Friday, 30 December 2011

REVIEW:- Anthony TROLLOPE - “Rachel Ray“

Year Published: - 1863
Where the book was from:- On my Kindle

Pages: - pp
Genre: - Classic Victorian fiction
Location:- Devon
How I came across it: - Reading the Trollope's that I have not previously read – in chronological order.
Rating: - ***** *****

One sentence summary:- Rachel Ray offers a masterly and entertaining evocation of a small community living its life in mid-nineteenth-century England.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Innocent Rachel Ray is wooed by a visitor to their village but her widowed sister, Mrs Prime, is very suspicious and the community is given reason to dislike him. Rachel's mother, swayed by Mrs Prime, discourages Rachel. But whose judgement is right?

General comments:- An excellent Trollope - all one could ask from a Victorian romance.

The prettiest scenery in all England - and if I am contradicted I will say in all Europe – is in Devonshire on the southern and south-eastern skirts of Dartmoor ...

There are women who cannot grow alone as standard trees--for whom
the support and warmth of some wall, some paling, some post, is absolutely necessary-
-who, in their growth, will bend and incline themselves towards some such prop for their
life, creeping with their tendrils along the ground till they reach it when the
circumstances of life have brought no such prop within their natural and immediate

I think there was much in the hardness of the weeds she wore. It seemed as though Mrs
Prime in selecting her crape, her bombazine, and the models of her caps, had resolved
to repress all ideas of feminine softness--as though she had sworn to herself, with a
great oath, that man should never again look on her with gratified eyes.

"A hundred years ago there wasn't all this writing between young people, and these
things were managed better then than they are now, as far as I can understand."
and it was Cherry's voice that she first heard, "A penny for your thoughts," said
Cherry. "Oh, you have so startled me!" said Rachel. "Then I suppose your thoughts were
worth more than a penny. Perhaps you were thinking of an absent knight." And then
Cherry began to sing--"Away, away, away. He loves and he rides away." Poor Rachel
blushed and was unable to speak, " (I wonder how old the expression 'A penny for your thoughts' is?)

All this she said, in a voice not so soft as should be the voice of woman to her betrothed.

"We have always advocated", said one of these articles, "the right of absolute freedom of choice for every borough and everycounty in the land; but we trust that the day is far distant in which the electors of Englandshall cease to look to their nearest neighbours as their best representatives."

"My own dear child!" said Mrs Rowan again; "for you know that you are to be my child
now as well as your own mamma's." "It is very kind of you to say so," said Mrs Ray. "Very
kind, indeed," said Mrs Prime; "and I'm sure that you will find Rachel dutiful as a
daughter." Rachel herself did not feel disposed to give any positive assurance on that
point. She intended to be dutiful to her husband, and was inclined to think that
obedience in that direction was quite enough for a married woman. 

AUTHOR Notes:- Anthony Trollope – see Orley Farm

New or unusual words:- Mrs Tappitt had frequently offered to intromit the ceremony when calling upon his generosity for other purposes, but the September gift had always been forthcoming. Intromit – introduce; admit; allow to enter; grant entry to.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

REVIEW:- Terry PRATCHETT - “Snuff“

Year Published: - 2011
Where the book was from:- My own copy (although I bought the hardback for my collection I read it on the Kindle so as to be able to have the font bigger while my eyes were bad).
ISBN: - 978 0385619264
Pages: - 378pp
Genre: - Fantasy
Location:- Discworld
How I came across it: - I never miss reading a new Pratchett
Rating: - ***** *****

One sentence summary:- The 39th Discworld novel sees Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch slightly out of his depth as he holidays in the innocent countryside.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Commander Sam Vimes of the Ankh-Morpork City Watch is on holiday in the pleasant and innocent countryside, but not for him a mere body in the wardrobe. There are many, many bodies and an ancient crime more terrible than murder. He is out of his jurisdiction, out of his depth, out of bacon sandwiches, and occasionally snookered and out of his mind, but never out of guile. Where there is a crime there must be a finding, there must be a chase and there must be a punishment. They say that in the end all sins are forgiven. But not quite all...

General comments:- Probably the best Discworld novel for a while.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a policeman taking a holiday will barely have time to open his suitcase before he finds his first corpse.

Ramkin Hall... Apparently it had a mile of trout stream and, Vimes seemed to recall from the deeds, a pub. Vimes knew how you could own a pub but he wondered how you could own a trout stream because, if that was your bit, it had already gurgled off downstream while you were watching it, yes? That meant somebody else was now fishing in your water, the bastard! as cold as charity and rain coming down so fast it had to queue up to
hit the ground.

And so he grinned and bore it while they fluttered around him like large moths, and he waved away yet more teacakes, and cups of tea that would have been welcome were it not that they looked and tasted like what proper tea turns into shortly after you drink it.

And now, if you will excuse me, I’m going down to the pub.’ Automatically, his wife said, ‘No, dear, you know drink doesn’t agree with you.’ The colonel was all smiles. ‘This evening I intend to settle my differences with drink and make it my friend.’

Of course, the white marble lovelies were dignified with urns, bunches of marble grapes, and the ever-popular length of gauze which had, happily, landed in just the right place to stop art becoming pornography.

Thus satisfied, he waited for the onset of sleep, against a chorus of howls, shrieks, mysterious distant bangs, surreptitious rustlings, screeches, disconcerting ticking noises, dreadful scratching sounds, terrible flappings of wings very close, and all the rest of the unholy orchestra that is known as the peace of the countryside.

AUTHOR Notes:- See Nation

Review:- P G WODEHOUSE – “Ring for Jeeves”

Year Published: - 1953
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 9780099513926
Pages: - 240pp
Genre: - Humour
Location:- England
How I came across it: - Read (for the second or third time) as part of a challenge to read a book from each year of my life
Rating: - ***** ****

One sentence summary:- Classic English humour from the classic English humourist.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Jeeves is on loan to the Ninth Earl of Rowcester while Bertie Wooster is learning how to cope with life without a man servant. The Ninth Earl is somewhat impoverished but a plan to make money as a bookie goes awry when they (temporarily) find it necessary to cheat a big game hunter. It hardly spoils the plot to advise you that all comes right in the end!

General comments:- “You don’t analyse such sunlit perfection, you just bask in its warmth and splendour.” Stephen Fry.


“The Oaks, Madam.”
“And what are the Oaks?”
It seemed incredible to the waiter that there should be anyone in England who could ask such a question, but he had already gathered that the lady was an American lady, and American ladies, he knew, are often ignorant of the fundamental facts of life. He had once met one who had wanted to know what a football pool was.

Its architecture was thirteenth-century, fifteenth-century and Tudor, its dilapidation twentieth-century, post-World War Two.

Monica regarded her husband with that cold, wifely eye which married men learn to dread.

“Coming out! The dear old getting-ready-for-market stage! How it takes one back. Off with the glasses and the teeth-braces.”
“On with the things that push you in or push you out, whichever you needed.”
This was Rory’s contribution, and Monica looked at him austerely.
“What do you know about it?”

“Potty what?”
“The lady does appear to diverge somewhat from the generally accepted norm, Sir Roderick.”

Arriving in the living room, he found that the number of ladies available for being jouined there had been reduced to one – reading from left to right, Jill.

“Socialistic legislation has sadly depleted the resources of England’s hereditary aristocracy. We are living now on what is known as the Welfare State, which means – broadly – that everybody is completely destitute.”

