Book reviews – Pamela Brown – “Golden Pavements”, “Blue Door Venture” and “Maddy Again” #amreading #20BooksofSummer

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I took “Golden Pavements” off the TBR as I acquired it in 2018 (thank you, Verity), but I knew if I read it as part of my “Getting Rid of 2018” 20 Books of Summer project, I would immediately want to read the other book in the Blue Door Theatre series I had on the TBR from 2019 – and what if I couldn’t fit them both in! (I don’t quite know why I thought that, as I ended up reading “Maddy Again” in part of an afternoon in the garden!). I’m happy to say that this attempt at preparing the early part of my TBR to be whizzed through during 20Books was more successful than my attempt to not have two Tolkien books on there (well, that worked, in that I now don’t … ) even though I ended up having to buy “Blue Door Venture” from Hive (who are actually doing better than Amazon at getting in paperbacks at the moment) to fill in the gap I didn’t realise I had. So, three books by Pamela Brown to round off May.

Pamela Brown – “Golden Pavements”

(22 December 2018 – from Verity)

Third in the Blue Door Theatre series and everyone except Maddy has joined Nigel at stage school. There’s loads of exciting detail as they settle into London life and even naughtily get jobs during the term, as well as touring and working as Assistant Stage Managers in the holidays. They all want to go back home and re-establish a professional theatre in Fenchester … except Lyn feels odd about that and might want “more”. The path her career takes is again given in delicious technical detail as she encounters a powerful older female actor who is not keen on being even inadvertently outshone. Meanwhile, in Fenchester, the Bishop makes a happy re-appearance.

Pamela Brown – “Blue Door Venture”

(28 May 2020)

The Blue Doors are back in Fenchester running a rep theatre in their slightly upgraded and beloved Blue Door Theatre, hoping to be able to pay back the loan they’ve had from the council, but living out the dream they’ve had since their early teens. But when a stranger offers help during panto season, things might not be what they seem to be, and the rest of the book is a caper trying to catch a villain, which is nicely put together and includes some great work from Maddy and her young friends.

Pamela Brown – “Maddy Again”

(16 December 2019 – from Meg)

Last one and we’re back with the ever-popular cheeky Maddy, in Juniors at the drama school and learning about making TV (Brown was a TV producer and I love all the technical details, something I’ve always loved about the whole series). Notable for the entirely positive introduction of a black character (who, nonetheless, highlights that they might not be welcome everywhere) into the cast, which up until now only had the rather stereotyped Indian, Ali, and a good fun read that sees a satisfactory reunion and life for the Blue Door Theatre Company by the end.


I’m so glad Pushkin Press decided to reissue this lovely series – I’ve got my original TV cover “Swish of the Curtain” (anyone remember that, with Sarah Greene as Sandra?) as it gave me a chance to re-read them and find them just as great as before.

Two DNFs today – a rare occurrence!

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It’s pretty rare that I start a book and don’t finish it. I’m very open to not ploughing on with books that I am not enjoying, but I tend to select carefully to start off with (and my friends are really good at buying me books!) and then if I really don’t fancy something, I DNS it instead of even starting. These two have happened within the last week, and while it’s definitely a case of “It’s not you, it’s me” with these perfectly adequate books, I don’t think it’s indicative of a reading slump – one was picked off because I didn’t want two Tolkien books in my 20 Books of Summer, and the other picked up on Kindle because it was the oldest one on my NetGalley list – and that was obviously for a reason!

Colin Duriez – “The Oxford Inklings: Lewis, Tolkien and their Circle”

(31 Oct 2018 – The Newlyn Bookshop)

I managed to get half-way through this one before I accepted the dawning realisation that I’m only really interested in Lewis’ “Narnia” books (and certainly not the process of his religious conversion) and Tolkien in total, and found myself plodding through descriptions of Charles Williams’ Christianity-themed novels in the hopes of glimpses of Middle Earth (this is not to say I reject books about religion, not at all, but this is not what interested me about this circle). I have two other books on Tolkien in my TBR (including that huge companion to the exhibition I didn’t get to go to) so would rather concentrate on them. A perfectly competent book, although I wasn’t massively keen on the writing style.

