The Great Iris Murdoch Readalong: How it will work and “Under the Net” #IMreadalong


Welcome to the Iris Murdoch Readalong. In this post I’m going to explain how things are (hopefully) going to work and then share a little information about the first read, “Under the Net”. Edited to add: I’ve created a page where I am going to link to all the posts for this project, by book title.

These are the covers of the four copies I have of “Under the Net” – the first edition (3rd impression), the Reprint Society edition, the Penguin and the newest Vintage. I’d love it if anyone blogging their reviews could include an image of the copy or copies they have.

How’s it all going to work?

We are going to read a book per month, and the schedule is here.

On the last day of each month I will post a reminder of the next book with a few details. I’ve decided to share the blurbs from all the books I have, to give people an idea of the book without any spoilers. Feel free to comment on this post with your intention to join in, whether you’re reading for the first time or re-reading, etc.

In the middle of the month, I will post my own review of the book. Use this post to share your reviews – if you’ve shared your review on your blog, please post a link in the comments, and if you don’t have a blog, Goodreads account, etc., then feel free to share your review in the comments (so I advise saving this post until you’ve read the book yourself). Whenever you read the book, feel free to pop back to this post to share your review.

At the end of the month, along with the reminder of next month’s book, I’ll pull together a list of all the reviews that have been shared and a summary of the comments. I will try to update this if you read the book later than its month, but can’t promise how much time I can spend doing that.

I’m particularly interested to hear what you think if you’re re-reading the book or if you’re reading it for the first time but you’ve read others of her books – do share those thoughts as well as a standard review. But of course, straight reviews coming to the book cold are also just fine!

“Under the Net”

“Under the Net” was Iris Murdoch’s first novel. Here are the blurbs from the four copies I have, which will give some kind of taster about the book.

I hope you can read those. It’s interesting that the latest one is so short, isn’t it.

Does this one tickle your fancy? Do you plan on reading it? Which edition do you own? Are you new to it or is it a re-read? I look forward to reading it with a few people and getting the project started!

Book review – Stuart Maconie – The Pie at Night plus MORE books in #amreading #books #bookconfessions #IMreadalong


I seem to have been talking about reading this one for absolutely ages, I’m not sure why it took me so long to read, apart from the fact that it’s got quite small print so had more text than I expected. Anyway, it’s done now, and was a good read, acquired via BookCrossing and going back on a shelf soon (note: I spent some time doing BookCrossing admin today, as I found I had five pages on the site of books marked Available which are clearly not in the house. Oops. Next step: registering and releasing some of the books I do have here). Read on for one book confession (which I’ve ALREADY READ) and some Iris Murdoch Readalong news.

Stuart Maconie – “The Pie at Night”

(BookCrossing, 28 January 2017)

Subtitled “What the North Does for Fun”, this is an affectionate look at leisure, as partaken in by the Northern (mainly) working classes, taking in the Midlands and upwards and starting and finishing in two of his favourite pubs. It has themed chapters which start with one on museums of working life and moves on through other more standard activities, along with potted histories of bank holidays, the rise of workers’ rights, etc. Mixed sports, football in its own chapter (including a section on a completely grass-roots, crowd-funded team called FC United of Manchester which was formed as a protest against the commercialisation of Manchester United), walking, art, music and food are main themes, and he meets a lot of interesting characters, noting these often include “the kind of bloke you find often in our urban working communities: genial, matey but with an edge that means you are never fully at ease in case the handshake turns into a headlock”.

I liked the list of things he doesn’t cover: “orienteering, amateur dramatics, go-karting, the growing of prize leeks, raffia work, home brewing, civil war re-enactment or the tango” although he also doesn’t cover running, in fact (which is a shame as the Great North Run is iconic and fell-running a well-known terrifying sport in the North). It’s a genial look around which highlights the cultural centres of Wakefield, Huddersfield, etc. and I loved the mention of Huddersfield’s contemporary music festival and the band Henry Cow: it’s amazing how topics I’ve worked on in my job do pop up in my reading now and again.

A decent read with a nice laugh and no sloppy sentimentality: I’m afraid I agree with Sian, who passed it to me, that it could have done with a final edit / proofread as there are some dodgy sentences or wordings which undermine it a bit.

I was sent Mary Beard’s “Women & Power: A Manifesto” to review for the lovely online book magazine Shiny New Books, and will link to my review when it’s published there. A good and powerful read which packs a lot into its 100-odd pages and would be a good Christmas present for the person in your life who’s interested in gender politics and power.

A quick reminder of my Iris Murdoch Readalong which starts on Wednesday 1 November with “Under the Net”. You can read about the project here and I will be doing a little post on Tuesday with information about the book and how I will be keeping up with the project on this blog. Exciting!

