D.E. STEVENSON – Celia’s House

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Acquired via BookCrossing 18 Jul 2010

Published in 1943, this is the story of Dunnian House in the Scottish borders and its inhabitants, the Dunne family.  It opens with old Celia looking back on 90 years in the house and then follows the fortunes of her inheritors and their relationships with the other local families.  There’s a poor relation, a faithful retainer and a wise gardener to enjoy reading about, as well as the children of the house and their suitors and loves.  Reminds me a bit of Francis Brett Young (which is probably why Ali loved it too) in the marrying of lovely and loving descriptions of the countryside and of the inhabitants.

Utterly charming – they don’t make books like this any more.  It’s the kind of thing the "House at Riverton" style writers are trying to do, but the originals are the best, I’m afraid.

This was originally a loan from Ali, hence reading it soon after acquisition; however, she has managed to source a non-BookCrossing copy for herself so I’ll release this one instead of returning it to her.

TONY PARSONS – The Family Way

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Acquired via BookCrossing 10 Jul 2010 – donated to BookCrossing by the Moseley Lions

Like a Richard Curtis film, this book about three sisters and their various maternity issues rings through all the possible changes and tugs at all the possible heartstrings, while remaining just that bit too calculating – not exactly heartless, but a bit cold-hearted. But it passed the journey home from our holiday well enough!

GILLIAN TINDALL – Celestine: Voices From a French Village


Acquired via BookCrossing 27 Feb 2010 – at the Birmingham meetup

An amazing book based on real events when Tindall found a cache of old letters in a house in a French village, mainly asking for a woman’s, Celestine’s, hand in marriage in the 1860s. Knowing Celestine’s grand-daughter lived in the village, she traces the interconnecting relationships between the villagers, the landscape, and wider French history, right up to their present-day lives in the village. Wonderful – warm and rich and the village seems really similar to the one we’ve been staying in, if in a different area.

JACK WELCH – Jack: Straight From The Gut

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Acquired via BookCrossing 19 Jun 2010 – donated to BookCrossing by James R

Interesting business autobiography of the man who was CEO of GE for the 20 years up to 2001. A lot of interesting detail about the battles for succession at the beginning and end of his reign, and some good stuff about some innovative but slightly scary business ideas. Not much personal stuff but that’s par for the course with this kind of book.

IRIS MURDOCH – The Philosopher’s Pupil

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Bought 30 Dec 1994

Iris Murdoch is at the height of her powers in this wonderful portrait of Ennistone, the spa town that goes a bit mad every now and then.  Full of linked characters and families (making it reminiscent of Middlemarch in my opinion) and with the excellent invisible narrator N, this is my favourite IM novel still, I think.  I have re-read this one a number of times and remembered it well, wlthough I had events in a slightly different order.

TERRY DARLINGTON – Narrow Dog to Carcassonne

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Acquired via BookCrossing 12 Jul 2010 – donated to BookCrossing by a colleague.

Ideal holiday reading, this is the slightly oddly (but lyrically) written account of a retired English couple taking their narrowboat and whippet from the Midlands to Carcassonne, via the Channel and all sorts of other rather alarming adventures. The style might be odd but the subject matter is engaging, especially if you know boats a little, and read-out-loud funny in many places. Pleasingly, there is a flamingo-viewing scene in Palavas-les-Flots, somewhere we have visited ourselves.

PAUL MAGRS – Conjugal Rites

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18 May 2010 (Amazon)

Yup, read out of order. Couldn’t wait that long to catch up with the adventures of Brenda & Effie!

It’s hard to review these books without giving away the plot.  So all I’ll say is that we have more classic adventures, giggles and oohs and aahs as we meet characters old and new, spend more time with Sheila Manchu, and decide who is going to Hell!  In a departure from the first two books, this is written by a narrator rather than in Brenda’s words, but this gives us more of an insight into other characters’ thoughts and feelings.

I particularly liked the nods to classic children’s books – the snow queen from Narnia, Bedknobs & Broomsticks…

Another excellent read that I almost couldn’t put down when I was meant to be working today.  Bring on the next one!

Oh, and for all the BookCrossers, Paul’s publisher has kindly sent me two sets of the Brenda & Effie novels to share with you on book spirals – I’ll be announcing sign-up for them in a few days!

JOHN MOLE – All Greek to Me

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Acquired via BookCrossing 10 Jul 2010 – BookRing

I really enjoyed this honest and funny account of doing up a battered house in a Greek island village, although it was a little odd that it was written 25 or so years after the events it portrays.

I have a weakness for an expatriate-buys-a-house book and have read quite a few in my time.  This was a good one, with a real feel for, and love for, the people in the village.  There were a few rather vivid scenes around animal slaughter which may not  be particularly suitable for the squeamish.  I really liked the truthful scenes of family life, bickering and all, and the sense of luck that they found and could restore this lovely building. 

More photos would have perhaps been nice…

E. LYNN HARRIS – In My Father’s House

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Received 07 Jul 2010 – LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme

My being white, female, straight and English did not stem my enjoyment of this novel about black gay men in America, and presumably this was why I was picked to receive this book.  I’ve read and enjoyed Harris’ books for some time now and was very pleased to win this one.  It was a fairly quick read.  

The main character, Bentley, is a man who is trying to stay moral and just in a world that tries to encourage just the opposite.  In conflict with his father, who dislikes his "life choices", he sets up his own business away from the riches of the family firm.  When recession hits and it’s a struggle to keep going, he feels forced to take on a job for his modelling agency that he wouldn’t normally touch, supplying men for a private party.  He has bad feelings, especially when his mentee, Jah, becomes involved, but squashes them for the sake of the money. 

Now, you wouldn’t maybe expect a novel about modelling agencies and gay men who indulge in all sorts of practices (and some of it is a bit explicit, which doesn’t bother me but might be worth mentioning), to be a particularly moral read, and indeed the dust jacket plays up the glamour and risk, but it’s actually all about mentoring, fatherhood (of various kinds), doing the right thing, keeping safe, and love.

Being set at the time of the Obama election and the credit crunch offers an interesting dimention to this novel and it’s up to date in its use of facebook and texting as plot devices, without this seeming laboured.  Some characters are not rounded enough for me, and the ending seemed a bit sudden – but the back of the jacket implies that this was supposed to be the first in a series featuring Bentley and his modelling agency.  Tragically, the author died after completing this book, so this won’t happen.

A good read with momentum given by the thriller-y plot, some satisfyingly twisty sub-plots, and depth given by the probing questions of Bentley’s therapist.

MICHAEL FOOT – Aneurin Bevan 1945-60

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25 Dec 2009 – from Matthew

The second volume of Foot’s carefully written and very detailed biography of his friend Bevan.  Their friendship starts in the years covered by this volume, and among the description of the founding of the NHS and the various upheavals the Labour Party went through during this time, it’s fascinating to see their relationship develop and be tested by their opposing views on nuclear disarmament.  Although there is a risk of hagiography, I don’t see it in this book – there is admiration but also truth and honesty.  Although it took me a while to read this, I have thoroughly enjoyed it and was really pleased Matthew managed to track it down for me.

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