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!

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.

BARBARA STRACHEY – Remarkable Relations: The Story of the Pearsall Smith Family

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04 Jun 2009 – Cinema Bookshop Outside (half price!), Hay-on-Wye

Logal Pearsall Smith and Alys who married Bertrand Russell certainly make it into the firmament of my favoured Bloomsbury biogs and autobiogs, so I was intrigued to find this one at the marvellous Cinema Bookshop outside shelves.

Strachey (niece of Lytton) makes a good job of her family history, keeping it all clear in our minds so we don’t need to consult the family trees on the endpapers too often.  We follow three generations of strong and rather eccentric women, all deeply in love with often unsuitable men, but with their own strong personalities and morals which may not follow those of their times.

It was a bit odd to find Barbara writing of herself in the third person when she makes an appearance, but it would be difficult to know how to pitch this.

An unusual, well-researched read and livelier than I feared it would be, with a lot of primary material drawn directly from the sheaves of diaries and letters the women all seemed to keep on with at all times.

Books in

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I had some Amazon vouchers left from Christmas 2008 / Birthday 2009 – because they are so close together I like to save up my Amazon vouchers and treat myself in little batches through the year.  Then I went to Hay-on-Wye and the TBR shelves got a bit scary…

With some hard work over my week off, I’ve managed to get my TBR back to a shelf-and-a-pile-and-a-couple-of-library-books, so I allowed myself to place an Amazon order.  Having hived off the fancy hardbacks onto my Christmas 2009/ Birthday 2010 wishlist of course!

RACHEL FERGUSON – The Brontes Went to Woolworths – this is one of the very rarest Virago Modern Classics, reprinted in a LOVELY Bloomsbury paperback edition and affordable!

DAVID CRYSTAL – Just A Phrase I’m Going Through: My Life In Language – how he found time to write this I don’t know, as he has a phenomenal output of linguistics books. This looks fab – a look at his life and the linguistic interests he has and has written about

DAVID LODGE – Deaf Sentence – hard to wait for his new novel to come out in paperback, but I managed! This has a linguistics professor who is going slowly deaf and looks both entertaining and moving

CLAY SHIRKEY – Here Comes Everybody: How Change Happens When People Come Together – there has been some negative and positive criticism of this so it will be interesting. All about wikis and online collaborating etc. It features LiveJournal, Twitter and Meetup…

MEG WAITE CLAYTON – The Wednesday Sisters – five women discover a mutual love of reading and writing as events mid-20th-century wash around them.  Clayton seems like a lovely lady, she’s on LibraryThing and Twitter, and I’ve been wanting to get and read this for ages!

I will probably get to these around Christmas time or January, although I do have another week off coming up in November which should see me getting through a bit more of Mt TBR…

ROBERT ARTHUR – The Mystery of the Screaming Clocks

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Bought Sept 2008 (charity shop)

Another excellent Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators book (no 9 in the series) which is an odd series of mystery/adventure books written in the 1950s and published by Armada in the UK in the late 60s and early 70s.  I remembered Jupiter Jones and his two trusty sidekicks from early reading days and have gradually been tracking these down; not as popular or common as the Hardy Boys etc but findable in charity shops and second hand bookshops*.

Anyway, in this one, a clock with a scream instead of an alarm raises Jupiter’s interest; little does he know that it’s all mixed up with a trick-loving ex-radio and film actor and an international art theft team.  As usual, at least one person is tied to a chair and there’s mild peril but it’s funny, clever and jolly and just the thing for a chilly morning off, tucked up in bed with the cat.

* I have a few of these now BUT if you ever come across one, please buy it and let me know. I know at least one other person who collects them and they are infrequent but not "rare" as such (ie they’re usually cheap)

FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG – My Brother Jonathan

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Loaned from Ali

Ali and I are going on a Francis Brett Young Day on Saturday and the event includes a screening of the film of this book.  So my week off was an ideal opportunity to get it read.

Anotther unputdownable novel.  Jonathan always seems to have to bend to the needs of his younger and more attractive brother Harold.  Whether it’s education, his inheritance, even their loves, Harold seems to get the cream of the crop.  Jonathan works hard and seems to be improving his medical practice with the help of the quiet and lovely Miss Hammond, when the First World War comes along and turns society upside-down.

A lot happens, and in the inexorable fate of the characters, their isolation in a small community with watching eyes all around, and the twists and turns of the plot remind me of some of the Canadian novels I’ve read recently (I’m thinking Mary Lawson here) as well as the more commonly compared Hardy.  I liked, as always, the detail that went into the book – we know exactly how a Black Country medical practice was set up and run, how it looked, what there was on the tables, how the community was structured.  And somehow, even with this detail and the usual lyrical descriptions, you still bowl along with the story, not getting bogged down.  I liked the Cricket Ground and the University Medical School featuring, of course, too!

Somewhat of a shocking ending, but fate will out and I shouldn’t have expected anything else.  I’m looking forward to the day (although I still don’t feel I’ve read enough of the novels) and the film (and I know when to look away now!) 

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