Book Reviews – Naked at the Albert Hall and Through Siberia by Accident

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TBR September 2015That would make a great, intriguing book title if it was all one book, wouldn’t it! Anyway, it’s two books, both by marvellous women who have a spirit of honesty and humility while writing both beautifully and amusingly. There are also some terrible confessions to come, but don’t skip the reviews and jump to the bottom of the post for those shockers … (please). Oh, and some of you might have seen a glimpse of a post about books I don’t like to read which I quickly suppressed – it read a bit oddly for my liking and didn’t express things as I wanted them expressed, so I will rewrite that and publish that another time. Sorry to anyone who tried to comment or click through and got lost in error pages!

Tracey Thorn – “Naked at the Albert Hall”

(Borrowed from Sian)

Singer Tracey Thorn is appearing at the Birmingham Book Festival this autumn and I believe my friend Sian is covering her session in one of her volunteering gigs. She’d wanted to read both of Thorn’s books and recalled that I had the first one, so she borrowed that and loaned me this one to read while she was reading mine (we met up for a coffee and chat and to swap the books over today, which is always nice).

So this is the follow-on from her more conventional autobiography, “Bedsit Disco Queen“; it does have lots of autobiographical details, but takes a more serious, focused and evidence-driven look at, as the subtitle says, “the inside story of singing”. She talks about her own experiences, interviews other singers, especially those with issues close to hers around stage fright and having a ‘small voice’, and also brings in useful and interesting material from other writers on the subject.

Although she identifies particular areas that she’s talking about in each chapter, it does feel a little chaotic and disorganised at times, hopping around topics while sticking with one interviewee at a time, more or less, BUT, this allows her to be herself and makes the read more personalised and engaging. I also managed to pick up some juicy quotations about how the audience provides the emotion in the emotional response to a live gig (rather than the singer), which is handy for the reception theory sections of my research, so a good read and a double win there.

This book will suit … Everything But The Girl fans, anyone interested in music and singing.

Dervla Murphy – “Through Siberia by Accident”

(BookCrossing Secret Santa gift, 10 December 2014)

One of the veteran travel writer’s later books, this documents a journey that went a bit wrong when she had not one but two accidents that rendered her incapable of riding her bike and camping independently. Instead, she has to hole up in hotels and, later, a shack by Lake Baikal, and rely on the hospitality of strangers.

Siberian hospitality is apparently legendary, and she ends up making lots of friends, eating lots of large meals even when she tries to avoid taking too many resources from often poverty-stricken people, and feeling integrated into the community, even though she repeatedly fails to learn to speak anything but a few words of Russian.

As a ‘babushka’ laden with photo albums of her family and pets, she gets away with some aspects of behaviour that might otherwise be frowned upon, and makes friends almost wherever she goes. She’s fond of cats and encounters and describes many (they are all OK, there is one sad dog bit but not too, too awful or detailed), and she’s honest about her few fears and failings. She integrates history and politics seamlessly into the narrative and makes the occasional wry mention of other travel writers.

Excellent reading, although I could have done with some photographs (she describes herself being reticent to thrust these at people of her acquaintance, but also mentions taking them, so that’s frustrating).

I let this one go onto a bookshelf in the local cafe, because I felt greedy keeping hold of all of the BookCrossing books I was given by my secret santa!

I’ve just realised this was Book 17 in my #20BooksOfSummer challenge. At least I finished it in the month the challenge ended!

This book will suit … Anyone who likes a good, honest travel book, more about people than landscapes, but with those, too.

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September 2015 3And now Oh Dear time. As well as adding to that tottering pile of Idriðasons bought the other day to complete the set, I accidentally wandered into the Oxfam bookshop while walking back from my volunteering session at parkrun on Saturday, and came across this pristine, never-read copy of Edith Wharton’s “The Reef” and a nice Penguin in a cover style I’ve not seen before of George Eliot’s “The Mill on the Floss”. After reading only “Middlemarch” a good few times and none of her others, I was given a copy of “Daniel Deronda”, loved it, then also loved “Adam Bede” but told myself I had to space out the others, buying and reading only when I came across them. My friend Ali recently read “Mill on the Floss” so I was pleased to see this copy.