Roxane Gay – “Not that Bad: Dispatches from Rape Culture”

(01 Sept 2018 – NetGalley)

I didn’t pick up on the savage irony of the title, the author’s mantra for years after she was gang-raped as a teenager: in this collection she points out that yes, it is that bad, and here is the proof. There are then thirty contributions from authors who have experienced sexual assault, harassment, street-calling, all the #MeToo things we keep hoping will go away with more education but don’t seem to.

While I understand that it’s important for the rape culture that seemingly underlies not just US but all culture to be exposed and discussed, and it’s vitally important for people to be able to share their experiences and their pain, it’s also important that if we’re reading something that’s unremittingly grim and hugely upsetting we allow ourselves to look away from it and place it aside. I’m well aware of the terrible experiences so many women go through, and naturally have my own experiences of assault, harassment and street-calling (what female-identifying person hasn’t?) and this was just too much. To be fair, I was also looking for maybe some analysis or a call to powerful action which I wasn’t really finding in the 18% of the book I got through, and I took the time to look up reviews, too, some of which did mention this point.

So a vital and important book for many to read: I had a taste of it, couldn’t face reading on and will continue to support women who experience violence and harassment.

Thank you to Atlantic Books for the opportunity to read this via NetGalley.


Have you read (and finished?) either of these? What was the last book you gave up on?

20 Books of Summer 2020 is coming … #20BooksOfSummer20

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Hooray – it’s almost 20 Books of Summer time, and this is one challenge I try to do every year. It’s hosted by Cathy over at 746 Books and here’s her launch page for this year.

I have a page on here for the challenge which lists all the books I’ve done for each year since I started joining in (here) and I will link to each review there as I publish it.

I also include All Virago/All August within this challenge, so this year my pile includes seven Virago (and friends) titles to read specifically in August.

My theme this year is Get Rid of 2018. I keep my TBR in order of acquisition, and have been reading books I bought a year ago for ages and ages. Since I started allowing myself to alternate between the oldest and newest books on my shelf, I have slipped way more than a year back with the oldest ones, and I am getting tired of seeing the same old books on the start of the shelf. So the non-Virago books will take us through 2018 and up to May 2019 (I can’t have bought much between my birthday and May that year!) and the Virago etc. ones take out the rest of the Christmas and birthday piles. The only ones that should remain that were acquired in 2018 are two Angela Thirkells (Christmas gifts) and those are waiting for the new editions from Virago that come before them in the sequence to come out, right at the end of August, so I haven’t included them.

Also not included in the pile are books in my current challenge (this is reading a Paul Magrs every month, whose books tend to be shorter than Irish Murdoch’s, who hampered my last two years!) and e-books, so a huge slew on Kindle from NetGalley and other sources. I like to make a physical pile and have one book per author, but rest assured, these will continue to be read, too (I’m reading more than 10 per month at the moment and the 20 Books project takes up 7, 6 and 7 book slots of each month).

I want to address one more thing right away. This pile is not very Diverse. Most writers on it appear to be white females (13) and males (7), some may be LGBTQ, I’m not sure right now.  Most of them (except travel ones, one biography and a US and an Australian novel) are set in the UK, even. This is weird, as I tend to read quite a diverse range of authors and about a range of places and people. In fact, the three books that come directly after this set of books on the shelf are the diary of an Indian man’s travels in Russia, a book about the role immigrants have to play in the life of my city and the autobiography of Tan France of Queer Eye, about being a gay Muslim! And I did think of making a Diverse Pile instead, but that seemed forced and a bit pi. So let me just reassure you that a) I must have just been going through a phase of buying in these particular areas, b) Virago and Persephone tend to sit there anyway, and c) I have plenty of books on all sorts of diverse topics by a lovely set of different kinds of people in my Kindle from NetGalley, etc., as well as in the rest of the TBR and coming up sooner if I clear these, and I will make the effort to read only books by diverse authors alongside this pile in June-September and seeking to learn about others’ experiences as usual.

The pile

Here it all is!

