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J. Nichols "Dogeared Reader" (France)
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Three Letters from the Andes
Three Letters from the Andes
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.70

5.0 out of 5 stars Letters Fit to Print and Publish, 24 May 2014
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The letters, as others have remarked, are the lightest and least worked over prose that PLF produced, yet nevertheless are truely remarkable for their human interest and attention to detail. They describe a trip taken to Peru for some serious climbing high up in the Andes, starting at Cuzco, but also include time spent near Lake Titicaca and before the return departure, in Lima the city capital. He left London with a group of friends forming part of a larger group of members of the Andean Society that had chartered a plane to pursue their own special interests in the American sub-continent. These friends were Robin and Renée Fedden, André Choremi, Patrick Kinross, Carl Natar, Miles Hilyard and lastly Andrew, Duke of Devonshire, perhaps Patrick's closest chum.

How many in these days of SMS and e-mailing can bother to write complete sentences, let alone descriptive accounts that can penetratingly evoke real life experiences ? But we are in 1971, nearly a quarter century short of the Internet. Read these letters - it is surely the next best thing to having actually participated !


How to Cure a Fanatic
How to Cure a Fanatic
by Amos Oz
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Voice of Sanity; Voice of Common Sense, 6 April 2014
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This review is from: How to Cure a Fanatic (Paperback)
This booklet ( a mere 6"x4" - don't expect more for your money !) contains two brilliant lectures given by Amos Oz. They happen to have been delivered in the two years following 9/11 and are effectively a plea for peace and common sense, explaining that the Israeli-Palestinian issue is really a quarrel over real estate. He further suggests that there is no other solution than a compromise that will be painful for both parties to recognise. So ultimately he hopes for a two state solution with pragmatically lots of bi-lateral agreements and co-operation.

The title is a slight misnomer, and potentially a disappointment. The first lecture has been titled "Between Right and Right" which implies that both sides have legitimate claims. The second, which lends its title to the book itself, pleads for a sense of humour to prevail so that little by little broadmindedness and tolerance are encouraged. Fanatics would then evolve over a period of time and actually learn to tolerate multiculturalism and diversity. As things stand, Oz points out in the context of fanaticism that "Ben Laden loves us" and wants to save us from ourselves. He is as sincere as he is sarcastic for it is a love of course we can do without.

The booklet ends with a short interview with Oz in 2012 in which he is asked a number of searching questions. Have his views changed in the light of recent events ? What would you imagine ? Common sense remains common sense.


Between Friends
Between Friends
by Amos Oz
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 12.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Between Dreams and Reality, 6 April 2014
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This review is from: Between Friends (Hardcover)
This book is composed of eight short stories told with biblical simplicity that could each stand alone but are in fact linked by a theme : life on a kibbutz and the various characters that appear and reappear. They are very well thought out - humane, poignant stories of dilemmas in a world where everything in theory is decided democratically in a commune of equals.

Obviously enough, matters of the heart cannot be decided democratically. However, there are other situations where the democratic approach seems equally inane and oblivious to the singular human need for a certain permission or exoneration. Amos Oz exploits the gaps that do occur in such a society where the application of common sense solutions cannot always be easily made.

The book is full of pathos and ironic humour, filled with lyrical and concrete details and taken in isolation is - broadly speaking - a delightful read. (I qualify with "broadly speaking" because there is a gratuitous description of a puppy dying, crushed under the wheel of a bus, and a relevant but equally horrifying account of a deranged, distraught father "yanking a quiet gentle boy from under his blanket and slapping his face savagely over and over again until the boy's nose began to bleed and his head banged against the wall". This is surely playing to the gallery)

Amos Oz is an author of distinction, much honoured and acclaimed and a Professor of Literature to boot. He has written an outstanding autobiographical novel "A Tale of Love and Darkness" on a much broader canvas. Here I cannot but have the impression that Oz is merely ticking over on four cylinders like a large eight cylinder limousine economising in town traffic !


My Judy Garland Life
My Judy Garland Life
Price: 4.31

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Obsessive Passion Tempered by Analytical Insight, 15 Mar 2014
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This book is a strange amalgam of biography and autobiography in proportions roughly two to one. The rare alloy is a "tour de force" - an intensely personal eulogy to an individual whose charisma and talent preserved in sight and sound will long survive her short but eventful life.

