Book reviews

Daphne du Maurier, Jamaica Inn

Daphne du Maurier is a good read, which is always a useful advantage for an author. Sort of midway between Mills and Boon and Tolstoy.

I couldn’t remember whether I had read Jamaica Inn before, but I took it from the library anyway. Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek, they all sound the same to me and on the lines of “Watch the wall, my darling, while the gentlemen go by.” They probably don’t recite that one at school any more, so for any youthful readers, Rudyard Kipling’s poem is about smuggling.

But onto the plot. Our exceedingly plucky heroine Mary, sells the family farm on the death of her mother and goes to live with her aunt at – Jamaica Inn.

However it is a strange sort of inn as no-one ever stops there. Her aunt’s husband, the landlord and the villain of the story, is a typical dark brooding giant of a man, who abuses his wife and admires Mary’s assertive character. Mary is provided with board and lodging in return for helping around the place.

You know from the word go that this is obviously a smugglers’ HQ, so I’m not giving anything away by saying that. The inn opens on the few nights when there is business to be done.

Naturally the lovely Mary attracts some attention from men. She is spoilt for choice between the strange and spooky albino vicar, and the landlord’s younger brother, who, amongst his other talents, is a horse thief.

Mary seems to spend half her time tramping the Cornish moors, and by amazing co-incidence, either encountering the vicar or the younger brother on her travels.

But that’s child’s play compared with taking on the murderous smugglers in the middle of the night on the treacherous Cornish coast. I wish I had half this woman’s guts. I can’t imagine doing what she did, and I’m not sure I know anyone who would either. As a female character, she is amazingly strong and courageous, which is A Good Thing.

The novel’s plot is pretty thin. It must be, because even I worked it out before the end and I am notoriously slow on plots. But in terms of action and writing, it’s a great read. I picked it up, and read through the 300 pages in one afternoon without putting it down.

On which basis, I would recommend it. Plot isn’t everything, what is the point of a good plot in a badly written book? Readability and style are often more important.

Note – the introduction by Sarah Dunant in the version I read was also good, but I do leave introductions until I have finished the book as they ALWAYS give too much away. I don’t know why they don’t put them at the end.

Plot – thin and obvious (as above)
Style – good
Pace – excellent

Bond. James Bond

The immortal line in the 007 films.  As distinctive as the theme music.

In my quest for light reading at the local library (I’ve now read all the Chris Ryans, Graham Greenes, and various others) I suddenly chanced on the Bond novels by Ian Fleming.

For some reason I never read them in my youth although I must have ploughed happily through every single Saint (Simon Templar) novel by Leslie Charteris.

Needless to state I haven’t been able to read them in the correct chronological order which is a bit of a nuisance as each book opens by referring to the previous one.

However having said that, they are all stand-alone stories anyway, so it is a minor inconvenience rather than a major disaster.  A bit like not being able to read all the Len Deighton Bernard Sampson tales in the right order.

So one of the things I did do over the brief weekend at the finca, was to polish off Goldfinger.  I think the others I read before that, were Casino Royale, Diamonds are Forever, and From Russia, With Love.  Now what has fascinated me, is how much better the books are than the extravagant block-buster films that were made so many years ago.  Somewhat like reading a Robert Ludlum Bourne novel and wondering what on earth it had to do with the Bourne films apart from the name.

To be fair to the Bond films, they did stick to the basic plot – just changed the situation, location and added a few more characters.  To put it mildly.

But back to the book(s).  Overall, they are so much tighter, well written, with a good plot, no superfluous drivel – and each one throughout the series seems to get even harder and tougher.  The character is perfectly painted.  And while I don’t agree with the so-called womanising approach – it doesn’t read like that in the books.  He meets intelligent attractive women and has sex with them, usually one or maybe two per novel.  Or turn it round the other way, one or two intelligent attractive women meet an intelligent attractive man, ie James Bond and have sex with him.  OK so maybe he is irresistible.

Back to Goldfinger.  It was apparently the third film to be made in 1964, (the book dates from 1959), and was an amazing financial success – it had a budget of $3M, which it recouped in two weeks, grossing a total of $125M at the box office. Incredible. It was also the first gadgety film, which was obviously popular at the time, but to me lead to endless boring stunts.

The book, on the other hand, sticks to guns and knives – with the exception of Oddjob’s amazing hat. There is some dialogue – but it is curt and to the point.  There is a lot of descriptive narration, but the story keeps moving and the pace is fast. Even to me, a non-golf player, the chapters where Bond and Goldfinger were playing for ten thousand dollars (not the gold bar of the film) were well contrived and keep the reader in suspense waiting for the denouement.

