Tuesday, 30 December 2008

REVIEW - Judy Parkinson – “i before e (except after c)”

Publ: 2007 Michael O’Mara Books
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978-1-84317-249-9
Genre: Non-fiction (153.14)
Rating: ***** ****

I read this a few months ago but have waited until now to do a posting because I wanted to buy it as a Christmas present for various people and I didn’t want to spoil the surprise. I'm a bit late with the present in a way because this was a Christmas best-seller last year!

Sub-titled “Old-school ways of remembering stuff” this is a brilliantly formatted guide to all those mnemonics and other tricks that were used (and presumably still are) to remember things. It has all the old favourites like Richard Of York Gave Battle in Vain for remembering the colours of the rainbow; Every Good Boy Deserves Favour for the lines on the treble clef; and My Very easy Method: Just Set Up Nine Planets for the order of the planets from the Sun.

I may have problems remembering where some of the Mediterranean islands are located but not Sicily - I can still hear Mum’s voice when I read
“Long-legged Italy kicked little Sicily
Right into the middle of the Mediterranean Sea.”
Similarly it was Mum or Dad who taught me Ammonia for a Bee and Vinegar for Wasp.

As Helen will know I am forever forgetting which camel has which number of humps. No more will I suffer from that problem. Just turn the initial letters on their sides and instantly realise that a Bactrian has two humps and a Dromedary only one.

GB can confirm that I am forever asking him about the seven deadly sins (why I should expect him to know I’m not sure!). Now I can at least recall the initial letters if I learn All Private Colleges Leave Serious Educational Gaps.

Meanwhile GB himself has difficulty with Left and Right so the idea of putting your hands on the table and rotating your thumb to a 90° angle – one of which gives you the letter L for Left sounds a good idea.

But there is much more to this book than just a load of mnemonics. Many of the subjects covered are ones which people may never have learned in the first place so my plan is to get myself a copy of this book and keep it at the bedside to learn one page each night. Quizzers and those with a simple desire to learn odds and ends will also benefit greatly from this, one of the best books of 2007.

JUDY PARKINSON lives in London. That's a not a lot of biographical information but it's all I could find!!!

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Review – Ruth Binney – “Wise Words and Country Ways for Cooks”

Publ: 2008; David and Charles
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978-0-7153-3008
Genre: Non-fiction – Cookery – 641.5
Pages: 208
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** ***

This was on the New Books shelf in the library and I love anything that suggests its going to have useful little cookery (or household) hints. My immediate reaction was how appropriate the cover was to such a subject. The layout of separately headed pages / half pages / and tips and the delightful black and white sketches did the final ‘selling’ job.

The book ‘does exactly what it says on the tin’. The style is easy to read and the whole thing is so informative I eventually stopped taking notes and simply added it to my Amazon Wish List.

Unlike many similar books Ruth Binney quotes her sources for old advice and ways of doing things and at the same time is quite free with simple explanations as to why the old ideas have been proved by science. Beating egg whites in a copper bowl is really better than beating them in a glass one!

The book’s one flaw is the arrangement of the chapters which means that implements and ingredients are at the beginning. I appreciate these may be the most important things but not only are they comparatively boring but we all know that stale herbs are less good than fresh. There was a danger at one stage of me thinking – I know all this and giving up on it. Getting further into the book I realised I didn’t know it all. (And it’s not often I admit that!!!)

RUTH BINNEY has been interested in old ways and sayings since her Devon childhood fifty years ago. she now lives in Dorset and gets pleasure from cooking the vegetables she has grown on her allotment. To complement the homespun background she has a degree in Natural Sciences from Cambridge and is an experienced editor having had a career in non-fiction publishing. She has also written ‘The Gardener’s Wise Words and Country ways’.

Review – Paul Doherty – “Murder’s Immortal Mask”

Publ: 2008 Headline
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978 0 7553 3842 9
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 308p
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** *

What led you to pick up this book?
It was on the new books shelf at Pensby Library

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
In 314 AD, Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, turns to her most trusted agent, Claudia, to find out who killed Attius Enobarbus, henchman of the former Emperor Maxentius. Attius was killed in a room with a door locked from the inside and the plot is further complicated by a search for the grave of Peter and the serail killings of a large number of prostitutes. In the fifth book of the series, 4th Century Rome comes to life in the hands of Paul Doherty.

What did you like most about the book?
Easy reading and a good mystery plot.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?
The occasional typo (or as the girls in the typing pool used to call them – checking errors) was annoying.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
Average. I do wish blurb writers would read the book! Attius is described on the blurb as henchman top the former Emperor Constantine!

Would I recommend it?
Yes, to those who like an easy to read historical mystery.

PAUL DOHERTY see The Templar

Saturday, 20 December 2008

Review – Michael Dobbs – “The Lord’s Day”

Publ: 2007 Headline
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978 0 7553 2686 0
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 338p
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** ****

What led you to pick up this book?
It was on the new books shelf in Pensby Library and I liked the look of the cover and the sound of the blurb on the book. (Even if the front did proclaim it to be the 'most unique' {ugh!} thriller!!).

