Archives for category: For Adult Readers

Published by Profile Books.

This is a small biography, but for all that adds details that might not be known about the family, particularly for readers who have only read Gerald Durrell’s writing and are either not aware of Lawrence Durrell’s books, or have not read them. It gives a wonderful back ground to My Family and other Animals, with details of many of the characters that are so intrinsic to the success of that book.

It is a biography of the family and as such it is perhaps, too small – the details of Lawrence Samuel Durrell, the father who was an engineer in India are tantalising and I suspect only flutter across his story. There are several biographies of Lawrence Durrell available, but very little can be found about Leslie, Margo or Louisa Durrell.

There has been some talk of the book not giving enough details of the problems that the family had – for example Louisa’s depression after her husband’s death and alcohol problems. I don’t think, however, that biographies should always relate the stories of people, warts and all – there is enough here to give an indication that their life was not all sun, sea and scorpions and why.

They were all born in India, but were intrinsically English – the English abroad. The book is liberally seasoned with photographs and some of the story is perhaps a little graphic for some of my younger readers – and so I have noted it as Adult. It will not take you long to read, but it does quote my favourite episode from My Family & Other Animals, and is perhaps a book that should be kept along side that, to give a little background to this extraordinary family.

 

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Published by Pan Books

I have been a ‘fan’ of Gerald Durrell’s since I was a child and read My Family & Other Animals along with the other natural history books that he wrote. I remember them with great affection, but haven’t read them for a while. Recently a new book has been published, a biography of his family (The Durrells of Corfu / Michael Haag) which I read and in which I found reference to this book, Marrying off Mother & Other Stories by Gerald Durrell – one I knew nothing about.

It contains just eight glorious vignettes of writing. There is a small note at the beginning of the book – A Word in Advance from the author, “All of these stories are true or, to be strictly accurate, some are true, some have a kernel of truth and a shell of embroidery…”

They cover everything from the story of a truffle hunting pig, a butler, and a boat trip, through to the eponymous marital arrangements for Gerald Durrell’s mother. It is not so much the stories, though once more Gerald Durrell has had me laughing out loud, but the use of language – he had a wonderful use of language, and I am only sorry that he died in 1995 – I would have liked to have written to him to tell him how much I enjoy his writing. These stories remind me a little of Saki’s short stories – brilliant observations of people and life.

“She was not ready when she should be, always she did not want to do what he suggested and, sin of sins, she left stockings and brassieres lying about on the floor in her efforts to get dressed quickly. He felt that this last habit, combined with a certain age gap, made the idea of marriage impossible or, if not impossible, suspect. I said I thought that that was exactly what he wanted: someone young, vital, who would argue with him and keep him permanently waist-deep in discarded brassieres and stockings. I said that marriages had been ruined by the wife being too tidy and that many others had been saved by a brassiere being dropped at the right moment…”

“My creatures, each in its own way, abused me, reviled me, slandered me and condemned me out of hand for being five minutes late with their food. But gradually their ferocious criticism of my callousness died away to give place to the contented champing of jaws, the slushing of frit and the cracking of nuts…”

“She was a small, fragile woman whose skin, at the throat, hung in folds and pleats like a curtain. Her face was a network of fine wrinkles like a relief map of the mouth of some great river. Her nose was prominent and arched like an eagle’s beak. Her eyes were blue, a muzzy, watery blue, like faded periwinkles, and in the left one she wore a monocle tethered by a long piece of watered ribbon….”

This is an adult book – or perhaps a young adult. My Family and other Animals should be read by everyone – and has its own post on this blog. I shall presently write another for The Durrells of Corfu (Haag) – to complete the ‘set’ – that too is an Adult book, perhaps in some ways more than this. It does contain photographs which could be said to be a little revealing.

Sadly I have tried to copy the cover of this book onto the post – but it refuses to come – so I have resorted to the above image of Gerald Durrell – the book has a picture of a blue lake with a building in the middle, and some boats to the side. Its not a large book by any means…but the contents are delicious.

