Short stories in September – Charlie Hill (ed.) – “Stories” and Charlie Hill – “Walking Backwards”

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I noticed at the beginning of the month that Bookish Beck was doing a September Short Stories project, and thought I didn’t have any on hand, though was expecting one in at some point. Then I acquired these two short volumes (I am hesitating to call these books at the moment and include them in my annual total; however, they are collections of several short stories each, so I think they probably are books) from the new Heath Bookshop in Kings Heath (read about my initial visits here) and managed to sit down and read them on a quiet work day in the week.

Charlie Hill (ed.) – “Stories”

(09 September 2022, The Heath Bookshop)

This was a collection put out in 2016 to celebrate the first five years of the PowWow festival of writing in Birmingham, and has exclusive pieces by well-known authors who have been guests at the festival and two winners of the first PowWow short story competition. They didn’t set a word limit, so some pieces are quite long and one under a page, giving a nice variety to the collection.

There was some mild horror and creepiness, I had three favourites, Clare Morrall’s piece about a couple collecting books in case the lights go out; Nicholas Royle’s long piece about books and their on-going lives (I wondered which Nicholas Royle this was, but it’s definitely the Picador-collecting one unless there’s some serious metafiction going on) and Kit de Waal’s “Earliest Date of Release” about a prisoner leaving prison and finding some surprises. All the stories had merit and that variety I mentioned.

Charlie Hill – “Walking Backwards”

(09 September 2022, The Heath Bookshop)

A collection of the Birmingham writer’s own pieces, some short, some long, and with the variety but linked feeling his works always show (thinking of “I Don’t Want to Go to the Taj Mahal“). Of course I particularly liked “The man on the bench” which has a man who presumably lives in a hostel make the very familiar walk from Digbeth to Moseley, really nicely done and so resonant for anyone from this side of the city. And “The theme park”, set among three people who work in one, has a twist that packs an emotional punch. An enjoyable short collection.


Thanks to Bookish Beck for inspiring me to add these two to my September reading!

Book review – David Lodge – “Writer’s Luck”

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I’ve managed to drag back my reading habits in the last week so am maintaining my usual rate now, thank goodness. Not sure what happened there apart from just not getting enough time to read. And going down and up on the coach to spectate the London Marathon at the weekend will give me some nice chunks of reading time. I am still a year behind in my reading, month-wise at very least; I have a few bought in the same session to read now. Of that batch I have now read four and DNF’d one, with three left to read/finish. Of the print TBR shown here, I’ve read or rejected seven, almost finished one more and won’t get all the others done!

After finishing “Quite a Good Time to be Born” last week, would have been rude not to have got to this one relatively quickly, especially as it’s one of the few remaining books in my TBR project. I did prefer the first one but the two together make an interesting read.

David Lodge – “Writer’s Luck: A Memoir 1976-1991”

(08 September 2021, Oxfam Books, Kings Heath)

Although Lodge said in his first volume that he was going to split his memoirs into two covering 40 years each, this one ended up covering only 15, as he explains, because he had a lot more archive material he could use to construct it. Beginning as he is still an academic and writer, we see the writing of the rest of his campus novels plus a couple of others, plus more academic works, his foray into writing for the stage, the development of the academic conference circuit and different strands of literary theory, and his family growing up.

It’s not quite as fun as the first volume, just like the stadium years of a band turn out not to as fun in retrospect as those years stuffed into a van doing pub toilet gigs. He is aware of his luck, naming his book after it and mentioning it throughout, but there is a lot of academic travel and there are lots of personal holidays, the buying of a pied-a-terre flat in London, which are not as engaging perhaps as their earlier struggles. He’s also a bit “of his time” in discussions of some women, including his wife, though not as much as in the earlier one. It’s just a bit disconcerting to read about saunas and research trips to see blue movies and topless bars. But he does set out to be honest, and he is!

I think I liked the info about the writing of his novels best. I hadn’t grasped that “Small World” is based on the Grail legend, for example. For reader Peter, there is not too much on his deafness: a footnote explains it’s covered fully in the novel “Deaf Sentence” and there are only a couple of scenes where his condition features and troubles him. I was less interested in the machinations of getting his plays put on, though the detail on the TV series of “Nice Work” was interesting as this went out just as I was going to Birmingham University and I remember being excited about the campus and Selly Oak locations shown! Unfortunately there’s not very much about department figures I remember, even though he only left the department the year before I arrived. There’s quite a lot about the business of poststructuralism and other critical theories (as there should be) but he also reminds us that

Every reading and re-reading of a novel is unique, produced in the silent theatre of the individual reader’s mind. (p. 264)

which matches nicely my espousal of reception theory, which I’ve undone rather by talking here about how I liked reading about the background to the writing of his novels!

