Saturday, 16 July 2011

Review:- David DICKINSON – “Death on the Nevskii Prospekt”

Year Published: - 2006
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: - 9781845296711
Pages: - -pp
Genre: - Historical Crime
Location:- St Petersburg 1906
How I came across it: - Continuing the series
Rating: - ***** ****

One sentence summary:- Another in the fine Dickinson tradition of mixing the real atmosphere of the place and time with a rollicking good mystery.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Lord Francis Powerscourt has been retired for a while at the request of Lady Lucy who wasn't happy seeing him so nearly killed last time out. He needs no coaxing out of his retirement once Lady Lucy is convinced of the error of her weays and Powerscourt heads for St. Petersburg, where a British diplomat has been discovered dead on a bridge spanning Nevskii Prospekt. It would seem the man knew a secret — and it proved fatal. As Powerscourt paces the Winter Palace and ponders the mystery, other matters press in on him. With Russia on the brink of revolution, he must make his escape, before time runs out on him too.

General comments:- The sixth in the series. I am currently reading Death of a Pilgrim and then only have Death of a Wine Merchant and Death and the Jubilee to read. I’ve ordered these two from Abebooks having been unable to get Death and the Jubilee via the library.

Quotations:- (Took back to library before remembering to copy them out)

:- see Death on a Holy Mountain

Missing quartet

Notwitstanding my efforts to keep a complete list of books read, I've found that I have missed at least four books from my list of books read earlier in the year:-

Mary Elizabeth Braddon "The Doctor's Wife" ***** ***
Margaret Oliphant "Miss Marjoribanks" ***** *****
Margaret Oliphant "Hester" ***** ***
Michael MacIlwee – "The Gangs of Liverpool" ***** *

Having smacked myself across the knuckles with a spoon I am resolved to be more diligent in the future.

Friday, 15 July 2011

Review:- David Verey (Ed) – “The Diary of a Victorian Squire”

Year Published: - 1983
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 0 86299 055 6
Pages: - 242pp
Genre: - Non-fiction – Victorian Diary
Location:- Gloucestershire, Leeds et al
How I came across it: - Part of my diary collection
Rating: - ***** *****

One sentence summary:- Even had Victoriana and diaries not been of particular interest these extracts from the diaries of Dearman Birchall and the letters of his wife, Emily, would have rated very highly as an excellent diary with most days being succinct but interesting.

General comments:- Dearman Birchall was a Quaker cloth merchant from Leeds who bought a country house in Gloucestershire and became integrated into the local squierarchy. He pursued the fashionable life, spent the season in London and wintered abroad. The diaries go from 1865 to 1898 and we get glimpses of the servant problem, the pleasures of tricycling, Emily’s letters from their six-month honeymoon abroad, and the whole panoply of upper middle class Victorian life.

It is unusual to have the advantage of the diary of one partner and the letters of the other to give a broad perspective to the events of an era. David Verey, Dearman’s grandson, is to be congratulated on the choice of extracts and on making his introduction and comments brief but informative.

I have a whole collection of quotes from Dearman’s diaries. Far too many to put in here, suffice it to say it is eminently quotable.

- David Verey is the grandson of the Birchalls.

Thursday, 14 July 2011

Review:- Jim KELLY – “The Water Clock”

Year Published: - 2002
Where the book was from:- My own – ex-library
ISBN: - 9 780141 009339
Pages: - 313pp
Genre: - Crime
Location:- Cambridgeshire Fens
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - *****

One sentence summary:- An atmospheric crime thriller in which forensic evidence links a modern murderer body from a car winched from a frozen river and a corpse from the 1960s.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- The setting is bleak and snowbound and the characterisation quite good as local reporter Philip Dryden investigates the link between a body discovered in a frozen river and a corpse of an apparent suicide found near the top of Ely Cathedral as refurbishment work is undertaken.

General comments:- Enjoyable and kept me interested but the villain was slightly predictable.
This was the first of a Philip Dryden series
1. The Water Clock (2002)
2. The Fire Baby (2004)
3. The Moon Tunnel (2005)
4. The Coldest Blood (2006)
5. The Skeleton Man (2007)

Kathy invaded his personal space – on Dryden’s case as area slightly smaller than Norfolk.
The town was insular and insulated. A multicultural event in the Fens was a phone call from London.

AUTHOR Notes:- Jim Kelly is a British author born in 1957.

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Review:- William Bryant LOGAN – “Oak – The Frame of Civilization”

Year Published: - 2005
Where the book was from:- Borrowed from Helen
ISBN: - 0 393 047773 3
Pages: - 335pp
Genre: - Non-Fiction -
How I came across it: - Suggested by Helen
Rating: - ***** **

One sentence summary:- Ink, ships, bread, works of art, houses, swords, saddles and a wide variety of other things have at some time had their origins in the oak tree and this book traces the relationship between the Oak tree and humans.

