Thursday, 28 February 2008

Elizabeth Ferrars - “Seeing is Believing”


Pensby Library is having a clear-out of some of its old books and I have bought a few to sell at the at the Flea Market (The profit is only 20p each but, knowing what our regular visitors like, these books will help to keep them happy.) A few of them will be read by me before being passed on and one such was this Elizabeth Ferrars. As I have mentioned earlier she is a wonderful find – a genteel, Agatha Christie style, easy-to-read crime novelist.

For more about Elizabeth Ferrars see

Victorian and Edwardian Liverpool


The title page of this book reads “Victorian and Edwardian Liverpool and the North West from old photographs. Introduction and commentaries by George Chandler.” It amazes me that it does not refer to Dr, Chandler since that is how this former head of Liverpool’s Library service always required he be known when I worked there. One should not speak ill of the dead (which I assume he is by now) so I can find nothing else to say about the editor of this work which was published in 1972.

The book is simply 150 photos of the area during the Edwardian era copied from the collections of local libraries and the commentaries are rarely more than a sentence. Nevertheless it is a good cross-section of the area in those times. If I were ever to re-build my library of Liverpool books this is one I would need in it.

Alexander McCall Smith – “Espresso Tales”


When I began to read “Espresso Tales” I had a definite feeling of deja vu. By the time I reached the end I concluded that I must at some stage have started this book but not completed it. Espresso Tales is the second in the 44 Scotland Street series and a worthy runner up to that work.

For previous McCall Smith readings see -

Monday, 25 February 2008

OLD REVIEW – Jo Coudert “Advice from a Failure”


Occasionally I shall add an old review of a book I have read previously – this one was read in early 1990s at which time I commented as follows:-
Bought a few days ago and started to read this morning this book with its fascinating title. I particularly liked the blurb which commented ‘Jo Coudert is brilliantly equipped to be the author of this book..’ No, it was not suggesting she was a failure; it went on to point out her expertise in medicine and psychiatry.

A few quotes from the Introduction –
“The happy, to borrow Arthur Koestler’s phrase, are rarely curious. They do not need to be. There is no more incentive for a contented person to go mucking about in the works than there is for a motorist to stop and lift the bonnet when the engine is ticking over smoothly. But the unhappy had better be curious or it is going to be a long, rough life.”

“Nietzsche has been quoted as saying, in effect, that if you can read your own life you can understand the hieroglyphics of universal life. Emerson noted, in another context, that ‘What is true for you in your private heart is true for all men’ and Polly Adler speaks of the ‘terrible algebra’ of one’s own life. These people seem to be saying that the algebra of one’s life, deeply understood, is the algebra of all lives, that we are all far more alike than different.”

Just prior to reading this I had argued that Miss Marple’s theories as evinced by Agatha Christie had a distinct element of truth in them. Miss Marple would assess the nature of a person by comparing them to someone in her village of St Mary Meade. In other words, people fell into a comparatively few, predictable categories with remarkable similarities. and here, reading Jo Coudert, was a similar theory set down by a psychiatrist.

This self-help book focused on the self as an answer to the questions and problems of one's own life. Jo took the tragic, autobiographical elements of her own life and applied them to this work in hopes of helping others in similar situations.

“...all that truly counts is the relationship to the self—the self as deeply as it can be known, as fully as it can be accepted, as genuinely as it can be lived–for from that relationship all else proceeds.”

“You do not need to be loved, not at the cost of yourself. The single relationship that is truly central and crucial in a life is the relationship to the self. Of all the people you will know in a lifetime, you are the only one you will never lose. To the problems of life you are the only solution”

JO COUDERT was born in Williamsport, Pennsylvania, in 1923. After attending the Dean Academy and Smith College, Coudert put her writing and illustrating talents to good use. She has explored interesting topics within her works, ranging from health and healing to the role of pets in people's lives. Another self-help book of Coudert's was published in 1972 entitled 'The Alcoholic in Your Life'. This book contained advice and coping strategies for those involved in a relationship with an alcoholic.
In 1995, she paired up with Yvonne S. Thornton, M.D. to write 'The Ditchdigger’s Daughters: A Black Family's Astonishing Success Story'.

Sunday, 24 February 2008

ODD BLOG - The oddest titles!