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
The Queen, the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the judges, the bishops, leaders spiritual and temporal, assemble in the House of Lords for the State Opening of Parliament. On this day the gathering is still more impressive, for sitting beside his mother is the heir to the throne and up in the galleries are the sons of both the US President and the British Prime Minister. Then terrorists take control.... Their agenda seems simple but that of the other characters involved is always more complex as power hungry politicians, terrified victims, police, armed forces and simple folk all play their part.

What did you think of the characters?
Apart from the slightly James Bondish nature of the principal hero the characters are all to (I mean two, oops too) believable.

What did you think about the style?
The tension builds brilliantly at the start of the book and never fades.

What did you like most about the book?
The skill with which the plot is woven and the fact that each next step is unguessable. The events inside and outside the House are vividly portrayed.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
Smart, simple and appropriate.

Would I recommend it?
Yes. Any thriller addict will love it.

Totally irrelevant side note:
This is the second successive book that has given me a headache! The Gift and The Lord’s Day were both so good that I read them each in one go. Not something I would recommend – both kept me up late and gave me a headache., But they were worth it.

MICHAEL DOBBS was born in 1948 on the same day as Prince Charles, He became Chief of Staff and later Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, advising both Margaret Thatcher and John Major. In his restless search for a proper job, Michael has also been Deputy Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, he presented the BBC TV current affairs programme Despatch Box and was a columnist for The Mail on Sunday. His books include the bestselling trilogy 'House of Cards' and a series of historical novels about Winston Churchill. He lives in Wiltshire.

Friday, 19 December 2008

Review - Cecelia Ahern – “The Gift”

Publ: 2008
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978 0 00 728497
Genre: General fiction;
Pages: 305p
Recommended by a fellow blogger (not sure who – sorry!)
Rating: ***** ****

What led you to pick up this book?
I have read two Cecelia Ahern's before and thoroughly enjoyed them. This was reviewed well on someone’s blog. And I liked the jacket.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
If you could wish for one gift this Christmas, what would it be? Lou Suffern, high-powered Dublin business man, always had two places to be at the one time. Unfortunately his juggling act was beginning to go astray until, in the run up to Christmas, he gave a job to a homeless man. Uncharacteristically there was nothing in it for Lou. Or was there?

What did you think of the characters?

Brilliantly drawn with the daggers of office politics all to real for folk who’ve been there. From Lou to Gabe (the homeless man), the garda, Smug Man and the Turkey Boy, all are credible and bring the story to life.

What did you think about the style?

First class. Apart from the easy flowing style of the narrative some of the little gems that creep in are worthy of the very best writers around.

What did you like most about the book?

The last page. You have to read it to appreciate that.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?


Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.

Despite (or because of) its simplicity it is ideal.

Would I recommend it?

Totally irrelevant side note:

If I had read this a couple of weeks back it would have been in a few people’s Christmas stockings.

I would quote the last couple of pages in their entirety but that would spoil the book – you’ve just got to read it.

They’d shared a single bed in a box-bedroom so small that they had to walk outside for a change of mind...

The sight stole words from his mouth and ran off with them under its arm, cackling.

And the entire point of Gabe telling Lou Suffern about people like Lou Suffern, was to warn him that people who constantly looked over their shoulders bumped into things.

see A Place Called Here

Review - Bernard Cornwell – Sharpe’s Christmas

Publ: 1995
Pensby Library
ISBN: 0 9722220 1 4
Genre: Historical Fiction; Short stories
Pages: 97
Rating: ***** **

What led you to pick up this book?
I’m working my way through the Sharpe series and the first story was listed as falling on Fantastic Fiction as coming after Sharpe’s Eagle. In fact in didn’t so I therefore ended up reading two short stories out of sequence.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
Sharpe's Christmas contains two short stories, Sharpe's Christmas and Sharpe's Ransom. Sharpe's Christmas is set in 1813, towards the end of the Peninsular War and falls after Sharpe's Regiment. Sharpe's Ransom comes after Sharpe's Waterloo, is set in peacetime and provides of glimpse of Sharpe's life in Normandy with Lucille.

What did you think of the characters?
Sharpe, as always, in character and on form.

What did you think about the style?
It demonstrated that Cornwell is just as much the master of the short story as he is of the novel.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
Untypical and out of keeping with the other Sharpe jackets.

Would I recommend it?
Yes, to any Sharpe fan and also as short stories in their own right.

BERNARD CORNWELL – see Sharpe’s Havoc

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

Diaries – A Challenge

I love reading diaries. I usually end up making lots of notes when I do so. I am fascinated by the actual date that events happened on – both major international events and the minor happenings of ‘little’ people. It would be better, in a way, if I could ignore my note-taking and just read. As a result of this internal battle I often put my diary reading to one side in favour of a good novel.

For 2009 I have issued myself a challenge – to read 15 diaries. There will be no problem getting hold of them. I have quite a few boxes of diaries in the loft – literally hundreds of them. To read them all, make notes from them and then do something useful with the notes will take many years but at least if I read 15 in 2009 I will have started the process.

