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A Woman In Sunshine
A Woman In Sunshine
by Frank Swinnerton
Edition: Hardcover

2.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful title, can't warm to the story, 12 Dec 2014
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This review is from: A Woman In Sunshine (Hardcover)
I confess I was attracted to this novel because of its title. Also, because the author once had a good reputation. This novel is said to be "the best of the later ones": it was published 1944. The lead characters are a middle class couple living in London. He works for a law firm, which is about to lose an important client--said client is elderly and ailing. The lawyer's career seems to have an uncertain future, since he does not entertain hopes of becoming a magistrate. The novel appears to be well crafted. But I cannot warm to his sorporific prose. It's all too careful and grey. We don't write like this any more. Indeed, not all writers wrote like that then--one of Swinnerton's contemporaries was Ford Madox Ford, one of the greatest english language novelists, and a master of supple, expressive prose. Possibly I am being unfair. After some time has passed, I may give A Woman In Sunshine another go.


Yesterday: A Novel of Reincarnation
Yesterday: A Novel of Reincarnation
by Samyann
Edition: Paperback
Price: £10.30

4.0 out of 5 stars An unusual (and very modern) love story., 12 Dec 2014
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In this novel, a woman who has a lot of sadness in her life rescues a policeman from under a train, which has fallen from the elevated railway in Chicago. It turns out they may have known each other in a former life. As the story progresses, we (and of course the central charcter) learn much more about this former life which they appear to have shared. The concluding section of the story is suitably melodframatic.

My only criticism is that it could have done with a final revision by the author. The dialogue is a bit clunky here and there, the syntax sometimes a tad bookish. (Though it improves.) The prose style needs a brush up here and there. But these are minor irritations, which occur only occasionally. Overall, this novel is a good read, and the premise is excellent.


Light and Color in the Outdoors
Light and Color in the Outdoors
by Mgj Minnaert
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £66.02

5.0 out of 5 stars A classic work, 5 Nov 2014
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Marcel Minnaert's work is rightly regarded as a classic: it is quite a dense work, with an astonishing amount of material in it--rainbows and reflections and shadows, and lots more.

As well as the usual division into chapters, there are smaller units--273 in all. Each of these smaller units has its own heading: "Images of the sun" (No. 1) "Mirages above cold water" (No.43) "Will-o'-the-wisps" (No. 273)

Scientific explanations are provided (where known) for each phenomenon looked at. For those with a mathematical bent, the appropriate equations are provided (sines, cosines, and so on.)

There are also regular quotations by Victorian art critic John Ruskin, and others. Goethe is another whose quotes appear more than once in this book.

The colour photos--most of them by Finnish photographer Pekka Parviainen--are glorious. The book concludes with tips for those who wish to do their own photography of colour and light effects outdoors. This section was written before the invention of digital cameras, but it should be possible to adapt the advice given.

Because Minnaert's book is so densely packed with material, I chose to read it a little at a time, inbetween other (lighter) reading. In a few weeks or months time, I shall read it again, making notes.

I like this book very much. All we need now is a companion volume on Sound and Smell in the Outdoors!


The Walnut Cookbook
The Walnut Cookbook
by Jean-Luc Toussaint
Edition: Paperback

4.0 out of 5 stars A unique cookbook from south-west France, 25 Oct 2014
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This review is from: The Walnut Cookbook (Paperback)
Lots of lovely recipes in here, and many I haven't tried yet. My recommendation is to follow each recipe exactly, the first time you make it. When you try it, you can then judge if you need to modify it slightly next time. One of the recipes I have tried is honey and walnut icecream. It was very good, but needed a slightly higher fat content--next time I may replace part of the milk with cream. Xmas is getting nearer as I write this, so I may save up my pennies and try one of the duck recipes. There are also bakery recipes in here.


The Magic Barrel (Vintage Classics)
The Magic Barrel (Vintage Classics)
by Bernard Malamud
Edition: Paperback
Price: £7.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Solemn brilliance, 25 Oct 2014
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There is a solemn brilliance about these tales, with their down-at-heel, out of luck characters. Everything is in shades of grey, with deep dark shadows, like an old film noir. A little goes a long way, however: 13 tales is about right.


On Divination and Synchronicity: The Psychology of Meaningful Chance (Studies in Jungian psychology)
On Divination and Synchronicity: The Psychology of Meaningful Chance (Studies in Jungian psychology)
by Marie-Louise Von Franz
Edition: Paperback
Price: £11.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Intriguing., 25 Oct 2014
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Marie-Louise von Franz's book is a transcription of a series of lectures she gave at the Jung Institute in Switzeland in 1969. They read very well, and you can imagine her speaking at the podium.

