Book review- Paul Magrs – “Could it be Magic?” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Oops, at the end of the month again with my review. It took a while to read this one as I have managed not to have much reading time this week. Having read this assuming it was a re-read, I’m not entirely sure it was, and it’s not in my Reading Diary Index, which I’ve done for 1996-2001, which would have covered when I’d have read it, I think.

Paul Magrs – “Could it be Magic?”

(11 April 2018)

Another of Lethe Press’s republished Phoenix Court series (you can buy them from their website or on Amazon), and I loved Paul’s description of how and where he wrote it in the introduction. There are two short stories included, “Jep”, which links to the main story, and “Fond of a Treat” which is a brilliant, atmospheric piece set in the Edinburgh queer community but linking back a little, very nicely.

I would say that you need to have read the other two to really get to grips with this one, as it opens with a rather raucous and marvellous party featuring most of the characters from the previous book, with all the interplays of friendship and rivalry going on but only Penny and Andy left in Penny and Liz’s house, which has housed all sorts since the last book. And Vince has gone off to Paris, only featuring in a rather snippy phone call.

Elsie’s son Craig has got in with the bad lads across the road and they’re terrorising the neighbourhood; meanwhile, her husband’s got his religious visions again and is recuperating in the psychiatric hospital. But who’s coming back to do strange things in the house – and who’s putting them right again? Tattooed Mark is back, and someone makes his tattoos almost come alive in a couple of scenes I loved and could have done with more of. Liz has an accident and lies in a coma for much of the book, a (clever) blank canvas for each of the other characters to display themselves on. The community support for her identity in a place not known for its tolerance is lovely and heartwarming. There’s lots of moving around – Andy escapes to the wild life  of Edinburgh and ends up somehow and mystifyingly pregnant. I loved his son, Jep, and was glad of a) the story featuring him at the end of the book and b) the wonderful epilogue 17 years later, with Fran installed where she should be and Jep grown up and well. This was a real high point to the book, although I’m not sure how the final book in the series, which was never published at the time, will intersect with that.


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 – Margot Lee Shetterly – “Hidden Figures”

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Another in my readalong books pile, where I encouraged blog readers and friends to suggest books from my TBR they would like to read alongside me. I was originally going to read this one with a woman from my online photo-a-day group and possibly Wandering Cranes last week, but it’s quite a dense book and I didn’t have quite as much reading time as I’d hoped, so it’s spread over two weeks. I did read a fair few novels alongside it, however!

I’ve read all except the bottom one in the pile, “Rewild Yourself” by Simon Barnes, now, which I think is pretty good going, and I’ve really enjoyed feeling people are reading them alongside me. I suppose I’ve extinguished that idea now as I haven’t added TOO many books since I displayed my TBR, but it’s been fun, thankyou. I have a few books lined up for the rest of this month – my Paul Magrs up next, “Where the Crawdads Sing” as Mr Liz is bursting to discuss it with me, and possibly a Diana Wynne Jones sequel. I am holding off on “Rewild Yourself” for a bit longer as Emma is still working her way through “Difficult Women”..

Margot Lee Shetterly – “Hidden Figures”

(23 April 2019, Cancer Research shop in Shirley)

I remember buying this book – I was going to meet my friend Linda to collect my birthday presents from her, and popped in the charity shops as I was a bit early. We’d just watched the film of this and there was the book! And it was exactly a year before I wrote up this review, which is nice and tidy, isn’t it?

This is an amazing book, let alone a first book – what an achievement! Twelve years in the making, Shetterly turns painstaking research into an engaging narrative of the lives and stories of the African American woman (and some African American men and some white women) mathematicians and engineers who worked at NASA and its predecessor organisations. It cleverly weaves the women’s lives and careers, the changing social mores of Langley, with “Coloured Only” signs eventually vanishing from canteen tables and work teams being desegregated, and the wider battle for integration (and, shockingly, against it, particularly in Virginia).

