Category Archives: books

Failure, Another Perspective

I had my copy of Ribbons today – the magazine of the Tanka Society of America. I jhave three poems in it, so I am happy. Slightly less happy that it will be reducing to two magazines a year instead of three, but if it relieves some of the workload on the committee you can’t really argue with it. I know from previous volunteering how hard and thankless it can be. The loss of one hance a year to publish is a small price to pay for the continued smooth running of the society.

I’ve been watching a documentary on TV – David Harewood’s F Wordand it was quite interesting. He interviewed some successful actors (including Brian Cox, Olivia Colman and Damian Lewis) and it seems that they are all just as susceptible to worries about success and failure as I am. Admittedly, we operate t different levels and I’m way behind in terms of wealth and global recognition, but we all seem to think pretty much the same.

Brian Cox, for instance, says a bad review is just the opinion of one person, who might be having a bad day, while Olivia Colman told of her experiences after winning awards and still finding herself out of work. Having said that, I expect that being an out of work Oscar winner is probably still better than being an unemployed non-Oscar winner.

Most actors who have any moderate fame seem to fill their time quite nicely with writing books for children. It seems all the rage at the moment. This is an interesting article on the subject. I’m not sure how I feel about some of the comments, particularly the ones about being careful bout what children read at an early age. One of mine was a poor reader until he started reading Pokemon cards to his younger brother and then moved on to sports journalism. By the time he wrote his first essay at University he was miles away from having a good academic style but he quickly learned. The other one just read graphic novels, or comic books as I always think of them. A local librarian told me to be grateful that he ws reading anything voluntarily.

The problem, as mentioned in the article, is that there is a touch of snobbery about what kids read, just as there used to be when libraries removed Enid Blyton books. Personally, I read a lot of classics in Dean & Sons junior editions. I still remember ploughing through Jane Eyre and similar stuff when I was far too young. having been taught to read by the time I was five I was skilful enough to read a lot of novels that I was far too young to appreciate. It was only when I moved on to Biggles and William and Enid Blyton that I actually liked reading and I haven’t stopped since., though I have rarely gone back to fine literature after my early experiences.


Book Review – The Siege of Mr Khan’s Curry Shop

I did mention this book briefly about a year ago. It’s by Charlie Robinson, blogger, runner and Yorkshireman. To quote Meatloaf, “two out of three ain’t bad”

I’ll be honest, it didn’t start well. I opened it, the binding cracked and a page fell out. The opening didn’t feel good and the proofreading wasn’t great. Then, still suffering from the after effects of Covid, I put it down and didn’t pick it up again, though I kept meaning to. I bought the paperback last year. started it but became ill and never finished it.

It was the first book I bought for my new Kindle after Christmas and the first thing I noticed as I started it again, was that the proofreading seems to have been tightened up. Unfortunately the first section doesn’t really give an accurate impression of the rest of the book.

The other criticism I’d make is that the plotting is a bit complex for my tastes in certain respects (I’m trying to avoid giving anything away here) and it’s a bit too tidy at the end, though I’d still like to see what happens to the characters in a later book..

However, once it gets going it’s brilliant. Characterisation, storytelling, dialogue – all spot on. Great sense of time and place. He says his next book is going to be a romance, which is a shame as his writing style would be perfectly suited to crime. I really feel this paragraph should be longer to balance the length of the criticism I made earlier, because it’s quite clearly a great book. Buy it. Read it. You won’t regret it.

Book Review – Riding in the Zone Rouge

Riding in the Zone Rouge

Zone Rouge cover

Author: Tom Isitt

Hardcover: 320 pages

Publisher: W&N (21 Mar. 2019)

ISBN-10: 1409171140

ISBN-13: 978-1409171140


In May 1919 they had a cycle race in France and Belgium, taking in the battlefields and severely testing the endurance of the participants, many of whom had only just returned from the army.

This book describes the race and sets it against a modern cycling tour following the route, along with a travelogue based on the two wars fought in the area – the Franco-Prussian War and the Great War.

I haven’t been on a bike for forty years, but I like travel books and I’m very interested in history, particularly the events of 1919, so it was an obvious choice.