General comments:-
A fascinating and highly enjoyable account from which I learned a lot. I had not, for example, appreciated that acorns were probably the staple food of many early cultures.


…What is special about oaks?... ‘Nothing’ … oaks never overspecialized… . The persistent, the common, the various, the adaptable has value in itself. The oak’s distinction is its insistence and its flexibility. It specializes in not specializing.

Since the glaciers last retreated… there have been but two versions of the world: the world made with wood and the world made with coal and oil. One lasted twelve to fifteen millennia; the other has lasted about 250 years so far.

To discover the world that made us, look at what it has left us – half-timbered houses; Leonardo da Vinci’s drawings executed in oak gall ink; Viking Age oaken ships buried with the dead; Bronze Age oak log coffins; ancient barrels, casks, vats, and tuns; wine corks and truffles; fossil leaves from thirty million years ago that just might be from the first oaks; layers and layers of what botanists call “pollen rain”; living oaks over five hundred years old and the black hulks of oaks that drowned beneath the rising seas ten thousand years ago, trees that don’t have even a branch until ninety feet up the trunk.

AUTHOR Notes:- William Bryant Logan is a certified arborist and the author of three books, including ‘Dirt: The Ecstatic Skin of Earth’ which has been made into a feature documentary.

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Review:- Ian Irvine – “A Shadow on the Glass”

Year Published: - 1998
Where the book was from:- My own copy – ex-library
ISBN: - 1 841 49 003 2
Pages: -572 pp
Genre: - Fantasy
Location:- Fantasy
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** *

One sentence summary:- The first part of ‘The View from the Mirror’ involving the peoples of three worlds and the balance between them.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Karan, a sensitive with a troubled past, is forced to steal an ancient relic in payment for a debt. When chased across country she is befriended by a brilliant chronicler, Lliam, who has been expelled from his college for uncovering a perilous mystery.

General comments:-
Whilst I enjoyed it I’m not sure I shall bother with the rest of the View from the Mirror series -
1. A Shadow on the Glass (1998)
2. The Tower On the Rift (1998)
3. Dark is the Moon (1999)
4. The Way Between the Worlds (1999)


AUTHOR Notes:- Ian Irvine is an Australian born author, born 1950.

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Review:- Khaled HOSSEINI – “The Kite Runner”

Year Published: - 2003
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978 0 7475 6653 3
Pages: - 324pp
Genre: - General Fiction
Location:- Afghanistan / Pakistan / USA
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** *****

One sentence summary:-
An unforgettable novel of 1970s Afghanistan setting the adventures of a young boy against the background of a rapidly changing environment.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Twelve year old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting contest and he and his loyal friend – his father’s servant’s son – look set to have a good chance. But that afternoon their lives are totally changed by an event that happens to Hassan. After the Russians invade Amir’s family flees to the US only to return under the rule of the Taliban to find redemption for what he did that afternoon many years earlier.

General comments:- One of the lessons I learned from this novel was the answer to a question I have often posed. How is it that people who welcome one regime one minute can end up on the streets demonstrating a change of regime in net to no time. I have always thought it was a bit fickle of ‘the masses’. But this story made me realise it is not that the populace is fickle but that its hopefulness always exceeds what the changed regime delivers.


I became what I am today at the age of twelve, on a frigid overcast day in the winter of 1975. I remember the precise moment, crouching behind a crumbling mud wall, peeking into the alley…

“Ah a storyteller,” the General said. “Well people need stories to divert them at difficult times like this.”

It may be unfair, but what happens in a few days, sometimes even a single day, can change the course of a whole lifetime.

We’re a melancholic people, we Afghan, aren’t we? Often, we wallow too much in ghamkhorio and self-pity. We give in to loss, to suffering, accept it as a fact of life, even see it as necessary. Zendagi migzara, we say, life goes on.

AUTHOR Notes:- Khaled HOSSEINI was born in Afghanistan in 1965 and his family received political asylum in the USA in 1980. He is a doctor and lives in California. The Kite Runner was his first novel.

Currently Reading

Having seen the sidebars of some of the other book blogs I decided to put in a picture of the book I am currently reading. I have mentioned before how I tend to have more than one book on the go but it was only when I went to get images for my ‘current reads’ that I realised how out of hand this has got. I have fifteen books on the go. And that is not counting the three on the Kindle and a few others that have found their way back on to my bookshelves with bookmarks in them, waiting to be finished some undefined day in the future. I’m not putting thirteen pictures down the side bar and I can’t see myself changing the sidebar every day or so as my books are finished or change so I’ll simply put the main one(s).

Just out of interest, here are the fifteen.  I wonder if some of them would appear on a similar list in a year's time?