I loved the narrative of mutual support that the author draws out, each women extending a hand to the next, and working in their communities and schools to encourage girls into STEM subjects and black children to dream and achieve. Those that were still alive appear to have given generously of their time and their tales of their colleagues. But she also draws out the way the visual narrative of those involved in space research and engineering came out on the side of the white and male.

I loved the little details – Martin Luther King Jr. turning out to be a fan of Star Trek and its black Lieutenant Uhura, and the author’s story of growing up assuming that black people naturally worked in science and engineering, as that’s where her own family were situated. You also spot details that made it into the film, but this book is so much more than the film, filling in all the details that could not be included there. I particularly love that we find out the book has also spawned the Human Computer Project, which has continued the work with a database of all the female mathematicians working during the period the book covers.

A tour de force which surprises, shocks and celebrates in equal measure, and a very competent and readable work of history/social history.

Book review – Candice Carty-Williams – “Queenie” plus Book Confessions #amreading #bookconfessions

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Not only have I been buying up books like someone who’s about to discover she can’t buy any more books ever again, but I’ve been eschewing my calm progression through my TBR from the first acquisition to the last by firstly opening up things to a mini-readalong and then grabbing books I’ve only just bought to read IMMEDIATELY. To be fair on myself, I picked up “Queenie” to have a quick look and was utterly transfixed by the opening pages, having to tear myself away from it. Stick it on the TBR to read in, like, a year or something? No way.

So here’s my review of “Queenie” (out of order, as I finished it before “My Antonia” and whatever I managed to read and review for 1920 Week, sorry “Queenie”, and then some MORE incomings but I think this will be it for a  bit, unless the lovely publishers manage to get me any more print versions of review books in the Circumstances.

Candice Carty-Williams – “Queenie”

(07 April 2020)

Few books are brave enough to open with a scene set during an internal examination, let alone first novels! This is the utterly compelling story of Queenie, a black British millennial and a woman whose story represents one very specific life but also many lives. We meet her as she parts from her white boyfriend and finds herself in a manky house-share, seemingly bent on self-sabotage in her sex/love life and work life. She’s NOT the black Bridget Jones, as she’s been dubbed – her story is far deeper and more complex. Gradually, through her everyday life as it slowly unravels and through flashbacks that are done very skillfully so we never get lost, we unpeel the layers and find out why she’s behaving as she is, what’s not helping her, and what might help her.

Specific themes around her lived experience (I winced at the micro-aggressions she experiences every single day, and the blatant racism, even when masked in attempts at kindness or solidarity, rooting for people to not touch her hair – it’s very important that these details are recorded, included and noticed – seen – by the reader) also widen into universal themes (mending yourself, mending your family, negotiating growing up and becoming independent, workplace issues) which make the book very relatable for people who are not black British millennials (or not all those things). That is not to undermine the extra lens of race, the intersectionality of Queenie’s experience being the most important factor, but makes it a more attractive read to a wider audience, allowing us to learn about other lives than our own.

I loved Queenie’s strong female family members (her grandad is force of strong love and stronger parsimoniousness, movingly coming through for Queenie just when she needs him to), her cheeky cousin, her scary grandma, her alarming aunt, as well as her friends. Kyazike is particularly brilliant and I love the text group conversations and emails as well as the straight text – enough to be modern, not too much and overwhelming or gimmicky. Half-way through the book I was convinced it was going to end with either a happy ending reunion or her dying from a botched abortion – but instead there were some great redemptive moments and a powerful lesson about looking after your mental health, but no neat solutions.

This book did shock me. I had my wild South London 20s way before social media and although there were many issues of sexism and safety then, and although I’d read about the particular gamut of rough and dangerous sexual encounters that young women now face, some of the stuff Queenie has to endure is pretty horrific, again with the extra racial dimension which is so important for people to either read and recognise in their stories or read and learn, depending on their own background and experience. Without moralising and through characters from the health services, the author makes it clear that this situation is not right, while also drawing attention to misapprehensions and stereotypes that those health services workers might themselves fall into.

All this, and we manage to fit in an elegy for the lost small businesses and quirky community of Brixton. What a great and thought-provoking read: Queenie will stay with me, and I can’t wait to see what the author does next.