… was a skinny stripling of some sixteen summers on whom Nature in her bounty had bestowed so many pimples that there was scarcely room on his face for the vacant grin which habitually adorned it.

He thought nostalgically of his young manhood in London at the turn of the century… Butlers had been butlers then in the deepest and holiest sense of the word.

“I suppose what’s happened is that you’ve had one of these lovers’ tiffs.”
Jill did not intend to allow without protest what was probably the world’s greatest traghedy since the days of Romeo and Juliet to be described in this inadequate fashion.

At the sight… no fewer than three hairs of his left eyebrow quivered for an instant, showing how deeply he had been moved by the spectacle.
… Four hairs of Jeeves’s right eyebrow stirred slightly, as if a passing breeze had disturbed them.

AUTHOR Notes:- P G Wodehouse (1881 - 1975) Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was an English humorist, whose body of work includes novels, short stories, plays, poems, song lyrics, and numerous pieces of journalism. He enjoyed enormous popular success during a career that lasted more than seventy years and his many writings continue to be widely read. Despite the political and social upheavals that occurred during his life, much of which was spent in France and the United States, Wodehouse's main canvas remained that of pre-war English upper-class society, reflecting his birth, education, and youthful writing career.

Pelham (Plum) Grenville Wodehouse was born in 1881 in Guildford, Surrey. Having spent his early years in Hong Kong he was sent to Dulwich College and worked as a banker and journalist before embarking on a career as a prolific and popular writer. He became an American citizen in 1955 and was knighted in 1975 a few weeks before his death in Southampton, New York.

An acknowledged master of English prose, Wodehouse has been admired both by contemporaries such as Hilaire Belloc, Evelyn Waugh and Rudyard Kipling and by modern writers such as Stephen Fry, Douglas Adams, J. K. Rowling,and Terry Pratchett.

New or unusual words:- A word one doesn’t hear nowadays – bally - adjective, adverb British Slang - damned (euphemism for bloody ).

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

REVIEW:- Gina OCHSNER - “The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight”

Year Published: - 2009
Where the book was from:- My own copy – ex-library
ISBN: - 978 1 84627 007 9
Pages: - 370pp
Genre: - General fiction
Location:- Russia
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - *****

One sentence summary:- A strange and disturbing account of some of the problems of poverty, war and the unreal approach to life in post Soviet Russia.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- In the yard of a crumbling apartment building in post-Soviet Russia, there’s a corpse who won’t keep quiet. Mircha fell from the roof and was never properly buried, so he sticks around to cause hassle to the living including Azade, keeper of the Little Necessary; Olga, a disillusioned translator/censor for a military newspaper; Yuri, a young army veteran who always wears an aviator’s helmet and thinks he’s a fish; and Tanya, a student of hope, words, and colour.

Tanya carries a notebook everywhere, recording her dreams of finding love and escaping her job at the All-Russia All-Cosmopolitan Museum, a place that holds a weird and wonderful collection of rubbishy art replicas created with the materials at hand, from foam and chewing gum to lollipop sticks and tomato juice. When the museum’s director hears of the visit of an American group seeking to fund art in Russia, it looks as if Tanya might get her chance at a better life, if she can only convince them of the collection’s worth. Enlisting the help of her strange assortment of neighbours with their different backgrounds and cultures, Tanya scrambles to save her dreams.

General comments:- A nominee for the Orange Prize for Fiction


When a man loses his dream, he ceases to be a man, he ceases to be alive.

He was a good man in a tangential way. You could feel that behind the vitriol, the bile, and rage, really he meant well.

Outside, darkness settled on rooftops, gathered in corners.

Patience is what you get when you divide the number of days you’ve gone without eating by the temperature outdoors.

Faith was not about knowing where the path led, but believing the path led somewhere.

AUTHOR Notes:- Gina Ochsner’s stories have appeared in The New Yorker, The Best American Non-required Reading, Kenyon Review, Prairie Schooner, and many other magazines, and have received awards such as the Raymond Carver Prize and the Chelsea Award for Short Fiction. Her first collection of short stories, The Necessary Grace to Fall, won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. It also won the Oregon Book Award for Short Fiction and the PNBA Book Award for short stories and was an Austin Chronicle Top Ten Pick.

Tuesday, 27 December 2011

REVIEW:- Marian BABSON - “Not quite a Geisha“

Year Published: - 2003
Where the book was from:- My own copy - ex-library
ISBN: - 1-84119-596-0
Pages: - 206pp (206 too many)
Genre: - Cosy crime
Location:- London and Brighton
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***

One sentence summary:- Strange!

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Evangeline Sinclair and Trixie Dolan, long-time stars of stage and screen, are surprised when their friend's dear departed Pekinese is going to be stuffed. Unfortunately the taxidermist turns into a corpse which is more than a Japanese Bobtail Cat does – being rescued from the shop just before it explodes...

General comments:- Sadly the book doesn't explode and goes downhill from the start. I like some light refreshment with my cosy crime but this wasn't my cup of tea.

Quotations:- nil

AUTHOR Notes:- Marian Babson (Ruth Stenstreem) was born in 1929 in Salem, Massachusetts, but has spent most of her adult life in London. She is a full-time writer and has published over thirty mystery novels.

New or unusual words - nil.

REVIEW:- Barbara PYM - “Excellent Women“

Year Published: - 1952
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978-1-84408-451-7
Pages: - 288pp
Genre: - Humour
Location:- England
How I came across it: - As part of challenge to read a book from each year of my life
Rating: - ***** ***

One sentence summary:- Hilarious, silly and endearing novel of a clergyman’s daughter’s attempts to involve herself with her neighbours (or not involve herself as the case may be).

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Mildred Lathbury – the sort of capable woman who tends to be taken for granted, gets hopelessly involved with her neighbours, the glamorous Napiers, especially as she has more than a soft spot for Rockingham Napier.

General comments:- Barbara Pym has been described as the most under-rated novelist / humourist of the 20th century.

I suppose an unmarried woman just over thirty, who lives alone and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people’s business, and if she is also a clergyman’s daughter then one might really say there is no hope for her.

“I have to share a bathroom,” I had so often murmured, almost with shame, as if I personally had been found unworthy of a bathroom of my own.

“Rockingham does most of the cooking when we’re together,” she said, “I’m really too busy to do much.” Surely wives shouldn’t be too busy to cook for their husbands, I thought in astonishment.

“A little learning can be a dangerous thing, Mildred.” “Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring,” I went on, pleased at being able to finish the quotation.

“Anyway, widows nearly always do marry.” “Oh, they have the knack of catching a man. Having done it once I suppose they can do it again. I suppose there’s nothing in it when you know how.”

…but I felt I wanted to be alone, and what better place to choose than the sink, where neither of the men would follow me?

…it occurred to me that if I ever wrote a novel it would be of the ‘stream of consciousness’ type and deal with an hour in the life of a woman at the sink.

There can be no exchange of glances over the telephone, no breaking into laughter. After a few more insincere regrets and apologies we finished and I hung up the receiver, thinking that the telephone ought never to be used except for the transaction of business.

