#20 Books of Summer book reviews – The Draining Lake and The Honey Queen, a DNF

12 Comments

20 books of summer 2016

20 books of summer 2016

Two easy books today, but at least they’re numbers 5 and 6 in my #20BooksofSummer challenge. I read the Indriðason a little while ago, before the Dorothy Richardson I reviewed last, then I’ve been wading (happily) through the Kynaston volume and (unhappily) through the Rushdie before enjoying Cathy Kelly’s novel and now another very light read, . I don’t want to get into a political discussion AT ALL, but I have been a bit knocked, not by the result so much as the hatred and overt racism and xenophobia that’s been going on. It’s made me want to shut out the world, but also when I get low, I lose my ability to read anything more than fluff.

Anyway, I need to shake myself out of this, because I have two ‘proper’ books to read and review for Shiny New Books next month!

Arnaldur Indriðason – “The Draining Lake”

(22 August 2015)

A lake is mysteriously draining and drying up, and the scientist measuring it discovers a skeleton, which turns out to be weighed down by an odd, old radio transmitter. We travel back to post-war Eastern Europe and the role Iceland played in the Cold War, especially its communist and socialist students, some of whom are still around, even if their principles were somewhat knocked out of them during their sponsored studies in Leipzig (I’m going to assume this history lesson is true, as it would be really odd otherwise). It was fascinating to read about this aspect of Iceland’s history and made for a satisfying plot.

Meanwhile, Erlendur is losing the will to keep trying to save his daughter from her issues with drugs. She’s in trouble again for attacking Sigurdur Oli in an event which fell between the last book and this one (adding to the realism of the books – life goes on between the big cases), and Erlendur is also trying to handle his son and his burgeoning but troubled relationship. Sigurdur Oli is as acerbic as ever and Elinborg has written a cookbook which provides a counterpoint to the dark events explored in the book (not too dark for me, as usual, though!). Another great translation by Bernard Scudder which really captures the laconic flavour of Icelandic writing.

This was Book 5 of my #20BooksofSummer

Cathy Kelly – “The Honey Queen”

(22 August 2015)

A worthy successor to Maeve Binchy indeed – with a comment from Marian Keyes on the front, Kelly definitely mines the same age groups and social mixes as Maeve, and does so successfully. This tale of a run-down suburb of Dublin and three sets of people living there could almost have been written by her, and the plot device of the stranger from abroad who sorts everything out is one that Maeve used at least once.

Anyway, it’s a nice story of Frankie, her husband made redundant, struggling with empty nest syndrome and an awful house they can’t afford, Peggy with the dark secret she hoped to leave behind when she opened a knitting shop and finally settled down; and the Byrnes, with their own troubles and black sheep and drama looming over a family wedding. They all cross paths and intersect and there are some lovely voices and characters in the book. I felt a bit distanced from it, but it’s perfectly readable and well-done, although the bee stuff seemed a bit bolted-on in a way.

This was Book 6 of my #20BooksofSummer

Salman Rushdie – “Two Years … etc.” (DNF)

(bought May 2016)

I loved a couple of Rushdie’s earlier books but this one was both turgid / hard to read and cold and boastful. It just seemed to be fancy and flighty for the sake of it, with no real human warmth at the centre, and to be settling scores with what were probably thinly disguised versions of his enemies. I gave up at about p. 100, Mr Liz with five hours to go on the tape.

I swapped this for a Robertson Davies for the summer challenge – more info on that here.

As well as the David Kynaston, which I’ve stalled on slightly, I’m reading “The Inn at Eagle Point” by Sherryl Woods at the moment, which is very light, but a nice novel about a small seaside community. I’ve also read the front, map legend and a whole paragraph of my book on Icelandic volcanoes, so that’s Book 7 and Book 20 on the go!

I’m not sure what’s next, but tomorrow is TBR Report Day so I’ll probably have a poke around and see what I fancy then. How’s everyone else doing? Reading OK? Getting on with projects?

