Book review- Paul Magrs – “Does it Show?” #magrsathon #bookgiveaway @paulmagrs

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Coming in just under the wire on finishing reading this and then getting my review in – I will do better next month! A good read that I enjoyed much more than last time – and huge thanks to Paul who sent me a Word document when I suddenly discovered I had blank pages in my copy of the book!

Paul Magrs – “Does it Show?”

(11 April 2018)

This is one of Lethe Press’s republished Phoenix Court series (you can buy them from their website or on Amazon),  with introductions by Paul and in this one two extra special short stories, too. I had an early copy, and the printing problem was apparently sorted out, so feel safe to buy!

So we’re back at Phoenix Court but with an emphasis on a group of houses, and I can’t work out why in my original review of this I wasn’t as keen as I had been on “Marked for Life” as this was great. I can’t see what I wouldn’t have liked last time in this tale of young gay love revisited, errant bus drivers and terribly glamorous trans folk. It reminded me a bit of Catherine O’Flynn’s “What Was Lost” with its slightly prosaic mystery set among, here, shopping precincts and small areas of natural land among the concrete, gossiped and picked over by the locals.

The women of the neighbourhood are tangled into each other’s lives; Penny, daughter of the newly arrived and glam Liz, and Vince, a young teacher trying to be down with the kis, thing they’re different, but they get drawn and settled into estate life, too. Everyone’s related or linked to everyone else, too. The magic realism is confined to a bit of light levitation, some lucid dreams and some weird tiny creatures (do they appear in one of the Brenda and Effie stories, too?) but they add a shimmering extra dimension. Magrs in the Introduction calls it

A phantasmagorical opera set in the midst of concrete brutalism.

Mark Kelly and Iris from the first novel reappear a couple of times (I think Paul wrote this one first so I wonder if he added them in afterwards or fleshed them out from these mentions for the other book?) and we hear something of how Mark’s life is going (so maybe the former). Class distinctions are minutely dissected by the characters and there’s a heartbreaking moment when Liz tries to communicate with her clever daughter:

“You sound like a soap opera.”

“If I do, it’s because I watch soaps. I don’t read your kind of books. How would I saw what I want to say … how would I say it in your language? The one you like?” (p. 134)

It was interesting to note that Liz is 41 – as with so many of my Iris Murdoch re-reads, I’ve overtaken her in age, closer to Vince and Andy (surely named after Erasure?) than her the first time I read it!

Of the two extra short stories, I preferred “Nude on the Moon”, which follows Liz and Cliff on their escapades in the Lake District and picks at their relationship. “Bargains for Charlotte” was a bit creepy for me!

And I managed to collect two bits of Synchronicity like Bookish Beck’s finds: in this novel, Janet’s mum is about to make a surprising second marriage, and in Jane Linfoot’s “Summer at the Little Wedding Shop” (not yet reviewed), the central character’s mum is about to do the same. And in this novel, Vince likes a completely plain white room with no distractions, which is how Edith in “Tenterhooks” by Ada Leverson (also not yet reviewed) likes her rooms, too!


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series are available new.

 

Book review – Lennie Goodings – “A Bite of the Apple” @ViragoBooks #amreading

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So sorry for the gap in reviews or posts since last Sunday’s short one about running. I’ve been reading quite a nice lot but seem to have got into a reviewing slump (though I did finally finish the amazing “A History of Pictures” by David Hockney and Martin Gayford and submitted my review to Shiny New Books), not the least because I’ve been extremely fortunate enough to be very busy at work (academia and the ghostwriting of celebrity autobiographies seem to be rolling on almost as normal), plus then we’ve had the usual in these times / not usually usual extra time-consuming life admin stuff, which is there to be endured and is fine at the moment, but does take up time. Plus the In These Circumstances kind of tiredness etc. that a good few of us seem to be getting.

