JANE SMILEY – Nobody’s Horse

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16 Dec 2010 – BC Secret Santa from Kate

In her effort to write every book in a different genre, Smiley tries a teen pony book. She has done racehorses very successfully before of course. On the whole, she succeeds – some of the horsey talk seems a little laboured early on, but she settles into it and has at least done her resarch. The heroine and story are both well-done and engaging. You can hear Smiley’s voice coming through and the writing is of course excellent, but it’s also a good example of the genre, a warm book, and stands up by itself as a good read.

M.C. BEATON – Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon

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From Ali

Agatha’s detective agency is revitalised when they get involved in a complex case involging a seemingly blameless wife. The denouement is handled rather oddly, told rather than found out, but I suppose it has to vary from the common pattern of “murderer threatens Agatha while telling all”. More escapist fun.

VARIOUS – A Journey With Francis Brett Young

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Nov 2010 – came with my membership to the FBY Society

A selection of articles from the FBY Society Newsletter, including pieces on first coming across his books, places he wrote about, people’s favourite novels and people FBY knew. Often very interesting, although sad that many of the contributors had passed away before the book was published.

Update on my Iris Murdoch project

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Hope that works!

Iris Murdoch Project update


A lovely enthusiastic email from another book group asking to join the project has inspired me to start a series of updates on how my research is going. I hope people find this interesting – do post a comment if you do!

I have 8 book groups who are definitely going to read the book and answer my questionnaire, and several more who are considering it or waiting to vote on their choices. This number means I can do a qualitative survey and get some useful results, but is not high enough to do a valid quantitative survey with statistics. But word is spreading so I hope I’ll get more as I go along.

People have been very kind in spreading the word for me. I need it to go out like a chain letter – and so far my friends have emailed it, author Roger Ellory and Strictly Come Dancing dance pro Robin Windsor have kindly posted about it on Facebook, people have shared my post on Facebook and I’ve posted on all the forums I’m on, as well as the Penguin book groups forum. If you want to help me out, please email me to ask for the official text to email out, and send it to everyone you know!

I’ve been working behind the scenes on two aspects:

1. Theoretical underpinnings. Early days on this, but I’m going to concentrate on looking at something called “reception theory”, which basically states that the individual reader or viewer’s response to a text, film, play etc. is key, rather than the critical response. So what real readers think of the book is equally as important as, or more important than, the “official” critical response (I know some lovely researchers through my membership of the Iris Murdoch Society – who were really enthusiastic about my amateur reading of the books – so I’m going for “equally as important as” here!). I have done fairly extensive research on previous research, and there doesn’t seem to be much on readers’ responses to Murdoch, as opposed to critics’ responses.

2. Looking at responses to “The Bell”. I have various reference books on Murdoch from which I’m gathering this information, and quite a few from the library, although most of these have been recalled recently! I’m trying to work out whether I can quote Amazon reviews without Amazon getting cross (of course I will cite the references) and am also looking at Librarything, Good Reads and individual blogs, to get the ‘common reader’ response.

3. Another strand to the research is a case study of the group of people with whom I’ve been reading IM’s novels in chronological order. We’re not quite finished yet, but I’ve started gathering their autobiographies and their initial thoughts at taking on the project.

I’m loving the process and the fact of doing this research, even though I have to fit it in round the day job and Libro work. It was really inspiring to hear the enthusiasm of fellow members of the Iris Murdoch Society when they heard about the novel reading project, and that’s really what spurred me on to turn this into a proper piece of research.


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Acquired via BookCrossing 12 Nov 2010 – donated to the University BookCrossing Zone

Excellent portrayal of a crisis- ridden family trying to maintain the illusion of normality and success. It opens at Leo’s wedding and follows his and Frances’ bids for freedom, their mother’s attempt to maintain her position and their father’s secret life as he prepares for a momentous occasion. The fact that the family is Jewish adds an interesting dimension and gives the plot events to hang on. It’s very well done, funny and clever. I’ve read another book by this author and will look out for her others.

CLAIRE TOMALIN: Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man

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Acquired via BookCrossing 07 Feb 11 – mini-book-ring in advance of our reading of Hardy starting in July

A well-done, competent biography, well-researched and obviously with the connection with her subject that good biography demands. Tomalin admits that Hardy quite obviously wanted to keep his life private, but she does fall prey a little bit to reading maybe too much about his personal thoughts and life into his poetry, and there are some moments of what appear to be pure conjecture, if you follow the footnotes through. Still, a good read (and well copy-edited!) on perhaps a particularly difficult subject, and it certainly made me a) want to go back to the novels and b) realised how many more of his poems I know than I thought I knew.

JUDITH FLANDERS – Consuming Passions

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31 Jul 2010 – BookCrossing (bought from Connected charity shop for BC purposes)

A look at Victorian leisure and pleasure, the themed chapters (shopping, reading, theatre, sports…) stretched in fact from the 18th to the early 20th century, and fascinating they were too. Each chapter could have been a book in its own right and was meticulously researched, referenced and footnoted, and I learnt a lot. Excellent illustrations, both within the text and on the plates, and superb cross-referencing. This long book was actually quite a quick read, and I recommend it to any lovers of social history. Why was the copy-editing only good until p. 101, though?

BRAD HILL – Runner Man

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Second read on my Kindle, and another creative commons book written relatively recently. This was OK, not all about running the mile, as it threatened, but I didn’t quite take to the author and either the text transfer or the editing was quite bad, which did spoil my enjoyment.


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18 Nov 2010 (charity shop)
Based rather on wish-fulfilment but with some hard-hitting plot points and strong morals, this YA novel follows the fortunes of three lads who want to form a hip-hop group. Excluded from school, they end up at a teaching centre and following their dream, although things quickly sour when gang warfare intervenes. The plot was not that believeable, but pacy, attractive and a good read.

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