AUTHOR Notes:- (1913-1980) Barbara Mary Crampton Pym (1913 –1980) was an English novelist. In 1977 her career was revived when two prominent writers, Lord David Cecil and Philip Larkin, nominated her as the most under-rated writer of the century when the Times Literary Supplement asked authors/critics to name the most underrated authors of the past 75 years. She was the only asuthor nominated twice. Her novel ‘Quartet in Autumn’ (1977) was nominated for the Booker Prize that year, and she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Monday, 26 December 2011

REVIEW:- Gustave FLAUBERT - “Madame Bovary“

Year Published: - 1857
Where the book was from:- My own copy
Pages: - 357pp
Genre: - Classic Fiction
Location:- Rural France
How I came across it: - Re-reading (first read c 1970)
Rating: - ***** *****

One sentence summary:- This examination of life in rural France in the 1850s well deserves its classic status and is noteworthy as an examination of Emma Bovary for whom the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- The story focuses on a doctor's wife, Emma Bovary, who has adulterous affairs and lives beyond her means in order to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life. Though the basic plot is rather simple, even archetypal, the novel's true art lies in its details and hidden patterns.

Emma is the novel's protagonist and is the main source of the novel's title (Charles's mother and his former wife are also referred to as Madame Bovary). She has a highly romanticized view of the world and craves beauty, wealth, passion, and high society. It is the disparity between these romantic ideals and the realities of her country life that drive most of the novel, most notably leading her into extramarital love affairs as well as causing her to accrue an enormous amount of debt. Convinced that the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, Emma does not realize that extreme joy, even for the wealthy and powerful, comes rarely.

Although fairly intelligent she never has a chance to develop her mind and as an adult, Emma's capacity for imagination is far greater than her capacity for analysis. She not only believes in the false fronts other people present to her, but she despises the very few people who are exactly as they appear to be.

General comments:- Madame Bovary (1856) was Flaubert's first published novel and is considered his masterpiece.

The novel was attacked for obscenity by public prosecutors when it was first serialized in La Revue de Paris between October and December 1856, resulting in a trial in January 1857 that made the story notorious. After the acquittal in February 1857, it became a bestseller when it was published as a book that April, and it now stands virtually unchallenged not only as a seminal work of Realism, but as one of the most influential novels ever written.

Emma was leaning out at the window; she was often there. The window in the provinces replaces the theatre and the promenade….

Self-possession depends upon its environment. We don’t speak on the first floor as on the fourth; and the wealthy woman seems to have, about her, to guard her virtue, all her bank-notes, like a cuirass, in the lining of her corset.

She was the mistress of all the novels, the heroine of all the dramas, the vague ‘she’ of all the volumes of verse.

…a demand for money being, of all the kinds that blow upon love, the coldest and most destructive.

AUTHOR Notes:- Gustave Flaubert (1821 - 1880) was a French writer who is counted among the greatest Western novelists. He is known especially for his first published novel, Madame Bovary (1857), and for his scrupulous devotion to his art and style. Flaubert was notoriously a perfectionist about his writing and claimed always to be searching for le mot juste ("the right word").

New or unusual words (in this particular translation) –
list (as an adjective to describe shoes) – meaning unknown;
tatterdemalion - n. A person wearing ragged or tattered clothing; a ragamuffin. adj. Ragged; tattered.

Friday, 25 November 2011

REVIEW:- Andre GIDE “The Immoralist“

Year Published: - 1902
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978-0-141-18299-5
Pages: - 124pp
Genre: - Classic French novel
Location:- France and Tunisia
How I came across it: - Re-reading to see if I liked it better
Rating: - ***** *

One sentence summary:- I read this in French in my early twenties and didn't enjoy it – my re-reading, an English version, did not endear me to it any more though parts are eminently quotable.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Michel is ignorant of love when he marries Marceline out of a sense of duty to his father. They honeymoon in Tunisia where Michel becomes very ill. Marceline nurses him and during his recovery Michel is amused by an Arab boy who awakens him both sexually and morally – or immorally.

General comments:- “L'Immoraliste confronts 'the fundamental eternal problem of the moral conditions of our excistence.'” Alan Sheridan.

I present this book for what it I worth. It is a fruit filled with bitter ash, like those colocynths which sprout in the most arid deserts; rather than quench your thirst, they scorch your mouth even more, yet against their backdrop of golden sand they are not without a certain beauty.

I believe that any heightened sensitivity can be a source of pleasure or pain, depending upon the strength or weakness of one's constitution.

I likened myself to a palimpsest. I felt the joy of a scholar who discovers, beneath newer writing, a more ancient and infinitely more precious text inscribed on the same piece of paper.

Nearer to the sky than it is to the sea, Ravello stands on a steep hill overlooking the flat, distant coast of Paestum.

The finest works of mankind are universally concerned with suffering. How would one tell a story about happiness.

Oh, these honest Swiss. Where do their good manners get them? They have no crime, no history, no literature, no art... They are like a sturdy rosebush without thorns or flowers.

AUTHOR Notes:- André Paul Guillaume Gide (1869 – 1951) was a French author and winner of the Nobel Prize in literature in 1947. Gide's career ranged from its beginnings in the symbolist movement, to the advent of anticolonialism between the two World Wars.

New or unusual words - colocynth

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

REVIEW:- Helen DUNMORE - “The Siege“

Year Published: - 2001
Where the book was from:- My cope- ex-library
ISBN: - 9780670897186
Pages: - 291pp
Genre: - Historical novel
Location:- Leningrad, 1941
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** ***** (I originally graded this as nine stars but later decided it merited ten)

One sentence summary:- The residents of Leningrad are under siege from the Germans who have surrounded the city resulting in a struggle not only to avoid the shells but to fight starvation and, in the process, hope for love.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:-
The besieged people of Leningrad face not only shells and starvation but also the biting Russian winter. This tale interweaves the love affairs of two generations. The Levin family struggle to stay alive during this terrible winter and the realistic plot is a genuinely moving account of the horrors that war can inflict on people's lives.
The Beige was nominated for the Whitbread Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction.

General comments:-
I've only just discovered that Helen Dunmore wrote a sequel in 2010 – The Betrayal. I promptly ordered it from Amazon!


I stood for a long time, looking at Kutuzov's statue... There were just the two of usd, Kutuzov and me. It's all very well for you, I thought. I may even have said something aloud. You are stone. You are safe inside history. But we are still flesh, trapped in a [present we don't understand, and being shoved towards a future we can't predict. The times are scared, and so are we. If only I could forget what human blood smells like.

“We could die out here!” Katya cried ghe first time the planes came over. She stated in horror, as if it had never occurred to her. Someone is trying to kill me, me, Katink, with my top grades in physics and chemistry, me, with my ambition to be a doctor, me, with my new summer dance-dress waiting at Gostiny Dvor.

Even if the high-up ones went completely crazy, they couldn’t stop apples growing on apple trees.

AUTHOR Notes:- Helen Dunmore was born in the UK in 1952. She has published six novels with Viking and Penguin, including A SPELL OF WINTER, winner of the Orange Prize. She is also a poet and a children's novelist. She lives with her family in Bristol.

New or unusual words - nil

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

REVIEW:- Peter JAMES - “Dead Man's Footsteps“

Year Published: - 2008
Where the book was from:- My own copy - ex-library
ISBN: - 978-1-4050-9204-3
Pages: - 467pp
Genre: - Crime thriller
Location:- New York, Brighton
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** *

One sentence summary:- One of a series of crime novels involving Detective Supt. Roy Grace with a cleverly twisting plot and sub-plot.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Using the chaos of 9/11, failed businessman and rogue, Ronnie Wilson decides to disappear and re-invent himself elsewhere. Six years later a frightened girl is being hunted down in Brighton and a woman's body turns up in a drain nearby. It's up to Supt. Grace to find the connection.

