MARY ROCHFORD – Gilded Shadows

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Bought 13 Dec 2008 – author’s signing table in WHSmiths

The winner of the Book For Birmingham competition (and also a finalist in the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Awards) and the lovely author I met quite by accident down the High Street last week.

I enjoyed this collection of intriguing tales. The voices were differentiated, whether a set of sisters bound together by guilt and secrecy in the first three, linked, stories, or lads, lonely wives or older women. The stories are intriguing because often they show the path leading up to a big decision, but not the outcome of the decision itself; I don’t like ends to be tied up too tightly so I liked this aspect a lot. Of course, it was marvellous to see my city lovingly described in print. Much like in Astonishing Splashes of Colour, the normal urban landscape – the Bristol Road, Broad Street, is paid as much attention as the wild seascapes of rural Ireland or the bright prettiness of the South of France.

I liked this a lot and I’m glad we’re going to invite the author to visit the Birmingham BookCrossers next year. I’d like to see a full-length novel by this author next!

IAN HARRISON – Britain From Above

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Bought 12 Sep 2008 – Amazon

With a foreword by Andrew Marr, this is the book of the TV series he presented a few months ago. It’s quite different from the TV programme though, with a fascinating section comparing archive photos of places with their current incarnations, and it provides a brilliant overview (ha ha) of the country, its transport, geology and other patterns. Although there wasn’t a huge amount of text and I read it quite quickly, it had been saved up as a “treat” read, and treat it certainly was.

MUHAMMAD AL MURR – Dubai Tales

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Acquired via BookCrossing 17 Sep 2008 – Red Cross donation bags

A set of deceptively simple stories about marriage and family in Dubai in the 1990s. Slightly reminiscent of R.K. Narayan, these are absorbing and well-structured; I am not always keen on short stories but these, although the characters were not linked through the stories, seemed to show facets of the same experiences, seen from different angles and through different eyes.

ANNIE HAWES – A Handful of Honey

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Bought 12 Sep 2008 (Amazon?)

Another installment in Hawes’ eventful life as she goes off to Morocco and Algeria with two French friends. This book made me long for Tunisia – the landscape, people and food are very similar. Hawes is not afraid to face up to sexism, militant religion and the myriad ways an Englishwoman travelling with two French men can confuse and offend, but she is also warm, full of love for the countryside and the people, and a great conjurer-up of atmosphere.

JEAN DEVANNY – Cindie

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Acquired Sep 2008 – sent to me by a fellow LibraryThinger

A Virago I’d not previously come across, this was the excellent, absorbing story of Blanche Biddow, wife of an Australian pioneer trying to make it good in the very north of the country, and her servant Cindie, who gains power, experience, knowledge and self-worth as she engages with the countryside, work and, not least, with the south sea islander and native australian workers. There’s a satisfying amount of detail on how exactly they set up the farms and homesteads, an exciting story and lots of information on how Australia was, politically and socially, at the turn of the 19th/20th centuries. Marvellous stuff and into the Permanent Collection.

LEN HOLDER – A Light-Hearted Look at Seafaring and Other Stories

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Acquired via BookCrossing 10 Dec 2008 – on a BookRing

Len Holder is the father of Katweeble and Weebly and that’s how I got to know about the book. It’s a charming set of anecdotes covering a long and varied career, starting with amateur sailing and reaching great heights, but all the while the author keeps his sense of humour and a sense of balance. I liked the seafaring and teaching stories, but my favourites were the family stories at the end. I won’t be able to look at Katweeble now without imagining her falling in the water while feeding the ducks, and it was great to learn along with Weebly about how potatoes grow!

Seriously – a sweet and interesting book. I will be buying a copy from Katweeble, hopefully she will bring some (signed?) copies along to the next Birmingham meetup.

The Adventures of |Gusto The Dragon

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Read at Unity FM radio station 11 Dec 2008

I think this counts as a book read – it had chapters and an amount of text, and what I didn’t read out loud I listened to Gill reading out loud… so that counts, right?

We were recording it for local community radio station Unity FM (the station whose book show I guested on a few months ago). It was interesting to read a book out without reading it through first and there were a few typos along the way; it was a very moral tale about eating your fruit and veg, which is not a bad thing where a young audience is concerned.

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