Another book haul but not another book review #amreading #books


I seem to be going into a bit of a book-buying frenzy this month – I already posted a haul a few days ago, and now here’s another. Yet not so many books actually READ. Hm. To be fair, I read 45% of a NetGalley book, “Undercover Princess” by Connie Glynn (she’s a vlogger and I’m not sure if she had help, but it was full of plot holes and oddities (not good ones) and let down the YA category, which I think should be held to the same general rules, principles and standards as standard literature) and I’m still ploughing my way through Stuart Maconie’s “The Pie at Night” which is good, but very detailed, and in REALLY SMALL PRINT. I’ve also started Robert Webb’s “How Not to be a Boy”, which I’m reading alongside Mr Liz – very good so far, taking you from giggles to tears in the turn of a paragraph. So it’s not like I’ve not been reading, I just haven’t finished anything for a few days.

I was running an errand in our local high street (dropping off foil blankets collected from running club folk and destined for refugees on Greek islands) when I popped into the local Oxfam Books and found these two lovelies.

“Land Where I Flee” by Prajwal Parajuly is about three cousins returning to Nepal for a family birthday: each has their own secrets, successes and failures and reasons for dreading the return, and each has to adjust to life back in their homeland after an expatriate existence.

Gurjinder Basran’s “Everything Was Good-Bye” is the story of an Indo-Canadian youngest daughter who dares to make her own way in the world; the culture clash is brought out of the homeland here, but is just as poignant. What a lovely pair of books, their covers go together beautifully, and I know someone who will be interested in both of these …

Robert Arthur – “The Mystery of the Silver Spider” – this was a very exciting third find in Oxfam after a quick look at the children’s books shelves.  Rather than Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys, I read the Three Investigators series as a child, featuring Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews, running an investigation bureau from a secret hide-out in a junk yard and thinly pinned to Alfred Hitchcock, who sets them on their way in the early books. I remembered Jupiter’s name and eventually tracked down the series; I have been collecting the books ever since and now have 25 of the 43 original books plus four of the later detective stories. There’s a wonderful website (looks a little retro; updated regularly) that collates all the covers and re-issues. I didn’t have the list I’ve now added to my wishlist on me, but took a risk and bought it – and it was one I didn’t already have! Hooray!

Lastly (for now), my lovely booky friend Cari, who often comments on here, and with whom I’ve been swapping books via BookCrossing for many years, highly recommended this one, “Run the World” by Becky Wade, which she was reading from the library. It’s about a woman’s long trip around the world learning about different running cultures, so a mix of travelogue and running book. As I primarily swap travel books with Cari and she’s recently got into running / running books, I took the recommendation seriously and ordered this. It looks really good, and it will be interesting to read a woman’s viewpoint on some of the cultures I’ve read about in other books.

That’s it for the time being, although I know there’s a parcel coming from Cari, and I also have Mary Beard’s “Women and Power: A Manifesto” coming my way to review for Shiny New Books. I’d better get reading, right?

Have you read any of these? Did you read the Three Investigators? Are you collecting anything you read in childhood in order to keep it close once again?

Book review – Georgette Heyer – “Snowdrift and other Stories” #books #amreading #Netgalley


I’m a big Georgette Heyer fan and have been ever since I read her pale green spined hardbacks from the school library in my early teens (anyone else remember those, enhanced by their clear, crackly library covers in my case?), I’ve read loads of her novels while I’ve had this blog (this gives you a search for all the mentions) and I’ve even read a biography of her. But it was only when She Reads Novels reviewed this volume herself that I realised Heyer had also written short stories! That’s such a pretty cover, isn’t it, by the way – I think I’m going to have to buy myself a paper copy of this.

So it turns out this is a re-issue of a volume titled “Pistols for Two” with the addition of some early stories that haven’t really been seen since they were originally published. I have to say that you can’t see a change in the quality between these very early ones and the later ones. Yes, there are repeats of themes, but it is – of course – an absolute delight, as enchanting as one of her large-eyed heroines, if you like this sort of thing (and yes, it can be considered genre, but it’s so well written and so well researched, with such high quality, NOT a guilty pleasure, just a simple pleasure).

The stories are of the same quality and tone as the novels, and each could be the kernel of a longer work – there’s perhaps just a little less detail and fewer set-pieces, as they’re harder to get across in the short story form. We have naughty heroines with mops of ringlets, unwilling elopers, steady soldiers with no fortune, grave governesses with large grey eyes (I love her governesses the best, I think), chaps who think they’re the Pink of the Ton, chaps who actually are, carriage crashes, unfortunate duels, races to Gretna Green, cross, forbidding guardians and cases of mistaken identity – all the elements you’d expect of a good Heyer. There are plenty of twists to give a satisfying read (although if you’re a Heyer fan, you’ll probably guess them: it doesn’t matter, though), and although there’s some pretty rapid falling in love, it’s usually in a context where a visit will be paid to Mama to ask if she will accept a courtship, so it doesn’t seem rushed for convenience’s sake.