Every now and then I shall put in a posting that is not related to an actual title I have read. Io shall list these under the heading Odd Blog to differenmtiate from my normal reviews.... Here is the first of them.

Every year since 1978 there has been a competition for the book spotted at the Frankfurt Book Fair that ‘most outrageously exceeds all bounds of credulity’. All these books are genuine. The Prize is entitled the Bookseller/Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year. Winners (and even runners-up) over the last 29 years have included:-

The Stray Shopping Carts of Eastern North America: a guide to field identification

Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice

The Theory of Lengthwise Rolling

The Joy of Chickens

How Green Were the Nazis?

Celebrating Boxes

A General Analysis of the Counting Methods of Chopped Yarrow Stalks in the Book of Changes

Tattooed Mountain Women and Spoon Boxes of Daghestan

The Madam as Entrepreneur: Career Management in House Prositution

Natural Bust Enlargement with Total Mind Power: How top use the other 90 per cent of your mind to increase the size of your breasts

100 Years of British Rail Catering

Buddhism in Fifteen minutes

Helium in Canada From 1926 to 1931

Memories of an Amnesiac

Are Women Human and Other International Dialogues

People Who Don’t Know They’re Dead: How They Attach Themselves to Unsuspecting Bystanders and What to Do About It

Sodomy In Reformation Germany and Switzerland

How To Write While You Sleep

Tasty Dishes from Waste Items

Having Fun with Rats

Cooking with God

How to Shit in the Woods, an Environmentally Sound Approach to a Lost Art

Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers

The Interpretation of Geological Time from the Evidence of Fossilized Elephant Droppings in Eastern Europe (published in four languages)

Versailles: the View from Sweden

The Romance of Rayon

Build Your Own Titanic

How To Eat a Peanut

Entertaining with Insects: The Original Guide to Insect Cookery

Big and Very Big Hole Drilling

And my absolute favourite...

The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents. Its History and Its Role in the World today

If you would like to take part in the on-line voting for 2008 go to The Bookseller. Currently leading is If You Want Closure in Your Relationship, Start With Your Legs

Thursday, 21 February 2008

Conn Iggulden - "Wolf of the Plains"


Wolf of the Plains", is the first of the "Conqueror" series on Genghis Khan and his descendants. It is a wonderful, epic story which Conn Iggulden brings brilliantly to life. "I am the land and the bones of the hills. I am the winter." Temujin, the second son of the khan of the Wolves tribe, was only eleven when his father died in an ambush. His family were thrown out of the tribe and he was left alone, without food or shelter, to starve to death on the harsh Mongolian plains. It was a rough introduction to his life, to a sudden adult world, but Temujin survived, learning to combat natural and human threats. A man, a small family, without a tribe was always at risk but he gathered other outsiders to him, creating a new tribal identity. It was during some of his worst times that the image of uniting the warring tribes and bringing the silver people together came to him. He will become the khan of the sea of grass, Genghis.

Sadly Pensby Library hasn't got the second volume - "Lords of the Bow" - so I'm going to have to wait a while to carry on with this excellent author....

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Conn Iggulden "The Gods of War"


The fourth and final volume of Emperor. Equally good as its predecessors. Even ignoring the histprical aspects of the work the development of the characters as they age throughout the four works is done brilliantly. As in real life there are few true heroes and few true villians - most of the characters, like most of us, are a mixture of good and bad.

Conn Iggulden “The Field of Swords”


This is the third book in the Emperor series about Julius Caesar and covers the years in Gaul and Britain. This wonderful combination of adventure and history is not only a great read but demonstrates a tremendous amount of research. Normally I am not enamoured of authors who top or tail their works with explanatory notes – a work of fiction should really stand on its own without excuses – otherwise why not write a work of non-fiction. Conn Iggulden provides the exception to the rule with his afterwords which tell us where he has digressed from the historical truth (as generally perceived) and where he has shortened or lengthened and included or excluded events for effect. He also makes recommendations for further reading about the life and times of Caeser. If I didn’t have so many books piled up waiting to be read I would be tempted to try to get hold of them.

Like its two predecessors this is a five star work! No sooner had I finished than volume four was opened.

