FARAHAD ZAMA – The Many Conditions of Love

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02 April 2011 – from Ali

The 2nd Marriage Bureau book and I couldn't resist reading it – the third one is on order with Amazon! We're into more serious territory here, covering the treatment of widows, GM crops and forced marriages. But these themes are woven skillfully into a narrative that's still entertaining, with some age-old problems like fitting in to an extended family household, as well as more modern ones like what it's like working in a call centre. I liked the characters, old and new, in this one, and the deeper themes.

RICHARD RUSSELL LAWRENCE – The Book of the Edwardian and Interwar House

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21 January 2011 – from Matthew

I put this on my wishlist after having a copy pass through my hands at the library and it didn't disappoint. A very nice and detailed book about the kind of house I live in now and the kind of house I have lived in before, including history, plans, drawings and photos of interiors, and all the information you could want. I did feel a little let down by the mis-spellings of Birmingham suburbs and some oddly blurry pictures that looked like they'd been blown up from a low-resolution image, but otherwise excellent.

JANE SMILEY – Ten Days in the Hills (DNF)

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09 April 2011 – charity shop

I got bored of the dull, rich characters and their unpleasantly graphic sex scenes by p 47. Read other reviews which felt the same, so had no problem stopping. And I am a big Smiley fan!

FARAHAD ZAMA – The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

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02 April 2011 – from Ali

Like the stories of R.K. Narayan (and that's praise indeed) or the No. 1 Ladies' series, these deceptively simple stories of an Indian marriage bureau are entertaining and truthful. The book aims to tell us about modern India, and succeeds in doing so, which adds a lot of interest. Clever use of the sentence structure to explain unfamiliar terms and excellent use of Mrs Ali's English essays to explain wider concepts. Charming, but with a bite.

ALEC LE SUEUR – The Hotel on the Roof of the World

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27 Feb 2011 – BookCrossing (from Ali)

Narrative of a few years spent working at the (only) Holiday Inn in Tibet. Lots of local colour and, at times offputting, detail, and enough about the difficult political situation to give a feeling of what it was like, without preaching. It did suffer from the common Summerscale Books issue of being a bit loose in its structure and writing, and won't appeal to everyone, but is interesting.

DOROTHY WHIPPLE – The Closed Door

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22 Jan 2011 (bought with Bridget's token for 2010 birthday) 

You know where you are with a Whipple, as I've probably said before: you know you're going to get realistic family situations, the theatre of the domestic, nothing too violent or overt but a delicate portrayal of the smallest emotions and conflicts – which can of course involve huge emotional violence. The title story is the longest, and encapsulates the common themes – difficult parents, difficult marriages, the redemptive nature of frendships and the small pleasures and triumphs in life.  Whipple roots for her heroines, however stuck in their situations, and leads, rather than tells, us to do so too.

A.S. BYATT – The Children’s Book

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23 Feb 2011 – passed to me by a colleague

Excellent, thick, satisfying read, following the fortunes of a group of interconnected families from the 1880s through WWI. As usual, Byatt is very good at tying in the social/economic/cultural movements of history with the personal lives of her characters – there is a real feeling of the march of history in this – and she works in some of her genre-mimicking work too.  Good on women's expanding lives and the increased ability to cross class boundaries, and on the pull between motherhood and creativity. And all these people strive against the patterns they were born into, only to come up against the monolithic horror of War. The war sections were horrific – and so they should have been.

I did get a Murdochian feel about this – the mixed characters and particularly the role of stones in the book – I wonder whether that was deliberate.

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