September 2015 4Then I went to the BookCrossing meetup on Saturday afternoon at the soon-to-be-moving York’s Cafe. We’re not sure what’s happening to the BookCrossing (etc.) bookcase there, so took quite a few of the books away. One of them was this jolly-looking Indian detective book, so I nabbed that. THEN, when I met up with Sian to swap Tracey Thorn books, I was reminded that I’d asked to borrow her copy of the sequel to “Freakanomics” so I have that now, too (I can apparently wait a little while to read it before I have to return it for her husband to read). Oh dear, it’s like a terrible addiction, isn’t it. And meanwhile, what am I doing? Reading a book on my Kindle. Sigh.

Have you read any of these? Which will be the biggest treat when I reach them around August next year?

What I read on my holidays – The Bad Book Affair, Freedom, A Cornish Affair, Dr. Thorne, Silence of the Grave

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Sept 2015 coming upA bit of a large round-up today, as I read quite a lot during our recent holiday but I’m conscious that I’m also doing quite a lot of reading now we’re back, and I want to keep up. So, a few book reviews plus a small acquisition, plus a large and very wicked acquisition …

Ian Sansom – “The Bad Book Affair”

(Acquired via BookCrossing 01 February 2015)

Fourth in the Mobile Library series, this opens with Israel, the central character, in a serious decline over the loss of his love and the prospect of turning 30 in a small town in the north of Northern Ireland rather than in London or Paris. He’s dragged out of his pit by his mobile library colleague, Ted, then gets mixed up in a scandal when the daughter of a local politician goes missing and it’s discovered that Israel lent her books from the under-the-counter Bad Books stock.  Israel and Ted go on the hunt for clues, and amusement as well as commentary on small town politics ensue. Passes the time with some chuckles out loud.

This book would suit … someone who has read the other books in the series and likes books about small town life that are a bit silly.

Jonathan Franzen – “Freedom” (DNF)

(Acquired via BookCrossing 22 August 2015)

A nasty story about family, love, lust and bad behaviour which stayed on a sort of even level of nastiness, not getting really horrible, so more interesting, or nicer. Franzen has been described as misogynistic, but this was a more general nastiness. I don’t mind unpleasant characters in a book, but I do mind uninteresting ones and although this had moments of enjoyment, they were not enough to hold me (I read up to half way through and I think Matthew, who is listening to it on audio book, might persevere). A real shame, as I loved “The Corrections”.

This book would suit … someone who has a higher tolerance for nastiness in books than me; possibly someone who enjoys the other Great (male) American Novelists.

Liz Fenwick – “A Cornish Affair”

(bought 22 August 2015)

Bought specifically because of the Cornish connection, and actually set right down where we were, a well-done novel about an American woman, Jude, who suddenly rebels, runs away from her own wedding in Cape Cod and escapes to Cornwall to work for an author, cataloguing his research. Cornwall and the old house work their magic, but there are family mysteries for both Jude and her employer that she feels compelled to examine.

Nicely done, although the “mystery”, involving hidden jewels, is a little obvious, maybe. A good holiday read, especially if you’re in Cornwall.

This book would suit … someone looking for a light holiday read, possibly someone who likes the Kate Morton books.

Anthony Trollope – “Dr. Thorne”

(ebook)

A long book which I began to read in too disjointed a fashion but had good long sessions with on holiday and finished on the train home.

There’s a Jane Austenish feel to this story of the town doctor and his niece and their relationship with the family at the Big House of the town, and also a Hardyish introduction of a social theme of new money vs. the impoverished gentry, and the age-old theme of having to marry for money and position, not love.

Mary, the heroine, is nicely drawn, her love, Frank, maybe  a little less rounded. Side characters such as the heiress who Frank is supposed to woo are lively and appealing and the metafictional asides on the art of writing and novel construction are amusing and add to the reader’s intimacy with the author.

