Book review Chetan Bhagat – “Two States: The Story of my Marriage” @chetan_bhagat

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Here I’m picking off a more recent acquisition from the TBR (although I’ve realised this is outside my “get my TBR read” challenge as I bought it this year, oops) as I couldn’t wait to read it. I read Bhagat’s “One Night @ The Call Centre” back in 2006 (Matthew read it, too) and absolutely loved it, but hadn’t seen his books here in the UK – I did manage to buy a load of them in a Kindle sale a year or two ago but I was thrilled to find this copy in a local charity shop, published in India and somehow arriving in South Birmingham.

Chetan Bhagat – “Two States: The Story of my Marriage”

(03 January 2020, Oxfam charity shop)

I like a culture clash novel very much, usually the clash arising from some sort of expatriatism, or at very least inter-religion issue, but here we have a protagonist and his girlfriend who are both from what is supposed to be a uniform culture in India – but he’s from the Punjab via Delhi and she’s from South India, with her family in Chennai, and these cultures are VERY different and mutually suspicious, with stressful and sometimes hilarious issues ensuing when they try to keep their university love match going as they grow up and move away from education.

It was absolutely fascinating to read about student and working life in modern India – not something I’ve read a huge amount about although I’ve read many novels set there over the years. But the book is certainly not just a dry learning experience – there is much to cheer on and admire, and giggle at, in the machinations that Krish and Ananya engate in in order to bring their highly suspicious family members together after working hard to win them over themselves (poor Krish comes off very badly in this, leaving his “chummery” lodgings at goodness knows what time in the morning to tutor Ananya’s younger brother).

No one is demonised – Bhagat’s express aim is to bring about unity in modern India rather than discord – and we’re shown how both sides make assumptions and conform to stereotypes (South Indians are considered to be cold and obsessed with money; Punjabis always shouting and obessed with food, and indeed both families do this, hilariously, at each other). There are great set-pieces – the graduation where Krish’s mum mutters a list of South Indian actresses who are only out to snag a Punjabi boy, or the wedding where the Delhi faction are scandalised at having to get up so early. But there’s heart and emotion too, and some very sweet bits.

I keep seeming to pull a summarising quotation out of my reads this year and this is the one for this book:

In an Indian love marriage, by the time everyone gets on board, one wonders if there is any love left. (p. 224)

Ananya is a great, strong character, bolshy and able to get stuff done herself at yet another wedding. It’s a fun, instructional and ultimately positive read and I’m REALLY excited to have seen on Bhagat’s Twitter feed that he’s just finished writing his next new novel (and I have a few to read on my Kindle still).


I’ve also finished “Mudlarking” which I borrowed from lovely Mary Ellen, but have run out of days to review January reads. I’m currently getting on nicely with “On the Map” by Simon Garfield and “ABC for Book Collectors” and am course excited about starting my next Paul Magrs tomorrow (did you want to take part in my competition to win one of his lovely out of print novels? Info here).

 

Book review – Marian Keyes – “Grown Ups” #amreading

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Well I might be reviewing this now, a week before publication, but I read it back in October 2019! I’ve used my October TBR image here as I had it to hand – who knows, maybe the TBR is smaller by now!! [edited to add HA in my DREAMS]

Thanks to NetGalley and Penguin for providing this book in return for an honest review.

Marian Keyes – “Grown Ups”

(20 September 2019)

A long novel in which you need to get to grips with a huge cast of characters as you encounter the busy, attractive Casey family, revolving around the three brothers, Johnny, Ed and Liam, each with their wife and children, plus extra cousins and friends. and a family tree would have come in handy.

Gradually it unwinds to reveal Johnny is second husband to Jessie and they have a blended family, a business, and so much money that they literally pay for the rest of the family to go on several holidays and weekend trips a year. This is handy for the plot but doesn’t seem believable. Ed and Cara are dealing with Cara’s eating disorder, badly, but it’s Cara’s sudden truthfulness after a bang on the head that opens the novel and which we go back and wind up to through the rest of the novel. Feckless Liam and his kind wife Nell are quite newly married, she is his second wife and does she have more in common with the younger members of the family?

