Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Ordinary Tale of Captain Love by Padraig De Brún

The next book I am going to talk about is The Ordinary Tale of Captain Love, not yet published but fresh from the pen, and written by the co-owner of Pilchard Books (my husband). You will need to read the book to find out the significance of this picture.

I had already posted a review about The Ordinary Tale of Captain Love, but I didn't do it justice, mainly because I was worried I would be accused of bias. But so what? The author is my husband, and I have just finished, this, his third novel, as yet unpublished, and I feel really excited and proud. I am quite fussy about books, and if they don't grip me, I am very shallow and move on to something more gripping. This was not the case with this tale. I struggled to put it down. My main concern with this story, and I say this very carefully, is that it might not suit the audience that likes the Richard and Judy or Oprah book recommendations, and so it might be tricky finding a publisher. However, a recent event has made me realise that there is a strong possibility that I am wrong.

A couple of weeks ago we attended an event organised by the School of Creative Startups, and the first session was a debate about the Business of Books. We actually went because I thought it was going to be about bookshops, but it was more about authors, agents, and the publishing industry. It was very interesting, but one thing that stood out for me was that publishers are looking for that something different, special. And that's when I realised that that is exactly what my husband has. It is a very creative and unusual story, with twists and turns into the lives of a range of unique characters. Although William is the main character, there are several other fabulous characters, including two policeman, who remind me of the two policemen in Much Ado About Nothing. This story has everything: unexpected death, celebrity scandals, genuine love, cultish religions, adventure in the form of a young girl seeking love from a weak manipulator, and very strong and believable characters, my favourite being Bertie, the misunderstood creative writing tutor, who has made his success via dark pirate stories. This book does have some controversial moments, such as the debate over the character of Bertie, and the cruel treatment of Sophie by David, but there are some characters who you will really treasure. It is a really good read, and a genuinely creative tale.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Man of My Dreams - Curtis Sittenfeld

This is the second time that I have read The Man of My Dreams by Curtis Sittenfeld, and this blog is an adaptation of my original blog post on my earlier blog, Bibliolic. I have read a couple of the author's other books, Prep and American Wife, both of which are so different, they could have been written by different people. This book was written after Prep, and they are quite similar, in that they focus on youth and growing up. Prep is set in a boarding school, while The Man of My Dreams focuses on the life of a girl who together with her Mum and sister has faced domestic abuse, with her father throwing them out of their house after years of bullying. The story describes her relationships as she grows into adulthood, and her visits to a therapist because she believes she has issues. She feels that everyone else is functional and she is the one who is the problem, but that is not always the case, as she eventually discovers. Her relationship with her Dad remains poor throughout, and this has an effect on her relationships with men and her very low self-esteem. She seems to pick totally unsuitable men, perhaps because she is not ready for a relationship.The main character, Hannah, is quite frustrating sometimes, and often you just want to give her a shake and say, "Why are you like this?" but of course she has her reasons, and also she is quite young and naive. The last section brings everything together, and reminded me exactly why I really like this book.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wonderboys - Michael Chabon - A Review by Caroline

The Sunday Times were offering Waterstones vouchers enabling you to choose from a different title every week and buy it for 99p. I bought Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon. I absolutely love the film, and I am delighted to say that it was pretty true to the book. The story focuses around a published author who has been writing his next best-seller for the past seven years, while spending most of that time stoned, teaching, and getting married or having affairs. It got a little bit lost in the middle, but it was actually really good to read. I have to admit the film version of Grady Tripp was far more tolerable than the book version, but Crabtree remains the same in both. At one point, I really didn't like Grady in the book, and I did wonder why I was reading the book, but I was determined to persevere, and as it came to the end when everything came together, I found that I had discovered a new and interesting author. I also enjoyed the way the author focused so much on the skill of writing. Anyway, I shall be checking out some of his other books in the future.

Wonderboys - Michael Chabon - A Review by Padraig

This book came as a recommendation.  It also sat on our bookshelves for several years, calling out occasionally: 'read me; go on, read me; you'll enjoy it.'  So I did.  And in fairness the opening pages, even the first night's read, filled me with a familiar jealousy - Chabon can describe the minutiae of detail deliciously.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, that experience then ended, and what came next was a determined trawl through a book that had all the dramatic tension of drying paint - drying paint with some self-indulgent self-disgust thrown in for laughs.

Anyway, the blurb and credits told me that Wonderboys is hilarious; so if you like Chabon's humour, go for it.  Personally, I shall leave Chabon on the shelves, occasionally calling to me, for some time to come.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Murder is Easy - Agatha Christie

Please look away now if you are easily offended.  The following sentences make some anachronistic reference to cats.

