Book review – “Because of the Lockwoods” (Persephone)


October tbrI’ve got a single review today and it’s a bittersweet one, as it’s the last of the Dorothy Whipples published by Persephone, so now I’ve read them all. But I HAVE them all, so I can always re-read them! She’s such a good author, and this was another very involving read with an excellent heroine. Here goes …

Dorothy Whipple – “Because of the Lockwoods” (Persephone)

(25 December 2015 – from Ali)

The Hunters are socially inferior to the Lockwoods, mainly because Mr Hunter has had the misfortune to die, leaving a gentle, querulous wife and three young children. Mr Lockwood is compelled by his strong-minded wife to look after Mrs Hunter’s affairs, and does so unwillingly and with bad grace, all the while knowing that he has taken advantage of a missing document to give himself the opportunity to get one over on the family. Of course, he deludes himself into believing that this is his right, but with equal certainty, we know that that document is going to turn up at some stage …

Molly and Martin Hunter are forced into careers that they hate when they come of age, so as to support their mother, but Thea survives through to more years of schooling and even manages to get herself to France, although she pays the price by going with the dreadful Lockwood twins, taking on a teaching role and ending up in disgrace. Everything she and her siblings do is kept firmly in place by the social conventions until the socially ambitious Oliver Reade dares to try to move himself and them up in the world, mainly because he’s in love with Thea, who can’t see past his persistence to the kindness that lies beneath. Reade is a complex character, and all the more enjoyable for that.

Will Oliver win Thea over (or grind her down)? Will the dreadful Lockwoods get their comeuppance? Will the Hunters go under or be saved? There’s plenty of lovely detail about running a business and advancing oneself up the social strata while we find out in this long and satisfying novel – a good read.

This book will suit … anyone who loves a mid-century domestic novel, anyone with a weakness for a heroine who likes to study and make her own way in the world.

Watch this space for a mega-Book Confession which probably needs a post all of its own (oops).

Book reviews – Shakespeare and Hell Bent for Leather


October tbrTwo books from my BookCrossing Christmas pile, so I think I’ve got that finished off now and we’re on to books acquired on Christmas Day (am I more behind than I was this time last year? Yes, slightly – I was reading books acquired in early January at the beginning of October 2014 (and my TBR is bigger than then, too). Oh well, at least I’m reviewing books read in October now, and I’ve been getting quite a lot of reading in during the past week, due almost entirely to a new policy of being really careful how much work I take on! So, two works of non-fiction and memoir, one having more information that is provable and recorded than the other …

Bill Bryson – “Shakespeare”

(BookCrossing Secret Santa gift, 10 December 2014)

A fairly short book which cleverly pulls together what (little) is actually known about Shakespeare and his life, with mention of some of the more lively conjectures and background about his times, too. It’s refreshing and useful not to have the work full of someone’s pet theories, and of course it’s written in his usual lively, humorous and approachable style.

My only problem with the book is that it’s a bit too approachable and non-academic – he does specify his references as he goes, but there are no notes, and sometimes he’s quite vague, for example when he talks about “some lines” in a play being problematic but doesn’t specify where they are or exactly what he’s referring to.

But it’s a good addition to the vast collection of books on Shakespeare, great as an introduction and with enough knowledge and detail for someone with a bit more knowledge.

This book will suit … anyone interested in Shakespeare or the theatre of his time in general. Might not be scholarly enough for some (but wasn’t intended to be).

Seb Hunter – “Hell Bent for Leather”

(BookCrossing Secret Santa gift, 10 December 2014)

One in the genre of failed rock star / band member memoirs (which I very much enjoy) with the (very amusing) addition of lists and instructions on all sorts of stuff to do with heavy metal music – genres, best albums, types of guitar, etc., which add interest and fun. These are obviously for the aficionado, but then I’m not sure you’d read this book if you weren’t at least a bit into the music, as it would be an odd read then.

