Part 1 of “Myrtle” from We All Die in the End.

Myrtle studied the label on the tin. She didn’t particularly like the cat’s face only it was a nice, mustardy colour.

            “Same as my coat.”

            A child stared at her when she spoke – a small girl with badges on her jacket. She stared at Myrtle and Myrtle stared back, leaning forward and making her eyes bigger until the child turned away, reaching for her father’s hand.

            “Recipe de Luxe,” Myrtle read in a whisper. “Trout and Tuna.”

            That was a new one and it didn’t say Trout and Tuna flavour – it said Trout and Tuna. She lifted two tins and went to the check-out. The man in front of her turned around and the child with the badges on her jacket was beside him.

            “Not very quick are they? They must think we have all day to stand here.”

            Myrtle blinked away from his busy eyes.

            “Yes,” she said.

            She clamped her teeth and lips together and looked at the man’s feet, the thin legs in tight jeans.

            “Da, what’s wrong with that lady?” the child asked.

            Someone moved in behind her and her shoulders twitched. She held the tins tightly, willing the queue forward.

            Outside the sun shone, the sea so bright Myrtle had to squint. She walked home, stopping sometimes to lean against the railings, to watch the tide rushing in, to follow with her eyes the black mass of seaweed beneath the waves. She looked across to Carrickfergus. One of these days she would go – she would! She’d go on the bus and have a look round, and a cup of tea maybe, and she would talk to people, make friends . . .

            “I wish I was,” she sang, “in Carrick-fer-er-gus . . . “

            And then she stopped; that was all she knew.

            She went into the house, dropped the tins on the kitchen table and put the kettle on. It was a long time since breakfast. She adjusted the waistband of her tracksuit, rubbing at the red marks on her skin. She read the labels on the tins of cat food and wondered where to put them. There was hardly room to put them anywhere.

            She had every flavour – Chicken, Rabbit, Veal, Beef, Veal and Beef, Chicken and Rabbit, Salmon with Crab. The tins covered the worktops; there were rows of them on the floor. She balanced the Trout and Tuna near the front because they were new. She stared at them until the kettle boiled.

            In the sitting-room she sat with her feet to the radiator, warming them and drinking her tea. She stretched, leaning back in the chair, and wondered would she eat the doughnut or keep it for lunch. Ah . . . she’d have it. There was a frozen tart – she could have that for lunch. She bit into the doughnut with her eyes closed; her tongue poked at the jam and she grunted softly.

            The car door slamming in the street made her climb slowly out of the chair. She gripped the edge of the curtain and stared at the sleek, black car, shiny with polish. A man with sleek, black, shiny hair stood beside it holding a small suitcase. Myrtle watched as he went to a door across the street, knocked and waited. May’s house, May Toal she was called. She always wanted to chat and Myrtle had tried to chat back but all she could manage was yes and no and it might rain. May spoke so fast, jumping from one thing to the next . . . ah, there she was, holding the door half-open.

            The man set down his case and opened it, then closed it as May shook her head. He went to the next house and the next, the drove to the top of the street and turned the car.

            Myrtle watched him get out again. He would come here – knock on her door – expect her to talk. Well, she wouldn’t – she wouldn’t even answer the door. Just let him . . . no . . . wait! This was a chance – she could try at least. She could say hello, make friends with him.

            She went in and out of the hall, waiting, listening . . . anyway, she wouldn’t have to say much; he would do the talking: he was selling things. Myrtle looked into the mirror on the hall stand; when she smiled there were bumps on her cheeks. She lifted a hand to her hair; the long ponytail was untidy. Vaguely she patted the loose bits then went back to stand at the window. The car door banged again and there he was.  He straightened the edges of his jacket, pushed the shiny hair down behind his ears, and then he smiled and walked up the steps.

            The knock made her jump all the same. She wavered in the hall, wondering if he would knock again if she didn’t answer, and then she moved quickly.

            “Good morning, Madam, good morning. Isn’t the day great?”

            He lifted his head and sniffed deeply at the salty wind and smiled at Myrtle. His hair shone in the sunlight; his teeth glistened, shining at her. He seemed to have teeth everywhere. Myrtle stared, motionless.