So we follow these people through six months of complicated trips and holidays and messaging and learn what who knows about whom, although it’s so long and the characters are well drawn but somehow not really people I wanted to invest in. Nell is the most interesting, while Cara’s story is well done and useful to explain to people how eating disorders work but so detailed it might be triggering. There are funny side characters, especially the youngsters, but it overall feels pretty sad, with the gloss coming off relationships, marriages and friendships.


I’m still reading up a storm this month and hoping I can maintain the momentum. My plan this year is to get to the books I acquired up to just before last Christmas by the end of the year. 71 print TBR books plus 11 more Magrsathon challenge books. Think I can do it?

Book reviews – Harold Nicolson – “Journey to Java” and Sarah Henshaw – “The Bookshop that Floated Away” #amreading

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I have actually read half of the books in this picture now!

Well I really #amreading at the moment, due to a combination of having a cold and not having too much work on (it’s OK!) and not much doing at the weekends. So here’s a double review, which I used to do all the time and don’t really do now, but it gets more January books reviewed in January and they are linked by both being about voyages on water!

As to the dates, oh dear, I am soooo behind in terms of the lag between buying and reading. However I am reading a lot, and I don’t usually have so many books come in as I do in December-January, I’m confident I will get all my Christmas books on the shelf by the end of the month (sort of confident) and I’m saving up my lovely book tokens for a summer splurge.

In other news, before the reviews, my review of “Impressionism” by Ralph Skea is up on Shiny New Books today – read it here. Another book in the Art Essentials series, it’s beautifully illustrated and gave me some new insights. Do pop over and see the lovely folk at Shiny and read what I thought about it!

Harold Nicholson – “Journey to Java”

(17 July 2018, Oxfam Books, Kings Heath)

The diary of his and Vita Sackville-West’s cruise to Java via South Africa, week in the country and journey back, all paid for by an “enormous cheque” which his friends clubbed together to give him on his 70th birthday. It is mixed in with accounts of his academic pursuits while on board, on the nature of melancholy. I have to say that I preferred his rather shaky encounters with bingo and his “bunk reading” and, as he admits that he skimmed Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy”, so I also skimmed his musings on Rousseau and the Ancients.

There’s plenty of other stuff, however, and I loved the terribly endearing glimpses of the elderly couple of their separate cabins, he being a little irritated by Vita’s propensity to believe the theories of a stranger over the knowledge of loved ones, fond of her habit of sitting bolt upright on a hard teak bench rather than reclining in a deckchair, and positively glowing about her odd leaps of logic:

What I like about V. is that she is always having odd ideas. (p. 187)

He also admits – see, the endearing nature of it all – that

V. is inclined to distrust my scientific knowledge and even my classical illustrations which, I admit, are too often based upon vague memories. (p. 175)

There are some very funny descriptions of both the workings of the boat (they are most discomfited by the noises of a working ship, and also shocked at finding a nice man from Kew in the Second Class area) and his interactions with its passengers. For a book by a member, however transgressional, of the establishment in the 1950s there is only a little casual racism around the “jabbering” of the Indonesian staff and a few colonial digs at people not being able to run their own countries; he mostly likes and even admires the staff and you have to take this as it is, and less bad than other books of the period.

The shadow of the Second World War and the atrocities that occurred in the Far East are often lurking at the corners, with people often praised for having got over various things and being absolutely fine now (but were they?) but in the main this is a gentle, competently written and engaging read which I very much enjoyed. Maybe suggesting to one’s husband that we try Gran Canaria on the basis of Harold and Vita liking the place in 1957 is a little over-hopeful, however …

Sarah Henshaw – “The Bookshop that Floated Away”

(23 August 2018, Blue Cross charity shop, Stratford-upon-Avon)

I bought this when my lovely friend Cari (books AND running link us – hooray) was over visiting and we had a day out in Stratford where I pressed books upon her and came home with a pile (picture half-way down this post and I note I’ve read all but three of them now).