Apart from the extras, it’s a classic music memoir, completely with embarrassing photos and endless tales of forming a band, being in a band, what happens when things go wrong in a band, and the struggle to find true love (or lust). It’s honest and refreshing (particularly about a bit of disastrous drug-taking which would put anyone off), and has a nice catch-up section at the end based around reforming one of his bands for the book launch and showing which friendships endured.

This book will suit … people who are in a band  / want to be in a band / don’t want to be in a band but like reading about people who are in bands.

I just realised when Googling to check how successful a musician he ended up being that I’ve read another book by this author, “How to be a Better Person”, which I reviewed in 2010.

I’ve just finished a lovely Dorothy Whipple novel, review to come on Sunday, all being well, and I’m currently reading the 8th Forsyte Saga book, and jolly good that is, too. Having not learned from my last experience, I’ve also “won” another book on NetGalley, but this is a non-fiction book about people on the autistic spectrum in Silicon Valley, so is likely to be more of a hit …

How’s your October reading going? How’s your TBR compared to last year?

Book review – Should’ve Said No


TBR September 2015Well, I have to say that I agree with the title of this book that I received for review from the advance e-book copy portal, Netgalley. It’s taken me a while to work out what to write, because I suspect it was a case of needing to adjust expectations – mine of the book and the publisher of me as a reviewer, rather than it being a bad book as such. A single item review because I am supposed to link to it on Netgalley.

Tracy March – “Should’ve Said No”

(Provided by the publisher via Netgalley)

The publisher of this book got in touch with me after I’d won, read and reviewed Debbie Macomber’s “Reflections of Yesterday” suggesting that this was similar to the great Debbie’s books. I signed up to read it on that basis, but it wasn’t exactly like her books in one very important aspect: it was an uneasy mix of the small-town community life I like to read about, with a museum theme which was very appealing … and some quite explicit sex scenes scattered through the narrative, which jarred rather.

So, Lindsey Simms, who has been laid off from the Smithsonian (this seems odd, but we’ll let that go), accepts a job setting up a small-town museum but there are complications in the form of a family feud, with both sides vying to have what they consider to be their truth told in one of the exhibits. Added complication 1: Lindsey is related to one side. Added complication 2: Man who she initially thinks is “just” a handyman and basically fancies like mad is all mixed up in it, too. So far so good. I liked the small town details and characters, but.

The chapters seemed to be written from alternating points of view, and the feel of the different voices obviously worked to an extent; actually to the extent that it felt like they were written by different people. The chapters told from the male character’s point of view were very generic in their views of woman and far raunchier than I’d expected. I think all of the sex scenes were written quite literally through his gaze and from his point of view, too, and that felt uncomfortable, too.

Now, I will admit here that I don’t read a lot of the specific romance genre. I know Debbie Macomber is considered romance, and I prefer her multi-character books, and I suppose Cathy Kelly, Maeve Binchy, Marian Keyes and Carole Matthews are, too – but all of those people tell stories with characters and locations that feel real … and there are sex scenes but they don’t tend to make your eyes water. These were more on the Jilly Cooper / Judith Krantz level (although I remember those being more equal in their viewpoints), and to me it made an uneasy mix. But I suspect more avid romance readers than me would find nothing surprising in this, and to be fair on the book, the plot worked and the side characters were attractive.

This book would suit … someone who likes things more explicit than I do, frankly! Or likes the contrast …

Book reviews – Maid in Waiting and Jar City (September reads)


October tbrI’m pleased to note that these two books, one a mid-20th-century musing on life, sanity and family, the other a 21st century crime thriller, DO have a link, in that they’re both part of a series … in fact both part of a series of nine books. Hooray! They’re also both NOT in the main sequence of the TBR, thus don’t reduce the shelf-space used, but we can’t have everything …

John Galsworthy – “Maid in Waiting”


Here we have the first of the “End of the Chapter” trilogy, the final trilogy in the Forsyte Saga. Got that? Good. We jump forward in time and also away from the Forsyte family themselves as the central characters, as this one is built around the Mont family – Michael (husband of good old Naughty Fleur) and his father Lawrence, Lawrence’s siblings and their various children. Oh, for a family tree – but Galsworthy does do his usual good job of keeping everyone sorted out for us. In fact, it feels a bit like a return to the first books in the series, as they were also set around a set of siblings and their offspring, although the emphasis and action lie firmly with the younger generation, and they have noticeably more freedom, with the charming Dinny flitting all over the place, avoiding eligible suitors and getting along chummily with the uncles – some of whom, notably the vicar and paleontologist, we have come across before.

