Category Archives: Book Review

Book Review: Fer-De-Lance

Fer-De-Lance by Rex Stout

Mass Market Paperback: 285 pages

Publisher: Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group; Bantam Crime Line ed edition (1 Mar. 2005)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0553278193

ISBN-13: 978-0553278194

It’s the first book in the Nero Wolfe series and the Amazon price was low, so it seemed a good one for me to start with.

Nero Wolfe is rather Holmesian in his range of knowledge and detective abilities, though his disinclination to leave his home aligns him more closely with Mycroft than with Sherlock.

Archie Goodwin, Wolfe’s assistant, and the narrator of the stories, is somewhat more with it than Dr John Watson, and is more active as a detective, though he does share Watson’s eye for the ladies. In fact, in some ways Goodwin is the main character of the novel.

The pacing is good, and the plot is complex enough to be satisfactory. However, it is a bit dated in the choice of murder weapon. I always think of Edgar Wallace when it comes to complex gadgets. I’ll say no more for now, see what you think.

To sum up – characters, pacing and puzzle are all good. Look on the murder weapon as a period curiosity and don’t let it get in the way of your enjoyment.

Book Review – Eggs or Anarchy

Eggs or Anarchy by William Sitwell

Paperback: 368 pages

Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (9 Feb. 2017)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1471151077

ISBN-13: 978-1471151071

Between the wars the government took the view that we should produce what we were good at and import the rest. This meant we were importing about 60% of our food, as we had been doing in 1914. The problem was that the Germans had more efficient aircraft and submarines in 1939.

Fter a successful retail career, Lord Woolton took on the job of sourcing the millions of uniforms needed to equip a new army. He was surprised to find that having ordered the trousers he had to order the fly buttons via another government department.

He managed to sort it all out, and then took on the task of organising food supplies, including issuing millions of ration books and developing a system that was fair to all.

He didn’t just have U-Boats to worry about, he had Churchill and his attempts to use shipping for moving troops. Then he had to organise storage for food in places where it wouldn’t be bombed, make sure our suppliers didn’t overcharge us and iron out inefficiencies in distribution at home. The title refers to the fears that order and morale would break down if he was unable to get the rations out.

One of my favourite moments was when he told visiting American politicians that he would prefer their ships to their good wishes. He was not a conventional politician, having come to it late in life.

As for the famous Woolton Pie… Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out his thoughts on that.

It’s an interesting subject, though the writing doesn’t always reflect this, and poses a few questions about food security, which we are going to have to answer in the coming years.

Book Review – Now All Roads Lead to France

Now All Roads Lead to France – Matthew Hollis

Paperback: 432 pages

Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (5 Jan. 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 057124599

ISBN-13: 978-0571245994

Now all roads lead to France
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance:

Roads – Edward Thomas

 

It’s a book about the final years of Edward Thomas, covering the rise of Georgian Poetry, modernism, war poetry, Dymock and Robert Frost.

It also covers the question of his punctuation. I don’t know about you but in some of Thomas’s verse, like the quote at the top of the page, the punctuation seems at variance with the natural rhythymn of speech. This is intentional, though my personal feeling is that it doesn’t improve the piece.

The “Georgian” refers to George V and was meant to show the modernity of the new poetry as it emerged from the time of Victoria. It may have done at the time, but it always makes me think of George III. The fact that the modernists took over after the war also tends to make the Georgians look old-fashioned, despite their intentions.

You’ll need to read the book to get the full details – Matthew Hollis is much better at explaining than I am.

To summarise, as the war came, Thomas was a well-known (and over-worked) literary critic and a difficult husband. He moved to Dymock to be amongst the poets who had congregated there and under the influence of Frost (who had come to England to advance his poetry career) started writing poetry. After much soul-searching, he joined the army, bacame an instructor and, instead of staying in the UK instructing, applied for a commision and went to France . I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I say it didn’t end well.

Hollis covers a lot of ground in this book, and does so in depth. Despite this it’s almost always interesting and moves along at a decent pace.

The exception to this is several of the passages dealing with the theory of poetry. However, they aren’t long and don’t hold things up too much. That’s what happens when you have a book about poets written by a poet – the style is good, the information is well handled and you get all the passion you could ask for. But you do get a bit too much discussion of poetry.

It’s an excellent book, with an interesting in-depth view of Thomas’s poetry career and family life set within the literary life of the UK in the lead up to the Great War.  You can read it as history or biography or literary criticism.

If you get a chance do read it. I mean, how often do you hear me being this enthusiastic about a book?

Of course, if you aren’t interested in the Great War or poetry, it might not be the book for you.

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Photo of books – it fills a space. 

 

Book Review – Lives of the Improbable Saints

Lives of the Improbable Saints – Richard Coles

Paperback: 192 pages

Publisher: Darton, Longman & Todd; UK ed. edition (17 Oct. 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0232529558

ISBN-13: 978-0232529555

I’ve always quite liked Richard Coles, and I find the lives of the early saints very interesting, so this should be exactly the book I’m looking for.

It’s not bad (and the Amazon price, as with most of my purchases, was considerably less than the postage so it was good value). However, there’s a lot of white space on the page and some of the illustrations are very large.

Given the choice I’d browse the net. I’ve always found this site to be sound on saints, though short on humour.

Richard Coles is a bit short on humour too, but when you’re a vicar and your target market is Christians I suppose you have to keep yourself under control. I could probably write a funnier book but the Church would might burn it and excommunicate me. Or, even worse, burn me and excommunicate the book.