Friday, 15 February 2008

Geoffrey Warren “Vanishing Street Furniture”


Published in 1978 I have read this book a few times over the years, borrowing it from libraries as the need arose. It is one of those books I kept meaning to buy but it never quite reached the top of my priority list. The other day it was withdrawn for sale by Pensby Library and so I picked it up for the grand total of 40p. I have always been fascinated by street furniture and this is the layman’s bible for that interest. (I suspect that there is even a name for such enthusiasts – if not, perhaps I can suggest Apparatusviaologists!). I have come across some old slides of street furniture in my recent sortings so perhaps they will get a blog posting or two in the future.

Re-reading this book reminded me about the wooden structure which used to be in Queens Square, Liverpool. I’m not sure but I think it may have been a shelter for hackney carriage drivers. The first such shelters were erected in Liverpool about 1870 and it was not until 1875 that London followed suit. They were wooden structures with a stove for warmth and for heating refreshments and sometimes local charities and temperance societies would provide suitable reading material for whiling away the time waiting for fares. Can anyone either confirm that was the purpose of this shelter or let me know if it wasn’t?

While on the subject of street furniture note the sign for the underground toilets in front of the wooden structure. There are a few of the gantries for those signs still around even though the toilets have long since been blocked up or filled in .

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Conn Iggulden – “The Death of Kings”


The second volume in the bestselling Emperor series (see "The Gates of Rome”) , an acclaimed sequence of novels in which Conn Iggulden brilliantly interweaves history and adventure to recreate the astonishing story of Julius Caesar - an epic tale of ambition and rivalry, bravery and betrayal.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Conn Iggulden – “The Gates of Rome”


This excellent, fast-paced historical novel brings to life a young Gaius Julius and Marcus Brutus in the first of the four “Emperor” novels about Julius Caesar. I had no sooner finished these 600+ pages than I began ‘The Death of Kings’.

Emperor series
1. The Gates of Rome (2003)
2. The Death of Kings (2004)
3. The Field of Swords (2004)
4. The Gods of War (2006)

CONN IGGULDEN, born 1971, attended St.Martins School in Northwood before moving on to Merchant Taylors' School. He studied English at the University of London, and went on to teach the subject for seven years - becoming head of the English department at St Gregory's Roman Catholic School in London. He eventually left teaching to write his first novel, The Gates of Rome. He is married with three children and lives in Hertfordshire, England.

Start 'em young, I say

Thursday, 7 February 2008

David Lewis “Walks through History – Liverpool”


Some suggested perambulations around Liverpool city centre and environs. A most enjoyable book which is light and easy to read, informative and full of black and white photos. Whether you are a Scouser, a lover of Liverpool history, or simply a day visitor looking for a useful guide it is an essential addition to the bookshelf. In particular the latter will enjoy the pub crawl in the last chapter but it is best if you are male because although the book doesn’t mention them some of the pubs have the most spectacular Gents and urinals in the country. But if you are thinking of taking photos in there I’d make sure everyone knows what you’re doing beforehand! First published in 2004 there is an updated 2007 edition.

This one of a series of books and it would be well worth seeing if there is one for a part of the country you are visiting in the near future.

Lindsey Davis “The Silver Pigs” – not finished

This tale of a private detective in Rome in AD 70 sounded promising. It wasn’t. Written in the style of a 1960s ‘humorous’ gangster book I could not get past page 37....

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Jo Bannister “Changelings”


A detective story in the Castlemere mysteries series involving Inspector Liz Graham and colleagues. Typical of the crime stories it probably gets its police procedures correct but puts the Mayor as the major political figure in the town. I wonder why it is that so few people realise the Leader of the Council is the power on the throne and the Mayor merely someone who opens fêtes.

The Castlemere series consist of the following and I seem to recall having read one of them some time ago:-
1. A Bleeding of Innocents (1993)
2. Charisma (1994)
aka Sins of the Heart
3. A Taste for Burning (1995)
aka Burning Desires
4. No Birds Sing (1996)
5. Broken Lines (1998)
6. The Hireling's Tale (1999)
7. Changelings (2000)

JO BANNISTER was born in 1951 and is the author of more than twenty acclaimed novels. She started her career as a journalist on a local weekly paper. Shortlisted for various prestigious awards, she held the post of editor at The County Down Spectator for several years before leaving to pursue her writing full time. She lives in Northern Ireland.
I do like an author who puts a lot of effort into the first couple of pages and Jo Bannister is one of them...