One of the things that I like about Agatha Christie, a quality that means that I have moved straight on to a new Christie novel, is that she was writing from a different age.  Her social comments then - for example, the tensions between different generations, give us some sense of how things have, and have not changed.

What stood out for me - as a lover of language - is the use of pussy, or 'old pussy' to describe the ageing spinster women in the village of Wychwood.  The phrase is somewhat pejorative; it describes single women who are gossips, inclined to be fanciful and likely to have a cat as their closest companion.  Christie uses the word with a casual affection, however; and her 'old pussies', as Miss Marple, or Miss Pinkerton in this case, ably demonstrate, are generally underestimated - they are the ones who solve the crime.

Which, of course, is what I didn't do.  I knew who the killer was from the first moment I met the character.  Then, having followed a narrative that introduced a range of other plausible suspects, my suspicions were confirmed - my chosen suspect was the one.  Christie, however, simply toys with her readers - me as well.  She allowed me a few pages of I knew I was right smugness before she upended the novel and showed me that I was wrong all along.  Well done you 'old pussy'

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Michael Crichton, writing as John Lange

I am a huge fan of Michael Crichton, although I preferred his older books (Andromeda Strain, Timeline, The First Great Train Robbery, Congo, Jurassic Park, Sphere) to his newer ones (Rising Son, Disclosure). I suppose it was the fantasy and creative elements of the early ones; they really challenged the imagination. I remember the twist in Jurassic Park (the book, not the film), which was so fantastic. I was such a fan, that I even read his autobiography, Travels, which was so brilliant, that bizarrely, I left a few pages unread, because I didn't want it to end. Michael Crichton seems to have been a remarkable man. So, you can imagine my delight, when I discovered that he had also written under a pseudonym! John Lange, recently republished by Hard Case Crime, and written in the late 60s early 70s, when he was a student at Harvard Medical School. He wrote eight books in six years. I have just read two of them, and although slightly raw in places, they were both fantastic, and as exciting and creative as all of his books. They were both proper action adventure stories, with a tiny little bit of romance thrown in.

Easy Go is about an illegal archaeological dig, looking for the last tomb, and it is brilliant, from the fabulous characters to the history and knowledge conveyed about the tombs in Egypt, to the amazing twist at the end.

Grave Descend is set in Jamaica, and focuses on a diver, who is recruited to bring up some treasure from a boat that has recently sunk. It is a complicated story, involving wartime treasure transported by boat to Jamaica, followed by the Sicilian mafia. I can't tell you what happens to the treasure, but it is a very exciting finish. I particularly liked reading about the diving at night experience, and also the walk through the jungle area. Great descriptions in both books, making me gasp when there was a scare! If you are a fan of Samuel Johnson (often referred to as Dr Johnson), there are some nice quotes throughout the book too.

The books are a little bit sexist perhaps, particularly the front covers, but that is understandable, given when they were written. Both of these books are real page turners, easy to read, interesting, and full of adventure, quite in the style of James Bond, but with the heroes a little more rugged, like Indiana Jones. I can't wait to read the rest of them now. Are there any other Michael Crichton fans out there? Which ones are your favourites?

Geek fact of the day: One of my favourite films is Hackers (great film, great soundtrack), and one of the characters is called Zero Cool, which is also the name of one of the books in this series!

Friday, April 4, 2014

Switched - Amanda Hocking

If you liked Twilight, then you may like this. Even if you didn't like Twilight, then you may still like this. It is a fantasy story, with action, romance, and food for thought, as it is different and well thought out. It is about trolls (not the ugly ones we hear about in Lord of the Rings and the Billy Goats Gruff), and changelings. The trolls swap their children with children in the outside world who come from rich families and therefore will inherit, and then collect them when they are grown up so that they can use their Trust funds to support the troll community. There are different classes of trolls, which is where the romantic problems arise, when the princess troll falls in love with one of the lower-class trolls. The trolls have lots of quirks, and are similar to the vampires of Twilight as they too have individual powers. Amanda Hocking, the author, self-published her first book and it has become a bestseller. This is the first in a trilogy, and I have enjoyed all of them, and am reading them. I was going to go on to the next one in the series, but I have just discovered that when Michael Crichton (author of Jurassic Park and The First Great Train Robbery) was a medical student, he wrote under different names, so I have discovered some more of his books written in the 60s/70s, and I am really enjoying them. I will let you know how I get on in my next post, and I will for certain come back to the Trylle trilogy by Ms Hocking.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - C.S.Lewis

Some people will say that there's a problem when Peter gets to kill a villainous wolf, stabbing it with his sword so that it is covered with blood and hairs.  Susan and Lucy, meanwhile, get to weep over a dead Aslan, or play nurse to wounded soldiers.  Such anachronisms aside, however - and there are others who will argue that men should not kill either, should rather take on some peace-time nurturing qualities - this is a delicious book, teaching us how important it is to be honest and kind and fun-loving.  I recommend it then; and now that I am out of the wardrobe, I might try to get back in sometime.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

The Future Homemakers of America - Laurie Graham

Laurie Graham's books are wonderful. Always such a pleasure to read, and descriptions, so completely unexpected, such as in this one, instructions for how to cook an eel, caught in the Norfolk Fens, on a barbecue, alongside recipes for Fried Squirrel, and, more to my best, Betty's Best Ever Brownies.