#20booksofsummer update – swapsies!

18 Comments

20 books of summer 2016

20 books of summer 2016

As predicted, my reading has slowed dramatically since mid-last week as I had a massive (but fun and exciting) work project to do. I’m also working my way through that giant hardback you can see near the bottom of the pile (David Kynaston’s “Modernity Britain”) which is brilliant, but is taking me a while.

I started reading Salman Rushdie’s “Two Years, etc.” and I think I got a fair way through it, but you know what? I just don’t like it. Mr Liz has been listening to the audio book, which doesn’t have the best narrator, apparently, and is also not hugely keen. I know one of my fellow book bloggers has loved it and one has returned the audio book, so it’s obviously one that divides people.

So, I am putting that one to one side, and that means I have space to add another one at the end! I have had a look at the TBR and I’m going to include Robertson Davies’ “A Mixture of Frailties”, which is the final book in his Salterton Trilogy which has been sitting on my bedside table since I read the second volume, about a year ago.

I’ve also decided to swap 150 pages of Icelandic Bible stories for 50 pages of Icelandic text about volcanoes, as what I hope is a more achievable objective there.

20 books swaps

So, some swapsies, Book 5 read but not yet reviewed, and Book 6 being read at present – not too bad, really. How are you all doing? I have to admit I have fallen behind with my blog reading, too …

Book reviews – #Woolfalong Mrs Dalloway’s Party, Kew Gardens and Revolving Lights

11 Comments

June 2016 TBRA non-#20BooksofSummer review today and one I’ve been a bit delayed on by work things. I am still reading, don’t worry! More on current reading later. Here, I complete the #Woolfalong challenge for May and June (all caught up again!) and complete the seventh volume of Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” (over half way!) so a nice achievement and they seemed to go together in a modernist / stream of consciousness way, so I saved up the short stories to review, having read them right at the start of the month.

Virginia Woolf – “Mrs Dalloway’s Party” and “Kew Gardens”

(16 May 2015 and May 2015)

I’m reviewing these short stories together, as “Kew Gardens” is a single story, published on its own in a slim and beautiful volume by Kew Gardens publishing, with lovely illustrations and the text on only one side of the page.

“Mrs Dalloway’s Party” is a set of short stories taking in before and after the famous party in a VERY slim volume. It was pulled together by Stella McNichol, who drew the stories into their current order and provides an interesting Introduction (to be read last, of course). The stories are highly perceptive of the currents and undercurrents that arise through intersections of similar and different people at parties, and you do get a strong sense of Woolf herself sitting on a sofa, perhaps, and observing, observing, observing, perceiving what is unsaid as well as what is said.

We have the “paralysing blankness of feeling” when the conversation stutters and you end up staring at the furniture. The description of Sasha Latham walking like a stag through the garden “as if she had been some wild but perfectly controlled creature taking its pleasure by night” is the stand-out passage for me, but misunderstandings, clashes of personality and feeling are all there, and it’s an excellent companion to the novel itself.

“Kew Gardens”, which I won in Ali’s giveaway (thank you, again!) is a garden’s eye view of people passing a flowerbed, all just as (un)important as the snail which is attempting to climb along a leaf. People hint of past visits, past loves, and the gardens go on timelessly. The lovely illustrations in this edition really complement the text, and it’s a very pleasant exercise in writing that gives a lovely little reading experience.

These books count for the May/June section of Heaven-Ali’s #Woolfalong.

Dorothy Richardson – “Revolving Lights”

(October 2015 – from Julie)

Similar in tone and subject to “Deadlock” (and with a less off-putting title, it has to be said!), volume 7 of “Pilgrimage” centres on Miriam’s life in London (complete with nice long walks, my favourite part of the books) and her relationship with Michael Shatov, which has reached that point where both parties want different things, as was inevitably going to happen.

