Book review – Attila the Stockbroker – Arguments Yard


Attila the Stockbroker argument's yard

Atilla the Stockbroker with Arguments Yard

Just one review today because I want to make sure I tell the author about it and spread the word, and I don’t want it all mixed up with another book. This is not a review copy, however: I did buy the book myself, with money AND a random Birchfield Harriers pen I gave Attila when his pen conked out half way through signing my copy.

I have retained fond memories of the gig I attended with my (still) good friend Sarah at university in the (ahem) 90s. When we realised his tour would be passing through the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath, it was a no-brainer. Such a good gig. He hadn’t changed! But of course he must have – we realised to our slight horror that we are now WAY older than he was when he stood in front of us about 3 miles and a lifetime away! If you get the chance to see him, go. He’s done so many gigs that he’s super-professional, and is such a good DIY punk ranting poet and singer that every song and every word is personal and his rapport with the audience amazing. But let’s review the book – with some photos of then and now …

Attila the Stockbroker – “Arguments Yard”

(21 April 2016 – bought from the author)

Liz and Sarah, Selly Oak, back in the day (let's say)

Liz and Sarah, Selly Oak, back in the day (let’s say)

Attila is a real proper DIY poet and musician – he’s been self-publishing his books and music for years, booking all his own gigs, doing everything himself. He put this book out with Cherry Red so he could get the distribution, but he’s been independent of the music business and mainstream media for years. Of course, as a self-employed person who’s done all her own marketing and found all her own customers, I found a lot to relate to in this, and I found the details of how things changed from noting down phone numbers and producing flyers to harnessing the powers of the Web and modern technology fascinating.

But that’s not the whole story, of course. It’s an autobiography, and takes a fairly standard format, apart from some concurrent chapters at the end which deal with his beloved football club, and the loss of his mother to Alzheimer’s (a particularly moving chapter, of course, simply consisting of a poem, which brought many stiff upper lips and blinking away of things in the eye during his performance). There are lots of great and often hilarious details of gigs gone wrong, gigs gone right, trips and performances. Lots of old friends make an appearance: Billy Bragg, Pill Jupitus, John Otway, The Men They Couldn’t Hang (hooray – wish I’d worn my Tshirt to the show, now, although I did wear my “this is what a feminist looks like” one instead).

Attila says slightly belligerently early on that we’re to expect to find this written as he speaks, and so it was – but I found it extremely well written and very well edited, too, so no problems there – in fact fewer than in many other books I read! There were some great photos, too, to go with the stories and personalities.

Liz and Sarah 2016

Liz and Sarah 2016 at the gig

Although Attila (who was, in fact, a stockbroker[‘s clerk] for a brief period of time) is a self-confessed shouty man with bad table manners, and there are some yucky bits, it’s essentially a kind, decent, community spirited and benign book, the work of a man who cares about his family and his fellow men, can admit his mistakes and can change his mind. However, he’s not a cuddly figure of the woolly Left by any means – he has a strong call to action: leave the hand-knitted muesli and copies of the Guardian and get out and do something is the message, and he’s still giving no shrift to Thatcher and supporting the legacy of the miners.

Sorry, went a bit political there. But this is a political book – as well as a blinking good read.

You can buy the book direct from the Attila the Stockbroker website, and as he says there, at all of his gigs, from the Cherry Red, Waterstones and Guardian websites and many branches of Waterstones and independent bookshops.


Book reviews – Flight Behaviour and Roy Jenkins


May 2016Nothing connecting these two this time – I didn’t even finish them both! One of them is tipped for the top 10 of 2016, the other was eagerly anticipated but ultimately disappointing. One is being pressed on everyone I know (Mr Liz is reading it on audiobook at the moment) and the other will be Bookcrossed away out of the house … I think you can guess which is which!

Barbara Kingsolver – “Flight Behaviour”

(21 May 2015)

Yes – I’m under a year behind (just). You can see this one on the TBR photo above – it was third on the shelf but the first fiction read so off it came.

