CATHERINE SANDERSON – Petite Anglaise

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Acquired via BookCrossing 25 Oct 2010 (meetup)

Evocative of Paris and French life, this true story based on a blogger’s adventures that start when her online identity starts to veer away from her conventional situation and self, and lead her to think that the grass is greener. She things she knows what she wants three times during the book; each time leads to heartbreak for her or another. True, she is careful with her child, and documents her readers’ negative comments, and she has reflected on the wisdom of laying bare her life online since, but it’s still a bit tawdry and leaves a nasty aftertaste – a car crash read rather than one of positive enjoyment.

ANTONIA BOLINGBROKE-KENT and JO HUXTER – Tuk Tuk To The Road

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18 Nov 2010

In which two girls drive a pink, specially adapted, tuk tuk from Bangkok to Britghton. It’s a Friday Project book, so basically a blog, printed, and it does suffer from being a bit patchy and gushy, and lacking an over-arching narrative flow. They are also very young and a little bit posh-sounding, so a lot of people are described as dudes and they go clubbing. But they do have the aim of promoting Mind and they talk about mental health issues, which is decent. I’ve read a lot of travel literature and I’m fussy about it – this is actually fine and I’m going to BookCross it so other people can experience it.

EVA IBBOTSON – A Song For Summer

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Acquired via BookCrossing Nov 10 – from a donation

Another Eve of War novel which has the laudable, but by now slightly over-strained, aim of educating us about WWII. Also suffers, yet again, from an over-fondness for her main characters, which makes them a bit one dimensional and saccharine. Maybe her children’s books are just better than her YA ones.

MARGARET THATCHER – The Downing Street Years (DNF)

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27 Feb 2010 – Methodist Book Sale

I struggled through over half of this, but it was so boring in the main (the Falklands War was OK, and some of the bits where she was cross with people, and her bigs about Reagan), and so horribly, tediously detailed that I was very relieved to put it aside.

MASHA HAMILTON – The Camel Bookmobile

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Acquired via BookCrossing 26 Sept 2010 – at a meetup

I’m not entirely sure, still, what I thought of this book. The premise, telling the story of a camel-borne mobile library in Kenya, was good and interesting; when I picked it up, I wished aloud that it was a non-fiction book and was reassured that it was based on fact.  It was based on fact, in that there is a camel bookmobile project in Kenya, but I really felt that the tales of village life that filled most of the book seemed inauthentic and a bit worrying.  I have no problem with people writing about cultures other than their own, of course I don’t have a problem with that, but inventing the culture and mores of a very remote semi-nomadic community without, it seems, having spent time in such a community, seems riddled with worry to me.  Some of the plot points seemed extremely unlikely (not that I know much about such communities myself, but I have read a fair bit about similar places) and it was a shame that the useful points about the uses of literacy, the battle between tradition and modernity, the city and the land etc., seemed subsumed in the slightly silly (at times) plot, and in fact in the personal relationships between the characters. Yes, the political is personal, and yes, some characters changed their attitudes as the plot moved on, but it seemed a bit stilted and … well, I’d have enjoyed it more if it had been non-fiction!

WINIFRED HOLTBY – South Riding

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20 Jan 2011 – from the publisher (for joining the Virago Reading Group)

I was sent this by the publisher in its lovely new edition; lots of the LibraryThing Virago Group members had been talking about it, and it was Virago Reading Week on a couple of the members’ blogs, so I decided to promote it up Mt TBR for a re-read.  I can’t remember when I first read it, but it was probably quite a long time ago, about the time I was discovering Vera Brittain.  I found that, as is quite common for me, I remembered the feel of the book without recalling the plot.

I’d place this somewhere between two other favourites: George Eliot and Thomas Hardy.  Eliot, for the minute creation of time and place, the detailing of political processes, the web of small town society and range of characters.  Hardy, for the feeling that heavy-footed Fate, full of irony and obscure punishment, crouches in the landscape and in the sweep of history, ready to collect its victims.  Towards the end of the book, events start to feel a bit unremitting.  But it’s written so beautifully, and is such compulsive reading, that you absorb the horror and plunge on towards the end, with its quiet voice of progress and steely resolve.

An excellent read; an even better re-read.