Book review – Anne Tyler – “Noah’s Compass”

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I thought I was up to books in my Anne Tyler 2021 project that I actually remembered, but this one really drew a blank again, even though I read it a full five years after “Digging to America” (I was wondering why there was such a big gap, then I realised that that was my last QPD edition, paperbacks that used to come out at the same time as the hardback release, whereas this is a standard paperback, so I’d have had to wait for the paperback of “Digging” then the hardback of this one to come out before I could get my hands on the paperback. That probably interests only me, but there we go!). My review on this blog was … short and not particularly sweet. Here you go. I haven’t unfortunately really changed my mind in the intervening decade!

If you’re reading along with the project or just this one or whatever, please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads, etc.. I’m adding links to these reviews plus all the reviews I am alerted to to the project page, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too.

Anne Tyler – “Noah’s Compass”

(12 January 2011)

He was familiar with these flashes of hatred. (He’d been married two times, after all.) He knew enough not to act on them. (p. 188)

Having really enjoyed “Digging to America”, I’m afraid this one was a bit of a disappointment. 61-year-old Liam downsized from work, downsizes himself into a small flat and mulls over his disappointing career, two marriages and three daughters. The first night in the flat, he experiences an act of violence which he can’t remember, he obsesses about trying to remember it and then, having seen an elderly man’s aide helping him to remember basic facts and ways to live, obsesses about her, tracks her down and basically stalks her (shades of “Morgan’s Passing” but this was published in 2010) until she befriends him and he hopes to develop a romance (she’s 38. Hm.).

There’s interest in the classic Tyler tropes of the second wife taking on the first marriage’s child, the overly petty man fussing about grammar (a less-central character I can’t discuss without spoiling the plot), a frizzy haired woman with drooping bra straps and a weedy small child. The religion theme is ridiculous but not mocked as such, and the youngest daughter Kitty is portrayed well, with her standard-issue dodgy boyfriend who reaches back to the earlier books. There are some funny points, and Liam at some stages does appear to be one of Tyler’s “men with a system”:

“I’m not living miserably.”

She turned and skinned him with a glance. “And don’t think I can’t see what you’re up to,” she said. “You’re trying to come out even with your clothes.”

“Come out …?”

“You suppose if you play your cards right, you won’t have to buy more clothes before you die.” (p. 74)

But it’s just not very interesting, really, and ends up tailing off.

In another Book Serendipity moment (Bookish Beck collects hers regularly), in one flashback, Liam gets his driving licence and is off immediately to where he chooses to go, free at last; the same scene is repeated in Anita Rani’s “The Right Sort of Girl” which I’d finished a few days before reading this (but I’m reviewing for Shiny New Books).

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Book review – Michaela Coel – Misfits”

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Another NetGalley read (I have so many of them published this month, see my State of the TBR post for a mosaic of them all) and one I won really recently (I’ve been turned down for a few recently, too, even though my review rate is over 80% and I’ve been reading books in similar categories; of course I’ll still buy copies of those in the fullness of time). This one is based on a lecture Coel did, but builds around it to produce something I could probably have read for Novellas in November but there you go.

Michaela Coel – “Misfits: A Personal Manifesto”

(31 August 2021 – NetGalley)

Coming from the tiny Square Mile, and a tiny family, what carried me through those five years was the abundance of Black girls, White girls, mixed girls, misfits; my friends were all misfits: a huge gang of commercially unattractive, beautiful misfits who found the mainstream world unattractive.

The kernel of this book is the Edinburgh Festival MacTaggart lecture which Coel, acclaimed actor and writer of the series Chewing Gum and I May Destroy You, gave. The introduction features a sad story about the destruction of a moth leading her to realise she’s anosmic but the main part is more clear and impactful.

Coel takes us through her life as a working class, Black woman trying to make her way in writing and acting. I was interested to see she grew up on an “invisible” council housing estate right in the middle of the City of London as I lived for a couple of years in a similar block in Covent Garden (mainly owner-occupied after Thatcher’s Right to Buy scheme but still with a real mix of residents). That’s by the by, of course, but it was a nice little moment. She’s thrown into a world of misfits early on and thrives on it, a misfit being to her someone who will stand their ground and speak out, a positive thing.