Those incomings now.

OK, these two don’t really go together, but I was still thinking about how important it is to read about other lives than our own, and went down my Wish List and picked “Common Peaople: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers” edited by Kit de Waal. It’s an important collection of essays, poems and memoir about the working-class experience and looks fascinating, inspiring and provocative.

Then, I’ve been busy buying up the Queer Eye Fab Five’s books – I have Tan’s, Karamo’s and Jonathan Van Ness’, but then I didn’t really need Antoni’s cookbook and Bobby doesn’t seem to have a book AT ALL, and you know how all our emotions are near the surface at the moment, so I started feeling sad and a bit guilty that I’d left them out, so I bought myself the Queer Eye book. I have the ORIGINAL Queer Eye book, so I’m feeling a re-read and comparison post coming on. Why not?

Then my copy of Anne Tyler’s “Clock Dance” arrived from Hive (hooray for Hive – they make a donation to a bookshop of your choice when you order, and in Normal Times you can even have your books delivered there to collect; they no longer take book tokens, which is a shame (the first thing I’m going to do when lockdown ends is rush to Foyles, clutching my book tokens!) but they’re brilliant apart from that). I am not sure how I hadn’t already got this one, as I’m a firm Anne Tyler fan (she dipped a little, in my estimation, but I really enjoyed “A Spool of Blue Thread” (in 2016? How?) and “Vinegar Girl“. I am always one book behind with her, as I have all of her books in paperback, so I can’t bring myself to get the hardbacks, even though I have a few large format paperbacks I got from QPD back in the day. I think I’m due an Anne Tyler readalong soon, actually – maybe I should do that in 2021 instead of Robertson Davies, given that I have them all already so it wouldn’t involve any extra purchasing.


Right, I finished “Queenie” last week but had to push forward other reviews to fit in with challenges and readalongs. So hopefully by the time this is published I’ll be reading my next Paul Margsathon book and getting further through “Hidden Figures”. Have you any book confessions and have you read “Queenie”?

Book review – O. Douglas – “Penny Plain” #1920Club

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Well, I am writing this a day late, but I read 19 of this book’s 25 chapters yesterday, which was still inside Kaggsy and Simon‘s 1920 club week! I was alerted to this book by my dear friend Heaven-Ali (miss you! Waves!) who reviewed it earlier last week – I found a Kindle collection for less than a pound and it’s lovely to know I have four more of her books to read, too!

Ali points out in her review that lovers of D.E. Stevenson will like O. Douglas, and the comparison is apt, as it felt very Stevenson-esque in the lovely picturesque Scottish setting, the gentle and attractive characters and the gentle humour.

O. Douglas – “Penny Plain”

(17 April 2020 – ebook)

A charming novel. Jean and her brothers plus one “extra” who came to them by convoluted association, live in cheerful simplicity but slightly concerning poverty in the village of Priorsford. Moving towards them on the train from Euston are two people who will change their fates – Peter Reid, an elderly businessman who has neglected all other sides of life and who’s just had bad news about his health but finds himself unable to bring himself to throw them out of the house he actually owns once he meets them, and the Honourable Pamela, shockingly 40 and with a heart of gold, who is escaping the ‘good’ marriage she should be making to visit the place her old love Lewis spoke of with such love. Add in the neighbours, some nice, some comedic, some sharp social observation and some points about marriage and gender (including the observation that it’s best to let people be who they want to be, some not wanting to be ‘tuppence coloured’) and some comic servants, but also a leavening of sorrow and sadness running through the community, which comes from the date this book was published, I think, and you have a very satisfying read, not all light, but with some depth. You do kind of know what’s going to happen, but watching the careful unwinding of how it’s going to happen while reading about a lovely community is most entertaining. I’m very glad I got to read this!


Next up is a Paul Magrs, and continuing with the excellent “Hidden Figures”. My fiction is pulling strongly ahead of my non-fiction numbers, which I shall need to address soon!