            “Could I interest you, Madam?”

            He moved his right foot forward.

            “Something for your pet?”

            Swiftly he bent, set down the case and opened it.

            “Does Madam have a pet? A little dog maybe, or a cat?”

            “Cat . . .   “

PART 2 TOMORROW . . .

A review | Broken Heart Attack by James J Cudney

Broken Heart Attack is the second in the Braxton Chronicles Series. When I read the first one, it was my first look into the world of Cosy Mysteries and I enjoyed the book very much. But this second one I loved.

The plot centres on the death of Gwendolyn Paddington, a friend of Kellar Ayrwick’s grandmother, Nana D. It’s a classic whodunnit involving several relatives and a will. Or were there two wills? And what about the rumours of an unknown child? Nana D insists that Kellar investigate as he has solved mysteries successfully before.  

Kellar is the main character and the story is told in the first person which always makes any  story more immediate. He comes across as warm and witty, a college professor and a family man, but also someone who doesn’t take life too seriously. His tone is jocular but as the story unfolded I began to wonder if this was all a front, if it was Kellar’s way of keeping the world at arm’s length. He has terrible problems to deal with in his family life and impossible decisions to make and I worried about him a lot.

His grandmother, Nana D is my favourite character; in fact she’s my new role model! When faced with situations in future I shall ask myself – what would Nana D do? (But I hardly ever get faced with situations!) Kellar also has an ex-wife and a little daughter, and parents and siblings.

(You hardly ever hear about a hero’s family. Who were James Bond’s parents? Did he have siblings/cousins/grandparents? It’s as if heroes arrive on earth wearing tuxedos and drinking martinis “whole and entire unto themselves”.

The other characters in this book are distinct and easy to remember. There’s a handy who’s who at the beginning of the book but I only used it a couple of times. There are plenty of plot twists and turns and the narrative rolls along with ease, keeping the reader on edge but making you smile at the same time:-

“Hints of a ferocious dog came to mind when his alarming expression and cold, dark pupils centred on his unsuspecting mother.”

“… and kept her short, spiky grey hair perfectly styled. I’d suspected at one time it was a wig, and if I ever had the chance I’d rip that sucker off to test my theory.”

 The dialogue was terrific especially between Kellar and Nana D:

“This better be important. I love you to pieces, Nana D, but I was dreaming about a warm, sunny beach full of calming waves and palm trees.”

“Get your patootie out of bed. The sun is on its way up and you’ve got a nurse to grill . . . “

They teased each other but they also relied on each other, not least for Nana D’s delicious desserts which Kellar relished.

The story is well paced and shaped, and I believed every word of it. I’m looking forward to the rest of the series. It’s great when you enjoy a book and really like the characters, to know that you can spend more time in their very pleasant company.

Re-launch of “We All Die in the End”.

I had to republish the paperback edition as the first one looked awful. My own fault but I have learned now how to do it properly with the help of some knowledgeable friends. It will be available from Tuesday 13th October in its new improved form. Here is an excerpt from Scene 9: “Siblings”

“We’ll have to tidy up, girl. I mean – look at the place. Could you not have washed up the dishes or – “

            He stared around, helplessly.

            “And did you get the ham? I thought you’d have done something by now. Dicky bird said evening. What’s evening? What time is evening? Six? Seven? Eight? And do you know what I thought of as well, they might want to use the new bathroom.”

            “But – ” Sarah turned to the stairs. “But – oh . . . “

            Barney moved quickly, went up and pushed at the stiff door of the bathroom. He heard Sarah coming up behind him and he pushed harder.

            “There’s something in here,” he said.

            “Push it, push it,” Sarah said, pushing at his back.

            And then the door gave way and they tumbled inside. Barney sniffed, raising his eyebrows at Sarah. The sink and toilet and bath were black with dust. Sarah touched a tap and quickly withdrew her hand.

            “Here, look at this,” Barney said.

            In the corner behind the door was a roll of wallpaper, brown along the edges, black across the top, and sticky when Barney tried to open it.