Anyway, enough of In These Times, which I am entreating not to creep into my book reviewing and blogging life – here’s a journey back in time to almost the beginning of our beloved Virago Books with an excellent memoir I just had to pre-order to arrive on the day of publication, as it seemed so many of my fellow bloggers had read and received early review copies and whipped me up into a frenzy of needing this book right now!

Lennie Goodings – “A Bite of the Apple: A Life with Books, Writers and Virago”

(28 February 2020)

The memoir of the Canadian woman who moved from the mainstream world of publishing marketing to take a part-time job at the fairly new Virago Books and ended up its publisher, this book shared the political and financial dealings of the publishing house over the years (accepting this is a personal view only) but also delicious details of the authors and books the firm has published over the period.

I love how it was “84 Charing Cross Road,” that lovely book which I think so many of us have read, which helped to draw the author to Britain, and we get all the details of how things work and how her editorial process operates. I particularly liked the idea, pulled out as she worked with people writing their own lives, that everyone has a narrative thread running through their lives (what’s yours?). The details of the dealings around individual books are fascinating (for example, Virago was too small at the time to deal with all the interest and thus sales that would come from the 1979 TV series of Vera Brittain’s “Testament of Youth”, so had to license a mass-market tie-in edition to Fontana).

The personalities are captured bravely: Carmen Callil proves hard to work with from the start, always exacting about her own vision and uncompromising throughout. It IS brave, I think, to write about such people when they’re still around and about, and she does it carefully. Goodings is celebratory of the readers, which is lovely but also politic, given the audience for this book. She shares feedback from people who feel they’ve grown up alongside Virago (I feel that, too, with “Frost in May” being one of the first I read and gulping down loads of their early Modern Classics as a teenager in the 80s), and reminding us that Dorothy Whipple, who Carmen famously refused to republish, was eventually vindicated by Persephone (she is very generous about the other small (feminist and not so feminist) presses) and even mentioning the sad cessation and glorious return during the celebration reprints of the green spine.

The book is careful about intersectionality, sharing the gut-wrenchingly horrific experience of inadvertently sidelining authors of colour from an early event, bringing out the lack of diversity in women’s prize lists and discussing changes which are happening now in the publishing industry. It was good to see Goodings addressing this side of publishing and the care she put into that.

I found this an excellent and fascinating book all round, and one to treasure and re-read.


What’s the narrative thread running through your life? I feel like mine is being behind the scenes, helping organise things but keeping a low profile, helping books get talked about, helping my authors and clients’ words get on the published page while being invisible myself, hopefully being a stalwart support but also a loud and strong advocate for those less able to advocate for themselves, using my privilege for others where I can. Hm, maybe. Aaaaanyway. More reviews to come but I fear I will have review lag again as I have one more novel (my Paul Magrs – I haven’t forgotten my challenge!) and then two sets of three books left to write about this month!

Oh, and one book confession! Matthew has been listening to and loving “Where the Crawdads Sing” by Delia Owens. I’ve read enthusiastic and not-so-enthusiastic reviews of this but it’s certainly popular and I will give it a go … except the print is quite small and I need new glasses and, while I did get an eye test recently, my new glases have fallen foul of Circumstances and will be arriving direct from the factory and can’t be fitted professionally until Circumstances have eased. So I might not be able to read it for a while yet! At least I’ve got enough books off the TBR this month to justify adding one!

Sedate lady running 16-22 March 2020 and onwards #amrunning #running

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Photo by Claire posted with her permission of us social distancing (we were usually way further apart than this) on our last group run.

A really quick update mainly to link up with the usual link-up.

I’ve been running this week with one to five sedate lady running friends, keeping our distance nicely, and that’s been lovely and we’ve seen friends and chatted from a distance and said hello and waved.

But people are behaving poorly over here, gathering in big groups, rushing to the parks and landscape and seaside. We don’t want to be a part of that.

People here are being selfish in the shops, too. We have just about the time and money to be able to go around searching for stuff and to get the slightly more expensive versions. Many people can’t.