General comments:- I didn't really take to the policemen in this book – they were not entirely believable. By contrast, the description of 9/11 was all too believable. I'm not sure I'm happy about fictional books which describe recent disasters so clearly – but I suppose anyone directly affected by the event would simply avoid them.
Thrilling and with great little twists to the plot.
The other Roy Grace works, though I doubt I'll bother seeking them out, are:-
Detective Superintendent Roy Grace
1. Dead Simple (2005)
2. Looking Good Dead (2006)
3. Not Dead Enough (2007)
4. Dead Man's Footsteps (2008)
5. Dead Tomorrow (2009)
6. Dead Like You (2010)
7. Dead Man's Grip (2011)
Peter James has also written a large number of individual crime novels.

Quotations:- nil

AUTHOR Notes:- Peter James is the author of several very successful thrillers, two of which have been made into successful TV films. More are in production now. He was born in 1948 and educated at Charterhouse. He lives in Sussex near Lewes.

New or unusual words – nil.

Sunday, 20 November 2011

REVIEW:- Thomas HARDY - “Life's Little Ironies“

Year Published: - 1888-1893
Where the book was from:- My copy – bought new
ISBN: - 978-1-85326-178-7
Pages: - 180pp
Genre: - General Fiction – Short Stories
Location:- Wessex
How I came across it: - Researching Victorian literature
Rating: - ***** ***

One sentence summary:- A collection of Hardy's short stories – the title 'Life's Little Ironies' having been coined by Hardy for his third collection of short stories.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Various stories of life in Hardy's rural Wessex as the Nineteenth Century draws to a close.

General comments:- Describing a vanishing world in his usual brilliant prose, Hardy tells tales as might the man in the inn or, as is the case with “A Few Crusted Characters” , travellers on a carrier's van. In a way there is nothing to the stories but, as a certain comedian once said, “It's the way I tell 'em”.


AUTHOR Notes:- Thomas Hardy – see A Pair of Blue Eyes

New or unusual words I came across nonce; totties.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

REVIEW:- Paul TORDAY - “The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce“

REVIEW:- Paul TORDAY - “The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce - a novel in four vintages“
Year Published: - 2008
Where the book was from:- My copy - ex-library
ISBN: - 978-0-7538-2315-6
Pages: - 308pp
Genre: - General Fiction, psychology, autism
Location:- London / Yorkshire
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** *****

One sentence summary:- A cleverly crafted look at a man who sells his computer software company to buy a wine cellar and what happens next (only it's actually what happened before).

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- The book is in four parts 2006, 2004, 2003 and 2002 and cleverly takes one back from the outcome to its origins. The outcome is the 'inheritance' of a wine cellar and the consumption of too much of it by Wilberforce, a man generally acknowledged as being strange but remarkably talented in creating computer software. The history of how it all came about gradually unfolds and the novel becomes more and more poignant as it goes on.

General comments:- As the Daily Telegraph commented - “Remarkably, given the bleakness of both subject and hero, it is an incredibly good read.” A must for any wine buff it takes one on a tour of red wines with the occasional white thrown in for good measure. From the first moment we are introduced to him we want to know more about Wilberforce and what makes him tick. At times an upsetting tale of alcoholism and at others a story of a sick and lonely man which wrenches at the heart-strings. A great read.


Thinking about sipping the wine made me look at the clock on the bedside table, and I saw it was eleven in the morning. By now on any normal day I would be at least halfway through my first bottle. That was another reason it was wrong to describe me as an alcoholic: an alcoholic wouldn't care whether his wine came form a box or a bottle.

When I say wine, I am speaking of red Bordeaux – or claret, as some of us who drink it still call it.
I know you don't believe in God but He believes in you.

I knew how to talk to people, but I had never got to the point of doing it for fun.... The possibility that people could spend time together with no other object in mind than enjoyment of one another's company was a new idea to me.

I used to wash and dry the foil cartons in which my takeaways came and keep them in neat piles, in case they could be of use some day. I rearranged the piles of cartons now and then. I found it soothing.

AUTHOR Notes:- Paul TORDAY was born in 1946 and read English at Oxford. He spent 30 years working in engineering and industry before concentrating on his writing. His first novel Salmon Fishing in the Yemen was published in 2006 and was an instant success. He lives in Northumberland and has often visited the Middle East.

New words I came across eidetic; encomium

Thursday, 17 November 2011

More dedications

A school prize to Richard - I never won a school prixe, ever!

Bibles often have dedications in them - perhaps that is why we end up with so many Bibles in the house, being loath to get rid of one with a dedication in it.

This one was given to my grandmother by a family friend and her godmother - Miss Ellen Dee, the then postmistress at Shipton-under-Wychwood in Oxfordshire where Nana was brought up.  A lot of our family seem to have been christened around Christmas even though they may by then have been months old.

I shoudln't really include a pamphlet on my book blog but this one was given to me by its author - Judith Flint.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Guilty Secrets

Bibliophiliac recently blogged about the ten books that have been on her shelves – unread – the longest. So, despite having nine book reviews to do, I decided upon this frivolous post instead as I look at the ten fiction that have been on my shelves the longest without being read. I shall try to justify (to myself at least) why they are still there.

Rummer Godden – The River. I think this has been neglected because it is in that category of books I ought to read rather than books I want to read.

Virginia Woolf – Orlando. I cannot excuse myself. I loved Virginia Woolf when I read her books in the 1960s/1970s and I cannot understand why I missed this one. This little Penguin has sat on my shelves for years.

Captain Marryat – The Children of the New Forest. I love the Stuart period and this romantic children's book should be ideal 'cosy read time' material and yet I've never opened it. I wonder why?

Thomas Hughes – Tom Brown's Schooldays. This sat on my shelves for so long I eventually gave it away – unread. Recently I put it on my Amazon wishlist and Helen and Ian bought it for me. This time I must read it!

Vladimir Nabokov – Lolita. Judging by Bibliophiliac this may be on everyone's unread shelf so I may not need to justify it...

Jane Stevenson – London Bridges. A fairly ordinary looking detective novel and yet it has just sat there while others – less worthy I am sure – have been read. Perhaps I am subconsciously saving it for a rainy day.

Allan Mallnson – The Sabre's Edge. It is 1824 and Captain Hervey is in India. When I read the previous one of the series I was quite enthusiastic about this young man's progress in the Dragoons but it has tailed off.

Bill Richardson – Bachelor Brothers' Bed and Breakfast. I actually started this and quite enjoyed the brief bit I read and yet it has never been picked up since.

Alexander McCall Smith – Love Over Scotland. I have fallen out with McCall Smith's style. Initially it seems wonderful but it palls after a while

George Du Maurier – Peter Ibbetson. This was one of Mum's books – first published in 1891 – and I've always meant to read it. One day – perhaps....

What are your guilty secrets?

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Review:- Cyril HARE - “An English Murder“

REVIEW:- Cyril HARE - “An English Murder“ (also published as 'The Christmas Murder')
Year Published: - 1951
Where the book was from:- My own copy
Pages: - 269pp (Large Print Edition)
Genre: - Cosy Crime
Location:- Fictional English county of Markshire - early 1950s
How I came across it: - My 1951 work for the Books Published in the first years of my life challenge

Rating: - ***** ****

One sentence summary:- Perfect cosy crime set in the era when men were men, women were women and butlers were butlers!