            “Do you mind, Sarah? Do you mind I bought that when we got this put in?”

            “Well, they can’t use it, so they can`t, and that’s all about it.”

            Barney dusted his hands on his trousers.

            “They’ll have to use the downstairs like everybody else. It`s good enough for us, isn`t it?”

            The door of Martin’s room was shut and they could hear him sniffing and moaning.

            “What’ll we do about him?” Sarah nodded towards the door. “He’s been crying since you left. I couldn’t get a thing done with him like that.”

            “I’ll give him a drop of whiskey maybe. Look.”

            Barney took a half-bottle from his pocket.

            “I got it today – it’ll come out of my wages – for Dicky bird, you know. Nobody can say we don’t know how to treat our visitation. I’ll give Marty a drop in hot water and he’ll go asleep.”

            Sarah sighed and followed him downstairs.

            “We’ll have a drop ourselves, Sarah – what do you say? Sure isn’t there plenty? Dicky bird won’t want all of it.”

            Sarah filled the kettle, her eyes beginning to gleam.

Thank you for reading this. If you enjoyed it you might check out the 5 star reviews on Goodreads.

A Review – Redhead by the Side of the Road by Anne Tyler

I haven’t read any reviews of this book but I’m looking forward to doing that as soon as I have posted this. I’ve never really been a fan of Anne Tyler’s but I loved this book and I will read it again sometime.

The first and last sections pose a question:

“You have to wonder what goes through the mind of man like Micah Mortimer. He lives alone; he keeps to himself; his routine is etched in stone.”

I expected a boring, colourless man with no joy in his life, no excitements, nothing unexpected, doing the same things at the same time every day. But I fell in love with Micah Mortimer when, a few pages in, I read that he spoke aloud to himself – in what he thought of as a foreign accent – while he did his chores about the house. Monday was the day for mopping the floor:

‘”Zee dreaded moppink,” he said. “Zee moppink of zee floors.”‘

This delighted me; I was on his side forever; I loved him. Next, we find out about the “traffic gods” – these supreme beings whom he imagines watching him when he’s driving, commenting to each other in tones of awe at the perfection of his moves:

‘“Flawless,” traffic god murmured.’

I’m beginning to appreciate now that Micah is not a dull, blank, robotic man and when a young lad appears at his door claiming that he’s actually Micah’s son, he becomes even more interesting. (Not only does he have a present, but maybe a past too!) Instead of turning Brink away he brings him in and feeds him and lets him stay for a few days.

Enter Cass, Micah’s long-term woman friend; a tall buxom woman; a school teacher. She plays music all the time in her apartment; the television talks all evening whether they are watching it or not. Micah finds it extremely irritating but he considers Cass restful to look at so he puts up with it when he’s there. But Cass has a problem; she may have to leave her apartment. It never occurs to Micah that she would like to move in with him and this causes a breach between them.

‘”In fact,” Cass said steadily, “what did you do? Quick-quick invite the nearest stranger into your spare room.”‘

And of course, there’s his wonderful four sisters and their families, boisterous, happy, loving, interested in everything that happens to Micah; they know Cass well and like her very much. Micah tolerates and loves them back equally.

I thought about Micah a lot; he’s very self-sufficient, content to live alone, kindly when anyone asks for help but always at a distance – until Cass suggests a break-up:

‘Something hit him in the concave place just below his rib cage.’

I found the writing warm, humourous, and delicious. When Micah meets his old girlfriend, he says:

‘ . . . she was so sharp-edged, both literally and figuratively – a small, vivacious mosquito of a girl, all elbows and darting movements.’

It’s the word – mosquito – that makes that sentence for me. And one final quote – I can’t leave it out:

“I’m a roomful of broken hearts.”

The pacing was perfect and the ending just as it should be.

I am very happy to give Redhead by the Side of the Road 5 stars. *****

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson: the reason why . . .

This is one of my favourite books; I’ve read it twice and am about to begin again. I was looking through the introduction and it was so interesting to read about what started him thinking . . .

