Book review – Paul Magrs – “The Panda, the Cat and the Dreadful Teddy: A Parody”

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I’ve been reading Paul Magrs’ books since the late 1990s, when he started writing them and I started finding them in Lewisham Library, I’ve been friends with him for a good few years* and during lockdown I enjoyed the drawings and cartoons he put up on his Facebook feed. He started to feature two of his stuffed toys and his cat, Bernard Socks, and to gently parody the inspirational books that a lot of people like and cling to, but some find (or find after being bombarded by them) a bit Much. Then he collected the best of the cartoons into a book, and here it is, published today (my copy arrived a bit early for some reason.

*I bought the book for myself, from Hive.co.uk, and this is my honest opinion of the book.

Paul Magrs – “The Panda, The Cat and the Dreadful Teddy: A Parody”

I think the world of (probably Western) readers can be divided into two groups (maybe three with ones who are uninterested in the whole phenomenon): those who love the feel-good and supportive vibe of books like “The Boy, the Mole …” and people who maybe even don’t mind the book at all in itself and fair play to the author but images of it get bandied about an inserted into every conversation and there’s just relentless positivity around it all. The Dreadful Teddy is one of the first group. The Panda (and I) are in the second group. I’d say I was more the Cat, but I lack the requisite flexibility to do what the Cat does …

So, it is indeed a parody, and it’s pretty sweary, which some people have taken exception to on NetGalley reviews (it’s not marketed as a book for children, it’s clearly from the look of the book in the grown-up / gift sort of area, but they won’t have seen that on NG I suppose and just seen it’s cartoons), but it’s also a refreshing breath of fresh air for people who sigh when they get a relentlessly positive meme thrust at them for the nth time. And it’s very, very funny. The drawings are excellent and full of life and character, the cat being particularly charming, and I quite like the fact that the characters remain themselves rather than growing and changing – because don’t many of us do that really anyway?

A couple of images from the book to give you an idea – all images of course copyright Paul Magrs, non-professional pictures taken by me and not to be copied and shared.

“If you don’t stop saying inspirational things to me,” said Panda, “I am going to punch you up the hooter.”
“No thanks … I don’t actually want a hug from you today.”

The book is available in bookshops and the usual places. It’s an ideal present for your slightly cynical friend or if you want a laugh, and it’s very nicely produced by HarperCollins

Book review – Bobby Duffy – “Generations”

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I’m a member of Generation X, as the author here describes it, the middle child generation between the Baby Boomers and the Millenials and Generation Y youngsters. Yes, I wear hoodies, have a side-parting and have been known to eat cereal for dinner. But is everything I do and think shaped by the generation I was born into? That’s what Duffy has set out to explore here.

Bobby Duffy – “Generations: Does When You’re Born Shape Who You Are?”

(28 July 2021)

There’s a lot of dissent and combativeness between generations set up in, mainly, the media. You might think the Baby Boomers have destroyed our financial prospects and pulled up the money drawbridge, leaving us younger folks to flail, or that Millennials are snowflakes – or that Generation Y are the amazing climate change activists who are going to save the world. None of that is quite true, as Duffy, a professor of public policy, uses a long cohort of data from 40 countries around the world to prove – he actively states he is aiming to debunk myths and find out truths.

The main point Duffy makes throughout the book is that everyone has period effects, lifecycle effects and cohort effects that change their behaviour and attitudes over time – and it’s not only the cohort or generation effect that wins out. Period effects include things like the Covid pandemic, which of course affected us in different ways, with older people more likely to become seriously unwell, but with those so-called selfish youngsters pulling together to support the general community. Lifecycle effects include health issues that grow with age, a solidifying of beliefs so we think it was better before, etc.

A lot of the effects on younger people who seem to be eschewing marriage and car ownership, etc., can be put down to financial issues – they tend to stay “younger” longer and get a late start, then catching up. Meanwhile, just as many older people are climate activists. Where there are generational differences, they crop up in these delays and in politics, and changing attitudes to equality, same-sex marriage, etc., each generation affected by the situation it grows up in.

Duffy doesn’t leave it there, both exhorting people to look more carefully at the stats rather than making assumptions, and also calling for more support for young people with regards to equitable access to housing, etc – and like Shon Faye in “The Transgender Issue“, he makes the point that improving life for one sector of the population tends to raise equality and living standards for all.

