Sunday, 29 November 2009

Quotation

Books, gentlemen, are a species of men, and introduced to them you circulate in the “very best society” that this world can furnish, without the intolerable infliction of “dressing” to go into it. In your shabbiest coat and cosiest slippers you may socially chat even with the fastidious Earl of Chesterfield, and lounging under a tree enjoy the divinest intimacy with my late lord of Verulam.
- Herman Melville (1819–1891)

Friday, 20 November 2009

Review:- Cormac McCarthy – “The Road”

Publ: 2006
My own copy
ISBN: 978-0-330-44754-6
Genre: General Fiction, Science Fiction;
Pages: 307p
Read because it has already become a classic
Rating: ***** **



What led you to pick up this book?
I decided it was about time I read this Pulitzer Prize winning novel.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
A searing, postapocalyptic novel destined to become Cormac McCarthy's masterpiece. I must be the last person to read this bookm so perhaps a review of thr plot s fairly irrelevant. In brief, a father and his son walk alone through burned America. Nothing moves in the ravaged landscape save the ash on the wind. It is cold enough to crack stones, and when the snow falls it is gray. They sky is dark. Their destination is the coast, although they don't know what, if anything, awaits them there. They have nothing; just a pistol to defend themselves against the lawless bands that stalk the road, the clothes they are wearing, a cart of scavenged food—and each other.
The problem is that I found the book so depressing that I can’t give it more than 7 stars whilst recognising the brilliance of the plot and the style.

What did you think of the characters and style?
Exccellent.

What did you like most about the book?
I’m not sure it is a book one can ‘like’ in any sense of the word. Admire, enjoy (in a strange way) and find thrilling but like – No.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?
The whole concept of a post-apocalyptic world is the stuff of nightmares and I would like to see if McCarthy could put his skills into a different genre.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
I can’t mention this average jacket without complaining, yet again, about the b*****y Oprah sticker!

Would I recommend it?
Yesl It’s a book one should read – but don’t expect to enjoy it.



Cormac McCarthy (born Charles McCarthy - July 20, 1933) is an American novelist and playwright. He has written ten novels in the Southern Gothic, western, and post-apocalyptic genres, and has also written plays and screenplays. He received the Pulitzer Prize in 2007 for The Road, and his 2005 novel No Country for Old Men was adapted as a 2007 film of the same name, which won four Academy Awards, including Best Picture. He received a National Book Award in 1992 for All the Pretty Horses.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Review:- Roopa FAROOKI – “Corner Shop”

Publ: 2008
My own copy
ISBN: 978-0-330-44364-7
Genre: General
Pages: 351p
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** *****



What led you to pick up this book?
The blurb – “There are only two tragedies in life. One is not getting your heart’s desire – and the other? Getting it.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
Fourteen-year-old Lucky Khanum is passionate about three things: football, Star Wars, and Portia, the girl who works in his grandfather's corner shop. In that order. While Lucky pursues his girl and his dreams of one day scoring for England, his mother Delphine, the woman who seems to have everything, fantasizes about rediscovering the freedom of her youth. But rekindling a relationship with her father-in-law Zaki is only going to end in disaster. And, as they move closer to their dreams, do they risk losing sight of what's really important?

What did you think of the characters and style?
This is one of those books that you don’t read – you live. Each character pulls at different heart strings and the brilliant plot is well matched by the easy style and so very real characters. There are some books that you just keep on holding for while after you’ve finished the last page. You know it has ended but you can’t get away from the plot.


What did you like most about the book?
The characterization, the plot, the style – what more could one want?

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?
No

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
Poor – the book deserves better.

Would I recommend it?
Yes. It’s romantic, it’s funny, it’s thought-provoking, it’s very real.

Quotations:


“We are the dreamers of dreams...
We are the movers and shakers,
Of the world for ever, it seems.”
Arthur O’Shaughnessy


Would they have filled their pockets with stones, or expected that the heaviness of their heart, that the weight of their expectation, would be enough to enable them to sink into the current’s embrace.


Ah well, he reflects, in eleven years I’ll get my free bus pass and be officially too old to be called a black sheep any more, so everyone will just call me ‘eccentric’ instead. Bad old, mad old, just plain old old, eccentric Chacha Zaki.