Review - Cora Harrison – “Michaelmas Tribute”

Publ: 2008 Macmillan
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978-1-4050-9225-9
Genre: Historical murder mystery.
Pages: 326p
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** ****

What led you to pick up this book?
It was one the new books shelf in Pensby Library and I love exploring any new historical fiction author.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
The second mystery in the Burren Series, this delightfully written historical mystery sees Mara, the Brehon (Judge) of the Burren in Western Ireland, investigating two deaths which may (or may not) be linked. Set in Ireland in the 16th Century the laws of Henry VIII of England do not apply here. Instead a wonderful and fascinating, ages old legal system is administered and adjudicated upon by the Brehon of each Irish Kingdom.

What did you think of the characters?
Very well delineated and sympathetically appropriate to the period.

What did you think about the style?“A lovely, balanced blend of historical detail and good story telling... a clever mystery, a richly textured rendering of sixteenth-century Ireland with its fascinating legal system.”

What did you like most about the book?
All too often historical novelists sacrifice plot for history or history for plot. Cora Harrison blends them together brilliantly so we have an excellent mystery and fascinating history.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?

The non-Gaelic speaker could have done with a translation of the occasional word but in a way it helped to add to the atmosphere.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
OK - appropriate but somehow uninspiring.

Would I recommend it?
To anyone keen on historical fiction it is a must-read.

CORA HARRISON worked as a headteacher before she decided to write her first novel. She has since published twenty-six children’s novels. ‘My Lady Judge’ was her first book in a Celtic historical crime series for adults that introduced Mara, Brehon of the Burren. Cora lives on a farm near the Burren in the west of Ireland.
Cora Harrison has gone straight into my top ten historical novelists on the basis of this one book alone.


I mentioned some of my bookmarks in a posting a week ago. I didn’t show any of my dozens and dozens of cardboard ones. Most of them are of no real; significance but this one is brilliant. It is one of my favourite bookmarks of all and GB was kind enough to laminate it for me in the days before I had a laminator.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Review - Natasha Cooper – "No More Victims"

Publ: 2008 Barrington Stoke
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978-1-84299-556-3
Genre: Teenage (?) fiction; crime;
Pages: 119p
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***

What led you to pick up this book?
I assumed it was an adult book – it being on the adult ‘New Fiction’ shelf and because of the apparent simplicity of the story I though perhaps it was going to be deeper than the obvious. I still haven't decided whether it is aimed at adults or not.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
A story of teen-age bullying and murder.

What did you think of the characters?
No comment.

What did you think about the style?
I assumed it had been written by a young teen for young teens.

What did you like most about the book?

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?
Out of kindness I’ll pass again.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.


Would I recommend it?
Not even to a teenager.

NATASHA COOPER (Daphne Wright), to my surprise, was born in 1951 and is also known as Kate Hatfield, Clare Layton, and Daphne Wright . She was Chairman of the Crime Writers' Association in 2000/2001. She reviews books in The Time, The TLS and the New Law Journal.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Man reading

I bought this little man, reading his book, a long time ago. He was from a charity shop or a stall somewhere and cost next to nothing. I like him. Nevertheless, he hadn’t been on display for ages so I put him on the flea market and then on the attic sale stall. He never sold. So npw he’s back home and he’ll be out, on display, just to prove that somebody loves him....

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Review – Gillian Tindall – “The House by the Thames”

Publ: 2007 Random House
Pensby Library
ISBN: 9781844130948
Genre: Non-fiction; History (942.164)
Pages: 258p
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** **

What led you to pick up this book?
It was on the New Books shelf in Pensby Library. The title and the cover photo helped to attract me. This is not an area of the country for which I have any great love but the idea of the history of a single house attracted me.

Describe the contents.
The history of a house on the South bank of the Thames opposite St Paul’s including background material to show the history of the area and specific residents of the house throughout the centuries. The depth of the research is considerable

What did you think about the style?
History made interesting through ‘elegantly elegiac prose with imaginative empathy and descriptive power’ - Jessica Mann (Literary Review)

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
Smartly attractive and appropriate, incorporating a photo by Jorge Lewinski.

Would I recommend it?
Only to Londoners and those with a general interest in matters historical.

GILLIAN TINDALL began her writing career as a novelist. One of her early novels, 'Fly Away Home', won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1972. She has continued to publish fiction but has also staked out a particular territory in non-fiction, especially in idiosyncratic historical studies centred on specific places. 'The Fields Beneath: the history of one London village', which first appeared almost thirty years ago, has rarely been out of print since. 'Célestine: voices from a French village', was published in the mid-‘90s and translated into several languages. She was decorated for 'Celestine' by the French Government.

Review - Bernard Cornwell – Sharpe’s Eagle

Publ: 1981
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978-0-00-617313-7
Genre: Historical Fiction; Military Fiction;
Pages: 328p
Continuation of reading series
Rating: ***** **

Bernard Cornwell – Sharpe’s Eagle – Richard Sharpe and the Battle of Talavera July 1809

What led you to pick up this book?
I am working my way through the Sharpe series and this book – the first to be written but the 8th in the chronology of Sharpe’s life – was next on the list.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
Typical Sharpe – not only busy fighting the French but also his allies and in particular his commanding officer. Wellesley’s army – with Sharpe’s rifleman at the forefront – push the French back from Portugal into Spain and Sharpe faces his biggest battle yet.