My partner read Goldfinger (and all the other Bond books) some 30 years ago.  ‘I love the bit about being squeezed through the aeroplane window like a tube of toothpaste,’ he said casually when we were discussing the book.  How on earth can someone remember a description from a book they read so long ago?  But perhaps they can if the imagery created by the prose was good enough.

One of the strengths of the last two films (Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace), has been to get away from the gadgets, and the terribly boring scenes (to me) where people seem to chase around on futuristic machines underground rushing to kill each other before the whole place blows up.

The opening of Casino Royale was wonderful – even moreso if you remember the old Callan series.  I can never watch those opening moments without thinking of Callan and Edward Woodward.  Demolishing half of Venice towards the end was the film’s weakest point, but the final ending was good, very good, as Bond (Daniel Craig) shoots Mr White, and utters the immortal words when White asks who he is.

I use Casino Royale as an example because I have seen it more recently, but however good the film is, it seems there is always a boring section.  But in the books – there isn’t a boring moment, and I struggle to put them down to do something mundane like cooking or shopping or cleaning.  Much better to allocate a few hours and read straight through.

And for those of you who wanted to listen to Dame Shirley singing – you can look it up on Youtube as well as I can.  Instead here is the rather nice front cover of the hardback from the library. The golden eyes are set in a skull.

Gotta go, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service calls. As do some more tedious duties.  Which will win???


Isabel Allende, Portrait in Sepia

I like Latin American authors. I tend to read them in translation, but they are still good.  They have a lovely narrative style and an other worldly atmosphere.

Anyway, Portrait in Sepia was eminently readable.  I had a quick look on wiki and I think to compare Allende with Danielle Steele is grossly unfair. But nor is she Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

I can’t comment on any of her earlier books.  However based on this one book, I wouldn’t describe her as the Latin American dream author for feminists.

In no particular order:

1 ) The apparent subject of the book – Aurora – is totally weak, and relatively speaking, plays quite a small role

2 ) An early appearance of a strong character espousing women’s suffrage – Nivea (no not the cream) – ends up endlessly jumping around on her husband, pregnant belly allowing, and dropping kids right left and centre.  Instead of the hoped for (on my part) intelligent thinking woman, we get someone who reads soft porn, makes her main role delighting her husband, and palms off the resulting kids to the endless nannies

3 ) It is basically a book about rich people (that follows from 2)

4 ) Even the (mostly) English woman who lives with the Chinese hero, manages to go back and live in the UK in some Bohemian part of London courtesy of rich aunt and happily travels the world following the death of her husband

5 ) Then there is the tragic role of beautiful young woman who is so naive that she models, poses nude, gets shagged, pregnant, and dies in childbirth to rich young man

6 )  The inevitable prostitute appears with a heart of well, silver if not gold. After all,  prostitution is always great for women, right?

7 ) The dream/trauma Aurora has, is obvious from sentence one.  I am possibly the slowest in the world at getting this sort of thing but even I had it pegged

8 ) The interesting female tutor, rather like Nivea, intellectual and thinking, – is sidelined

9 ) The syphilitic father who abandoned his daughter – and her mother – finally acknowledges her.  Dear me!!  That makes it all ok of course.

10 ) Oh, yes, almost forgot.  Young bloke who leaves Chile with his true love waiting for him, naturally falls in love with someone else but that doesn’t matter ‘cos she forgives him and wants to marry him anyway, qv above her jumping around on top of him.

A good and enjoyable read but not great by any stretch of the imagination. Certainly did nothing for women as far as I could read – wherever did Ms Allende win that reputation for being a writer of any remotely feminist aspirations?

Clive Cussler,  Black Wind

If you like adventure packed action boy heroics – then these will do it.  However this is not one of the best I have read.  Apart from anything else, I was totally confused to read about endless Dirk Pitts all looking tall and amazingly attractive/rugged/blah boring blah.  Somewhere along the line it seemed a son had transpired and the old man took a back seat while the young one did all the gung-ho, shag the women, usual sort of stuff.

Totally implausible plot.  Even more so than normal.  And like sawing away metal rings bolted into concrete with a carefully secreted nail file??  Even James Bond wouldn’t have resorted to that crap.

The plot?  Well, Koreans, lots of water, getting trapped and escaping plus some chemical gas things.  I think that was it anyway.  It’s irrelevant really.

