ALAN TAYLOR (ed.) – The Country Diaries

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19 Dec 2009 – Borders

A lovely book which I think I’d seen advertised and put on the wish list – and there it was for a small amount of money in poor old Borders, in their big sale when they closed down.

This is a charming read – basically Taylor takes a load of country diary writers from the 1600s through to the 2000s and includes one or more entries, in chronological order, for each day of the year.  So we see some people battling with snow, others seeing spring, on the same day, and we also follow various diarists such as Gilbert White and Francis Kilvert, pretty well through the whole year, while others are more spread out or only appear once or twice.  Some moving, some a bit yucky (Kilvert was a bit naughtier than I imagined) and some describing the countryside very lyrically – but all are of interest and I’m considering reading this again through a whole year one day.  Lovely woodcuts on the cover and for each month, too, and useful biographies at the end (which I wish I’d noticed when I started the book)

NORMAN TEBBIT – Upwardly Mobile

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Acquired via BookCrossing 04 Jul 2009 – from the Unconvention book table

It’s taken me a little longer than usual to get round to reading this one, as I don’t like to read very similar books at the same time, and spent a lot of the last couple of months working my way through that enormous Ted Heath biography.  Anyway, this covers a similar time but obviously from the "other side"; in fact I had a few worrisome moments when seen out and about with this one, and wish I’d stuck a label on the front saying "only reading it for information!".  

It was interesting.  I didn’t like the man, and I still don’t, but I did appreciate his mischeviousness in his early days as an MP, the wealth of detail about how he ran his election campaigns and Ministerial positions, and liked his appreciation of his staff’s hard work supporting him after the Brighton bombing.  His love for his family came through too, although it was a bit disconcerting to have to read about "Margaret" (Thatcher) and "My Margaret" (his wife)!

All in all I’m glad I read it, it was interesting to see a view of the 1970s and 80s that I’m not used to, it was very interesting to read it at the time of a General Election, and it reminded me why I’ve never voted Tory!

EARLENE FOWLER – Dove in the Window

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Acquired via BookCrossing 05 Dec 2008 – BC Birmingham Secret Santa from Fritzi

I’ve been waiting to read the rest of the series so I could have a go with this one.  I’m on a spiral which finally brought me the one before it!  The great thing about these Benni Harper mysteries, as I’ve said before, is that there is a lot more going on in the books than just murder and mystery.  Benni, her family, her husband Gabe and her friends are well fleshed out and interesting in their own right.  Benni and Gabe’s marriage continues to deepen and grow, and you don’t get the feeling that emotional events are just there to drive the murder mystery plot.  But there is of course a good plot here, and closer to home for Benni as a promising young photographer is found dead on the family ranch.  Rivalries between the artists in the co-op are running high with some bemoaning the fact that only the young and beautiful seem to get attention.  And one rough diamond cowboy would be even more of a top suspect without Benni’s covert support.

Great escapist read as ever.


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Borrowed from Jen

I read this because it’s the book for our next Book Group meeting at Urban Coffee Company.  Having been lukewarm about his "Starter for Ten" I don’t think I’d have read this if it hadn’t been for Book Group – and if I’d started it, I almost certainly wouldn’t have finished it!

The main conceit of the book, that we revisit a couple who we first meet in bed the morning after their University graduation ceremony on the same day ever year for about the next twenty years, is an interesting one, but I felt that the whole book was like an exercise subsumed to this clever idea.  As almost exact contemporaries of mine, moving from the provinces to London to try to pursue their careers, well, it isn’t emotionally attaching enough to have a comforting ring of familiarity, and the careers they go in to are stereotyped and their behaviour a bit boring (media – alcohol – drugs – yawn!).  Emma does have a University and post-University life/political outlook similar to mine, but the author seems to patronise her and dislike the male character, Dexter.  Some of their doings seem very contrived and while there are clever moments (important scenes happening just off-camera due to the limitation to one day) and funny moments (a few) but it didn’t speak to me in the way it seemed to to lots of reviewers on Amazon etc.

The climax of the book was a heart-stopping moment but also upset me greatly, although it probably wouldn’t upset most people so much, as it was more personal due to a coinciding of vintage, shall we say (without giving the game away).  I had also partly predicted and, indeed, wanted it, which will be a bit shocking to anyone who *has* read the book.