Cycle racing is tough these days. A hundred years ago it was tougher, with longer stages, rudimentary equipment and a ban on accepting outside help, whether from blacksmiths, teams or competitors. With the added hazards of war-ravaged roads and unseasonably bad weather it became less of a sporting event and more an endurance test. Despite many of the seemingly petty rules, there was no law against the use of performance-enhancing drugs (strychnine and cocaine in those days). This must have been a great comfort to the racers, particularly when weather conditions meant that several of them had to use battlefield ruins for a few hours sleep and shelter.

Most of the references to modern cycling went right over my head, though the contrast between the bikes and clothing of 1919 and 2019 is an eye-opener.

The Zone Rouge covered 1,200 square kilometres (460 square miles) in 1919. Even today it still covers 100 square kilometres (about the area of Paris). To be honest, I didn’t even know it still existed, or how the French and Belgians went about reconstructing their country. I am now better-informed about this, and a number of other subjects.

It’s a well written book by an experienced journalist and as such it has flow and pace and is a genuine page turner.

My least favourite parts of the book are the made up conversations between the racers. I’m sure they are accurate reflections of the conversations that would have been held, but they do blur the line between fact and fiction. As a device it works well and moves the narrative along, but I’m never happy with it in a history book. This is, however, a minor quibble and if this was the sort of review that gave stars I would give it five out of five.

This is the second post of the day, as it has been in preparation for the last few days. Unfortunately, politics intruded and although it gave me material for posts about judgement and a Fifty Foot Johnson I thought I’d go ahead anyway, rather than let it get lost in the unused drafts.

Historical Fiction, or just Old-Fashioned?

It’s very hard to find a picture of a scruffy old bloke reading a book when you look through the free photo library. This is the closest I could get. Most book readers, according to the free photo library, are well-groomed young women. I will leave you to draw your own conclusions.

In the last week I have been reading Lord Peter Wimsey novels bought via Amazon and downloaded instantly to my tablet. At 99p each they are reasonable value and available instantly. I’m dubious about paying much more than that for an eBook because it doesn’t reallt feel like you are getting much for your money.

I’ll pay more on the rare occasion I buy a new book or when I buy a reference book, but when I’m buying a book that’s been in print since the 1920s, particularly one that’s now out of copyright, I have a very parsimonious attitude. Any author reading this is probably shuddering at the idea of someone like me representing the future of book-buying. Sorry about that, if you are one of them.

Considering that I’m purchasing the license to read the ‘content’ and that terms and conditions can be altered or terminated at any time without notice I feel comfortable with 99p, but not at £4.99 and £5.99. I can buy a proper book in clean condition for that, and still have something to pass on to a neighbour or a charity shop.

Several of the editions I bought have faulty formatting, but that’s the nature of cheap eBooks. You have to put up with it.

Several of the books feature what we would now consider racism. Whenever you read books from between the wars they always seem to. I’m not qualified to discuss racism, and I’m not sure if Sayers was racist or not. However, the references to Jews and blacks (not necessarily using those words) no doubt mirror the way people talked in those days. It doesn’t necessarily means she was racist, just accurate, but it doesn’t make for comfortable reading. It’s very easy to condemn writers from the 20s and 30s for being racist, and modern commentators often do, so I’ll resist the temptation.

My other concern is that the books contain plot devices I’m not entirely happy with. There is a missing heir (which turns out to be a red herring), an undetectable poison (which turns out not to be a poison) and a case of someone claiming to be his own cousin. It’s getting close to implausible. So is the idea of a middle-aged, possibly elderly, man scaling a building to dispose of a dead body. There are, in case you didn’t know, ‘rules’ about these things. And more here.

There are good bits in the books too, even though, as I get older Wimsey and Bunter are becoming closer and closer to Wooster and Jeeves.

I’ll have to do some proper reviews soon. For now, let’s say that my tastes are more inclined to historical crime fiction than they are to classics of the Golden Age.

Book Review – Library Lost – Laurie Graves

Library Lost (The Great Library Series Book 2) by [Graves, Laurie]


Just before Christmas I bought the Kindle version of Library Lost by Laurie Graves.  I then, as I often do, mislaid the Kindle, and didn’t actually start reading it until the New Year.

They say the second one of anything is difficult. You have second season syndrome in sport, difficult second albums and, in this case, the difficult second book. The main problem, as I see it, with Library Lost, is that you have to reintroduce the basics of the previous book as the story leads on from that.