Miriam ponders the differences between men and women – are those differences natural or caused by society and what can we do about it? – and also thinks about and experiences different aspects of religion. This part seemed a little forced to me, although I suppose she is exploring her identity and the underpinnings of her tenets in life. There’s lots of talk of ‘Jewesses’ which reads, both in that word and the discussions, a little jarringly nowadays, and she attends a Quaker meeting, remaining unconvinced, as all she sees there is men and their egos (a strong example of our seeing through Miriam’s eyes and filters). Add to this a distaste for children and realisation of what marriage and family would entail, and you have a young woman mulling over her future and making some decisions – but risking perhaps becoming inflexible and set in her ways.

Miriam is apparently doing some writing for Hypo (criticism not creative writing, as it’s made clear that she’s one of life’s synthesisers and editors (hooray!)) and spends a holiday at his and Alma’s house, which promises to be marvellous, but is rather spoilt by meeting the dreadful novelist, Edna Prout, who is writing a roman a clef. Richardson/Miriam pours scorn on this, surely making this a portrait of someone, thus a roman a clef, but never mind! I did feel that Miss Prout was also a warning of what Miriam could become (see end of last paragraph). She helps Hypo mysteriously to stave off an affair (presumably a romantic one) but this area becomes murky and vaguely worrying.

Not as engaging as the last volume, but I want to read on. I note the next one is really short, and that will be the end of the overarching Volume 3 of 4!

I’ve read Book 5 in #20BooksofSummer but am waiting for something to review it with. I’m currently wading around in Kynaston’s “Modernity Britain”, wallowing in diary entries by the famous to the Mass Observers, with social and economic / political history pulled together seamlessly. Lovely, although a Very Large Volume. I’ve also started Rushdie’s “Two Years …” but haven’t got very far yet (Mr Liz is further on than me with his audiobook reading – oops). At the moment it seems a bit difficult to get into, but I need to give it some time, I think, as I have loved several of his other books.

What are you reading RIGHT NOW? How are your reading challenges going, if you’re doing any?

#20BooksOfSummer Book reviews – Swim Bike Run and All Day Long

16 Comments

20 books of summer 2016

20 books of summer 2016

Two reviews today which go together in the sense that all the first two chaps do all day long IS swim, bike and run! I’m steaming ahead with my #20BooksofSummer reading and really enjoying everything I’ve gone for so far – I must have made good choices! I see I’m working my way up the pile to the left from bottom to top: not sure what that says about my book-pile-making abilities, but there you go.

I’m steaming through these because I know I’ve got a) a big work booking coming up at the end of next week and b) I should have at least one book outside the project to review for the lovely Shiny New Books. I’m taking advantage of the slower work days and lack of review copies to read when and where I can. Yesterday, a heavy shower and more importantly a thunderstorm sent me downstairs with the current read as I get twitchy about my computer in storms, even with surge protection, etc.

Anyway, on to the reviews …

Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee – “Swim Bike Run”

(2 June 2015)

It was nice to see an acknowlegement of the brothers’ ghostwriter for this book, something I always look out for now with sports and celebrity ‘autobiographies’, having worked for a while with some lovely ghostwriters.

This joint autobiography of older brother Alistair, driven, hard and a bad time-keeper and younger, routine-obsessed Jonathan, always striving to catch up, is really well done, with alternating short sections from both, apart from in one chapter where they talk at length about each other. There are also interesting short sections on their cycling, swimming and running training, which I must say differ from other guides I’ve read and work I’ve seen people do, and would not necessarily be recommended for the novice triathlete. Basically, they train all the time, it’s just what they do. They’re out on the hills on their bikes, doing swimming sessions, running in the same pattern they developed when they were at school. They don’t seem to taper (when you cut down on exercise sessions before a big race to conserve energy) and they exist on pies and chips (which is great, no problem with that in principle: most of my running training is supported by the good old hot cross bun).