There are darker themes, with one quite nasty gambling scene (only nasty in the Heyer scale!) and the story of a scary pub with a slightly alarming moleskin waistcoat, but they’re mainly light, sparkling and just what you’d hope for, not a dud among them. I particularly liked the generational mishaps in “A Husband for Fanny” but all are equally good value and highly readable.

Thank you to the publisher, Sourcebooks Casablanca, for making this available via NetGalley.

Book review – Allison Pearson – “How Hard Can it Be?” #netgalley #books #amreading


I must have read Pearson’s having-it-all novel, “I Don’t Know How She Does It” before I started this blog (originally on LiveJournal) as I can’t find a review of it on here. I remembered it as being light reading and mis-remembered it as including an actual affair, but I was intrigued enough to request this sequel from NetGalley when it came to my attention. In this novel, we meet Kate and her family a few years on, and it features all sorts of up-to-the-minute issues around social media, the sandwich generation and coping with ageing, just as of-its-time as the original.

We pick up with Kate Reddy as she’s 49, her husband has become one of those annoying cycling-obsessives who cares more about his bike and lycra than he does about his family, her son communicates more with his mates across the ether than with them, her daughter takes a ‘belfie’ and regrets it, and both sets of parents are ageing dramatically and heart-breakingly: she is thus part of the ‘sandwich generation’ caught between the needs of those above and below her in the family.

Quite a lot of the set pieces on not being able to cope with new technologies (I am a few years younger than the heroine and not so flummoxed, so this read a bit oddly to me), elderly parents and kids today felt a little  bit cliched, kind of making her the Tony Parsons / Angry Old Woman of commercial fiction. This might be a bit harsh, but I expected a little more subtlety. However, there are some brave and shocking parts to the book (the scene involving a sudden period is not for the faint-hearted but is unique as far as I know and probably entirely necessary [note: you can get a lovely mini-pill from the doctor that sorts out this kind of thing and she does discuss HRT, legal and shady]) and there are some really lovely turns of phrase, for example, when at a university reunion, they discover one old friend has had cancer: “Deb and I both reach out to her as if she, or we, were falling, and put our hands on her arms”. She is good in general on the nuances of female friendship.

There’s a cheeky nod to her first title at one point and fans will cheer when Kate appears to finally get what she’s wanted for some time, or gets one over on her very silly boss. And there’s a real crusading feeling about a) helping younger women not make the same mistakes and b) reflecting women’s experience of peri/menopause back to them in a work of commercial fiction for which real credit is due (she worked with a menopause expert and campaigner to get these details just right). The reader is one step ahead of the narrator at quite a few points in the book and this gives a satisfying read. Essential if you want to know what happened to the family from “I Don’t Know How She Does It”. And the animals are OK.

Thank you to HarperFiction for providing a review copy electronically for an honest review.

Book haul #amreading #books #bookconfessions #AusReadingMonth #IMReadalong


Yesterday I wasn’t happy with my book review and didn’t want to tag on fun-packed book haul stuff. So here’s what has arrived in Dexter Towers over the last week or so.

So, first off, we have Colleen McCullough’s “The Ladies of Missalonghi”. Look at its cute bookmark! I ordered this one second-hand because the lovely Brona’s Books is having an Australian Reading Month in November – I never seem to manage to join in with this, and Brona is going to take part in my Iris Murdoch challenge, so it seemed only fair to take part! It’s a slim volume and looks like a good read – I think a few of us will be reading it in the first week of the month.

Talking book challenges, I’ve ordered brand new copies of the first five books for my Iris Murdoch Readalong. I was a tiny bit disappointed to see that they’ve all been made out of the original text blocks, so they don’t match and some of the text is pretty small. But they do have lovely new cover illustrations (and, let’s face it, some over the years have been seriously odd: I’m going to want participants to share their cover art as we do each book!) and each has a new Introduction, something that’s missing from all of my original paperbacks.

Now for two that took a while to come.

I feel like I ordered this AGES ago. “What Editors Do: The Art, Craft and Business of Book Editing” edited by Peter Ginna would be an interesting read anyway. But there’s a chapter by my edibuddy Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, so how could I not buy? Except it’s published in the US, they’ve all had their copies forever, and Amazon kept sending me upset little emails saying it was having trouble ordering it until they all of a sudden produced it and gave it to my next-door neighbour while I was otherwise engaged running a marathon!