As she goes through school and drama school then work, she experiences racism and calls it out creatively, never accusing anyone directly, just pointing things out that scream inequity. She calls out for other people to stand up to inequity and inequality, to share their own stories and to reach down to help others up:

Why are we platforming misfits, heralding them as newly rich successes, whilst they balance on creaking ladders with little chance of social mobility? I can’t help usher them into this house if there are doors within it they can’t open. It feels complicit. What I can do is be transparent about my own experiences, because transparency helps.

She encourages everyone to make some silence for themselves and have a think about what they are doing in life to help others, about how they operate. She shares a mistake she made with the writing of a person of a different ethnicity to her own, how she was called out for it and how she dealt with it – brave stuff to admit in print and lecture hall. In fact like Shon Faye, writer of “The Transgender Issue” which I’m reading at the moment, she talks strongly about how systems have to be changed not just reactions to one or more race.

I’m going to try to be my best; to be transparent; and to play whatever part i can to help fix this house. What part will you play?

Powerful stuff indeed.

Thank you to Ebury Press for making this available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Misfits” was published on 7 September.

Book review – Dennis Duncan – “Index, a History of the”

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This is not the first book on indexes I’ve read! Hazel K. Bell’s “Indexes and Indexers in Fact and Fiction” was a compilation of bits of indexes* and portrayals of indexers that I read back in 2007 (the review is thus one of my short ones). I’ve also read books on the bits and bobs of books, including one called “Invisible Forms” by Kevin Jackson which I can only assume I read around 2002 but mysteriously appears neither in this blog nor my index to my pre-blog journals, which included a section on indexes. But to my knowledge, this is the first book soley on the history of indexes.

Excitingly, I “won” this on NetGalley from one of their emails where the first 100 to click the link are accepted for the book automatically.

*Duncan goes into the matter of the plural and settles on indexes rather than indices.

Dennis Duncan – “Index, a History of the: A Bookish Adventure”

(6 July 2021 – NetGalley)

The professional indexer, learned, vigilant, goes before us, levelling mountains and beating paths so that we, time-poor students at the fingerpost, can arrive swiftly but unruffled at the passage – the quotation, the datum, the knowledge – we need.

This is a very thorough book – not overly academic or obfuscating but just thorough (at 350 pages including I believe (see later) two indexes, it’s not massive), taking us from the very earliest manuscripts up to the indexing of the Internet. As is said in the reviews, it’s affectionate and Duncan is obviously very engaged with his topic.

So we move from the start of indexing, which came with the start of the use of codexes (book-shaped objects) rather than scrolls and then move on to the necessary question of locators, i.e. the points to which an index refers the reader: not always page numbers and certainly not at first, but Bible chapters (then verses; I didn’t know they evolved separately) then page numbers and now locator tags in ebooks and hashtags in social media. Early readers of both manuscript and printed books might have been encouraged to write in their own indexes and indeed page numbers. We get quite a lot on the difference between concordances (lists of the appearances of particular words in a work) and indexes (subject lists), both organised alphabetically (so we get a bit on the alphabet, too; indexes weren’t always organised thus) and the interesting fact that these both appeared at roughly the same time.

One point that comes through almost immediately is the idea of moral panics over the format in which information is presented being nothing new: while people shout now about everyone only looking things up on Wikipedia, as soon as reproducible indexes appeared, there was a lot of talk about people only reading the indexes and not the book properly.

There’s quite a lot in the book about funny bits in indexes, some very funny indeed, and the way they can be used to either propagate beef with another writer or thinker or undermine the actual text. I will say that there was a long and involved chapter here on some 18th century culture wars which I did skim slightly, as I’ve never been a fan of the satirical writers of that era generally, and there is a lot of detail; however, it’s well-researched and well-done and that’s just a personal preference.