So June and July’s set is here:

George Eggleston – Tahiti – Man from the 1950s travels to Tahiti. Bought in a charity shop in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Nancy Marie Brown – The Far Traveller: Voygages of a Viking Woman – reconstructs the life and travels of the Icelander Gudrid and her context.

Alex Horne – Birdwatchingwatching – the comedian from Taskmaster and his dad spend a year doing competitive birdwatching with each other.

Philip Marsden – Rising Ground – a book about West Penwith, spirit of place and the historians who came before him, bought in Penzance.

Laura Thompson – The Last Landlady – the history of the British pub, through the lens of the author’s grandmother’s life as a pub landlady.

N.D. Isaacs and Rose Zimbardo – Tolkien and the critics – critical essays on Tolkien from 1970

Simon Winchester – Outposts – in 1985 he travelled to the outposts of the British Empire and this is a 2003 new edition with some additional material.

Ammon Shea – The Phone Book – known for doing a quest or two (like reading the dictionary) here he turns his attention to the history of the phone book.

Jeanette Winterson/Emmeline Pankhurst – Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere – Winterson’s call to arms from 100 years after women partially won the right to vote, plus Pankhurst’s landmark speech, Freedom or Death.

John Sutherland – Literary Landscapes – familiar literary worlds with illustrations, maps and archive material.

Anne George – Murder Runs in the Family – fun cosy mystery set in Birmingham, Alabama

Kim Gordon – Girl in a Band – autobiography covering her time in the band Sonic Youth

Tim Parks – Where I’m reading From – essays about books and reading

… and then the All Virago / All August section – I’m including Persephone and Dean Street Press as also publishing lost women’s fiction and because I don’t have seven Viragoes on the TBR if you don’t include the Thirkells I can’t read yet.

Dorothy Whipple – Young Anne – the last of her books Persephone has published and her coming of age novel

Edith Ayrton Zangwill – The Call – a scientist becomes steadily more involved with the suffragette movement

Elizabeth Eliot – Henry – the narrator’s unreliable brother joins the circus and does other shocking things

Catherine Carswell – The Camomile – portrait of a woman living in Scotland at the turn of the 19th/20th century

Ada Cambridge – The Three Miss Kings – three sisters in 1880s Melbourne. I was going to use this for AusLitMonth in November but I have so few Viragoes!

Margaret Kennedy – The Ladies of Lyndon – set around a great house in Edwardian times

Joan Aiken – The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories – wonderful stories all republished together and a lovely treat to finish up with.


What do you think of my Pile? Have you read any of these books? Are you doing 20 Books of Summer this year? I feel it’s a nice little bit of normality in These Circumstances.

Book review – Delia Owens – “Where the Crawdads Sing” #amreading

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There was a point at which I seemed to see nothing but talk about and reviews of this book, and I was intrigued, particularly by its setting in the swamps of North Carolina. But I also saw there was a murder mystery element, which worried me, so I persuaded Matthew to read it first. He read it on audiobook (more on that in the review) and was raving about it, and shall we say “strongly encouraged” me to get a copy. So I did, and there came a space and I read it. And I think I loved it slightly less than he did, but we had a good discussion on it.

I saved a few reviews of it to read but if you reviewed it, do put a link in the comments. The reviewers I follow were quite mixed on it!

Delia Owens – “Where the Crawdads Sing”

(24 March 2020)

An accomplished first novel set in the marshlands of North Carolina (not even a small-town coming-of-age novel, more a tiny-town-coming-of-age novel!) where in one of the two converging timelines, young Kya sees all her family gradually leave and basically raises herself, her only friends Tate, a local boy who loves the marsh as much as she does, and Jumpin’, the older African American man who runs a small general store and, along with his wife, provides quiet background support (this sums up the novel’s approaches in favour of nature and integration). Kya comes into some contact with her local peers, mostly to her disadvantage, including Chase Andrews who, following the outsider versus star quarterback trope, shows some interest in her, so our suspicions are immediately raised when in the present day of the novel (1969), he’s found dead in the marsh. While Kya’s been educating herself and becoming an accomplished naturalist, all the town sees is the outcast ‘Marsh Girl’ – will she have enough allies when she needs them?