I wasn’t a woolly idealist but the selfishness is devastating to me.

Yes, I am volunteering in my street’s support group and we have put a rainbow in our window we made during an hour we concentrated on crafting. But it feels like not enough positive.

So: Matthew and I will continue walking together and looking at rainbows in windows. We runners are going to run in at most pairs on opposite pavements at quiet times. We here are digging out our cross-trainer from the mess in the spare office and setting it up again.

I have work, Matthew is working from home, we have stocks for the moment and plenty to do, plus lovely cats. We have friends to talk to and we are looking after people as best we can.

But I have had to limit news to one view of the BBC website a day, after the press conference from the govt. I have cut down massively on looking at Facebook and other social media. Many book bloggers are concentrating on book reviews and that’s brilliant and I will continue to read and write those. Running bloggers of necessity are talking about this because it affects us and …

I am sorry if I don’t read and comment on your blog for a bit. I still love, admire and support you, and if you want to say hi or reach out I have a contact form with my email address on this blog. And I’m on Strava, tho you need to request me! But I just can’t read about the empty shelves and the panic and the selfishness. I’m so sorry if it impacts you. If you’re a key worker I salute and thank you. If you are looking after your dear self and others, I send you much love. This is the way I’m cushioning myself and I know you will understand we all need to react differently.

See you when this is over. We will get through this in our different ways.

weekly-run-down-final-300x300Weekly total 22.6 miles. Total this year 234.4 miles (I need to reach 250 this month to be on track for 1,000 miles in the year).

The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

 

Sedate lady running 09-15 March 2020 #amrunning #running

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Well it has been an odd week, hasn’t it? Races cancelled or postponed as the week has progressed, with some still to find out about – I know I have felt relieved once I’ve known. I had none booked but plans to support London Marathon for example. Tara who was doing London is taking it in her stride and planning on a longer training period and more strengthening; others I know will be running round the bus route on the day to use their training (I will go out and cheer them from my front door!). I managed to get normal running in this week. There is no lockdown in the UK and we are showing no symptoms, although we are isolating ourselves to an extent and certainly not visiting any immuno-compromised or at-risk friends and family, esp as we travel by public transport. Non-running pleasing stuff below but let’s have some running.

Tuesday – I decided to go to running club, in case meetups of over x number get cancelled, and had a good time trotting around, meeting a new runner to club, Ellie, and going all macho and running all the way up Feck Hill, which I don’t usually bother with. Good to see various friends and clubmates.

0.6 miles, 11:02 mins per mile (late, in a rush, me?) / 4.7 miles, 12:35 mins per mile

Wednesday – I ran with Claire, doing two medium length runs with only a light tea and breakfast between them, but Claire could only do today, not tomorrow and I wanted to run with her. We did a common canal route but THE OTHER DIRECTION, going through the rugby club grounds, getting onto the canal then following it round to Broad Lane. Shocking! And to follow that rather punningly, I’d never noticed this huge, fine pylon going the other way!

Oh, remember that FORD you all got worried about that time, the water feature in the road? Flooded again in the storms the other weekend and not one but two cars got stuck in it!

5.7 miles, 12:37 mins per mile

Saturday – At the time, our marathon runners were planning long, long runs, and Mary Ellen and I were planning to do the middle of Tara’s 18-er on Saturday. London cancelled, Tara decided to meet near our houses and do the 13. We were very safe – run to parkrun, run small parkrun, run home, no public transport etc!

We ran to Oaklands parkrun, ran Oaklands parkrun and, having gathered Trudie at Oaklands, ran back to Kings Heath. Lots of worrying and planning and being sad at other people’s panic-buying in the week meant we got more and more tired (also I hadn’t run over 10.6 miles since my 16 on 2 Feb so it was quite an ask of myself!), but we pushed through and got the distance (13.6 for me). It was lovely, anyway, to be out in the fresh air, with friends, and it feels like parkrun here might get cancelled for a bit (other countries have done this; they will do it country-wide if they do to prevent people overwhelming smaller ones with large groups).

