Book Reviews – You Can’t Say That and Is That A Fish in Your Ear?


Feb 2016 TBRWe have An Experiment today. I was planning on coming up to the desk and typing out the thoughts I’d already written down in my reading journal about these two books. It was also in my mind that I’d mentioned my reading journal in a comment on someone else’s blog post, and it might be nice to share it. So, here’s the experiment – instead of typing it all out again, I’ve photographed my reading journal pages for the two books I’m reviewing here.

Please, please let me know what you think and if you like or dislike it. For these two, you need to know that “ing” = “interesting” – if this is a success, I will endeavour to write with fewer contractions. And if you have any kind of accessibility issue such as visual impairment, please let me know right away if this is not good for you and I’ll type them out and revert back to standard. Here goes, though … “bear with, bear with” as they said on the local radio station the other day.

Ken Livingstone – “You Can’t Say That”

(Bought The Works, 08 January 2015)

Ken Livingstone "You Can't Say That"

This book would suit: Well, I’m a lefty politics memoir reading history fan and I found it tough going for much of the first half … um …

David Bellos – “Is that a Fish in Your Ear?”

(21 January 2015 – birthday present)

David Bellos - "Is that a Fish in your Ear?"

This book would suit: Translators and other wordy people (in fact, so suitable for translators that the ones I offered it to already had it on loan from someone else!).

I’m currently still reading and loving Harold Nicolson’s Diaries and Letters, and I’ve started “To the Lighthouse” for #Woolfalong, although the review of that one will be next month!

Do let me know what you think of the new (lazy) format!

Edited to add black and white, higher contrast image to see if that’s better for VI people and accessibility.

2016 02 29 Fish bw

Book review – Honeycomb (Virago) plus an acquisition and exciting re-issue news!


Dorothy Richardson - PilgrimageOh dear – I haven’t done any reviewing for AGES! Today I’m just doing a quick one, but I have FINISHED KEN LIVINGSTONE at last (I note I was reading him at Christmas-time!) and he’ll be up next on the roster.  I’m currently reading and very much loving the first volume of Harold Nicolson’s Letters and Diaries, beautifully edited by his son Nigel – I can’t wait to share these with you, and I’m so pleased I found two of the volumes on a wander around Macclesfield. I’m also reading another Virago, “The Fly on the Wheel” by Katherine Cecil Thurston, set in Waterford and looking at what happens when forbidden love enters a quiet community. I will get on to “To the Lighthouse” for #Woolfalong before the end of the month, too, I promise.

Dorothy Richardson – “Honeycomb” (Virago)

The third book in the “Pilgrimage” series and with it we end that first (battered) volume. In this fairly short work, Miriam has accepted a job as governess at a big posh house, and initially revels in her luxurious surroundings, but then starts to look closely at her employers and their children, her role in their lives and her inability to be what they seem to want. She also falls into an odd position in the household, included in weekend house parties but viewing them as – yet again – somewhat of an outsider.

The worldly Bob is writing to her from London and she muses on marriage, considering it’s not for her even as two of her sisters are getting married – the description of their double wedding is a tour de force in the book.

There’s some form of dislocation, and as usually happens in these books, it seems, we’re  not sure what’s happened. All of a sudden, Miriam is trapped in a seaside resort with her mother, who is suffering from some sort of nervous collapse. Different people must be consulted, and Miriam is told things are more serious than she thought. We’re left undecided as to what’s going to happen at the end of the book – where are those “boys” who have entered the family and are meant to be sorting things out?

This feels like an interstitial book and a betweeny bit of life after the promise of the big house. Will Miriam get trapped into caring for her mother, or will she escape and be odd and free? As I’ve not read the other volumes in the series, I have no idea – but I’m looking forward to finding out!

Note: this fills in 1917 in my Century of Books!

Exciting re-issues!

Ali over at Heaven-Ali has been working really hard to raise awareness of author Mary Hocking, a quietly excellent mid-century writer, and her work and the support of other readers and bloggers has come to fruition TODAY, as Bello Books start to reissue Mary Hocking’s novels in e and paperback versions. And then I was thrilled to read on the lovely Jane of Beyond Eden Rock’s blog that Open Road Media are reissuing several of Margery Sharp’s books – ebooks at first but let’s hope for paperbacks there, too. Jane has hosted reading weeks for Sharp, and I know she’s very excited about this development, coming a little later in the year.