Len Deighton, MAMista

Plot – guerillas in Latin America trying to thwart fascist regime.  Key characters – rich Latin American communist woman who manages to flit between the status quo and the rebels, young American idealist who wants to join the real Marxist fight, tired, cynical and yet more idealistic than all of them medic, Australian, but anglicised.  Sort of. And the CIA guy and the communist leader.

Why was it good?  Or rather, why was it brilliant?  Believable plot to start with.  No nail files involved in this one.  Some sad and gruelling deaths.  Reality. Taut and excellent writing.

Highly recommended.

Daphne du Maurier, The Birds & other stories

The Birds is the title story of this book and took up a mere 40 pages.  Fancy making a film out of 40 pages.  Good one Alfred.  It was also set (unsurprisingly I suppose) in England.  Apart from the birds – it was totally different to the film.

But some of the rest of the stories were pretty decent too.  Slightly incredible but a good read.  Monte Verita was well written – but unless you believe in the supernatural the ending was a disappointment. However the descriptions of the mountains and the search for truth gave it a lift.

The Apple Tree and The Old Man?  OK, no more no less. I had to look up The Old Man to even remember what it was about, and The Apple Tree had a pretty obvious ending, dead wife haunts happy widower and causes his death, more or less.

The Little Photographer was an easy and entertaining read.  Blackmail.  For sex.  Naughty scarlet woman finally decides to take a lover.  She becomes so bad that naturally she pushes the lover over the cliff and is then held to ransom by the sister of the former lover.

I do dislike these tales of bad women always get their just desserts.

So apart from Monte Verita, the other one I really liked was Kiss Me Again, Stranger.  The ending wasn’t obvious, the writing was very tight and the style was different.  I’m not saying any more about that one.

Worth a read as a book of short stories. If you read fast like me, it will be finished in less than a day.

36 comments on “Book reviews

  1. Your summary of the James Bond books which you have read and feelings about the series of films of those books, concur almost exactly with mine. The latest films with Daniel Craig in the title role are more in keeping with Fleming’s original books which I read as an impressionable 18 years old ( in deliberate contravention of the RC Church’s Banned Books list who’s rulings were backed up vigorously by my late but unlamented father!)


  2. Thanks for your comment Eddie. The books are superb in my opinion. I love a very well-written, sparse and great plot. Ian Fleming managed it. We are so waiting for the next film, and do hope it maintains the minimalist approach. No banned books in my household fortunately :) Not even Lady Chatterly’s Lover :D


  3. I read Island Beneath the Sea (Isabel Allende). For me is was one of those reads that one wishes would just go on. Very strong female character struggling against extreme adversity. Will try Portrait in Sepia. Was reminded of how much I enjoy her writing. Thanks for the reviews. Enjoyed them.


    • As I said, need to revise. Spent most of yesterday with a book. Very nice. To follow. I don’t think I have read beneath the sea so will look up. Adore book review comments :)


  4. Nice blog. I read all the Ian Fleming books when I was 13. the opening of the book Casino Royale is what I remember. The card game. As for the movies, it’s all been downhill. which reminds me of Her Majesty’s Secret Service…..


    • Thanks Bumba. I’ve not updated this page (or the others) for ages, and really need to do so. I’ve also got loads of books to write about, so guess I had better pencil in book reviews for a post soonest. Really enjoyed a Len Deighton one over the weekend, just brilliant. Different to Fleming, but still hard, tough and minimalist.


    • And you’ve reminded me I need to update my book reviews! I also have a load to write up about, since we retrieved 70 books from the rubbish bin outside. What a sin. I tend to categorise authors into a good read, readable, can’t wait to read more, and good writers. I would class DDM as a good read and IA as readable. LDs are def a good read as is Fleming. I obv felt let down by Allende.

      I’ll check out your DDM post in a tick.


      • What a find, a bin of 70 books someone thought as rubbish. Maybe our modern world now prefers reading electronically and they don’t appreciate the printed word on paper; or, perhaps those discarded books just found their rightful home.


        • Partner is rather adept at scavenging from rubbish bins. But yes, what a waste. They were from previous tenants in our block of flats who were obviously just chucking anything and everything before they left. And although some books were bought from second hand bookshops a lot were pretty new. For me, it means I read authors that I wouldn’t normally look at when I go to the library, so it’s a good opportunity to read different styles/authors/genres. I tend to stick to classics, so it’s good to read something totally different – and find you enjoy it. There’s no point being snobby about books.