A rather odd little book, Henshaw runs the Book Barge, a bookshop on a narrowboat, and documents a six-month journey around the UK (including a bit in Birmingham that mentions a canal boat race I’m sure is in another book I’ve read, possibly “Hidden Nature“) promoting the shop and independent bookshops, without and yet strangely with her long-suffering boyfriend. She sets off not knowing how to operate the boat or what she’s going to do about going to the loo and I’m sorry, but I do get a bit impatient with people who just set off without proper planning, even though I know that’s my problem more than theirs.* She therefore has various mishaps. There is a whole section written “by” the boat itself in the style of “Black Beauty”, and quite a weirdly disconnected and floaty (ha ha) feel to it. The best moment is when my lovely client Erica Wagner is mentioned, and you can’t help but root for Sarah and the barge/business, but it’s all bit too slapdash and whimsical for me (why did I not mind that in that Mongolian horse race book, though?).

* I berated my poor husband for not ‘knowing his knots’ before I realised that most people DON’T actually know their knots …

There’s a very small amount of info about the Book Barge here.


I’ve just finished Chetan Bhagat’s excellent “2 States” which I will review on the 31st, as tomorrow I will be publishing my review of Marian Keyes’ “Grown Ups” which I read via NetGalley in October and then realised to my horror had a reviewing embargo until the week before it was published!

Book review – Dave Heeley and Sophie Parkes – “From Light to Dark: The Story of Blind Dave Heeley” @blinddaveheeley @RunBookshelfFB

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June 2018 2I went to see Blind Dave Heeley give a talk in Bournville, hosted by the lovely Bournville Harriers running club (but with plenty of room for friends) back in June 2018. I already knew about him, the famous West Bromwich based blind runner, always running for charity with a guide runner, and I’d shouted out to him during races as he passed me or gone the other way on an out and back. His talk was a riot, down-to-earth and funny, and complete with guide dog to pat, and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to buy his book. I’m a bit ashamed it’s taken me so long to read it, with my reading down a bit last year and my policy of reading some off the newer bit of the TBR and some off the older, but it didn’t disappoint when I did get to it.

Dave Heeley and Sophie Parkes – “From Light to Dark”

(10 June 2018 – signed copy)

A really good autobiography, very able co-written by Sophie Parkes, which felt authentically in his voice while also being well-written and well-structured (the two sides don’t automatically come together!). There’s lots of satisfying detail about his challenges but also humility about the mistakes he’s made and honesty about what being blind is like, as he is so often asked:

After all, the truth is that being blind is bloody awful. (p. 31)

But it’s a generally and genuinely optimistic book, full of community spirit and charitable enterprise and appreciation for what he can do and achieve (including woodwork – fair play to him!). He is always first to laugh at himself and funny situations he’s found himself in, and there were some genuine laughs there; what about when the Guide Dogs didn’t want him to have “Blind Dave” on his t-shirt because it was a bit negative! I of course loved reading about how he started out running (later than I’d thought) and also welled up a few times reading about his first London Marathon and a couple of his seven marathons in seven days in seven continents runs, for example when he was run in by a load of squaddies on the Falkland Islands leg.

As well as the human interest there’s lots of training and detail on the recovery and energy expenditure in the seven marathons challenge and details of the tent and logistics of the Marathon Des Sables (yes, he’s done that, too). It was lovely to see a mention of blind football Olympian Darren Harris, who I have also met, and I so look forward to encountering Dave, however distantly and fleetingly, at other events in the future.

Let’s all be inspired by one of his closing statements:

Don’t worry about what you can’t do; concentrate your efforts on what you can do and you will find you can achieve those goals and ambitions. (p. 287)

Book review – Jess Phillips – “Truth to Power: 7 Ways to Call time on B.S.” #amreading

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I couldn’t resist picking up this (signed! Thank you again, Meg!) Christmas acquisition to read as I merrily push my way through the TBR from both ends. Quite a slight but important book: if you want more biographical stuff, I suggest reading “Everywoman” but if you want bolstering up and reminding that you CAN make a different, then this is the one to go for.