 

 

 

 

Published by Orion

“Ned was the reason why Mr Doyle had to get a pacemaker fitted.”

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“And besides, according to most of our teachers, you are not supposed to give power to wild boys on horses. It only encourages them”

Another superb book from the Orion stable.

This is a book about friendship, horses, and being your own person. It is about horse racing, bravery and standing up for what is right. It is about finding out that not everything fits neatly in boxes and that it is rare for people to do so too.

I marked two small points in this book – both made me laugh out loud and they are quoted above…

Ned is something else. I wish I had met Ned when I was a child – wild, different and silent. He doesn’t attend school very often. Ned, though is special – an extraordinarily talented boy – wild, determined, and exceptional. He reminds me a little of my favourite uncle –

This is a story with characters that almost engulf the book.

Minty’s parents though, are parting…things are not right at home. An understatement, if there ever was one. Her father’s stuff is in a skip in their drive, her mother is smiling fake smiles and talking about “turning new leaves”, “starting again” and “new lives”.

The trouble is Minty rather liked the other one – the one before her parent’s began to talk earnestly in whispers, and started smiling fake smiles at one another and then there is Ned.

Ned who doesn’t ‘do’ school. He is the boy that the teachers shrug about. Who glowers at everyone and has something to do with horses…

K M Peyton’s Blind Beauty was my favourite ‘horse’ book. Now I’m not so sure – I suspect it is this, a glorious celebration of being different, bravery and friendship. They should both be sold together – I feel they are a pair of siblings…

I wish I could ride like Ned…I wish I could have a relationship with a  horse like he has with Dagger… but that would entail so much more…

It is superb.

 

 

 

Published by Penguin

I don’t often read adult books; I spend too many hours reading those written for children and young adults.

A few years ago though I came across Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum crime novels.  I’m not sure how many there are in the series now – this though, is the first, and possibly the best – though that is uncertain.

At the beginning of the book Stephanie has just lost her job working as a lingerie buyer, and decides it is worth visiting her cousin Vinnie who runs the local bounty hunter office to ask if his job for an office worker is still available.

Under threat of exposure, (he has an interesting personal life) Vinnie agrees to take Stephanie on as his latest bounty hunter.

The books are gritty. They are certainly not for young adults (at least not from this blog), but they are also some of the funniest books I have ever read. The relationship between Stephanie, Joe Morelli (a local policeman with a history) and Ranger – an almost mystical bounty hunter already employed by Vinnie, is central to the story.

As is often the case the characters are what makes these books so wonderful (and why I’d love to own a Ranger’s T-shirt) -they are all extraordinary: Lula, initially a minor character in this the first of the books, develops into one of the pivotal people in the series – larger than life and twice as gutsy, though with the need to stop off regularly for doughnuts, and perhaps the odd handbag sale. Grandma Mazur is Stephanie’s maternal grandmother – and is quite unique amongst grandparents – willing to try anything and with a hobby of attending viewings at the local funeral parlours. Morelli and Ranger, as mentioned above, Stephanie’s parents and of course Rex. The longest living hamster I have ever come across. He is an integral part of the books. Rex doesn’t do a lot (hamsters don’t on the whole), but he has been known to bite, when necessary…

These cheer me up, when life gets difficult. They are in parts, extremely violent, but to counter that they are also extremely funny. Do read them in order – One for the MoneyTwo for the Dough, Three to get Ready…if you don’t, you won’t appreciate the characters as they develop.

They are American (set in New Jersey) and I have to admit that they are the only American books I have so far loved.

Read them – and laugh.

6-img_1329I have used this blog to promote good writing and I try to ensure that I give an accurate indication of the age groups that may enjoy them.

Often they are new, stories that I have had the pleasure to enjoy before publication. I hope that this is something that gives some guidance and help.

Children’s books, or books for young readers are generally grouped by age. This is not a perfect solution to the problem of suitability and reading ability. Some Children’s Interest age is older than their actual, and some are younger. It is though a good starting point.