The introduction of automation to indexes is fascinating, from machine-readable cards to the first indexing software. Discussions of complete automation comes up against the same thing that discussions of voice-to-text software do – it’s all very well for the basics but you really do need human intervention still (I recently ‘edited’ an AI transcription of a focus group and it took exactly as long as if I’d typed it all out myself), which is good news for the dedicated indexers I know. He finishes the book, after a note of praise to the “invisible readers” mostly women now apparently, who do the indexing, with a pair of indexes, one machine-generated, one human-generated. However, in my advance readers’ copy …

Index

Indexes : necessarily produced late in production cycle, 235; initial absence of, in books where the omission is striking, 199; author humbly seeks early readers’ indulgence for current lack of, 281.

A necessary book, filling a gap admirably; there won’t be a need for another book on this topic for the foreseeable future.

Thank you, Allen Lane, for making this book available on NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Index, a History of the” was published on 2 September.

Book review – Richard Osman – “The Thursday Murder Club”

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Am I actually the last person in the world to read this? Actually, Matthew would officially be, as we read this together but I finished before him (and made him sit quietly in the sitting room after work, listening to the end, so that I could present him with a list of questions). I had avoided the hype but then I clicked on the sequel in NetGalley and won it, so thought I’d better read this one first. I picked up a cheap copy in The Works (why? about 1,000 people I know had a spare copy!) and we read it with Matthew doing the Audible version.

I don’t read much crime fiction (I’ve read all of Agatha Christie in my teens and worked my way through a lot of Agatha Raisins plus a number of the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels and a few cosy mysteries, but I wouldn’t say I was an expert) so I was probably not a very intelligent reader but I did enjoy it and it certainly wasn’t horribly explicitly gory, thank goodness!

Richard Osman – “The Thursday Murder Club”

(01 August 2021)

So what can I say that everyone else hasn’t said? It’s certainly warm-hearted, this tale of four residents of sheltered flats getting together to try to solve old murders … then finding one happening right now! I liked the cheeky pensioners with their sometimes dark skills and connections, and having regular chapters written my new member Joyce was a clever way to keep the interest up. It was well-plotted and seemed to make sense (except for those Euros – please can someone explain that bit to me, privately if need be??)

I really liked the inclusiveness and diversity woven into the story (although there are no LGBTQIA+ characters as far as I could make out: police officer Donna de Freitas corrects characters that there are no longer WPCs, just PCs and her ethnicity is not described in food colour terms but simply noted by another character a long way into the book. It’s a melancholic read, more so than I’d expected, mulling over the declines of age, but not in a savagely Anita Brookner style and all warmly done. And it is funny, as expected:

Three new emails, nothing that looked like it would detain him. One of his sergeants was doing a triathlon, a cry for help, for which he expected to be sponsored. (p. 361)

One odd thing: my print copy featured Turkish Johnny and Steve Ercan; Matthew’s and seemingly a lot of people’s had Turkish Gianni [sp?] and Steve Georgiou. Weird. I had a paperback, too. I am going to read the next instalment with interest – we both had different snippets in our print and audio versions hinting at what’s to come …

A good Book Serendipity moment (Bookish Beck collects hers regularly and encourages others to do the same): there’s a section in which Joyce repeatedly talks about Timbuktu in Mali, and on the same day I was reading about that, Timbuktu and Mali popped up in the other book I was reading, Alex Haley’s “Roots”. Not sure you could get two more different books!

Review and acquisitions round-up

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Hello! I have two reviews that I’ve recently had published on Shiny New Books to tell you about, and just a few new books in (oops, not oops)

Robyn Lea – “A Room of Her Own: inside the Homes and Lives of Creative Women” looks at a set of women from various places in the US, Europe and Australia who have created interesting and stunning interiors as part of their life’s work, whether they’re artists, interior designers or other creatives.

Not all the women started out as wealthy as they appear to be now. Some are descendants of big designing or European aristocratic families but others started out more middle or lower class. All seem uncompromising in their attitude to creating their surroundings, whether that’s making interesting collections, showcasing their own art works or introducing highly modern pieces into ancient interiors. We do start out with a woman in a castle; but a woman who was very reluctant to up sticks and move into her husband’s ancestral castle. Many of the women’s stories are unexpected and interesting. The pandemic plays a part and the texts do not shy away from the panic attacks, bereavements, family conflicts and complex paths some of these women have experienced.