A lively plot to do with reputations, the difficulty of dealing with unsuitable husbands (including some quite frightening ones) and sanity or the lack of is done nicely, although there are some slightly dodgy views on South Americans and it does seem to spin out for a while quite slowly then resolve all of a sudden. But a good read and I look forward to the next one.

Bridget and Ali have both read and reviewed this one now – follow the links to read their reviews.

Arnaldur Idriðason – “Jar City”

(23 August)

I couldn’t resist picking up another from the Reykjavik Murder series after enjoying “Silence of the Grave” so much, and although it was a bit frustrating when I discovered (before I started it) that this is in fact the first in the series, and certain plot points in the on-going family life of the police protagonists do need to be read in order, so I knew what happened next on a few points, it was pretty unputdownable still. In fact, I sat up really late reading it one night last week when I really should have been in bed asleep, then had to start the next book in case I scared myself in my sleep; I do usually manage to put my book down in good time but this is, I think, the mark of a good crime novel.

Anyway, it introduces the main characters who will run through the series: shambolic Erlendur with his family problems and hinted-at old struggles with the police force to let him plough his own furrow, Sigurdur Oli, newer-style with sharper suits and not so great with the human interaction side, and Elinborg, their resourceful female colleague (I’m aware that these might be standard crime characters but they do seem fresh and real and human to me).

The plot is complex, resting on matters that go back 40 years or so (I’m wondering if this will be a theme in the series as a whole, as “Silence of the Grave” had a historical plot), so there’s enough to get your teeth into and some points you guess where others stay obscure. The setting in Reykjavik, Keflavik, etc., is again very attractive to me, and recognisable, and again we have the laconic typically Icelandic style of writing with its dry humour and setting. So it’s a winner for me and I look forward to the next one – I can tell it won’t be long!


I’m currently reading the two books pictured in my TBR post, have finished Bill Bryson’s “Shakespeare” (v.g.) and am wondering how to review a book I had from NetGalley which was, erm, rather ruder than I would expect from something labelled a Debbie Macomber-style romance. Hm).

What are you reading as the nights draw in? What are your favourite series, or don’t you like books in series? Have you read either of these?

Book Reviews – Naked at the Albert Hall and Through Siberia by Accident


TBR September 2015That would make a great, intriguing book title if it was all one book, wouldn’t it! Anyway, it’s two books, both by marvellous women who have a spirit of honesty and humility while writing both beautifully and amusingly. There are also some terrible confessions to come, but don’t skip the reviews and jump to the bottom of the post for those shockers … (please). Oh, and some of you might have seen a glimpse of a post about books I don’t like to read which I quickly suppressed – it read a bit oddly for my liking and didn’t express things as I wanted them expressed, so I will rewrite that and publish that another time. Sorry to anyone who tried to comment or click through and got lost in error pages!

Tracey Thorn – “Naked at the Albert Hall”

(Borrowed from Sian)

Singer Tracey Thorn is appearing at the Birmingham Book Festival this autumn and I believe my friend Sian is covering her session in one of her volunteering gigs. She’d wanted to read both of Thorn’s books and recalled that I had the first one, so she borrowed that and loaned me this one to read while she was reading mine (we met up for a coffee and chat and to swap the books over today, which is always nice).