This book is number 16 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

This book would suit … anyone who likes a big and satisfying novel with lots of characters and relationships.

Arnaldur Indriðason – “Silence of the Grave”

(bought 22 August 2015)

I bought this book precisely because it’s about Iceland, and by an Icelandic author, and these aspects did not disappoint. I had to steel myself slightly to read this modern crime novel, not a genre I particularly go for, but the fact that it was set in and around Reykjavik and the fact that it’s hard to find Icelandic books that aren’t Scandi-noir, meant that I did so successfully. I have also worked out that I can tolerate much more blood and ick in an Icelandic book than in other ones – I can only assume that this relates to my love of the sagas, then Halldor Laxness’ novels, which share with this book a gritty life and unpleasant happenings related quite flatly, with a very, very dry humour laced through.

This all leads up to the fact that I really enjoyed this book (read on the train home and finished at home before bedtime); the murder and themes of domestic violence and the drug addict underclass of Iceland were well done and not gratuitous and the characters were varied and interesting, especially the detectives involved in the case, who appear in the Reykjavik Murder Mystery series. There are good and well-drawn female characters, who have their own agency and abilities, and there are some interesting themes around World War Two in Iceland, which I don’t know much about (looking at his other novels, this seems to be a theme that he returns to).

I knew quite a few of the places that were mentioned, and could visualise the landscape and townscape in detail, which did add extra interest to my reading experience, and I noted in my written review that “I will def get his others” – see below for how that worked out …

This book would suit … lovers of Scandi-noir, people interested in Iceland.

So, not bad holiday reading all in all, I think you’ll agree (what kind of book do you take on holiday? I really like a classic as well as some shorter and lighter books).

September 2015 1I was lucky enough to meet up with Jane from the Beyond Eden Rock book review blog while I was away – we had a lovely cup of tea in a delightful cafe, and, as I originally know her from the LibraryThing Virago Books group, swapped Viragoish books. I ended up with a lovely Julia Strachey volume including “Cheerful Weather for the Wedding” and “An Integrated Man” and a charming copy of Ann Bridge’s “The Lighthearted Quest”. Thank you, Jane!

September 2015 2And then THIS ensued today – I knew that The Works had a whole load of other Indriðasons in their 3 for £5 offer, but I’d been sensible and picked up just the one to try out. Now I know I like them, I snapped up these, but of COURSE they’re not all of the books in the series; I saw “Jar City”, the first in the series but managed not to buy it (guess where I’m going tomorrow), and there are several more that come after these (and some prequels), so I hope they all live up to the first one I’ve read. Thank you to those of my readers who reassured me about “Silence of the Grave” so I tried it!

I’ll be catching up with everyone else’s blog posts over the next few days (we’ll have to self-cater next holiday so there’s more time for hanging out and doing stuff and less rushing around looking for dinner!) and hope I’ve not exhausted you with this larger-than-usual post! Thank you for reading this far!

Book reviews – Silver Linings and a DNF

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TBR September 2015Just one review to round up, plus a Did Not Finish. I seem to have been reviewing books in ones recently, mainly because I like to do my Persephones in singles in case the publisher wants to link to them, and recently read a book and its sequel and wanted to avoid the risk of spoilers. Anyway, I have one review and one Did Not Finish which was really quite disappointing, so let’s get on with it …

Debbie Macomber – Silver Linings

(September 2015)

I should learn not to get all over-excited about new books (which, to be fair, I hardly ever do) – I bought Harry Potter 5 within two days of it being published and read it in all its needs-editing glory in about 24 hours, and I feel for the “Girl With a Pearl Earring” hype, too (bleugh). So maybe this one would never have lived up to expectations when I pre-ordered it after reading the third in the Rose Harbour series fairly recently.