Read more here

“Your Voice Speaks Volumes” by Jane Setter is a fascinating look at voice and accent, of course looking at regional accents and the sociology around them (and around people who are perceived to change their accent) but also about artificial voices, the way trans people might wish to change their voices (with a very interesting case of a trans woman who complained she came out sounding like a straight woman, not the lesbian woman she was) and other aspects:

Changing voices are covered in a chapter about professionals who use and think about their voices – chiefly singers and radio announcers, and also the voice coaches who work with actors and the like. The chapter on criminology and phonetics is fascinating, too, looking in detail at the work of speaker profiling, and using auditory and acoustic analysis to work out and back up whether two voices on two tapes might be the same voice (or not).

Read more here

Incomings

So, last week, I had to go and pick up some medication from one local pharmacy and then pop to another in search of some elusive new and different rapid-flow Covid tests (which I did not find). And between these pharmacies, its door passed as I went, was Oxfam Books. Oops. I don’t know how I’m going to fit these on my TBR shelf, but you can’t leave good books in charity shops, can you; they’ll be snapped up the second you leave the place ..

We’ve been enjoying watching Stacey Dooley’s documentaries where she stays in someone’s house, as well as her “This is My House” gameshow but have missed her earlier investigative journalism work with women in difficult circumstances, so I was pleased to spot “Stacey Dooley on the Frontline with the Women who Fight Back”.

The next one down the pile will please Brona of This Reading Life. She hosts the wonderful AusReading Month every November, and I was bemoaning the fact that I had no Australian books to read and talk about in my TBR, as I was trying to do all my challenges this year from the TBR. Well, this is NOW on the TBR … Sven Lindqvist’s “Terra Nullius” is a searing indictment of the way Native Australian people have been mistreated and abused, so I will be learning as well as taking part in the challenge (more about the challenge here). More travel: Sara Wheeler’s “The Magnetic North” is the Arctic companion to the Antarctic book of hers I’ve had for years.

Then in diaries and memoirs, David Lodge’s “Writer’s Luck: A Memoir 1976-1991” covers the period when he was working at the University of Birmingham and overlaps with the time I was there in his department but he was just an esteemed visiting professor as his literary career had really taken off by then. “The View from the Corner Shop” by Kathleen Hey is a Mass Observation Diary from 1941-1946 covering, well, oddly enough, life in a British corner shop and should be fascinating.

In novels, Cathy Kelly is a favourite Irish writer who has taken on the mantle of Maeve Binchy and writes good, woman-centred stories; I think “The Family Gift” is her latest (I might save this for Irish Reading Month next year if I remember to). I have seen Tsitsi Dangarembga’s “Nervous Conditions” reviewed by Imogenglad recently so I was very pleased to find it as it had been in my mind ever since (it was the first book by a Black Zimbabwean writer to be published in English). And “Miguel Street” by V.S. Naipaul is a classic novel based on his own childhood and had to be picked up, too.

So there we go, eight books to jam onto the TBR shelf – but could I have left any of them behind?

Book review – Anne Tyler – “Digging to America”

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Finally I’m up to books in my Anne Tyler 2021 project that I actually remember! Hooray! In fact, I first read it when I had my blog on LiveJournal, so there’s a short review of it on this blog, the first time my first reading of the novels appears on here (I did much shorter reviews back then!). This is the last of my QPD editions, having been loyal to them through four of her publications.

If you’re reading along with the project or just this one or whatever, please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads, etc.. I’m adding links to these reviews plus all the reviews I am alerted to to the project page, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too.

Anne Tyler – “Digging to America”

(16 August 2006, Quality Paperbacks Direct)

She was an optimist, Maryam was. Or on second thought, not an optimist: a pessimist. But her life had been rocky enough that she faced possible disasters more philosophically than most. She had had to forsake her family before she was twenty; she’d been widowed before she was forty; she had raised her son by herself in a country where she would never feel like anything but a foreigner. Basically, though, she believed that she was a happy person. (p. 12)

I said in my original review that this was a return to form after a couple of disappointments. Well, I didn’t find the previous two disappointing this time around, but this one was certainly an outstanding novel and one I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the diversity of it and the subtler use of those kinds of characters Tyler’s earlier and mid-career novels stuck with.

