Book reviews – Lolly Willowes and A Backward Place


Mar 2013 tbrI feel like I’m doing quite well with my reading this year so far – I read 14 in January and 13 in February and these bring my March total to 12 …

Sylvia Townsend Warner – “Lolly Willowes”

(16 June 2012 from BunnyB, picked up at Verity’s Virago Tea on our Virago Group weekend)

Apparently I fought with Ali over this – and now I appear to have written my name in the inside front cover – oops! But of course will be lending it to Ali still. This is an odd but ultimately wonderful novel about a “spare” woman in the early years of the 20th century, who ends up having to be taken in by her brother, but longs to escape and be her own woman – whatever form that may take. A beautifully drawn extended family and good musings on aunthood, and a lovely kitten (who comes to no harm – I always want to know that information about a book), and a rather glorious speech towards the end about the plight of the spare (or indeed “excellent”) woman. I don’t want to give the plot away, but it’s a very well done fairy tale in effect, with its roots very firmly in the real world, and therefore believable. Powerful and uplifting as well as being strange!

Read Heaven-Ali’s review here.

Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – “A Backward Place”

(September 2012, from Bridget)

My lovely friend Bridget was having a weed of her collection and I ended up with a lovely handful of this author’s books, plus some more that you’ll be seeing reviews for (and photos of!) soon. You know where you are with Jhabvala – you know that you’ll get a gem of a book with beautifully drawn portraits of Indians of various stations and stages of life, and the Europeans in India, written with a clear eye and a lack of pretension or acceptance of pretension in the characters. This one is no exception. We meet a loose group of European ex pats in Delhi: Judy is married to Bal and has to go out to work to support her family, while living in a traditional communal house; she works at a rather odd Cultural Institute which is somewhat failing to live up to its promise, and clustered around the group are brittle, ageing Etta, critical and lashing out as she starts to fail to attract the men she used to, ramshackle Clarissa, who fancies herself an artist blended in with Indian society but prefers to sponge off people with a decent bathroom, and an amusing German couple full of brisk discussions and sound psychological principles. In its deceptive simplicity, it reminds me of Narayan – and here, of course, we have an extended essay on how one is to live in another culture – or on the stages of culture shock: do any of these outsiders really fit in and remain themselves while blending with the society around them?


I’m currently reviewing the (terrible) state of the TBR mountain (post and pic to come tomorrow!) and looking forward to next month’s Barbara Pym, which I might, shockingly, start today …

Business book review – Working 5 to 9


Working 5 to 9I’m giving this one a review on its own because it’s a business book, and I thought readers of this blog might want to be able to find business book reviews all in one place. So there’s a new category over to the left in the category cloud, too.

I’ve just finished reading Emma Jones’ “Working 5 to 9: How to Start a Successful Business in your Spare Time”. Now, obviously that’s what I’ve done (or if you’re new to this blog, look at the Self-Employment category to find out more) and I’ve moved on to a mature business operating full time, but I still like reading business books, and it’s always interesting to find out what I could have done differently (actually, according to this book, I did OK!).

The book has plenty of general advice, and then the excellent idea of having more than 50 case studies of real people running businesses in their spare time. There’s a bit of information about each, and then valuable insights into how they did it, what they’re doing now, and whether they are going to be giving up the day job. Here I have to admit I was surprised – quite a few of the featured people said, no, thank you, they’d like to keep on the day job, too, which I think is a valuable insight and one which hadn’t struck me as an option once I’d believed that my own business was going to be able to support me on its own.

There’s plenty of good advice on setting up your business, marketing and business plans and using social media in special sections, as well as little hints and tips on work-life balance etc. in the articles about the participants. These participants have businesses ranging from franchise party plan operations through single person crafting and creating to partnerships, giving a bit of information on a wide range of different options. I also liked the fact that I know, or know of, a few people mentioned – I know the Enterprise Nation website and am a member, have met San, who contributes on social media, and Emily Coltman, one of the featured businesspeople, is my go-to person for accounting puzzles and contributed a guest post to the Libro main blog.

All in all I think this would be a very useful book for anyone considering setting up their own business. Although it’s a few years old now, the information and links are still valid. I’d be interested to know how the featured people are doing now – I find this fascinating in my own interview series with small businesses and would love to know how they’re all doing.

Note: I picked up this book via BookCrossing. Although I know Enterprise Nation and some of the people who run it, this is not a sponsored post.

Book reviews – English as a Global Language, The Woodlanders and Charity Girl


Mar 2013 tbrOh, woe is me! Mount TBR looked so tame and calm in this picture, even if I had whipped my holiday reading off its snowy peaks already. Now it’s all icy crags and terrifying precipices (or Virago books, Georgette Heyers and odd biographies …). Anyway, here’s what I’ve been reading recently.

