BEE ROWLATT & MAY WITWIT – Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad

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Borrowed from Ali

Bee is a busy mother and journalist in London.  May is a harassed University teacher in Baghdad, dodging bullets and bombs just to get to the hairdresser, let alone to work.   They make contact for a news programme then keep in email contact for a number of years.  Their lives are contrasted as their share more and more details, and as May and her husband find their situation getting worse and worse, Bee and her family try to find a way to get them out to the UK.

Harrowing in its details, this is one of those books that’s important to read, but not too worthy.  Although they do obviously decide to write a book together part way through the narrative, and you do see the effect of this decision in their emails a bit, it does also seem to be an honest portrayal of their friendship, with arguments and worries as well as support and jolly stories about children.  It is of course impossible to imagine what life was like for May and Ali in Iraq, but we are in Bee’s position there, as she worries about gabbling about childcare and cupcakes when her friend’s world is falling apart.  But it’s the little details of friendship that help both women get through, and that’s an important lesson to take from the book, along with the bigger political and historical implications.

KELLY HOLMES – Black, White and Gold

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Acquired via BookCrossing 30 Jan 2010 – KGC bookshelf

My initial comments:
Saw the release alert earlier in the week and ran into the KGC (not literally, I was walking home!) and grabbed this and another running book.

Like Kelly Holmes, I grew up in Hildenborough (although we’re a similar age, I don’t remember seeing her, which seems odd) – I advised her of this fact when I "met" her when she started the Birmingham Half Marathon in 2009. She whooped, which was nice. Anyway I have flicked through this in shops and was pleased to find it; I do like books about runners and glad to see this is inspiring.

And my review:
I thoroughly enjoyed this sporting autobiography.  Holmes is indeed an inspiration.  She has worked very hard and is honest about this hard work, the effect it has had on her home life and frienships, and the hardships as well as the rewards.  The narratives of her races are clear and exciting, and all aspects of a runner’s life are covered.  I particularly like her concern, whether in the Army or now she has retired, for getting other people engaged in sports and activities, and it’s good to see that she’s working to that aim now.

One of the great things about running is that it’s very similar, though on a different scale, whether you’re a slow charity plodder like me or an elite athlete.  So it was cheering to know that cross-training does help provide a good base for building up running speeds and distances and all of that stuff that I encounter in my own training.

I’m going to hang on to this till I can find a non-BC copy to keep, if that’s OK. Available for loan though!

WINIFRED PECK – House-Bound (Persephone)

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21 Jan 2010 – from Ali

This is an intriguing book.  Set in a thinly-disguised Edinburgh in the middle of WWII, it was actually written (as I discovered the wartime Provincial Lady book was the other day) in 1942 so there really is a sense of not knowing what was going to happen.  After a glorious opening scene at a domestic service agency, our heroine, Rose, decides to run her, fairly large and oddly-arranged, house herself.  Fortunately the marvellous Mrs Childe comes to help her in the mornings, and sets about educating her on the mysteries of cooking and cleaning. I’m sure there’s some bottoming-out in there too.  Mixed in with this interesting theme is a sub-plot regarding Rose’s difficult daughter Flora and her troubles, and a bit of slightly wistful religious thinking and philosophising, to which some reviewers have taken exception; I found it fitted in with the style and period of the book and was not bothered by it.  The best parts for me were the delicately drawn relationship between Rose and her reticent husband, Stuart, and Rose and her best friend, Linda.  Interesting for its portrayal of lives under the strain of war, and a good balance of pathos, story and humour.

Note: Ali herself read this in September 2013 – read her review here

CHARLES ALLEN – A Mountain in Tibet

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Acquired via BookCrossing 30 Jan 2010 – RABCK from Bilbi

I loved Allen’s "Plain Tales from the Raj" so turned to this one eagerly.  Slightly unfortunately, the events he describes are further back in the past, so we lose the immediacy of the personal narratives in the other book.  This one is about various explorers’ and colonialists’ attempts to trace the source of the Indus etc to a holy mountain in Tibet.  There’s lots of information and detail, and I did finish it and enjoy it, but it was quite hard going and I got a bit confused with all the characters and routes (even though there are some maps and photographs).  Someone who knows a lot about Tibet and 18th-19th century colonial history is likely to really enjoy this and get a lot out of it.