The first chapters best encapsulate the obsessive nature of the devotion Judy Garland (née Frances Ethel Gumm) unwittingly unleashed in many of her fans, some born after her death in 1969 at the age of forty-seven. There is no doubt that Susie Boyt became enchanted very young. If you substitute in the phrase "What a friend I have in Jesus !" the words "Judy Garland" for "Jesus" you will have some notion of what it was like to catch the virus young ! Effectively it became nothing less than an intimate relationship, one to one !

However the author writes this book from the perspective of someone now mature, and if she was not born under the balencing sign of Libra she should have been because later chapters explore the areas of unhappiness this gifted star encountered and we are then displayed a totally different picture. Judy developped an addiction to alcohol and her perscribed medication, especially sleeping pills. With an inability to pace her life, because of or in spite of her five husbands, she somehow let the studios work her too hard, and her health broke down. It would seem the fans, (all but the bad-crazy ones), cannot bear to think of this and each secretly believes that had her life somehow touched his or hers a rescue of sorts would have been achieved and the story would be different.

This is really a powerful account of an obsession. Susie Boyt takes the subject of her obsessive interest and analyses the symbiosis between the image of the hero and the imagination of the hero-worshipper. But she really takes it a step further in as much as she is not content with a description of this cerebral process. She crosses the pond (probably frequently) and interviews Judy's daughters, Lorna Luft and Lisa Minelli. She sits next to Judy's much loved son Joe Luft during a collage of movie clips of her best-known work. She contacts Marc Chardonnay, an arch-bishop of Judy memorabilia, and visits with him her grave in the mausoleum at the Ferncliffe Cemetary, Hartsdale. She tracks down to a boutique hotel in London Judy's fifth husband, Mickey Rooney, and interviews him. Her passion drives her and she becomes quite indefatigable.

Susie Boyt's style of writing is all her own and it reads like an intimate account she would only share with a trusted friend. Moreover, she has something akin to vistavision and can write in full technicolor prose ! This combination of lucidity, devotion and honesty cannot be worth less than five stars.


The Small Hours
The Small Hours
by Susie Boyt
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.59

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Only Insomniacs Understand Intimately The Small Hours, 3 Mar 2014
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This review is from: The Small Hours (Paperback)
Susie Boyt has a certain way with words. No long convoluted Proustian sentences will flow from her pen, but her descriptive prowess is wonderfully idiosyncratic, powerfully introspective, really with a flair all of her own. In this book she paints the portrait of a highly sympathetic but psychologically damaged female, Harriet Mansfield. We learn to like her because she is always trying her best but at the same time we know the odds for success are invariably stacked against her.

Tall and ungainly with red hair and extra-large feet she would have reason to feel self conscious even if she had not had an abusive childhood. There are dark hints that her mother had been violent towards her when she was very young. Later, as a student at College, she lands in a psychiatric ward presumably on account of some form of self-harm, although this is left to our imagination. Throughout her life she is living always on the edge, nervous, self-depreciating, depressive, insomniac. Although she has some private means she finds a job as a house agent four days a week devoting the rest as a volunteer, a supernumerary helper and carer in the children's ward of the hospital where she had once been interned. This is an occupation she adores because she has a way with young children and they respond so well to her.

An excellent secondary portrait is drawn of Miss McGee. She is the psychoanalyst who three times weekly over a seven year period "sketched, cosseted, allowed to unravel, challenged, stretched and re-educated" Harriet. Susie Boyt, as Sigmund Freud's great grand-daughter, is very self-assured describing this milieu with its "unsanitary mess" and "ritual humiliations". But her subtle observations of Miss McGee's style of dress, mode de vie and mannerisms also add relief to the story she is relating. The realism of it all ends up hitting you in three colourful dimensions ! We are left with the vivid impression of another fictional character, spun out of the real world we inhabit, not from a phantasmagorical image in the author's mind.

Thanks to McGee's professional love and care - and to a family legacy - our hero Harriet believes in her late thirties she may spread her wings and fly; acquiring a suitable dwelling she opens an idealized nursery school for girls, employing four bright young things, where the emphasis was to be on character building through spontaneous pleasure and opportunity rather than have the very young submitted to achieving a version of academic success.