The trouble with getting something good, he reflects, is that you get used to it, and then when you don’t have it. you miss it more than you ever enjoyed having it in the first place. You feel the loss more than you take pleasure in the possession. ‘Just like relationships,’ he says.


Quentin Crisp said something like that,’ says Delphine... ‘He said that he stopped dusting, as he discovered that the dust didn’t get any worse after a few years’.



ROOPA FAROOKI was born in Lahore in Pakistan in 1974 and brought up in London. She graduated from New college, Oxford, in 1995 and worked in advertising before turning to writing fiction. Her first novel, Bitter Sweets, was shortlisted for the Orange Award for new writers, 2007. Roopa now lives in South West France with her husband and two sons.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Review: Asne SEIERSTAD – “the Bookseller of Kabul”

Publ: 2003
My own copy
ISBN: 1-84408-047-1
Genre: Non-fiction; Afghanistan; Islam
Pages: 276pp
Found by Serendipity
Rating: ***** *****



What led you to pick up this book?
Any book that has books, library or bookseller in the title has to appeal to me! Add to that the prospect of learning more about the country of Afghanistan which is so much in the news.

Describe the book without giving anything away.
The Bookseller of Kabul is a non-fiction book written by Norwegian journalist ├ůsne Seierstad, about a bookseller, Shah Muhammad Rais (whose name was changed to Sultan Khan), and his family in Kabul, Afghanistan. It takes a novelistic approach, focusing on characters and the daily issues that they face.

As well as giving a historical account of events in Afghanistan as democracy is established, Seierstad focuses on the conditions of Afghan women who still live very much under the domination of men—Afghan traditions allow for polygamy and arranged marriage. She also addresses the conflict between westernization and traditional Islam, and gives an accessible account of Afghanistan's complex recent history under the rule of the USSR, the Taliban and coalition-supported democracy.

What did you like most about the book?
I enjoy learning through fiction and the next best thing is often non-fiction written as a novel as in this case,

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?
No.



Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
I absolutely hate it when booksellers stick stickers on the book cover. Half the time they won’t come off without damaging the cover. Why on earth do they do that.   It is even more of a nuisance when the cover is in other ways a very good as this one by Caroline Penn is.

Would I recommend it? 
Yes.  Very much so


.

(Not so ) Totally irrelevant side note:
(Following global critical acclaim, many of the book's descriptions have been contested by Rais, who has taken the author to court in Norway for what he says is a defamation and assault on his character, family and country. Rais has published his own version of the story, Once upon a time there was a bookseller in Kabul. It was translated to both Norwegian and Brazilian Portuguese but has to find a British publisher.)

Quotations:
"You can burn my books, you can embitter my life, you can even kill me, but you cannot wipe out Afghanistan’s history.”

Six months before the Talibam fell the enormous Buddha statues in Bamiyan were blown up. They were close to twwo thousand years old and Afghanistan’s greatest cultural heritage. The dynamite was so powerful that there were no bits to gather up.

She took on the heaviest chores and little by little taught Sonya how to make Sultan’s favourite dish, showed her how he liked his clothes organised, the temperature of the water he washed in and other details that a wife should know about her husband.

One of them exclaims in a sad voice: “Do you know what is our problem? We know everything about our weapons, but we know nothing about how to use a telephone.”




├ůsne SEIERSTAD (born February 10, 1970) is a Norwegian freelance journalist and writer, best known for her accounts of everyday life in war zones - most notably Kabul after 2001, Baghdad in 2003 and the ruined Grozny in 2006. She lives in Oslo and went on to write a second bestselling book about her time in Baghdad.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Review:- Ed. Jon GOWER – “A Year in a Small Country”

Publ: 1999
My own copy
ISBN: 1 85902 646 X
Genre: Diaries
Pages: 190p
I collect diaries
Rating: ***** **

What led you to pick up this book?
I collect diaries and especially ones concerning the British countryside. This si the second time I have read this one but I only did so for research purposes.

Describe the book.
The book has extracts from three modern Welsh diarists – a naturalist on the salt marshes of the Dyfi Estuary (William Condry), a hill farmer from Carmarthenshire (Patrick Dobbs) and a poet on the Lleyn Peninsula (Christine Evans). Although running from January to December, only the latter is in day by day format (which is how I like diaries to be set out), the other two simpkly summarise the events of the months. The years covered are 1996 and 1997.