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Warbeck Hall is an old English country house and the scene of an equally classic English murder at Christmas. All the necessary ingredients are there and the crime is cleverly undertaken. We have an assortment of family members and 'friends' thrown together in a snow-bound country hall with tea and cake, a faithful butler, a peculiar foreigner, snow falling and the church bells at Midnight. Although one of the persons marooned there is a policeman the detective work is far from conventional.

General comments:- Excellently written. Not only does the hall and its inhabitants come to life – despite the cold – but the plot is decidedly novel (or is it?). If you are fortunate enough to read it you will see why I put the 'or is it' in brackets. Thoroughly recommended for any cosy crime enthusiast and as na example of simple but excellent English in the style of the early 1950s.

His lordship is better, thank you. He is up but not yet down.”
“Up, but not yet down,” repeated Dr Bottwink thoughtfully. “Up, but not down! English is a beautifully expressive language.”

“I have never been greatly interested in politics, sir.”
“Oh, Briggs, Briggs,” said the historian, shaking his head in regretful admiration, “if you only knew how fortunate you were to be be able to say that.”
(Bearing in mind the novel was written in 1951, just six years after the War ended. Dr Bottwink, a Jew, had been pushed / fled from country to country and been in a concentration camp.)
Lord Warbeck, waking from the light sleep of an invalid, saw from his window his lawns and garden with the parkland beyond and he Markshire Downs in the far distance uniformly white. The fine details of the landscape gone, the outlines smoothed and thickened by the covering of snow. It would all have looked exactly the same, he reflected, to anyone lying in that bed on such a morning at any time since Capability Brown remodelled the plantations in the park, nearly two hundred years before.

“Indeed I'm relying on you to tide me over Boxing Day. Nothing could be more ill-bred in a host than to choose such a moment to expire.”

The room seemed to be suddenly full of women. The quiet, masculine atmosphere of the library, redolent of wood smoke and old calf bindings, was charged with a new, disturbing element, made up of feminine scents and sounds.
“Very good, madam.”
Briggs' voice was completely devoid of expression. By no movement of limb or feature did he give the smallest indication that the order was anything but a perfectly normal one. A well-trained butler is schooled to repress his feelings on such occasions. None the less, by some occult means he contrived to convey to every person in the room that he was outraged by the proposal. How he did it, it was impossible to say. Such subtle means of communication are the secrets of telepathists and well-trained butlers.

AUTHOR Notes:- Cyril Hare was the pseudonym of Judge Gordon Clark. Born at Mickleham near Dorking in 1900, he was educated at Rugby and New College, Oxford. At the bar his practice before World War II was largely in the criminal courts. During the War he was on the staff of the Director of Public Prosecutions; but afterwards, as a County Court judge, his work concerned civil disputes only - and his sole connection with crime was through his fiction. He turned to writing detective stories at the age of thirty-six and some of his first short stories were published in Punch. Hare went on to write two series of detective novels, starring Inspector Mallet or Francis Pettigrew. He also wrote two independent novels – 'An English Murder' and 'The Magic Bottle'. Gordon Clark died in 1958.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

REVIEW:- Katherine Hall PAGE - “The Body in the Bookcase“

Year Published: - 1998
Where the book was from:- My own copy - ex-library
ISBN: - 978 0 7090 8332 0
Pages: - 222pp
Genre: - Cosy crime
Location:- A Massachusetts town
How I came across it: - serendipity
Rating: - ***** *

One sentence summary:- A string of burglaries and the death of a friend lead Faith Fairchild to once again investigate what is going on, especially when the parsonage is burgled as well.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Faith Fairchild, the minister's wife in a quiet Massachusetts town gets involved in trying to discover the murderer of her friend and the burglar whole stole all her jewellery and family silver. A trip around local pawnshops and antiques dealers lead to some surprising results while all the time trying to cope with the capricious demands of a bride-to-be on her baking and catering business.

General comments:- A most enjoyable romp through New England but perhaps not enough depth for me.
Faith Fairchild
1. The Body in the Belfry (1989)
2. The Body in the Kelp (1990)
3. The Body in the Bouillon (1991)
4. The Body in the Vestibule (1992)
5. The Body in the Cast (1993)
6. The Body in the Basement (1994)
7. The Body in the Bog (1996)
     aka The Body in the Marsh
8. The Body in the Fjord (1997)
9. The Body in the Bookcase (1998)
10. The Body in the Big Apple (1999)
11. The Body in the Moonlight (2001)
12. The Body In The Bonfire (2002)
13. The Body in the Lighthouse (2003)
14. The Body in the Attic (2004)
15. The Body in the Snowdrift (2005)
16. The Body in the Ivy (2006)
17. The Body in the Gallery (2008)
18. The Body in the Sleigh (2009)
19. The Body in the Gazebo (2011)
20. The Body in the Boudoir (2012)

...I really haven't had a spare minute.”
...II Faith had awakened that morning, fully intending to make some. She'd been filled with the kind of vernal energy that impels some women to attack the grime on their windows and dust bunnies under the radiators – or the ironing, which, in Faith's case, threatened to erupt like Mount Vesuvius from the spare-room closet, flow down the stairs and out the front door, entombing hapless passers-by for eternity.

AUTHOR Notes:- Born in 1947, Katherine Hall Page's first mystery involving Faith Fairchild – The Body in the Belfry – received the Agatha Award for best first mystery novel. She lives with her husband and son.

Sunday, 30 October 2011

REVIEW:- Kate ELLIS - “A Cursed Inheritance“

Year Published: - 2005 Piatkus Books Ltd
Where the book was from:- My own copy - ex-library
ISBN: - 0 7499 0725 8
Pages: - 360pp
Genre: - Crime
Location:- Annetown (Jamestown), Virginia, and Devon
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** **

One sentence summary:- A brutal massacre at a Devon hall was 'obviously' carried out by the housekepper who then killed herself but twenty years later a reporter investigating the crime seems to have other ideas – and gets murdered for them.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- The hall in which the massacre took place has become a New Age healing centre which DI Wesley Peterson suspects is not all it seems – nor are its visitors. The hall was already notorious for a crime committed centuries earlier and the novel tracks the history of that piece of villainy as well, leading Peterson's friend Neil to the ruined remains of an English settlement in Virginia.

General comments:- This was the ninth in the Wesley Peterson series:-
Wesley Peterson
1. The Merchant's House (1998)
2. The Armada Boy (1999)
3. An Unhallowed Grave (1999)
4. The Funeral Boat (2000)
5. The Bone Garden (2001)
6. A Painted Doom (2002)
7. The Skeleton Room (2003)
8. The Plague Maiden (2004)
9. A Cursed Inheritance (2005)
10. The Marriage Hearse (2006)
11. The Shining Skull (2007)
12. The Blood Pit (2008)
13. A Perfect Death (2009)
14. The Flesh Tailor (2010)
15. The Jackal Man (2011)
16. The Cadaver Game (2012)

I enjoyed this book - especially with its flashbacks to the 1600s - but I'm not sure I'll actually seek out any more Wesley Peterson novels. The plot was good but I didn't particualrly identify with the hero.