However, recipes are not the main focus of this story. It is about strong friendships across continents, new experiences, differences in lifestyles. It tells the tale of the wives of American airforce men, based in Norfolk and trying to fit in with the locals, and how they eventually build a very special friendship with a particular couple and how this friendship is sustained through relocation, transport developments, and bravery. They see the funeral cortege of the King of England, and then celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II. But they also focus on more personal issues, such as hereditary medical illnesses and how they are managed during these times.

It is very moving in some places, and hilarious in others. The passages about the Americans' rich way of life compared to the spartan provisions available to the English during ration times are so interesting, and the animosity facing the Americans, quite sad at times.

I really like Laurie Graham's books because they are about people you can really believe in. Real people. Another one by her, The Importance of Being a Kennedy, is about a nanny from County Meath in Ireland who becomes nanny to the Kennedy children in America, and again it has great scenes describing the differences between the two cultures, and gives a very personal feel to the the Kennedy family.

These are not stories of adventure and mystery, but of real people and real lives. They are fascinating, interesting, and just a complete pleasure to read. If you like books by Fannie Flagg (another one of my favourites), then you might like these too.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

The Magician's Nephew - C.S.Lewis

The pleasure of this book was enough to take me on to the second one, so the recommendation is already there.  It is well-written, as you would expect, simple language, well-constructed.  It is also politically incorrect - for republicans at least - favouring a world of royalty and a clear segregation between the ruling and the ruled classes.  What I noticed, to my surprise, is the similarities - without the cruelties - to The Island of Dr Moreau (H.G.Wells).  The animals talk, some of them at least, and they take on human qualities - one of the concerns for Aslan is that they will slip back into their animal ways.  Anyway, to return to the beginning, I recommend this book.  If you haven't read it, you're missing out.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

True Grit - Charles Portis

This came as a recommendation.  I had also seen the John Wayne film - I have since seen the re-make.  It opens as a revelation; the blurb suggests echoes of Mark Twain, but I was reminded of Harper Lee - To Kill a Mockingbird.  The heroine is young, fresh, direct and innocent.  She has a lively style to match - plenty of small-town wisdoms and original political/religious comment.  The ending is disappointing, however.  Having spent half the book preparing Mattie Ross, a fourteen year old girl, for her journey into Indian territory with Rooster Cogburn - a True Grit Deputy Marshall, Portis seems to tire of the story.  We rush through the details then - all the killings and survivals - at a helter skelter pace, and lose most of the slow adventure of the build-up.  I finished it nonetheless, and would recommend the book - if only for the
first hundred pages.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pilchard Books - our shop sign is almost ready!

“Pilchards! Whose bodies yield the fragrant oil and make the London lamps at midnight smile!” 

Peter Pindar 1783 via National Maritime Museum of Cornwall 

We have commissioned Paul Wilmott, a fabulous artist from the Lake District, and a wonderful friend, to paint the sign for our bookshop. This is what he has created.

The background to our sign stems from the fact that in 1895, Mevagissey had a power station built, which was powered by pilchard oil and provided electricity to the lighthouse and street lamps in the village. It is rumoured to have been the first town to have electric street lighting powered from pilchard oil.
Source: Cornwall Calling

Pilchard oil was also used to fuel the street lamps of London.
Source: National Maritime Museum of Cornwall

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Isabel’s Bed – Elinor Lipman