Was there anything you didn't like about the book?
Christine Evans entries from the Lleyn Peninsula and Bardsey Island were eminently readable but the other two sections were less appetizing from my perspective.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.

OK

Would I recommend it?
There are many better country diaries.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Review: - Mary Ann Shaffer – “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”

Publ: 2008
My own copy
ISBN: 978 0 7475 8919 8
Genre: Fiction; wartime fiction;
Pages: 245p
Recommended by Nan
Rating: ***** *****



What led you to pick up this book?
Nan described this book as follows:-
“I have loved many books over the years, but I have been in love with only a few. Like an older person thinking love has passed her by, I didn't think there would be any others to add, but there you go. I'm definitely in love again with one of the most beautiful, interesting, warm, informative books I've ever read. How could I resist such a recommendation and I bought the book a while ago but have only just got around to reading it.

Describe the plot without giving anything away.
Written in the form of letters this tells the story of Juliet Ashton, a successful author, whose curiosity is piqued by a letter from Guernsey in January 1946. A local man has by chance acquired a copy of a book she once owned and, in passing, mentions the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society of which he had been a member during the German Occupation. Anxious to find out more about the society, Juliet corresponds with its various members and gradually gets drawn in to being fascinated by the whole occupation and the isolation / treatment of the residents during the War. The books read by some of the club’s members feature throughout (but not overwhelmingly). Oh yes, and there’s the odd love story thrown in.

What did you think of the characters and style?
I love letters and diaries and as a fiction format it works well. Mary Anne Shaffer makes the characters so believable that one keeps having to remind oneself that whilst these people may be typical of some of the Guernsey Islanders during the War – they are fictional. I feel as though I have made friends with them thanks to Juliet.

What did you like most about the book?
I love the whole thing – there’s nothing I didn't like. I am always fond of books that are informative as well as enjoyable and this was both.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
The jacket design by David Mann adds to the book and creates just the right mood.

Would I recommend it?
Absolutely.

Quotations:
(quoting from Charles Lamb’s Letters:-) “Buz, buz, buz, bum, bum, bum, wheeze, wheeze, wheeze, fen, fen, fen, tinky, tinky, tinky, cr’annch! I shall certainly cxome to be condemned at last. I have been drinking too much for two days running. I find my moral sense in the last stage of consumption and my religion getting faint.”

(quoting from Cee Cee Meredith’s A-tramp in Guernsey:-) “The waters: azure, emerald, silver-laced, when they are not as hard and dark as a bag of nails.”

That’s what I love about reading one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you on to another book, and another bit there will lead you on to a third book. It’s geometrically progressive – all with no end sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment.

Juliet said “Well, he shouldn’t have written, ‘His eye is on the sparrow’ – what good was that? Did He stop the bird dying? Did He just say, ‘Oops’? It makes God sound like He’s off bird-watching when real people need Him.”

Men are more interesting in books than they are in real life.

My farm is a lot of work, and I did not want to spend my time reading about people who never were, doing things they never did.

...visitors said “Life goes on.” What nonsense, I thought, of course it doesn’t. It’s death that goes on; Ian is dead now and will be dead tomorrow and next year and for ever.

...a bookcase that has followed me about like a faithful dog wherever I have moved.

Apparently they sat up late talking last night. Isola doesn’t approve of small talk and believes in breaking the ice by stamping on it.




MARY ANN SHAFFER was born in 1934 in Martinsburg, West Virginia. Her jobs including being an editor, librarian and working in bookshops. She became interested in Guernsey while visiting London in 1976. she flew out to the Island and was temporarily stranded by the weather , in the process coming across a book ‘Jersey under the Jackboot’. Many years later, urged on by her own literary club, Mary Ann wrote this, her first and only novel. It has already been published in 13 countries. Sadly Mary Ann died in February 2008 and the proof reading and final publication was carried out by a niece.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Review: Murray McCAIN - “Books”

Publ: 1963
My own copy
ISBN: -
Genre: Children’s non-fiction / picture book
Pages: c20p
Came across it sorting in the loft!
Rating: ***** ****



A book I bought in 1971 in a second-hand bookshop in London and have never seen anywhere else.

It is a delightful little children’s book about books. Full of lovely quotations.


Quotations

A book is full of surprises, feelings and learning and what growing up is like and loving and all the really big things there are.