A decently argued and clear book. In my e-book copy, it was a shame that the copious graph illustrations didn’t work, although they were all described clearly so I could get the gist. An interesting book for those interested in sociology and public policy.

Thank you to Atlantic Books for choosing me to read this book and making it available via NetGalley in return for an honest review. This book was published on 2 September 2021.

Book review – Julie Caplin – “The Cosy Cottage in Ireland”

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I never make apologies for light reading – it’s just as hard to construct a light, romantic read as it is to make other kinds of books work, and sometimes you need something light and jolly as a bit of a palate-cleanser or fluffy cloud to sit on a while (“Roots” is excellent but it’s quite hard going at times!). So when HarperCollins got in touch with me to offer me this one, via NetGalley, I said yes please, and knowing it was coming out at the end of the month, I slotted it into a few quiet days this last week.

Julie Caplin – “The Cosy Cottage in Ireland”

(13 September 2021, NetGalley)

Hannah has always been “the good one”, raised by her aunt and uncle after her and her sister’s impulsive parents died in an accident, her sister then the one who went off and tried and did things. I really liked the clever nod early on to the fact that light romantic books like this are often triggered by a horrible dumping or sad bereavement – in Hannah’s case, it’s a small-seeming incident with a cake that triggers her to take a six-week sabbatical from her legal job to go and do an advanced cookery course at a famous Irish farm and cookery school.

What Hannah doesn’t know is just how famous this school is. And just how famous and pursued the owner’s son is. So when she encounters him, she honestly doesn’t know who he is. Or whether she’s actually met him before …

There’s a nice cast of side characters, the other folk on the course, with their individual stories, and the people who run the course. Ireland is described in loving detail and so is some of the food and processes but not too over-detailed for someone like me who’s not really a foodie myself. There’s a good plot that allows Hannah to show what she’s made of, and everything is rooted in reality and sensibleness, even if she does feel she wants to fling everything into the air and just move to Ireland.

A nice engaging heroine, a great setting and a fun story – it ticks all the boxes and is done really well (there are some sex scenes but it’s not too lurid or graphic).

This is one of a series of books the author has done about people going and finding themselves in new countries called Romantic Escapes, and apparently some characters carry over between the books (ooh!) – I didn’t engage with her Japanese tea shop one but having enjoyed this I’d definitely try that one again, and others in the series.

Thank you to HarperCollins for inviting me to read this via NetGalley in return for an honest review. It’s published on 29 September so not long to wait if you’re tempted!

Book review – Shon Faye – “The Transgender Issue”

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I had heard about this book and then was fortunate enough to win a copy via NetGalley.

Shon Faye – “The Transgender Issue”

(21 August 2021)

The demand for true trans liberation echoes and overlaps with the demands of workers, socialists, feminists, anti racists and queer people. They are radical demands, in that they go to the root of what our society is and what it could be. For this reason, the existence of trans people is a course of constant anxiety for many who are either invested in the status quo or fearful about what would replace it.

This is a desperately important book that is likely to open a reader’s eyes, even if they think they are aware of transgender issues (Faye reclaims the title from the way trans people are seen as an issue instead of looking at the issues they face); I certainly learned a lot from it, as I’ll discuss later on.

I expected this to be a sort of “Invisible Women” and in a way it is: it details, clinically and scientifically, the injustices dealt out to trans people, divided into sections on health, the state, etc. And it made me cross and tearful, so snap there. But it goes deeper into the ways in which trans people have to live their lives, and how they have been set against both the cis population and then, more damagingly, people representing the rest of the letters in the LGBTQIA+ population and cis and lesbian feminists.

Knowing the book was pretty political, I was steeling myself for a sort of sociology/political studies language, but it’s written accessibly and clearly. It is written from a leftist/Marxist viewpoint that looks to old-fashioned solidarity, such as actually existed in the early days of Gay Liberation, arguing that raising the conditions trans people live in – i.e. trans liberation – will of necessity raise the conditions for all minority groups in society, and that many of the issues that trans people experience are also experienced by other groups. It interrogates mechanisms of state power such as the prison and policing systems. But it’s important to note that politics and theory come second to community building and positive action.

