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.