What did you think of the characters?
Slightly predictable but isn’t that what makes reading your way through a series attractive. You don’t have to ‘get into’ the characters because you already know them.

What did you think about the style?
Cornwell alleges he has never had the courage to re-read this book because he thinks it must be primitive and crudely written. He could safely do so – it lacks nothing that the others have got.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?
Predictably there were a couple of ‘errors’ caused by failing to write th series chronologically – such as Sharpe supposedly not having met “Daddy Hill” before whereas in fact he had met him previously in Portugal.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
In the same general style as the others in the series. Together they make a fine display of military uniforms and action. This one is from “the Battle of Alberhera” by William Barnes Wollen.

Would I recommend it?
Yes – to anyone interested in the military history of England and, in particular the Napoleonic Wars.

BERNARD CORNWELL – See Sharpe’s Havoc

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Review - Gerald Hammond – “Hit and Run”

Publ: 2008
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978-0-7278-6600-4
Genre: Crime
Pages: 169p
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** *

What led you to pick up this book?
It was on the ‘New Books’ shelf in the library and I tend to look at each of these to see what it’s like. I do like the feel of a brand new book. Had it been hidden away among the crime fiction I might never have read it.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
Young for his age long-time widower ends up looking after his great grand-daughters after his granddaughter-in-law is run down in a motor ‘accident’ which may not be an accident. He and the police investigate. All a bit unlikely but for light escape it was no more unrealistic than many a crime novel.

What did you think of the characters?
Unbelievable (or do I simply live on a different part of the planet) but fun. But then, if you think about it, a lot of Agatha’s characters were pretty unusual.

What did you think about the style?
The book’s saving grace. Well written with some fine turns of phrase and lovely bits of dialogue between the hero and his great-granddaughters.

What did you like most about the book?
Easy to read and well-written with enough of a mystery for the ending to be a surprise. Clear typeface.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?
Just occasionally the dialogue was hard to follow. Words as spoken do not always feel good when read and trying to be too true to how someone may have said something can lead to slightly stilted dialogue.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.

Would I recommend it?
Yes, if you enjoy an hour or so’s light crime and want a break from more serious works. I would happily read another of his at some time but I wouldn’t go out of my way to find it.

Totally irrelevant side note:
Hammond uses an exchange of dialogue from Kipling – “He means well”, “Could you have damned him more completely?” Interesteing that the same concept, phrased slightly differently appeared in Trollope’s “The Way of all Flesh”. I wonder who wrote the lines first?

“He’s not so old,” Jane said. “He’s just the age that he is, that’s all.”

(That has to be one of my favourite lines for ages!)

it had been suggested that after sex she ate her partner although none of the male residents had been reported missing.

At any time of calamity, watchers will appear out of an empty scene. Any stranded astronaut may expect to see little green spectators on a passing asteroid.

Thoughts of a kind washed around in her head but she had not the remotest idea of sorting the wheat from the chaff...

GERALD HAMMOND was born in 1926 and worked as an architect for thirty years before taking nominal retirement. He lives in Scotland and has written over 60 novels. He now divides his time between shooting, fishing and writing. He also writes as Arthur Douglas (his middle names) and Dalby Holden. His image does not obviously appear on the web suggesting he prefers a degree of anonymity.

Wednesday, 10 December 2008


I collect bookmarks. A lot of them are paper or card and simply advertise events or places but I also have a large number of leather ones. One day I’ll count them.

Among my favourites are a set of silk bookmarks that I got from the Middle East. They are beautifully woven.

Sometimes family members bring me back bookmarks from their holidays and these two came from New Zealand courtesy of GB.

And here is a little selection of miscellaneous ones.

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Review - John Preston – “The Dig”

Publ: 2007
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978-0-3670-91491-3
Genre: General Fiction; ‘Historical’;
Pages: 230
Recommended by a blogger
Rating: ***** ***

What led you to pick up this book?
It was recommended by a fellow blogger. again I didn’t note who – I must try to do so in the future.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
The idea of a novel set around an archaeological dig in the summer of 1939 might not seem to be the stuff of great novels but John Preston has made it such. He looks at the dig which led to the discovery of the internationally famous Sutton Hoo - one of Britain's most important and atmospheric archaeological sites; the burial ground of the Anglo-Saxon kings of East Anglia. The story is told through the eyes of three of the participants with a postscript from the land-owners son.

The story touches on the international background (a nation awaiting war); the local background (inter-museum rivalry); and the clash between those interested in the dig for its own sake and those interested in it for the glory they will achieve. In addition there are the personal circumstances and backgrounds of all the people to consider.

The book is an excellent reminder to us all that no historical event takes place in isolation from the outside world or from the inner turmoil of the characters concerned.

What did you think of the characters?
Wonderfully sympathetically drawn. There isn’t an unbelievable character in the whole book.

What did you think about the style?
Simply excellent and excellently simple.

