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Thursday, 27 October 2011

French Cheeses by Kazuko Masui and Tomoko Yamada

If you like cheese, this book is an absolute delight ! Copiously illustrated, you can almost smell and taste the cheese as you read. There are so many cheeses described that you can find a new one every time you dip into the book - just wish my deli stocked them all. A great Xmas gift for any of your friends who love this greatest of all foods !

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

"Dickens" by Peter Ackroyd

If you like Charles Dickens you'll love this book. It's a massive read - over 1,000 pages, depending on which edition you can get hold of, but more than worth the effort of holding such a heavy tome ! This is of course a biography of Dickens, written in the unique style which has made Ackroyd one of the 20th (and 21st) Century's major authors. The blurb on the cover describes the book as "an imaginative and scholarly tour de force" a description with which I entirely concur. Dickens was a genius and this biography helps preserve this genius and our knowledge of the man. But more than this, it's an enjoyable read !
This book was first published in 1990 - to buy a copy, follow this link.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

"Captain Corelli's Mandolin" by Louis de Bernieres

This novel is set on the Greek Island of Cephallonia during World War 2. It tells the story of Captain Corelli, a young Italian officer who is part of the occupying forces, and whose main aim is to have a quiet and peaceful war. He is eventually accepted by the locals, and all goes well until the Germans arrive.

A brief note on the historical background - after the 1943 armistice with the Allies, the Italian troops were hoping to go home. However, not wishing to have the Italian armaments used against them, the Germans sent reinforcements to the island and the Italians decided to fight them. After a protracted struggle the Germans took control of the entire island and executed 5000 of the surviving 9000 Italian troops as a reprisal. Due to the subsequent Greek Civil War the island remained in a state of conflict until 1949.

This novel is beautifully written by an author with a great command of the English language. I have since read his other published works which, although equally entertaining, are very different from this novel. So start off by reading this, and if you like it - which I'm sure you will - move on to the the others.

A film of the novel starring Nicholas Cage and Penelope Cruz was released in 2001. If you would like to have a copy of the DVD, follow this link, and to buy the book, click here.

Thursday, 4 February 2010

"The Big Red Train Ride" by Eric Newby

I was never really a fan of travel writing until I read this book. It has to be one of the most fascinating and funniest books I've read - and I've read a lot over the last 70 years. Newby writes about a journey he made with his wife on the Trans-Siberian Railway from Moscow to Vladivostok - or rather actually to Nakhodka, as in those days (1964) foreigners were not allowed to visit Vladivostok as it was a naval base - a journey of about 5900 miles which took nine days. He writes of the country through which he passed, his travel companions, the Russian railway staff, the food (or lack of it) and the bureaucracy, and for most of the time will have you in stitches. This is a book you will remember, and, like Pepys Diaries, one you can dip into when you're feeling a bit low - guaranteed to cheer you up !

If you would like to buy this book, follow this link.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

"The Cruel Sea" by Nicholas Monsarrat

This book was first published in 1951 and was subsequently made into a film starring Jack Hawkins and Donald Sinden. It tells the story of a ship, HMS Compass Rose, which was employed on transatlantic convoy duty during World War 2, and is in my opinion one of the best novels to emerge from that conflict. The author commanded a corvette on similar operations and has based his book on his own experiences in the Battle of the Atlantic. A gripping tale, not to be missed.

Follow this link to buy this book.

Saturday, 27 June 2009

"Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks

"Birdsong" is the second book in Faulks's "French Trilogy". I read this one first, knowing nothing of the other two when I bought the book, and was immediately captivated by the writer's command of English and by the superb plot which concerns a young Englishman who visits Amiens in Northern France and falls in love. Then World War 1 intervenes, and I shall write no more about the plot so as not to spoil it for you. This is undoubtedly Faulks's best work - in fact I have been rather disappointed by what he has produced since, and by the other two books in his French Trilogy, although I have yet to read "Engleby" and "Human Traces". He has also written "Devil May Care", a "James Bond" book which he wrote at the request of the trustees of the estate of original 007 author Ian Fleming. Read "Birdsong" - you can't fail to enjoy it !

Follow this link to buy this book.

Friday, 19 June 2009

"Perfume : The Story of a Murderer" by Patrick Suskind

Many of you will have seen the recent (2006) film of this novel, which, unusually for a film, was reasonably true to the book. But whether or not you have seen the movie, read the book ! It's a great read. It tells the story of Grenouille, who was abandoned on the filthy streets of Paris as a child, but who grows up to discover he has an extraordinary gift: a sense of smell more powerful than any other human's. Soon, he is creating the most sublime fragrances in all the city. Yet there is one odour he cannot capture. It is exquisite, magical: the scent of a young virgin. And to get it he must kill. A most unusual novel which catches the atmosphere of 18th Century Paris and France. A good holiday read and a book you won't easily forget !