I am re-reading books by some of my favourite authors. When I hit my thirties, I discovered several female writers who wrote with greater creativity than the shallower chick-lit. Don’t get me wrong, I love chick-lit too, but sometimes you want something that will keep you guessing, that is not predictable. These authors include Anne Tyler, Alice Hoffman, Laurie Graham, Curtis Sittenfield, Fannie Flagg, and Elinor Lipman, one of whose books I am talking about today. EL has written many books, and while they vary greatly, they usually involve a quirky relationship, and a very strong female lead. Her most famous book is probably “Then She Found Me”, which was turned in to a film. I didn’t see the film, because I read the description, and felt that it wasn’t going to be true to the book, which was brilliant. So, the one I have just read, Isabel’s Bed is just great. It isn’t complicated, but it is entertaining and well-written. It is about a writer who is trying to get published, without much success, so she applies for a job as a ghost-writer for a flamboyant woman who is living as a recluse in a beautiful house by the sea, with her discredited artist husband and their handyman. Throw in the scandal where her lover is murdered by his wife after she catches them in bed together. This is just a basic outline of the story. There are so many twists and turns in this adventure, but it is all described so well, and it almost feels like a farce on the stage. You can’t help being gripped by the characters; they seem so believable, even though the story is quite incredible at times. It isn’t life-changing deep, but it is thought-provoking as you wonder if there are people out there who really live like that. My other favourite of Elinor Lipman is The Inn at Lake Devine. Fantastic, and hugely enjoyable.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

The Last Don - Mario Puzo

The Last Time.  I chose this book as a distraction.  Having read The Godfather - though many years ago - I thought that I knew what I was going to get with a Puzo novel about the Mafia.  This reads, however, like a series of notes, or a
series of preludes, setting up a story.  If it suddenly takes off after p.110 I apologise - I may have missed a lively, engaging and distracting story.  As it was it felt like a chore just to get as far as I did; and eventually I couldn't punish myself any further.

Monday, March 10, 2014

The Graduate - Charles Webb

The Graduate works on dialogue.  It is pacey and plausible, telling a compelling and - as many people have seen the film - familiar story of a young man, Benjamin Braddock, who has an affair with an older woman, Mrs Robinson.  Braddock is engaging in a cringe-worthy sense; I found myself wanting repeatedly for him to say/do things, when I knew all along that he was going to say/do the opposite.  The outcome was unsettling for me as a reader; I enjoyed and disliked the character at once.

What did not convince me was the alternative romance - his love for Mrs Robinson's daughter, Elaine.  Webb takes it as self-evident that Benjamin and Elaine love each other, and doesn't bother to tell us why - he rather provides many reasons why the innocence-personified Elaine should have nothing to do with the selfish, drunken, dishonest, corrupted, spoilt and demanding Benjamin.  My temptation then is to say that the romance fails; and to imagine - along with Mr Robinson - that after a few weeks in bed together the couple will tire of each other and go their separate ways.

In consequence, I would recommend this book if you wish to discover that life is dark and meaningless, a misery of failed hopes before you die.  If, by contrast, you like your romances warm, meaning-giving, then you will probably feel a little hollow at the end, just as I did.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Happy World Book Day!

Happy World Book Day! What is your favourite book? In my experience this changes regularly, which makes me feel a bit disloyal, but there are so many great tales being told. I tried to think of my favourite, but there isn't just one, so here is a list:

  • Red Bird Christmas - Fannie Flagg
  • Shadowlands - William Nicholson
  • 84 Charing Cross Road - Helene Hanff
  • Little Women - Louisa May Alcott
  • Blackbird House - Alice Hoffman
  • Garden Spells - Sarah Addison Allen
  • Inn At The Lake Devine - Elinor Lipman
  • Twilight - Stephenie Meyer
  • Book Thief - Markus Zusak
  • Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone - JK Rowling
  • Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
  • The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
  • Room With A View - EM Forster
  • Death in the Clouds - Agatha Christie
  • School at the Chalet - Elinor Brent-Dyer
  • Little Grey Rabbit - Alison Uttley
  • Asterix in Britain - Uderzo and Goscinny
  • Princess Bride - William Goldman
  • The Hobbit - JR Tolkien
  • Jurassic Park - Michael Crichton

What's your favourite?

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Gool Peran Lowen! Happy St Piran's Day!

We are new to Cornwall, in fact, due to moving delays, we are not even down there yet. Hopefully we will be in Mevagissey soon though.

Anyway, to learn more about my new home, I have been signing up to lots of resources about Cornwall, and today I have seen an abundance of "Happy St Piran's Day" messages. But, I am ashamed to admit, I didn't know who St Piran was, so as the good librarian that I am, I have done some research.

It turns out that St Piran was born in Ireland in the 6th century, and later became a Cornish abbot, and later still, the patron saint of tin-miners and Cornwall. There are lots of parades and celebrations going on throughout Cornwall, with music, good food, plays, and poetry, and I wish we were there to take part, because it looks such fun.

The black and white St Piran's flag will be flying throughout Cornwall today, so if you are there, have a wonderful day, and enjoy the festivities! Happy St Piran's Day! Gool Peran Lowen!

Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut

Imagine you're on the Titanic.  All the life-boats have left and the ship is sinking.  You can dress in an expensive Oscar-gown if you like, or a tuxedo that gives you the suavity of a Bond, James Bond.  Next, fill your glass with some cocktail, or champagne, or spirits - any sort or measure; the bar is free and credit is cheap.

On the stage is Kurt Vonnegut and his famous Slaughterhouse 5.  You have wanted to see them perform for years; and here they are in the exclusive and intimate surroundings of the Titanic's emptying ball-room.  When they sing - Vonnegut does a Tom Waits rasp, an intense and somewhat delicious misery - their lyrics remind you that you are on a sinking ship, a ship believed to be unsinkable, a ship that is sinking indeed because it almost crossed the Atlantic in record time.  (What a story that would have been.)

Personally, I prefer more optimism.  Slaughterhouse 5 is well-written; Vonnegut tells a storblade's too blunt to slit my wrists sort of way.  Then, having been forced to live, I fall off a platform and under a train.
y that spans several decades, and he does so using simple devices that kept me engaged, though he was telling his multi-decade story simultaneously.  His lead character, Billy Pilgrim, is intriguing, amusing in a

Anyway, I won't recommend this book - it has too many fans already.  Instead I will call it a period piece - published during the Vietnam War and it keeps one eye on the fire-bombing of Dresden.  I am glad that I have read it, however; and having finished I am going to ask the band to play a different tune.  I'm drowning out here.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Railway Children - E.Nesbit

The Railway Children is not perfect; it's like Christmas.  Santa Claus is not real, and those presents I got - my fort for example - weren't made by elves; they were made or bought by my father and mother.  Having said that the delight of Santa was fantastic as a child; and the wonder of imagining the man, with his reindeer and helpers, is a magic that can be remembered with pleasure.

The same can be said about The Railway Children.  The morals are so perfect they are twee; and the narrative is so perfect it too is twee.  Yet, it is fantastic to read about a world where being nice to people is transformational, where hoisting your red petticoat on a pole can save a train, and where everything works out splendidly well because that is how it should be.

I won't recommend this book; it recommends itself.  I read it with relish throughout, however, savouring the twee, and wanting what happened to happen, and for the adventures to continue forever.  The prose is simple, sweet, direct and engaging; I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Does that make me a bad man?

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Asterix and Obelix All At Sea – Goscinny and Uderzo

Book cover photo: Asterix and Obelix All At Sea
I am a huge fan of Asterix and Obelix, and have been for more than 40 years. My German uncle introduced me to them when I was little, and they helped me learn German. Over the years, we swapped copies, with me giving him and my cousins the English versions, and them giving me the German ones. I now have the whole collection, with some in the Kölsch dialect (Cologne dialect), and others in French and Spanish. And this is the great thing about these books. Created by a wonderful author/illustrator partnership René Goscinny  and Albert Uderzo they describe the adventures of a small Gaulish village which are holding out against the Roman army of Julius Caesar, with the help of their village druid’s magic potion.

There are so many wonderful stories and I have so many favourites, in particular, Asterix in Britain and Asterix in Switzerland. But I have just read Asterix and Obelix All At Sea, which was written entirely by Uderzo, as sadly Goscinny passed away in 1977. And it is fabulous, as good as ever, particularly as there is a cameo from the cartoon version of Kirk Douglas as Spartakis.

I should give credit to the translators Anthea Bell and Derek Hockridge, because the thing that is particularly clever is the way the jokes and puns are translated so that they apply to the local reader. For example, in the French editions, the little dog is called Idefix, while in the English editions he is called Dogmatix, both names sharing the same meaning in their own language. And there are many such examples of clever translations in all the texts. Asterix and Obelix are suitable for all ages. Children might not get all the jokes, but they will love the action and the characters, and adults will enjoy the clever word-use and innovative adventures.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bliss - Peter Carey

Virginia Woolf wrote of Charles Lamb that what she liked about his writing were the flashes of poetry.  The implication, of course, is that in many other parts of his work Woolf found Lamb's prose to be prosaic.  I don't know enough about Lamb to comment about Woolf's judgement; yet, in a different way the same can be said about Peter Carey and Bliss.

Bliss is certainly flawed, so much so that at times I wonder whether Carey ever bothered to re-read his chapters at all; or whether he simply pressed on.  Then, in others, and fortunately most places, the novel is sublime.  It manages to capture what is magical, ridiculous and crude all at once, inviting me to laugh, feel a little bitter about the world, and be uplifted - all of these are delivered with such delicious detail that as a reader - and a writer - I am filled with a jealous awe.