I bought this so as to catch up with the doings of Jo Marie Rose and her life in Cedar Cove, with the extra story of guests at her B&B provided by Coco and Kate, very different old friends attending their high school reunion to settle old scores. Things don’t turn out as expected for the friends, and the story continues past their immediate weekend stay, as they only live across the water – sometimes these books have been very much centred around a smaller space of time, so it was nice that it had room to breathe. One of the love interests does seem to be recycled from a Cedar Cove character without actually being that character, but every author has their tropes, so I’ll let that one go.

The Jo Marie and Mark The Handyman drags on a little, with Mark seemingly determined to leave town in a cloud of self-recrimination and mystery. Then things get a bit odd, with a later scene in the book set at Thanksgiving 2015, and one strand I felt was a bit too current and even bandwaggony, whereas usually the author appears to go to great pains to make her books less rooted in a particular year or even era. That made it a little less satisfying to me, although I will of course read on through the series.

This book would suit … Debbie Macomber / Rose Harbour readers, romance readers in general (though it has more to it than straight romance).

John Algeo – “British or American English?”

(September 2012)

Published by Cambridge University Press and with that title, I expected a book comparing the two forms of English, perhaps with British as the base, as it comes first in the title. Unfortunately, it turns out to a) compare British English to a baseline of American English, and b) come in the form of sets of lists of words and their uses which even I found too dull to read. I localise from American to British English and bought this book to help that side of my work. It doesn’t.

It was in my 20 Books of Summer project, but that’s OK, because the point was to get it off the side-pile and tackle it, and that’s what I did!

Currently reading: I’m currently enjoying Trollope’s “Dr Thorne” … still. It’s a good one, though.

 

#20BooksOfSummer update

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20BooksofSummer logoWell, the #20BooksOfSummer reading project finished on 04 September, and thank you to Cathy over at the 746 Books blog for having the idea and letting me join in part way through.

I’ve listed the books on a page here, as I thought it would be fun to have a permanent record, and I might well do it again next year. I did enjoy it, and drew some real positives out of it – so here’s my report.

How did I do?

Although I didn’t officially finish 20 books, I’m pleased with my achievement.

I read, finished and reviewed 15 books.

I started and am still reading 2 books – one I need some bigger chunks of time for, and one I only started on 3 September; if I’d started the whole thing earlier, I would have got these done in time. I still started them, and enjoyed a nice chunk of them, though!

I started and Did Not Finish 2 books (however, this was a positive – one I read enough to use for my research and one I read enough to realise it wasn’t what I thought it was; neither would probably have been read without this challenge (see below)).

I did not start one book. This was a book of Bible stories in Icelandic. I decided that I needed a larger swathe of quiet time for this one, so will take it with me on an upcoming holiday and try for some of it then.

You can find out which books I read and click through to their reviews here.

Positives

There were two massive positives to the challenge, and both hold equal importance for me.

I really did make myself read books off the ancillary piles to my TBR, and one scary book I was nervous of even starting. Even though I didn’t finish two of these extras, I would not have even started them without the project. I also got on with a couple of books on Kindle that I kept not getting round to.

I gained some new readers and commenters for this blog (Hello!!!!) and found some more people’s book blogs to read and enjoy, including some who read a HUGE variety of book genres and authors. How lovely!

Negatives

There’s nothing really negative about the experience. I did wonder if I’d immediately rebel against having A List, and I did, a little bit (I certainly read more than 20 books during the time I was doing this challenge!). The only real problem was starting later than everyone else (entirely my fault) so I missed out on the excitement at the start and had to catch up with my reading and my fellow bloggers.

So, all in all this was a fun project that I enjoyed being part of – thanks again, Cathy!

Book review – Dorothy Whipple – “Greenbanks” (Persephone)

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All Virago and Persephone All AugustThis was the last Persephone in the little  batch I had put aside to read in August and managed to get to; I do love a Whipple and I’m very conscious that I only have this and one more to read “Because of the Lockwoods”), then I think that’s everything she wrote and certainly everything Persephone has published by her. But it was a good and absorbing read, and you can go back to her tales of middle-class life and small subversions.