What did you like most about the book?
The skill with which the thoughts of the characters was drawn.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?
Yes – the lines of text were not justified and as a result one’s eyes at times had to almost check that there wasn’t word missing.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
I loved the simple yet effective Clifford Harper picture and the overall simplicity of the cover.

Would I recommend it?
Yes, very highly.

He was a much larger man than I had expected. However, he carried his bulk, if not proudly, then with a considerable air of entitlement. By contrast, his bow tie was rather small, making him look like an inexpertly wrapped parcel.

JOHN PRESTON is the Television Critic of the Sunday Telegraph, and also works as a Book Critic and a Feature Writer on the paper. In 2002 he was shortlisted for Feature Writing of the Year, in 2003 for Interviewer of the year and in 2004 for Critic of the Year. His travel book, Touching the Moon - about the Mountains of the Moon in Uganda was shortlisted for the WH Smith Award. He lives in London.

Children’s Books

I was sorting out some children’s books to give to the charity shop and I thought – “Why not review them?” So I’ve done some comments on a few children’s books. I won’t count them towards my number of books read this year – it hardly seems fair!

Shigeo Watanabe – I’m Having a Bath with Papa!
Illustrated by Yasuo Ohtomo
ISBN 0 370 30743 7 Bodley Head 1986
Hardback 22 pages
Delightfully simple illustrations make this story about Little Bear (one of nine in the series) a fun and happy picture book for early readers or for reading to a pre-school child. I’m almost tempted to have the picture of Papa and Little Bear reading up on my wall...
No longer in print there are a few second-hand copies to be found on the web.

A. A. Milne - Winnie-the-Pooh 1 2 3
Illustrated by E H Shepard
Hardcover: 12 pages
Publisher: Dean 1997
ISBN: 978-0603560699
I cannot resist Winnie-the-Pooh. This is a simple board counting book from one to twenty.

There is a matching ABC with equally delightful Shepard illustrations.

William Geldard – The Day the Clocks Stopped
Illustrated by Jolyne Knox
Publ: Readers Digest First Library Series
1980, reprinted 1994
ASIN: B000U70D28
60 pages. The text varies from one to four sentences per double page spread. Although this is ‘A First Book of Time’ but it isn’t a major teaching aid for time despite its enjoyable story and beautiful illustrations.

Monday, 8 December 2008

Review – Julian Barnes – “Arthur & George”

Publ: 2005
Pensby Library
ISBN: 9780099492733 (Vintage 2006 edition)
Genre: Historical novel; biographical novel; mystery;
Pages: 500
Recommended by a fellow blogger
Rating: ***** ****

I have decided to use a series of headings in relation to each book to assist in my reviewing process (with thanks to Bookfoolery and Babble for the idea).

What led you to pick up this book?
It was recommended on a book blog but regrettably I didn’t note whose.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
The story of two Victorian / Edwardian men brought up in different parts of the country and with different backgrounds - one in shabby-genteel Edinburgh and the other in rural Staffordshire. Eventually their paths cross. It is best approached without knowing who the characters are until the realisation gradually dawns so I won’t spoil it by saying any more about the plot.

What did you think of the characters?
Brilliantly and I mean brilliantly portrayed. I had a read an autobiography of one of them and knew a fair bit about him – indeed, he has always been a hero of mine. This novel captured his character perfectly. The Financial Times described it as a ’master-class in character observation’.

What did you think about the style?
Some books are meant to be read quickly – simple escapism in which, so long as it flows, style is of no great importance. It entertains and that is all it needs to do. Works like this however do so much more than entertain. They treat us to a use of the English language which needs to be read slowly; not because it is hard to follow but because it needs to be enjoyed. And every word is relevant and used in its proper context; I suppose what I am trying to say is that there is no waffle. This is not a work where skipping a couple of pages wouldn’t matter – something of key importance could occur at any stage.

What did you like most about the book?
The skill of the author in developing the characters and in introducing a mystery which is the central plot and yet which never overwhelms the study of the personalities. A lot of underlying mysteries also gradually surface – how will the characters meet, how will certain situations be resolved... Just about every human frailty and strength can be found in these pages. The setting gives us a detailed and (so far as I am aware) accurate picture of the life and times at the turn of the twentieth century.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
Stylishly simple. I like the spine – in the same pattern – as well.

Would I recommend it?

Totally irrelevant side note:
It was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2005


‘George, how old are you?’
This is how conversations often begin with Father. They both of them already know the answer, but George still has to give it....
(I think that is a classic example of how Barnes sets a scene in a few words. We can all imagine the man about to admonish his son with indications of what can be expected of a child his age.)

He looks forward to Sunday school all week. The rough boys do not attend; they are running wild in the fields, trapping rabbits, telling lies, and generally going down the primrose path to everlasting damnation.

Father told him years ago that farm boys and farm-hands were the humble whom God loved and who would inherit the earth. Well, only some of them, he thinks, and not according to any rules of probate that he is familiar with.

...yes, indeed, they ought to keep women off the golf course. Not simply off the fairways and putting greens, but out of the heads of the players, otherwise chaos would ensue...

(That’s a quote for my friend John McHale)

‘Arthur, my dear,’ she interrupts. ‘There is something I wish to talk about.’
He looks surprised, and slightly alarmed. If he has always valued her directness, there is a residual suspicion within him that whenever a woman says something must be talked about, it is rarely something to a man’s comfort or advantage.

It seemed to her that if you paid an investigator to elaborate your family tree, you would always end up being connected to some great family. Genealogical detectives did not, on the whole, send in bills attached to confirmation that you were descended from swineherds on one side of the family and pedlars on the other.

He would have made a strange sight in Staffordshire, and even in Birmingham they might have put him down for an eccentric; but nobody would do so in London, which contained more than enough eccentrics already.

...’Stop it! Stop it!’ Mrs Roberts suddenly shouts, and with her arms outstretched seems to push back at the spirits crowding behind her...
If these are indeed the spirits of Englishmen and Englishwomen who have passed over into the next world, surely they would know how to form a proper queue.

JULIAN BARNES – born in 1946 in Leicester and lives in London. He is the author of eight novels, including Metroland, Flaubert's Parrot, A History of the World in 10 - Chapters, England, England and Love Etc., and a collection of short stories, Cross Channel. He has won the Somerset Maugham Award among other prizes.

Thursday, 4 December 2008

Review - James Twining – “The Gilded Seal”

Publ: 2007 Harper Collins
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978 0 00 723040 2
Genre: Thriller
Pages: 438
Author Recommended by Bryony
Rating: ***** ***

This is the third book in the Tom Kirk series. A non-stop thriller which wanders around the world chasing art thieves and forgers. The hero, Tom Kirk, first appeared in ‘The Double Eagle’ which Bryony recommended. In The ‘Gilded Seal’ Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa is one of the works targeted by thieves but the painting proves to be even more enigmatic than one expects with a mystery dating back to the time of Napoleon confusing the issue.

On the whole I enjoyed the style of writing but I wasn’t enamoured of the way the characters were introduced. In some cases they took action before it was explained who they were or what role they had. It made one think for a minute that one had missed something.

The historical and art research made the work educational as well as fun and I was fascinated to read about the catacombs under Paris and the cataphiles who live there. I also learned that the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911 was effectively the first truly global news story.

I shall certainly be looking for more James Twining novels.

“Mona Lisa, La Joconde – it’s just a name. It doesn’t change what it is.”
“ You don’t actually like it, do you?” Her tone conveyed a mixture of
curiosity and disbelief.
“It’s not a question of not liking it. It’s just that sometimes I wonder if she isn’t the Paris Hilton of the art world. You know, famous for being famous. The problem is that the painting comes with so much baggage that it’s impossible to appreciate it objectively any more. In fact, I’m not even sure you can like it or dislike it. It just is.”

JAMES TWINING, born in London in 1972, spent much of his childhood in Paris. A French Lit graduate from Oxford, he was briefly an investment banker and entrepreneur before turning his hand to writing. In 2001 he was named one of the eight ‘Best of Young British Entrepreneurs’. He lives in London with his wife and two daughters. His first best-seller – “The Double Eagle” has been translated into 15 languages.

My Book Pile

See Rambles from my Chair for why my book pile makes me long for the New Year.

Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Review - Samuel Butler – “The Way of All Flesh”

Publ: 1903 (Large Print edition – G.K.Hall 1999)
Pensby Library
ISBN: 0-7838-8641-1
Genre: Fiction - classic
Pages: 624p
Rating: ***** *

Have I read this before? I cannot recall. If I have it would have been when I was in my late teens or early twenties and I doubt I would have enjoyed it. Even now, whilst I enjoyed it, there have been plenty of Victorian novels I would rate more highly. Completed by Butler in 1885 it was not published until 1903, a year after his death. The edition I read was a large print one in 16pt which made it a lot easier on the eyes than some of the books I’ve tried recently.

A keenly satirical and semi-autobiographical criticism of the English middle class and the clergy. The hero, Ernest Pontifex, is the son of a bullying and unsympathetic clergyman and after an unhappy childhood he struggles with his feelings of inadequacy. Following the traditional route of his kind he is ordained but then things go wrong and he ends up in prison.

The characters are wonderfully delineated but from a modern perspective the book almost lacks any really likeable folk. Ernest is too weak and his godfather, the narrator, is at times too unfeeling. “The fault I feel personally disposed to find with my godson is not that he had wild oats to sow, but that they were such an exceedingly tame and uninteresting crop.” The only delightful character is Ernest’s Aunt Alethea and she has the unkindness to depart this life a third of the way through the book.

Butler was writing for the educated upper middle classes and made free use of Greek, Latin and French and assumed a knowledge of the Greek philosophers, music and religious matters far beyond that of the current reader. Nevertheless his style kept me quite content. I love good Victorian prose and I enjoy the arguing back and forth of little philosophies. Butler showed not only an insight into the thoughts and feelings of his adults but also of the fears and worries of Ernest as child – a skill it is all too easy to dismiss.