One acquisition (aren’t I good) and I’m not going to put a pic of it up because it made everyone’s eyes go funny scrolling past it on Facebook, but Bob Stanley’s history of pop music, “Yeah Yeah Yeah” leapt out at me in Oxfam Books the other day, and it’s been on my wishlist for ages, so it would have been rude not to …

Book reviews – Crossriggs (Virago) and Tales of the Chalet School (Jan and Feb reads)


Feb 2016 TBRTwo sets of rather contrasting books today – and also two from last month and two from this. The Elinor M. Brent-Dyers are as you would expect rather conventional underneath the madcap heroines and female resourcefulness; the Findlater is remarkable for its freedom of emotion and its steadfast heroine. All to be enjoyed for different reasons, of course!

Jane and Mary Findlater – “Crossriggs”

(22 January 2015 – from fellow LibraryThing Virago Group member ccookie)

A wonderful 1908 novel by the prolific (but as yet unread by me) Scottish sisters and in a lovely Virago green edition that came to me kind of by accident when a fellow Virago Group member sent a copy to me to give to a friend, who had managed to acquire one from somewhere else. I’m so glad it came to me and that I’ve read it – and I know at least one other book blogger chum is planning to read it, too.

It’s set in a small Scottish town an hour by train and a huge distance in the residents’ heads from Edinburgh, this novel is reminiscent of both Trollope (with its small group of families of varying economic statuses) and Jane Austen (quite purposefully, with its pair of sisters, silly ladies, a few good families making up society and pivotal quote from “Emma”). We meet the rather wonderful Alex, daughter of an impractical dreamer and sister of a woman with no imagination, who returns from Canada, widowed and poor, with her children at the start of the book. The seemingly imperturbable Robert Maitland, his withdrawn wife and his spiky aunt, the young radical Van Cassilis, returned to live with his grumpy, blind grandfather after the death of his father, contrasted with the silly, jangling and no longer young Bessie Reid make up the town’s society.

There are undercurrents and things we are not told but gradually have revealed to us over the course of the novel through looks, almost touches, blushes and memories; there are unspoken and unsuitable loves, spoken and suitable loves, sudden romances, tragedy and comedy. All of these aspects, mixed with lovely descriptions of the countryside and rare excursions to the big city, where anyone can be encountered on the train and triumph can turn to humiliation and vice versa, are precipitated by those returning to or coming to Crossriggs for the first time, to be assimilated or spat out and rejected.

Alex is a delicious character, fully rounded, spiteful and too quick to speak her mind – the introduction claims that her authors love her too much, and perhaps they do, but she’s drawn so beautifully. Her views on marriage, preferring no marriage and dreams to settling, are refreshing, and she’s a character I will remember.

This book will suit: Lovers of Austen, Trollope and the Viragoes and Persephones about the Modern Woman, for here she is, cooped up in a small town, unable to spread her wings far, as her sisters do in other books.

Elinor M. Brent-Dyer – “The School at the Chalet”, “Jo of the Chalet School” and “The Princess of the Chalet School”

(18 May 2015 – charity shop)

I will admit to taking this substantial volume off the shelf in order to get some more space going on the TBR …

I can’t understand how I’ve never read these before, and they provided a rather odd contrast with the Dorothy Richardson novels I read in December and January, also set in schools and written at almost the same time.

“The School at the Chalet” covers the idea for and setting up of the Chalet School in the Austrian mountains, and there is of course the usual stuff that happens in school stories, so in both this one  and “Jo of the Chalet School” we have people cheeking the prefects, noble friendships, getting stuck on mountains, coming home with dangerous temperatures and being kept in bed, etc. It’s all very gendered and pretty conservative behind the resourceful women teachers and capable girls and schoolgirls sorting matters out between themselves, with at least one occasion in each book where a man is needed to sort things out. But they are fresh and lively, with realistic characters and nice families of the Austrian schoolgirls, even though they were a bit unremitting in terms of exciting events rather than character development (I have to remember who they were written for, though!).