Opening with a memorable scene of the novel’s heroine, Dellarobia Turnbow, struggling up an Appalachian hillside in unsuitable footwear, ready to throw away what little she has, this is a wonderful and unputdownable novel. Although it does have an intention to educate people about global warming and the plight of migratory species, as with her other books with a message, it’s never didactic or preachy, and the information comes organically rather than being bolted on.

The community, overcome by a huge and seemingly miraculous flock of butterflies, the scientists who come to study them, Dellarobia and her dreadful wool entrepreneur mother-in-law (I loved the details of her business acumen), enchanting but never sickly sweet children and naughty best friend are all drawn absolutely beautifully and completely believeable. Dellarobia’s friendship with lepidopterist Ovid, and through him with knowledge and learning, is wonderful.

As with her other books, and a feature of other favourites of mine like Larry McMurtry, Kingsolver’s deceptively plain and easy style makes the book read like it’s happening in front of your eyes: it’s real. She’s so technically adept, without showing the workings: there are so many delicious doublings and echoings in the structure, colours, events and descriptions. The sense of place is astounding, too.

Although I know a fair bit about global warning and migratory insects, there is always something to learn. I was particularly struck by the lack of choices available to the very poor – even though I keep myself informed, this was really brought home to me reading this book. It was also excellent on the perils of handing anything on in a small community: things have a habit of coming back to haunt you, whether that’s the dress your rival wore on prom night 12 years ago or something a lot more shocking.

I loved this book. It’s the kind of book that makes you a) want to immediately purchase and consume all the other books by the author that you haven’t yet read, and b) thrust it at everyone who hasn’t yet read it. Mr Liz is only part way through the audio book – read by Kingsolver herself (not available from Audible – bah – but he got the CDs out of the city library) but reports that he loves it and it’s extremely well-narrated.

This book will suit … anyone who likes a good read, who is interested in the world and human relationships. That’s everyone, right?

John Campbell – “Roy Jenkins” (DNF)

(28 March 2015, Oxfam, Macclesfield)

The last of the Macclesfield haul, and I’d been looking forward to Roy as he made his way up the TBR.

Alas, although I love a political biography and this is acclaimed as a good one, and I wanted to learn about the founding of the SDP, I could not get past my growing dislike of the man. I don’t mind unlikeable characters in fiction, but living in the world of one for a long book of non-fiction is A Bit Much. Even though he read Iris Murdoch’s novels and met her once.

The private school-educated children, the plummy vowels, the posh friends, the country house, the wine and the multitudinous affairs, all from a socialist born and bred chap from the Welsh Valleys really put me off, and I got half way and gave up.

I’m currently reading Attila the Stockbroker’s rather marvellous and very funny autobiography and, in a TBR twist that will get my non-fiction ratio up again, a very interesting biography of Edith Sitwell. I do have some more Pilgrimage to face once one of those is finished, and I want to read Woolf’s “Night and Day”, or at least start it before the month is out, so I can do the (very slim volumes of) short stories next month.

What are you all up to? I’m caught up with the blogs I read now, thank goodness, having some good conversations there, and hoping for some here. Have you got half way through someone’s life before giving up on them (in book form, of course!)?

Oh – I have a Book Confession, too, I forgot: I bought Salman Rushdie’s “Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” because Mr Liz wanted to read it and I thought it would be nice to do another readalong. So that’s sitting on top of the Pile at the moment. I really haven’t acquired that many books recently, though, have I!

Book review – Katy’s Pony Summer


Katys pony summer

Well it actually feels like the summer now, doesn’t it; I read this lovely book last month when it wasn’t nearly so warm and sunny, so it’s a perfect book for all weathers. The author, Victoria Eveleigh, was kind enough to send me a copy, as I’ve read all of her other Katy, Exmoor pony and Joe books (stick the author’s name in the Search box to find all my previous reviews) and I’ve held this review back until the book was officially published – links to find out more and buy at the bottom.

Victoria Eveleigh – “Katy’s Pony Summer”

(15 April 2016, from the author)

Fifth in the lovely Katy series, in which we grow up with Katy and learn about Exmoors and general pony management alongside her – with the humour and charm that you’d expect from a classic pony book, but brought up to date with modern lives and technology.

Katy’s all set to have a proper pony girl summer, just like in the books, including camping out with her best friend, but of course nothing goes to plan, she finds an injured foal and then ends up facing spending the summer nursing him, not something she’s naturally adept with at first. People rally round, and even her dad, who famously doesn’t like horses, ponies or especially Exmoors, starts to come round in a very sweet and amusing way.

There’s also a mystery, as someone is breaching fences and possibly poaching. The wonderful deer of Exmoor are in danger, but these men’s actions have other repercussions, too. Will the bogs of the moor claim a victim as the girls set out for a quick camping trip? Possibly? Will you end up cheering on an almost inanimate object in the form of one of these bogs? Possibly? Will the foal heal well enough to be able to enjoy a normal life? You can’t be sure on that one, as Eveleigh has included nature red in tooth and claw in her books before …

Another lovely read; this series really does belong with the classic pony books, enhanced by the delightful illustrations.

Learn more on Victoria Eveleigh’s website and order direct if you wish to avoid the big retailers; the book is also available to buy from Amazon.

Book reviews – Between the Acts and The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue


May 2016Two very unlike books today, I’m afraid – wanted to get the Woolf reviewed as near to the end of Heaven-Ali’s #Woolfalong Phase 2: Beginnings and Endings project as I could, and then I picked a tiny one off the beginning of the shelf to read in scraps of time. They can’t all be matching pairs, can they? Anyway, I have a general project to read more saga stuff and #Woolfalong is one of my projects this year, so …

Virginia Woolf – “Between the Acts”

(March 2016 – ebook)

Woolf’s last novel and published unreviewed, this is a little uneven, and I can see where I would have edited it. But there’s a lot to like – the sense of place, mentioned by so many people, is beautifully done, and the still-feudal village, with the villagers marshalled by Miss La Trobe to put on a pageant at the Olivers’ is described so wonderfully.

The stream of consciousness technique Woolf is famous for is still there, but it’s so much easier to manage than, for example, Dorothy Richardson’s. We see the progress of the day the book covers through various people’s eyes, and the stream of consciousness itself is gently satirised when we read about Lucy Oliver’s mind wandering through huge tracts of time and place when she seems like she’s doing something quite ordinary.

We particularly inhabit the head of Isa, wife and mother but dreaming of more, with her secret poetry. She reminds me a little of a younger Mrs Ramsay from “To the Lighthouse”. The discord that is often needed for a good plot (although there’s not much of a plot here, not that it matters) is provided by the rather dreadful Mrs Manresa who turns up with young male friend in tow, and Miss La Trobe acts as a kind of observer and commentator, a little like Lily Briscoe in “Lighthouse”. The whole did remind me of A.S. Byatt’s Frederica quartet, which starts with a pageant and has a book within a book later on – although I could have done without the chunks from Miss La Trobe’s play – it would be interesting to see if they would have withstood Woolf’s next draft. A good read.

This book would suit … people who like books about village life, quiet books where not much happens externally but a lot goes on in the heads of the characters. Perhaps not the Woolf to start with, but still a good read.

“The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue”

(Oxford Waterstones, 14 March 2015)

No. 03 in the Penguin 80 (books at 80p each published for the publisher’s 80th birthday: I managed to resist the temptation to buy the set), t his is the only Icelandic Saga represented in the collection. It’s a very good introduction to the sags, as its 52 pages have a bit of everything that the larger ones are famous for: chieftains, impetuous sons, law-givers, sea voyages, allegiances to foreign kings, poetry and insults, fights, men vying for the love of the same woman, dreams interpreted as prophecies, and then the formulaic chapter openings, poems, potted ancestries and shifting tenses common to the genre. A good story, too.

This book would suit … someone looking for a low-risk introduction to the sagas – some of the BEST LITERATURE IN THE WORLD (for example).

Currently reading, oddly enough, good old Roy Jenkins and Simon Armitage’s wonderful book about Iceland. More on them soon.


Book review – Interim (Virago)


Dorothy Richardson - PilgrimageWell, I’m working my way steadily through Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” sequence. Things have been getting steadily more confusing, and I know at least one of my fellow pilgrims is contemplating picking up a biographical work about the author to try to work things out. I’m not sure about that, given my subscription to the ‘death of the author’ concept, but it is all a bit obscure … News of another challenge below, anyway!

Dorothy Richardson – “Interim”

(From lovely Julie, last year)

The fifth volume of “Pilgrimage” and the last in “Pilgrimage 2” – given that we have eight more books in two volumes, I’m guessing that means nothing else will be as long as the last part, and that demonstrates the way I’m Really Trying Not To Think about these books. I am trying, but I did keep putting this off, and when I did start it, I remembered being confused at the end of the last one and was still confused now, as Miriam, our heroine, seemed to be staying with some random people in a different house for Christmas – not her exciting Bohemian friends in their rooms, not her family??? Anyway, then we were back in London. Miriam’s sister Eve and the dreaded Miss Dear loomed out of the mists, seemingly pushed around the map by Richardson with her thing you push things around on maps with in war films, just to fit the story, which was a shame, as everything else has felt organic. Anyway, she buys a bicycle, goes to some lectures, plays the piano, as there has been some mysterious change in the arrangements of the house that mean she can use the room it’s in now (bit lost there!) and flirts with some Canadian doctors. She also makes an unfortunate connection which gets her gossiped about nastily, and it’s really only here that real life and contemporary morals seem to infringe on Miriam’s wandery life with a big, hard knock.

She also seems to give an early description of depression: nothingness, being nothing, etc. Was I the only one to spot that? A bit reminiscent of “Mrs Dalloway”, perhaps. Anyway, my favourite bits remained her walks around London, and I did also like the descriptions of her room and her thoughts about and relationship with her sisters, however conveniently they are moved in and out of the narrative. So I am going to persist on to the next one …

April 2016 2I’m currently still enjoying good old Roy Jenkins, he’s nearly married now and about to launch into politics. Tonight, I’m starting on my sadly lagging #Woolfalong read – in March and April it’s been Beginnings and Endings, and although Ali’s already put together a round-up post, I’m hoping I’ll be able to sneak onto it.

I’ve got “Between the Acts” and “The Voyage Out” on my Kindle, but I fancy the former most, and then I’ll hopefully get “Night and Day” in, too. I really don’t think I’ve read either of those before, shockingly! May and June is Short Stories, and I won (hooray) Ali’s giveaway copy of “Kew Gardens” and have treated myself to “Mrs Dalloway’s Party” (pictured), which I do have to say is slightly less substantial than I’d expected … but anyway, I’m sure to manage those in two months, right????

What are you reading? If you’re Richardsoning along with me, feel free to post links to your reviews of Interim below. I do love the interaction on this blog – my work blog gets lots of questions about Word and transcription, but when I want people to interact and answer each other’s business questions, they never do! So … happy commenting!

Book reviews – Sunshine and Shadow and The Aloha Quilt


Nov 2015 the whole horrorI’ve had ever such a lot of work on recently and I seem to have been dashing around here, there and everywhere, too, so I have got a bit behind with my reading and reviewing and VERY behind with my reading of other people’s blogs and commenting on their posts … Anyway, this time I can report some good progress, at least, on the Pile that belongs to my TBR but isn’t part of the general order of things.

I read my main TBR in order of acquisition, oldest first, which serves me well (I do pick off a Big Book for a dining table read and a paperback for bed and bus), but there is always a Pile of books in series (including ones where I have read up to a certain point and then have another, later, book, but haven’t yet read the ones in between), blocks of books by certain authors and the odd one I’m reading bit by bit. You can see these on the middle shelf of this Horror Photo.

Well, I’m doing quite well with that. I removed the poetry book I forgot to read in 2014 for the WW1 anniversary, I’ve read a few of the Indriðason crime novels, I found that I like Debbie Macombers that are part of series but am not so worried about the standalones (they’re staying in the special collection for the moment, though), I found I couldn’t be bothered with the Tea Shop mysteries I’d been saving up, and I managed to make myself read these two, which are in series but I haven’t read the books in between! So the Pile is now much smaller, in fact only one shelf tall, AND has the 3rd and 4th Dorothy Richardson “Pilgrimage” volumes on it. Result!

Earlene Fowler – “Sunshine and Shadow”

(BookCrossing October 2007)

Whew – for someone who reads her TBR in order and is shocked when she’s a year behind, it was shocking to find I’ve had this since October 2007!! I was reading them in order around then and later on (I last read one in September 2010), but I have missed a few, and I was struggling to recall the history of the characters. Although it’s obvious I have missed some events in the series, my memory is so hazy that it doesn’t really matter.

This one featured flashbacks to the early years of Benni’s first marriage, centring around her relationship with the author of some children’s books she loved then and now. Benni gets herself targeted by thugs, seemingly connected to her husband Gabe’s old police buddy coming to town and then getting himself killed, and she and he both fret about not being able to protect their loved ones. Meanwhile, their marriage is recovering from something [that I’ve missed[ and her grandma’s new marriage is causing trouble all round.

A decent read, but I don’t feel the need to collect the rest and feel I can say goodbye to this series now.

Jennifer Chiaverini – “The Aloha Quilt”

(BookCrossing 22 March 2014)

Not so big a delay on this one. I did love this Elm Creek Quilts series originally, but again I think it’s been too long (I last read one of these in April 2009). This one is fairly standalone in that it deals with Bonnie’s trip to Hawaii to help her friend Claire set up a quilt camp. But she can’t travel far enough to avoid the machinations of her soon-to-be-ex-husband … unfortunately, I wasn’t really invested in the characters, so I found the detail of the family battles a bit tedious. There was also a lot of stuff about the history of Hawaii, which was a bit bolted-on – she does do her research and the stuff about the special Hawaiian quilts was interesting, but it was a bit uneven and hard to persist with. I’ll have to review the other volumes and check I still want to keep them!


Katys pony summerI’ve only acquired two books so far this month, which means that the Pile is actually living on my top, proper TBR, bookshelf (win, again). In fact, I don’t seem to have acquired many at all this year, although I do appear to have won Ali’s giveaway for Virginia Woolf’s “Kew Gardens“, which is very handy as I don’t have any of Woolf’s short stories for the next bit of the Woolfalong.  This little gem – “Katy’s Pony Summer” – came courtesy of the author and I’ll be reviewing it next week so I can include links to buy it as it’s not out quite yet. More adventures of Katy and her Exmoor ponies and a really lovely read!

Attila the Stockbroker argument's yardMy other confession is buying a copy of the marvellous punk poet Attila the Stockbroker’s autobiography, “Arguments Yard”. I last saw  him perform in the Very Early Nineteen-Nineties with my friend Sarah at university, and so we were chuffed to find he was performing at local venue the Kitchen Garden Cafe and went along together (we were rather shocked to find that, although he seemed EXACTLY THE SAME, he was in fact 30 when we last saw him, way younger than we are today!). Anyway, we both bought copies and had them signed, and I think I’ll be promoting it up the TBR so we can read it together.

I’m currently still reading the lovely biog of Roy Jenkins and I’ve managed to get myself started on the next volume of the Dorothy Richardsons, “Interim”. It seems slightly less disjointed than the last one, although I seem to have got a bit confused as to who’s a sister and who’s a friend. I’ve fallen sadly behind on the #Woolfalong but there will be a 2-month period when I won’t be exploring biographies of her, as I have read quite a lot already (although I do have A Writer’s Diary to re-read) so hopefully I’ll get there. They’re waiting for me on my Kindle …

Well, THAT was a mismatch – cosy mystery, quilting chick lit, a children’s book and the autobiography of a leftie football fan. Typical reading of mine, though …

How are you all doing? Have you missed me?