Bliss remains a disputed favourite then; and I am glad that it is the book I have most confidently recommended throughout the years.  I will even loan it - as I have done my many previously unreturned copies, if you can give me a good reason why you won't buy Bliss for yourself.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Lovely poem by E.E. Cummings

maggie and milly and molly and may

Mevagissey harbour and lighthouse
maggie and milly and molly and may
went down to the beach (to play one day)

and maggie discovered a shell that sang
so sweetly she couldn't remember her troubles, and

milly befriended a stranded star
whose rays five languid fingers were;

and molly was chased by a horrible thing
View from Polkirt Hill, Mevagissey
which raced sideways while blowing bubbles: and

may came home with a smooth round stone
as small as a world and as large as alone.

For whatever we lose (like a you or a me)
it's always ourselves we find in the sea

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Why do some pirates wear an eye patch?
Some assume pirates wore eye patches to cover a missing eye or an eye that was wounded in battle, but in fact, an eye patch was more likely to be used to condition the eye so the pirate could fight in the dark.
It takes an average human eye about 25 minutes to fully adapt from bright sunlight to seeing in complete darkness — if a pirate was fighting on deck in the light, then had to go under the deck to fight downstairs where it is usually pretty dark, that would be a long time to go without being able to see. The eye patch could be used to prepare one eye to see in the dark, so when they would go below deck they could swap over the eye patch from one eye to the other and see with the eye that has already adjusted to low light conditions. This would allow them to instantly see in the dark.
Fabulous fact, courtesy of the Wall Street Journal and Mythbusters, from the Children's Museum, Indianapolis.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Dragonfly Pool - Eva Ibbotson

I am delighted to say that I have discovered a new 'favourite' author, and just by chance too. Eva Ibbotson's book reminds me of Michelle Magorian's books, as both authors set their books around World War II, but describing them from a child/adolescent's point of view. The Times describes The Dragonfly Pool as 'Irresistible' and I have to say that I completely agree. It is a tale of adventure and friendship, and has beautifully constructed sentences and use of words. It is a pleasure to read and, I would say, for all ages from about 8 years up. It starts off with a young girl being sent from the loving care of her aunts and father on a scholarship to a progressive boarding school in Devon where she spreads goodwill throughout and encourages the school to take part in a folk dance festival in a neutral country in Europe. While they are there, they make lots of friends, and together they help save a prince from danger. It is such a lovely story because it is compassionate, adventurous, innocent, magical, and exciting. My favourite bits were the descriptions of the amazing nature walks, with their fantastic but mysterious biology teacher, Matteo. It is very simple and easy to read, but is engaging and a proper, unexpected treasure.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick

As a student of film one of the lessons I enjoyed learning concerned the difference between the film pioneers, the Lumiere Brothers and Georges Melies.  The Lumieres were realists; and they busied themselves travelling around and filming real things - one of their classics is The Arrival of a Train in La Ciotat; the plot involves a train arriving in La Ciotat.  

Melies, however, was an illusionist; he specialises in surprising us, or making us dream.  His stories are absurd fantasies; and he takes us among other places to the moon and the sun - his explorers journey to the sun in a train.  Of course, in real terms, Melies travelled far less than the Lumieres - Melies filmed in a studio; but the lesson remains the same, the further a film takes you - think Star Trek - the less the characters actually have to travel.

Anyway, I love this book.  I also loved the film; but the book, with its many illustrations and film stills, has a particular charm of its own.  It concerns Georges Melies, though it is not a biography; it is a fantasy about a boy who saves Georges Melies by finding and re-building an automaton that Melies once invented.  As children's novels do it has simple, recognisable morals; it is also full of pleasure, awe, excitement and escape, and it is determinedly, deliciously old fashioned.  Well worth it.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

To Kill a Mocking Bird - Harper Lee

Samuel Taylor Coleridge tells us that a good poem is not one that you enjoy best when you first read it, but one that you return to most eagerly.  On this calculation To Kill a Mockingbird is a good novel; I return to it eagerly and always get something from it.  What struck me this time was not the childish horror of Boo Radley, or the shooting of the rabid dog; I was taken rather by Scout's first day at school - she was criticised because she could already read and told not to read at home any more because she had to learn how to read properly.  Interestingly enough, when I first read To Kill a Mockingbird - at school - we were told not to read ahead at home in case we failed to understand the book correctly; naturally I disobeyed.  I also enjoyed the part where Scout calls her cousin a 'whore-lady' before questioning her uncle as to what a 'whore-lady' actually is.  As I see it Harper Lee has a way of telling a complex, sensitive and controversial story without losing the innocence that makes her characters worthwhile knowing in the first place.