Follow this link to buy this book.

Sunday, 11 January 2009

"A Lifelong Passion Nichola and Alexandra - Their Own Story" edited by Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko

I read this book a few months ago and found it one of the most fascinating reads I've had for a long time. It consists of a series of extracts from letters, diaries and memoirs by the last tsar of Russia and his family and acquaintances, plus some formal reports and documents from the period. These cover the years from 1881 to 1918 when the Romanov family was executed - some will say murdered - by the Bolsheviks at Ekaterinburg.
The tsar and his family seemed on the surface to be such nice people - and no doubt were in their own way - and yet the extracts show only too clearly their opposition to any form of democracy and their anti-semitism. Nicholas and Alexandra were also very vulnerable in that they were easily influenced by almost everyone around them, not only by the notorious Rasputin but by almost anyone. The tsar had the reputation of having the opinion of the last person to whom he spoke.
The book reflects the deep love between Nicholas and his wife, their love for their children and the terrible suffering of their son Alexei, who had haemophilia. There are some funny moments, and also some events which reflect the social structure of the time and yet seem inexplicable to us today - for example the tsar banned his brother from entering Russia when he married a divorced commoner and considered that the family had been disgraced by this episode !
My softback edition has been shortened by the publishers, which is a shame as I would like it to go on and on - a thoroughly good and entertaining read !!

Follow this link to buy the book.

Saturday, 10 January 2009

"David Copperfield" by Charles Dickens

I've been avoiding writing about any of Charles Dickens' books because I really didn't know where to begin ! However, I've just unpacked a beautifully bound and illustrated Folio Society edition of "David Copperfield" and this seems as good as any of Dickens' novels to write about.
Nearly all of Dickens' works were serialised in various magazines, and Copperfield was no exception, being published in monthly parts between May 1849 and November 1850. His works reflect this serialisation, so that at the end of each part a climax has to be reached which will persuade the reader to buy the next issue - rather like the old radio broadcasts of "Dick Barton, Special Agent" if there is anyone who remembers those ! Some people find this a problem and there is no doubt that some feel it detracts from a work of literature and prevents a novel being viewed as a great work. I disagree and consider this book in particular to be one of the great novels in the English language. Some lovely characters and an intriguing plot make this a super novel and a marvellous read, especially for a cold, dark, winter's afternoon. Snuggle down in your favourite armchair with a cup of tea, a piece of cake and this book and enjoy Mr Micawber, Uriah Heep, Peggotty and the rest of these wonderful characters !

Follow this link to buy this book.

"Pride and Prejudice" by Jane Austen

I feel a bit guilty for recommending this book as anyone who is an avid reader will already have read it ! However, it is a classic work and probably the best of Janes Austen's novels, and currently the most popular too, following the many film and television adaptions. This is a beautifully written book, and very funny, with some marvellous characters, but I feel it goes a little deeper than being mere comedy. The work reveals the author's maturity and wisdom, and, for someone who apparently led a comparatively sheltered life, a knowledge of the ways of the world that one would expect from an older and more experienced writer. She loves to poke gentle fun at her characters and thus by extension at their real life counterparts. Originally written between 1796 and 1797, it was first published in 1813 after Austen had revised it. She died some four years later aged only 41.
Read this book - and then read it again...and again !

Follow this link to buy this book.

Sunday, 28 December 2008

"In Flanders Fields" by Leon Wolff

In my view one of the best books about the First World War. It was written in the 1950s and first published in 1959 at a time when the general public did not have the interest in the war that would occur a few years later following the BBC series "The Great War", which stimulated historians to dig out the vast amount of source material available. Thus this book in many ways pointed the way, and on re-reading it, I think that it more than holds its own against what followed. Beautifully and sensitively written.

To purchase this book, click on the image below.

"England Their England" by A G MacDonell.

First published in 1933, this book is a must-have for cricket fans. It's not much of a story and not really a very good book, but it has one superb chapter - Chapter 7 - which is the funniest description of a village cricket match that has ever been written. So get hold of a copy and if you don't feel like reading the whole book (it's quite short, under 200 pages), at least read this chapter. You have to be a cricket enthusiast to appreciate the humour, and if you have actually played the game for a village side, so much the better. Hope you like it !

