PAT SMYTHE – Jacqueline Rides For A Fall

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Acquired via BookCrossing 28 Aug 2010 – passed to me by Sorcha

I’m reading quite a few pony books at the moment as my Mt TBR is full of hardback non-fiction, both library books and non-library books, and I’m loathe to skip ahead too far into the novels as I’ll only run into the same problem if I read too many of those!

A slightly different angle on the usual pony books, in that Pat Smythe is a showjumper and horse trainer herself, and she bases the book on herself, her stables, her horses and her staff, then invents some children to work the story around.  It does work well, although there are some touches that would never appear in a pony book today, for example when a 12 year old drinks a couple of cocktails to show off at a party and, indeed, the hunting scenes, complete with the fox’s brush being waved around. 

It’s very strongly moral, though – if you’ve been spoilt, you should be taken down a peg at every opportunity; then again it’s refreshing to have a co-heroine, in Jacqueline, who is very dislikeable even to near the end of the story.

There’s a lot of horsey lore in there, too, inserted quite sensibly into the story arc, and it’s a good read. There are apparently more in the series; it’ll be interesting to find those and see if they are as good once Jacky has settled down a bit.

DIABLO CODY – Candy Girl: A Year In The Life of An Unlikely Stripper

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Acquired via BookCrossing 28 Feb 2010 – from a donation of books for my OBCZs

Out of the 4 people who had had this book, pass through their hands, only the first had read (and rather disliked) it.  So I took up the challenge.

Right – this book has now been read!

I didn’t actually think it was that bad.  The narrator is honest about her reasons for wanting to try out stripping (she just liked the idea), carrying on (the money is good and it gave her more self-esteem than her day job in an office) and the people surrounding her, whether other strippers and sex-workers or their clients.  It does go into a lot of detail and while I’m fairly unshockable, having read a few books on this subject, it would not suit someone more easily shocked or not keen on this kind of stuff.  I found it interesting and well-written, and liked the author’s positivity about her fellow-workers, and lack of a judgemental attitude.

Will release somewhere child-proof!

PAUL MAGRS – Hell’s Belles

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20 May 2010

More adventures of Brenda & Effie… but there’s a new girl in town…

Where Karla Sorenson goes, trouble seems to follow.  So when Karla comes to Whitby to remake her famous film "Get Thee Inside Me, Satan", during the filming of the original version of which, it’s rumoured, the Devil himself was conjured up, trouble with a capital T seems bound to ensue.  Then she decides to stay at the decidedly dodgy Christmas Hotel, scene of murder, cannibalism and nasty pies. And to make the film up by the Bitch’s Maw.  On Hallowe’en. During Goth Weekend…

Meanwhile, we have another new girl in town in the shape of innocent Penny; like the young couple in Rocky Horror, she has no idea of what she’s getting herself into.  Fresh out of a difficult marriage and enjoying a gothic persona, she’s keen on Michael at the new coffee bar and starts work at one of the hotels.  She’s heard of Karla’s film, but never seen a copy, until…

Meanwhile (again), Robert’s got himself a new feller with a magic sofa; trouble is, he’s a little bit elusive and mysterious.  Will he step up to the mark when it really matters? I do like Robert…

And meanwhile (keeping up?) Brenda’s settling in to a new relationship and Effie’s a tiny bit miffed, having mislaid her chap in a rather unpleasant location a book or so back.

When all of these strands collide, well, we get the usual delicious mix of characters, plot, and the characteristic undermining of pomposity by a well-placed prosaic detail, at which Mr Magrs excels.

Warning: this one went RIGHT up to the edge of my feeble ability to stomach yucky things – not one to read over your breakfast, maybe.  But then again, Karla starred in that brain-eating one I couldn’t finish, so that’s hardly surprising.

And, of course, I can’t wait for the next installment…!

GEORGE ELIOT – The Lifted Veil

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27 Feb 2010 – Methodist Book Sale

I spotted this Virago at the Methodist book sale (we’re going to have a few from there over the next month!) and realised it was an Eliot I’d heard nothing about.  A minor work, and short even for a novella, this was apparently seen as embarrassing by Eliot’s publisher during her lifetime and eventually published only as an extra in an omnibus with two other books.

I can see why. This is a very, very odd book.  It’s full of the supernatural and becomes more and more uneasy-feeling until the truly horrific ending.  OK, I am a bit pathetic when it comes to horror, but mucking around with corpses…!  You can see flashes of the Eliot we’re familiar with in the precise descriptions and family dynamics, but this tale of a psychic, over-sensitive man, who can read the thoughts of those around him and has visions of the future, left me cold (and goose-bumpy!).  The afterword was well done and did explain the background, but still…

One for the collector of Viragos or a George Eliot afficionado only, I think.

