Friday, September 30, 2011


The Road Through The Wall, Shirley Jackson, Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1948, 192 pp

As far as I can tell, this was Shirley Jackson's first novel. It has a few flaws but you can recognize her. She already had her fingers on the pulse of the dark underside in American suburban life. "The Lottery," the short story which made her career, was published in The New Yorker in the same year as this novel.

Over a period of one summer, a group of families, all of which live on the same block, interact in the way of small neighborhoods. Each family is introduced with a bit about their backgrounds, their children if they have any, and a description of their house. (This part was hard to keep straight; I ended up making a map of the block with the names of the characters next to the houses.)

It becomes clear that most of these families are in flux. Each one is either on the way up or down; in the case of a couple elderly women living alone, on the way out.

The children drive the events but with much interference from their hovering parents. For a reader like myself, who grew up in just such a neighborhood during the mid 1950s, reading this short novel was excruciating and eye-opening. We might as well have had these very same families on our block.

Jackson's trademark sense of foreboding is apparent from the first page of the Prologue and continues through to the tragic conclusion. Pepper Street in 1936 in a small California town is home to Harriet Merriam, young teen, overweight, aspiring writer. Her overbearing, Puritanical mother interferes at every opportunity but especially when Harriet befriends the lone Jewish girl on the block. Anyone could say that the parents in the neighborhood mean well, but all of them are caught up in attitudes and outside forces beyond their awareness.

By the end of the summer, the wall that surrounds the highly affluent section which abuts Pepper Street is being broken through to allow for a new street into the area, giving access to a coming subdivision. The wall is symbolic of the barriers which keep certain classes of people out (or in, depending on the point of view.) Most families on Pepper Street aspire to live inside that wall, never acknowledging the walls that already surround them.

The kids only know that something has become unsettled and for the reader they are the barometer of change. It will be another decade or so, but these are the neighborhoods from which my generation boiled out in rebellion, in destruction, in the restructuring of American life known as The Sixites.

Today many baby boomers look back with nostalgia on those years when we knew all our neighbors and could run free all day. They should read The Road Through The Wall.

(The Road Through The Wall
is out of print but can be ordered from used book sellers.)

Thursday, September 29, 2011


Sirens of Titan, Kurt Vonnegut, Dell Publishing, 1959, 326 pp

Vonnegut's second novel started off great for me. The whole thing about the chronosynclastic infundibulum being "those places...where all the different kinds of truth fit together" struck me as pretty cool. I thought the hapless irresponsible Malachi Constant, richest man in America, was going to get straightened out and find the meaning of life.

Well, he did, but it did not make him happy. Rumfoord, who at first appeared to me as someone who had the good of mankind at heart, turned out to be quite the opposite. He didn't end up happy either. That terrible antisocial kid Chrono becomes the only guy who redeems himself in any way.

The story just seemed to sputter out exactly the way some people's lives do and I found that depressing. So Vonnegut fooled me, which is OK because I actually don't mind when authors jerk me around a bit. In fact, at this point in my life, I also believe that we live in an indifferent universe but we still ought to love "whoever is around to be loved" while we do our best to survive, keep the planet going and practice kindness when at all possible.

(Sirens of Titan is available in paperback and ebook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Monday, September 26, 2011


Luminarium, Alex Shakar, Soho Press, 2011, 432 pp

Luminarium is the best book I have read this year. It just has everything I like: a super intelligent author, set in contemporary times with hip current issues, a quirky family tale, and the science vs religion question handled with plenty of irony and humor.

Alex Shakar's first novel, The Savage Girl was good but I had some problems with it, one of which was the soullessness of his characters. In Luminarium he clearly went looking for spiritual underpinnings, as does his main character, and was successful in his quest.

Fred Brounian, the seeker in the story, is a twin. He and George grew up with yearnings for a better world which they found by creating one virtually. Meanwhile the real world got worse: the attack on the World Trade Center, the resulting fear of terrorism and wars, and the rise of the military in American life. In fact, Fred, George and a third brother Sam, suffered their own attack when Urth, their highly successful virtual world company, was gobbled up by Armation, whose government contracts involved creating virtual worlds for military training. During this descent from utopia to total war, George fell fatally ill and now lies in a coma. He is being kept alive at a financial cost that is bankrupting Fred.