An interesting read, the two books making one good narrative and I would of course read a third volume.


This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 20/28 – 8 to go by 5 October! Can I do it? I do have a bit of a let, in that Matthew hasn’t finished the book he’s reading before the Dave Grohl one the challenge is based around and I’ve almost finished “Nervous Conditions”, too …

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Terms of Endearment”

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The third of the Houston Series which forms the last section of my hugely enjoyable Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, and I’m realising that you need to read the series as one whole work, weaving in and out of the time sequence, as this one takes us back to before Emma and Flap Horton have their two sons, then forward a decade and more.

I bought this copy in April 2000 and read it in July of that year, along with “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers” which I’d previously read in 1997 from the library; I can only assume that as I bought them together, I realised the link and read them together which makes sense, although there’s more linkage between this one and “Moving On“.

Larry McMurtry – “Terms of Endearment”

(09 April 2000)

Rosie tried to smile but wanted to cry. Seeing Emma sitting there, so trusting and goodhearted, such a happy-looking young woman, filled her with memory suddenly, until she felt too full. She had come to the Greenway house two months before Emma was born, and it was all so strange, the way life went on and seemed the same even tough it was always changing. It never quite slowed down so you could catch it, except by thinking back, and it left some people more important than others as it changed. (pp. 186-187)

In some ways this is an oddly uneven book, in its structure, anyway, as it has one very long section set in 1962 and then a forty-page section bringing us up to date (and breaking our hearts) in 1971-76. In the Preface, McMurtry writes that this is his most “European” book to date, as he wrote it in Europe and had been reading a lot of the European realist classics by Balzac, Tolstoy and Eliot (cementing my realisation of why I love him AND Iris Murdoch when they seem on the face of it to be so different). He compares Emma to Harmony from “The Desert Rose” to Emma’s benefit, but developed a “cool distaste for my own writing” after finishing this, which he saw as the third of a trilogy (now six books) that didn’t subside until Harmony came into his mind.

I have enjoyed these prefaces but of course the text and our reaction to it is the main thing, right (according to my espousal of Reception Theory), so let’s get into the web of relationships spun around Emma’s mother, Aurora Greenaway.

Here I must pause. When I re-read all of Iris Murdoch a few years ago, I was shocked to discover that many of the “older” characters in her novels were my age or slightly younger. Here, although I know Aurora is an old woman in “The Evening Star” at the end of the series, and in her 60s at the end of this book, she is just about to turn FIFTY in most of this one, which is my age!

So Aurora has a suite of suitors, all of them lacking in some way, all of them past their best (or never having reached it); the General, a sailor who drops in twice a year, a sad Hispanic guy with a more jolly son, and we add Vernon, who I love, a man who lives in his car but is an oil millionaire. She’s very glamorous but lives her life in a bed of cushions, tended by her maid, Rosie, who has her own problems with her roving-eyed husband, Royce. Emma and Flap are negotiating the early years of their marriage and first pregnancy, and the novel revolves around the relationship between Aurora and Emma, two very different women who can’t seem to find their way to one another.

Is there a plot? There’s life, really, in its meanderings, encounters and daily routines, with a sketched-in arc that becomes clearer but also speeded up in Part 2. But it’s full of marvellous set-pieces – when Royce drives his truck into a dance hall being a memorable one – and characters, and the minutiae of a marriage, explored in true realist detail. I loved all the intertextuality with the other novels – Patsy is present throughout, loving her dear friend and coming into conflict with her mother, Danny Deck appears again with a pivotal moment in his and Emma’s friendship finally given in detail, Joe Percy the screen writer pops up, and at a party, we see Cybill Shepherd, who had appeared in the film of “The Last Picture Show” a few years before this was published. The descriptions of Houston, really a character in these novels itself, are beautiful – especially a long scene describing Vernon’s view from the top floor of his multistorey car park, sometimes with the mists below him, sometimes above.