Alistair is less centred and careful and gets injured more, seeing that as part of the process. I took a good mantra on injury from him, which is helping me cope with being less prepared than I’d want to be for my big run, having had an accident at Easter and only now being back at the same stage: “I’ve done everything I can, considering I was injured”. I’m going to add that to Murakami’s “I am a machine” for chanting (silently) as I run.

It’s quite startlingly acerbic – OK, rude – in places as the lads talk about each other’s failings, and you do wonder just how supportive their relationship is. But it’s a good read, and the parts describing the detail of their London 2012 Olympic triathlon were moving. A good book to read in the run-up to Rio 2016!

This was Book Number 3 in my #20BooksofSummer project

This book will suit … people who like sports biographies; people who like triathlons as long as they’re prepared to take the training advice with a pinch of salt and remember they’re human beings.

Joanna Biggs – “All Day Long: A Portrait of Britain at Work”

(From Ali (her review) June 2015)

A fascinating set of interviews with workers – paid and otherwise – around Britain. You can’t go wrong with a book that mentions gypsy tart on the first page (this is a special Kentish pudding that no one outside the county has ever heard of; the introduction is set in a charity shop in Dover). The scene is set, the limitations of having to chose just a few jobs from the hundreds there are, and the fact that many of the interviews failed are covered, and then we’re off through various people’s authentic voices, from a sex worker to a stay-at-home mum, an Irish fishmonger to a Scottish crofter and all points between, including all sorts of people, born here, moved here, different ethnicities, ages and genders.

Although the interviewees were picked fairly randomly and through chance encounters and links, parallels do appear, and are pleasing: the crofter who keeps himself going by doing several different jobs and the member of the landed gentry who constantly diversifies; the ballet shoe maker and the ballerina who will only use shoes made by a certain maker.

It’s all cleverly pulled together in the final chapter about school children’s aspirations, and its’ a great portraits of work traditions and ‘innovations’ (from workfare to warnings for not smiling), and the ways in which people pull together to help and support each other, whether that’s the prostitutes’ union or the cleaners and interns who work against unfair practices. Fascinating and detailed and really honours and respects all of the interviewees, whatever their differences. I wish I’d been the transcriber for this book!

This was Book Number 4 in my #20BooksofSummer project

This book would suit … Anyone who likes a bit of social history / oral history or is interested in the modern way of life in the UK. This could have been paired with David Kynaston’s book but I won’t have finished that one for a while!

20booksofsummer2016I’ve been on a roll and have actually completed the Arnaldur Indriðason that will be Book Number 5 – that’s down to the thunderstorm yesterday! I’m also reading the marvellous Kynaston tome and am up to about February 1958 in that marvellous mix of social and political, oral and economic history from so many different sources. And I took a little time out of the Project to start the next Dorothy Richardson, as I didn’t want to leave her behind to languish. Not the best, not the worst volume so far.

How are you doing with your reading challenges? Have you read any of these? Are they weird choices? (I didn’t get many comments on my last update so I’m wondering if my new blog readers are flummoxed by my obsession with non-fiction …)

#20booksofsummer book reviews – Books and Alphabetical

6 Comments

June 2016 TBRTwo books, one about books, one about the alphabet – you can’t get more booky or a more appropriate start for me for my #20BooksofSummer project, can you? I greatly enjoyed both of these, plunging in as soon as June started (I’ve actually finished another book, too, already this month) and reading one upstairs and one downstairs as I do. So here goes with Book 1 and Book 2 of the challenge.

Charlie Hill – “Books”

(acquired via BookCrossing 24 May 2015)

A hilarious – I did actually laugh out loud and read a bit out to Mr Liz – satire on the publishing and writing industry. Set pleasingly in Birmingham (I know at least three people who know the author, although I seem to have managed never to have met him), the south of the city is portrayed just as well as in his earlier “The Space Between Us“. Professionally sourly angry independent bookshop owner Richard Anger and buttoned-up neurologist Lauren Furrows team up to investigate the mysterious deaths of people reading the mediocre novels of sub-Nick Hornby (he carefully states) lad lit author Gary Sayles, the empty figure at the heart of the novel. Meanwhile, a contemporary art duo who are just as heavily satirised (there are many targets in this book) have selected Gary for their latest installation and project, which will apparently change the face of art forever.

