MONICA FERRIS – Embroidered Truths

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Acquired via BookCrossing 22 Feb 2009 – rabck from Caroley

Caroley kindly acquired this for me to add to my Book Spiral and I thought it would be a good read for the coach journey back from my day trip to London yesterday.  It was indeed, and helped the journey pass beautifully, although I did fall asleep over it coming into the environs of Birmingham!

This was a good read.  Dear Godwin experiences some shocking events which can’t help but make him grow up a little.  He and Betsy draw closer together and the Monday Night Club chip in too.  A strong member of the series.

LUCY HAWKING – The Accidental Marathon Runner

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Acquired via BookCrossing 21 Oct 2009 – kindly passed to me by Gill when I needed some light reading

This was a slightly odd mix of chick-lit and international art crime.  It did have some running in it – indeed, more than I’d expected – and I especially liked a part at the end that made me well up slightly (ugh!).  I read it on the coach on the way down to London yesterday and it was perfect for that, really light and fairly easy to follow.

Ended up passing it on to my friend Tanya who I met for tea; she wanted to know what BookCrossing was about so went off with this one and will hopefully leave it somewhere in New York on the next leg of her travels!

YASMIN HAI – The Making of Mr Hai’s Daughter

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05 Jun 2009 – Hay on Wye Booksellers

An excellent and important book.  Yasmin starts off telling a (to me) common story of a family settling in England and trying to adapt to a new life.  Her Dad, Mr Hai, is determined to make his children English, so instigating Project Children (Project Wife involved abandoning Mrs Hai on Oxford Street to find her way home… but secretly following her to make sure she was OK) and stopping them speaking Urdu seems natural to him.  But what would he think as Yasmin’s community becomes more and more "Islamicised", turns in on itself and moves from the jolly day-time raves and black/asian power to an increasinly conservative, restrictive and religious society.  Is it the fault of multiculturalism, of British and American foreign policy, or of a need to belong somewhere… anywhere?

Yasmin goes into journalism and finds she can walk an increasinly unstable tight rope between the media and her Muslim community. She examines her colleagues’, her old school friends’ and her own attitudes and is unsparing of all of them.  An important discussion of her feelings at 9/11 and 07 July make for disturbing and reassuring reading.  Reassuring because, while there are people like her, willing to examine attitudes instead of kicking against them or blindly following them, there is still hope for a cohesive multi-ethnic community in Britain.

Strong stuff, but told with a deftly light and personal touch.  I will be looking for more work by Yasmin Hai, and looking up her journalism.

M. C. BEATON – Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

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Acquired via BookCrossing 21 Oct  – from Gill’s pile at the Cafe

These Agatha Raisins are very popular with BookCrossers and I have now got sucked in to yet another cosy mystery series.  This time there’s no needlework or book towns – Agatha is a slightly unpleasant retired PR lady who gets her dream Cotswold cottage, then thinks… what next? Soon she is involved in village life, but not in the way she quite expects…

I did find an oddly jarring note of racism (in the descriptions of Bill Wong) and homophobia (Roy) although these are both actually very sympathetic characters and I think the author is trying to portray them through Agatha’s wongly emphasising eyes… but it is a bit stalling. I found the same in the Irish Librarian books and wonder if other people feel they can skate over such things.  Anyway, there was a tendency to tell rather than show with Miss Raisin’s character and I wonder if this will smooth out as the series progresses.

I read this in one session, sitting in bed this morning.  I will be looking to read the others – hopefully Ali will be able to pass them on to me and Gill!

VED MEHTA – The Stolen Light

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05 Jun 2009 – Hay-on-Wye Bookshop

Another volume of Mehta’s memoirs and again one of the fuller ones.  In this one we see him trying to get a place at College in America, having got through High School.  His Dad tries to help him financially and emotionally, and we find out how Dr Mehta got involved with the elderly woman as whose companion doctor he travelled for years, as well as Ved’s feelings about College life.  One interesting facet is that he tries to act as if he isn’t blind, even on occasion riding a bike and driving a car…! His feelings about and first experiences with women are explored, as well as his complex feelings about his nationality, blindness and intelligence.  Very interestingly, we also find him writing his first book, "Face To Face", which explains why that one skips through a large amount of his history which is retold later in more detail.

Engaging, interesting and at times heart-rending.

LAURIE GOUGH – Kiss the Sunset Pig: An American Road Trip with Exotic Detours

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05 Jun 2009 – Bookends, Hay-on-Wye

Now here’s a woman who isn’t afraid to travel on her own.  In fact, she’s afraid for a long time of settling down and NOT travelling on her own.

We meet Laurie as she sets off from her home in Canada for yet another trip.  She’s on her way to California, a place where she feels she belongs and could settle.  There’s a passenger in the car and the journey triggers memories of all sorts of other trips, from her first forays away from the safety of home to later, sometimes disastrous, adventures in the Far East.

All of the tales are told with humility and self-awareness.  Laurie gets into scrapes and gets herself out of them.  She questions herself and her motives and looks at how she has changed as she’s matured – not always for the better.  The writing style is good and clear and the transitions between "now" and "then" are not clumsy in the slightest. 

Will Laurie find the cave she stayed in as a younger woman? Will she settle in California?

And a question for you, if you’ve read this far: is there a place you feel more at home than anywhere else? A strange feeling of homecoming when you got there? My two are Birmingham and Kairouan, a holy city in Tunisia – when I’m there (I’ve been twice) I feel as if I do belong in some way.  Maybe me Spanish Ancestor originated from North Africa – who knows!

STEVIE SMITH – Pedalling to Hawaii: A Human-Powered Adventure

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05 June 2009 – Cinema Bookshop, Hay-on-Wye

When will these people learn that to travel alone is usually more comfortable and less stressful (see the next read for an example!).  In this travel narrative, Smith pals up with an old University friend to attempt to travel around the world under human power; mainly paddle boat and bicycle.  Travails as well as travels ensue, one of the main ones being the crumbling of their friendship under the pressures of the endeavour.  There’s even a bit in the acknowledgements when Smith mentions his friend’s account of the journey being written. 

Although this is interesting, and joins my circumnavigation theme in my travel writing collection, there’s a fair bit in here that I wasn’t so fascinated by, maybe because they are young men and some of it seems a little… well, whiny isn’t the word but there isn’t a lot of maturity and useful introspection.  A few more photos might have made me feel more connected to it.

I see they do do educational work and continued to offer other people places on the expedition, which is admirable and shows a lack of ego and selfishness about the project which can be lacking in explorers – fair play to them.

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