It was my lovely friend Kate’s 100th parkrun so I went in club colours, displaying my name to all, hooray, as I have it on all my club shirts. A couple of runners did call my name when we were on the way home and a woman from another group I’m in recognised me!

Tara, Mary Ellen, Rachael, Trudie, Liz

Special shout-out to Jessie at The Right Fits, who also has this breed, here is Fay’s vizsla, Ziggy, who joined us at parkrun.

Ziggy the vizsla

Ziggy

5.1 miles, 13:32 mins per mile / 3.16 mi, 13:21 mins per mile / 5.3 miles, 14:12 mins per mile

Positives for this week: we have decided to run together, carefully, as long as we can. Keeping our distance, greeting with namaste, touching traffic light buttons with an elbow and carrying hand sanitiser. If one of us falls, we will look after them, not trust to a stranger, and we will not run if unwell at all. And will run early or late and in non-crowded areas.

Other positives: the food bank donation box is now overflowing in our local supermarket, after it went really low and there was a national shortage of food bank food (of course, I popped a load in mid-week); and our suburb now has a COVID-19 volunteer group and a WhatsApp group for our street, where about ten of us on just our street are leafleting with our phone numbers and hoping to be able to support anyone vulnerable or self-isolating with food and meds runs. This feels like a lovely positive step at a time where we’ve seen a lot of selfishness.

Hope you are all OK, dear readers, and you don’t need to answer that or go over it if you don’t want to. Stay well!

weekly-run-down-final-300x300Weekly total 24.6 miles. Total this year 211.8 miles (I need to reach 250 this month to be on track for 1,000 miles in the year).

The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

 

Book review – Sheena Wilkinson – “Too Many Ponies” #readingirelandmonth20 @sheenawriter

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It’s Reading Ireland Month 2020, hosted over on Cathy / 746Books’ blog (see the main post here) and I was very pleased to find that I could fulfil this challenge from my TBR, as that’s how I’m doing challenges this year. Gill gave me this book from my wishlist for Christmas 2018 (so it gets an older book off the TBR, too – hooray) and as well as the author being from Northern Ireland, it’s set there, too.

I have got another NetGalley win to report as well as my incomings but I want to leave this post just belonging to Read Ireland Month, so you’ll have to wait until Monday for that one …

Sheena Wilkinson – “Too Many Ponies”

(25 December 2018 – from Gill)

A really well-done pony book by an esteemed Irish YA writer, in fact the sequel to two books about people in the older generation in this one, but I believe her first foray into books for a slightly younger age group.

Winner of the Children’s Book Ireland Award, it tells the story of Lucy – who certainly doesn’t always get it right, although has good intentions – who has started senior school and got in with some mean girls who have shiny co-ordinated ponies who are liveried at a fancy yard and have matching accessories (what?). When there’s an opportunity for Lucy to help win some money to shore up the rocky finances of Rosevale, her friend Aidan’s family’s sanctuary for rescue horses and donkeys, where her own pony Puzzle boards, she leaps at it, but Aidan, already being bullied by the equivalent posh boys at the same school, suffers collateral damage from her relentless campaigning.

Aiden is a great character, conflicted about being a ‘pony boy’ but committed to and brilliant with the rescues; his fear of his dad’s disapproval but real fear of jumping and cross-country riding is portrayed well and convincingly. I liked the parts from his point of view or with him central, and am glad of another pony boy to join Victoria Eveleigh’s Joe.

Yes, there are slightly too-good-to-be-true plot twists along the way, but this IS a pony book and such things are part of the genre. The most satisfying scenes are one of Aidan’s when he has a triumph and the one where Erin, the pony friend Lucy should have made, stands up to her and the mean girls.  An assured and technically good story from a great story-teller, and I’m glad it got promoted a bit up the TBR to be read now.