I will be interested to hear what the other book group members make of it…

DOROTHY WHIPPLE – High Wages (Persephone)


25 Dec 2009 – from Ali

Dorothy Whipple can do no wrong in my book – I think I’ve read most of her Persephone reissues and every one has been a delight.  This was no exception.  We follow a few exciting years in the life of a shopgirl, Jane – but she’s no ordinary shopgirl.  Starting work in the big town in 1912, she has ideas which are perhaps a little above her station, but all about improving the shop and selling more clothes and haberdashery.  But will the stately world of Chadwicks and the company of other shopgirls be enough for her? First, the local poet-librarian shows her a hitherto unexplored world of books, and then a member of the gentry takes an interest in her business plans.  Some melodramatic moments, but we all need some of those now and then.  I particularly liked the very detailed descriptions of exactly how a shop of that period worked, and the friendship forged across societal boundaries between Jane and the delightful Mrs Briggs.  An excellent read which was gulped down during the course of one happy Sunday.

ANDREW MARR – The Making of Modern Britain

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30 Nov 2009 – Amazon

The book that goes side-by-side with the TV series – as Marr says in the introduction, there are certainly different levels of detail on different events and strands in the two.  Another excellent read with lots of detail and some good pictures too.  Marr can come across as a bit arrogant, laying down his opinions on people and situtations very firmly, but then he is very intelligent and well-read.  My only criticism of the reading experience is that I read it perhaps too close to watching the series, so some of it seemed repetitive when it in fact wasn’t.  But – entertaining and informative – so glad I saw and read it.

TIANA TEMPLEMAN – Absolutely Faking It

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Acquired via BookCrossing 06 Apr 2010 – bookring

As someone who feels out of place in a 4, let alone a 5 star (and never quite felt I lived up to living in Central London) (although I have also only stayed in a backpackers’ hostel once), I could identify with this couple’s feelings as they embark upon their journey around the best hotels in the world, won by entering a competition in a magazine that they got from the library.

But I’ve also come to realise that it’s the middle-rank, aspiring places (and people) who are unsure of their rank and place that are the snobby ones – really posh establishments (and people) are often a lot more laid-back and accepting.  And so it seems in these hotels, from the Paris Ritz to a hotel in Brazil – and if only Tiana and Trevor can realise that, they might have a better time. 

I enjoyed this book immensely – Tiana and Trevor come across as likeable and honest and, like SKingLIst, I enjoyed the acceptance in the book that travel can be exhausting and induce home- and friend-sickness. The part in London was particularly poignant, as we have dear friends made in London and now many miles away, with not many opportunities to see them.  I also liked that they stuck to their careful habits in the main, staying at cheap places in between, arriving at posh hotels on the bus, but that they learned to treat themselves when it was worth it – which is valuable knowledge to arrive at.

JOHN KENNEDY – Translating the Sagas: Two Hundred Years of Challenge and Response

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Borrowed from Library

I know this seems a bit of an odd read, but I studied Old Norse at University and, while I wasn’t the best student at doing endless translations, I did pick up a knowledge (that has surprisingly stayed with me in more detail than I’d thought) and appreciation of the Icelandic Sagas.  This lively and entertaining book, written very much on the readable side of the academic register, goes through the translations and translators of the sagas (and associated literature), giving a bibliography and then sections on the main translators.  We go right through from the gentleman academics making the first attempts at translations in the 18th century, to the collaborative online work being done at the moment.  Pleasingly, my Old Norse tutor is mentioned a few times, as he has been involved in translations himself over the years.

A good and interesting read, and it made me want to go back and revisit the sagas (in translation!)

IRIS MURDOCH – The Sea, The Sea

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Bought late 1980s (?)

A re-read of a favourite Murdoch and it didn’t let me down, though it was interesting to read it in the context of our project to read all IM’s novels in order as I did pick out a lot of the themes in more detail.  I remembered this one well although I did conflate two parts together.  An atmospheric read with beautiful descriptions of the sea and coastline and a plot in which much of the action interestingly took place offstage.  James, the mystical cousin, is one of my favourite characters in all of Murdoch, although interestingly when I imagine him and Charles, I swap their physical appearances in my head.

If you want to read about the effect first, lost love has on a lifetime, or just a cracking good read (not to mention Booker winner) then I recommend this one wholeheartedly.

LEO HICKMAN – A Life Stripped Bare: My Year Trying to Live Ethically

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Bought 12 Jan 2010 from a local charity shop.

I want to keep this but I’m going to send it on a bookring first, as I know quite a few people will be interested.

Hickman and his wife (well, Hickman, really, as we shall see) decide to try to live their lives more "ethically", whatever that means.  They invite three environmentalists to do an audit of their lives and home, and the comments of the auditors are interspersed throughout the book, in the sections that discuss food, cars, gardening etc, which is useful.  Hickman finds that getting his wife on board is harder than he thought, and eventually that they end up with different parts of life that they are happy to change.

An interesting book as they are very much a "normal" family with a terraced house and not quite enough money to always buy organic or have replacement sash windows and photovoltaic panels put in.  I did feel a bit guilty reading some of it but, then again, like the Hickmans, we score major environmental brownie points by not having a car (thanks again to the people who give us lifts when we need them!!)

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