AUTHOR Notes:- Kate Ellis was born (1953) and brought up in Liverpool and she studied drama in Manchester. She worked in teaching, marketing and accountancy before first enjoying writing success as a winner of the North West Playwrights competition. Crime and mystery stories have always fascinated her, as have medieval history and archaeology which she likes to incorporate in her books. She lives in North Cheshire, England, with her husband, two sons and an overweight cat called Vivaldi!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

REVIEW:- Terry PRATCHETT - “Once More * *with footnotes”

“Once More * *with footnotes
Year Published: - 2004
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 1 886778 57 4
Pages: - 280pp
Genre: - Humour (mixture of fiction and non-fiction)
Location:- Somewhere in Terry's brain
How I came across it: - Sorting out the loft – decided it was time I re-read it.
Rating: - ***** ***** * (Yes, I know my system only goes up to 10 but anything Terry touches can be magical)

One sentence summary:- A selection of Terry's early writings, short stories, speeches and bits and bobs with occasional thoughts about fantasy and more than occasional bits of fantasy.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- What plot? Although there is a definitely Discworld bias and a lot of witches. SOME CHAP IN A SKULL MASK puts in an appearance as well.

General comments:- Some serious comments on writing and the place of fantasy in entertainment and education together with little glimpses of what Granny Weatherwax does to people when she's nice to them. A must for any Pratchett fan and a darned good read for anyone interested in fantasy writing and mythology – with a little bit of the nuclear power industry thrown in for good measure. Probably the most important four pages are 187-190 – The Orangutans are Dying' but they get rather lost among the humour. Perhaps they would have been better as the last four pages...

Michael has... impressed me by having a sense of humour while nevertheless being an accountant, an achievement of such magnitude that it almost certainly earns him an honorary degree in magic.

History records a great many foolish comments, such as, “It looks perfectly safe”, or “Indians? What Indians?” and Dogger added to the list with an old favourite which has caused more encyclopedias and life insurance policies to be sold than you would have thought possible.
“I suppose, he said, “that you'd better come in.”

It works best if your culture includes at least folk memories of Punch and Judy, a glove puppet show depicting wife-beating, child abuse, cruelty to animals, assault on an officer of the law, murder, and complete and total disrespect of Authority. It is for children, of course, and they laugh themselves sick.... It can only be a matter of time before an anger management consultant is included among the puppets.

If people didn't think very carefully about warning signs, a dead and buried nuclear reactor would make the classic cursed tomb; not long after breaking into it people would dies mysteriously.

The Wind in the Willows... I know now, of course, that it is totally the wrong kind of book for children. There is only one female character and she is a washerwoman. No attempt is made to explain the social conditioning and lack of proper housing that makes the stoats and weasels act they way they do. Mr Badger's house is an insult to all those children not fortunate enough o live in a Wild Wood. The Mole and Rat's domestic arrangements are probably acceptable, but only if they come right out and talk frankly about them...

...the world's second oldest profession (priest) became a growth industry (the oldest is 'flint-knapper' no matter what you may have heard).

Fantasy should present the familiar in a new light... And, at its best, it is truly escapist. But the point about escaping is that you should escape to, as well as from. You should go somewhere worthwhile, and come back the better for the experience.

Go with publishers to a fish and chip supper. Ah, but this is Doyles Fish Restaurant, where they serve barramundi and chips, and a barramundi is what a cod becomes if it's been a good cod in this life.

America got the '50s – all those juke boxes, rock 'n' roll, and Cadillacs with fins... In fact we weren't even allowed any '60s until 1964, when we were allowed to keep them until they were exported to the West coast of the USA in 1968. To be honest, they only happened to about 250 people in London, in any case. The rest of us read about them, and picked up the pieces.

In fact the whole book is so quotable you should go out and buy it!

AUTHOR Notes:- TERRY PRATCHETT OBE - Terry Pratchett, born 1948, is one of the most popular authors writing today. He lives behind a keyboard in Wiltshire and says he 'doesn't want to get a life, because it feels as though he's trying to lead three already'. He was appointed OBE in 1998. He is the author of the phenomenally successful Discworld series and his trilogy for young readers, The Bromeliad, is scheduled to be adapted into a spectacular animated movie. His first Discworld novel for children, The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents”, was awarded the 2001 Carnegie Medal. I have read the whole of the Disworld / Bromeliad and Johnny Maxwell series (in most cases reading them three times).

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Review:- Joan POWERS (Ed.) - "Eeyore's Gloomy Little Instruction Book"

Year Published: - 1997
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 0 416 19420 6
Pages: - 35 pp
Genre: - Humour
Location:- The Hundred Acre Wood (Five Hundred Acre Wood; in Ashdown Forest)
How I came across it: - I cannot recall
Rating: - ***** *****

One sentence summary:- Good things come in small packages and these 35 pages are some that I come back to time and again since I got it years ago; I love Eeyore and the choice of quotations from A.A.Milne and of the illustrations byE.H.Shepherd is excellent.

General comments:- A set of cynical comments from one of children's fiction's most loveable characters. A perfect little gift book for the pessimist in your life. , Eeyore's Gloomy Little Instruction Book is the very thing for those who see the glass as half-empty. In his lugubrious style, Eeyore offers wisdom of a gloomy nature on subjects ranging from food and friendship to what to do when one's tail is missing. Line drawings throughout.

I could quote the whole book, it is so delightful!
“This writing business – pencils and what-not – is overrated. Silly stuff. Nothing in it.”

AUTHOR Notes:- Joan Powers is also the author of Henny Penny (a read along with me book).

Sunday, 16 October 2011


Sadly I missed this challenge set by Words and Peace when it came out last December and have only just come across it. It has various levels:-
- 3 years = Toddler
- 5 years = Kid
- 10 years = Pre-Teen
- 15 years or more = YA

You have to choose one book per year and read it between 1st January and 31st December 2011.

(To find books published in a specific year, google: ‘Books published in… ‘, and you’ll find several links. The one Words and Peace and I prefer is the Goodreads’ ones: ‘Most popular books published in…’ The list displays 200 books, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry, drama, for each year. But be careful some are re-prints or new editions of older books.)
Since I’ve only got a couple of months in which to do it I shall merely go for ‘Kid’ level – to the age of five.

My five chosen books are:-

1949 – The Story of Language by Mario Andrew Pei
1950 – Fifth Chinese Daughter by Jade Snow Wong
1951 – An English Murder by Cyril Hare
1952 – Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
1953 – Ring for Jeeves by P G Wodehouse

(I read the last one in my teens and fancy having a bit of light reading to finish off the challenge – probably over Christmas!)

Wednesday, 12 October 2011


I'm going through the loft at the moment and among the hundreds of books up there are some with dedications in them.

These two, for example, celebrate quite significant friendships in the family. On the left is a little French dictionary which Dad gave to Uncle Eric during the War while Uncle Eric was serving abroad.

The dedication reads:- I hope you will be back before you can make good use of this dictionary. Morris. 16.3.43

On the right is an Apocrypha given to Mum. The dedication reads:-

A Simple Token January 5th 1953 for my Dear Friend Flora Edwards from John Dowd With great gratitude for the Special help she has given from time to time.

John Dowd was our next door neighbour and his wife was mentally unstable.  Mum gave him
 not only friendship but acted as a mediator in his stormy marriage.

The follwing dedication was in a Margery Lawrence book of Mum's.

Pixie was Mum and Fairy Queen was  a former office colleague of hers though which one I have forgotten (and nowadays have no way of finding out).

What does one do with books like this?  I have no use for an out-of-date (and tiny) French Dictionary or an Apocrypha or a novel I shall never read and yet to throw them away seems somehow sacrilegious. No doubt they'll go back in the loft...