Book review – Willa Cather – “My Antonia” #readalong #amreading

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I planned to read this novel (or re-read it) this week after popping it on my Readalong schedule for this month, Elle and Bill having both suggested they’d choose it to read from my massive TBR. I then undermined myself completely by grabbing “Queenie” from my new purchases and then having the peculiar combination of not that much time to read and not being able to put it down. So “My Antonia” was started a bit late, and finished today, and apologies to Bill, whose review was all ready to go two days ago (AND he read two other Cathers first!).

I received this book in my LibraryThing Virago Group Not So Secret Santa last Christmas (I have a horrible feeling that I haven’t got up to the ones from 2018 in my TBR yet, so maybe I’d better go back to chronological reading next month!), from the lovely Cornishgirl. It was one of my Honorable Mentions in my Best Reads for 2005 post, however I started blogging part way through 2005 and must have read it earlier. I will admit now that I had it mixed up with “A Lost Lady”, which, to be fair, I read in 2006.

Willa Cather – “My Antonia”

(25 December 2019)

A small but beautifully crafted portrait of the hard life of settlers in the Midwest of America, both those from other parts of America and those from Europe and Russia. It’s also apparently a thinly veiled portrait of Cather’s own life, with her gender switched to the narrator’s, but I read it without thinking too much of that, for the social history and description. Being an Oxford Classic, there are copious notes which add all the detail if you want it (and also lots of detail about plants, history and terms which make it peppered with asterisks on some pages – I like to feel a bit smug when I know what something is, I have to admit).

Jim Burden meets his new neighbours, the Shimerdas, on his first day in Nebraska after travelling there from Virginia to live with his grandparents. Their stories run in parallel, with a strong theme of neighbours helping each other out which chimes with these lockdown days. Other Bohemian inmmigrants fill in more of the different paths lives could take, and there’s triumph and tragedy as there always will be when living so close to the edge of survival. I love the detail and the nature, and it reminded me of the Laura Ingalls Wilder books with their move from the hardships of the country to softer living in the town. The nature and descriptive writing is beautiful and evocative, even if this is the Midwest and not the South-West, which I know better personally and have enjoyed reading about in her other books.

Some reviewers have mentioned how Antonia is not really described that much, but the title is “MY Antonia” and she is seen from all these different perspectives – Jim’s, her father’s, her mother’s, her friends’, her eventual husband’s and childrens’. It’s unbearably poignant in places – her carefully left message with the new tenant of the farm when she moves away, knowing it will reach Jim and his grandmother eventually, the story of Otto the hired man who is so integral to the farm and then is gone in an instant …

I loved the theme, too, of women working as hard as or in the place of men, both Antonia and Frances Harling, and other of the hired women making their own way in life and living strong, muscular and successful lives. The description of Samson the musician’s awakening to the piano is powerful but a weird interlude in this odd but indeed powerful novel that I was glad to revisit.


I’m still working my way through “Hidden Figures”, which is excellent but long and deep. I am breaking off from that to read a book for Kaggsy and Simon’s 1920 Club this weekend, so anyone reading that, I’ll be finishing it over the next week and reviewing it then. Happy reading, everyone! If you’ve read this one, please comment or link to your review! And watch out for some Book Confessions on Tuesday …

Book reviews – Patricia Leitch – “Dream of Fair Horses” and “The Horse from Black Loch” @janebadgerbooks

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Back in October, Jane kindly sent me two review copies from her paperback and e-publishing initiative, Jane Badger Books, which is a vehicle for repubilshing out of print pony books, that lovely genre which I adore so much. There they were, sitting there, as I read the very good but non-fiction and thought-provoking “Difficult Women” and so I picked them off the shelf to read. Of course, being Patricia Leitch books, they aren’t particularly cosy or comforting, but she’s such an interesting author in the pony book canon. Very excitingly, “The Horse from Black Loch” also fills in a year on my Century of Reading – I’ve ticked a few of those off recently!

Patricia Leitch – “Dream of Fair Horses”

(20 October 2019)

You don’t read Leitch for comfort and this is an affecting and absorbing but also a bit distressing story (not in terms of animal cruelty, just in terms of having to let go of your dreams. And I don’t think there’s anything particularly wrong with having to learn about that, and Leitch writes so very well about it).