I must leave the potential reader to discover how this creative streak in Harriet fares, having given (like the author !) ample information for an intelligent guess. I personally feel the story ends rather too melodramatically, with insufficient evidence, uncharacteristically given, for the protagonists' motivations. Some will disagree. What seems a more general criticism is that the book is a little unbalenced with a lot of inverted chronology. It's a standard ploy of modern fiction, I know, but here it's employed very liberally, like spoilers. Perhaps it is the author's intention that we should anticipate a less than happy ending, and that everything in life is fore-ordained just like in Greek tragedy.


The Fault in Our Stars
The Fault in Our Stars
by John Green
Edition: Paperback
Price: 3.85

3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nearly Perfect, 26 Feb 2014
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This review is from: The Fault in Our Stars (Paperback)
This book is as much about the unfolding of young love as it is about the harrowing mundanity of living with cancer. Both aspects are handled by the author with a realism and a sensitivity which it would be hard to equal, and this novel would seem to be having an emotive success that is entirely appropriate. Yet it is not perfect.

The main protagonists are Hazel and Augustus, sixteen and a half and seventeen respectively, and they meet up at a cancer support group at a local church. So far, so good. But unfortunately the story of their leaning toward each other and becoming more intimate hinges on an obsession Hazel has about a novel concerning cancer called "An Imperial Affliction" written by a certain Peter Van Houten. We are to believe that she finds it so special and so rare that in spite of her above average intelligence she cares compulsively about what happens to a hampster (and other important matters) as apparently the book ends in mid-sentence - it must be assumed when the young cancer patient dies.

Indeed, Hazel invests so much of her emotional and intellectual energy in trying to figure out how to get the answers to her questions that Gus becomes completely taken over by the same desire as he falls for her. They end up paying a visit to the author in Amsterdam, using up Gus's wish-come-true, a major "cancer perk", and attempting to question him. This aspect of the plot strikes me as hollow and improbable, but it is as good as any other excuse to get them together in a romantic setting away from Indianapolis drinking champagne and eating out in the open by a Dutch canal at an exclusive restaurant. And, most importantly, on a quest to find out the fictional truth ! Ugh ! Why should this be off-putting ? If John Green has by now so fully wrapped us up in the emotively charged lives of Hazel and Gus, I suppose the plot can really be relegated down into becoming a mere secondary consideration !


The Traveller's Tree: A Journey Through the Caribbean Islands
The Traveller's Tree: A Journey Through the Caribbean Islands
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Edition: Paperback
Price: 9.09

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ravenala Madagascariensis - Fruit of the Great Escape, 24 Jan 2014
After the war in which he had served with such bravery, distinction and honour, Major Fermor had little more than his pen with which to defend himself against any potential accusations of indolence. His brief lecturing appointment with the British Council in Athens had come to an end and PLF knew that he wanted to be a writer.

An opportunity arose when a photographer friend of his, Costa Achillopoulos, asked him whether he wished to accompany him on a trip to the Caribbean and write up the text to the plates of a book he anticipated getting published. In the end the tail wagged the dog, and it turned out that the photographs accompanied the book that PLF wrote ! Anyway it was the big escape for Paddy from dreary post-war Britain and to gild the lily of this unforeseen adventure he invited his girlfriend Joan Rayner to join them.

No book written by Fermor has ever been mundane and conventional - he is hereditarily incapable of creating any such thing - and this first publication of his sets the tone for his subsequent writing. He is at great pains in the preface to make clear that his work should not be mistaken for a guide to the Caribbean. PLF's interests are historical, anthropological and architectural rather than a mere inquiry into the health of an island's economy and those assets it might have to further the development of tourism.

He is deeply concerned with the legacy of slavery. He is earnestly politically correct but always with a slightly sardonic smile, and so devotes much space to minority black communities and practices like voodooism. One is led to believe this primitive religious devotion took root in the Caribbean as a form of escapism in a difficult world where colour and class still mattered although there was no actual apartheid after abolition. He even traces the origins of the original settlers of the Antilles,the Caribs and the Arawaks, most of whom became victims of Western expansion in the 17th ad 18th centuries. In Jamaica he visits the Rastafarians and the Maroons (the latter descendents of escaped negro slaves)and the poor whites or "red legs" of Barbados.