Will the coming set piece at a launch with a difference cause murder and mayhem? Who is going to end up using whom? Will Lauren ever relax and sink into the world of literature? Will Richard stop writing work at the other end of the spectrum – the unreadable end?

There’s a lot of bile and vitriol packed in here, and some serious score-settling, but it’s well done and very good fun.

This was Book Number 1 in my #20BooksOfSummer project

This book would suit … lovers of Birmingham, lovers of literature, lovers of satire on modern life with an open mind as there is a fair amount of swearing and deviance and a bit of violence.

Michael Rosen – “Alphabetical”

(2 April 2015 – Fopp in London)

A history of the alphabet which tracks the progress of the letter shape, name and sound and some random facts and fun for each letter of the alphabet, and then adds an essay on something inspired by the letter, whether that’s acronyms under L for LSD or created languages under K for Korean. The piece of disappeared letters was the best, I think, and I liked Rosen’s relaxed writing style and acceptance of difference and language change, as well as his autobiographical asides.

But it does feel a bit disparate – more so than David Sacks’ book on the same topic from 2003 (which is, thankfully, mentioned in the bibliography). It could have done with illustrations of the letter shape changes and the tenses of the pieces about their history were weirdly all over the place. An entertaining and warm book.

The book’s main useful, practical point for me was to teach me “Righty tighty / Lefty loosey” which aided me greatly when sorting out something on the lawnmower today.

This was Book Number 2 in my #20BooksOfSummer project

This book would suit … Michael Rosen fans, alphabet and essay lovers

I’ve currently started the David Kynaston social history of 1957-62 – hooray – and am still reading about people’s working days. Fun times! How are others getting on with the project?

State of the TBR June 2016 and start of #20booksofsummer

12 Comments

June 2016 TBRIt’s been a bit of a blogapalooza on here recently – this is the last post for a bit as I’m all caught up with my pre-June reading and reviewing (that’s not entirely true, actually) and will have to get some more reading done now before I post again!

Here’s the TBR in all its glory, looking very svelte and empty indeed. I think the only one I added this month was the Salman Rushdie that’s on the top of the Pile, waiting for Mr Liz to start reading it on audio book (he’s still enjoying “Flight Behaviour” at the moment). I’m pleased that after months of horrendousness, I am reading more than I’m acquiring at the moment. I did entertain wild thoughts of getting it down to Zero TBR and just reading books as I acquired them, but that’s a bit scary. Anyway, the front shelf ends at Flintoff and that’s a big gain for me!

TBR June 2016

I’ve just snuck in two books of Virginia Woolf short stories for #Woolfalong, which took me through the strangely bookless gap after I finished “Night and Day” yesterday, and then this morning, it was time to start the books I’d been itching to start for #20BooksOfSummer – it’s amazing how much you want to read what you can’t read yet, isn’t it! So, there’s a book about the alphabet by Michael Rosen, which is my dinner table / downstairs read, and Charlie Hill’s satire on the book industry, “Books” for my upstairs and handbag read, both now started (if you look closely, you can see the bookmarks) and both very good so far.

June 2016 coming upI’ve fulfilled my Woolf requirements for the month, so there will be just one Dorothy Richardson volume coming up outside of these (and some from the Pile, maybe) so a nice collection of fiction , non-fiction and social history, with the Kynaston obviously having to wait for me to finish the Rosen so it can be my Downstairs book for a while.

Are you doing #20BooksOfSummer and if so, have you started yet? What’s your first one? And where IS the summer?? It’s freezing, grey and rainy here …