Gill longs for a pony of her own, as do so many pony book heroines, but she knows she’s not in a pony book and for just two amazing seasons the pony dream does come true, but we kind of know it surely can’t last. She encounters the marvellous grey Perdita and after a lot of hard work and the breaking of her spirit more than the horse’s, she gets to show her. Owner Mr Ramsay has a scarred face (we don’t get to the bottom of this) but his family is ugly inside and Gill has to endure some horrible behaviour from them. Gill’s family is the usual eccentric one but with issues larger than those of having a writer father and not enough money; they really don’t have enough money and nobody seems to be able to break away, except for Fran with her musical ambition.

We learn the hard lesson that you must do what is best for the thing or person you love rather than what will make you happy, even when it causes you pain, but it’s a harsh lesson unusual in a pony book (though as I said there’s nothing essentially wrong with that!). Gill ends by making friends with a boy and planning to go and live in a commune with him, which again is not a classic pony book ending (and doesn’t really give anything away). It’s not unremitting gloom: Gill’s family can be very amusing, with Guiding principles fleeing when you see an actual accident and prize money being gleefully frittered on fripperies.

Patricia Leitch – “The Horse from Black Loch”

(20 October 2019)

Not so many grim messages in this one, apart from those about taking responsibility and not being a sneak. It’s a wild and supernatural tale for which you have to suspend a bit of disbelief, but a lovely satisfying story where you can imagine the characters living on through time after the book.

Kay and her cousins are off to stay with yet more cousins at their ancestral home in the northern wilds of Scotland – where three brothers once lived and then fell out. Kay finds she’s not a beaky brunette after all but a strong carrier of the family look, and indeed is therefore the next guardian of the Horse from the lake. When the Horse is threatened, it turns into a more classic pony rescue / chase narrative, and I loved the friendship and bond between Kay and her cousin Jamie, as well as the rejection of fancy girl stuff at the local ball. One of Kay’s cousins turns out to be a feeble tell-tale and gets their comeuppance and it’s all very exciting.

This one has the original illustrations and an excellent excerpt of the piece on Leitch from Jane Badger’s own history of the genre, “Heroines on Horseback” which makes it a lovely collector’s edition.


A quick update on the April Readalong and book challenge plans:

  • I really enjoyed reading “Howl’s Moving Castle” with Elle and have reviewed “Difficult Women” though my two friends who are reading it weren’t hurrying to write a review for Shiny New Books so are still reading it.
  • I’m just finishing up “Queenie” (oh, my goodness!) which I could not resist reading as a few friends have just finished it, and next up is “My Antonia” to read along with a couple of people.
  • I am deep into “Hidden Figures” but it’s quite a dense book so I don’t imagine I’ll be finishing and reviewing it that soon.
  • I want to read Arthur Quiller-Couch’s “On Reading” for Simon and Kaggsy’s 1920 week this week, let’s just hope I can!

And a book confession. Reading the bits and bobs in the back of “Howl’s Moving Castle”, I realised there were two sequels, and couldn’t resist. So “Castle in the Air” and “House of Many Ways” which are both set in the same world, are now on the TBR and it won’t be long I’m sure. Aren’t they pretty, too?

On the doormat today plopped “Common People: An Anthology of Working-Class Writers” edited by Kit de Waal – although this is on my wishlist and I’m keen to read it, I’m not sure EXACTLY why I felt I should order it now (and it came by Royal Mail, who I was trying not to burden – sorry!). Is it that I think they’re going to stop providing new books and therefore I need to buy up my wishlist (can we just recall I photographed my TBR the other day: I don’t think I’m going to be running out of reading material that quickly, esp as I’m still working very much full time!) or is it that I think I’m going to get ill and want to make sure I read All The Things just in case? I don’t know, but I am going to stop. Soon.

OK, the Queer Eye for the Straight Eye book arrived today too and I know why I ordered that although it doesn’t seem that logical – I had Tan and Karamo’s books and added Jonathan’s last week; I don’t want Antoni’s cookery book (sorry, Antoni!) and Bobby doesn’t have a book, so I wanted to balance out the love and royalties a bit. Hm.