So this is the follow-on from her more conventional autobiography, “Bedsit Disco Queen“; it does have lots of autobiographical details, but takes a more serious, focused and evidence-driven look at, as the subtitle says, “the inside story of singing”. She talks about her own experiences, interviews other singers, especially those with issues close to hers around stage fright and having a ‘small voice’, and also brings in useful and interesting material from other writers on the subject.

Although she identifies particular areas that she’s talking about in each chapter, it does feel a little chaotic and disorganised at times, hopping around topics while sticking with one interviewee at a time, more or less, BUT, this allows her to be herself and makes the read more personalised and engaging. I also managed to pick up some juicy quotations about how the audience provides the emotion in the emotional response to a live gig (rather than the singer), which is handy for the reception theory sections of my research, so a good read and a double win there.

This book will suit … Everything But The Girl fans, anyone interested in music and singing.

Dervla Murphy – “Through Siberia by Accident”

(BookCrossing Secret Santa gift, 10 December 2014)

One of the veteran travel writer’s later books, this documents a journey that went a bit wrong when she had not one but two accidents that rendered her incapable of riding her bike and camping independently. Instead, she has to hole up in hotels and, later, a shack by Lake Baikal, and rely on the hospitality of strangers.

Siberian hospitality is apparently legendary, and she ends up making lots of friends, eating lots of large meals even when she tries to avoid taking too many resources from often poverty-stricken people, and feeling integrated into the community, even though she repeatedly fails to learn to speak anything but a few words of Russian.

As a ‘babushka’ laden with photo albums of her family and pets, she gets away with some aspects of behaviour that might otherwise be frowned upon, and makes friends almost wherever she goes. She’s fond of cats and encounters and describes many (they are all OK, there is one sad dog bit but not too, too awful or detailed), and she’s honest about her few fears and failings. She integrates history and politics seamlessly into the narrative and makes the occasional wry mention of other travel writers.

Excellent reading, although I could have done with some photographs (she describes herself being reticent to thrust these at people of her acquaintance, but also mentions taking them, so that’s frustrating).

I let this one go onto a bookshelf in the local cafe, because I felt greedy keeping hold of all of the BookCrossing books I was given by my secret santa!

I’ve just realised this was Book 17 in my #20BooksOfSummer challenge. At least I finished it in the month the challenge ended!

This book will suit … Anyone who likes a good, honest travel book, more about people than landscapes, but with those, too.


September 2015 3And now Oh Dear time. As well as adding to that tottering pile of Idriðasons bought the other day to complete the set, I accidentally wandered into the Oxfam bookshop while walking back from my volunteering session at parkrun on Saturday, and came across this pristine, never-read copy of Edith Wharton’s “The Reef” and a nice Penguin in a cover style I’ve not seen before of George Eliot’s “The Mill on the Floss”. After reading only “Middlemarch” a good few times and none of her others, I was given a copy of “Daniel Deronda”, loved it, then also loved “Adam Bede” but told myself I had to space out the others, buying and reading only when I came across them. My friend Ali recently read “Mill on the Floss” so I was pleased to see this copy.

September 2015 4Then I went to the BookCrossing meetup on Saturday afternoon at the soon-to-be-moving York’s Cafe. We’re not sure what’s happening to the BookCrossing (etc.) bookcase there, so took quite a few of the books away. One of them was this jolly-looking Indian detective book, so I nabbed that. THEN, when I met up with Sian to swap Tracey Thorn books, I was reminded that I’d asked to borrow her copy of the sequel to “Freakanomics” so I have that now, too (I can apparently wait a little while to read it before I have to return it for her husband to read). Oh dear, it’s like a terrible addiction, isn’t it. And meanwhile, what am I doing? Reading a book on my Kindle. Sigh.

Have you read any of these? Which will be the biggest treat when I reach them around August next year?

