RAJAA ALSANEA – Girls of Riyadh

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Acquired via BookCrossing 11 Dec 2009 – BCBirmingham Secret Santa gift

A nameless Saudi woman starts sending out a weekly email highlighting the doings of a group of female friends from the "velvet" – the highest – level of society.  Although they come from good families with plenty of money, opportunities for travel etc, their lives are full of the same worries as other women of their age – studying, how to find love, friendship – and also of the constraints of their society.  We see them try to pick a path between personal fulfillment and matching their families’ and society’s expectations; I was aware of quite a lot of the issues they face such as the terrible shame of divorce, etc, but I think the attractive chick-lit cover might well bring new readers who would learn quite a lot.  The women are feisty and see their men clearly in the end, and there are no sugary-sweet happy endings or silly coincidences.  A really good read, a celebration of friendship, and some important issues are highlighted.

I’ll be offering this on a bookring soon.

IRIS MURDOCH – Henry and Cato

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Bought 1990s?

Another Murdoch that I think I read only the once, as I didn’t remember much about it.  Full of echoes of other novels, and the usual themes (surely EVERY novel in the world doesn’t have an Irish person, a Jewish person, someone failing to write a book and someone with long red hair?) and a really interesting plot.

It’s The Sea, The Sea next, which I have  read a few times and know well – it’s going to be fascinating to read and discuss it in light of the themes we’ve been picking out over the last couple of years.

SEB HUNTER – How To Be A Better Person

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19 Dec 2009 – Borders closing down sale

This one was on my wishlist so I snapped it up in the Borders sale.  Seb, a jobbing writer with some time on his hands, has a think about how his parents’ generation almost automatically does good deeds, charity work, etc and decides to try doing the same, to see if it makes him a better person.  He therefore takes up a few different volunteer jobs, including working in an Oxfam shop, litter-picking, working with asylum seekers and taking up running for charity.   It’s an amusing read but he does also make some serious points as well and does indeed feel he becomes a better person.  I liked the bits about running, of course, which I hadn’t expected, but the whole thing was a good read.  

I’m going to register this on BookCrossing as it’s the type of book I know BCers like to read.

MONICA EDWARDS – Fire in the Punchbowl

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Acquired via BookCrossing 01/01/2010 – kind RABCK from Suedo

Another novel set on Punchbowl Farm.  It’s the end of a hot, dry summer and forest fires are starting up all over the place. Punchbowl Farm is safe so far, Dion is developing the farm now Dad has made some money, and Lindsey has a secret animal friend.  A pair of cousins are over and while there’s some matching-up and hand-holding, it’s done well and unsentimentally.  Of course, fire eventually encroaches on the Farm and much of the book covers its advancement, the neighbours and kids working as a team to stamp it out, rescuing the animals etc.  Really well done and a good read.

WAYNE HEMINGWAY – Mass Market Classics: The Home

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07 Nov 2009 – gift from Michelle

An excellent book, subtitled "A Celebration of Everyday Design" that basically looks at the homewares we all actually had during a period covering the 1950s to the 1980s, with the main concentration on the 60s and 70s.  Lots of things that Matthew and I remember from our childhoods, great archive pictures from magazines and catalogues, and text that is tongue-in-cheek at times but no nasty or faux-ironic.  A really fun read.

Not tweeting about these reviews as feel obscurely guilty for sitting and writing reviews while ill. Thing is, I can do things for half an hour at a time, I’m just not fit for human company just yet!

MARY RENAULT – The Friendly Young Ladies

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Acquired via BookCrossing 18 Dec 2009 – picked up at Urban Coffee Company’s OBCZ

An interesting Virago, quite charming but with an intriguing message as well.  This was apparently written as a riposte to Radclyffe Hall’s "The Well of Loneliness".  Hall posits the idea of a "third sex" of women who are "inverts", ie they have a masculine appearance and nature, while being genetically women.  They famously wear "masculine underwear" (Renault mentions this in her Afterword and I’ve heard it discussed before) and try to make their way in the world as men.

Renault introduces us first to gentle and unformed Elsie, who lives with tyrannical parents, tyrannical because they use her in their battles against each other, so nothing she can do is right for the one, if it’s right for the other.  She is aware that her older sister, Leo(nora) ran away from home eight years ago. Encouraged by a smarmy locum doctor, she eventually snaps and runs away herself, seeking out her sister on the narrowboat she shares with the pretty medical illustrator, Helen.  Leo shares her life and her bed with Helen, but as gentlemen callers, from the smarmy doctor to the half-wild author Joe, circle the boatful of girls, we wonder if Leo could have been turned from her rather masculine early life and dress, if only she’d met the right man…

The doctor, Peter, is a hilarious creation, with his psychological reports on his patients to the long-suffering Norah, but Renault doesn’t seem to like her other characters much and the ending, she admits too, is a bit silly.  Also, I’m sure she has written books about and accepting male homosexuality, while seeming to cast doubt on the female variety in this novel.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable read with some wincy and some very funny moments.

Offering to the LibraryThing Viragoites.

MONICA EDWARDS – Punchbowl Midnight

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Acquired via BookCrossing – NSS from Suedo

A lovely satisfying story following the fortunes of the Thornton family, who are trying to farm a dilapidated property.  The children in the story are resourceful and realistic.  The heroine, Lindsey, tries to protect a deer herd from a cull, then their Jersey calf goes missing and all sorts of traumas ensue.  Plenty of detail about pony and farm life and with a nice cheerful ending – a great read.  I’ll look out for someone who would really like to read these and send them on eventually.

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