Have you been doing Reading Ireland Month (I know Ali has!)? Any good recommendations? I am pretty sure this was the only Irish book on my TBR …

Book review – Miss Read – “Fresh from the Country” @DeanStPress

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PIle of birthday booksI was fortunate to be sent an e-copy of this book by the lovely folks at by Dean Street Press from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint to review, but I knew that, as a Miss Read completist, I was going to need a print copy, so was overjoyed when the print copy arrived for my birthday, courtesy of my lovely best friend, Emma (she also sent me “Miss Carter and the Ifrit” which I hope to read soon, too. It was all that I hoped for: charming, light but with a bedrock of sensible morality, and a worthy addition to the growing FM imprint.

Miss Read – “Fresh from the Country”

(21 January 2020)

An incredibly charming stand-alone novel (so not part of the Fairacre or Thrush Green chronicles, which I am now aching to re-read) about a new young schoolteacher, fresh out of college, facing life in a large but still cramped school in an unattractive, raw new suburb, staying with a hilariously penny-pinching landlady and longing for her weekends and holidays at the family farm, where simple cares and joys reign and people are just basically nicer.

Anna’s colleagues are a bit of an odd bunch, but she warms to some of them and makes some friendships amid the excellent descriptions of how the school actually works (I always like to have this kind of detail in a book). Miss Read does poke fun at a few new educational ideas like the galumphing around to music that goes on, although it’s very sweet when a load of adult teachers have the most fun ever learning how to run a percussion band. She also admires the machinations and appreciates the support of the rather formidable (and surely drawn from life) head teacher.

There’s a hint of gentle romance and she also basically falls in love with teaching and the year group she has (able to read and understand but not yet cynical about life), however different it is turning out to be from her textbooks. She finishes her year with a good, firm idea of where she wants to move forward with her career (rather than just thinking about the chap waiting in the wings), which is refreshing and nice to read. Lovely portraits of the countryside are contrasted amusingly with some rather Joyce Grenfell-esque scenes in the classroom, and the whole is a very enjoyable read. The lovely original illustrations are also reproduced in the print and e-books, and the print book has a smashing cover.


I’m still one review behind, plus I have read and reviewed “Let’s Talk” for Shiny New Books. And I’m currently reading three books … and might have a couple of confessions to share when it’s not a review or (up next!) reading challenge book. How are you doing with your booky Marches?

Book review – Angie Cruz – “Dominicana” #Dominicana #NetGalley

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I’m not tooooo late reviewing this one as it was published on 23 January.  Although I’ve read many novels of immigration over the years, this told a new story of the Dominican Republic in the 1960s and of a young wife reminiscent of the heroine of “The Girl with the Louding Voice”.Thank you to John Murray Press for allowing me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Angie Cruz – “Dominicana”

(16 December 2019, NetGalley)

A powerful and moving novel with at least one absolutely heart-wrenching moment (I wrote that in my notebook first, but actually there are several), centred around 15-year-old Ana’s marriage to Juan, twice her age and just one of the Ruiz brothers who are flipping between New York and the Dominican Republic, full of tales of American riches but in that age-old way trying to form partnerships to get hold of land and young, fertile women and other resources through marriage. Everything is seen as an exchange of goods, money or power/information, and Ana has to learn quickly.

So Ana is whisked off to New York where she must keep all her wits about her, deal with her abusive husband and try to carve out some space and education for herself. It’s heart-breaking when every small mistake can be catastrophic and she’s watched at every turn, and devastating when she can only perhaps be saved when she becomes a qualifying link in the matriarchal line, although her mother is still a strong force of criticism.

Like in “The Girl with the Louding Voice”, Ana, this woman in the 1960s, without paperwork and with every penny saved liable to disappear, has her own powerful voice and personality and an author to champion her untold story – in this case, Cruz’s mother’s story, who said to her,

“Who would be interested in a story about a woman like me? It is so typical.”

And yet it’s a fascinating window into the lives of just one group among many groups of immigrants in the world, and their home country’s history, too.

 

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