Saturday, 9 July 2011

Review:- Thomas HARDY – “A Pair of Blue Eyes ”

Year Published: - 1873
Where the book was from:- My own copy
ISBN: - 978-1-85326-277-7
Pages: - 305pp
Genre: - General Fiction – Victorian Romance
Location:- The West Country
How I came across it: - Serendipity
Rating: - ***** ****

One sentence summary:- A wonderful Victorian romance set in Cornwall with the standard love triangle plot enhanced by some bits of drama and a variety of quotable sections.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Eflride Swancourt, a pretty and innocent Rector’s daughter in a remote West Country parish, is courted by a ypouing and naive visiting architect. Having secretly engaged herself to him (because her father disapproves of his low origins) she then meets his friend and mentor, a writer and intellectual, and falls in love with him.

At one stage one of the characters is left hanging over the edge of a cliff for a couple of chapters leading to the use of the phrase ‘cliff-hanger’ for such dramatic episodes in Victorian (and subsequent) literature.

Unusually, in my experience, one’s sympathies do not automatically sit with one of the suitors but alternate back and forth as the story progresses.

General comments:- This was the first of Hardy’s novels to be published in his name – His previous two (Desperate Remedies and Under the Greenwood Tree) having been published anonymously.

The novel was created at a time when Hardy was torn between his career as an architect and his desire to change his metier to that of writer (particularly poet) and was therefore of considerable significance in his history.

Twenty years later Hardy was to describe ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’ as being immature but admitted any attempt to re-write it, even were that possible, would lose it its freshness. In my view its freshness is its charm and what makes it one of his best works. It lacks much of the deep sombre thinking of his later works.

The Cover
I wonder how many books we read or reject because of the cover? This is the second copy of ‘A Pair of Blue Eyes’ I have owned; the first got sent to a charity shop after years of sitting unread ion my shelf. I’m sure the cover had something to do with it.

Mine – the Wordsworth edition – has a beautifully crafted cover by Robert Mathias using ‘The Seashore’, an oil on canvas by William Henry Margetson (1861-1940).

Some of the other editions have had covers which are nowhere near as attractive and/or fail to summon up the atmosphere of the book. My previous one was the Pengui Classics edition with the black and white picture of a girl’s face – a girl who was too old and battered to be the heroine and too young to be the villainous grieving neighbour (the only other woman with a substantial role in the book).

It is worth noting that the other Penguin Classics edition – with the girl and dog looking out over the sea - whilst quite attractive is inaccurate, there being no dog in the book. (Though Elfrida does look out to see from the cliffs with both her lovers). I do like the cover to have some semblance of reflecting the plot.


Every woman who makes a permanent impression on a man is usually recalled to his mind’s eye as she appeared in one particular scene, which seems ordained to be her special form of manifestation throughout the pages of his memory. As the patron Saint has her attitude and accessories in medieval illumination, so the sweetheart may be said to have hers upon the table of her true Love’s fancy, without which she is rarely introduced there except by effort; and this though she may. On further acquaintance, have been observed in many other phases which one would imagine to be far more appropriate to love’s young dream.

“Mamma can’t play with us so nicely as you do. I don’t think she ever learnt playing when she was little.”

I have learnt the language of her illegitimate sister – artificiality; and the fibbing of eyes, the contempt of nose-tips, the indignation of back hair, the laughter of clothes, the cynicism of footsteps, and the various emotions lying in walking-stick twirls, hat-liftings, the elevation of parasols, the carriage of umbrellas, become as ABC to me.

Probably there cannot be instanced a briefer and surer rule-of-thumb test of man’s temperament – sanguine or cautious that this: did he or does he ante-date the word wife in corresponding with a sweetheart he honestly loves?

In truth, the essayist’s experience of the nature of young women was far less extensive than his abstract knowledge of them led himself and others to believe. He could pack them into sentences like a workman, but practically was nowhere.

(on earrings)- Not if they were like the ordinary hideous things women stuff their ears with nowadays – like the governor of a steam-engine, or a pair of scales, or gold gibbets and chains, and artists’ palettes, and compensation pendulums, and Heaven knows what besides.”

It was to him a gentle innocent time – a time which, though there may not be much in it, seldom repeats itself in a man’s life, and has a peculiar dearness when glanced at retrospectively.

To such girls poverty may not be, as to the more worldly masses of humanity, a sin in itself; but it is a sin, because graceful and dainty manners seldom exist in such an atmosphere.

Bravery is only obtuseness to the perception of contingencies.

AUTHOR Notes:- Thomas Hardy, OM (2 June 1840 – 11 January 1928) regarded himself primarily as a poet who composed novels His novels were written mainly for financial gain, his poems for pleasure and satisfaction. During his lifetime he was much better known for his novels, such as Tess of the d'Urbervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd, which earned him a reputation as a great novelist. The bulk of his fictional works, initially published as serials in magazines, were set in the semi-fictional land of Wessex (based on the Dorchester region where he grew up) and explored tragic characters struggling against their passions and social circumstances.