Follow this link to buy this book.

Wednesday, 17 December 2008

"The London Encyclopaedia", edited by Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert

This is a work of reference, one which I cannot live without. Dr Johnson I think it was who said that a man who is tired of London is tired of life, and this tome illustrates just why this is so. The edition I have is just over a thousand pages and contains more than five thousand entries, so there is plenty to dip into. It refers to places and organisations in London, streets, buildings, shops, parks etc, both current and those long gone. A wealth of information from around 175 contributors, written in excellent prose with relevant quotations and the occasional joke.
My edition is from 1990, but I notice that Amazon have a 2008 edition, so no doubt it has been updated. If you have ever visited London, or intend to in the future, get hold of this !

Follow this link to buy this book.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

"Sherlock Holmes" by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

This is a recommendation to read all the Sherlock Holmes stories - hence the title. Conan Doyle wrote four full-length novels and fifty-six short stories about his famous detective, and these are of course available in a variety of publications. If you can get hold of a "complete" edition then do so, and read them all. I'm sure you will enjoy them if you like this genre of fiction. They are well-written in excellent English, unlike so much modern work, and you will soon become attached to the characters of Holmes and Watson - and a few of the myths about the duo perpetrated in the movies will be exposed. A jolly good read for a winter's afternoon - indeed several winter's afternoons !

Follow this link to buy a complete edition of Sherlock Holmes.

Sunday, 7 December 2008

"A Sea of Troubles" by Donna Leon

I came across Donna Leon's books by chance, and I'm very pleased that I did. All her detective novels are set in Venice, a city that she knows very well but which she does not allow to dominate her works. She has managed to balance the pleasures of the city and its way of life with the plot of each novel, and in Commissario Guido Brunetti she has created a clever detective who is also a good husband and father and who enjoys his family and food. This particular novel, published first in 2001, concerns the murder of two fishermen on the island of Pellestrina where the close-knit community is bound by a code of loyalty and suspicion of outsiders, making Brunetti's investigation all the more difficult. Read this book - and if you like it, there are quite a few more by this author.

Follow this link to buy this book.

Saturday, 6 December 2008

"The Diary of Samuel Pepys"

Another great book, or books, to dip into. There are many editions of Pepys' Diaries, some going to several volumes, and which you buy will depend on how much you want to read. His descriptions of the Fire of London and the Plague are the most famous, simply because of their subject matter, but you will surely enjoy his descriptions of his everyday life, his eating habits and his sexual conquests. I like to read a few pages at random before going to sleep at night - not that he sends me to sleep, in fact he often keeps me awake ! Seventeenth Century London was a fascinating place !

The original diaries are housed at Magdalene College, Cambridge, in the Pepys Library.

There is a wide choice of publications of Pepys Diaries - click here to buy Volume 1.

"Cardus on the Ashes" by Neville Cardus, edited by Margaret Hughes

Neville Cardus is a must for any serious cricket adherent, particularly those interested in the history of the game. This book, published in 1989, contains a selection of his writing covering most Ashes series from 1921 until 1971. He was a gifted writer, not afraid to give an opinion, cutting in his disapproval and poetical in his praise. He delighted in the game and raised cricket writing to new levels which many have since tried in vain to reach. This is a book to read from cover to cover on a cold winter night, or to dip into as the fancy takes you. If you can find a copy, buy it ! Try this link.

"Gentlemen and Players" by Joanne Harris

I've been a fan of Joanne Harris for a good few years now and always look forward to her new offerings. This book came out in 2005 and is an absolute cracker of a read. The action takes place in a boys' grammar school in England, a school which is old and full of tradition. But times are changing - something else is happening, something darker, perhaps evil. I won't tell you more, just read the book - and don't look at the ending which should take you completely by surprise ! A super book - enjoy it !

Follow this link to buy this great book !

Friday, 5 December 2008

"Blind Faith" by Ben Elton

A novel set in a very crowded London which has been much reduced in size because of flooding caused by the melting of the ice-caps. The hero dares to rebel against the post-apocalyptic society which is obsessed with sex and religion - at times funny but also quite chilling. Fast-moving, this book makes a good holiday read.

You may buy this book by following this link.

"The Elegant Universe" by Brian Greene

I've had this book for almost ten years now, and still enjoy dipping into it. It has one of the clearest explanations of Einstein's Relativity Theories and time that I have ever read, and if you find the chapters on String Theory a bit tricky, give 'em a go anyway ! Don't miss this one - very entertaining !

Follow this link to buy this book.