Dorothy Whipple – “Greenbanks” (Persephone)

(25 December 2014 – from Bridget)

As hinted at above, this is rooted firmly in Whipple’s domestic, middle-class world. Its opening was reminiscent of Mary Hocking’s “An Irrelevant Woman”, as we meet Louisa, formerly the head of a bustling household, taking more and more leaves out of her table as her children grow up and the family dissipates around the Midlands and the South. Her children are almost all immersed in their own affairs, and she’s left with her maids, who are marvellous characters, and one elderly aunt.

But dissent and subversion creep in, unaccompanied by too much mental turmoil in Louisa’s case – although in fact it’s hard to tell her true mental state, as the Vicar discovers when he tries to visit and discuss the Church with her. Her grand-daughter, Rachel, finds an alternative bedroom at the family house that gives the book its title; Laura yearns and strains towards a happiness an earlier generation would not perhaps have sought so strongly; and Letty’s dissatisfaction with her husband starts to move from her inner to her outer world.

Only Charles seems satisfactory to his mother, and elicits her true emotions, and he’s resented by his siblings and shipped off all over the world, and scandal threatens the little household when Laura takes on a companion they all remember from poring over the photo albums, because secrets, however buried, have a habit of coming out, don’t they.

The men, from bumptious George and his portly dog to meddling, controlling Ambrose and a man who is weaker than his looks suggest, do not come off well, and the women quietly and firmly get on with collecting a bit of control here, a bit of agency there, just as they put aside the housekeeping money to make spaces for themselves.

A quietly interesting book with an acerbic eye for detail, and a satisfying read with enough ends left untied at the close.

This was Book 15 in my #20BooksOfSummer project and the last of my All Virago and Persephone / All August reads.

This book would suit … Whipple fans and anyone who likes an absorbing family saga.

 

State of the TBR – September 2015

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TBR September 2015I have to admit to being a bit lazy this month – I pulled out some books into a pile to read on a couple of journeys I’m planning in September, and I couldn’t face putting them back in to make the TBR look like it normally does (it’s late in the evening and I got soaked and thunderstormed at while running this evening, so, whatever …) So, just imagine four of the books in the pile are vertical, and the white book with the black bands on it is the last book on the front layer. Not great, not terrible. I actually read 12 books last month (I have one left to review) plus a bit of another, so it’s keeping moving.

Sept 2015 currentI did have a DNF, which was Iser’s “The Act of Reading”. I was reading and noting that one for my Iris Murdoch research, but it’s Very Hard, and I realised I only really needed to approach the introduction and mention more general stuff in my research, so that went in the Life’s Too Short category and back on the shelf … oh, on the desk pile, waiting to be written up in my notebook. And I read five books for All Virago / All August although three of them were two Persephones and a Women’s Press book …

I’m currently reading three books. Dorothy Whipple’s “Greenbanks” reminds me a little of the set-up for Mary Hocking’s “An Irrelevant Woman” with its older woman coming to terms with her children becoming adults, and which really needs longer bursts than I have been managing. John Algeo’s “British or American English?” is a little disappointing so far, because you’d think, being called that and published by Cambridge, that it would be comparing American with British English, but in fact the basis of it is American English and it’s not as useful as it might be.  But I’m glad that the #20BooksOfSummer project has made me pick it off the side-pile. The other is – still – Trollope’s “Dr. Thorne” which, again, I need to devote more chunks of time to. Work should ease off a bit very soon, then I can do that, I hope.

These books are numbers 15, 16 and 17 in #20BooksOfSummer – that’s not over until 4 September, so I’ll do a round-up then. I won’t finish it because one is a DNF and one is being held aside for a little while, but I’ve not done badly.

Sept 2015 coming upComing up are four light books for some travelling reading (seeing old friends, etc.) and Tracey Thorn’s book on singing, which I have to read and return to my friend Sian by the time the Birmingham Book Festival begins, so I’ll have to read that pretty sharpish. Also coming up is the first in the third Forsyte Saga trilogy – exciting!

So, what are your autumn reading plans? If you’re doing #20BooksOfSummer, how are you doing? Have you read any of these books?