This is important to people who are starting with the second book, and for people like me who have poor memories. The trap awaiting the unwary author is the temptation to drop in slabs of boring explanation. Mrs Graves avoids this trap. (Did you see what I did there? I’m pretending not to know her so I seem more professional).

If I have any criticism, it would be that the action could have started a few pages sooner. When it did start it was excellent.

I’m a little torn on the treatment of death. I know it’s YA fiction, but death (and there are a few deaths as the plot develops), seems to be glossed over,and this does tend to trivialise it.

Apart from that, the book is simply too short. I was completely engrossed in the story when I noticed that the percentages were whizzing by and suddenly, mid-story…

…I’m now waiting for Book 3.

Having said that, I’d rather to books stayed short and to the point instead of becoming bloated monsters like the Harry Potter books. But then, as I have said before, Laurie Graves is better than J K Rowling. The fact that she isn’t as rich or famous simply highlights the fact that life is unfair.

Excellent book, well written, gripping, plenty of character and action. I enjoyed it.

It’s possible I might have enjoyed it more if it had talking badgers, but I suppose you can’t have everything.




Sundays and Self-Improvement

I’m currently reading yet another self-improvement book. I can’t recommend it as I’m currently wondering whether to carry on reading it, and one of the few things that I have learned from it is that extremely successful people say “no” more often than people who are merely ordinarily successful.

So I’m close to saying “no”, I won’t waste more of my life on this book. It’s strident in tone, doesn’t really explain the concept of being extreme and isn’t giving much in the way of insight.

Fortunately, being a Kindle book, it was cheap, it hasn’t killed a tree and nobody else will have to suffer as I can’t pass it on.

It’s even worse than the last one. I decided I would benefit from a book on Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. So far, I haven’t. I kept falling asleep when I read it. This probably isn’t the fault of the book as I have a habit of buying psychology books despite knowing that they have a soporific effect on me. I’m going to persist with this one as I think it has something for me.

I can finish most books, including the one about eating frogs. It isn’t really about eating frogs, but it does offer an extended, and overdone, metaphor. It was irritating but useful.

For some reason the writers of self-improvement books really have it in for frogs, as do Victorian scientists.

A couple of weeks ago, I listened to a radio programme on self-improvement and research suggested that by the end of a self-improvement book you feel worse about yourself for failing to be the person the book implies you should be.

The strident book mentioned in the opening paragraph is a bit like that, and tells you that you should write all your failures in a journal as this helps you get over them. I’m currently failing to make the change from self-employment to employment, and did wonder, momentarily, whether to write it all down. I’m not sure, but if I do you will be the first to know.

The picture shows a cream tea that came off second best when it went head to head with me on Wednesday. It wasn’t the greatest cream tea, but it does have a link to self-improvement and failure in that one of my long-standing self-improvement targets is to lose weight.

That cackling sound you hear is 2,000 calories laughing ironically.

And that concludes my thoughts for Sunday morning.

A Tale of Two Burgers (2)

On Wednesday, we took a tour of Derbyshire and, needing toilets, we stopped at the Brierlow Bar bookshop. The car park was more crowded than usual, so we deduced that the plan of converting from bookshop to cafe was working.

You can’t begrudge someone maximising their earnings, but it’s depressing to think of all this being done at the expense of the book stock.

The cake was good (we had a very nice, moist blueberry and lemon sponge), the tea was excellent but, and I am trying to suppress a smile here, standards are slipping.

Despite several members of staff bustling about, they were so slow serving that we had to eat very slowly to avoid finishing the cake before the tea arrived. As we ate and drank tea the staff then decided to talk of their urgent need for the toilet (it seems too many customers were using it). This isn’t going to spoil my appetite, but it may be upsetting for the less hardy type of customer.

The real killer moment came when a staff member with a paint pot walked behind the counter and added water to the paint from the kitchen sink. I know they like you to have one sink for hand washing and one for washing up, and, if possible, a third for vegetable preparation, but I’m not sure about paint dilution. It doesn’t contain pathogens so environmental health may not have an issue with it. On the other hand it doesn’t look very professional.

Use the outside tap, use the tap in the toilets or ask one of the kitchen staff to pass you a jug of water. Do not, if you value your reputation, walk behind the counter with a paint pot.