Jess Phillips – “Truth to Power: 7 Ways to Call Time on B.S.”

(25 December 2019)

This is a guide to community and social action, a call to arms and a reassurance that anyone and everyone can make a difference and a reminder that we have a social and civic duty to speak out in whatever way we can when we witness or experience injustice.

Told in her inimitable voice, and very down to earth and plain-speaking, as you’d imagine, Phillips uses examples of women who have stood up to power and done their best, but also gives smaller examples of how we can all make a difference. She makes the point that when she speaks out in Parliament, as well as talking to those in power, she’s talking to regular people, letting them know she’s giving them a voice and representing them, and she’s very big on the power of banding together with people; she also notes that it’s often easier to speak up for others than for ourselves.

The book is full of sensible and practical advice, for example on how social media can get out of hand, and how sometimes it’s better to make your point more quietly and privately at first rather than unleashing the full power of online community (I consider myself quite good at speaking truth to power myself, but I wish I’d thought of that when I made a mistake in making a complaint visible publicly and having it work against instead of for the person I was trying to protect!) and also on making sure to minimise personal risk.

Her closing statement is a powerful one:

You have more power than you think; don’t give it away to people who don’t deserve it. LET’S USE IT! (p. 221)

Book review – Vybarr Cregan-Reid – “Footnotes: How Running Makes us Human” @RunBookshelfFB #amreading

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Oopsadaisy – I’ve been reading a lot but not managing to keep up with my reviews. I’ve been doing an older book, a new book and an e-book in order to make space for Christmas incomings and then not have too many of them to fit on the shelf when it’s time. Of course, I also just had my birthday, with MORE lovely books (hooray! Dean Street Press and Persephone plus other wish list delights for the win – a post on those coming soon as I think there may be one more to come). And, um, I may have come by a couple of others in the meantime.

Anyway, this was at LAST the last book from that huge Foyles book token haul I had in May 2018. So behind on my reading, but that’s the fault of doing the one old one, one new one, which does also have its advantages.

Vybarr Cregan-Reid – “Footnotes: How Running Makes us Human”

(22 May 2018)

Quite a dense running book which looks at different aspects of why running is good for us, taking in neuroscience, physiology and psychology and visiting researchers and labs, sometimes offering himself up as the subject of the research. You get bits of his life as he goes out on runs and contemplates various aspects – he’s a literature professor so there’s more literary stuff than you might perhaps expect, including some stuff about the Lake District poets and Thomas Hardy. He’s partly a barefoot runner (but not full-time and experiences some issues with that) and spends time on that topic, and it’s always interesting to read his descriptions when the shoes come off on his runs. He has some quite funny experiences getting more weather than he bargained for in the Lake District when trying to emulate the walking feats of the poets, and some frustrating times but also fun doing some mild trespassing.

He seems honest about his personality and failings, for example how he’s good at doing things but not so good at not doing things. He also explores matters that are outside his comfort zone, which is admirable, spending time and effort finding out why some people enjoy going to the gym, even if it’s not for him. I also enjoyed his narrative of his slightly accidental marathon (on the roads, while he obviously prefers running in wilder places) and this rang a bell:

‘Pain is temporary, failure lasts forever’, the wankers will tell you. No! Pain is not necessary for success, a  healthy relationship with failure is. (p. 270)

So quite a dense book which looks in depth at how running can enhance our humanity, with some interesting runs and recognisable features. An interesting read.


Two incomings that are not birthday or Christmas related. Diana Pullein-Thompson’s “I Wanted a Pony” was her first solo effort, and Jane Badger Books has reissued it with the original illustrations. When Jane shared this on Facebook, I just had to order it.

My friend Mary Ellen (of running posts fame) has just finished Lara Maiklem’s “Mudlarking” which is all about the things the author has found on the muddy banks of the Thames at low tide. She thought I would like to borrow it and indeed I would!