” . . . I grew up convinced that science was supremely dull, but suspecting that it needn’t be, and not really thinking about it at all if I could help it. This, too, became my position for a long time.

Then, much later – about four or five years ago, I suppose – I was on a long flight across the Pacific, staring idly out the window at a moonlit ocean, when it occurred to me with a certain uncomfortable forcefulness that I didn’t know the first thing about the only planet I was ever going to live on. I had no idea, for example, why the oceans were salty but the Great Lakes weren’t. Didn’t have the faintest idea. I didn’t know if the oceans were growing more salty with time or less, And whether the oceans salinity level was something I should be concerned about or not. (I am very pleased to tell you that until the late 1970s scientists didn’t know the answers to these questions either. They just didn’t talk about it very audibly.)

And ocean salinity, of course, represented only the merest sliver of my ignorance. I didn’t know what a proton was, or a protein, didn’t know a quark from a quasar, didn’t understand how geologists could look at a layer of rock on a canyon wall and tell you how old it was – didn’t know anything, really. I became gripped by a quiet, unwonted but insistent urge to know a little about these matters and to understand above all how people figured them out. That to me remained the greatest of all amazements – how scientists work things out. How does anybody know how much the Earth weighs or how old its rocks are or what really is way down there in the centre? How can they know how and when the universe started and what it was like when it did? How do they know what goes on inside an atom? And how, come to that – or perhaps above all, on reflection – can scientists so often seem to know nearly everything but then still not be able to predict an earthquake or even tell us whether we should take an umbrella with us to the races next Wednesday?

So I decided that I would devote a portion of my life – three years as it now turns out – to reading books and journals and finding saintly, patient experts prepared to answer a lot of outstandingly dumb questions. The idea was to see if it isn’t possible to understand and appreciate – marvel at, enjoy even – the wonder and accomplishments of science at a level that isn’t too technical or demanding, but isn’t entirely superficial either.

That was my idea and my hope, and that is what the book that follows is intended to do.”

The scientific mind fascinates me; what could it be like to have a mind like that? I watch every show about the universe that comes on the television, every show about the earth and its inhabitants. You know when the programme shows a blackboard covered with numbers and symbols and it makes perfect sense to the scientist? I smile ruefully. I understand very little but am always drawn to them anyway. I shall begin the book – again – straight away.

Liars and Thieves, first book in the trilogy – Unraveling the Veil – by D. Wallace Peach.

Welcome to the Book Launch Blog Tour!

Blurb:

Behind the Veil, the hordes gather, eager to savage the world. But Kalann il Drakk, First of Chaos, is untroubled by the shimmering wall that holds his beasts at bay. For if he cannot cleanse the land of life, the races will do it for him. All he needs is a spark to light the fire.

Three unlikely allies stand in his way.

A misfit elf plagued by failure—

When Elanalue Windthorn abandons her soldiers to hunt a goblin, she strays into forbidden territory.

A changeling who betrays his home—

Talin Raska is a talented liar, thief, and spy. He makes a fatal mistake—he falls for his mark.

A halfbreed goblin with deadly secrets—

Naj’ar is a loner with a talent he doesn’t understand and cannot control, one that threatens all he holds dear.

When the spark of Chaos ignites, miners go missing. But they won’t be the last to vanish. As the cycles of blame whirl through the Borderland, old animosities flare, accusations break bonds, and war looms.

Three outcasts, thrust into an alliance by fate, by oaths, and the churning gears of calamity, must learn the truth. For they hold the future of their world in their hands.

Q & A

Do you write for a specific audience?

I don’t write for a specific audience. I know I’m supposed to, but I don’t think about it. My stories start with a spark of inspiration, and I let them go where they need to go. One of the things I love about writing is how organic and surprising the process feels. As if the story already exists, and I’m just writing it down as it plays across my eyes. Some of my books have young adult protagonists and a YA label could apply. That said, most are geared toward adults. I think a teenager would enjoy Liars and Thieves, but in my old-fashioned opinion, the third book in the series is too dark for young teens.