David Crystal – “English as a Global Language”

(October 2012)

I took this on holiday but didn’t start it until the journey home and finished it back in Birmingham. Although this is the second edition, and the republished form it took did catch me out, this is actually quite out of date now, with some sections really not updated as much as they should have been even for the new edition. This does, unfortunately, make some of the content less useful, as matters in language can change quite quickly. There was also less precise detail on the natures of different Englishes than I had hoped, although fortunately I bought a more comprehensive volume treating British and American English around the same time. It was good on the spread of English (and other languages) around the globe and on varieties of English and their changes and distinctive features, but I could have had much more on that, to be honest. Maybe not the book I thought it was.

Thomas Hardy – “The Woodlanders”

(pre-1989 – yet I appear never to have read this!)

With a contrast between bleak fate and wryly amusing set pieces (no one who has read this will forget poor Giles’ disastrous party in a hurry), this rather enclosed tale of lost love and mistaken marriage is a masterful psychological study. As usual, he’s brilliant on the thoughts, attitudes and actions of the lover and the unrequited lover, although leaving some of his characters satisfyingly opaque and mysterious. Giles, the supposed hero, is something of an anti-hero; Grace is allowed to be buffeted by her emotions, perhaps having lost her solid rural roots during her expensive education; and her father almost suffers the most (maybe he’s the hero) in seeing his attempt to better her position fail horribly, even, surely, when it appears to be resolved. The mysterious Marty remains a mysterious chorus figure to the end, bound to the older ways of the land throughout, and being used to make a comment on the value thereof. A novel which is enigmatic and fairytale-like in some ways (the magic rituals, the castle in a hollow, the lonely princess, the woodcutter, for goodness’ sake), and an absorbing one.

Georgette Heyer – “Charity Girl”

(16 June 2012, Oxford)

Another lovely Heyer, complete with young cheeky runaway (although having something serious to say about the plight of young women without support), brooding and stern but ultimately loving fathers, and best friends who really should get together and be done with it. This one traipses all over the place, from London to Hertfordshire to Harrogate, and there are plenty of near misses, farcical situations, misunderstandings and amusing characters to enjoy.


I’m currently reading a book about small businesses, then it’s launching into another couple of Viragoes and then assessing the (terrible) state of the TBR at the start of next month, unless a miracle happens over the weekend!

New office mates


After the sad loss of our elderly cat, Dot, in the fullness of time we felt able to welcome new furry friends and office assistants for Libro. Please welcome Mango and Morgan, who arrived from the lovely Cats Protection today. Morgan first day

Update: October 2013. Unfortunately we no longer have Mango, as he was unhappy with us and had some litter training issues. Morgan is still going strong and in fact seems happier as an only.

Oops … and another confession!


Mar 2013 further confessionsSo now I’ve started wondering if I’ve got into a twisted thing where I buy books simply because I’ve got to then confess to you, my readers … Hmm…

Today I had a rather nasty dental appointment. One tooth, broken on holiday gnawing on that sticky, hard honeycomb stuff (well, I was at the seaside, what else are you supposed to do?) and one with an elderly filling that needed to be removed and patched up*. I came out after 45 minutes of being mauled and hauled around, neck stiff, mouth numb and swollen … and managed to find my way across the busy High Street and down the road a little way (still heading home) to the local Works.

And there was a wall of 3 for £5 books, and there were Georgette Heyers! Um, and this one, which was recommended by Jonathan Franzen and The Guardian and looks a little different from my usual reads, being about a group of College students in America (so really a campus novel). Anyway, it looks good for a try.

Mar 2013 further confessions 2And then the Georgette Heyers. They don’t count, see … because I’ve read them all before and I’m just buying them so I have them all (I read them all in those lovely hardbacks with the pale green dust covers from my school library in my teens. Remember that edition?) although I will of course re-read them.

And now, I find that I feel a bit low and sad and pained from the dentist. So what better to do than take at least some of the afternoon off, reclining on the sofa reading Thomas Hardy, in order to get onto the next books, in order to allow these lovelies their space at the very end of the TBR shelf, working their way up towards me …?

Mar 2013 further confessions the forgotten onesEdited to add: And then I looked in a bag on the sofa, and realised that I had forgotten these three, picked up at the cafe on Sunday. The Working 5-9 one I can claim doesn’t count, as it’s a BookCrossing book and I’ll be getting it read and taking it along to the next Social Media Cafe. But the other two, pressed upon me by our friend Bridget (and it must be admitted that I was not unwilling to have them pressed upon me; quite the opposite, in fact) cannot be said to Not Count in the slightest. Oh, well …

* I feel I should point out that I have always had weak teeth, all my dentists have confirmed I look after them as well as I can; and when I went on my anti-cholesterol diet, which does involve a few sweet treats here and there, I a) checked the balance of sugar and savoury in my diet and found it was around the same, owing to the lack of biscuits and chocolate, and b) had a special chat with the dentist about it. So it’s not the fault of the diet, it might be my sweet tooth, and it is definitely the tooth issues I was born with. So there.