Notwithstanding his commitment to an intellectual analysis of the social and political situation in the Caribbean at this particular moment of time - just after World War II - his magnificent descriptive powers and lyrical prose are already well in evidence and make this book an essential read for PLF devotees, and hardly a waste of time and effort for everyone else !


Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
by Jesse Andrews
Edition: Paperback
Price: 4.65

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hilariously Mega-Awesome, 6 Jan 2014
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Actually I was going to give this book only one star for English Lit., or rather for the lack of. And it should come with a health warning along the lines : if you come from a preppy family and you're just thirteen, the subversive effect of this book is going to ruin your parental relationship. Also you will grow up too soon and probably lose both the Autumn and the Winter of your Childhood !

So what is so great about this book apart from all the bad language and drooling about sex ? It turns a truly sad situation (the dying girl bit) into a comedy of fantastic fun where the two main protagonists are beautifully drawn, utterly realistic in what they say and how they act. Jesse Andrews, completely tongue in cheek, is a shrewd observer of that certain junior slice of humanity and is quite uncanny in attributing calculating motivations for the weirdest of goings-on. The formatting of the text is original and humoristic. Although written for young adults, read it at any age and you might just agree with me. Oh... but I meant to add that it should be seriously banned for the twelve and unders !

NB : I am supposed to be writing a British review; for "preppy" read "church-going" or "straight-laced". For "humoristic" read "humouristic", if you must.


Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
Dash and Lily's Book of Dares
by Rachel Cohn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.24

1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dash and Lily's Continental Divide, 5 Jan 2014
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The storyline is fine. It's a book written in an authentic and intimate style so that we get to work up some real empathy for the two main characters of the title. It is also written "on the level" with plenty of street cred and good humour thrown in. So what is wrong ?

The Young person to whom I gave this for Christmas, barely in her teens, when pressed complained it was written for Young Adults and she did not like the genre. So beware ! Not the ideal gift for sophisipussies ! But my own complaint, having read the book since from cover to cover, is that it might not be totally appropriate for those who have not been bathed in Jewish Manhattan culture. There are references to Hanukkah and bar mitzvah and, although I do not believe either Dash or Lilly are supposed to be expressly Jewish, I believe the authors may be - although of the very liberal sort and by no means Orthodox.

Then we must learn to translate - not too difficult - 'underground' for 'subway', 'biscuit tin' for 'cookie jar', 'sweets' for 'candies', 'Harrods or Selfridges' for 'Macy's', 'need to be sick' for 'want to barf', etc., etc. Here one is reviewing on Amazon dot Co dot United Kingdom and the requirement to constantly substitute our own language for the transatlantic expressions our American cousins have learnt to emloy conceivably might be slightly off-putting for some English readers. But all in all I liked the book more than she for whom it was intended who rated it just two stars.


Words of Mercury
Words of Mercury
by Patrick Leigh Fermor
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Words of Genius, 12 Dec 2013
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Purchasers of this book must be aware that more than 60% of its contents are selected extracts from PLF's other books. It is therefore an ideal gift to give to anybody remotely interested in literature who has not heard of him - although I suspect this category of person has greatly diminished in size in recent years ! The remaining pieces are all extremely interesting and would be difficult for Paddy's fans to unearth otherwise for themselves. They include Paddy's contribution to "The Pleasure of Reading", a book edited by Antonia Fraser, some heartfelt and magnanimous orbituaries for Roger Hinks, Iain Moncreiffe, George Katsimbalis and John Pendlebury; a report for the War Office, three entertaining book reviews and finally writing grouped under "Flotsam" that included an unusual piece published in the Spectator in 1994 where Paddy's ingenious mind makes 'Greek Stones Speak'. Here is a brief example.
"Doric...."
"What Gable ?"
"We'll frieze in this gutta!"
"Do you ....caryatid ?"
"Mmm ! But don't telamon !"
I do not suppose Paddy ever descended from Parnassus and deigned to play a mundane game of "Scrabble", but I should not have liked to find myself in competition with him playing parlour games involving words. Yet I think the price of this paperback is warranted by that piece of trivia alone !


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