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.