It’s a melancholy book in some ways, but with the flashes of humour and ridiculousness that McMurtry is so good at. I’ve never seen the film, but it certainly has a visual quality and drama. And yes, I cried at the end, even though I’ve read it at least once before and knew what the end involved!


Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

Book review – David Lodge – “Quite a Good Time to be Born”

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My reading has gone to pot a bit this month – this represents only the sixth book I’ve finished so far (although I appear to be part-way through three more). It was on my print TBR at least – the second volume of Lodge’s memoirs is in my TBR project and Gill kindly gave me this, the first volume, last Christmas. I chose it to read on Monday as it felt appropriate, covering a large chunk of the Queen’s early life and her coronation up to almost her Silver Jubilee (although it turns out she’s not mentioned at all!).

David Lodge – “Quite a Good Time to be Born: A Memoir 1935-1975”

(23 January 2022, from Gill for Christmas)

Lodge planned to do his memoirs in two chunks, covering half his life each, and indeed did, so this takes him from birth to forty, taking in his family history as well. He kept diaries apparently, and he has letters and, from the age of about 17, Mary, later his wife, to remember stuff.

It was a good time to be born, with free education and the experience of a huge sociological shift in British life – he’s slightly too old to take part in 1960s counterculture etc but by that time is working in universities, so sees it happening with his students.

Excitingly, while I knew he was born in Brockley, South London, I didn’t realise his address was 8 minutes’ walk from where I lived in Brockley in the 1990s, and then obviously I knew he’d taught at Birmingham and lived there, but I had no idea he’d lived for a while in one of the “jerry-built”, poky and badly insulated 1930s semis on Reservoir Road, Selly Oak – where I lived in the earlier 1990s! So it all came alive for me in a very nice way.

Once his childhood is over, and trips to see his auntie in Germany, we get the development of his twin careers as novelist and academic – the academic side of things including writing books on literary theory that I’m afraid I haven’t read, while I have read all of his early novels, some of them a couple of times. There is satisfying detail on the novels and their writing, editing and publishing, and also on the academic administration side of things, interesting for being at the very university department I attended later (Lodge was an honorary professor by the time I got there: I attended a talk he did on adapting one of his novels for TV, and I have met him a couple of times since, and have even introduced Matthew to him).

He is a bit old-fashioned in some attitudes, finding women of his acquaintance becoming more interesting to him with the dawn of second-wave feminism and offering a few terms we wouldn’t really use now (this was written in c. 2014, we need to remember). He talks movingly but “of the times” about the birth and childhood of his son Christopher, who lives with Down Syndrome, using the terms that were used around the time but making sure we know of the full, rich life his son lives.

As we progress through the book, Lodge encounters people I knew myself – John Sinclair, who founded the COBUILD corpus linguistics-based dictionary project I worked on in the 1990s; Mr Shapiro, who used to come into Special Collections at the library when I worked there, and there’s always that thrill of actual recognition, isn’t there.

An entertaining and substantial book which I heartily enjoyed. I appreciated Lodge’s honesty about the anxiety he experienced at times, the worries over his novels and encounters with the publishing industry and the pull between family, writing and academia. Once I’ve finished some of the other books I’m reading, I’m looking forward to the second volume.

Book reviews – Light novels in heavy times

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It’s been a very weird week. I completely respect people’s right to mourn the Queen more than me and to mourn the Queen less than me. I’m certainly not a fan of the colonialism and legacies of Empire that endured through her reign; I am also not keen on sneering at the queue of people filing past her Lying in State. I’m bothered of course by the suppression of dissent and peaceful protest; and it certainly IS the time to think about whether we want a monarchy and what we want that monarchy to look like. But the fact remains for me that it’s the end of an era, that someone who has always been there since I first realised of her existence at the Silver Jubilee in 1977 (aged five, I confidently asserted that the Queen was named after me) is no longer there, and I respected the Queen’s commitment to public service and her quiet care for the nation and kind words to and for so many.

Add those feelings to the upheaval of a change of prime minister, and all the doings in the country and messaging and then seeing a lot of nastiness out on social media and I’ve been upset and unsettled. Reading is important as the constant in my life and I decided to deal with the little pile of books that’s lived on the front of the TBR shelf for forever and get them out of the TBR Challenge pile. There were two cosy mysteries that fitted into the category of “in a series and waiting for me to get the ones before them” and three light novels that I apparently bought in August last year in the hopes of a holiday, maybe; they should have been in the main sequence, not a funny pile, but they’d have been in the TBR project whatever.