We first meet the Donaldsons, all together en masse at the airport, ready to welcome the baby they’re adopting from Korea. Bitsy is an aggressively makeup-less weaver who determines to keep Jin-ho’s name and dress her in Korean costume. But on the edges of the group are the Yazdans, a smaller family, just Maryam, who emigrated from Iran, her son Sami and her daughter-in-law Ziba. Having assimilated themselves as far as they can, they change their child’s name to Susan, share the childcare and put her in kindergarten as soon as possible. The added layer of cultural complexity is handled very well and subtly and I particularly liked the brave, strong Maryam, trying to guess her way through all the weird Americanisms, but coming across as intimidating at the same time. She’s so careful that even speaking of trying for a baby seems indiscreet to her, and I love the quote about her at the top of this review. But she also gets fed up sometimes of being a sort of walking Iranian exhibit for everyone, although later Bitsy’s dad Dave in particular makes a real effort to understand cultural aspects such as food and traditions, and Dave and Connie make her feel more relaxed with their simple kindness.

The two families become interwoven after Bitsy tracks down the Yazdans after the day at the airport. Soon they’re having annual Arrival Day parties and leaf-sweeping events. But Bitsy’s mum is unwell and that gives a melancholy counterpoint to the story, as well as offering an interesting plot point later on. I liked the sections from the point of view of Susan and Jin-ho later on in the book.

In terms of Tyler themes, apart from the everyday minutiae of life which is her specialism always, there’s a tantalising set of people coming through the airport, perhaps glimpsed later, too, all of whom could be characters from her other stories. Bitsy has been through one of the too-fussy men with her first husband, Stephen, and that’s the only example of one of them in the book for once. The different thing here, as in “The Amateur Marriage” is the deep exploration of a non-fully American culture: I particularly liked here the description of Maryam’s friends slipping in and out of Farsi and English, swapping as they come to a word in the opposite language which then carries on until another word flips the narrative.

The title phrase comes from the idea Susan and Jin-Ho have that while they “dig to China”, children in China and Korea are “digging to America”. Of course, that wouldn’t immediately strike me. as in the UK we dig to Australia if we are digging a hole to the other side of the world!

A sweet and understated ending to the book makes it a really special one in Tyler’s oeuvre.

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Book review – Johnny Agar and Becki Agar – “The Impossible Mile”

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I have a lot of NetGalley books to read this month so I might not make them all. This one is an inspiring story of overcoming difficulties in life which I was fortunate enough to win in June, when I had a bit of a requesting frenzy.

Johnny Agar with Becki Agar – “The Impossible Mile: The Power of Living Life One Step at a Time”

(23 June 2021)

Johnny Agar was born prematurely and diagnosed as living with cerebral palsy, affecting his whole body quite severely so that by the time he was 18, the furthest he’d walked was 23 steps. But after a series of sporting endeavours, starting with his dad pushing him in an adapted buggy and moving on to being assisted around a triathlon by a team of people who were set up to do just this, he then decided to try to walk the last mile of a local 5k fundraiser for his church. The struggle, work and training he did for this are fully akin to that which elite and non-elite runners do, and it was moving to read about him going through the same processes as all of us.

It was lovely to read about the people who inspired him but then came to be inspired by him – baseball players and the great swimmer Michael Phelps. The folk at the Under Armour sportswear company take him under their wing and feature him in one of their adverts, but also ordinary people share with Johnny and his mum, Becki, the effect he’s had on their lives. The role the family’s strong faith plays is major and that’s a bit harder to get a grip on for a non-religious person, but fair play to them, of course. I love that he made contact with the doctor who gave the first diagnosis but also so importantly gave his parents permission to not upset themselves reading up in the textbooks but to just go out there and take every day at a time with their new baby.

