POLLY EVANS – Fried Eggs With Chopsticks

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Acquired via BookCrossing 22 May 2010 (book ring)

I enjoyed this, the third of Evans’ travel books I’ve read, in which she travels around China.  She’s made an attempt to learn some Chinese and tries it out on people, and as usual she gives us an engaging and human view of travel, including boredom, homesickness and the need to travel 15 hours to have a beer with someone who speaks English.  I like her descriptions of the people she meets and the situations she gets into (including a hilarious encounter with Michael Palin) but I do feel that her descriptions of the landscape fall a bit flat – it’s not her natural strength (details in the landscape, human encounters, are) and it dislocated the reading experience a bit.  But overall a good and well-written read and I’ll continue to look out for her future endeavours and books.

PAUL MAGRS – Something Borrowed

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12 Jan 2010 (Amazon)

Brenda & Effie 2 and things start to hot up for our two heroines of Whitby.  Shiela Manchu is having a problem at the fabulously seedy Miramar hotel and she calls in the girls to investigate.  Meanwhile, Jessie isn’t really feeling herself after her beyond-the-grave experiences, and a visiting Icelandic professor seems strangely familiar to Brenda – but so many of her memories of her long life are packed away and inaccessible. What’s haunting Brenda? Will lovely Robert see his Aunt Jessie back to normal, and what lurks in the newly popular Miramar BBQ garden?

Fantastic stuff, marvellously told, with slapstick, shocks, laughs and beautifully observed moments as Brenda and Effie’s friendship itself comes under the magnifying glass.

I have the next two in the series (book 5 out in October!) and have a funny feeling I’ll be promoting them illegally far up the TBR mountain before long…


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Borrowed from Gill

I’ve been wanting to read this for ages and was on a BookCrossing bookring for it which never materialised – so when Gill said she had a copy, I jumped at the chance to read it (note: I will be making a donation).  

We probably all know what this is about, right – the guy who was climbing in Pakistan, took a detour, met some villagers and decided to try to build some schools.  What I liked about this book was that the author (Relin) declared his partisanship at the beginning but was open about some of the problems other people had with the scheme and with Mortenson.  He also took the trouble to research exactly how it was all done – and we know by now that I like that level of detail.  So a satisfying book – I have read a few like this and it inspires me that people should put so much of their life into helping others.

JEROME K. JEROME – On The Art of Making Up One’s Mind

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05 May 2010 – LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme

In the Foreword, Joseph Connolly puts this selection of essays from Jerome’s "Second Thoughts of An Idle Fellow" into context, explaining that it was written when Jerome was an older family man, who had just experienced a financial crisis which mellowed his humour and added an edge of melancholy and deep morality into his life and writing.  I would agree that those looking for the frivolity of "Three Men In A Boat" (which the author apparently came to dislike as it coloured people’s perception of his later work) would indeed find a change of pace and tone here.

That’s not to say that it’s all doom, morality and despair in this neatly and attractively packaged set of essays.  It opens with a hilariously observed scene in a haberdashery and lovely examples of how Jerome tried to work out what kind of a man to be as he was growing up.   ‘On the Disadvantages of Not Getting What One Wants’ has a timely discussion of settling for simpler things rather than yearning for celebrity and fortune.  ‘On The Exceptional Merit Attaching To the Things We Meant To Do’ starts well but goes off into a disquisition on ghosts and has to be dragged back to the point at the end, and I think this is the least successful and appealing of the essays.  Both ‘On The TIme Wasted In Looking Before One Leaps’ and ‘On The Inadvisability of Following Advice’ both have what I consider a good mix of humour and morality; I was glad to have had the context prepared for me by the Foreword.

In summary – if you think this is going to be all fun and games, you might be a bit disappointed.  If you love the essay form in general (the writing is beautiful and the structure generally very well done), the time period and the more mature Jerome, then you’ll like this a lot.  It certainly draws me back towards the first set of essays he published, "Idle Thoughts Of An Idle Fellow".


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19 Dec 2009 – Borders

Another Borders closing sale bargain.  I didn’t even know this book existed before I found it.  Subtitled "A people’s history of the Capital from 1815 to the present day" it is just that, an excellent survey of the time period, broken into four long sections which are in turn based on four separate books.  Each section has themed chapters, so we learn about the West End, the East End, transport, shops, policing, immigration etc across each section of the time period, which works really well.  As well as history gleaned from official records, we also have letters, diaries and eventually oral history from people who lived through the times (because the originals were published in the 1980s, these go back a bit further than a similar project could do today) and these give it an excellent lively flavour and truth.  Good illustrations and an obvious love for London and enthusiasm for history make this big fat book an enjoyable read, even after wallowing around in the social history of the 20th century as much as I have been doing recently!