After these, I’ve picked up Larry McMurtry’s “Terms of Endearment” for my McMurtry project, and on Monday, the National Day of Mourning, I’ve selected the first volume of David Lodge’s memoirs (not in the TBR project but needs to be read before the second volume, which is), as that covers a long period of the Queen’s life and her accession to the throne.

Earlene Fowler – “Delectable Mountains”

(25 December 2016 (!) – from Gill)

Gabe would want to strangle me when he found out I knew about the possible lead and didn’t tell him immediately. But, for not the first time, his job, and its promise to uphold the letter of the law, and my belief in what was the moral, not necessarily legal, thing to do, where in conflict. How many more incidents like this could our marriage endure? (p. 61)

We’re back with Benni Harper, who runs a folk art museum in California, and her husband Gabe, the town’s chief of police, and Fowler does a good job of reminding us who everyone is, given I haven’t read one of these novels since April 2016 and before that 2010 but still managed to pick up the (haha) threads.

In this one, there’s a death in the church where Benni and her grandma Dove are running a children’s play; the seemingly lovely handyman is there, hit on the head, and then other mysteries begin to unfold around the town. Did one of the children see what happened? In a way, this is more about family relationships and Benni and Gabe’s marriage than the mystery, which I liked, as it makes it more deep and satisfying than other cosies I’ve read.

Earlene Fowler – “Tumbling Blocks”

(July 2016 – Charity shop, Whitby)

After a bit of sleuthing round the blog, I established that I bought this in Whitby in July 2016 when we were on holiday in nearby Bridlington. I obviously then kept hold of it till I had the one before it! This one revolves around a posh group of women who have an exclusive club with only 49 members; when the president thinks her friend was murdered (but no one else does), suspicion falls upon three women keen to become members.

Added to this, Gabe’s difficult mum is in town for Christmas and Benni’s best friend is struggling with her pregnancy. Gabe doesn’t do well and patterns in their marriage resurface but there’s comic relief in the form of a corgi puppy Benni’s dog-sitting (weirdly, there’s a dog called Prince Charles in the previous novel and corgis here, so a nod to the royal events this last week even though I was very much looking to escape them!)

Sue McDonagh – “Escape to the Art Cafe”

(01 August 2021 – The Works)

Flora has the usual pattern of boyfriend messes up / job messes up / escape to the seaside / meets a hunky local with a sad bit in his life, but this is a nice, modern novel with a good cast of characters and the Welsh seaside for a change, and Flora certainly takes matters into her own hands and, like the author, is a biker, and Jake is involved with the lifeguards, like the author, so the book is full of rides out and authentic bike details, the sea and trips out on it, all of which I liked a lot. This is the third in a trilogy so probably best read with the others but I managed not to and still enjoyed it. Everything does wind up neatly quite quickly but the plot is plausible and the details were fun.

Now two off the pile but not actually read!

Katie Fforde – “A Secret Garden”

(01 August 2021 – The Works)

Title looked familiar, read a page, realised I’d read it before! Bye-bye!

Samantha Young – “Much Ado About You”

(01 August 2021 – The Works)

I should have liked this novel about an American (freelance editor!) in England on a bookshop-running holiday but I just couldn’t engage with it, it didn’t seem consistent in what she’d know about England in advance, and I encountered the word “moron” three times in the first 30 pages and while it’s not a really top one it is still an ableist slur I don’t like reading. So I closed the book and put it in my BookCrossing pile.


Weird little pile of books: done!

These represented TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Books 15-19/28 – 9 to go by 5 October! Can I do it?

A new bookshop in Kings Heath – The Heath Bookshop – and indie businesses in Kings Court

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I found out there was going to be a new bookshop in Kings Heath, my suburb of Birmingham, some time last year when I filled in their first questionnaire. Catherine and Claire have since put in a lot of hard work, and they opened officially last weekend, with a plethora of author events. It was such a joyful time and it was also lovely to run into so may people I knew at the events. Kings Court itself is a real find, and somewhere I wouldn’t have ventured without going to the bookshop – see below for some photos of the area and its indie businesses.

