorset and a run down cottage, which Sadie despises, leaving the carpet factory to run itself and taking all the profits for the golf course...... Whether he succeeds or not is not the point of the book, it is trust and human nature that make this story what it is. The author's grandparents gave her the inspiration for this book.
Goodnight Mr Tom - Michelle Magorian
A small boy (Willie) is evacuated from London in 1939, and given over to Mr Tom, a 60+ year old widower who only takes the boy in to "do his duty". How they find each other's trust and learn to love each other is a major part of this children's book, but also woven in there is the kindness and/cruelty of others. He is called back to London when his mother becomes ill and what he finds during the second part of the book is horror and yes, that cruelty. Eventually Mr Tom makes his own epic journey to London to find other whether Willie is still alive. This was a moving book, but a joy to read.
The Unlikely Pilgrmage of Harold Fry - Rachel Joyce
Harold is retired and getting under his wife's feet. They are both deeply unhappy about this, and then, one day, Harold gets a letter from the North of England, from an ex-colleague who is dying. After writing a little note to her, he walks to the postbox to post it and decides to walk to the next post box, and then the next, and then, on a whim, he decides that he will walk all the way and deliver the note himself to the dying woman. With no change of clothes, no extra shoes, and no idea how he is going to make it, only that he is, he just puts one foot in front of the other.
The Book Thief - Marcus Zusak
The Book Thief is a little girl, delivered by her mother to foster parents with no idea why. Set in Germany in WW2, this is the war we won from the other side. There are just a few books stolen, but the title is explained as the book moves on. And it's narrated by Death - a being with a heart I had nothing but sympathy for. I kept this book as a "treat" on my shelves because it has such great comments on here.... and what a treat it was.
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend - Matthew Green
Wow! what a clever idea! Budo is the imaginary friend of Max. Max has some problems at school, and Budo knows all about that. And when he disappears, it is only Budo who knows where he is. And how can an imaginary friend, who can only be seen and heard by the imaginer, do anything to make him safe again? I was floored by the whole idea of a book written by something or someone who doesn't really exist, and it made me think - a lot - about many things. A brilliant book.