IRIS MURDOCH – A Writer At War (ed. Peter Conradi)

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17 Mar 2010

A collection of three different works: IM’s diary of a roaming theatre production just before the outbreak of WWII, her letters to Frank Thompson and those to David Hicks, during the war.  

The diary is very sweet – it’s earnest and young but retains our interest and has a value that not all juvenalia have.  For an IM fan, it’s lovely to see her relatively unencumbered, enjoying singing and acting and stretching herself, and also being very funny and a good or not so good friend.

Both sets of letters can make uncomfortable reading at times.  While she doesn’t, in my opinion, look foolish, IM does lay her emotions bare in what were, presumably, private letters not intended for publication.  Especially in those to David Hicks, she is reduced to begging him to write and sending honest thoughts which she then slightly regrets. But who among us, especially when young, hasn’t said things to a lover one would rather not have said, or embarassed ourselves a little.  The last letter in the Hicks sequence is quite painfully controlled and mature, and made me feel sad on reading it, even though I knew the story of their relationship from other reading.  But still, in both sets of letters you get a developing writer, thrilled to come across Simone de Beauvoir and to meet Satre, trying to learn to ski, failing at being a good administrator.  And, while I vigorously subscribed to the Death of the Author theory at University, to avoid having to do much secondary reading, I did enjoy seeing the roots of her civil servants and complex love affairs with which we become so familiar when reading her novels.

A minor point, but one which did affect my reading of the book: the footnotes.  Some of the actual notes seemed a little strained.  Who needs the word "somnambulist" explaning? And there were some [sic]s in the text which seemed a little inconsistent, pointing out some errors and not others.  Worse, was the actual proof-reading of the footnotes.  On several occasions, footnotes which should have run onto the next page broke off, with the rest of the note nowhere to be found. Particularly irritatingly, this happens to the note at the end of the Frank letters – the letter itself breaks off, as we know, and then the footnote reads: "Final page missing: how Frank signed off his last letter we will probably never"!  And notes appear on the page next to the one on which the footnoted text appears, which I’ve never seen before. In fact, on the final page of the book, instructions for contacting the publisher end: "Please quote ref. ‘Short Books", i.e. missing the final quotation mark!  I know it’s niggly, but this did spoil my reading of the text somewhat, as it disturbed the flow.

Apart from this, an interesting read and a valid addition to my Murdoch collection.

EVA IBBOTSON – Journey to the River Sea

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14 Sep 2010 – from Emma, Beth and Grace

I’d been discussing this book with my friend Emma and her daughters when I saw them at the weekend. I didn’t have room in my bags to take their copy home with me, so we agreed they’d post it to me. I was thrilled when a brand new copy arrived via Amazon on Tuesday!  I promised to read it quickly and let them know what I thought about it, and it was no problem to promote it up the reading pile!

This is a fabulous book that I feel follows in the tradition of earlier children’s books like The Secret Garden or The Little Princess.  Indeed, this tale of an orphan girl shipped off to a new life on the other side of the world mentions Little Lord Fauntleroy, a nice touch for the adult and younger reader.

It’s fabulous in two ways – a very good read and full of excitement, colour, mystery and magic.  Maia is a lovely heroine and I adored her governess, Miss Minton, first met seeming very forbidding with a terrifying umbrella, but soon revealed to have a trunk full of books, and therefore to be on our side.  All the requisite elements are here, from absent-minded professors to distant guardians, a fantastic landscape and a realistically described city, and an interesting family to live with.  I particularly liked the way Miss Minton’s fate worked out, and the way Ibbotson worked in different parts to appeal to different groups of readers, from the knockabout experiences of a couple of lawyers, to the very odd obsessions of the Carters, to the interesting and beautiful dwellers in the jungle.

Any more than this would give the plot away, so I’ll just exhort people to get hold of a copy and read it! It’s won a Nestle Children’s Book Prize and been shortlisted for the Carnegie, and rightly so – a classic for the future.

M.C.BEATON – Agatha Raisin and the Love From Hell

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Borrowed from Ali

Agatha finds that marriage to James is not all she expected.  She seems to be a lot more human in this one, although still tenacious and abrasive when necessary.  Which is handy, as she ends up a prime suspect in a double murder; James has disappeared and she has only the mean Sir Charles to help her clear her name and investigate.  Quite a truly creepy suspect comes into view, and altogether another enjoyable read, apart from a rather unbelievable plot point near the beginning. What would we do without these comforting cosies??

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