Contrary to the media assertion that the country is riddled with more and more transitioning folk, trans people represent less than 1% of our population, so there’s certainly safety and power in numbers and solidarity with other groups. Faye is also careful to foreground the experiences of BAME and disabled trans people, another minority within a minority, and balances discussion of trans women and trans men.

It’s a very human book, not all facts and figures. Faye interviews people from the trans community, from parents of a young trans child who accessed a lot of information and support online and put the lie to the idea that parents are forcing their children to turn trans to a man running a shelter for homeless trans people. In addition, various news stories are carefully debunked and the people they are about honoured, and myths such as trans people and their doctors being in cahoots overturned with an explanation of the long and fraught process of gender transition.

It was in this section that I had something that had caused me some unease thoroughly debunked. Michaela Coel in “Misfits” makes a clear call to people to admit their errors and I want to be honest here. As “Trans Britain” helped me to understand that not all trans people claimed their gender at a young age and “Unicorn” helped me to understand that the hyper-feminised appearance of drag queens is often an interrogation of the performance of femininity rather than a mockery of it or those who are less feminine, so this book finally helped me to realise that the reason many trans women seem almost stereotypically hyper-feminised to me is likely to be because the medical establishment expects them to present as female, to “pass”, to hold down a job or an education “as” the gender they are moving towards, before having access to any medications, surgery or other interventions, even being made to change gender-neutral names they wish to keep to single-gender ones. As a person who was born female and identifies as a woman, I have both felt compelled to feminise myself in workplaces in the past to conform and have had the privilege of being able to present myself in a fairly gender-neutral manner since, but I’ve also always felt a bit threatened by people who can perform femininity with more assurance and “success” than I can myself (my own problem and not a criticism of those people) and I can now hold more compassion for my sisters who are compelled by medical gatekeepers to perform a high femininity that they may not even wish to (while accepting of course that some people wish to as is their complete right, too). I also understand why brothers and sisters who are non-binary or non-gender-confirming feel compelled to go to private medical establishments for the help they need, evading some of these gatekeepers.

The clearly and dispassionately put descriptions of the awful situations trans people are put through can be pretty harrowing. Much has been made in talk about this book about the section on trans-exclusionary radical feminists, but in fact this is an ending to a narrative of the divide-and-conquer going on from the Establishment, and an awful lot more of the book sets out the humiliations and abuse that trans people endure. So many young homeless people are trans; so many homeless people are trans (one in four trans people have experienced homelessness); even though there is protective legislation in place for work, etc., it doesn’t protect when the majority narrative is against a person who just wishes to work, have their correct pronouns used and get on with their life.

In the end, Shon Faye argues persuasively that we need to look beyond the issue people have with trans people, all the shouting about labels on toilets and a bit of trans visibility in companies that want to look equitable, and beyond the White, middle-class campaigners and their priorities, and examine why trans people are forced into poverty, unable to access state support and employment, forced to turn to sex work, forced to adopt highly gendered personas they might not even wish to adopt, forced to turn to private doctors at great expense, forced out of being able to legally change their gender by the costs involved. It’s through seeing the commonalities with other marginalised groups and working in coalition that this can be achieved, but that requires a change in the narrative and a resistance to divide-and-conquer regimes.

Thank you to Allen Lane for providing me with a copy of this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Book review – Maya Angelou – “The Heart of a Woman”

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Continuing my readalong with Meg and Ali of Maya Angelou’s autobiographies, this was our September read and a very good and interesting one it was, too. Ali’s excellent review is here.

Maya Angelou – “The Heart of a Woman”

(April 2021)

The black mother perceives destruction at every door, ruination at each window, and even she herself is not beyond her own suspicion. She questions whether she loves her children enough – or more terribly, does she love them too much … In the face of these contradictions, she must provide a blanket of stability, which warms but does not suffocate, and she must tell her children the truth about the power of white power without suggesting that it cannot be challenged. (p. 44)

We pick up this one a little after the end of the last one, which is a change from the previous books, which all ran on from one another. We left Angelou in Hawaii and here she is, living in a sort of commune, having dropped out of the system in some way. But, being Maya Angelou, she’s soon on the move again, with her son Guy, a teenager now and keen to take on manhood and responsibility.

Soon she’s in New York and getting involved with some serious activism, encountering Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and also meeting African freedom fighters exiled or visiting. It’s interesting to see that people in New York become keen on wearing African prints and natural hair becomes more fashionable/acceptable – her careful delineation of these changes helps this be a useful historical document.