Setting up the bookshop

You can read about the journey the bookshop idea has taken on their Facebook page here. I first visited the premises in Kings Court back in July and met Catherine (who, it turns out, was a student of my friend Gill; when I met Claire, she immediately recognised me as a KH Running Club member; that’s One Degree of South Birmingham for you!).

Fast-forward a couple of months and a few interstitial visits and I popped in last Thursday to find books on the shelves!

They were soft-opening and, as I’d promised, I took a book token in to give them a go at processing one of those (their first book token transaction; they’ll also be selling book tokens). I chose Bernadine Evaristo’s memoir, “Manifesto” and also picked up two small books of short stories, “Stories” by various authors and “Walking Backwards” by Charlie Hill, whose books I’ve reviewed on here a few times.

Launch Weekend

On 9-11 September there was a lovely launch weekend, like a mini book festival, with various authors taking part. There will be pics up on their Facebook and Instagram. I attended Osman Yousefzada’s talk on Saturday afternoon.

I bought his book, “The Go-Between: A Portrait of Growing up Between Different Worlds”: he grew up in Balsall Heath, just down the road from Kings Heath, and this looks fascinating (I did win it on NetGalley but wanted to get a proper copy).

Then on Saturday, I met Gill as normal but instead of going to a coffee shop (well, I did go to a coffee shop, see below), we went to an author talk. Niall Griffiths, Wales resident, Liverpool born, friend of the bookshop, was a hoot.

His novels are more on the thriller side of things but he read some poems and I liked their concrete nature (as in they’re about things, rather than being those ones that are in funny shapes on the page), reminiscent of Attila the Stockbroker, so bought those (in fact, bought the copy he’d done the reading from!).

The hitherto unknown Kings Court

Kings Court is a little court running off the high street; I think it used to house a greasy spoon and a furniture shop but is now a lovely little indie destination. I am sure I’ve missed some places out, but the offerings include Levain & Cherry, an artisan bakers, The Milkcake Man, a dessert shop with a difference, Borough & Fox, an indie greengrocer, and Pause Cafe, a lovely find of a speciality coffee shop with an amazing array of cakes (I had a super coffee there on Sunday and a chat with a fellow customer, and will be back to try out the vegan cakes).

Pause Cafe
View into Kings Court

Well worth a visit, and definitely worth a look around when you’re popping to the bookshop!

About The Heath Bookshop

Facebook page here including opening hours and author events

Instagram here

They’re on Bookshop.org so if you’re not local and want to support them, you can order your books through their page and send them their portion of sale price.

Book review – Derek A. Bardowell – “Giving Back”

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I’m still reading pretty slowly, and to be fair I think this was quite a substantial book (checking the print version, it’s over 400 pages) but I’m a bit disappointed I’m only reviewing my second book on the 8th of the month. Hopefully I’ll get some more reading time over the weekend. The combination of some plumbing work that took up a chunk of the weekend, then helping deal with the plumber who had to come out has cut it down a bit! I do know I’m fortunate to have time to read and I get to read more than many people, I just like getting my books read and sharing them!

Derek A. Bardowell – “Giving Back: How to do Good Better”

(21 June 2022, NetGalley)

With this book, I am calling on you to embrace a new way of contributing to a better world. I am not calling for you to stop donating to your favourite charities. Philanthropy should be personal, it should be about the heart, and for many, the element of self-interest or instant gratification will always be a factor. This book is not about whether we are generous or not; we are. It is more of a call to rethink the nature of our giving, to question who controls how we give, and to understand how changing the way we contribute can help us have a greater voice in our society.

Bardowell is a respected figure in philanthropy, who has worked both in direct front-line charity services and for funding providers, and in this book he shares his own journey and learning, including the mistakes he can see he made in not calling out or in bad behaviour by funders and taking a patriarchal view of funding and charities, and a history of how philanthropy has worked in mainly the UK but also the US. He calls for a radical new way to distribute philanthropic resources, whether that’s the money from big foundations or the time and money ordinary people can “give” (or give back, reparatively, as he and many others would have it, and rightly so).