It is a bit of a cliche. A modern man, fairly atheistic, who is intelligent and has always put his faith in science and technology, hits rock bottom and turns to religion. Alex Shakar doesn't do cliches except to turn them inside out by means of the above mentioned irony and humor. So when Fred signs up for a neurological study and puts on the "God helmet" while Mira, his researcher and guide, alludes to "faith without ignorance," he and the reader are in for some wild rides straddling the boundaries between science and religion.

The impressive degree of complexity here make reading Luminarium compelling. Fred falls in love with Mira, a woman full of mystery and contradictions. Concurrently he is receiving emails and texts from his comatose twin and while rationally he knows they have to be bogus, the chance that George is actually reaching out to him on some inexplicable spiritual plane propels him into researching religions ancient and modern and comparing his findings to the quantum physics he has always pursued in his spare time.

All of this is conveyed in some of the most consummate prose I have read. Fred's out of body adventures, brought on by the "God helmet" electrodes, are explained to him in terms of the targeted stimulation of various lobes in his brain. But descriptions of the ways Fred experiences feeling one with the universe, being overwhelmed by love for strangers, etc are comparable to those found in the early Carlos Castaneda books. Taking the reader through Fred's search for meaning as he tries to solve the chaos that is his current life, Shakar maintains the confusions and anxiety of his characters without ever losing the reader.

By the end of the story, most of the mysteries in the lives of Fred and his brothers are solved and the questions raised have been answered. True to life though is a final chapter that opens a whole new set of possibilities for Fred's future. I personally dream of a future where science and religion have met. Whatever your beliefs or dreams, this novel will challenge you and make you think about where our world is going. In our current state of rapid technological advance, Alex Shakar posits that we still need spiritual answers, that family and love matter, but loss and misunderstandings confront us at every turn. It is a wonder how he made such potentially weighty ideas so entertaining.

(Luminarium is available in hardcover by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Thursday, September 22, 2011


The Poorhouse Fair, John Updike, Alfred A Knopf, 1959, 185 pp

I have always confused John Updike and Philip Roth. I don't think they are all that similar, though I can't be sure because I have never read either of them except for this first novel by Updike, read by me in 2002 for I don't know what reason. The confusion must stem from the fact that both writers began publishing in 1959, both were considered disgustingly sex obsessed in their material, and both were the hottest male fiction writers of the day. Anyway, as I wrap up my reading list for 1959 I will be reading Roth's Goodbye, Columbus. As I move on, I will read 4 novels by John Updike and 3 by Philip Roth in the 1960s. That should handle my confusion or maybe not.

Another odd point: here is a second novel in 1959 about the elderly (the first being Muriel Spark's Memento Mori.) Maybe it is a last gasp before the 1960s youth culture takes over.

So yes, The Poorhouse Fair is a day in the life of a state supported "old folks home" as it was called in those days. The residents are there because they are old, have no family left and are penniless. This does not mean they are completely beaten down however; they are a feisty bunch.

A new director has recently taken over the place. His efforts to make improvements have raised the hackles of the elderly residents and they have begun to rebel. It all comes to a head on the day of the eponymous fair.

It is a great story about the personalities of aging people. Right out of the gate, Updike is an amazing writer with deep insight into his characters and the dynamics of a group of people. I look forward to more.

(The Poorhouse Fair is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011


Memento Mori, Muriel Spark, J B Lippincott Company, 1959, 246 pp

Novel number three by Muriel Spark is just as odd and fitful as the first two. This time she takes on old age, though she was barely 40 when she wrote it. I can't say that reading Spark is pleasurable but it is never boring. She just comes out and has her characters do and say things that most of us would rather not admit to, though we all do and say such things ourselves. No one enjoys being made to look foolish but Spark almost makes the reader enjoy it.

Several elderly characters are receiving anonymous phone calls reminding them that they must die. I have observed that the elderly, though they may be beset by ailments, regrets, and worries, do not really believe they are going to die anymore than the young do. They need reminding I suppose.

The novel is mostly peopled with a large cast of older people, some sick, some senile, some outrageous, all annoying in their own ways. Whether well off or poor, employer or employee, each one is fulfilling the logical outcome of the personality he or she has always had.