Another confession …


Mar 2013 more confessionsI’ve decided that it will be good for my soul to confess to new book acquisitions on here – an idea shamelessly stolen from my friend, Ali, although she has a static page for it and I’ll slip a blog post in when it happens (which will get me more exposure, tuts and censure …).

So, M and I went for a coffee today to celebrate the last day of his (and sort of my) break from work, and we then somehow fell into a shop which just happened to have a lot of books in it … In my defence:

  1. They were a POUND each. A POUND. It would have been rude not to, frankly.
  2. I was able to claim the resultant £4 charge from Bank of M, a lovely birthday thing we do now where a sum of money is put aside for me to demand presents from whenever I choose!

So, really, they don’t count. Right?

Book reviews and new acquisitions


Mar 2013 tbrI’ve been working my way through that pile of books I picked out at the beginning of the month, which I can now reveal was my planned Holiday Reading (I’m a bit paranoid about revealing I’m off on holiday before the event). I got through all of them apart from the Georgette Heyer, which was a last-minute substitution for a No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency book I’d already read – the one I hadn’t already read has been reviewed already, the big one I didn’t end up reading but released, I’m still reading “English as a Global Language” but started it on the train … and here are the reviews of the others. 4.5 books on a 5 day holiday – I’d say that’s not bad!

And at the end of this post, a small confession, but you’ll see why when you see what I managed to pick up!

Annie Choi – “Happy Birthday or Whatever”

(BookCrossing meetup 26 January 2013)

Picked up at the Birmingham meetup from my friend Sian, who recommended it as a good read.  I have had a bit of a Sian-themed holiday reading schedule, I see …

Memoir of a Korean American girl growing up with a demanding and fashion conscious mum, yet dressed in terrifying inter-continental hand-me-downs, and trying to cope with being a dunce in two languages at the same time. Competently told and amusing except in the traumatic bit – the two styles did jar a little bit there – not the best I’ve read in this genre, but not the worst, and I have read a lot of expatriate / second-generation immigrant books so I am quite demanding!

I released this in Costa Coffee in Paignton and had a lovely chat about BookCrossing with the manager and a barista, and about writing and editing with the barista – they promised to leave the book out for customers to find the next morning.

Joe Keenan – “Putting on the Ritz”

(BookCrossing meetup 29 December 2012)

Not a book I would maybe have normally picked up; the cover didn’t grab me, but this waspish, camp, madcap caper was great holiday reading and, unusual for that category if we’re not talking Middlemarch or an Iris Murdoch, my common holiday reading, quite a substantial and long-lasting read.

A ludicrous but internally coherent plot that’s very cleverly done, hinging on billionaires, revenge, magazine publishing and song writing is set against a world of mad excess in buildings, furnishings, yachts and emotions. By the writer of the TV series, Frasier, it’s ruder than the series but certainly has the one liners. I would like to look out for more by this author.

I released this in the hotel, under a copy of Russell Brand’s “My Booky Wook” so it will reveal its BookCrossing identity after a while …

Priscilla Martin and Anne Rowe – “Iris Murdoch: A Literary Life”

(14 September 2012 – IM Society Conference)

An excellent book which treats the novels in (almost) publication order, grouping them into loose themes and then looking at the books’ internal themes, their echoing characters, and their place in IM’s oeuvre, and then outwards to the critical reaction and Iris Murdoch’s own reactions to and comments on the book and characters. There’s an interesting final chapter about the effect on IM’s reputation of the books and film which came out around and after her death, and of course I do like the fact that I’ve met the authors a couple of times and several people I know are referenced in the book (I know: shallow, but it’s part of being in a community of any kind, isn’t it). Plenty of new material to mull over even for an inveterate re-reader and IM fan like me, and a real pleasure to read. A good bibliography, too.

Holiday Acquisitions

Mar 2013 acquisitions1And finally, acquisitions. I did mean to leave all my BookCrossing books behind and have a lighter case to come back with, but when I spotted these beauties in Cancer Research in Dartmouth (the Sitwell and the Holroyd) and a charity shop in Paignton (the Virago Book of Women Gardeners), I couldn’t resist. Anyway – they don’t count – as I collect Sitwell stuff, Viragoes and a) Michael Holroyd b) he discusses Violet Trefusis who is associated with Vita Sackville-West, who I also collect. So there we go – no books at all, really.

The copy of Edith Sitwell’s “English Eccentrics” is super – I am not normally swayed by pretty books, but this is a lovely Folio Society edition in a slip case with a beautiful illustration on the covers. I thought I had a copy of this in paperback, but find I don’t – I am going to read this one, as it’s been pencilled on and bashed around a tiny bit, and doesn’t go for a huge amount second hand anyway. What a treat!