“Stacking shelves at the Castlemere branch of Sav-U-Mor was the best job Tracey Platt had ever had. It was regular, it paid well – well, better than most jobs available to an unqualified sixteen-year old – there was overtime, and as long as you didn’t actually do the damage yourself there were perks in the form of dented cans and battered boxes., Plus, Sav-U-Mor was an American supermarket, so shelf-stacking here was the closest Tracey was ever likely to get to working abroad....”

“...It was October now so the photographs in the tourist brochures were no longer legally binding. The canal was brown. The buildings on Broad Wharf were brown, and brown clouds lowered out of the sky and dropped their cargo like celestial tankers dumping toxic waste while god wasn’t looking. Even the swans, those without the foresight to swallow a fish hook and get themselves sent to a sanctuary for the winter, had a khaki tinge.”

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Michael Jecks "The Templar, The Queen and her Lover"


Book 24 in the medieval crime series takes us away from Dartmoor and even out of London on a trek to Paris with queen Isabella. As always there are murders to solve and danger for Sir Baldwin and his friend the bailiff Simon Puttock..

For more about MiCHAEL JECKS see

Michael Jecks "The Death Ship of Dartmouth"


The year is 1324. Actually it isn't, it's 2008 but the book is set in 1324... This is Book 21 in the Medieval West Country Mystery series and a disastrous autumn looms large, for as the leaves begin to fall, there are those who wish to bring the Kingdom down as well. In Dartmouth, a man is found lying dead in the road. But the inhabitants of this little haven dismiss his death as a drunken accident, their attentions turned to more worrying matters--piracy. A ship, the St. John, has been discovered, half-ravaged and the crew missing, in an attack that bears all the hallmarks of pirates. Our hero, Sir Baldwin of Furnshill, has been told by Bishop Stapledon of spies being sent to the great traitor Roger Mortimer. If this is true and messages are reaching Mortimer, civil war in England is inevitable. And so the Kingdom's most powerful and ruthless men demand that Baldwin and Bailiff Simon Puttock uncover the truth, and quickly. This is to be the most important investigation of their lives... until the next one. Enjoyable light-hearted reading, as ever.

Jonathan Brown & Sadie B. Ward “Village Life in England 1860 – 1940” (1985)

This photographic record of village life over a century or more is a brilliant evocation of a way of life that has all but disappeared. The social and economic factors of village life are sketched in the text that accompanies each photo. Some 186 wonderfully evocative photos of a days gone by...

Sunday, 3 February 2008

Roy Moxham “The Great Hedge of India” (2001)

The Great Hedge referred to in the title was constructed by the Victorians and was 2,300 miles long, the width of a motorway and either dry or living - the living part consisting of thorny trees and shrubs. It was manned by 12,000 men and was impenetrable to any prospective smugglers. In terms of length it was the distance from London to Constantinople and compared well with the Great Wall of China (which is 4,000 miles long). Roy Moxham came across a reference to the hedge in a second-hand book and was immediately curious about why he's never heard about the hedge before. After months of fruitless research in which he studied maps and countless books he started to wonder why no one had heard of the hedge. How can a 2,300 mile hedge just disappear into the mists of time! The book chronicles his research as well as his trips to India to track down the remains of the hedge. I shall not tell you if he was successful in case you want to read the book. What I will mention is that despite its enormous size the hedge was largely constructed of thorny shrubs and trees that lived no more than 60 years so once it was abandoned in the 1870s it had the potential to disappear quite quickly. The base, often an embankment, also provided a useful base for new roads between villages.

The Great Hedge was constructed as a customs barrier to allow the British to collect a tax on salt. The story of how the Victorians built the hedge (with difficulty) and the effect it had on the Indian population is fascinating. Salt was an essential ingredient of the Indian diet and the salt tax led to parts of rural India being deprived of salt. This led to widespread illness and death. Roy Moxham even had problems researching salt deprivation (doctors in the West are obviously more concerned with getting people to eat less salt!). I found the chapter on salt deprivation as interesting as the rest of the book as I didn't know such an illness existed. What I loved about this book is that there is so many different aspects to this story. On the one hand it is an entertaining travelogue, but it is also a fascinating account of the British in India.