Trailer:

If you wish to share the trailer, copy this link and paste it right onto WP. There’s no need to upload anything. The youtube frame should just show up when you preview the post.

Liars and Thieves Global Purchase Linkhttp://a-fwd.com/asin=B08FGQ2W3Q

Author Bio:

D. Wallace Peach started writing later in life after the kids were grown and a move left her with hours to fill. Years of working in business surrendered to a full-time indulgence in the imaginative world of books, and when she started writing, she was instantly hooked. Diana lives in a log cabin amongst the tall evergreens and emerald moss of Oregon’s rainforest with her husband, two dogs, bats, owls, and the occasional family of coyotes.

Author Links:

Website/Blog: http://mythsofthemirror.com

Website/Books: http://dwallacepeachbooks.com

Amazon Author’s Page: https://www.amazon.com/D.-Wallace-Peach/e/B00CLKLXP8

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Myths-of-the-Mirror/187264861398982

Twitter: @dwallacepeach

I’m looking forward to reading this intriguing and interesting book and to writing a review of it later.

An excerpt from scene 16 in We All Die in the End “PET”

When the time came I went to the bathroom and gathered up the boxes and packets of pills. I felt all right but I couldn’t breathe properly – I had to keep my mouth open. In the kitchen I emptied the whole lot into a bowl, popping them out of the tin foil – it was like shelling peas. Then I put them into the coffee grinder and switched it on. They broke up very quickly and fell to powder, much quicker than coffee beans.

            The lilies arrived and I put them into white bowls, horrible greeny waxy things. I couldn’t decide what to wear for death and then of course there was only one dress that would suit, the tight, black one, my party dress, also my funeral dress. It made my hair look darker and my face whiter. I ringed my eyes with black eye pencil, lathered on the red lipstick. Nothing subtle about that.

            The curry was just about ready and I was unwrapping garlic bread when Jack came in.

            “I’ve made chicken curry,” I said. “Isn’t that all right? Louise likes curry, doesn’t she? She can leave the garlic bread.”

            He didn’t answer, just frowned, at my darkened eyes, at the lilies, half-smiling.

            “What is all this, pet?”

            “Say my name,” I said.

            “What?”

            “Say my name. You never say my name. My name is not pet.”

            The half-smile disappeared. He smacked the newspaper against his leg and went to poke at the curry.

            “I made an effort,” I said when he wouldn’t answer.

            “And I ordered lilies – you said Louise likes them.”

            And I smiled and smiled, still trying, even then.

            “Why are you wearing that dress?”

            He was walking in and out of the dining-room, taking off his jacket and tie.

            “Do you not – ” I began.            

But he went off upstairs.

A very short review of “Skin Deep” by Liz Nugent

I finished this book yesterday and can’t stop thinking about it so I suppose that means it was good? Well it was certainly unforgettable. The problem is I didn’t like it at all. In fact I found it truly horrible. It’s about beauty inside and out, a sort of beauty and the beast idea, only the beast is inside the beauty. It’s also about obsession and its consequences.

The main character is beautiful to look at but she is totally amoral, cold, selfish, utterly self-absorbed. It’s very difficult to say much about this book without giving away the plot; enough to say that anyone who comes close to her, who really tries to love and care for her suffers for their efforts.

The settings are wonderful, from the island off the Atlantic coast of Ireland to the riviera, Nice and Monaco. I have to admit I loved them; I could see and hear and smell them.

There were many times when I wanted to throw the book over my shoulder and walk on, especially around the middle of it but the narrative drive was so strong I had to find out what happened. The other characters were believable and the pace and shape of the story was good. There were a few weak spots in the plot which I don’t want to give away.

Over all it’s a well-written book but I don’t think I will read this author again. For me is was truly horrible. Has anyone else read this book? Or others by Liz Nugent? I’d be interested to know how other readers felt about it.

If I was formally reviewing this book I would take away two stars, one for the weakness in parts of the plot, and one because it made me feel so bad.