What’s lovely about both of these is the illustration. Here’s the endpapers of “Mudlarking” along with one of the attractive line drawings in “I Wanted a Pony”

I’m currently finishing off Blind Dave Heeley’s “From Light to Dark” which is his very good and entertaining autobiography. Still to review is Jess Phillips’ “Truth to Power” and I have finished the excellent “Learning Languages in Early Modern England” by John Gallagher, which I am reviewing for Shiny New Books. I think next up will be “Fresh from the Country” by Miss Read, one of Dean Street Press’s new Furrowed Middlebrow books which they sent me in e-format to review but my best friend Emma sent me in print format for my birthday (hooray!). What a great start to the year this month has been so far!

 

Book review – Abi Daré – “The Girl with the Louding Voice” @abidare_author #LoudingVoice #NetGalley @HodderBooks

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This book has a lot of buzz around it and has already won awards from Red Magazine, the BBC and Stylist Magazine – for a first novel, that’s quite astounding. I came across it in my NetGalley emails and the author was also mentioned by my old university friend Julia Bell as one of her Birkbeck students, so even though I don’t read many books set in Africa, I just had to pick it up. And I’m very glad I did.

This is an exceptional and important novel that’s also unputdownable, the traumatic events it portrays in gritty detail balanced out by the delightful, resourceful and resilient heroine/narrator. Nigerian Adunni is the same age as the century, 14, when she’s sold in marriage by her father for what is effectively some goats, money and a telly. She has to get used to being a third wife, but draws comfort from her ability to make supportive friends. When tragedy hits, she’s forced to go on the run, only to be sold into domestic slavery. She only realises that’s what happens through her reading in the library of the house she works at – the gradual dawning of comprehension is so deftly handled.

Adunni’s late mother instilled in her a love and craving for education, and she wants so badly to be a teacher, but it seems impossible that she will ever get to return to her studies, the gulf between rich and poor, whether in a village or the capital, being too great to be able to raise yourself up even a little. She does have a sort of role model in the form of her employer, who started a fabric brand from scratch, and there are great and funny examples of her ruthless selling techniques, however she’s an unhappy and uneducated woman who is a role model in no other way.

It takes a disparate group of people who are different from Adunni and indeed ‘othered’ in Nigeria – this point is made subtly – a Ghanaian man who has a daughter her age, a woman who has lived in the UK and is having trouble fitting back into the wealthy society back in Nigeria and a Muslim driver – to help her raise herself up, little by little. Everything is plausible and difference is punished by society while being praised by the book – although when Tia goes through a barbaric local custom, her mother-in-law is forced to consider if her traditional ways are the best.

The book is written in an under-educated pidgin English which takes very little time to get into (like Girl, Woman, Other being in “poetry” it’s something you might worry about but the worry goes in an instant when you start reading): it’s easier to read than James Kelman, for example. A heart-breaking example comes when she considers her societal role to have children:

But I don’t want to born anything now. How will a girl like me born childrens? Why will I fill up the world with sad childrens that are not having a chance to go to school? Why make the world to be one big, sad, silent place because all the childrens are not having a voice?

I have seen one single criticism (on NetGalley) that the language used is not typical of Nigerian English with Yoruba as a first language; not something I feel qualified to have an opinion on, even though I have edited quite a few works by people with African Language 1s. The author is Nigerian, and the writing is inventive, appealing and gives an extra dimension to the novel, so I trust her on that, although I would like to know more about how she formed it, just out of interest. The language Adunni uses, trying to express herself (and there are some beautiful descriptions) adds to the heart-breaking nature of the story, but with bright flashes of hope. I found myself straining towards the end, hoping that against all the odds, something positive would happen in Adunni’s life.

I saw some clever parallels with “The Handmaid’s Tale” in Adunni’s search for what happened to her predecessor, Rebecca (another moment of intertextuality?) – using the same room, she finds tiny clues to Rebecca’s existence and seeks more information from the driver. I’m bursting to know whether that was intentional – but it must have been.

Adunni is such a great character, with her own agency where she can carve it out, proving to be a fearless haggler in the market and working hard to educate herself as well as accepting help from others. It’s a magnificent achievement of a book and is likely to be one of my books of the year.