I have refused to sell a book that is not suitable to a child at the till (an eight-year-old wanting the complete Hunger Games trilogy, comes to mind),

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usually by suggesting something different. I have also referred a choice made by young readers to the parents or the person about to pay for the books, and more often than not have been asked to suggest something a little more suitable.

Most books published for young readers up to 12 years or so are fine, there may be some with a more serious plot line, but they are generally presented and edited in such a way that the story is acceptable.

Those marked for teenage or young adult can and often deal with these subjects in a punchier and direct way. There are also stories dealing with much darker subjects.  Which is why I have been known to refer younger readers to their ‘responsible adult’ for want of a better phrase…

Some 11 year olds are a little younger than their reading age. Some have reading ages that are the same – which is always a pleasure.

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Then there are some 11 year olds, who are mentally 14 or 15 – going on 30; their Interest age is substantially greater than their actual age.

Children are growing up fast now. That may be a cliché – however, I think it is true. They are exposed to subject matter on the Internet, and often in their own lives that I certainly wasn’t aware of at their age. Or if I was, it was only on the periphery of my life. This doesn’t mean though that there shouldn’t be some sensible acknowledgement of the types of books that there are out there. It also doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be written – though some subjects are (in my opinion) really are only suitable for adults.

There have been subjects covered in teenage books that have concerned me as a bookseller. One was about prostitution. That one, surprisingly is a very good story. It wasn’t gratuitous at all. The main character worked for a madam, who was running a very efficient and practical ‘house of ill repute’. When the madam dies at the end of the book our heroine has the opportunity to take on the job – a job she is well acquainted with. She knows the tricks of the trade, which girls are lazy and which young lass should work in a circus. Sadly, she chooses a job as a secretary. The only criticism I had of the story. There was no reason for her to do so – she was a very ably experienced and knowledgeable candidate for working the brothel (further, she knew the girls), but had no knowledge of working in an office. I felt that the suggestion that the job in the brothel, though highly suitable for her and her circumstances had been deemed politically incorrect – and so she went off to the city to have a rather prosaic and I suspect, rather less interesting life. If I could remember the title I would review volume – for young adults. It is not suitable for younger readers, and I would make that abundantly clear. Sadly, I never succeeded in selling this to anyone – as soon as I mentioned the word prostitution to my adult customers, they would balk and ask for something else…

Another was about parent-child abuse. That one, I have to admit I never offered to customers in the store where I worked. The plot had nothing to recommend it. It was unpleasant and unnecessary and fundamentally the characters within the story had no hope. There was nothing to recommend it.

Two days ago I picked up a proof of a book written by Mal Peet (who died in March 2015), that had been completed by Meg Rosoff. I had heard about Mal Peet from colleagues who had enjoyed his books and was interested to read this one, and in my usual way, started without reading the blurb.The English is wonderful, Mal Peet had a lovely use of language. I thoroughly enjoyed the beginning of the book.

Initially the story tells of a young black orphan taken from his orphanage in England and sent to Canada to one run by priests. On arrival he is given his first ever hot bath. He is given good food, clothing, and the work in and around the orphanage is wholesome and educational. Things are generally looking positive.

There are indications though that things are not as they seem. I found myself finding these small seeds of disquiet and hoping that things were not going to go down the route, that I feared they might. I reached page 58 or so. I stopped then, and I went to my manager, who encouraged me to continue (sometimes, it is true, you need to continue with a plot), which I did.

To page 61 / 62 when I took it back to him and gave it to him to try. He too was astonished – the scenes described are graphic, and unpleasant. The book is not a teenage book, or for that matter one for young adults. After all, when do you become a young adult? Surely that should be when you reach 18 – though that might not be your Interest age even then.

I am not able to give you the title of the book; I left the proof in the office as I don’t know of anyone to whom I would want to pass it onto and certainly didn’t want to continue to read it. I won’t be suggesting it as a book for my niece, either, who is without doubt becoming a ‘young adult’.