A Review: Guests of the Nation by Frank O’Connor

This story is at once warm and cold, sweet and brutal. It is about brotherhood and its opposite – war. The action takes place during the Irish war of Independence in 1916. Two English soldiers are being held hostage by a group of Irish volunteers. A swap is possible with the English, but if Irish captives are shot, these two unfortunates will also be shot. The bleakness of this scenario is lightened by Frank O’Connor’s humour.

The narrator of the story is one of the volunteers, known as “Bonaparte”,  for reasons untold, and his companion is called Noble. The two English soldiers are called Belcher and Hawkins. Belcher is a huge, quiet man, moving around the place – like a ghost – as Bonaparte thought. He follows the Woman of the House everywhere, carrying buckets and baskets and loads of turf for the fire. But Hawkins made up for it. He talked all the time, and argued about religion every night with Noble.

“Adam and Eve! Adam and Eve! Nothing better to do with their time than pick bleeding apples!”

Once he tackled the Woman of the House about the war in Europe but she gave him his answer:

” . . .  and think you’ll deceive me because I’m only a simple poor countrywoman, but I know what started the war. It was the Italian Count that stole the heathen divinity out of the temple of Japan.”

And she blamed everything on “Jupiter Pluvius”, a deity no one had ever heard of!

Each evening the four men would play cards together and Bonaparte thinks to himself that he never saw two men take to the country as completely as they did. They knew all the locals and went to the dances and could dance “The Waves of Tory” as well as anyone. Bonaparte and Noble didn’t bother to keep a watch on them any more.

As Bonaparte says:

” . . . you could have planted that pair down anywhere from here to Claregalway and they’d have taken root there like a native weed.”

But the day arrives when Jeremiah Donovan, another volunteer, tells them that four of their own had been shot that morning and that Hawkins and Belchar had to be shot in reprisal.  Jeremiah tells this  news to the Englishmen but they refuse to believe him. Hawkins gets annoyed by his continuing with this “joke” and when he sees that they are in earnest he entreats them, asking why they want to shoot him; weren’t they all chums?

The prisoners are marched out to the bog and Bonaparte feels so sick he can’t speak.

“I had the Smith and Wesson in my pocket and I kept fingering it and wondering what I’d do if they put up a fight for it or ran, and wishing to God they’d do one or the other. I alone of the crowd saw Donovan raise his Webley to the back of Hawkin’s neck, and as he did so I shut my eyes and tried to pray . . . Hawkins had begun to say something when Donovan fired, and as I opened my eyes at the bang, I saw Hawkins stagger at the knees and lie out flat at Noble’s feet, slowly and as quiet as a kid falling asleep . . . “

Belcher then, with great dignity, ties a handkerchief around his own eyes and says:

“I never could make out what duty was myself . . . I think you’re all good lads . . . I’m not complaining.”

One second later he was dead too. O’Connor writes these sentences simply, without drama or sensation. Simple, straightforward and brutal. And it makes me think of all the wars that ever were. All the young men, the boys, killed in their thousands and all for what? Make war to make peace?

I’m going to include a short poem of my own here.

LAMENT

My mouth is stretched – a soundless wail of anguish

For the sorrows of the world

An eye into hell in the corner of my room

Cry out your lamentations, prostrate yourselves

And weep, and weep, and weep.

I will leave the last word, and the last

sentences of the story, to Bonaparte:

” . . . and I was somehow very small and very lost and lonely like a child astray in the snow. And anything that happened to me afterwards, I never felt the same about again.”

Bookish thoughts . . .

The classics: In my opinion many of them should finish half way through. I’m thinking about David Copperfield – shouldn’t it end when Dora dies? I can barely remember the rest of it except that David marries Agnes and lives happily ever after. And what about Wuthering Heights? Does anyone remember what happens after the first Cathy dies? I don’t; of course that could be the influence of old movies which finish at that point. And poor wee Jane Eyre – I have a fondness for books that begin with the main character as a child – but after the wedding fiasco and the fire and the death of Rochester’s first wife, the book seems to lose colour and interest. And then there’s Eugénie Grandet; for me that book ends when her cousin disappears from the story.

I’m sure there are many more like this but that’s all I can think of for the moment. I need to do a trawl around my books!