Thank you to Hodder & Stoughton for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “The Girl with the Louding Voice” is published on 05 March 2020 and I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy.

Book review – Robert Inman – “Captain Saturday” plus a #bookconfession when there really shouldn’t be one!

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Because, as we now know, I was unable to shoehorn my new Christmas acquisitions onto my TBR shelf, and also because I was horrified to see I haven’t really read any of my Christmas 2018 books, I decided to continue my sort-of policy of reading one of the oldest books then one of the newest ones, then a Kindle one. So I then picked the fattest one on the pile, because less to file away, and it was a really good one. Hooray! Have you read any of your Christmas books yet?

I continue with a book confession. I try not to buy books during the Christmas/birthday season, in case there’s a Terrible Clash (I came close one year when I was looking gleefully at a Mitford Sisters book in Waterstones, didn’t buy it just in case, then met up with my friends and unwrapped a copy). But there were extenuating circumstances, I promise!

Robert Inman – “Captain Saturday”

(25 December 2019, from Gill)

I loved his “Dairy Queen Days” (which I actually read in 2005 and reviewed on my LiveJournal, which I migrated to here: don’t go looking for a big review!) and put this one on my BookCrossing wishlist. I did actually have a go at my messy wishlists before Christmas and they’re now definitely combined and just on here. I was so pleased to unwrap it on Christmas Day and it was all I hoped for.

So we’re in small-city America – Raleigh, North Carolina – and Will (Wilbur) is the town’s most popular weatherman, secure in this job, with a stable marriage, even though he’s been flummoxed in the last few years by his wife’s sudden ambition and achievement in the world of real estate, and a good enough relationship with his son (a preppy student who never gets into a mess). Well, he’s secure until it all suddenly falls apart quite dramatically, and he learns that small actions can grow and have consequences. When his cousin comes to fetch him back to the old house, a Deep South decaying mansion complete with his other cousin who took her own responsibilities too seriously when she came into them plus an immense set of family archives, he finds he needs to work out who he is and how to repair those relationships. We then go back to see his past, and work over his marriage, too, sensitively done but also funny. I loved the modern-day parts where he had to reinvent his life and pretty well start from scratch again, and his lawyer is absolutely hilarious, changing his look and habits with every big new client, from tweedy anglophile to hard hat and checked shirt. A proper big, absorbing novel.

I also loved that it’s an ex-library copy, but not your standard one, weeded from the American Library in Angers, France!


And that book confession? I first read a Chetan Bhagat book when I came across “One Night @ the Call Centre” in 2006 (my review here and Matthew’s here) and really loved it. A while ago, I found lots of his novels in Kindle versions for not much money and treated myself. So this was not on my wishlist, and I came across it when picking up some books for my best friend Emma the week before last (all my posts since then have been review books) in Oxfam books and snapped it up. It’s the story of a cross-continents love affair and looks great. One off the Kindle TBR, too (right?).

I’m currently reading Abi Daré’s “The Girl With the Louding Voice”, a NetGalley win which is quite astounding. It’s the story of a young Nigerian woman sold as a wife to a much older man, escaping from him and making it to the capital. It’s a pretty grim story, but obviously an important one, and it’s written in a captivating slightly broken English (although I’ll have to read up about that as at least one reviewer has commented on it not sounding authentically Nigerian). Has anyone else read this? It’s not one for the breakfast table as quite grim, as I said, but fascinating and engaging. I’m also reading John Gallagher’s “Learning Languages in Early Modern England” to review for Shiny, and it’s fascinating. Lucky me!

Book review – Nir Eyal with Julie Li – “Indistractable” #Indistractable #NetGalley

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Subtitled “How to control your attention and choose your life”, it follows on from the author’s previous book, “Hooked” which was apparently taken up and followed by all the social media and gaming companies to get users to continue using their products, and teaches us basically how to get unhooked.