She has good friends and has started writing seriously, joining a writers’ group and having that classic terrifying time the first time her work is critiqued. Soon she’s using her creative and administrative skills to work in an office supporting activism and organising, but she also meets yet another unsuitable man, this time Vus, a South African freedom fighter whose struggles she respects but also who attracts her. Engaged at the time, she has to sort things out amidst some genuine peril – peril which doesn’t stop when she becomes an official freedom fighter’s wife. Well, um …

I explained that i wanted to have my mother and son present at my wedding and asked if we could wait. he patted my cheek and said, ‘Of course. In London we will say we married in America. When we return to New York we will say we married in England. We will have our wedding according to your wishes and whenever you say. I am marrying you this minute. Will you say yes?’

I said yes.

‘Then we are married.’

We never mentioned the word marriage again. (p. 168)

Whose heart wouldn’t sink for her when reading that? Although was it a handy thing in the end …?

The encounters in this book with well-known figures, from a memorable week with Billie Holiday to the aforementioned activism leaders give a different fascination to the previous books. Life as an American expat in Africa, for yes, she eventually goes there, is also very interesting to read about – although, as usual, she risks ending up being thrown onto her own resources, and she always makes sure she can pay her way and support herself and Guy. That relationship with Guy also changes, however, naturally as he’s growing up and separating off from her, but also encouraged by Vus, who wants him to become an ‘African man’.

A great instalment and I can’t wait to find out what happens next. I’m so glad I’m getting to read all of these magnificent volumes of autobiography!

It’s not a Book Synchronicity as such but when Angelou is flying from Egypt to Ghana and weeps through the whole flight for the African people who were snatched from their land by slave traders, it’s hard not to think instantly of Alex Haley’s “Roots” which I’m also reading at the moment.

Book review – Anne Tyler – “Noah’s Compass”

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I thought I was up to books in my Anne Tyler 2021 project that I actually remembered, but this one really drew a blank again, even though I read it a full five years after “Digging to America” (I was wondering why there was such a big gap, then I realised that that was my last QPD edition, paperbacks that used to come out at the same time as the hardback release, whereas this is a standard paperback, so I’d have had to wait for the paperback of “Digging” then the hardback of this one to come out before I could get my hands on the paperback. That probably interests only me, but there we go!). My review on this blog was … short and not particularly sweet. Here you go. I haven’t unfortunately really changed my mind in the intervening decade!

If you’re reading along with the project or just this one or whatever, please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads, etc.. I’m adding links to these reviews plus all the reviews I am alerted to to the project page, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too.

Anne Tyler – “Noah’s Compass”

(12 January 2011)

He was familiar with these flashes of hatred. (He’d been married two times, after all.) He knew enough not to act on them. (p. 188)

Having really enjoyed “Digging to America”, I’m afraid this one was a bit of a disappointment. 61-year-old Liam downsized from work, downsizes himself into a small flat and mulls over his disappointing career, two marriages and three daughters. The first night in the flat, he experiences an act of violence which he can’t remember, he obsesses about trying to remember it and then, having seen an elderly man’s aide helping him to remember basic facts and ways to live, obsesses about her, tracks her down and basically stalks her (shades of “Morgan’s Passing” but this was published in 2010) until she befriends him and he hopes to develop a romance (she’s 38. Hm.).

There’s interest in the classic Tyler tropes of the second wife taking on the first marriage’s child, the overly petty man fussing about grammar (a less-central character I can’t discuss without spoiling the plot), a frizzy haired woman with drooping bra straps and a weedy small child. The religion theme is ridiculous but not mocked as such, and the youngest daughter Kitty is portrayed well, with her standard-issue dodgy boyfriend who reaches back to the earlier books. There are some funny points, and Liam at some stages does appear to be one of Tyler’s “men with a system”:

“I’m not living miserably.”

She turned and skinned him with a glance. “And don’t think I can’t see what you’re up to,” she said. “You’re trying to come out even with your clothes.”

“Come out …?”

“You suppose if you play your cards right, you won’t have to buy more clothes before you die.” (p. 74)

But it’s just not very interesting, really, and ends up tailing off.

