STELLA DUFFY – The Room of Lost Things

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19 December 2009 – Borders closing down sale

I read about this book on the DoveGreyReader blog and was intrigued, so glad to pick it up in the Borders sale.

Jon McGregor’s If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things sought to portray an urban streetscape through the shifting viewpoints of its residents, and Andrew Sean Greer’s Story of a Marriage played with our expectations of race and class; this novel, feted like those two, felt like it achieved what they failed.  Set in Loughborough Junction (between Camberwell and Brixton), this is a hugely recognisable South London, and I do wonder what someone who hadn’t lived in the boroughs South East of the Thames would make of it (an interesting thought given the discussion we had about What Was Lost and Birmingham at Book Group the other night).  Centering around the aging Robert, slowly planning to give up his dry cleaners, and Akeel, the young man from East London who wants to take over the business, Duffy quietly assembles a cast of supporting characters and weaves them seamlessly and cleverly through the (little) action of the plot, just as I recall the community in New Cross working.  All are drawn well, with their different voices, and there’s a quiet elegaic feeling for the things that are lost and the things that are left behind.  From a homesick Australian nanny to a singing Rastafarian man on the 345 bus, we have a bond with the characters, who seem like people drawn from life, rather than invented cyphers.  

As I consider the book after finishing it, it reminds me of a TV documentary shown a while back about the inhabitants of a tower block in South London which was being regenerated, and I wonder if that, directly or indirectly, inspired the author.

There was a little more action than I at first expected, and I’m not sure if I will re-read this or not, so it will rest in my permanent collection for a while, but available for loan.  I think I’ll find myself thinking about this book well after closing its pages at the end of the story.

DEBBIE MACOMBER – Summer on Blossom Street

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Acquired via BookCrossing 02 Jan 2010 – from Gill

Another excellent Debbie Macomber read with a new class of knitters, all trying to "quit" something (or someone) and the old favourites bubbling away too, some in the foreground, others more incidental.  I loved the children in this one, and a good and comforting read as ever.

Will be offering this on a bookring in due course!

EARLENE FOWLER – Goose in the Pond

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Acquired via BookCrossing 20 Mar 2010 – book spiral

Although I do feel that the town might end up with everyone either dead or a murderer, I still find the Benni Harper mysteries consistently some of the best in the genre. I love reading about Benni and Gabe’s rather feisty relationship and their extended families, and although Benni usually gets herself into some trouble during the course of a book, they are sufficiently different to not get boring. A great read and I’m pacing myself by not rushing into the next two, which I already had, before the next CraftyKat one!

KATIE HICKMAN – Daughters of Britannia

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Acquired via BookCrossing 02 Jan 2010 – BC Birmingham meetup

A history, told through primary sources of letters, diaries and later personal experience and conversation, of the accessories to British diplomats and ambassadors from the 1680s to the present day.  Ever so well done – it takes themes for the chapters then ranges across the material for examples, so you get people’s experiences of arriving in the same posting, 100 years apart.  Hickman was a diplomat’s daughter herself and so the book is lightly informed with her experiences, but not soaked in them – I think it does also provide an understanding and sympathy which comes through throughout the book.

Good illustrations and an intelligent read that is also unputdownable.

LORNA BARRETT – BookMarked For Death

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Acquired via BookCrossing 11 Mar 2010 – book spiral

When author Zoe Carter does a signing at the bookstore, no-one expects her to be a victim of crime herself!  But is all as it seems…? I didn’t guess whodunnit for a good long while and then was fooled by the twisty plot, but I enjoyed this and a perfect Sunday morning in bed read. I loved the geese!

A. S. BYATT – Degrees of Freedom: The Early Novels of Iris Murdoch

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7 Nov 2009 – gift from Michelle

I’d been wanting to get my hands on this book for some time, and was particularly pleased to find that this is the new edition, with reviews and introductions of later novels not covered in the original text.  So, we have full chapters on the novels up to The Unicorn, and then shorter pieces going right up to The Book and the Brotherhood (though not covering every single book), plus two extended essays on the works as a whole. 