INDIA KNIGHT – The Thrift Book

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21 Jan 2010 – from Jen

Subtitled "Live Well and Spend Less", this book will indeed help you do this if you don’t already.   To be honest, I did know about quite a lot of the stuff in this book, however, like Andrew Marr and Paul Magrs, I will read anything with India Knight’s name on the cover.  I’d read the phone directory if they rewrote it.  Knight has a particular writing style which I really like – it reminds me of novelists Victoria Clayton and Barbara Comyns, or broadcaster Claudia Winkleman and I can’t pin it down except to say it’s direct and confessional, wry and… oh I don’t know. I could type out examples but go and follow her on Twitter or something and you’ll see what I mean.

Anyway, even for mean and thrifty examples like me, there are lots of good resources; the part on holidays was particularly useful and there are some good recipes, tips and bits and bobs throughout the book without it being worthy or preachy.  She could have mentioned BookCrossing in the recycling bit but there was a lot about another favourite, freecycle, so I’ll forgive that. 

Both a good read, and useful.  And a particularly thrifty acquisition, as I put it on a wishlist and was bought it as a present!

M.C. BEATON – Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden

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Borrowed from Ali

Already passed on to Gill, this was another quick and easy read.  Quite a lot on at the moment and haven’t been feeling too well, so books like this are great.   Agatha leaves Carsly to lick her wounds after the events in the last book.  She ends up staying in a gloomy hotel with a cast of elderly residents who are all a little bit odd.  After an incident with her cherished fur coat and an encounter with an interesting gentleman, Agatha is conflicted as to whether to stay in the town.  Then she finds she has to…

DEBBIE MACOMBER – 92 Pacific Boulevard

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29 Jan 2010 – Amazon marketplace

Book 9 in the Cedar Cove series.  I bought a whole load of them at one point and then have had to eke the new ones out as they’re published (the next comes out this coming October).  Although there’s a large cast of characters, Macomber controls them well and gives enough previous detail to remind us of who they are, and their relationships, without making it cumbersome.  As usual in the series, some of the characters are at the beginning of their story, some are part way through, and some threads are resolved.  This makes it a satisfying read, although I did whizz through it a bit, impatient to know what everyone was up to!

VARIOUS – Modern Delight

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21 Jan 2010 – from Sorcha

An ideal book for dipping into when you’re up in the night feeling unwell, this is a sweet collection of pieces by (mainly) writers about the simple pleasures that cause them delight.  From happy dogs through popping the seal on a jar of coffee to Twitter, there is something here for everyone, and the pieces are simple, poetic, moving and funny in turns.  One to look through when the going gets a bit tough.

EARLENE FOWLER – Mariner’s Compass

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Acquired via BookCrossing 02 Jul 2007 – book table at the Brighton Unconvention

Benni Harper herself is the centre of this mystery, as she receives a strange legacy from a man she doesn’t know. One condition of getting to keep the legacy is to stay in his house for two weeks. Of course, Gabe doesn’t like this, especially when scary things start to happen as the community realised who is in their midst. There’s a protective retired fireman next door, but can he be trusted? And just who is this mystery benefactor with his trail of clues?

Really good – Benni and Gabe’s relationship, threatened again by these events, seems real, and the secondary story about Dove and the other pensioners fighting to save their town museum is a good amusing counterpoint. The best of the series so far, I think! 

LAURA TALBOT – The Gentlewomen (Virago)

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13 Jan 2010 from fellow LibraryThing Virago Group member Aluvalibri

Illustrated on the front cover with a picture of a cat very like my Dot, and set partly in Birmingham, this book was a good match for me from the word go!  It’s also a marvellous read, reminiscent of Jocelyn Playfair’s "A House In The Country" as it’s set in a large house during WWII, with not quite enough staff and a social mixing taking place that would have been unheard of in the previous decades.  Miss Bolby arrives to be Governess to a rather unruly set of half-sisters.  Disappointed in life, she is constantly harking back to her early, colonial, years, and her sister’s good marriage, so she is at first thrilled and then dismayed to find a link with one of the other local aristocrats, Lady Archie.  As the war wears on and a new secretary arrives who also claims to be a gentlewoman, Miss Bolby’s patience and character begin to unravel and sour; there is a mystery over some lost bracelets and all ends in a rather melodramatic (but believable) climax.

I loved the beautifully drawn characters in both the boarding house and the big house in the country; the young girls are particularly well done and the atmosphere is evoked wonderfully.  An absorbing and satisfying read.

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