In another Book Serendipity moment (Bookish Beck collects hers regularly), in one flashback, Liam gets his driving licence and is off immediately to where he chooses to go, free at last; the same scene is repeated in Anita Rani’s “The Right Sort of Girl” which I’d finished a few days before reading this (but I’m reviewing for Shiny New Books).

Have you read this one? What did you think?

Book review – Michaela Coel – Misfits”

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Another NetGalley read (I have so many of them published this month, see my State of the TBR post for a mosaic of them all) and one I won really recently (I’ve been turned down for a few recently, too, even though my review rate is over 80% and I’ve been reading books in similar categories; of course I’ll still buy copies of those in the fullness of time). This one is based on a lecture Coel did, but builds around it to produce something I could probably have read for Novellas in November but there you go.

Michaela Coel – “Misfits: A Personal Manifesto”

(31 August 2021 – NetGalley)

Coming from the tiny Square Mile, and a tiny family, what carried me through those five years was the abundance of Black girls, White girls, mixed girls, misfits; my friends were all misfits: a huge gang of commercially unattractive, beautiful misfits who found the mainstream world unattractive.

The kernel of this book is the Edinburgh Festival MacTaggart lecture which Coel, acclaimed actor and writer of the series Chewing Gum and I May Destroy You, gave. The introduction features a sad story about the destruction of a moth leading her to realise she’s anosmic but the main part is more clear and impactful.

Coel takes us through her life as a working class, Black woman trying to make her way in writing and acting. I was interested to see she grew up on an “invisible” council housing estate right in the middle of the City of London as I lived for a couple of years in a similar block in Covent Garden (mainly owner-occupied after Thatcher’s Right to Buy scheme but still with a real mix of residents). That’s by the by, of course, but it was a nice little moment. She’s thrown into a world of misfits early on and thrives on it, a misfit being to her someone who will stand their ground and speak out, a positive thing.

As she goes through school and drama school then work, she experiences racism and calls it out creatively, never accusing anyone directly, just pointing things out that scream inequity. She calls out for other people to stand up to inequity and inequality, to share their own stories and to reach down to help others up:

Why are we platforming misfits, heralding them as newly rich successes, whilst they balance on creaking ladders with little chance of social mobility? I can’t help usher them into this house if there are doors within it they can’t open. It feels complicit. What I can do is be transparent about my own experiences, because transparency helps.

She encourages everyone to make some silence for themselves and have a think about what they are doing in life to help others, about how they operate. She shares a mistake she made with the writing of a person of a different ethnicity to her own, how she was called out for it and how she dealt with it – brave stuff to admit in print and lecture hall. In fact like Shon Faye, writer of “The Transgender Issue” which I’m reading at the moment, she talks strongly about how systems have to be changed not just reactions to one or more race.

I’m going to try to be my best; to be transparent; and to play whatever part i can to help fix this house. What part will you play?

Powerful stuff indeed.

Thank you to Ebury Press for making this available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Misfits” was published on 7 September.

Book review – Dennis Duncan – “Index, a History of the”

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This is not the first book on indexes I’ve read! Hazel K. Bell’s “Indexes and Indexers in Fact and Fiction” was a compilation of bits of indexes* and portrayals of indexers that I read back in 2007 (the review is thus one of my short ones). I’ve also read books on the bits and bobs of books, including one called “Invisible Forms” by Kevin Jackson which I can only assume I read around 2002 but mysteriously appears neither in this blog nor my index to my pre-blog journals, which included a section on indexes. But to my knowledge, this is the first book soley on the history of indexes.

Excitingly, I “won” this on NetGalley from one of their emails where the first 100 to click the link are accepted for the book automatically.

*Duncan goes into the matter of the plural and settles on indexes rather than indices.

Dennis Duncan – “Index, a History of the: A Bookish Adventure”

(6 July 2021 – NetGalley)

The professional indexer, learned, vigilant, goes before us, levelling mountains and beating paths so that we, time-poor students at the fingerpost, can arrive swiftly but unruffled at the passage – the quotation, the datum, the knowledge – we need.

This is a very thorough book – not overly academic or obfuscating but just thorough (at 350 pages including I believe (see later) two indexes, it’s not massive), taking us from the very earliest manuscripts up to the indexing of the Internet. As is said in the reviews, it’s affectionate and Duncan is obviously very engaged with his topic.