The detail on how funding bodies and charities work is fascinating, the feedback on how people from Global Majority groups have felt and been interacted with by big organisations (not good, not well) and there’s great information on a range of game-changing people and organisations around the word, including Immy Kaur from Civic Square here in Birmingham, who I have the pleasure of knowing (through running). This is really positive and life-affirming and Bardowell makes a conscious effort to include as many initiatives as possible that are breaking moulds and working on real, systemic change. He does also list ways in which individuals could best divert their funds and energies, encouraging us to think less about giving to large organisations (he includes some excellent questions on social justice policies to ask larger organisations) and worrying about hierarchies and more about giving (back) to smaller, on-the-ground initiatives, run by the people they’re for.

There is a lot of extra material, a history of the Black Panthers and lots of history of reggae and hip hop music which, while interesting, and definitely in the case of dancehall music with a real tie-in to the social justice movements he talks about, but I feel this does dilute the central message a bit and might be a bit off-putting to those looking for direct suggestions they can put into action. Maybe there could have been a companion piece or website with this information, as it is interesting and relevant to an extent. I just wonder if it will mean some of the audience doesn’t read through right to the end.

So a useful, bold and provocative book which could have been a smaller or two books and perhaps had a stronger effect. I do encourage people to look out for it, though, especially if you’re having a think about where your hard-won cash and time might best go.

Thank you to Dialogue Books for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Book review – Jane Rule – “Desert of the Heart”

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I’m not entirely sure what I’ve been doing since the beginning of the month – a fair bit of work and some emergency plumbing, I fear, but this is the first book I’ve finished in September! I borrowed it from Ali in October last year after she reviewed it in July here, and I’m not sure if it was down to the fragmented way I read it but I don’t think I loved it as much as she did. However, it was very interesting, and the excellent introduction by Jackie Kay set it very well in its context.

I pulled this from slightly later in my TBR to read for All Virago / All August and the LibraryThing Virago Group’s August theme read of journeys (the central character has travelled from California to Reno to get a divorce and she also has a journey through her own sexuality). Of course, finishing in September, I’ve failed at both of those attempts, but never mind, eh?

Jane Rule – “Desert of the Heart”

(9 October 2021, loan from Ali)

Ann stood, awkward and defenseless. If Evelyn had been either indiscreet or distant, she would have known what to do. But decorum was a climate in which Evelyn lived. Within it she could move with a kind of candor Ann could neither imitate nor reject. And she had no attitude of her own. She did not know what to feel. (p. 136)

We meet Evelyn, fleeing an unsuccessful marriage where she feels she is the culprit in it going wrong, her husband lost in a miasma of depression. She comes to stay in Frances’ boarding house to accomplish getting a divorce, as that and gambling are the two mainstay industries of Reno. Ann, related in a complicated way to Frances, and Walter, Frances’ son, are the only other two regular residents, the rooms filled with a shifting population of women who stay for six weeks, have a court hearing and leave.

When Evelyn and Ann slowly fall for one another (or fall for one another and slowly admit it), we’re all convinced Evelyn will leave at the end of the six weeks, maybe even returning to heterosexuality. But she’s reminded of a wartime liaison and is gradually convinced this is natural. Also natural, however, is her reserve and reticence, which are difficult for Ann, used to the more obvious charms of her casino friends and her on-off lover, the statuesque Silver, to cope with.

There’s a lot of internal rumination, contrasted with the detailed and fascinating life inside the casino. Paragraphs like the one I quote seem simple then fold in on themselves (who is the “she” in the last two sentences, when you think about it?). There’s a bit of plot around Ann’s jealous ex, Bill, easily settled by the composed Evelyn, and a feeling of worry about what’s going to happen when these six weeks are up, but it’s mainly a character study of shifting feelings and emotions. Of course, what Jackie Kay picks out rather brilliantly is that this is a lesbian novel that came before the women’s movement of the late 60s and 70s, showing normal, rounded people who don’t end up dead or damaged – something that doesn’t actually often happen in LGBTQIA+ themed novels now, let alone then.

I also found interest in reading a woman’s view of the desert and casinos, after my reading of Larry McMurtry’s Vegas novels. It’s an absorbing read and the context of a novel which changed many women’s lives and led many of them to write to the author is also fascinating.

State of the TBR – September 2022

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Looking at last month’s picture, I’m pleased at how things are going. My little pile of Three Investigators Mysteries is safely tucked into the shelf now, and things have definitely moved on in the oldest part of the TBR (top left). Hooray!