One particular point that I found interesting was Johnny’s support by the Institutes for Conductive Education – an organisation founded in Hungary that helps people living with conditions like cerebral palsy to move more freely through exercises and physiotherapy. The British national Institute happens to be in Birmingham, and I help out at a 10k race run to raise funds for it every year, so it was lovely to read more about the use of the system across the world.

It’s a warm and honest book. Johnny’s family are obviously very supportive and tight-knit, his parents refusing to mention his diagnosis in front of him and always turning the negatives into positives, while Johnny himself does mention his frustrations and embarrassments as well as his triumphs. He thanks them and his sisters as well as other people in the long Acknowledgements section at the end. The book isn’t perfectly written; it has a feel of self-publishing about it and could have done with an edit to excise a few repetitions. But it will certainly inspire, and that’s what it’s there to to do.

Thanks to publisher Dexterity for giving me access to this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. The book is published on 14 September.

Book review – Charlie Brinkhust-Cuff and Timi Sotire (eds.) – “Black Joy”

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I was much struck by the exhortations by Sophie Williams and especially Emma Dabiri in my reading in July to stop wallowing about in Black misery and have a look at and share examples of Black joy. So when I saw this one pop up on NetGalley, it was an easy choice to request it.

Charlie Brinkhust-Cuff (who also edited the excellent Windrush book I read last year, as well as being a former member of the gal-dem collective) and newcomer to editing Timi Sotire add their voices to twenty-eight other Black British writers, from pop stars to politicians, film-makers to queer activists, to share what brings them joy. I want to make sure I share everyone’s names, so there’s a list at the bottom of this piece.

Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff and Timi Sotire (eds.) – “Black Joy”

These essays are uplifting, but they do not ignore the raw realities of our existence – and nor should they. Black joy in this climate is an undoubtedly political reaction to the world we are living in, but we must be careful to push the conversation beyond this moment, and beyond a hashtag.

After introductions by the editors which do make the point above that this is not an either/or, it’s a both/and (and this is reflected in many of the essays), we have a lovely set of life-affirming and often inspiring pieces on such a wide range of topics, body positivity, recipes, music, queer London life, dancing, reading, sport … It’s also very notable for its inclusion of LGBTQIA+ people and women of size – truly inclusive.

Very much written for Black British people by Black British people, readers outside the particular cultures mentioned will sometimes have to do some work looking things up, or just let the names of music, food, dances, clothing wash over them (but it’s fun to look up the things you don’t know and learn something). Some aspects are of course universal, some particular to Black British culture, some particular to parts of that non-monolithic culture, such as Ghanaian or Nigerian British culture, some particular to people of mixed heritage. So the book really shows up the variety of experiences (and joys) that come from these places, literal or more amorphous.

There’s a lot to enjoy but also a lot to learn: what Prince meant to someone of the same colour exploring their masculinity, how studies on dyslexia don’t take into account Black people’s experiences, how the film industry pressures creatives into boxes that their White cohort aren’t forced into, how tiring workplace microaggressions are (“We got things to do! Black people don’t sit around at work waiting to deliver TED talks to people actually called Ted” [Munya Chawawa]), and, in a very moving piece, the joys, connection and strength of communities on housing estates.

I loved how the contributor list at the end included a music track that brings joy to each person – and, in my second book that includes a QR code, there’s even a playlist at the end. The illustrations will be more powerful in a print copy but are varied and attractive and add an extra dimension to the essays.

Highly recommended, especially if you’ve been wading through Black misery book lists and/or are a Black reader looking to see yourself and your positive interests represented.

Contributors to the book: essays by Diane Abbott – Faridah Àbíké-Íyímídé – Fopé Ajanaku – Athian Akec – Travis Alabanza – Haaniyah Angus – Rukiat Ashawe – Bukky Bakray – Richie Brave – Munya Chawawa – Ruby Fatimilehin – Theophina Gabriel – Lauryn Green – Ife Grillo – Isaac James – Chanté Joseph – Vanessa Kisuule – Henrie Kwushue – Tobi Kyeremateng – Mikai McDermott – Jason Okundaye – Tope Olufemi – Melz Owusu – Leigh-Anne Pinnock – Mayowa Quadri – Lavinya Stennett – Timi Sotire – Sophia Tassew; and art works by Jovilee Burton – Tomekah George – Emma Hall – Chioma Ince – Olivia Twist.