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

REVIEW:- - Anthony TROLLOPE - “Orley Farm“

Year Published: - 1861/2 – initially serialised
Where the book was from:- Doewnloaded to my Kindle
Pages: - pp
Genre: - Victorian novel
Location:- England
How I came across it: - Reading the Trollopes I have not read before – in chronological order.
Rating: - ***** ****

One sentence summary:- Lady Mason inherited Orley Farm twenty years ago after a court case to decide upon her husband's will but history is now raising its ugly head again.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Lady Mason's son inherited Orley Farm from his father twenty years ago after a court case to decide upon her husband's will but history is now raising its ugly head again. The other claimant from the 20 year old court case has received evidence from a wily solicitor that while the will was genuine the codicil which gave Orley farm to his son was forged. Was it? And will the fact that Lady Mason is still attractive work in her favour or against her as friends support her unconditionally but her solicitor's wife gets jealous. Her son, now grown up, wants to take on all claimants in the most forceful way possible but Lady Mason would rather the whole affair went away.

General comments:- I just love Trollope's style and he rarely disappoints. I have come to think of him as a friend – both when in need and when simply wanting a quiet time of relaxation.
Although this novel appeared to have undersold (possibly because the shilling part was being overshadowed by magazines, such as 'The Cornhill', that offered a variety of stories and poems in each issue), Orley Farm became Trollope's personal favourite. The house in the book became a school, which was originally supposed to be the feeder school to Harros. This is called Orley Farm, Trollope having allowed it to be named after his book. (

Kindle Comment: -
I think this was the first book I read in its entirety on the Kindle. I downloaded the whole of Trollope's work for 99p. The contents page was easy to master and could be out in alphabetical or chronological order. I find it almost unbelievable that for less than a pound I have access to the complete Trollope! I enjoyed the reading experience and having downloaded my 'Highlights' onto the computer I found it easy to cut and paste the quotations I wanted for this review. As a result – and as a result of the quality of Trollope's imagery – there are a lot of quotations. The disadvantage of a Kindle edition is not being able to judge how long a book is. 'Locations' are the Kindle substitute for pages but I have yet to judge the length of a work by this means.


...... a good English gentleman-like resolve to hunt twice a week, look after his timber, and live well within his means.

She was plainly dressed, without any full exuberance of costume, and yet everything about her was neat and pretty, and everything had been the object of feminine care. A very plain dress may occasion as much study as the most elaborate, - and may be quite as worthy of the study it has caused. Lady Mason, I am inclined to think, was by no means indifferent to the subject, but then to her belonged the great art of hiding her artifice

They say that the pith of a lady's letter is in the postscript,

His nose--for I should do Mr. Kantwise injustice if I did not mention this feature--seemed to have been compressed almost into nothing by that skin-squeezing operation. It was long enough, taking the measurement down the bridge, and projected sufficiently, counting the distance from the upper lip; but it had all the properties of a line; it possessed length without breadth. There was nothing in it from side to side. If you essayed to pull it, your fingers would meet.

"But if success in life means rampaging about, and never knowing what it is to sit quiet over his own fireside, I for one would as soon manage to do without it."

….........young as he was, knew that the marital shoe was pinching the lady's domestic corn, and he made haste to change the subject.

"Ask them from me whether they know how to make coffee. It does not consist of an unlimited supply of lukewarm water poured over an infinitesimal proportion of chicory. That process, time-honoured in the hotel line, will not produce the beverage called coffee. Will you have the goodness to explain that in the bar as coming from me?"

"Think of him! Am I bound to have thought anything about him by this time?"
"Of course you are;--or at any rate of course you have. I have no doubt that you have composed in your own mind an essay on the character of everybody here. People who think at all always do."

Mr. Furnival was very wrong to swear; doubly wrong to swear before his wife; trebly wrong to swear before a lady visitor; but it must be confessed that there was provocation.

"I ask you to answer me fairly. Is not additional eating an ordinary Englishman's ordinary idea of Christmas-day?"
"I am only an ordinary Englishwoman and therefore cannot say. It is not my idea."
"I believe that the ceremony, as kept by us, is perpetuated by the butchers and beersellers, with a helping hand from the grocers. It is essentially a material festival; and I would not object to it even on that account if it were not so grievously overdone.”
(Wonderfully aposite to the present day as I write this in early autumn having seen a department store with its Christmas tree and decorations all aglow on 5th October.)

He wished that he knew the truth in the matter; or rather he wished he could know whether or no she were innocent, without knowing whether or no she were guilty.

The body dries up and withers away, and the bones grow old; the brain, too, becomes decrepit, as do the sight, the hearing, and the soul. But the heart that is tender once remains tender to the last.

(At the Hunt) - I know no place in which girls receive more worship and attention; but I am not sure but they may carry their enthusiasm too far for their own interests, let their horsemanship be as perfect as it may be.

Dance with a girl three times, and if you like the light of her eye and the tone of voice with which she, breathless, answers your little questions about horseflesh and music--about affairs masculine and feminine,--then take the leap in the dark. There is danger, no doubt; but the moulded wife is, I think, more dangerous.

“You couldn't have a better man than old Solomon Aram. But Solomon Aram is too far east from you, I suppose?"
"Isn't he a Jew?"
"Upon my word I don't know. He's an attorney, and that's enough for me.”

Lady Mason was rich with female charms, and she used them partly with the innocence of the dove, but partly also with the wisdom of the serpent.

(Not to be married -) "I mean any girl whose father is not a gentleman, and whose mother is not a lady; and of whose education among ladies you could not feel certain."

A man in talking to another man about women is always supposed to consider those belonging to himself as exempt from the incidents of the conversation. The dearest friends do not talk to each other about their sisters when they have once left school;

When Augustus told Graham that he had gifts of nature which made him equal to any lady, he did not include his own sister.

If young gentlemen, such as Augustus Staveley, are allowed to amuse themselves with young ladies, surely young ladies such as Miss Furnival should be allowed to play their own cards accordingly.

There be those who say that if a man be anything of a man, he can always insure obedience in his own household. He has the power of the purse and the power of the law; and if, having these, he goes to the wall, it must be because he is a poor creature. Those who so say have probably never tried the position.

Her idea of a woman's duties comprehended the birth, bringing up, education, and settlement in life of children, also due attendance upon a husband, with a close regard to his special taste in cookery.

And then he took it out again, and observed upon the cover the Hamworth post-mark, very clear. Post-marks now-a-days are very clear, and everybody may know whence a letter comes.
(Trollope spent his working life in the Post Office, reaching a fairly senior position before he was enabled to retire because of his authorial income.)

There is great doubt as to what may be the most enviable time of life with a man. I am inclined to think that it is at that period when his children have all been born but have not yet began to go astray or to vex him with disappointment; when his own pecuniary prospects are settled, and he knows pretty well what his tether will allow him; when the appetite is still good and the digestive organs at their full power; when he has ceased to care as to the length of his girdle, and before the doctor warns him against solid breakfasts and port wine after dinner; when his affectations are over and his infirmities have not yet come upon him; while he can still walk his ten miles, and feel some little pride in being able to do so; while he has still nerve to ride his horse to hounds, and can look with some scorn on the ignorance of younger men who have hardly yet learned that noble art. As regards men, this, I think, is the happiest time of life;
but who shall answer the question as regards women? In this respect their lot is more liable to disappointment. With the choicest flowers that blow the sweetest aroma of their perfection lasts but for a moment. The hour that sees them at their fullest glory sees also the beginning of their fall.