A number of times as I was reading through the lectures, I found myself wondering what practical use this stuff is--but I kept reading nevertheless. A lot of ideas are thrown out and explored: it is deeply intriguing. The author has also written a book on archetypal patterns in fairtales: I am tempted to read that too.


Man and People (Norton Library)
Man and People (Norton Library)
by Jose Ortega y. Gasset
Edition: Paperback
Price: £13.66

5.0 out of 5 stars A thought provoking read., 8 Aug 2014
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Jose Ortega y Gasset was a twentieth century Spanish thinker who is always worth reading. In this book--the last one he wrote--he loooks at society, and asks what society is exactly. Of what does "Society" consist? He points out that while eminent sociologists (he cites Durkheim and Weber) have written thousands of pages on society, they never once defined what society actually is. In the course of exploring this question, Ortega y Gasset raisies some interesting ideas and points--the salutation, customary usages, man and woman, the opinions we hold which aren't really ours, but simply "what people say", and much more. Fascinating.

His book on Love is also worth a look (See my review of it.)


The Girl Who Played Go
The Girl Who Played Go
by Shan Sa
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £11.67

5.0 out of 5 stars Exquisite, sombre, beautiful, 8 Aug 2014
This review is from: The Girl Who Played Go (Hardcover)
Firstly, I must confess that I didn't buy this from Amazon, though I was planning to--I found a copy in a charity shop. The game of Go is mystifying to a Western mind, and I wish I could play it better than I do.

Shan Sa's tale is set in Manchuria in the thrities, when Imperial Japan is rampaging over China, and eslewhere. The girl in the title is a fifteen (later sixteen) year old schoolgirl who is an exceptional player of go. She plays regularly--in the town square--with a young man whom she takes to be a Peking Chinese . His accent isn't quite right, however: maybe he has spent time abroad. (The reader knows the truth.) Over the course of many games, they get to know each other quite well. This strange relationship, in which hardly any words are said, is the heart of Shan Sa's tale. In the meantime, there is a whole lot else going on, and the tone soon becomes melancholy. When you read how it ends, you will say "Bloody 'ell!" and then reach for a stiff drink. (May I recommend sake?)

Lin Yutang's novel "A Leaf in the Storm" is set in the same troubled, tragic period. I recommend that book too. (See my review of it.)


The men of Ness: The saga of Thorlief Coalbiter's sons
The men of Ness: The saga of Thorlief Coalbiter's sons
by Eric Linklater
Edition: Unknown Binding

3.0 out of 5 stars In the style of the old sagas, 8 Aug 2014
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I hesitated hetween giving this book a two or three star rating. I expected to like this book: the subject and setting (vikings) certainly has potential. Also, when I researched the book before buying it, I learned that the German translation was among a number of books publicly burned by the Nazis. A good reason to read it! The author has reproduced the spare, laconic style of the sagas very successfully. Unfortunately, I really couldn't get into it. I failed to warm to it. My eyes started glazing over.

Perhaps we should question the spare, laconic style that he is trying to reproduce here. We should recall, that even though the old sagas are set in the twilight of the pagan era, and involve pagan characters, the tales were actually committed to writing by Christians (monks, I believe). They were preserving what they knew of an era that had already passed, so you have to wonder how much interest, deep down, they had in the material. That would explain the spare style--a style so economical that the story is pared down to the bone, and then they shave the bones. The Christian authors' hearts did not resonate to the material, so they got the job done as economically as they could. "Have we done them all now? Yes? Thank God for that! Let's return to our prayers." Well, I'm speculating now, but that's the impression I got from the sagas when I read them many years ago. My point is this: is this a style we should be reviving?

The style of storytelling in the old sagas has its defenders, of course, perhaps rightly so. One of the most prestigious was critic W P Ker, who praised the craftmanship of the old tales. What he had to say may be found in a chapter entitled "The Art of Narrative" in his brilliant book "Epic and Romance" (Full text available online.)

Eric Linklater, clearly admired the sagas too. hence this novel, in which he attempts to reproduce their way of telling a story. One day I shall have another go at it.


The futile life of Pito Perez
The futile life of Pito Perez
by José Rubén Romero
Edition: Hardcover

5.0 out of 5 stars So who wants to be respectable?, 8 Aug 2014
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The author was a member of the Mexican government--he worked as a diplomat--and he really shouldn't have been writing books like this. The Pito Perez of the title has dropped out of regular society: he is not part of normal life. He is also a petty conman and thief, drinks too much, and has some caustic views of what constitutes respectable society. In exchange for a drink (or two!) he tells his stories. You know you should not admire this guy, but you do. You cannot help yourself. It's great to see that the picaresque tradition can still give us a delightful read.


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