So we move from the start of indexing, which came with the start of the use of codexes (book-shaped objects) rather than scrolls and then move on to the necessary question of locators, i.e. the points to which an index refers the reader: not always page numbers and certainly not at first, but Bible chapters (then verses; I didn’t know they evolved separately) then page numbers and now locator tags in ebooks and hashtags in social media. Early readers of both manuscript and printed books might have been encouraged to write in their own indexes and indeed page numbers. We get quite a lot on the difference between concordances (lists of the appearances of particular words in a work) and indexes (subject lists), both organised alphabetically (so we get a bit on the alphabet, too; indexes weren’t always organised thus) and the interesting fact that these both appeared at roughly the same time.

One point that comes through almost immediately is the idea of moral panics over the format in which information is presented being nothing new: while people shout now about everyone only looking things up on Wikipedia, as soon as reproducible indexes appeared, there was a lot of talk about people only reading the indexes and not the book properly.

There’s quite a lot in the book about funny bits in indexes, some very funny indeed, and the way they can be used to either propagate beef with another writer or thinker or undermine the actual text. I will say that there was a long and involved chapter here on some 18th century culture wars which I did skim slightly, as I’ve never been a fan of the satirical writers of that era generally, and there is a lot of detail; however, it’s well-researched and well-done and that’s just a personal preference.

The introduction of automation to indexes is fascinating, from machine-readable cards to the first indexing software. Discussions of complete automation comes up against the same thing that discussions of voice-to-text software do – it’s all very well for the basics but you really do need human intervention still (I recently ‘edited’ an AI transcription of a focus group and it took exactly as long as if I’d typed it all out myself), which is good news for the dedicated indexers I know. He finishes the book, after a note of praise to the “invisible readers” mostly women now apparently, who do the indexing, with a pair of indexes, one machine-generated, one human-generated. However, in my advance readers’ copy …

Index

Indexes : necessarily produced late in production cycle, 235; initial absence of, in books where the omission is striking, 199; author humbly seeks early readers’ indulgence for current lack of, 281.

A necessary book, filling a gap admirably; there won’t be a need for another book on this topic for the foreseeable future.

Thank you, Allen Lane, for making this book available on NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Index, a History of the” was published on 2 September.

Book review – Richard Osman – “The Thursday Murder Club”

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Am I actually the last person in the world to read this? Actually, Matthew would officially be, as we read this together but I finished before him (and made him sit quietly in the sitting room after work, listening to the end, so that I could present him with a list of questions). I had avoided the hype but then I clicked on the sequel in NetGalley and won it, so thought I’d better read this one first. I picked up a cheap copy in The Works (why? about 1,000 people I know had a spare copy!) and we read it with Matthew doing the Audible version.

I don’t read much crime fiction (I’ve read all of Agatha Christie in my teens and worked my way through a lot of Agatha Raisins plus a number of the No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency novels and a few cosy mysteries, but I wouldn’t say I was an expert) so I was probably not a very intelligent reader but I did enjoy it and it certainly wasn’t horribly explicitly gory, thank goodness!

Richard Osman – “The Thursday Murder Club”

(01 August 2021)

So what can I say that everyone else hasn’t said? It’s certainly warm-hearted, this tale of four residents of sheltered flats getting together to try to solve old murders … then finding one happening right now! I liked the cheeky pensioners with their sometimes dark skills and connections, and having regular chapters written my new member Joyce was a clever way to keep the interest up. It was well-plotted and seemed to make sense (except for those Euros – please can someone explain that bit to me, privately if need be??)

I really liked the inclusiveness and diversity woven into the story (although there are no LGBTQIA+ characters as far as I could make out: police officer Donna de Freitas corrects characters that there are no longer WPCs, just PCs and her ethnicity is not described in food colour terms but simply noted by another character a long way into the book. It’s a melancholic read, more so than I’d expected, mulling over the declines of age, but not in a savagely Anita Brookner style and all warmly done. And it is funny, as expected:

Three new emails, nothing that looked like it would detain him. One of his sergeants was doing a triathlon, a cry for help, for which he expected to be sponsored. (p. 361)

One odd thing: my print copy featured Turkish Johnny and Steve Ercan; Matthew’s and seemingly a lot of people’s had Turkish Gianni [sp?] and Steve Georgiou. Weird. I had a paperback, too. I am going to read the next instalment with interest – we both had different snippets in our print and audio versions hinting at what’s to come …

A good Book Serendipity moment (Bookish Beck collects hers regularly and encourages others to do the same): there’s a section in which Joyce repeatedly talks about Timbuktu in Mali, and on the same day I was reading about that, Timbuktu and Mali popped up in the other book I was reading, Alex Haley’s “Roots”. Not sure you could get two more different books!