I won “Running the Smoke: 26 First-Hand Accounts of Tackling the London Marathon” by Michael McEwan in a Runners’ Bookshelf Facebook group I’m in, quite a while ago. Now, I’m not one to complain about competitions being run slowly, because it took me an age to sort out the one I ran recently, not to mention some BookRings for BookCrossing. It could have been bad timing that it arrived two days after my own (second) marathon, but I’m all enthused and ready for the next one (Manchester, in April) so it’ll be a nice inter-marathon read. And the author signed it, which is nice.

A few naughties crept onto my Kindle via NetGalley when I was away, too. It’s when they send you those emails!

Debbie Macomber – “An Engagement in Seattle” – I can’t resist her, basically. Published 26 Dec 2017.

P.Z Reizin – “Happiness for Humans” – a woman with an AI assistant find it’s giving her tips on finding a man. I’m always interested in how novels absorb new world events and technologies: is this the first “Alexa” novel? Published 04 Jan 2018 and there’s a reviewing embargo until 2 weeks before the publishing date.

A.J. Pearce – “Dear Mrs Bird” – set in 1940, Emmy answers an advert to become assistant to an agony aunt as bombs rain down in London and kindness is needed. Looked cute. Published 05 Apr 2018.

Georgette Heyer – “Snowdrift and other Stories” – short stories by Heyer? I  had no idea until I read about it on She Reads Novels‘ blog, and I just had to seek out and request it. Published 03 Oct 2017 and next to read, I just can’t wait!

Fortunately, because of my great swathe of reading done while resting up before the marathon, my TBR shelf is looking pretty much the same as it was at the start of the month. Oh, and the Murdochs and MacCullough haven’t gone on the actual shelf as they will be read out of order.

Have you read or acquired any of these? How is YOUR TBR looking?

Book review – Lynsey Hanley – “Respectable” and many book confessions


I’m not sure how, but books have been flooding into the house. Well, some of them are for Reasons, one is for a challenge and two are slight blasts from the past. A book review first, though, which I’ve kind of been putting off because I’ve found it quite hard to review. You know when a book is quite challenging, and then also you’re part of the problem it’s writing about, and you feel like in writing about it, you’ll display all your privileges and be even more part of the problem? That. I’ll give it a go, though.

Lynsey Hanley – “Respectable: The Experience of Class”

(21 January 2017, from Sian)

I have to say, Sian does choose a good book from my (extensive) wish list!

Like her writing and sociology hero, Richard Hoggart, Lynsey Hanley mines both her own lived experience and research by others to investigate the class system in the UK, and specifically social mobility from the working class to the middle class, the path she herself has taken.

As a solidly middle-class person, it opened my eyes to my own privileges: that however poor I’ve been, and I’ve been pretty poor, working in a low-status job on a zero-hours contract, I have always still felt confident to access – or reject – both high and low culture, to use my library, to go to art galleries and listen to classical CDs as well as going to gigs, to read the Guardian and understand its talking to me, with few complications. As she says, you can’t really fall down out of the middle-class, however much you either think or fear you can. She does also make the point that middle-class people are as stuck as others and have disadvantages too, and I can honestly say that I don’t think I’ve tried to maintain the class system, certainly not to promote the leadership of the country by the aristocracy, but I probably have been well-meaning, blundering and patronising, and if I’ve done that to any working class-identifying people, I’m sorry.

The author lays out how the working class – often now referred to at least in part as the underclass in order to keep them down and despised – is trapped by poor investment and a lack of larger-picture thinking, so that there’s a mismatch between god social housing and jobs, for example. Her discussions with an old middle-class friend, met at sixth form college, are poignant, and her explanations of why and how people get trapped and seem not to care or to want to free themselves compelling and upsetting.

The only problem really here is that I can’t see what can be done about this, so it’s a dispiriting read: in “bettering” herself, Hanley has left herself poised in a terrible balance, never able to go back home, but also feeling like an imposter in her new class. It seems so eternal and damning, and that’s fine, maybe it is. Maybe I got so depressed reading it that I missed the solutions, however I am now more aware of what is being manipulated in the media, and why some people act the way I do. I hope I always had compassion, and I’m not one of the patronising throng!

An interesting read that I’m glad I tackled, and I don’t feel I’ve done it justice here unfortunately.

I feel like this isn’t a good review and I might even delete it, so I’m going to save the pretty books for tomorrow, as it seems trite to display my conspicuous consumption here, as well. I’ve read Allison Pearson’s new novel now, too: backlog time!

Older Entries