RON FALCONER – Together Alone

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Acquired via BookCrossing 16 Apr 2008 – BookRing

Ron and his partner Anne and their 2 children live on a remote coral atoll for several years.

I enjoyed the detailed descriptions of how they built and maintained their island lifestyle, but agreed with other readers that

a) Ron was pretty insufferable. I found the comments on his wife, where he described her in very childlike terms, were really patronising. I wonder what she felt about the whole thing

b) they were hypocritical in the extreme, banging on about untouchable nature and living like the animals, then building concrete tanks and introducing bees and hens!

I skipped over the philosophizing too – I was amused when he said he’d read and enjoyed “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” as it did echo that book’s style quite a lot.

But, overall, an interesting and enjoyable read, and I’m glad the cat and dog were still OK by the end!

Friends-only as I’m not too complimentary here! They don’t need to find this review twice!

CATHERINE O’FLYNN – What Was Lost

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Borrowed from a friend Apr 2008

A wonderful book – even though it had a mystery part to the story, which had made me not so keen to pick it up in the past, I happily took it when it was pressed upon me by a colleague. And I’m so glad I did. Very atmospheric and really captured the ennui of work in a low-paid, high-pressure job with great stretches of boredom (I’m remembering my call centre here…) The Birmingham setting was a bonus and the characters beautifully drawn.

I didn’t *love* the vignettes interspersed throughout the book by “anonymous shopper, male” etc – they felt a bit writing-classy and I wondered if they were the inspiration for the book but didn’t NEED to be in there.

But overall fantastic, and greatly deserved the nominations and prizes it has picked up.

ANNE DONOVAN – Being Emily

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Acquired 18 Apr 2008 – through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme (hence the longer review)

Fiona is the middle, unnoticed child in a chaotic Glaswegian working-class family, negotiating unfamiliar lifestyles and choices and a burgeoning interest in art. When tragedy strikes, who will hold the family together?

I absolutely loved this book and couldn’t put it down, staying up to read it fast and furiously late last night. From the moment we meet the bright, intelligent heroine to the scene where we say goodbye, the book is fast-paced, truthful and engaging.

Donovan’s books are always thoughtful as well as engaging, and look at different sectors of society through the eyes of working class Glaswegians. The characters are beautifully drawn, and not just the major ones – I loved Declan, seemingly so boring but actually wonderful, and the delicious, accepting, Scrabble-addicted Mrs Kaur. The contrasts between those who go away and those who stay are done well, and the book is given depth by its meditations on art and truth, when to tell and when be silent, and flashes of lyrical description among the dialect and plot.

The dialect: personally, I had no trouble with it. True, there are a few unfamiliar words, but they can be made out from the context. If you read passages aloud, you can hear the sense more easily. I love the voice of this book. It would be a boring world of books if we only read narrations that matched our own.

I will re-read this at leisure; it deserves at least one more read. Highly recommended.

AYLIN ORBASLI – Architectural Conservation

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From the University Library

An attractive and accessible book about architectural conservation, an interest of mine. I read this in parts over quite a period of time, but gulped down the last half tonight in an effort to get some proper reading done at last! Good photos and a well laid-out text contributed to my enjoyment, though I spotted a few typos!

CAROLINE SULLIVAN – Bye Bye Baby

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Acquired via BookCrossing – in the Red Cross donation bags, 19 Mar 2008

A bittersweet tale of love and fandom – very realistic and honest, and pretty enthralling for all that (though I wish she told us which one…). We’ve all loved a band to distraction (haven’t we?) – Sullivan and her friends take it that bit further and turn into what would pretty well be called stalkers these days. A nice end piece explains what she knows of what happened next.

This is reserved to send to a dear friend – I was trying to get it read by the time she was visiting in Birmingham, but didn’t manage to get much reading done in the last week!

PENELOPE FITZGERALD – The Gate Of Angels

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Acquired via BookCrossing 22 Mar 2008 – Bham meetup

A rather bizarre little tale with an unsettling ghost story in the middle. It had Fitzgerald’s vaguely menacing disconnected style, along with the wonderful observations of person and character which makes you go on reading. The ending was abrupt, and I’m not really sure what I thought about it.

ABIGAIL POGREBIN – Stars of David

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Library book (borrowed in April 2008)

One that went through my cataloguer’s hands in the Library. Subtitled “Prominent Jews talk about being Jewish”, this did what it said on the tin – and more than 60 of them. It got a tiny bit samey and could have done with some more explanations or glossary, as there were several concepts I wasn’t familiar with (and my handy reference source couldn’t answer) and I don’t think this book was aimed only at the cognoscenti. Anyway, the musings on faith and family were interesting and occasionally moving in a deeper way. Interesting stuff.

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