“The Princess of the Chalet School” was a bit disappointing, although it does cover Jo’s development as a writer, deals in a tongue in cheek way with other school stories, and examines how to deal with a thoroughly unpleasant character. The storyline of a princess from a made-up country joining the school was a bit silly, and the explanation of the Evil Uncle rather un-PC, and the side story of Madge the headmistress getting married and thus having to give up running the school, although Of Its Time etc., was a bit annoying. It also seemed to have jumped forward in time, missing out some people leaving. Enough Chalet School for me, I think, although I did enjoy these.

This book will suit: fans of 1920s school stories.

“Jo of the Chalet School” fills in 1926 in my Century of Reading.

In other news …

The lovely magazine full of tempting book reviews, Shiny New Books 8 is out and I have a review in the non-fiction section (although it’s a version of one that’s already appeared here, but zhuzed up a bit). I’m going to be reviewing D. J. Taylor’s “The Prose Factory” for the next edition, which I’m really excited about, especially because Iris Murdoch appears in the index a few times.

In other acquisition news, the eagle-eyed among you might have spotted that I have Harold Nicolson’s Letters and Diaries Vols 1 and 3, but not Vol 2, covering 1939-45 – as those are coming up on the TBR now (and will be my dinner table read once Our Ken is done), I did the decent thing and ordered a copy.

In Our Ken [Livingstone] news, well, the book has only gone and got FASCINATING about half-way through! He’s an MP now, and Tony Blair has just come into power and it’s great, read-out-loud bits and everything. So I’m glad I persisted.

And finally …

I was chatting with the lovely author Paul Magrs on Facebook, mentioning that I read his first novel, “Marked for Life” first 20 years ago, and the fact that he’s one of the three authors I’ve ever written to. Who were the others? Erica Jong and Iris Murdoch. What a triumvirate (I wrote to Paul when I found he’d mentioned BookCrossing in his lovely and highly recommended novel “Exchange”. I wrote to the others aged 16 for tips on Being A Writer).

Have you ever written to an author?

PS. I’ve just remembered I’ve also written to Adam Nicolson. So that’s four.

State of the TBR – February 2016


Feb 2016 TBROh dear, I’ve been slipping behind terribly with my blog posts (I’ll be sitting downstairs while some people replace the window in my study tomorrow, so expect the odd Like and comment if you’re a fellow blogger, but I’ll have to skip some of them) and now here I am, having posted a State of the TBR every first of the month for a couple of years, getting in just under the wire.

Feb 2016 confessionsAnd as you can see the TBR is still two deep all the way along, but there’s nothing horizontal on the back row, so I must be doing something right. It’s actually grown by two, which I picked up at the BookCrossing meetup in January. I’ve wanted to read “Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris” for ages (and I suspect it might cover a year in my Century of Reading) and the David Mitchell was recommended by a friend, who suggested one read it in the author’s voice (in your head).

Feb 2016 currently readingI did read thirteen books in January (although some were from the Other Piles and the Kindle) so I think I’m allowed to acquire two …

As well as the interminable Ken Livingstone autobiography (if he’d not tried to write a history of all history and minute every meeting he went to, it might have been a little more entertaining, but I Struggle On), I’ve been reading the first three Chalet School books and have just started the rather wonderful “Crossriggs”, which I already don’t want to end. A good small town tale with lovely heroines and a satisfying portrayal of society. Next up will be “To the Lighthouse” – I rather liked these two somewhat pensive women on the covers. That’s for Ali’s WoolfAlong, and of course I’ll have the next volume of Dorothy Richardson, too. Hooray!

Feb 2016 coming upAfter those, this is the first chunk of the TBR – a nice but dense book about translating, a slightly scary book about Iris Murdoch, another Virago (should I save them for All Virago, All August? Um … no), a book about letters, a lovely Mitford sister, and a Michael Cunningham. I might pull out Charlie Hill’s “Books” which comes quite a lot further on, as I gave a copy to a friend for Christmas and I’d rather like to read it alongside her.

Have you read any of these? Did you have a good reading January? And how is your TBR? Hope to visit some of you on your blogs again soon, too!