I’ve also got Anne Tyler’s “Clock Dance” on the way from Hive (the nice ethical online retailers; you can only order one book at a time from them as the wholesalers have made it difficult for them and independents, but a percentage of the price goes to your local nominated bookshop) because I was frustrated that I hadn’t managed to buy the paperback yet. I have all of Tyler’s in paperback so the new one will have to wait!

How are your book challenges and readalongs with me going? How many books have you bought since lockdown started?

 

Book review – Helen Lewis – “Difficult Women” @helenlewis @JonathanCape

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I will be reviewing this book for Shiny New Books in the fullness of time, but I wanted to review it here as I have a personal connection to it and wanted to record my more personal feelings about it.

I’ve been working for Helen Lewis as a transcriber (so typing interviews she’s done as a journalist into Word documents for her to use in her articles; I do a lot of this work and am known for being able to capture the voices of the subjects accurately). When she turned her attention towards writing this book, she asked me to work on transcriptions for it, and I had a very informative and enjoyable time doing so over a year or so. Then, I was fortunate enough to be invited to her book launch, at the University Women’s Club in Mayfair, and managed to make it there (this was at the end of February so very lucky timing) and was thrilled to meet both Helen (I very, very rarely get to meet my clients) and a couple of the amazing women whose voices I typed out so many months ago. So here’s my personal review, and I’ll link to my Shiny one when it’s published.

Helen Lewis – “Difficult Women: A History of Feminism in 11 Fights”

(27 February 2020)

Helen Lewis has the admirable aim in this book of looking at feminism’s more difficult women, the ones who have been shaped to fit the narrative when they didn’t quite fit it or, if they didn’t fit it at all, eased and erased out. Women like Erin Pizzey, who founded the first women’s refuge (obviously a good thing) but then fell out with everyone, decided some women are addicted to violence and ended up claiming there’s no such thing as gender issues in domestic violence (Lewis gives the stats that proves that wrong) and being an activist for men’s rights. She’d always been a hero of mine (for the first bit) and it was good to have her slotted back into a history from which Refuge themselves have deleted her. Difficult doesn’t always mean dodgy, but some of these women really didn’t fit in with the mores of their time, let alone those of today’s often changed times. Other contributors include the sons of women murdered by their husbands or who have killed their abusive husbands pushing out the issue of coercive control into the mainstream to counter the patriarchal idea of the man who is pushed to the limit by a wife who is insufficient or not playing the game in some way.

She acknowledges early on that the subjects and battles (for divorce, for the right to university education, for the right to abortion) are chosen personally, and the book is full of her experiences and witty asides addressing the reader directly. The personal is political here and rightly so, and it makes the book feel brave but also approachable. The inclusion of women of colour and transwomen is woven through the book and where a chapter talks about straight couples because, for example, there just isn’t the data yet on same-sex divorce, this is made clear and the reasons explained.

The interviewees, as much as the subjects of the book, are not afraid to talk about tricky subjects from the off: when introducing Marie Stopes’ archivist biographer, for example:

It took me ten minutes after meeting Lesley Hall to start talking to her about penetration. (p. 84)

Is that difficult, or just brilliant (Ms Hall also mentions that Stopes “did not play well with others” which goes for many of the subjects of this book!).

I was lucky enough to meet Ms Hall at the book launch and she was indeed doughty and marvellous and very open to talking about all sorts! The real highlight of that party was meeting some more of the interviewees, hearing their familiar voices and knowing I had typed their words out!

This is a great and timely read. I particularly enjoyed the humour in the book: Helen’s point-by-point taking down of Mrs Thatcher’s assertion that “I reckon if you get anywhere it is because of your ability as a person and not because of your sex” in four funny but incisive paragraphs.

The description of a Difficult Woman at the very end is a masterpiece and I wish I could quote the whole thing: I encourage you to go and get a copy and read it!

Did you manage to read this along with me? What did you think of it?

