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:- AndrĂ© 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.