Review and acquisitions round-up

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Hello! I have two reviews that I’ve recently had published on Shiny New Books to tell you about, and just a few new books in (oops, not oops)

Robyn Lea – “A Room of Her Own: inside the Homes and Lives of Creative Women” looks at a set of women from various places in the US, Europe and Australia who have created interesting and stunning interiors as part of their life’s work, whether they’re artists, interior designers or other creatives.

Not all the women started out as wealthy as they appear to be now. Some are descendants of big designing or European aristocratic families but others started out more middle or lower class. All seem uncompromising in their attitude to creating their surroundings, whether that’s making interesting collections, showcasing their own art works or introducing highly modern pieces into ancient interiors. We do start out with a woman in a castle; but a woman who was very reluctant to up sticks and move into her husband’s ancestral castle. Many of the women’s stories are unexpected and interesting. The pandemic plays a part and the texts do not shy away from the panic attacks, bereavements, family conflicts and complex paths some of these women have experienced.

Read more here

“Your Voice Speaks Volumes” by Jane Setter is a fascinating look at voice and accent, of course looking at regional accents and the sociology around them (and around people who are perceived to change their accent) but also about artificial voices, the way trans people might wish to change their voices (with a very interesting case of a trans woman who complained she came out sounding like a straight woman, not the lesbian woman she was) and other aspects:

Changing voices are covered in a chapter about professionals who use and think about their voices – chiefly singers and radio announcers, and also the voice coaches who work with actors and the like. The chapter on criminology and phonetics is fascinating, too, looking in detail at the work of speaker profiling, and using auditory and acoustic analysis to work out and back up whether two voices on two tapes might be the same voice (or not).

Read more here

Incomings

So, last week, I had to go and pick up some medication from one local pharmacy and then pop to another in search of some elusive new and different rapid-flow Covid tests (which I did not find). And between these pharmacies, its door passed as I went, was Oxfam Books. Oops. I don’t know how I’m going to fit these on my TBR shelf, but you can’t leave good books in charity shops, can you; they’ll be snapped up the second you leave the place ..

We’ve been enjoying watching Stacey Dooley’s documentaries where she stays in someone’s house, as well as her “This is My House” gameshow but have missed her earlier investigative journalism work with women in difficult circumstances, so I was pleased to spot “Stacey Dooley on the Frontline with the Women who Fight Back”.

The next one down the pile will please Brona of This Reading Life. She hosts the wonderful AusReading Month every November, and I was bemoaning the fact that I had no Australian books to read and talk about in my TBR, as I was trying to do all my challenges this year from the TBR. Well, this is NOW on the TBR … Sven Lindqvist’s “Terra Nullius” is a searing indictment of the way Native Australian people have been mistreated and abused, so I will be learning as well as taking part in the challenge (more about the challenge here). More travel: Sara Wheeler’s “The Magnetic North” is the Arctic companion to the Antarctic book of hers I’ve had for years.

Then in diaries and memoirs, David Lodge’s “Writer’s Luck: A Memoir 1976-1991” covers the period when he was working at the University of Birmingham and overlaps with the time I was there in his department but he was just an esteemed visiting professor as his literary career had really taken off by then. “The View from the Corner Shop” by Kathleen Hey is a Mass Observation Diary from 1941-1946 covering, well, oddly enough, life in a British corner shop and should be fascinating.

In novels, Cathy Kelly is a favourite Irish writer who has taken on the mantle of Maeve Binchy and writes good, woman-centred stories; I think “The Family Gift” is her latest (I might save this for Irish Reading Month next year if I remember to). I have seen Tsitsi Dangarembga’s “Nervous Conditions” reviewed by Imogenglad recently so I was very pleased to find it as it had been in my mind ever since (it was the first book by a Black Zimbabwean writer to be published in English). And “Miguel Street” by V.S. Naipaul is a classic novel based on his own childhood and had to be picked up, too.

So there we go, eight books to jam onto the TBR shelf – but could I have left any of them behind?

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