Even worse, in my eyes, was the fact that the tea strainer they gave us had not been washed properly. A couple of left-over tea leaves won’t kill you, but it does make you wonder what other hygiene corners are being cut.

At least I can report that the book stock seems not to have been pruned since our last visit and though some sections are still struggling the crime novels, cookery books and aviation sections seem to be improving.

I’ll leave it there, as I’m starting to remember the book stock we lost.

It looks like Part 3 will contain news of my second burger of the week.


Book Review – Maya and the Book of Everything

Maya and the Book of Everything

Paperback: 310 pages

Publisher: Hinterlands Press; 1 edition (25 Nov. 2016)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0997845309

ISBN-13: 978-0997845303

You’ve probably seen the blog Notes From the Hinterland by Laurie Graves – this is her book.

I’m probably not the best person to review a fantasy book for young adults as my experience started with the Narnia books, experienced a gap, then started again with Harry Potter. Even then, it finished after the first few Potter books because they got too big to hold.

On that subject, did you know that there are 257,045 words in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix? Here are some word counts for famous novels. Bigger isn’t always better.

I’m not sure where Maya stands in the matter of word count, but in terms of quality it’s up there with the books I’m using as comparisons.

The action starts early and carries on at a brisk pace with plenty of twists. There are well-developed characters, a murder, a stabbing, some soppy stuff, a bit of morality and a cliff-hanger ending.

It’s ahead of most of the Harry Potter novels in being shorter, which makes for a tighter and more enjoyable read. It’s ahead of the Narnia books because the odd spot of morality that appears isn’t rammed down your throat: even as a ten-year-old I objected to having religion rammed down my throat by C. S. Lewis.

So there you have it – Maya is a better read than Harry Potter.

That will look good as a quote on the cover of Volume 2.

Where it falls short (and this is just my opinion) is that the Potter and Narnia books have a more developed environment. You could, of course say that it is uncluttered, but I would like to see a bit more detail and development.

And that’s about it. I’m now looking forwards to reading the sequel.




Words, words, words

I need 250 words and I’m struggling so find them. Well, that’s not strictly accurate, I have access to a head full of words but they need putting down in the right order, and it needs doing quickly because I have other jobs to do.

Biblioperigrination is always a good word but it has limited use – partly because there are only so many stories you can tell about books wandering round a house, and partly because it’s one I made up, so few other people understand or use it. I could cite previous uses, but that would involve me…

… for evidence of previous use see this link on biblioperigrination. It suddenly occurred to me that I could use the Reader function to search for it. It was a lonely post, sitting there on its own, but at least it saved me searching through months of posts.

This leads on to tsundoku. It’s not such a lonely search as there are a number of people who have blogged on the subject before.

I’ve just consigned 43 words to oblivion. I didn’t like the way they fitted, and as they were all common words (as in plentiful, rather than in sitting round watching horse racing from Kempton Park whilst drinking supermarket lager straight from the can). Other race courses and cheap alcohols are available.

Having said that, alternative venues and drinks may not convey the same picture. Watching racing from Goodwood whilst drinking brown ale from the bottle conveys a more summery and 1950s picture – I almost expect the Larkins to pop up somewhere.

Before I go on, and I admit I can go on a bit, my knowledge of the racing venues of the UK is not based on years of building up interesting material for my life story, just on years of dealing in collectables. Race courses issue passes to their members and these passes are collected. You need to know the courses, their size and if they are still open.

My knowledge of cheap alcohol, on the other hand, is based on a more hands-on approach, and a wide-ranging testing programme that has left me with several gaps in my memories of the 1980s. My current attitude to drinking, which is one of the few things about my lifestyle to draw approval from my doctor, is actually the result of accidental aversion therapy.

A similar approach to curry, kebabs, chips and fried chicken has yet to show any result. Well, not entirely true. It has yet to show any positive result. Again, alternatives are available – burgers, baltis and bacon cobs being the more northern form and tripe and trotters taking us back to the 1950s again.

My extensive knowledge of junk food has just frightened me.

However, by the magic of blogging I have now produced over 450 words, and telling you this has just added another twenty to the total. I can now bring this post to a close, apologise for the lack of photographs (food is never around long enough for  a photograph) and get off to do the washing.

I’m tempted to bring it home wet, as Storm Brian is providing some pretty brisk drying weather.




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.


Photo of books – it fills a space.