Like Trollope, Butler did not think much of Dickens who he obviously classed as little above the penny dreadfuls of the day – “...he had devoured Stanley’s “Life of Arnold”, Dickens’s novels, and whatever other literary garbage was most likely to do him harm....”

As with any book I do dislike an inconsistency or an apparent omission when I find one. In this case one of the servants is sent away for being pregnant but reappears later without the child. Whilst the child may have died or been fostered out it is annoying that Butler totally ignored what happened to it. I think he just forgot that pregnancy usually tends to lead to a child!

One thing the book is not short on is quotable quotes:-

“...we must judge men not so much by what they do, as by what they make us feel that they have it in them to do. If a man has done enough, either in painting, music or the affairs of life; to make me feel that I might trust him in an emergency he has done enough.”

In those days the snow lay longer and drifted deeper in the lanes than it does now, and the milk was sometimes brought in frozen in winter, and we were taken down into the back kitchen to see it. I suppose there are rectories up and down th country now where the milk comes in frozen sometimes in winter, and the children go down to wonder at it, but I never see any frozen milk in London, so I suppose the winters are warmer than they used to be.

Yet when a man is very fond of his money it is not easy for him at all times to be very fond of his children also.... His money was never naughty; his money never made any noise or litter, and did not spoill things on the tablecloth at meal times, or leave the door open when it went out. His dividends did not quarrel among themselves, nor was he under an uneasiness lest his mortgages should become extravagant on reaching manhood and run him up debts which sooner or later he would have to pay.

Mrs. Allaby never looked at young man without an eye to his being a future son-in-law. Papas and mammas sometimes ask young men whether their intentions are honourable towards their daughters. I think young men might occasionally ask papas and mammas whether their intentions are honourable before they accept invitations to houses where there are still unmarried daughters.

Growing is not the easy, plain sailing, business that it is commonly supposed to be; it is hard work...

No boy can resist being fed well by a good-natured and still handsome woman. Boys are very like dogs in this respect – give them a bone and they will like you at once.

If it was not such an awful thing to say of anyone, I should say that she meant well.

Whenever his mother wanted what she called a confidential talk with him she always selected he sofa as the most suitable ground on which to open her campaign. All mothers do this; the sofa is to them what the dining-room is to fathers... Once safely penned into one of its (the sofa’s) deep corners, it was like a dentist’s chair, not too easy to get out of again.... Whatever head of a family ever sends for any of its members into the dining room if his intentions are honourable?
...and the mangled bones of too many murdered confessions were lying whitening round the skirts of his mother’s dress...

On this he saw that, provided tobacco did not injure his health – and he really could not se that it did – it stood much on the same footing as tea or coffee. Tobacco had nowhere been forbidden in the Bible, but then it had not yet been discovered, and had probably only escaped proscription for this reason. We can conceive of St. Paul or even our Lord Himself as drinking of a cup of tea, but we cannot imagine either of them as smoking a cigarette, or a churchwarden.

The literary instinct may be known by a man’s keeping a small note-book in his waistcoat pocket, into which he jots down anything that strikes him, or any good passage which he thinks will come in useful to him.

A man’s friendships are, like his will, invalidated by marriage ...

“I have found the Zoological Gardens of service to many of my patients. I should prescribe for Mr Pontifex a course of the larger mammals...” Had the doctor been less eminent in his profession I should have doubted whether he was in earnest... Since this time, whenever I have been a little out of sorts myself I have at once gone up to Regent’s Park, and have invariably been benefited. i mention this here in the hope that some one or other of my readers may find the hint a useful one.

...all granted that the Church professed to enjoin belief in much which no one could accept who had been accustomed to weigh evidence but it was contended that so much valuable truth had got so closely mixed up with these mistakes that the mistakes had better not be meddled with. To lay great stress on these was like cavilling at the queen’s right to reign, on the ground that William the Conqueror was illegitimate.

SAMUEL BUTLER (1835-1902) was an English satirist, translator and amateur biologist, born at Langar Rectory in Nottinghamshire and educated at Cambridge. A Homeric scholar, his prose translations of The Iliad and The Odyssey are still in use today. The son of a clergyman he rejected that life and went to New Zealand as a sheep farmer for four years before returning to England to write. He was one of the most searching critics of his day.

An accomplished artist he exhibited at the Royal Academy. This self-portrait was painted in 1873. His two best known works are Erewhon (published anonymously in 1872), a satire of Victorian society, and the posthumous “The Way of All Flesh”.

Monday, 1 December 2008

Marion Bataille - "abc3d"

A super looking book. If you want to read it click on the movie.

If I had young children I'd definitely get it for them. Not that it is necessarily a children's book - if I had shelf-space and spare cash I'm sure I'd find an excuse to get it for myself.

Saturday, 29 November 2008

The Well-travelled Wonderful O

As a youngster I enjoyed reading James Thurber. One book I don’t recall reading is “The Wonderful O” and when I saw someone’s comments on it the other day I thought I’d buy it. I went on line here in the UK and I chose the cheapest copy I could find from a British second-hand bookseller. £ 0.99p plus £2.75 in postage - a grand total of £3.74.