M.C. BEATON – Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham

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Borrowed from Ali 13 May 2010

With Gill’s hope to read this soon hanging over me (not really!) it was the perfect read on Friday night, when a cat-bitten arm was sore, a small-business-owner was happy but wrung out from extracting a late payment from a customer, and a small librarian had gone out on too many evenings a year.  A cuppa, a couple of jelly babies and a book to retreat into – perfect!

This stayed on form although Agatha seems a bit depressed.  A haircut is the perfect pick-me-up but she gets more than she bargained for when she meets Mr John, he of the wizardry with hair and the uncannily blue eyes.  As Agatha feels short of friends at the moment, she invests in this friendship until things suddenly seem not quite right… and the results of her expeditions to Evesham are literally hair-raising.

As well as the jolly plot (which I felt went a little flat at the end of the mystery, though not of the book as a whole), there was more gentle fun-poking at the Cotswolds Industry and an excellent vignette of the vicar getting crosser and crosser when Agatha turns up unannounced.  As usual, looking forward to the next one!

PAUL MAGRS – Never The Bride

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15 Jan 2010 (Amazon)

Brenda has retired to Whitby to run a B&B.  She likes an outing to Cod Almighty for fish and chips with her pensioner friend Effie, and they both like to keep their beady eyes on anything… strange that’s going on in town.  And strange there certainly is, from a Christmas themed-hotel with peculiar cocoa, to a beauty salon that turns back time a little *too* far, and a mysterious but very well groomed gentleman going by the name of Mr Alucard, who has updated himself somewhat since the old days.

Even Brenda and Effie have their mysteries, Brenda’s in her own past, and Effie’s in her family’s, and we’re soon on the rampage through Whitby’s finest oddities as they investigate, nose and cause havoc.   With a plot that’s divided into long episodes, a cast of amusing and brilliantly-created characters, and writing that brings to mind the deadpan northern one-liners of old Corrie episodes, Jane Gardam, or dare I say it, Alan Bennett.

An excellent read – in fact a re-read as I have picked up the second Brenda & Effie story and wanted to reacquaint myself with their doings.

This is what I thought of it the first time:

Bought 11 Aug 2007 (Bookends) – reviewed 06 Dec 2007
An excellent novel set in Whitby, where strange goings-on in a rejuvenation centre and a Christmas themed hotel are investigated by a couple of rather strange pensioners. A bit camp, with in-jokes about classic horror literature and a galloping plot, I really enjoyed this and couldn’t put it down.  As I probably won’t re-read (the plot is a very big part of it), I’m going to register it (even though it’s a signed copy!!!) and give it to one of two people who regularly go to Whitby, so they can read and release it there!

Can’t believe I got rid of a signed copy even though it probably went off to Whitby!

CHARLES FISHMAN – The Wal-Mart Effect

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From library

Updated version of this very interesting book about Wal-Mart.  I was keen on reading this for two reasons, well three.  I like a good book on business.  Sam Walton was often held up at my last company as a model of efficiency, modesty and prudence, so I wanted to see where that came from.  And we’ve just had an ASDA open on the High Street, which does seem to have had an effect on other businesses.

So, there wasn’t much about the history of the company, although a fair bit about how the company structure and culture has changed over the years.  The business stuff was there, but not overly so – so it was still understandable for the lay reader.  And the stuff about how Wal-Mart changes both its local and the global economy was fascinating.  It has a knock-on effect even on rivals or companies who don’t supply it.  Plenty of case studies gave a good feel for what happens on the local scale, and the effect of price lowering has certainly had an effect on a global scale too.

There were positives – Wal-Mart is starting to work at monitoring environmental effects and human issues in their supplying factories.  But still, when the new ASDA opened here, a local independent mini-market went bust almost immediately, and the other large supermarket in the high street is straining to provide price point offers that are new and sometimes almost ridiculous.

I would have liked more on the effect in UK and European communities but I’m sure I’ll find another book about that!

M.C. BEATON – Agatha Raisin and the Well-Spring of Death

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Borrowed from Ali

Book whatever in the Agatha Raisin series and I think it’s settling in well.  I enjoyed this one and I liked the comments subtly made about the Cotswolds, tourists and "incomers" as well as the jolly plot.  Agatha is a bit more human now and there were some quite sweet bits, eg when Roy takes to the countryside and decides he’s a "pagan".  I did guess whodunnit and I got the parish council a bit mixed up; there was a genuine surprise at one point and I enjoyed it overall more than some others in the series.

Passed to Gill already!