A joy to read – Byatt is certainly not hagiographical and she points out the struggles Murdoch has with showing very strong emotion and love scenes, managing to slip from great to terrible writing within a single paragraph sometimes.  But she identifies themes we’re familiar with, is nicer about The Black Prince than the others in my Murdoch-a-Month group were, and does a good job of relating themes in the novels to Murdoch’s philosophical interests, without going too deeply and confusing the reader.

Glad to have read this, and to have it as a reference source.

DOROTHY WEST – The Wedding

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25 Dec 2009 – gift from fellow LibraryThing Viragoite Belva

A short novel, published in 1995 by an author I associated with an earlier era, this is a fascinating and involving exposition of history, race and class though 19th and 20th century America.  Opening in a community of the black bourgeousie in 1950s Martha’s Vineyard, we are soon tracing back the lineages of the main family through black and white, lower and upper classes, back to freed slaves and poverty-stricken workers.  Women are raised to prize their light colour, then castigated if they choose a black or a white husband.  Innocent and beautifully-drawn children suffer the expectations and assumptions of their elders, to often tragic effect.

Both meditative and full of action and character, this is an important book that can teach us all something, even if we think we already know about the histories and issues involved.

VICTOR OSBORNE – Digger’s Diary: Tales From the Allotment

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Borrowed from Gill

I really enjoyed this gentle year in the life of an allotment gardener and the people around him.  The other characters are brought to life vividly and with an excellent bitter-sweetness, and we join with Victor in willing on his fruit and vegetables, agonising over a wasp problem, worrying about vandals and preparing for the big event of the year – the show and competition.

The only thing that spoiled this for me was the really clunky language – someone must have told him not to use shortenings, so it’s all "I decided I would do this…" "I will look at pruning" and it just started to grate after a while – the subject matter was quite personal and casual so why not let some I’d and I’ll in there?

A. J. JACOBS – The Year Of Living Biblically

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Acquired via BookCrossing 11 Dec 2009 – secret santa gift at BCBirm Christmas meal

A.J. Jacobs likes an intellectual, properly *challenging" challenge.  Last time we met him, he was reading the Encyclopedia Britannica from cover to cover.  So he’s a bit more rigorous than others of the authors whose books go into my "quest" tag group on LibraryThing.  This time round, inspired by his secularised but interesting family and his responsibilities to his young son, Jacobs decides to try to follow the Bible literally, for a year. 

Although some of the rules are a bit odd, and you could approach the task on different levels, this is not a frivolous undertaking, but a serious attempt to look at the place religion and rules have in people’s lives.  Jacobs draws together a group of spiritual advisors, of various religions, and also visits different groups as he goes along.  He spends more time on the Old Testament than the New, then looks into claims that the New Testament "cancels out" some of the O.T. rules and regulations.  

Jacobs explains both the rules, his reactions to them, and others’ thoughts on them clearly and succintly.  He freely admits that he’s not religious at the beginnning of the year; by the end he is finding comfort in prayer and, while not overtly religious still, a changed man, definitely slower and more thankful for family and everyday things.

This isn’t po-faced though. There are plenty of jokes, plenty of self-deprecation and also a celebration of the people he finds a kindred feeling with along the way, from a deep South snake-handler to the jolly Jewish festival-goers with their beards and smiles.  Oh, and he grows a *great* beard, too.

Highly recommended, and I’ll be offering this on a book ring soon.

KERRY MILLER – Your Mother Doesn’t Work Here

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Acquired via BookCrossing 14 Feb 2010

I won this on Bridget’s behalf in the raffle part of the Book Dating event – she had to go and left me her tickets and I chose this amusing book of passive-aggressive notes, collected apparently by the author via a website.  It really is hilarious – the notes have a ring of truth – mostly about housemate stuff but also office microwave wars, apartment block issues etc.  Picked it up for a quick read at some point and really enjoyed it. Must pass it on to Bridget now!

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