The system of sorting books into age groups isn’t just about reading ability – it is also about content and suitability. Children who read ahead of themselves may find that they do not understand the nuances of the writing; why certain behaviour and situations are emotionally charged, wrong or why they are wonderful. Also they often don’t read the books that are written for their age group, and are likely never to go back to them, and so miss out on some glorious writing. It is particularly difficult when they are making their own choices, which are sometimes coloured and influenced by media and friends who are not as caring about what they read.

I have been asked how parents and those who are responsible for making sure that books that are read by children are ‘good’ – by that they usually mean, well written, with an engaging and interesting plot, that are suitable for their reading age and ability

There is only one way I know of to do this, and that is by reading the books as well.

Not everyone has the time to do this though, and I hope that in some way my blog helps those who are short on time to choose something that is ‘good’.

If you are remotely concerned about the books your child, whatever age he or she may be, is reading, then talk to them about what the book is about. Ask open questions about what happens in the book, the decisions the characters make and ask them how the book makes them feel. If they are un happy, or unsure, then it is perhaps one that needs to either be put down for a later date, or be discarded altogether.

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Published by Ebury Press

It isn’t often I get the chance to read an ‘adult’ book – and it is very rare for me to read a biography. I am half way through this volume (I’m reading a proof I found behind the till a little while ago), and am beginning to think that I really should watch the books that are published for that genre, so I don’t miss out, as I nearly did with this.one.

This volume is full of small vignettes of Chris Packham’s childhood. He refers to it as being ‘A Memoir’, and so it is. The small stories of his youth are not in chronological order, but this is of no matter. They are wonderful pieces of observation and glorious writing. These are interspersed with small much more recent introspective pieces… which I suspect will give the book a depth that isn’t yet apparent; I haven’t finished the book – only 153 pages into it. Not long after I began the book I started ripping up bits of toilet paper (the only spare paper I had to hand), to mark passages that particularly caught my attention…

The Farmer June 1975

Occasionally after this reiterated exchange the boy would suddenly start to tell him about some bird or other. He’d talk absurdly fast, obliviously tripping through his words, always looking down at the step, he’d tell the mat about something that totally switched him on, he’d lurch from timid and backward to a barely contained mania, rambling too quickly, excitedly crashing through a dialogue that gave no room for conversation and then, inevitably, punctuate this cascade of unsolicited enthusiasm with a question. He’d finally glance at him to ask if he’d seen a ‘whatever-it-was’. Which he hadn’t because he knew nothing about birds…

The Bird Saturday 14th June 1975

Twelve hours later my bedroom was a different place. It had a Kestrel in it. Perched on my jiggery cjextaewgae5p43paw. It was gawky, half-dressed, its jumper ruffed up over its baggy trousers and sockless feet, an in-betweener with a tetchy temper, tufted with sneezy down. I could smell it. Sweet, musty, dry and when it shook, a cloud of glittering dust puffed into the shaft of evening sun that cut through a crack in the pegged-together curtains. I could smell its droppings too, or mutes as falconers call them; wet and papery, they had slapped Marc hard across his starred cheek, blotted his sparkling corkscrew hair and blistered his guitar….

The Dream August 1975

His chest lightened as he banked up hard, the air riffling his feathers, tickling his legs, he squeezed his toes together and heard his wing tips whizzing as he belted into a big curve out of the shade into the dazzling sun, slipping across the sky so fast it made his nose run. And then into an instant white-out, a shocking cold on his eyes, tearing tiny tears from the mist, racing in little rivulets over his back and down his tail and through the fluxing honey glow of the facing sun all strewn over with a tracery of fine thread, then the world flashing far beneath him as he hurled out into a vast canyon of puffy grey vapour.

This volume has taken me back to the sounds and smells of my youth. The sounds of a milk float, bottles gently clinking…television shows I had forgotten and more recently describes the all encompassing over load of my senses as I have handled birds of prey over the years, the sights, touch, sounds, smells and almost taste of birds. Its an extraordinary piece of writing.