Thank you to Penguin Random House for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

State of the TBR September 2021

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It’s State of the TBR time again and things are … pretty much where they were at the start of August but with definitely a smaller bottom part of the Pile (three Angela Thirkells and a Maya Angelou gone) and some shuffling on the main part as I took off two D.E. Stevensons and a Persephone book.

I finished reading 13 books in August (two you haven’t seen reviewed here because I read them for Shiny New Books and the reviews aren’t out yet). That’s a bit down from my May, June and July totals but I had two weeks of very long work hours which cut into my reading time! I finished my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy from 246 Books with a day to spare.

Currently reading

I’m still currently reading Raynor Winn’s “The Salt Path” as my readalong with Emma, and we’re about half-way through. I’m also reading Richard Osman’s “The Thursday Murder Club”, partly because I went for and won the sequel on NetGalley, partly because Matthew wanted to do a readalong. I like that it’s not too explicit as I’m not keen on that sort of thing and it is amusingly written. I don’t think we’ll get to the sequel in September as I don’t think Matthew will want to read them sequentially. “Sugar” I’ve not really got into yet as the Kindle edition went weird and I had to mess around raising it on NetGalley Shelf but it’s a story of race and the American South. “Black Joy” is another NetGalley read and is so far a rewarding read by and for Black British people about the joy that doesn’t have to be predicated on adversity but can be there for itself. I need to be careful to keep reading these books for the blog so I have something to tell you about, alongside review reads for Shiny!

Up next

My most important reads up next are my books to review for Shiny New Books. I’m not sure I’ve checked all these in as incomings below, so I have Jeevan Vasagar’s “Lion City” which is about the city of Singapore and the rise of modern Asia, memoirs by Anita Rani and Annie Nightingale, James Aldred’s “Goshawk Summer” about the first summer lockdown and the nature of the New Forest, and Lev Parikian’s “Light Rains Sometimes Fall”. Thank you to their publishers for all of these – I will talk about them and link to their Shiny Reviews on this blog in the fullness of time.

In NetGalley reads, this is the set I have published in September. A history of a bit of books, sociology, psychology, inspiring sport, Black joy and a refugee’s journey. Not sure I’ll get to all of them, but I’ll give it a go! “The Transgender Issue” will be for Shiny New Books though I will probably post a full review on here, too, and I think I’ve promised them to read “Children of Ash and Elm”, too, which is recently out in paperback. So some of these will drop off (I’ve already picked up “Black Joy” to start).

I also have the next in my Maya Angelou readalong with Ali and Meg and then of course I have my two Anne Tylers for the month: “Digging to America” and “Noah’s Compass” (both of which I sort of remember) and then Alex Haley’s “Roots” which I’m going to be reading alongside blogger Buried In Print for Kaggsy and Simon’s 1976 Club in October (pre-event post here). Does anyone else fancy reading “Roots” with us?

I’d better get reading, hadn’t I!

Books in (many, many books in, again!)

I’ll divide this into print and e-book incomings.

I’ve won some great books from NetGalley in August. Christine Pride & Jo Piazza’s “We are Not Like Them”, published in October, is a novel based around two old friends, one Black, one White when a racially charged incident threatens their friendship and community. “Wahala” by Nikki May looks at three Nigerian British friends in London, is apparently a biting satire and is published in January 2022. Hassan Akkad’s “Hope not Fear” is his memoir of his journey from refugee to NHS worker, film-maker and activist. Shon Faye’s “The Transgender Issue: An Argument for Justice” looks to be the trans version of the amazing “Invisible Women” and I’ll be reviewing that for Shiny New Books as well. Those two are both published in September. And in “Of This Our Country” by various authors, also published at the end of the month, writers of Nigeria talk about their home, identity and culture. I mentioned winning Richard Osman’s “The Man Who Died Twice” earlier as I’m reading the first book now, and in late additions I won yesterday “The Arctic Curry Club” by Dani Redd, a romance set in the Arctic (ooh!) published in December (phew) and Michaela Cole’s “Misfits”, a personal agenda to encourage people not to fit in (published this month, too).