I found the book a bit clumsily written, needing some colons or semi colons where a new sentence started awkwardly. And the dialect is sometimes written out and sometimes left to the reader to imagine – I personally don’t mind dialect written semi-phonetically, although some people do. Interestingly, neither of these main issues for me were, of course, issues for Matthew, whose audiobook narrator smoothed them away! There’s also some fairly trite poetry that I skimmed over by a local poet – although its quality does get called out as weak by Tate, which I liked. There is some other poetry, Masefield and Dickinson, when Kya is learning about the power of the written world, and that little bit was enough, even though I realise the other was there for a reason.

I liked the sense of place a lot, and the history of the settlement of the marsh and how exactly Kya works to claim her patch legally. I also liked that she earns most of the improvements to her life herself, from bartering for food to keep alive in the early days to making improvements to her cabin (however, I did wonder how she knew to want various particular things if she’d never experienced them – had she read about bathtubs?). I also loved the careful observations of the marsh and its creatures and then the comparisons of the people of the town with the ways of the wildlife, remembering that nature has no good or evil, only actions to observe.

So nicely done and a good first novel, a good and engaging read but not the best book in the world ever. I can think of at least two authors who could have done this better, but then they’re Larry McMurtry and Barbara Kingsolver, so that’s not panning it by any means!


I’ve been making my Pile for 20 Books of Summer 2020 and will be sharing that at the weekend. How exciting! And I don’t think I shared these two new incomings (I’ve managed not to buy anything for over a week now, although had a session supporting books on Unbound (that doesn’t count, right?)

These two beauties are by Ayisha Malik, who wrote “This Green and Pleasant Land” which I read through NetGalley and loved last year. “Sofia Khan is Not Obliged” is a romantic comedy about a woman who’s given up dating until her boss asks her to write about the world of Muslim dating, and in “The Other Half of Happiness” Sofia appears to be married (spoiler! but we still get to find out how!) and dealing with the situation there. I am really looking forward to reading these!

Book review – Jaimie Admans – “The Little Bookshop of Love Stories” #TheLittleBookshopofLoveStories #NetGalley

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A nice, gentle read from NetGalley, just the thing for a quiet weekend. It’s a  bit more modern than the cute cover implies, I think, although it is set in a Cotswold village.

Jaimie Admans – “The Little Bookshop of Love Stories”

(29 April 2020)

Hallie, who always thinks of herself as attracting bad luck, and bad luck only (and there’s a fairly squicky opening scene as she loses yet another job, which does not set the tone for the book as a whole), suddenly wins a bookshop in a raffle – in fact, her favourite bookshop – and thinks her luck has changed … until she remembers she doesn’t know how to run a business, she takes a look at the state of the finances, and a slimy property developer starts sniffing around.

But lovely artist Dimitri with his sad back story seems to be always around to help, the bookshop has some fans already and makes some more, and when they realise the previous owner had purposely filled the second-hand part of the bookshelves with books with notes written in them, they find a way to turn the shop’s fortunes around, especially if they can reunite some of the books with their former owners. But will Hallie ever get close to Dimitri or get the shop to turn a profit?

There’s lots of nice detail about learning to run the shop, and good comedy value from Hallie’s mum, always on the hunt for a man for her daughter. There’s also a BookCrossing-esque scheme to leave books for people to find, which is always nice. A feel-good read that is nicely done.

This book was published on 08 May. Thank you to HQ Digital for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Book review – Daphne Du Maurier – “Jamaica Inn” @Heaven_ali #DDMReadingWeek

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A second book read and reviewed for Ali’s Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week and I’m quite proud of myself for that! I read and wrote a review to publish during the Week for “Rebecca” just in case I ran out of time to get this one read – of course, it turned out to be another one that cannot be put down, and I finished it in a great rush one lunchtime (of course, I slightly regretted reading it over my lunch, but I just about coped!). So although I will probably have a pause before reading more Daphne Du Maurier, I certainly won’t rule out dipping into her long list of works again, especially if there’s another Week next year. Thank you to Ali for introducing me to a new to me author (and Cornishgirl for sending me this one!)