Book review (and readalong) – Diana Wynne Jones – “Howl’s Moving Castle”

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This is one of the books I decided to read along with others after I published photos of the whole of my TBR and some people picked out books to read with me. There’s still time to join in, of course – I love hearing what other people thought of books I’ve read and reviewed, even years after I posted my review! I received it for Christmas in 2018 and looking at this pile, I’m a bit horrified to see I’ve still got most of these books on my TBR (and the Thirkells will have to stay there until I’ve got the three reprints in August which fill in the wartime gaps between ones I have on there).

Anyway, hopefully Elle from Elle Thinks has been reading this one, too: Lory was thinking of it but not sure she committed. Anyone else reading or read it recently? Well I liked it so much, I ordered the two sequels (oops).

Diana Wynne Jones – “Howl’s Moving Castle”

(25 December 2018, from Laura)

A lovely story, set in a world where all those magical things like seven-league boots are real but people are prosaically and nicely basically the same. Sophie’s the oldest of three daughters and therefore feels doomed to be the boring one who fails in her tasks. However, her hat-making skills have amazing effects and she ends up with powers of her own, living as the housekeeper to a wizard who MIGHT be evil and steal girls’ actual hearts, in a castle that moves around thanks to a demon in the fireplace (got that?). It’s just such a fun read, which you can see Wynne Jones had great fun writing!

There are some small leaps into what’s almost our world, and knowing comments “I’m surely due to have a third encounter, magical or not. In fact, I insist on one,” says Sophie (p. 36). I also love the computer game given to a boy which is set effectively in the world of the book. We’re set firmly beside the author and our heroine in these asides. And looking back at the book, I’m also cheered that although Sophie is magicked into being an old lady, she’s still full of energy and vim and vigour.

There are great interviews with the author about writing the book and the film adaptation in this newer edition of a 1980s book (how did I not read it at the time; maybe I thought there were only the Chrestomanci books).

This also fills in a year on my Century of Books. I’ve been doing well with that recently. Any recs for missing years gladly received!

Book review – David Hockney and Martin Gayford – “A History of Pictures” plus incomings @ShinyNewBooks @ThamesandHudson

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David Hockney is one of my favourite artists (I’m FAIRLY sure I didn’t subconsciously name one of our cats after his famous painting, “Mr and Mrs Clarke and Percy”) and I absolutely loved Martin Gayford’s set of art history essays, The Pursuit of Art”, which I read for Shiny last year (read about it here), so when I spotted this book “A History of Pictures: From the Cave to the Computer Screen” in Thames & Hudson’s catalogue, I couldn’t resist requesting it. A gorgeous, heavily illustrated (there is at least one picture on every page, and every picture they refer to, you find somewhere near) and very absorbing book, it takes as a central idea that artists through the ages have always used some kind of “camera” – a lens or a means of reflecting or projecting the world, before camera FILM was invented) to support their art, which I hadn’t realised Hockney had written about before, and gives loads of examples. I loved the way it compared a renaissance painting to a frame from a cartoon, and found it utterly fascinating. Read more here.


Incoming, and I will try not to do this so much because I have been reading about how overburdened our postal workers and delivery drivers are, and our DPD delivery man confided that he is working seven days a week at the moment, and new books aren’t an ESSENTIAL when I have a TBR like I have, but …

So I have Tan’s book and I have Karamo’s book and I spotted Jonathan’s book on special offer (I don’t need Antoni’s only recipes book and as soon as Bobby does a book I will be right on it) AND we’ve watched the last Queer Eye in Japan we had recorded, so there it came. And my lovely friend Laura has just read Candice Carty-Williams’ “Queenie”, which has been on my wish list for a while, and I am enjoying reading books at the same time as various friends, so I picked that up, too (and I idly read the first page and had to tear myself away a good few later, so that’s very promising!). I do have the two sequels to Diana Wynne Jones’ “Howl’s Moving Castle” because you can’t leave one of her worlds with more to come, can you, and then I’ll try to be more restrained (honest).