In print, as well as some of the review copies shown above, Lucy Delap’s “Feminisms: A Global History” has arrived on publication from my Waterstones order (thank you, Sian) and what a lovely Pelican edition it is. Mark Atkinson’s “Ducking Long Way” arrived from the publisher and I’ve already read and reviewed it. “Roots” I’ve already mentioned above, being used for the 1976 Club, and Sue Anstiss’ “Game On: The Unstoppable Rise of Women’s Sport” is another Unbound campaign I contributed to. “Black London” by Avril Nanton and Jody Burton is a guide to public art, places and history in London which I might have left in my Amazon basket when I was buying something else and bought slightly by mistake (I try not to buy books from Amazon). But it will be a good one for Emma and me to look at when I visit her next. In addition, I might just have picked up Heaven-Ali’s copy of Paula Byrne’s “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym” when I was helping her sort out the books in her new flat …

What are your reading plans for September? Have you read any of these lovelies? Are you joining me for some Anne Tyler? Or perhaps reading “Roots” through the month?

Book review – Angela Thirkell – “Peace Breaks Out” and 20 Books of Summer round-up

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And I’ve reached the end of my 20 Books of Summer project!

I bought this book in August 2020 when it was published, to complete my set of Thirkells up to the end of the Second World War.

And in general I’ve very much enjoyed doing my 20 books of summer. During the June-August period I’ve actually read 43 books, but I have got 20 books off my TBR, which is always the plan with this project. This year, I went a bit different and, instead of just picking the 20 oldest books on my TBR, selected two months of diverse reading then one of Viragoes and the like. This worked well, although I did give myself a lot of non-fiction to read in the first two months and ended up swapping out two of those books for Virago novels Don’t fear – I will get those read and reviewed soon! Click on the link to find links to all my reviews for 20 Books of Summer and thank you to Cathy at 746 Books for hosting as always!

How have you got on if you’re doing 10/15/20 Books of Summer/Winter?

Angela Thirkell – “Peace Breaks Out”

(20 August 2020)

It did not pay, the Admiral said, to ask people politely if you wanted anything done. The Adamses gave their orders and took it for granted that they would be obeyed; just as he, the Admiral, had done in his flagship. Why had the leadership passed from the Admiral and his like? (p. 179)

Even more than the last one, this book is full of tired people and bad cakes, powdered milk and restrictions and rumours. The old guard is being threatened even more by newcomers, never more than when the post-war election happens and two familiar characters are pitted against one another.

We start off with the book centring around Mr Scatcherd the artist with a capital A and his neighbours, the Hallidays, George and Sylvia being the young people of the house, both on leave from their wartime jobs. Soon, with much pleasure, we re-acquaint ourselves with Anne Fielding, who we met in the last book, and her introduction to Sylvia and then the glamorous (or bitchy, ageing and balding playboy) David Leslie and the charming Leslie family, Miss Bunting’s favourite pupil but souring a little as he ages. Martin Leslie and his sister are enjoying farming and many of the young women in the book are aiming for non-traditional careers, which is nice to see. Will Anne have her head turned or will her solid friendship with Robin Dale sustain her?

Even though a Very Bad Word appears in the book (though used positively, hm …) the value again lies in the portrayal of a tired and battered populace almost regretfully accepting the changes of peacetime, trying to keep certain family rituals going, finding cars and petrol to get to visit their friends, doing OK if they live in the country and grow vegetables. Certain almost feudal systems are still going, and there’s still a distinction between Barchester and The County, but incursions are coming, women are wearing trousers and, in a rather wonderful long passage, we see that housewives are very worn down indeed.

A good end to the series for me, although Thirkell kept writing books in the series, and I’m glad it finished off my 20 Books of Summer 2021.

This was Book 20 in my 20 Books of Summer project and Book 7 in AV/AA.

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