Why Ebury  Press didn’t use a close up of a kestrel for the cover of this book, (or the photograph above) I really don’t know – the hardback is available now with the cover I have shown at the beginning of this post. This really is an extraordinary. It is so much more than ‘A Memoir’.

 

 

 

 

 

9781447276494the20reader20on20the206-27Published by Pan / Translated from the French by Ros Schwartz

If you don’t read anything else this summer it won’t really matter – I can’t think that there will be much that will give as much pure joy and pleasure as this small volume.

I started to read this whilst reading three other titles (as is often the way of things); it quickly became, however, the only book I read for two days.

This is gorgeous, and is one of the most charming and funny books you will ever read.

Guylain Vignolles works at a book pulping factory. A job he abhors, but carries it out with care and respect for the volumes that pass through his hands. Each evening he steals away the odd leaf that didn’t quite make through the workings and had came to rest on the inside of the machine. In the morning, after drying the sheets, he reads from them. An eclectic set of texts, to a train carriage of people who listen avidly.

This is a story of friendship, and of two quests. five-goldfish-swimming-with-bubblesOne for a pair of limbs and the other for something much more important. Beautifully written and translated (it is a French volume) with a lovely use of language and character – it is a book of hope.

It is extremely rare for me to find an Adult’s book that I have enjoyed so much.

Many adults I come across say they have no time to read. They have too many books to read already.

Make the time, and further, put the others aside. This is not a big book, but it is a marvellous one.

 

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Published by Point Blank Books (an imprint of Oneworld Publications).

I like my crime to be what I refer to as ‘friendly’. More often than not the crime detailed in the story (always fiction, it can’t be ‘friendly’ crime if it is not), is murder. I am not one on the whole, for whom the deceased has been tortured before their death, for any reason. I enjoy Elizabeth George, the odd Agatha Christie, Stephen Booth, and have loved Janet Evanovitch’s Stephanie Plum volumes. Though those do have a strong line of violence. They are an exception, I find the humour of the books tempers the rather grim elements.

I first found out about Steve Burrows’ new series of books when I came across the title A Cast of Falcons, and investigated. I have had a love of raptors for many years (taking the opportunity to fly and hunt with them when I can) – and looked into this volume as a result. It isn’t published yet.

A Siege of Bitterns, however, was – so I bought it – just on the off-chance and it has been a brilliant read. This mixes the world of bird watching with classic murder, with subtle and wonderful twists. DI Domenic Jejeune has recently been transferred from London to Norfolk under the mixed blessing of being some sort of police star – however, whatever the success he has had in his past with his investigations or might have in the future hasn’t given him the joy that he has had from his knowledge and joy of watching birds.

The book is set in Norfolk and its descriptions of the landscapes has made me think I need 15710273486_a583316c81to visit the marsh lands and the area, as soon as possible. It is a heartfelt book – Steve Burrows joy of natural history is all pervading in this start of a wonderful series.

A Pitying of Doves is listed as coming soon on Oneworld Publications web site and I hope that A Cast of Falcons will follow soon after. If Steve Burrows had been resident in the UK, I would have contacted him, in the hope of arranging an event at my store. He lives in Canada (from where DI Jejeune originates) – which is a bit far I suppose. Never mind, I will I am sure enjoy the next book in the series, and am looking forward to its arrival.a20pitying20of20doves_9781780748979

Published by Bloomsbury

I know very little about ‘art’ – as in the art that is depicted in the National Gallery and the Wallace collection.

That isn’t to say that I haven’t enjoyed wandering around both galleries over the years. Grandpa introduced me to art – he made me a member of the RA, and after a special trip to the Wallace purchased a copy of The Arab Tent (Landseer) for me.