I did also try to buy a copy of Anne Tyler’s “Clock Dance” but weirdly Amazon is not offering any of her paperbacks new (is this one of their periodic rows with a publisher, does anyone know?) and I went on Hive but I couldn’t work out if you can benefit a bookshop any more with them, AND they no longer take book tokens, so gave that up for the time being. I will buy it with a token at Foyles when all this is over.

Have you bought any books recently?

Book review – Ada Leverson – “The Little Ottleys” (“Love’s Shadow”, “Tenterhooks” and “Love at Second Sight”)

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I bought my copy of “The Little Ottleys”, a set of charming books published between 1908 and 1916, in December 2018 after I’d bought Ali at Heaven-Ali a copy for her LibraryThing Virago Group not-so-secret Santa that year and decided I had to have a copy too.  She saw it on my TBR photo some time earlier this year and asked if I fancied reading it together. Especially as we’re onl 3.5 miles apart but could be a world apart at the moment, that felt like a lovely idea, so we’ve been doing just that over the last few weeks. We both read “Love’s Shadow” at a similar point in 2017 and she didn’t need to re-read it; however, I did, as it was the first book I read after I’d had an operation in that year, and the general anaesthetic must have wiped it from my mind as I had not a clue or recollection about it! So I read all three and she skimmed the first one and read the other two and it was lovely to think of her reading away at the same edition of the same book.

Ada Leverson – “Love’s Shadow”

(28 December 2018)

The pretty and delightful Edith Ottley suffers her pretty awful bore of a husband, Bruce (he is amusing, but his chief characteristic is described as being envy, which is not an attractive way to be). He is a hypochondriac who constantly misinterprets what she says and countermands his own instructions, and lacks a sense of humour, but there is amusement in how she manages him. Epigrams like Oscar Wilde’s litter the text – and that would probably be because Leverson was a friend of Wilde’s, and she has the same line in exquisite comedy. Hyacinth and her companion, the peculiar, mackintosh-clad Anne Yeo are the stars of the plot here; Anne is, like Ann Perronet in Murdoch’s “An Unofficial Rose” the backbone of the household: “It was like talking to a chair” could be said of either of them. There’s a complicated plot involving romantic swaps and marital misunderstandings, along with that great stalwart, the putting-on of a play.

Ada Leverson – “Tenterhooks”

We’ve lost Hyacinth and there’s not even a mention of her and her family, but gained Edith’s rather marvellous confidant, Vincy. But we also meet the handsome, kind and rich (if a bit entitled) Aylmer Ross, who falls in love with Edith. I was a bit shocked, as I’d expected to run along with the marital conflict but not have an actual threat to the marriage. But when Bruce turns out to have a couple of understandings and entanglements with young ladies, Edith flights bravely for her marriage and looks set to sacrifice her own feelings. The children, Archie and Dilly, provide comic relief, but it’s a darker book than the first because of the real peril the marriage faces.

Like Vince in “Does it Show” by Paul Magrs, Edith likes to have plain walls and not too much fussy decoration about the place. Another one for Bookish Beck!

Ada Leverson – “Love at Second Sight”

Published in 1916 (and thus doing that rare thing of filling in a year in my Century of Reading which yes, I am still adding to, sloooowwwwwllly), the war looms over this one as you’d expect. Bruce is shown up for the coward he is, on top of all his other faults, and the peculiar Madam Frabelle inexplicably comes to stay. Where is Vincy when you need him to sort things out when Aylmer Ross is also back – from France and wounded. Will Edith respond to his constancy in this new time of war? Well, “It doesn’t seem to matter now so much” (p. 492) gives us a clue. There’s humour to the last, when Bruce is more concerned about the state of his inkstand than the state of his marriage. We’re willing Edith to get happiness and fulfilment in her life after managing Bruce so beautifully for so long.

A lovely escapist series which you could plunge into, forgetting what was going on elsewhere. Ali has been reading them, too, and here’s her review.


Tomorrow I will share a lovely book I’ve read to review for Shiny New Books and two incomings I couldn’t somehow resist clicking on. Then I’ll be reviewing “Howl’s Moving Castle” on Thursday – how are people getting on with that?

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