I completed 16 books in August, and am part-way through two more. I finished two of my ebook TBR books and am part-way through a third, with one unread as yet. I read ten out of eleven of my print TBR books, not managing the Michael Walmer, which I’d warned him might happen. I completed my 20 Books Of Summer challenge! Those are all also from my TBR challenge – I now have 14 books to go on that from now until 05 October, which isn’t going to happen, see below.

Shiny New Books

Shiny has been having its August break so no books reviewed there.

Incomings

I was again restrained with print books in this last month.

Kaggsy of the Bookish Ramblings sent me “Country of Origin” by Dalia Azim, a novel about Egyptians in New York. I was reminded of the existence of “Life Among the Qallunaat” by Mini Aodla Freeman (an Inuit woman’s memoir of living among the non-Indigenous settlers) by The Australian Legend’s review and managed to find an OK-priced ex-library copy, and publishers Elliott & Thompson kindly sent me Aliya Whiteley’s “The Secret Life of Fungi” which I will review here on Fungus Day in October and also for Shiny.

I won just the five NetGalley books this month:

The nice folks at Faber offered me “Avalon” by Nell Zink (published January 2023), a novel about utopias and finding yourself, and then when we were discussing their non-fiction list, approved me for history of measurement, “Beyond Measure” by James Vincent (June 2022). I was also offered Julie Caplin’s “The Christmas Castle in Scotland” (October 2022) by its publisher, having enjoyed one of her novels before. “Fire Rush” by Jacqueline Crooks (March 2023) is a coming-of-age novel set in 1970s London and Crooks was named best debut Black female novelist by Bernardine Evaristo in the Guardian, which is enough for me to request it from the tempting email, and Jimi Famurewa’s “Settlers: Journeys Through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London” (October 2022) looks very interesting and also pairs nicely with the novels I’ve read recently about British Nigerian Londoners.

So that was 16 read and 8 coming in in August – very much in the right direction!

Currently reading

Slightly oddly, I’m currently reading two books loaned to me by Heaven-Ali – “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym” by Paula Byrne, the biography of our beloved writer, and “Desert of the Heart” by Jane Rule, a 1960s lesbian classic about a woman staying in Reno to accomplish her divorce (I was attempting to include this in All August / All Virago and the Virago Groups’s travel theme for August but didn’t get it finished). Actually, I think this is Ali’s hard copy of Francesca Wade’s “Square Haunting” too – Emma and I started this as our readalong this month and are thoroughly enjoying it, as predicted. On the Kindle is Derek A Bardowell’s “Giving Back: How to Do Good, Better” which is an excellent and powerful book on the social sector and how we can all make our money and work go further and to the right people.

Coming up

Coming up next in print books, well, this isn’t going to happen. This is all the books that will get my TBR project finished, plus two review books, and doesn’t include my Larry McMurtry as I’d taken the picture and shelved the books before I thought about it. It also includes the first volume of David Lodge’s memoirs, as I have the second volume in the TBR project but need to read that first. Argh!

I’m not going to list them because it’s ridiculous, but basically I’m going to concentrate on the review books, of course, “Rock-Bound” and “The Secret Life of Fungi” and then try to eliminate those ‘extras’ that have been hanging around on the shelves, so the top row of light women’s novels and two Earlene Fowler quilting cosy mysteries and that massive Tolkien catalogue. Any others will be a bonus. Sensible, right?

My NetGalley TBR for September:

Well, there is a bit of diversity in the print TBR but I seem to be giving myself more of a course in Black British history and diverse people’s lives in America. Alternative history of the Middle Ages, “Femina” by Janina Ramirez, is still on there, and I’ve added “Beyond Measure” so it doesn’t get forgotten. Then I’ll be covering Black British Georgians (“Black England” by Gretchen Gerzina), Black British Victorians (“Black Victorians” by Keshia N. Abraham, John Woolf) and Black Britons in the whole of history (“African and Caribbean People in Britain” by Hakim Adi). Then Diya Abdo’s “American Refuge” covers stories of the refugee experience in the US and “Mika in Real Life” by Emiko Jean is the story of a Japanese woman in America. Kamila Shamsie’s “Best of Friends” travels from Pakistan to London, and “Inside Qatar” promises to show the real history of the place hosting the men’s football World Cup (people have had trouble downloading this one, so fingers crossed). So this time it’s mainly serious non-fiction on the Kindle and light fiction in print books!

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and 17 to read, minimum. Can I do that? Hm, possibly not!


How was your August reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?