Mar 2013 acquisitions2

I also treated myself to two books on the area, as I do rather suspect that we’ll be back …


Coming up – I’m reading “English as a Global Language” and about to start Hardy’s “The Woodlanders” for Ali’s Hardy readalong. Matthew is combing through my TBR for other books he might like to read together, as we did with Capital, so that might yield another out-of-sequence read, but for now I’ll continue working my way through that TBR shelf at the top of the post.

What are you reading? What have you bought recently? Did they “count” or not??

Book reviews – The Toll-Gate, Jane and Prudence and the Double Comfort Safari Club


Mar 2013 tbrSome more books have leapt off the TBR and into my willing hands as I continue a good run of solid reading which seems to have gone on all year so far. Which is good, as the TBR was large, and I just may have fallen into the odd charity shop and come up for air clutching a book recently (more of that in another post).

Georgette Heyer – “The Toll-Gate”

(16 June 2012, Oxford)

A fun and unusual Heyer. John, unwilling member of a stuffy family, escapes a particularly boring get-together and finds himself running a toll-gate out of sympathy for the urchin who has been left in charge by his feckless parent. He’s a big chap, and when he meets a rather substantial lady of the area, it’s love at first sight. But she’s in a tricky situation, her maid’s in love with a most unsuitable person (who’s trying his hardest to become suitable) and John gets embroiled and enmeshed in a mystery. Unlike most Heyers, this does have some violence at the end, but this doesn’t jar the rest of the novel too much, and it’s an interesting one, being set solely in a rural village rather than London, Bath or another town.

Barbara Pym – “Jane and Prudence”


I’ve had this book for 19 years and I’m not sure that I’ve read it more than once in that time, so a welcome reminder to pick up the Pyms more often and not just when there’s a reading challenge in the offing. This is the charmingly written tale of Jane, an older vicar’s wife, who’s never quite taken to the role and still vaguely talks about “opening a tin” for dinner and takes no interest in church flower-arranging, and Prudence, her erstwhile student, leading a slightly rackety life in London and working in a deliciously described office. So here you have the two Pym specialities – gossipy village life and slightly mad but oh-s0-believable descriptions of working life, and although there is a plot, with hapless gentlemen being lured by cunning women, there is as usual so much more and so much more satisfying than that.

A good read, and I was cheered by mention of Mildred from “Excellent Women” – reading the books in this way, one a month, is an excellent way to pick up all these smaller repeating characters and references that you might otherwise not notice.

Alexander McCall-Smith – “The Double Comfort Safari Club”

(26 January 2013 – BookCrossing meetup)

I don’t think I’ve missed any in this series – I’m more prone to picking up ones I’ve already read. More of the usual gentle and moral tales and musings on life, the inherent goodness of people, and Botswana, its ways, history and people. A pleasant way to pass an hour or so, and a new location when the detective agency goes on safari to track someone down, and it’s always nice to progress this story that I’ve been reading on and off for so many years.


Coming up – an amusing and camp tale of New York, and hopefully one book on language and one on Iris Murdoch, so I get a proper variety of reading in this month …

State of the TBR – March 2013


Mar 2013 tbrWell a bit of a cheat in this pic, as I’ve already removed some books from the TBR to read, so it looks smaller than it is. Because I’ve got a wodge of fairly similar books coming up in the strict “read in order of acquisition” sense, I’ve decided to pick and choose some books to read this month. Shocking! (how do you pick the next book to read from your TBR? Do tell!)

Mar 2013 next to readSo I picked off all the BookCrossing books, because I’m feeling a bit guilty that they’ve been languishing for a while, and I fancy some fairly light and jolly reads, which all of them apart from the Living With An Asperger’s Person one look like being; then I’ve got one Iris Murdoch book (bought at the conference in September) which will hopefully compel me to get on with my research, and one language book from my little extra pile (language books and books in series) as I keep skipping over those. I think that looks like quite a nice little pile. Have you read any of these?

Mar 2013 up nextAnd then the two upcoming Reading Project books: Hardy’s “The Woodlanders” (it seems ages since I’ve read a Hardy, as I did “Mayor of Casterbridge” right at the beginning of the Month of Re-Reading In January) and Barbara Pym’s “Jane and Prudence”, which will be the next two I start after finishing Georgette Heyer’s “The Toll Gate”.  I think I’m going to be reading “Sense and Sensibility” along with Ali over Easter, too. Is that in March?

By the way, I read thirteen books in February, which is pretty unheard of these days. I’m definitely managing to build more reading time into my days now. The highlight of last month was “Capital”. What will be the March highlight? What do you think?

Do let me know what you’re planning to read in March as the days grow longer and the daffodils bloom (if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere …)