Book reviews – Jane Linfoot – “Christmas at the Little Wedding Shop”, “Summer at the Little Wedding Shop”, “Christmas Promises at the Little Wedding Shop”

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Back in January 2019, I bought some light reads from The Works, only to discover that they were all books in series. I’ve read all the Philippa Ashleys I bought then (and the third series, oops) and then I filled in the Jane Linfoot gaps towards the end of the year and read the first of them when I needed something light back in February, “The Little Wedding Shop by the Sea“. What with what I’m calling Circumstances, my reading called for some more lightness, so I gave up hanging onto the other three in the series until Christmas 2020 (two of them, as we will see, are Christmas-themed!) and devoured them, finishing the third early this month (I was kind of alternating them with Ada Leversons). So here are three reviews as they’re pretty short. Good escapism has been had!

Jane Linfoot – “Christmas at the Little Wedding Shop”

(January 2019)

In this second instalment of the series, we concentrate on Sera, who makes exquisite wedding dresses for the Shop but is sad and shy. When she’s thrown into organising the final details of her sister’s wedding (that’s the organised sister with the wedding manual and Requirements), she also has to contend with the two best men, both there to ostensibly help but really to joust with each other and mess things up (in one case). Worst still, one of them turns out to be someone she’d rather not see from her past? But will he or the arrogant posho from a local family who can’t concentrate on details (I love how this runs in the family) win out in the end, and will the wedding be saved?

This book starts the day after the last one finished, and it’s nice to have the characters from that one reappearing in this one, with their stories updated.

Jane Linfoot – “Summer at the Little Wedding Shop”

(17 December 2019)

Lily comes home after losing her job and is pounced on to be the shop’s stylist. But then she somehow also ends up working for Kip Penryn, another posho brother with an inability to concentrate on detail, who’s running a rival wedding venue to series favourites Poppy and Rafe’s slightly ramshackle farm. Meanwhile, her mum’s busy making an unsuitable second marriage with a cringey man and Nicole the bridezilla from book one is back and getting married on the same day as Immie and the man she jilted in that book. Who will win the battle of the weddings and the battle of the wedding venues?

Hat-tip number one of the week to Bookish Beck and her serendipity posts as we’ve only just had another unsuitable second marriage in “Does it Show”.

Jane Linfoot – “Christmas Promises at the Little Wedding Shop”

(20 December 2019)

Those two were read in March, this was my first finish of this month. It’s Christmas again and Holly has come down to stay at the flat above the shop to escape Christmas, which she’s always loved in memory of the sister she lost as a child, until she fled a proposal last Christmas. She’s a food photographer and somehow gets roped in to do wedding photography through the season, helped, unwillingly for both of them at first, by Rory, the local bad boy who teased her on the school bus and is now a bit scatty and failing to cope with two small children.  All the ensemble cast are there with their own plot developments, which is nice, with even Jess, the shop owner, getting her bit of romance.

However, the bullying in this one about Holly’s blushing was a bit extreme and mean, and the gay characters in it are a bit clumsily stereotyped, which did blur my enthusiasm for this one. It does tie up the series well.

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

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

Paul Magrs – “Does it Show?”

(11 April 2018)

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

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

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

A phantasmagorical opera set in the midst of concrete brutalism.

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

“You sound like a soap opera.”

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

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

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

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


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

 

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

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

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

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

(28 February 2020)

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Sheena Wilkinson – “Too Many Ponies”

(25 December 2018 – from Gill)

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Miss Read – “Fresh from the Country”

(21 January 2020)

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

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

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


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

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

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

Angie Cruz – “Dominicana”

(16 December 2019, NetGalley)

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

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

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

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

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

 

Book review – Annie Lowry – “Give People Money” @EburyPublishing #GivePeopleMoney #NetGalley

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I’m shamefully late with this review – you can probably tell I’ve been delving away in the latter pages of my Kindle this week, as well as reading some of my newer acquisitions, as I felt I’d been neglecting my NetGalley wins. Thank you to Ebury Publishing for letting me read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Annie Lowry – “Give People Money”

(4 July 2018, NetGalley)

A book discussing the principle of universal basic income – i.e. everyone gets it, it only covers the complete basics, a room, food and transport, and it’s income – how it would address employment, income and equality and what the pitfalls might be.

It’s not too dry (I mean, I don’t find economics dry but some people might do), as it looks at plenty of examples from around the world, although the discussion of the introduction of a UBI is US-centric. It throws into relief the differences of the US from Europe, etc. in terms of attitudes to poverty as being people’s own fault, and in spending on supporting its citizens and in institutional racism.

The basic tenet of the book is that what we think of as economic circumstances are actually a product of policy choices, using North and South Korea as a useful example. Looking at practical examples of UBIs, she points out that 130 of the world’s low and middle income countries provide some form of it, but more wealthy countries decide not to. But she is clear-sighted about the challenges, for example from her time spent studying the topic in India (people’s money being accessible through only one shop; frequent Internet outages …).

The book concludes with the statement that it’s not just a UBI that’s needed, but

A broader change in our understanding of worth and compensation, of work and labor, would also be necessary.”

Fascinating stuff, especially as this was an older book in the roster which obviously I must have been interested in in the first place, but could have been a dud!

 

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