Sept TBRI’ve got a bit behind with the book reviews, which is probably down to needing to spend time preparing for and attending the Iris Murdoch Society conference (a report on that will come later) and then reading quite a lot while travelling to and from the conference. Today we have the last of my All Virago / All August reads, and a book that I started reading last month then realised it wasn’t actually a Virago at all. I also report on some more acquisitions – I knew that low TBR total wouldn’t last for long …

Rosa Rankin-Gee – “The Last Kings of Sark” (Virago)

(28 June 2014 – via BookCrossing)

This was an Advanced Review Copy that Ali had been sent (see her review here) and brought to a BookCrossing meetup. I read it as my last read in All Virago / All August. 21-year-old Jude lands on the Channel Island of Sark to be tutor to posh boy, Pip. In the strange household, her ally is Sofi, the cook, with whom she shares a room in a scruffy guesthouse, too, the two women’s ways of operating clashing with each other quite remarkably. As the summer passes and Jude learns about the island and its people (in the most successful part of the book, as it turns out) events, while seemingly random, add up to one “moment that changed everything”, as the book blurb has it.

Once this has happened, the book splinters into a collection of vignettes of the characters’ subsequent lives in France, which I’m not sure works, as I don’t think we’ve engaged with them enough to or care enough about them. Why would one youthful adventure be enough to hold them together, and is this plausible? I’m not sure. It feels like a bit of a writing exercise rather than a book written for the sake of the writing of it and the story, which is something I’m not particularly keen on. The point seems to get a bit lost and with a narrative voice that’s stretched to describe the three lives without much differentiation, this reader was left unsatisfied.

Dorothy Sheridan (ed.) “Wartime Women”

(25 January 2014 from Luci)

I acquired this from the lovely LibraryThing Virago Group member, Luci, at our meetup and charityshopathon in Stratford. She always brings a big bag of enticing books with her. Of course, I then assumed it was a Virago and started it in August, but set it aside and finished it this month.

It’s a collection of Mass Observation reports, diary entries and responses to MO directives (sets of questions issued to MO members) covering the progress of the Second World War, from a variety of women and covering those left out, e.g. the working classes, in the comprehensive reports by full-time MO workers. A huge amount of information treating a huge range of reactions and opinions, some of them familiar if you’ve read a lot about the Home Front and the social history of the time, but still fresh and interesting, and including our old friend, Nella Last. But it’s not only her – women young and old have their say.

The introductory notes and chronological themes make it easy to navigate and a real flavour of women’s voices is allowed to come through. It’s amusing to read of their excitement when they heard the founders of MO on the radio and commented on their accents. A very worthwhile volume that is interesting to the general reader and not worthy or dull.

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Sept 2014 9You know how I said I was addressing the issue of that low TBR mountain? Well, the other week I popped along to a Meet the Author event in the city centre (in the Hotel La Tour on Moor Street, which has a very nice bar area which I may well revisit) where Helen Cross was speaking. I have met Helen a few times before and very much enjoyed her novel, “Spilt Milk, Black Coffee” which I read a few years ago, and although I was a bit late to the session (luckily being able to give the true reason that I’d been volunteering and got delayed) it was most enjoyable, with Helen sharing stories about the film being made of “My Summer of Love” and the upcoming dramatisation of “Spilt Milk”.

Sept 2014 8We had a good discussion about writing and publishing, with me being ‘outed’ as a non-fiction writer in the process but other people chiming in too, and how could I resist when she mentioned that she had books for sale? I picked up these two – “My Summer of Love” is the copy she’s been reading from at events, and is therefore in a ‘gently used’ state, which is a lovely thing to have, I personally think! The picture to the left is Helen posing with her books, and to the right we have a close-up of the books themselves.

Have you read any of Helen’s books? What are you reading as we sail through September? I’ve had a  bit of an e-book fest; more of that later, and I must check if any of them come into Reading a Century of Books, as “Wartime Women” did …