Daphne Du Maurier – “Jamaica Inn”

(25 December 2019, part of my LibraryThing Virago Group Not So Secret Santa gift

I have realised that you can pretty well guarantee a cracking good story and a great sense of place with DDM. In this historical novel (yes, me reading a historical novel!), set in the 19th century just when the vile practice of “wrecking” ships was being stamped out, orphaned Mary moves to the forbidding Cornish moors from a hard life in a pretty village to stay with her aunt and the horrible man who she married, in their forbidding and empty inn.

The opening is suitably Gothic, with Mary swaying along in a coach in a storm, head full of warnings about staying at Jamaica Inn, all very Hardyesque or Mary Webbish (and in fact there’s a bit at the end that’s very Mary Webb but not quite as horrific). We have doors that are bolted to strange rooms, odd noises in the night, a bog to get lost in and a peculiar vicar who keeps turning up at just the right time, and it’s a touch more scary and violent than I’d normally read, but nothing is gratuitous. You know Mary is asking for trouble – or is she – when she’s too proud to turn down the opportunity to take a trip to Launceston on Christmas Eve with Uncle Joss’ younger and more attractive (mainly because he has basically killed fewer people) brother; it’s interesting when there’s a clear pivot point in a novel. But the story is by no means guessable or simple from there on in.

There’s an interesting gender politics angle – Mary is described as working or being fit to work as well as a boy, Uncle Joss wishes she were one, and she’s very clear that once she tries to escape the Inn, if she’d been a boy she’d have been sent off to work her way onto a ship, rather than being looked after and offered a cosy job.

I’m glad I read this one and didn’t run away screaming when it got a bit dark. It’s always handy to have read “Northanger Abbey” in these situations and to assume better than the heroine does, even if she turns out to be right in the end!


Book review- Paul Magrs – “Fancy Man” #magrsathon @paulmagrs

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Look at me, all done with my Paul Magrsathon book and it’s only half-way through the month! I was very intrigued by this one, his fourth and lost novel, republished by Lethe Press along with his Phoenix Court trilogy (you can buy them all from their website or on Amazon) after he found the slightly damp manuscript in his writing shed and decided to revisit it. I’ve now finished all the Lethe reissues and thoroughly enjoyed them. As usual, you get an introduction talking about the context and writing of the book and two bonus short stories.

Paul Magrs – “Fancy Man”

(11 April 2018)

A standalone novel which only has a glance at Phoenix Court but does inhabit the same 1990s Edinburgh world as “Could it Be Magic?” including some of the same fabulous queer venues. I loved this romp through the life of third sister Wendy, her best friend Timon and her cousin Colin (someone who is HIV+ and doesn’t die, making a change from a lot of novels of a similar vintage) as she moves from Blackpool on the death of her mother to move in with Auntie Anne of the ‘good legs’ and her lottery-winner ex-husband (are you keeping up here?) in Edinburgh. Her two older sisters serve as alternative paths she could have taken, one using life as art in a writing career, the other settling for boring housewifedom.

As the editor who turned this one down pointed out, everyone in the book is a little bit odd – but then again, isn’t everybody a bit odd in life anyway? I particularly loved the German amputee laundrette owners, one of whom is hilariously given her own section to narrate, and then there are UFO-spotters and a unicorn death cult as well as all sorts of odd goings on. It’s alternate fiction, set in a world where Scotland is independent and you go through a tartan arch to get there on the train, although this aspect isn’t really dwelt on, just a little funny addition. Great fun and perfectly readable, with a more solid timeline going through a section of just one character’s life. it is supposed to be based around James’ “Portrait of a Lady” which I read on holiday in Tunisia in 1999 and do not remember, but you certainly don’t need to have read or know that book to enjoy this one.

There’s a magical Christmas story in “Glittery Fag” where you can create your own hero if you try hard enough, and thrillingly, lovely Robert from the Brenda and Effie novels has an adventure with his aunt in Venice in “Baubles”.


Next month I’m starting the Mars trilogy, which I’m a bit trepidatious about as I don’t read much sci-fi or other-planetary stuff in general. I trust Paul, but I hope I can keep up with the tropes he uses and, I’m sure, subtly undermines. Anyone fancy reading them along with me?

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.

 

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