Old secrets of the heart come to light, a former maid tries to get a will written in her favor, and a retired sociologist carries on a scientific study of the aged. Just when I was getting weary of gerontological novels of the current day (Emily Alone, Turn of Mind), I read Memento Mori and realized that even fifty years ago in England, old age was a subject about which we must laugh or else we would cry.

(Memento Mori is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Monday, September 19, 2011


The Girl Project, Kate Engelbrecht, Universe, 2011, 224 pp

The most amazing thing about this amazing book is that it got published at all. Kate Engelbrecht, who majored in sociology but didn't actually want to be a sociologist, then worked in advertising but did not actually want to do that either, reinvented herself as a photographer. After some years spent mulling it all over, she created The Girl Project out of her two passions: photography and girlhood. Girls, teens, chicks (call us what you want) are fortunate that Kate turned her project into a book.

Kate's quest was to understand female adolescents by going to the source. In 2007, she began sending a disposable camera and a questionnaire to teen girls all over the United States with requests to fill the camera with pictures representing the girl's life, fill out the questionnaire, and send both back to Kate. Anonymity was promised.

Eventually 5000 young adult females 13 to 18, of varied backgrounds, faiths, and races, sent in their photos and answers. Kate had developed her questionnaire by adapting the Proust Questionnaire, a nineteenth century personality profile made famous by Marcel Proust who used the list several times over his life to record his tastes, views and aspirations. Kate's version asks such questions as "What adjectives best describe you? What is the hardest part about being a teenager? Tell me one thing about you that nobody seems to get?"

Any female reader of The Girl Project will find herself in this book. Any young adult female reader will feel less alone and more herself. If I were a teenage girl, I would get all my friends to answer the questions and take pictures of themselves so we could make our own book. I will be giving copies to all the female teens I know (and maybe some male teens) as well as moms and grandmothers of teens.

Reading what these young women have to say about what life is like for them socially and privately is a sobering experience, because of how much most of them keep inside. Almost universally they are unhappy with how the media portrays teen girls at the same time that they struggle to live up to the body and fashion images they are presented with at every turn. The most wonderful answers are to the question, "What are your favorite qualities in a person?" Those qualities are a recipe for a better world.

The layout is perfect. Some pages show the entire questionnaire filled out in the girl's own handwriting. Many are whole page photos of girls with their friends, in their rooms, or showing us what they love and how they feel. Since not every questionnaire could be included, there are pages full of the answers from just one question, again in each individual's handwriting. All of it is beautiful and so expressive. You must see the book to fully comprehend and appreciate what a treasure it is.

(The Girl Project) is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Friday, September 16, 2011


The Magician King, Lev Grossman, Viking Penguin, 2011, 400 pp

Lev Grossman, that world-weary, fairly hip nerd, is back with his sequel to The Magicians. The first book in what will eventually be a trilogy, thrilled and entertained me with all it insider nods to Harry Potter and The Chronicles of Narnia. He answered the question of whether adult magicians can survive in the 21st century real world with a resounding no! Our hero, Quentin Coldwater, grew up just a little thanks to having faced actual danger and heavy loss.

The Magician King could only require Quentin to move on to the second stage in a modern version of coming-of-age tales. The novel opens with Quentin living the pampered life of one of the Kings of Fillory, though his friend Elliot got to be High King. Frankly, Quentin is bored and yearns for more adventure. It is not so good to be King when you find out that having all your dreams come true only leads to an expanding waistline.

In his self-involved and impulsive way, Quentin dives in to plenty of adventure and spends much of the book in over his head, both in Fillory and back in the real world. He wants to be a hero, but of course he wants the glory. He gets the pain and more loss. You could say that the message here is "growing up is a bitch, if you live."

All Quentin all the time would be way too much, so Grossman turns to Julia, the one who loved Quentin's friend James, the one who did not get into Brakebills, the one who is now improbably Quentin's Queen.

It is Julia's back story of what she had to survive in order to acquire magic in the unofficial, non-Brakebills sanctioned hinterlands that makes The Magician King a gripping tale. She turns out to be the heroine you can't look away from. Neither can Quentin, at least in those rare moments when he thinks of anyone but himself. Julia is involved in some deep magic that borders on mysticism.

Lev Grossman has given us another fabulous read but a few days after coming out of the spell he casts, I found some worrying doubts creeping in. I will spare you my convoluted thought process, my discussions with other readers. I arrived at the conclusion that possibly Mr Grossman was trying for something deeper this time, was God forbid looking for a moral to the story. The trouble is he is not C S Lewis, he ain't got religion, and he can't stop joking or being ironic.

It's OK. I can't really fault him too much. I am dying to read the third book. In these days of the coming singularity, perhaps I won't have to wait another two years. I suppose I could read the last two Harry Potter books while I am waiting.

(The Magician King is available in hardcover and e-book by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


Passage of Arms, Eric Ambler, Alfred A Knopf, 1959, 246 pp

Eric Ambler's 10th novel is the first one of his I have read. He is known for a recurring theme concerning an amateur who finds himself unwittingly mixed up with criminals or spies; that theme is in evidence here. Greg Nilsen and his wife Dorothy are taking their first vacation in years. He runs a small manufacturing company in Baltimore, MD.

Wanting to visit out-of-the-way places so they can have adventures, they book a cruise in the South China Sea. Before long, Greg is bored and gets mixed up in a small arms deal, landing himself and his wife in an adventure with features such as communist agitators, anti-communist rebels, prison and probable torture on an out-of-the-way Indonesian island.

This is post Korean War, Southeast Asian Cold War intrigue. The characters and their individual stories are brilliantly fleshed out and the excitement is nonstop. Plenty of references to novels of the time, including The Quiet American by Graham Greene, make for dry humor. Ambler paints a picture of Cold War goings on that reveal much bungling as various ambassadors coordinate face-saving scenarios for their respective countries, which reminded me of the bestselling 1959 novel The Ugly American.

Great reading!

(Passage of Arms is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Monday, September 12, 2011


Ordinary Thunderstorms, William Boyd, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2010, 403 pp

William Boyd is Scottish by descent, was born in Ghana, and educated in Scotland and France. He completed a PhD in literature at Oxford. He is to my thinking a hybrid, an intellectual who has written a dozen novels, won awards but is considered British because he lives there part of the time. (You will see where I am going with this.) I have always been curious about his books, though Ordinary Thunderstorms, his 12th novel, is the first I have read. It won't be the last.

Recently I have come across several discussions on various lit blogs about highbrow vs lowbrow novels and whether or not literary fiction is passe because it doesn't sell well. Some see a trend where literary authors are trying their hands at genre fiction is an effort to sell more copies of their novels. Others see it as a marketing ploy by publishers in an effort to sell more books.

I find most of this speculation to be hogwash, though I am pretty sure marketing personnel are the key suspects. After all, it is their job. I think an author should write what he or she wants to write, should experiment, not always write the same story over and over for the sake of fans, income or profits. Basically, if an author can write well, I will read just about any novel by that author despite subject matter or genre.

William Boyd has a pretty solid reputation as a literary writer. Ordinary Thunderstorms was marketed as a "literary mystery about crime and punishment." See what I mean? Well, it is tremendously exciting, it does involve murder, crime, the dastardly side of big pharma, and the underbelly of London. The violence is brutal and the mystery is complex. Not one truly admirable character inhabits its pages.

However, the novel is about identity. Adam Kindred has returned to the country of his birth after many years in the United States. He is in London to interview for a job. A respected and successful climatologist, he has made a mess of his personal life. While he intends to start anew in London he was surely not planning the drastic transformation he undergoes.

Within 24 hours he is a prime suspect for a murder he did not commit. He makes the decision to go "underground" for a while until he figures out what to do. He goes about as far underground as a person can go in a major metropolis, sleeping in a park, begging for food, and becoming a man with no social identity.

In an interview, William Boyd says his intention was to write about what happens to a person who loses everything that makes him who he is. One thing that happens is that a person who loses his social identity finds he still has a self. Adam is intelligent, resourceful, often impulsive and foolish, a risk taker where people he cares for are involved. His innate goodness and humanity bring him up against a couple of true psychopathic personalities. His intelligence and something like bravery make him a Dickensian character in a modern world.

William Boyd calls no attention to himself as an author, but in straightforward prose tells us a powerful and exciting tale full of heart while it is steeped in all manner of human degradation.

In no way would I call the novel lowbrow. I suppose one could read it just for the thriller aspect, as Boyd does not write in any sort of wordy or obscure manner. He is certainly several cuts above Brad Thor, David Baldacci, and the like. Does that mean he is highbrow?

(Ordinary Thunderstorms is available in hardcover or paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Friday, September 09, 2011


Absolute Beginners, Colin MacInnes, The MacMillan Company, 1959, 223 pp

I was led to this British novel a few years ago from an interview in the Los Angeles Times book section (back when it was truly a book section.) Pauls Toutonghi, then teaching a class on novels about rock music, included a syllabus of such novels. Absolute Beginners was not mentioned in the interview, which means I must have made my own search and found additional titles. Someday I might get around to posting my personal list of rock'n'roll novels.

The novel is about teenage life in London in the late 1950s. It is a luscious mix of parties, jazz, interracial friendships, varieties of sexuality, and social history. There are several great scenes set in jazz clubs, so I guess that is how the book found its way onto my list.

Absolute Beginners is the middle book in what is now called Colin MacInnes's "London Trilogy." When it was first published it was to English teens approximately what The Catcher in the Rye was to American ones. Our narrator however is not much like Holden Caufield except in his hypersensivity to phoniness. He also is never given a name, but we see the life of London teens in that decade through his eyes.

Two social upheavals in British history are prominent in this postwar tale. Due to economics and politics, meaning the Labor party and a new affluence for the middle classes, it was the first decade when teens had money to spend and became a force in the marketplace. It was also a time of massive immigration from various British colonies, injecting a large Black population into the culture and sparking racial tension. For more see this Believer Mag article.

Through his articulate and self-sufficient though nameless narrator, MacInnes gives readers an immersion into this teen culture over the months of one summer, culminating in a race riot. It is a great read and certainly one of the books that signify the arrival of a new era in writing, literature and popular culture.

(Absolute Beginners is out of print but can be found in libraries or purchased from used book sellers.)

Wednesday, September 07, 2011


Shop Indie Bookstores

The Savage Girl, Alex Shakar, HarperCollinsPublishers, 2001, 275 pp

If a candidate for a PhD in marketing were to write a novel as his thesis, The Savage Girl might fit the bill. Therein lies the trouble with this clever novel. Clearly Alex Shakar had done his research and measured the pulse driving marketing at the turn of the millennium, but his characters are hard to fathom.

Maybe all people involved in marketing become soulless robots who look at consumers as witless marks to be conned into buying crap. Perhaps that was the point?

Ivy Van Urden was on a fast track to becoming a supermodel until her relationship with powerful marketing genius Chas Lacouture triggered a psychotic break. Her sister Ursula, aspiring fine artist, arrives in town to look after Ivy and winds up working for Lacouture's trendspotting firm, Tomorrow, Ltd. Soon enough, Ursula's artistic sense combines with her high IQ and she creates and sells a campaign for a weight reducing water based on the "savage girl" she spotted among the homeless of Middle City.

Not long after that, the elements of this prescient tale combine in toxic and preposterous ways. Ivy gets released from the mental hospital when her insurance runs out and becomes the model for the Savage Girl. But she is no saner than when the breakdown occurred, so it all spirals further downward. I don't believe I have read a thriller about marketing before but now I have.

It sounds thrilling right? And it is. Deep thoughts about "postirony" and the dichotomy inherent in creating want weave through societal commentary alongside non-stop action. But Ursula, Ivy, Chas, plus the other main characters just never came alive. For me, the necessary suspension of disbelief required would not remain suspended. It took me days to read the mere 275 pages.

Somewhere past the halfway point a change occurred, possibly the pacing of the plot, possibly Ursula becoming a character I could believe in or care about, and the last 100 pages flew by. Still, though all the loose ends were tied, though the bad guys lost and the less bad guys kind of won, (there are no good guys in this novel) I didn't feel anything but dread for the future. Again, that may have been the point.

Alex Shakar's second novel, Luminarium has just been released. I have read it and it is stunning. His razor sharp intelligence is obvious in The Savage Girl; his ability to assimilate and recombine vast amounts of sociological data is in no doubt. He just needed to work on those characters and in his new novel, he put it all together. I always like reading first novels because they give clues as to where an author is going to go. It was worth reading The Savage Girl for that very reason.

(The Savage Girl is available in paperback and ebook by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


The Eighth Circle, Stanley Ellin, Random House Inc, 1958, 210 pp

This mystery won the Edgar Award in 1959. Murray Kirk is head of a private detective agency in New York City. He gets involved in a case centered around a cop named Lundeen who has been accused of taking a bribe from bookmakers.

Murray Kirk doesn't need the money or the headaches of this case. He has every material thing he has ever wanted and a mistress who is also his good friend. But he is in love with the beautiful and proper Ruth Vincent, Lundeen's fiancee. Murray Kirk takes this case with the intention of proving the cop guilty so he can have the girl.

The story takes a good while to get going, though all the characters and the workings of a detective agency are intriguing. Stanley Ellin contrived a complex story that weaves together a lawyer, a detective, cops, gangsters, women, and New York City society in the 1950s. He does not let the reader find out who is guilty until Murray Kirk does, right at the end of the book.

It wasn't the best mystery I have read but had some unique aspects and kept my interest all the way.

(Like many of the Edgar winners from the 1950s, The Eighth Circle is out of print. Check your local library or a used book seller.)

Sunday, September 04, 2011


Chanticleer and the Fox, Barbara Cooney (illustrator), HarperCollins, 1958, 33 pp


This picture book won the Caldecott Medal in 1959. The story is adapted from Geoffrey Chaucer's Canterbury Tale, "The Nun's Priest's Tale." There are no nuns or priests in this version.

Chanticleer is the sole rooster belonging to a widow and her two children. The fox tricks the rooster and carries him off. Chanticleer works out a trick of his own and gets free.

The illustrations are indeed excellent, especially the colors and the use of orange as an accent against gold and black. But at the end the rooster, the fox and the widow recite the moral of the story: don't trust flattery. We children don't like our lessons told in such a flat boring tone but we do like to outsmart those who would harm us.

(Chanticleer and the Fox is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Saturday, September 03, 2011


Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die!, Mark Binelli, Dalkey Archive Press, 2006, 353 pp

I read this for a new reading group I joined. It is a great group, willing to read challenging books. This one fits squarely in that category. I can't say that I enjoyed reading it. It felt like work. Mark Binelli seems to have defied every convention of novel writing. Only near the very end did I begin to figure out what he was doing with his characters.

The fictional Sacco and Vanzetti of the novel are vaudeville performers who do slapstick comedy (pie in the face, etc.), a genre of performance art I have never liked. They are tied in oh so loosely with the real Sacco and Vanzetti, Italian immigrants with anarchist connections who were given the death penalty in 1927 for murdering two men during a robbery. The conviction made headlines and is still disputed to this day.

In a mash up of incidents that follow the careers of these comedians, supposed historical data, journal entries, and other extraneous bits, you get an overview of the actual case, some comedy and the personalities of these invented clowns.

I finished the book a few weeks ago and I attended the discussion which was wide-ranging and deep. Looking back now what remains with me is an education in how slapstick comedy works and in what entertainment was like in the early 20th century. I am also haunted by those guys, the fictional Sacco and his partner, Vanzetti, who made up a truly odd couple. Finally, I was stunned with admiration by how Binelli could describe a slapstick act in words alone and make me feel like I was watching it in real time.

I am not sorry I read it. I am a firm believer in reading outside my comfort zone because I always learn something. Also I am at heart an anarchist of sorts and revel in seeing a novelist break all the rules.

(Sacco and Vanzetti Must Die! is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)

Thursday, September 01, 2011


Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris, Paul Gallico, Doubleday & Company Inc, 1958, 157 pp

The bestsellers of 1959 are either extremely long or incredibly short. At #9, Mrs 'Arris is one of the short ones. It is a romantic piece of fluff.

Mrs 'Arris is a London char woman who is not that unhappy with her lot but conceives of a desire to own a Dior gown. By means of luck, planning and sacrifice, she gets her wish. Then, as in any fairytale, she learns to watch what she wishes for.

You can read it in an hour and while it is not Breakfast at Tiffany's, it is wickedly fun. Especially if you love Paris.

There is also a made for TV movie starring Angela Lansbury which amazingly you can watch on YouTube.

(Mrs 'Arris Goes to Paris is available in paperback by order from Once Upon A Time Bookstore.)