So imagine my surprise when the book arrived from Frankfurt in Germany.

I was even more astonished when I opened it and discovered it had at one time been in the stock of San Bernardino County Library in California. It had been on the shelves of Big Bear Lake Branch Library in California and then at Adelanto Branch Library. What a well travelled little volume I have acquired.


Friday, 28 November 2008

Review – Carole Matthews “The Chocolate Lovers’ Club”

Publ: 2007, Headline
Pensby Library
ISBN: 978 0 7553 3583 1
Genre: Romantic comedy
Pages: 346p
Rating: ***** ***

Another first class romantic comedy from the girl who, in my book, is the queen of the genre. Charming, funny, and with a plot that has so many twists it could easily have formed the basis for a murder mystery.

I’ve read a few Carole Matthews books and she hasn’t let me down yet.

The novel revolves around the lives and loves of the four members of the Chocolate Lover’s Club – Lucy, Nadia, Autumn and Chantal. They meet – usually when one of them has a crisis in her life, which is about every other day - in a cafe called Chocolate Heaven, run by a gay choclatier and his partner. All the right ingredients are there for our heroines – cheating boyfriend, flirtatious boss, disinterested husband, gambling addicted partner, and a drug addict brother. The characters are clearly delineated and so believable – there must be someone in there you recognise.

I love the dedication in this book which includes the comment - “The research for this book has been very taxing – all that chocolate, so little time. A big thanks to all the people who have helped me with my quest and who have turned a passion for chocolate into a major addiction.”

Some of my favourite quotes:-

“But don’t Targa normally find a reason to give the bullet wo everyone who gets pregnant!”
“Only the women,” Crush says with a shrug...

The glow on her cheeks was a dead giveaway that something or someone – had tickled her fancy. Sometimes those quaint British sayings fitted the situation so well.

George Clooney never had these problems. Did he ever have his heist foiled because one of his Ocean’s Eleven gang couldn’t get a babysitter? I think not.

CAROLE MATTHEWS has become an internationally acclaimed author and her books regularly reach the top five of the Sunday Times best-sellers list. “A Minor Indiscretion” reached no 1 in the W H Smith list. In addition to writing novels and television scripts he presents on radio and finds time to rollerblade in Central Park, trek in the Himalayas, take tea in China and snooze in her shed in Milton Keynes – as well, of course, as eating chocolate.

The first of here books that I read was “A Whiff of Scandal” (1998) (aka The Scent of Scandal) then I followed that with “Let's Meet on Platform 8” (1997). Then there was “More to Life Than This” (1999) and “A Compromising Position” (2002). That still leaves me a lot of her books to read including the next book with the same heroines – “The Chocolate Lovers Diet” (2007).

Books to Avoid

Perhaps I should do a posting every now and then on ‘Books to Avoid’. Quite often the reviews by other bloggers send me rushing down the road to the library to see if it’s on their shelves. Equally some reviews make me get my mental notebook out and tick the ‘avoid like the plague’ column. One such book seems to be “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace. It’s 981 pages (plus 100 of end-notes) mean it is shorter than War and Peace but the fact that it is set in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (2009 or thereabouts to you and I) gives a clue to its style and nature.

The only problem with avoiding books based on other people’s assessment is that tastes vary so much. One reviewer, for example, couldn’t get into “The Time Traveller’s Wife” by Audrey Niffenegger whereas I absolutely loved it.
But positive reviews of “Infinite Jest” seem pretty hard to come by...

Wednesday, 26 November 2008

REVIEW – Barbara Erskine – “Whispers in the Sand”

Publ: 2000 Harper Collins
Pensby Library (Paperback edition – 2001)
ISBN: 0 00 651207 0
Genres: Thriller; supernatural suspense.
Pages: 574
Rating: ***** *

Recently divorced Anna is on a Nile cruise on which she meets friendly and not so friendly fellow tourists including two men who are either after her body or the little glass scent jar given to her by her great aunt – or both. Anna also has with her a diary written by her great grandmother, Louisa, when she daringly undertook a similar Egyptian trip in 1866. The ancient glass jar was also Louisa’s and seems to attract strange and deadly forces.

The stories of the two trips up the Nile are interwoven throughout the book and the chilling experiences of both women become increasingly similar....

Although it is forty years since I last read a Dennis Wheatley thriller I was quickly reminded of his books when the spectral presences began their rivalry. The introduction of black magic subsequently reinforced that similarity.

This is not the sort of book which I would normally have bothered with and I would have said that I had outgrown my fascination with such supernatural suspense thrillers but Barbara Erskine has managed to weave a tale which kept me reasonably hooked (though it could have been shortened by a hundred pages without too much loss). I especially enjoyed the representation of the Victorian ethos against which Louisa struggled.

In all, an enjoyable piece of escapism.

BARBARA ERSKINE (Barbara Hope-Lewis) is a British author, born 1944. Most of her works combine the dual themes of history and the supernatural and she studied Scottish history at Edinburgh University. She is the author of the internationally best-selling novel 'Lady of Hay', which was translated into a dozen languages and has sold over a million copies world wide.