It’s clear that although there have always been distractions, both internal and external, and people worrying about how to concentrate on what they need to concentrate on (whether that’s work, their children or their partners), modern technology and especially our always-connected lives have made this worse and harder to deal with. Eyal aims to help us not to let our “attention and lives be controlled and coerced by others” and he has plenty of good, practical tips, once he’s established and convinced us that mind-set is always stronger than physical addiction (e.g. if we think we’re weak and have no self-control, we’ll make that true).

Tips include turning of push notifications, gamifying work and unexciting life admin, telling people in open-plan offices not to disturb you, bringing devices out of the bedroom and creating identity pacts (I am a vegetarian therefore I do not eat meat, as opposed to can’t). These are all key and are also all useful, however there’s nothing that radical here that you couldn’t think of for yourself. I’m aware here that that’s been said about my own self-help book, so I will say it’s useful to have all this stuff in one place, and I’m already the kind of person who plans her day out, so didn’t need the useful help with that aspect particularly. I did however ask not to be distracted the other day, so …

There was some slightly amusing stuff about helping his child to decide for themselves not to have their phone by them after 9pm – this seemed a little too perfect but maybe that’s really how they operate!

Useful if you need some help with distractions: maybe the book telling you precisely what to do will help you do it.


Thank you to Bloomsbury Publishing for making this available via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Book review – D.E. Stevenson – “Vittoria Cottage” @DeanStPress #FurrowedMiddlebrow

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I was very lucky to have this and two other novels kindly sent to me by Dean Street Press from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint for review. It’s part of the January issue from Dean Street Press – you can read about them all here. It’s published today! along with seven other titles, two of which I hope to review soon.

This is the first book in a trilogy (the other two are “Music in the Hills” and “Winter and Rough Weather”) and I can tell you right now that the other two are on my wishlist and will hopefully make their way to me very soon, because I can’t wait to read them.

Also see below the review for exciting Christmas Furrowed Middlebrow incomings.

D. E. Stevenson – “Vittoria Cottage”

(04 Nov 2019)

Vittoria Cottage is a medium sized house in a village where everyone knows each other’s business, which isn’t great if you’re having your engagement broken off, but is handy if you’re poorly and need some help. Caroline, a widow, lives there with her two daughters, Leda and Bobbie, yearning for her son, who is in Malaya doing post-war frightening things to do with bandits. She’s an integral part of the village and gets on very well with everyone except for her amusing arch-enemy. I love this quote, which sums up the lovely (but human) Caroline and so many of the quieter heroines in the books I love republished by Dean Street Press, Virago and Persephone:

It was important to Caroline to do things right, to do whatever she did to the best of her ability. She saw beauty in ordinary little things and took pleasure in it (and this was just as well because she had had very little pleasure in her life). She took pleasure in a well-made cake, a smoothly-ironed napkin, a pretty blouse, laundered and pressed; she liked to see the garden well dug, the rich soil brown and gravid; she loved her flowers.

Her daughters of course don’t think of her as a person, and she’s a role rather than a person in most of her activities, so it’s genuinely lovely for her when Robert Shepperton moves in at the pub and befriends her. He has a secret loss and is a decent person, too – shown by his attitude when he returns to an unsafe site in London that means a lot to him:

“You didn’t go in?” “No, I didn’t (not because I cared what happened to me but because I realised it would be a bother for the policeman; he seemed a nice young fellow).”

So of course we start to hope that they will bond and become more than friends, especially as Caroline really deserves some happiness after her misery with her very well-observed grump of a husband. Her sister Harriet, a successful actor, comes to stay after Caroline’s been to her first night in London, and as well as telling her nieces a few home truths, gets together some high jinks. There’s more to the novel than just fun and frivolity though. I found Rhoda’s claim for her art rather than love quite moving, and a scene with a young woman and her baby.

It’s a lovely satisfying book with characters to love and some twists and turns, and as I said above, I can’t wait to get hold of and read the two sequels!


And talking Furrowed Middlebrow as we are, I was in London at the weekend myself for a meetup and gift exchange with my best friend, Emma. I had requested any out of a long list of FM titles for my Christmas present, and she did me proud with the third and fourth Mrs Tim novels – hooray!

DE Stevenson Mrs Tim novels

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