Book reviews – By Nightfall and Harold Nicolson’s Diaries and Letters Vol 3


To Be Read shelf April 2016I’m having a bit of a catch-up here as I have been reading more than I’ve been reviewing (and I had to time some of my reviews to fall on release days, etc. – I don’t know how people who do a lot of reviewing for publishers manage all that!). So here’s two reviews that are a bit out of the order I read them in, linked by their preoccupations with ageing, as the first is about a mid-life crisis and the second the last volume of diaries (which is always a melancholic thing to read).

Michael Cunningham – “By Nightfall”

(Bought 28 March 2015, Macclesfield)

Almost onto the last of that Macclesfield crop, and as my friend Laura, who bought a copy at the same time and read hers before I read my copy, it’s not the best Michael Cunningham. But it is a good book – and a poor Cunningham will beat the best of a lesser author in my opinion, and it’s not poor by any means.

Oddly reminiscent to me of Zadie Smith’s “On Beauty”, we are thrown into the mid-life crisis of Peter Harris (middle-aged at 44? I don’t think so, thank you very much!), in a long marriage to Rebecca, in a not-stellar career owning an art gallery and bothered by the reappearance of Rebecca’s feckless younger brother, Ethan (or “Mizzy” – the mistake), who, however, horribly reminds him of a much younger Rebecca.

The intimacy of classic Cunningham is there, the New York flat-dwelling, the almost Howard Jacobson or Philip-Roth like rumblings, sweatings and belchings, and there are some uncomfortable passages about the ageing of women which feel a little misogynistic, but then Peter doesn’t come off that well, either. The very occasional flash-forwards give the narrative a melancholy inevitability, and I wonder whether this quiet novel might in the future be seen as one of his masterpieces.

This book will suit … People who like Cunningham (but you won’t love it like you loved “A Home at the End of the World”), people who like thoughtful books about family relationships and inheritance where even when stuff happens, it’s a bit like nothing happens.

Harold Nicolson – “Diaries and Letters 1945-62”

Photo of Adam, Nigel and Harold Nicolson

Adam, Nigel and Harold Nicolson

(Bought 28 March 2015, Macclesfield)

The last volume of a collected series of diaries and/or letters is always going to be the saddest, and this is no exception. In the introduction, Nigel explains how he cut it short at Vita’s death, having no wish to expose his father’s private grief. And Harold died between approving the book and it being prepared for publication. I wept reading that, and I had to skip right ahead to Vita’s death and get it read first so I could cope.

But it was very good reading still. The family expands, and I loved this picture of three authors whose works I have loved for a long time! Elizabeth Bowen makes a surprise appearance and he’s rude about Pepys but appreciates that all diarists have to have “a little snouty sneaky mind”. There’s a lovely letter from Vita to Nigel when he was on the political campaign trail exhorting him to eat well and not leave tinned food on top of radiators which was most unexpected and sweet – her diaries are included a little as well.

The story of Harold’s decline – and that of his beloved Vita – was hard to read, but I have greatly enjoyed the set of three volumes. Of course, there’s none of the scandal and other relationships which were a feature of their lives together, but it’s a lovely and I feel true portrait of their lives and their love.

This book would suit … A reader interested in the family (Vita gets back to see Knole!) or post-war society, history and letters.


I’m currently reading another series volume where I’ve missed a few in between, this time a Jennifer Chiaverini, and have made a start on the rather wonderful bio of Roy Jenkins which has been steadily working up the TBR, waiting for me to need a “dining table book” to replace Harold. I’ve also read the new Victoria Eveleigh “Katy” book, but you’ll have to wait a couple of weeks for the review, as I want to tie it in with the publication date so people can rush to buy it! That’s the only one that’s come in recently, however!

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