....Anyway, a book will tell you if you want to find out. The whole world is in books.

A book is like a friend because when you read a book you feel close to someone. Some books are Valentines. They seem to say I LOVE YOU.

A book is like another room, another town, or another world where someone is waiting to speak to you.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

Review:- A W BOYD – “The Country diary of A Cheshire Man”

Publ: 1946 Collins
My own copy
ISBN: -
Genre: Non-fiction –Diary
Pages: 320p
I read and do research on diaires
Rating: ***** *****

What led you to pick up this book?
I read and do research on diaires – especially ones with a countryside content.

Describe the book.
This is my favourite country diary and the third time that I have read it. A W Boyd was a noted English naturalist and the diary covers the period from 1933 to 1945. Since I live in Cheshire the book is especially relevant to me and reading about agricultural practices that have gone for ever is very nostalgic. The changes in the wildlife are not so much nostalgic as sad – in most cases they reflect a loss of birdlife of enormous proportions. There are however bright spots as the book shows an increase in insects which in those days were scarce and are now quite common.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
Regrettably, although I have two copies I don’t have one with a cover. (I have now ordered another copy - this one will have a dust jacket and I am looking forward to it arriving. I am hoping that it will be in the tradition of the New Naturalist series.)

Would I recommend it?
Absolutely – to anyone interested in the countryside, Cheshire, natural history, superstitions, diaries... in fact anyone!



A.W. BOYD (1885-1959) was a countryman and naturalist, author of A Country Parish (1951) one of the famous Collins New Naturalist series. One of the last of the old-style amateur naturalists; agent of the family yarn business James Boyd & Son. A Cheshire man to his fingertips, the GIlbert White of Great Budworth.

Great field skills; among the most active pioneer bird-ringers. Original papers on the tree sparrow, greenfinch and swallow; put sewage farms and the Staffordshire lakes on the birdwatcher's map. Left vast archive of notebooks and nature diaries, all in his characteristic neat minuscule hand.

Editor of British Birds 1944-58, and a leading light of the BTO, BOU and RSPB in the 1940s and 1950s. His long-running column in Manchester Guardian resulted in The Country Diary of a Cheshire Man (1946). Master of country lore; observed ancient local customs, always raising his hat to magpies as he rode along in his high car.

Served in the Lancashire Fusiliers at Gallipoli, losing an eye and gaining an MC. The most modest of men, kind, affable and without enemies. Uncle and Mentor of James Fisher

Saturday, 7 November 2009

Review:- Dennis S Wood and Vanessa Field – “The Vincent Family Diary”

Publ: 2002
My own copy
ISBN: 1 84220 029 1
Genre: Non-fiction – Annotated Diary
Pages: 180p
I read and do research on diaires
Rating: ***** **


What led you to pick up this book?
I read and do research on diaires – especially ones with a countryside content.

Describe the book.
The years 1885 and 1886 as seen through the eyes of the Vincent family – a Victorian gentry family from near Bangor in North Wales. The original book in which it was written was given by the family’s mother to Mollie Vincent to keep and on those odd occasions when she wasn’t available some of her brothers kept it. At first it takes some getting used top because the diarists wrote in the third person but overall it was a very enjoyable read and good insight into the 1880s of the Victorian country gentry.

Thoughts on the book jacket / cover.
A couple of good prints.

Would I recommend it?
Yes but nothing overly special.

Friday, 6 November 2009

A Jewel of a Site


There are occasions when I wish I was a woman. No, this is not a deep sex-change posting, merely a whim about the beauty of jewellery and the fact that 60 year old men don’t tend to look good in too much of it.


Lisa at Bluestalking pointed me in the direction of a fantastic reading-oriented jewellery site. If you know any woman who loves books there is a jewellery item to suit them at The Well Dressed Reader.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

Review - Ellis PETERS - "The Potter's Field"

Publ: 1988
My own copy
ISBN: 978-0-7515-2733-9
Genre: Historical mystery
Pages: 229p
Rating: ***** ***


The last of the Cadfael books for me to read (though the 17th of 20 in the series). A wonderful cosy crime / mystery series set in medieval Shrewsbury in the time of King Stephen.

As an aside - the covers of one of the publications of this series is among my favourite series covers.

ELLIS PETERS see The Will and the Deed