AUTHOR Notes:- Anthony Trollope (24 April 1815 – 6 December 1882) was one of the most successful, prolific and respected English novelists of the Victorian era. Some of his best-loved works, collectively known as the Chronicles of Barsetshire, revolve around the imaginary county of Barsetshire. He also wrote penetrating novels on political, social, and gender issues, and on other topical conflicts of his day.

Friday, 7 October 2011


I'm quite behind in entering my reviews – especially the books I've read on my Kindle. These include Trollope's Orley Farm and others by him and Wilkie Collins wonderful 'No Name'. “Real books” I have yet go review include Barchester Pilgrimage by Knox, George Eliot's Journals, and a few others. I am promising myself I shall get heir reviews done a.s.a.p.

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Review:- Muriel BARBERY – “Gourmet Rhapsody ”

Year Published: - 2000
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978-1-933372-95-2
Pages: - 156pp
Genre: - General Fiction
Location:- Paris
How I came across it: - Bought it because I enjoyed ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’ so much.
Rating: - *****

One sentence summary:- A great disappointment, nowhere up to the standard of ‘The Elegance of the Hedgehog’.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- It’s hard to describe the plot of this almost plotless little novel. A great food critic is dying. Reviled by some and revered by others the novel revolves around his search for a special flavour – one divine taste of excellence.

General comments:- Perhaps of interest to culinary experts it describes a variety of flavours as the supercilious Arthens thinks over his experiences. If the comments on the web about the excellence of this little book are to be believed I have obviously missed something somewhere!

Quotations:- What is writing, no matter how lavish the pieces, if it says nothing of the truth, cares little for the heart, and is merely subservient to the pleasure of showing one’s brilliance?

AUTHOR Notes:- Muriel Barbery was born in 1969. Barbery entered the École Normale Supérieure de Fontenay-Saint-Cloud in 1990 and obtained her agrégation in philosophy in 1993. She then taught philosophy at the Université de Bourgogne, in a lycée, and at the Saint-Lô IUFM (teacher training college). L'Élégance du hérisson was her second novel. The first, Une Gourmandise, which appeared in Anderson's English translation as Gourmet Rhapsody in 2009 also briefly featured Renee. L'Élégance du hérisson (translated into English by Alison Anderson as The Elegance of the Hedgehog) topped the French best-seller lists for 30 consecutive weeks and was reprinted 50 times. It has sold over 2 million copies.

Friday, 30 September 2011

Review:- David DICKINSON – “Death and the Jubilee ”

Year Published: - 2003
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 1-84119-584-7
Pages: - 344pp
Genre: - Historical Fiction
Location:- Victorian England – 1896/7
How I came across it: - Bought it so as to read all the series
Rating: - ***** ***

One sentence summary:- The second of the Lord Francis Powerscourt novels and a rattling good cosy historical crime.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- London is preparing for Victoria’s Jubilee but the Germans are and Irish are planning surprises. When a headless corpse is discovered in the Thames Lord Francis Powerscourt is called in to investigate in this second novel of the series.

General comments:- A fairly standard and slightly predictable Powerscourt mystery but it would probably have been better if I had read the series in order.

Quotations:- There is a lovely line which laughs at modern government policy – bearing in mind it was written in 2003 or earlier, before the government rescue of RBS etc. – it is the PM speaking:
“It is not and cannot be the business of government to bail out financial concerns whose imprudence or wickedness has left them unable to meet their obligations. I do not need to tell you, Rosebery, the outcry that would erupt in the House of Commons if members felt that taxpayers’ money was being used for these purposes.’

AUTHOR Notes:- David Dickinson was born in Dublin. After receiving a first class honours degree in Classics from Cambridge he joined the BBC where he became editor of Newsnight and Panorama as well as being series editor on Monarchy, a three part programme on the current state and future prospects of the British royal family. David now lives in Barnes, South West London, Somerset or France according to which source you read!

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Review:- Hilary MANTEL – “Wolf Hall ”

Year Published: - 2009 (Man Booker Prize Winner 2009)
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978-0-00-723020-4
Pages: - 650pp
Genre: - Historical Fiction
Location:- England – Henry VII
I’s reign
How I came across it: -  I decided to read some of the Booker Prize winners
Rating: - ***** ***
One sentence summary:- When The Times called it ‘The most gripping story you’ll ever read’  they lied but it is a passable historical novel.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- The story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell from a low-born boy to the most influential man in Henry VIII’s England. 

General comments:- Wolf Hall is by no means the best historical novel I have read and the reason for its Booker Prize I have yet to fathom out.  

 In particular I really dislike Hilary Mantel’s use of the word ‘He’.  I was taught that ‘he’ referred to the last male mentioned.  Sometimes Hilary obeys that rule but equally frequently she uses it to refer to Cromwell even if he wasn’t the last person mentioned.  It’s so confusing and whilst it may be a clever style it’s so difficult to follow at times that one has to re-read a paragraph to understand who the ‘He’ is.  That may seem like a petty thing but when it goes from start to finish it’s very off-putting.  Here’s an example –

Walter wipes his mouth. ‘How long?’
Madoc says, ‘God knows. Those fuckers can fly.’
He straightens up.  Into his hand has floated a four-pound hammer.

Has the hammer been picked up by Madoc or Thomas Cromwell.  (Only later when there is reference back to this moment do we learn it was Cromwell.)

A page earlier we have Behind Henry’s back, Gardiner makes a Gargoyle face at him.  Is ‘him’ Henry or Cromwell. 

There are two ‘he’s in this paragraph – the first relates to Francis Bryan (the man most recently mentioned) and the second to Cromwell;-
‘Why not go back?’ Risking dangerous slippage, he throws his hands out. ‘Which of the city wives is waiting for you? Do you have one for each of the twelve days of Christmas?’ He almost laughs, till Bryan adds, ‘Don’t you sectaries hold your women in common?’

 The storyline is well researched and I learned a lot about Henry and his relationship with Katherine and Anne Boleyn – which is far as the story goes.  That is another quibble I have with it – it doesn’t really finish in my view.

All in all I preferred 'Flud' though this gets an extra star for its research and historical interest.

Quotations:-  The hunting season – or at least, the season when the king hunts every day – will soon be over. Whatever is happening elsewhere, whatever deceits and frustrations, you can forget them in the field.  The hunter is among the most innocent of men; living in the moment makes him feel pure.  When he returns in the evening, his body aches, his mind is full of pictures of leaves and sky; he does not want to read documents.  His miseries, his perplexities have receded, and they will stay away, provided – after food and wine, laughter and exchange of stories – he gets up at dawn to do it all over again.

She turns her head away, but through the thin film of her veil he can see her skin glow.  Because women will coax: tell me, just tell me something, tell me your thoughts; and this he has done.

My husband used to say, lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning, and when you come back that night he’ll be sitting on a plush cushion eating larks’ tongues, and all the gaolers will owe him money.

Hilary Mantel CBE (born Hilary Thompson) was born in Hadfield, Derbyshire, in 1952 and spent her early years at the same village school as her mother and grandmother. She then went to a Cheshire convent school (which obviously gave her much material for ‘Fludd’), the LSE and Sheffield University. She lived in Africa and the Middle East for ten years and published her first novel ‘Every Day is Mother’s Day’ in 1985.