Even though Hardy's poetry, first published in his fifties, has come to be as well regarded as his novels and has had a significant influence over modern English poetry since the 1950s it remains less famous than his novels.

P.S. Looking for cover illustrations led me to a book blog I haven’t visited before – Words and Peace. Most enjoyable and worth a visit.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Review:- Susanna GREGORY – “The Body in the Thames”

Year Published: - 2011
Where the book was from:- Pensby Library
ISBN: - 978 1 84744 253 6
Pages: - 468pp
Genre: - Historical Crime
Location:- Londond, 1664
How I came across it: - On the new crime books shelf
Rating: - ***** *

One sentence summary:- In the hot summer of 1664 a Dutch delegation is in London to treat for peace with England but when one of their number is murdered the talks look set to falter.

Describe the plot without giving anything away:- Thomas Chaloner, spy for the Earl of Clarendon, has just returned from abroad in time to get married but he is less than amused when a man is murdered during the wedding service. On the broader stage, the problems of Restoration England might recede into the background if the country were to go to war with the Dutch who are seen by the majority of Londoners as taking much needed trade from the country. When a Dutch delegation comes to sue for continued peace one of their number is murdered. Thomas Chaloner is set the task of finding his killer. For Chaloner it’s not just a job but a personal matter – the dead man was his brother-in-law.

General comments:-
I much prefer Susanna Gregory’s Mathew Bartholemew series (set in the mid fourteenth century) to the Thomas Chaloner one.

- see A Plague on Both your Houses

Saturday, 2 July 2011

We Love This Book

We Love This Book

It's not often I put the same posting on more than one of my blogs but this deserves it so I've put it on both Rambles from my Chair and  A Book Every Six Days.

If you live in the UK and have £8.95 to spare I strongly recommend you invest it in a year’s subscription to this new quarterly magazine (The Launch Issue can be picked up free at some booksellers). For the price of about four or five Sunday Newspapers you get a tremendous new magazine which contains reviews, a short story, feature articles, and just about everything bookish.  Even the adverts are interesting.

Mind you, the Launch Issue has already made me add lots of books to my Amazon wishlist so perhaps it’s going to work out a lot more expensive than the £8.95 !

I also noticed a load of books that other members of the family might be interested to know about.  Daughter-who-takes-photos and Friend-who-loves-otters might like to see if Alice Hart’s book ‘Vegetarian’ is in the library.  It has 141 recipes celebrating fresh seasonal ingredients and the magazine shows one of the recipes as an example. They may also like to be aware that ‘Map of a Nation’, a biography of the Ordnance Survey by Rachel Hewett is now available in paperback.

In view of their intention of having clucky things in the garden, Food-loving-daughter and Son-in-law-who-cooks might be interested to know that in August there will be a book called ‘Keeping Chickens for Dummies’ published (authors Pammy Riggs, et al).  The magazine even has ten tips for healthy chickens!  Food-loving-daughter may also enjoy the article on Forensic Fiction in the launch issue while Son-in-law-who-cooks might like to check out the book ‘Free Radicals’ by Michael Brooks..

Brother-who-blogs will be pleased to hear there is a new 44 Scotland Street novel out by Alexander McCall Smith in August – ‘Bertie plays the blues’. ‘Precious and the Monkeys’ by the same author is described as a charming book for all ages and is also to appear in August while September sees an addition to his Isabel Dalhousie series -  ‘The Forgotten Affairs of Youth’.

Partner-who-loves-tea should enjoy the sociology book ‘Join the Club’, a look at groups and the influence of peer pressure, by Tina Rosenberg. ‘The Psychopath Test’ by Jon Ronson also looks to be her sort of book but I need to be careful how I word that.  I’m not suggesting Jo needs to take it but some of her clients might!  It concerned me a little that this “entertaining, wry and insightful commentary on the ‘madness industry’” was listed under humour!

Having read the reviews I’ve added the following to my ‘to-be-read’ list:-
Kate Summerscale ‘The Suspicions of Mr Whicher’ (A Victorian crime novel so of especial interest to me).
David Nicholl ‘One Day’
Mark Twain 'Letters from Earth' (already bought for my Kindle)
Vanessa Diffenbaugh ‘The Language of Flowers’
Rebecca Makkai ‘The Borrower’
Hari Kunzru ‘Gods without Men’
Emma Donoghue ‘Room’
Shirley McKay ‘Time and Tide’
Tom Holt ‘Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages’ (with a title like that it had to be a Tom Holt book!)
Charles Stross ‘Rule 34’
Ryan David Jahn ‘The Dispatcher’
Benjamin Black ‘A Death in Summer’
Lynn Knight ‘Lemon Sherbert and Dolly Blue’