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We once went to the London Museum together, I remember, and somehow landed up in a gallery with an ‘installation’ I think it is called, of steel girders. Neither of us were very impressed.  We thought it would have been better to have used them in a building.  Usually, we looked at paintings and we discussed how the artist had depicted material, (for example velvet) and expression, that type of thing, so perhaps the girders were unlikely to get much of a positive review from us. Since then I have spent some time wandering the National Gallery too – at one time carefully going through their guide book, and buying post cards of the art I particularly liked.

I picked this volume up, initially as something to pass the time in a lunch break at work – without expecting much. The cover is (I think) uninspiring and to be honest rather over emphasises the love element of the book and though it does give an indication of the art it doesn’t indicate the importance art has to the story.

It is a tale of murder, of stolen art, of identity, and there is that element of love in it too.

One character I particularly enjoyed, the personification of The Improbability of Art – a self important character, but with a remarkable astute knowledge of people and their behaviour over the centuries.

I learnt a considerable amount about old art, some about how the art ‘world’ works, the auctioneers, dealers and a little about how paintings were produced, and how they try to verify the artist.

I enjoyed the language too – to the extent of noting words and phrases used in my mobile, (it seems to have taken the place of a note book), most of which I knew, but had forgotten: effluvium, solipsistic, uxorial, peripatetic – perhaps because I read so much children’s work, that it gave me a joy to read these words again, like old friends.

I loved too the description of a naked man as ‘…etiolated as a peeled cucumber…’

My only criticism, if it could be called such, is that the detail that is strong through out the rest of the book is not there as the strings of the mystery are gathered together in the last chapter. Though perhaps it was a wise decision. The book runs to 479 pages and perhaps to give the end the detail it deserved, would have extended it too far.

The book is due to be the Book of the Month (Waterstones)  in April for Adult Fiction. The Rococo art, and the art world is brought brilliantly to life in this rather good piece of fiction.

I have to admit to looking up Jean-Antoine Watteau (1684 – 1721) and found that I had seen and enjoyed several of his pictures over the years without knowing much about the artist. I also wanted to see if The Improbability of Love really existed. Sadly that part of the story too is fiction. I suspect though, it would have been very difficult to have used one of his works – particularly as I think it would have been wrong to have given a fictional history to a picture that has one already.

 

 

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First published in 1954 by Harper and Brothers.

The paperback edition I read was published by the Natural History Library in 1964

Now out of print – The Internet site Vialibri may be able to trace a copy.

I was given the paperback edition of this by a very good friend of mine after my trip to Madagascar. It relates the experiences of a newly qualified American anthropologist and her first trip into West Africa to stay with and learn from the local tribes. By turn it made me laugh, horrified and charmed me. It is a fictional account, ‘An anthropological novel’, but based on real experiences.

Africa will always be close to my heart. My mother and her siblings were born there, and my favourite uncle lived there until his death.  I have had some fantastic holidays and experiences there too, both with those who are indigenous and others who are / were not and it is probably this that made me love the book as much as I have.

Apart from relating the views, philosophy, society and life of the various people she came across, it also prompted me to look at the way we behave and to wonder what an anthropologist would think of us, our beliefs, and our society.

It is and was a superb book.

Elenore Smith Bowen is the nom de plume of Laura Bohannan and she included an author’s note:

All the characters in this book, except for myself, are fictitious in the fullest meaning of that word. I knew people of the type I have described here; the incidents of the book are of the genre I myself experienced in Africa. Never-the-less, so much is fiction…Here I have written simply as a human being, and the truth I have tried to tell concerns the sea change in oneself that comes from immersion in another and savage culture.

One of the joys of second-hand, rare or antiquarian books is that sometimes they have that glorious smell that only comes with age. I think Stephen Fry did a ‘thing’ about it on QI – and if I remember correctly stated that the aroma I so enjoyed was from a fungus, that produced aphrodisiac spores.

If that isn’t the case and I either dreamt that or invented it, then it is as good a reason for me to love it as any other.

This small volume is permeated with that wonderful aroma, and is treasured all the more for that, and that my friend thought to give it to me.