It’s been one of my stand-by books for NHS waiting rooms, and despite (or possibly because of) the gentle nature of the humour, was enough to pass the time and keep my mind off things.

Could be a lot worse, and it has the advantage that you can put it in your pocket, which isn’t the case with a website.

It’s good to change gear now and again, as life can’t be all Blandings and Wooster. Sometimes gentle humour and a simple story is all you need.

There’s a second volume, and one day I’ll probably read it, but I’m not going to rush out and buy it right now as I have other things to read.

Call it qualified approval – I wouldn’t turn down a Wodehouse to read Volume 2 of this.

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The ebay Diaries – Day One

After spending far too much time on ebay recently I’ve decided to get some use out of this time by writing about it.

Today’s installment is about the evils of blurred photographs. As you may have seen in one of the previous posts, there are a number of bad things to buy on ebay. One of the top ten is “things with blurred photos”. There are quite a lot of them.

When I used ebay as part of my business I used a scanner. In fact I wore a scanner out through constant use. They weren’t perfect, but the images were, on average, a lot better than most of the ones you see these days. They were very good for flat things like banknotes and postcards and generally good for things like coins and badges

The poor qualty would not be a big deal apart from one thing – more and more sellers are saying they don’t give refunds and that the picture forms part of the description.

I’ve always tended to avoid people who don’t give refunds because I consider it poor customer service. If you can’t trust them to stand by their product can you trust them to pack things properly or post them promptly?

I’ve always had an unconditional refunds policy and over all that time I’ve only ever had two things retuned. People are generally trustworthy and don’t abuse your terms of service.

People who don’t trust their customers are, in my experience, less trustworthy than average. (I’ll pick my words carefully there, but it’s a principle I always adhere to.)

Fortunately, unless things have changed, there are ways to get a refund despite this, though I’ve never needed to use them yet.

With a blurred picture it isn’t possible to see faults, and with a no refund policy this could make for a really bad buying experience. Personally, I think you should always tell customers if there is a fault.

In going through ebay this morning I’ve already spotted several broken or repaired items which aren’t noted as such, and where it’s difficult to spot the problem. The main clue is that they are often on “Buy it Now” and the price is suspiciously reasonable.

Having said that I’ve just bought a very reasonably priced job lot on a “Buy it Now”, so fingers crossed…

 

 

 

Book Review – The Wildlife Garden

The Wildlife Garden – John Lewis-Stempel

Paperback: 176 pages

Publisher: How To Books (6 Mar. 2014)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0716023490

ISBN-13: 978-0716023494

Price £8.99 or £5,99 (Kindle)

I have read a number of books by John Lewis-Stempel and enjoyed them.  Several reviews can be found here. (That’s the book review page I started but didn’t continue. Two of his books are there.)

This is a comprehensive book and covers everything that you could possibly want in a clear and concise manner – garden design, ponds, lists of plants and notes on wildlife. If someone gave it to me I’d be happy to have it. If all you had to work from was this book you could produce an excellent wildlife garden, though a few more diagrams of feeders and shelters might be a help.

My problem is that I don’t feel the price represents value for money. £8.99 is a lot of money for a small book. After all, the information is available on the net and there are diagrams to go with it. You can also generally pick up illustrated books on the subject from charity shops for under £2.

I might be showing my age here, or my ignorance of the book trade, but £8.99 for a thin paperback, or £5.99 for an electronic version, just doesn’t seem like value for money. I know the worth of a book isn’t measured in its size, but I also know that the buying public (which includes me) is thought to buy on that basis. That’s why you sometimes find yourself reading a book with plenty of white space and a larger than usual font – they are trying to bulk it up.

Though my first impression was of thin book, my second was of a thin book that seems to have a Monarch butterfly on the cover – a rare migrant to the UK. I’d have preferred a proper British butterfly. I’m not impressed by that.

So what do you say? I like the author and the book is packed with information. I just think it’s over-priced compared to other sources of the same information.

Buy it by all means, but buy it as cheaply as possible.

 

 

Book Review – Leave it to Psmith

 

Leave it to Psmith – P G Wodehouse

Paperback: 352 pages

Publisher: Arrow (1 May 2008)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 009951379X

ISBN-13: 978-0099513797

Published in 1923, this is the second Blandings novel and he fourth and final Psmith book. It seems that Wodehouse stopped writing Psmith novels because he couldn’t think of more stories for the character. Fortunately he didn’t take that view of Blamdings, and carried on writing the same story for another sixty years.

Apart from Psmith (the P is silent, I will refrain from the ancient joke) the book also features the Efficient Baxter, the Earl’s secretary, and the bane of his life. I always feel the peril is more real when Baxter is about.

Psmith enters the castle masquerading as a poet with plans to help Freddie Threepwood (heir of the Earl of Emsworth) in a plot to purloin a valuable necklace which he needs…

Let’s just say that it’s complicated.

Baxter is judged to be mad by Emsworth after a scene involving plantpots and pyjamas (which will be mentioned in subsequent books) and Psmith foils a second plot to steal the necklace before all the romances are rounded off and Freddie Threepwood gets the money he needs to set up as a bookmaker.

I doubt I’m giving any secrets away here, as this is what you would expect. That’s really what you read the Blandings books for – romance, mild peril and everlasting summer.

 

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