 Anyway, if you haven't read the book, I would recommend that you do so.  If you have, have a look to see if it is ready to jump off your shelf again.  To Kill a Mockingbird is a good book.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Adventures at the Chalet School

My Mum introduced me to the Chalet School series, by Elinor Brent-Dyer, when I was a child and I loved them. There are loads of books in the series, and it is my deepest regret that I did not keep my collection, as they are now very difficult to get hold of, and also very expensive. The first story describes two sisters who move to the mountains for the health of the younger one. The older one sets up a girls school, and the stories that follow describe life in the mountains, and then in Wales, where they are forced to relocate during the war.

The school sounds idyllic. They rotate languages throughout the week, so that the girls become fluent in English, French, and German. They eat delicious local foods, including "kaffee und kuchen". Each book continues the history over the years, and you watch the first pupil, the youngest sister, grow up to have a family of her own, while her friends become teachers at the school or marry. There are also lovely descriptions of the local traditions, and the flora and fauna, and also the introduction of the Girl Guides to the school.
The language is a little dated, but then the first book was published in 1925 (The school at the chalet), and the final one was published in 1970. A complete list is available here. Not only are they good stories, but they also let you imagine what the young people were facing throughout these years, such as WWII. These books are well-written, interesting, and creative, and they provide a wonderful insight to another way of life.A good thing to note in these electronic times, is the way hard copies continue to increase in value, something that I don't think e-books can do.

I have just finished two: Three go to the Chalet School (1949) and The Chalet School wins the trick (1961). It helps having an idea of the earlier characters, but you can still jump around between books. Ideally, I would like to read the whole set, in the right order, but unfortunately, some of the titles are very difficult to come by. I was very lucky to find these two books at a bargain price of 50p each, in a lovely little bookshop in The North Laines in Brighton, so just keep your eyes open and enjoy.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Momo - Michael Ende

There are some people who would call Michael Ende a Marxist; he grew up in pre-war Germany and there were many Marxists about at that time.  I wouldn't use the Marxist word, however; this is a children's book and Marxism is a dirty word - like smelly socks, or the underwear of some well-spoken politician.  Yet, there is a strong sense in Ende that if people could open their imagination, work together, doing their best and caring for the world, that we might all live slower, happier, more satisfied lives.

Anyway, the romance of political ideologies aside, Momo is a fantastic romantic adventure.  It is possible from the outset to find traces of Harry Potter; though Momo precedes Potter by decades.  Its heroine is an orphan, has a shock of black hair; and the enforcers of villainy are men in grey, men who suck happiness from people's lives.  To battle them, what is needed is a turtle, a professor of time, an hour-lilly and a young girl who listens to everybody.

I strongly recommend this book.  We came across it when looking up the only other Ende novel I have read - Never Ending Story.  The shopkeeper, when we bought it, said that Momo was 'flying off the shelves' (her words).  I am convinced that young readers will enjoy the adventure, the accessible and compelling morals.  I am also convinced that there is enough provocative thinking in Ende's book to satisfy a - smelly socks or not - adult.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Hawthorn & Child - Keith Ridgway

I am not sure why some people imagine that gratuitous sex and violence is gritty and modern.  Sex, as out ancestors will confirm, did not begin in the '60s, nor was it the brainchild of D.H.Lawrence.  Violence too is not that new; and it is not long since public executions - sudden or protracted - would have provided death for the pleasure of large, public gatherings.  Sex and violence, nonetheless - along with seemingly unnecessary obscurity - seem to be the hallmark of Keith Ridgway's Hawthorn & Child.  I don't object to either - sex and violence sometimes suit the plot; it felt, however, that Ridgway was 'grittying up' an otherwise pleasant novel when their spontaneous introduction arrived; I am moving on to Michael Ende's Momo.  Having said that accolades from Ian Rankin, the Observer, the Irish Examiner and Zadie Smith all attest to Hawthorn & Child's quality; so, if you have different tastes to me, you may well enjoy the book.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Fact 1: Library of Alexandria

Library of Alexandria ruins
"In ancient Egypt, any books found in ships coming into port, would be brought immediately to the Library of Alexandria and be copied. The original would be kept in the library and the copy given back to the owner."
Source: The Science World, via Books Rock My World

Sunday, January 26, 2014

It's Australia Day, so Good Day to Peter Carey

I have read many Carey novels, most recently Chemistry of Tears.  This novel managed to be brilliant and disappointing at the same time - suffering from lead characters that in the end I simply didn't like.  Of Carey's other books, apart from my favourite, Bliss, the Kelly Gang stands out.  This story read as a history, a realist piece, and did not fit with my image of the writer, Carey.  I will skip the rest - Peter Carey made his best impression with his first book; Bliss, apart from a page that made me give away my copy after many readings, is the best book I have ever read.  It combines the absurd with the sublime in a perfect match, telling a love/existential story that makes life worth living.  If I am fortunate/hard-working/inspired I might some day excel this book.  For now, however, this being Australia Day and Peter Carey my favourite writer, I offer my best puny imitation of an Australian accent, and wish Peter Carey a Good Day.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Today is the birthday of two great literary legends