          I can’t bear reading on the computer. I looked at some books on Gutenberg, and, I just can’t do it. I want to curl up with a real live book on my sofa. (The dog’s sofa actually but occasionally I sneak on there).


          • I, too, prefer reading a book by holding it in my hands and turning the pages myself late at night after I’ve turned off the computer. I have 6 books I checked out of the library on my nightstand right now. I’m half-way through E. Nesbit’s, The Railway Children. It’s a great read. PS: Maybe one day I’ll try reading a book on the computer. However, I do like Gutenberg for researching inside some old books, but only read clips here and there that gives me a glimpse into the writer’s style.


  5. Hi Mary…. your blog disappeared from my post box a while ago but has suddenly re -appeared once more (and very welcome it is too)
    I also find things that we thought were gone forever.. old, long forgotten golf clubs will surface mysteriously, I’ll clean them up and play a couple of rounds with them and when they seem to be working better than those with which I regularly play, they get included and the discarded ones go back in the pile ! A sort of continuous re cycling process!
    We ( Marjorie and I) are both avid readers, often with a couple of books on the go at the same time…To save weight on our sporadic travels I invested in a “Kindle” type pad thingy. OK for holiday reading and it saves the excess weight charges at airport check in desks, but as you say there’s nothing like a good old fashioned curl up in a favourite armchair with a proper book.
    Our tastes are a bit low brow…. Novels by John Griffin. Wilbur Smith and my own personal favourite Leslie Thomas, but Marjorie does her best to raise the levels with her interest in Modern European History. I’m inclined to read Military history ( WWII ) and with my military background never seem to tire of factual or even fictional accounts of the major events of the early ’40s.

    So how is the old Rock faring these days? I’m afraid that I got a bit naughty with one posting in answer to a faction called “Keep Gibraltar British” or some such title, in their Facebook postings, which struck me as being rather strident and jingoistic. I called the Rock and by inference its inhabitants, a very rude name in Spanish and ‘they’ responded by editing out all my postings and stopping me from commenting further Oh well!

    i hope to hear from you soon.



    • I haven’t kept up to this page :( Bad me. I’ve done some book reviews on the main blog.

      I must finish the Spanish book I used to read on the bus (saved English speaking people hassling me reading a spanish novel) it’s actually very good, and pretty short. I bought a load for a euro when El Pais was doing an offer. Buy the paper and buy a classic Spanish novel for a euro.

      Haven’t I signed up to your writing blog? I know I am following two.


  6. I find your Jamaica Inn to be more of a summary than a review….but it’s interesting all the same. I’ll read the others later. :)


  7. Your review on the Bond or 007 is much better. Now you have me wanting to read them. (Damn, I have enough to do!) I have never read them, but you have awoken my desire…now I’ll have to find a copy of the whole set. (f**k, f**k, f**k…it’s your fault!) :D


      • Sounds good…seen all the movies…I remember going to see the originals at ABC Cinema in Hull. I like the new Daniel Craig ones. Must get the books at some point though.


          • Oh you must get, Sky Fall…have you seen it yet? It is the best, bond film ever. If you think you’ve warn Casino out…damn, you better get a couple of copies of SkyFall. It’s amazing…I’m gonna get it out to watch this weekend now…you really know how to get me going on something. :D


          • Don’t spoil it for him, then. If he doesn’t know that ‘ll have a more profound affect. I’ll have to admit, I was shocked. It was so sad. (I’m a bloody pussy…hey! maybe that’s why I get along with them so well! ) when it comes to sad scenes. Loosing M tipped me over the edge…it was like, he’d failed as well. I left the cinema in a state of shock, seriously. That’s what makes it so good.


          • Yeah bit of a shame I know about it. I was so keen to see SF that I was reading around and obv found out about that. I’m sure I’ll still enjoy it though. We were going to watch in cinema but it’s soooo loud. It was obv packed too as they brought it back for an extra two or three weeks. I’ll tell him to look for it in Morrisons!


          • Pat and I go to the latest viewing we can get in…no kids then. :) And when you’re driving home around 1am or a bit later…roads empty…love it!


    • The header always catches my eye. I’ve got similar looking books, can’t remember what they are, but again, from my mother.

      Can’t decide what to do with my pages (any of them). They all need an update, but by the time I’ve written a post, uploaded photos, replied to comments, I’ve forgotten to add a relevant part to pages. Plus, I like to allocate enough time to visiting and commenting on other blogs. And do I do books by genre? Or alphabetically by author?

      Maybe I’ll do it when everyone’s on summer hols …


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