"We are not the same persons this year as last; nor are those we love. It is a happy chance if we, changing, continue to love a changed person."
Novelist and playwright, William Somerset Maugham, born in Paris in 1874

"A fond kiss, and then we sever; A farewell, and then forever!"
Scottish poet, Robert Burns born in 1759

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt was a stolen recommendations and "The Secret History" was the first of her works that I found. The front cover is influenced with the strapline "International bestseller", something that usually I find to be a turn-off. Having said that, The Secret History is in many ways, the perfect read, a compelling, page-turning read with thinking that is impressive, and sometimes profound. It is Crime and Punishment on a remote US campus, our leads doing the wrong things for right(ish) reasons. It is frequently tempting to support what they choose to do.

In some places plot development, as with character changes are convenient, rather than convincing. Further as a man who likes wine, whisky, and cigarettes, the pathological consumption of these throughout the novel disturbed my usually pleasurable (mis)habits.

These failings aside, however, I no longer feel compelled to complete a book once I start it, and that I completed The Secret History means that overall it is a book that I, in my turn, would recommend.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky

This was a big surprise which I had picked up on a whim, and I didn't expect it to turn out as it did. "The Perks of Being a Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky is written from the point of a teenager in an American High School who, as a young child, experienced serious trauma, the accidental death of his favourite aunt, and spent some time in a mental hospital, and then later, his friend commits suicide.

He writes his story in a series of letters to a friend, who unless I missed something is never identified, but was introduced to him as someone who listens. The book covers a school year between 1991 and 1992, which means that there are no mobile phones, Internet, or Facebook, which is really refreshing. He is an awkward teenager, and his psychiatrist encourages him to participate, so he takes the plunge and speaks to someone, Patrick, from his shop class at a football match. There he also meets Patrick's stepsister and falls in love, but as she is older than him, and cares for him deeply, it is as a friend. And so, the wallflower is introduced in a very kind and caring way to the passages of youth; love, drugs, sex, and alcohol.

I found it really beautifully written, very realistic. The characters and their experiences a vividly described together with his confusion and his visible sadness, the real reason for which is unexpected and revealed at the end of the book. While it is a sad story, it is filled with love, promise, and home. It is a good story for teenagers, as an introduction to the real world, and for adults, to help them remember that adolescenthood is the same whatever the era.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai

I love short story collections. They give you a taste of a writer without having to commit to an entire novel. Having said that I have read Anita Desai's work before, so I was delighted to see "The Artist of Disappearance", her collection of short stories. They are so beautiful and creatively written, not too sweet and not too sour, and just had everything I wanted in a book; wonder, sadness, beauty, surprise, compassion, creativity, believable characters; people you can relate to, wherever you hail from. It is a nice pocket-sized book to carry around with you, and each story of the three stories is charming in its own way.

The first is about a clerk who is invited to look at a collection of artifacts from around the world stored in a former spectacular household in a remote part of India. It is a beautiful story about a mother's love and the hope that her son would return to see what she has done with the treasures he has collected from his travels.

The second story was so thought-provoking, about a woman who took it upon herself to translate some works from a rarely-used Indian dialect, to a more widely accessible language. In doing so, she causes controversy, in a most thought-provoking manner, when all she wants to do is to do is to promote a writer she firmly believes in.

The final story has the sadness and compassion of a tragedy, with the excitement of youth and the modern world. It is about a group of film-makers who want to make a film about the desecration of the lands because of loggers and quarries, and a hermit who has lost everything. As the film-makers make their film, they make a beautiful discovery, and need the co-operation of the hermit, and so continues the tale.

I have not been to India yet, so I cannot confirm how realistic these stories are, but to me, they make me feel that it is a country full of rich characters, beauty, and strong belief. If I am wrong, please educate me by suggesting titles which give a more realistic viewpoint.

Needless to say, our bookshop will stock short stories and other titles by Anita Desai.

Pilchard Books

By Paul Wilmott
Pilchard Books is opening in Mevagissey, Cornwall in Spring 2014. This is a new venture for us. I am a librarian, and my husband is a writer. We met in 2000 over a pile of books, - an antique collection of the Oxford English Dictionary - and continue to share our love of books. We hope you will find this collection of book reviews useful and that you will share your own book experiences and reviews, and of course, we hope you will visit our shop, which is in a beautiful village by the sea. Our plan is to have good books at good prices, for all ages and tastes.