What I read on my holidays – The Bad Book Affair, Freedom, A Cornish Affair, Dr. Thorne, Silence of the Grave


Sept 2015 coming upA bit of a large round-up today, as I read quite a lot during our recent holiday but I’m conscious that I’m also doing quite a lot of reading now we’re back, and I want to keep up. So, a few book reviews plus a small acquisition, plus a large and very wicked acquisition …

Ian Sansom – “The Bad Book Affair”

(Acquired via BookCrossing 01 February 2015)

Fourth in the Mobile Library series, this opens with Israel, the central character, in a serious decline over the loss of his love and the prospect of turning 30 in a small town in the north of Northern Ireland rather than in London or Paris. He’s dragged out of his pit by his mobile library colleague, Ted, then gets mixed up in a scandal when the daughter of a local politician goes missing and it’s discovered that Israel lent her books from the under-the-counter Bad Books stock.  Israel and Ted go on the hunt for clues, and amusement as well as commentary on small town politics ensue. Passes the time with some chuckles out loud.

This book would suit … someone who has read the other books in the series and likes books about small town life that are a bit silly.

Jonathan Franzen – “Freedom” (DNF)

(Acquired via BookCrossing 22 August 2015)

A nasty story about family, love, lust and bad behaviour which stayed on a sort of even level of nastiness, not getting really horrible, so more interesting, or nicer. Franzen has been described as misogynistic, but this was a more general nastiness. I don’t mind unpleasant characters in a book, but I do mind uninteresting ones and although this had moments of enjoyment, they were not enough to hold me (I read up to half way through and I think Matthew, who is listening to it on audio book, might persevere). A real shame, as I loved “The Corrections”.

This book would suit … someone who has a higher tolerance for nastiness in books than me; possibly someone who enjoys the other Great (male) American Novelists.

Liz Fenwick – “A Cornish Affair”

(bought 22 August 2015)

Bought specifically because of the Cornish connection, and actually set right down where we were, a well-done novel about an American woman, Jude, who suddenly rebels, runs away from her own wedding in Cape Cod and escapes to Cornwall to work for an author, cataloguing his research. Cornwall and the old house work their magic, but there are family mysteries for both Jude and her employer that she feels compelled to examine.

Nicely done, although the “mystery”, involving hidden jewels, is a little obvious, maybe. A good holiday read, especially if you’re in Cornwall.

This book would suit … someone looking for a light holiday read, possibly someone who likes the Kate Morton books.

Anthony Trollope – “Dr. Thorne”


A long book which I began to read in too disjointed a fashion but had good long sessions with on holiday and finished on the train home.

There’s a Jane Austenish feel to this story of the town doctor and his niece and their relationship with the family at the Big House of the town, and also a Hardyish introduction of a social theme of new money vs. the impoverished gentry, and the age-old theme of having to marry for money and position, not love.

Mary, the heroine, is nicely drawn, her love, Frank, maybe  a little less rounded. Side characters such as the heiress who Frank is supposed to woo are lively and appealing and the metafictional asides on the art of writing and novel construction are amusing and add to the reader’s intimacy with the author.

This book is number 16 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

This book would suit … anyone who likes a big and satisfying novel with lots of characters and relationships.

Arnaldur Indriðason – “Silence of the Grave”

(bought 22 August 2015)

I bought this book precisely because it’s about Iceland, and by an Icelandic author, and these aspects did not disappoint. I had to steel myself slightly to read this modern crime novel, not a genre I particularly go for, but the fact that it was set in and around Reykjavik and the fact that it’s hard to find Icelandic books that aren’t Scandi-noir, meant that I did so successfully. I have also worked out that I can tolerate much more blood and ick in an Icelandic book than in other ones – I can only assume that this relates to my love of the sagas, then Halldor Laxness’ novels, which share with this book a gritty life and unpleasant happenings related quite flatly, with a very, very dry humour laced through.

This all leads up to the fact that I really enjoyed this book (read on the train home and finished at home before bedtime); the murder and themes of domestic violence and the drug addict underclass of Iceland were well done and not gratuitous and the characters were varied and interesting, especially the detectives involved in the case, who appear in the Reykjavik Murder Mystery series. There are good and well-drawn female characters, who have their own agency and abilities, and there are some interesting themes around World War Two in Iceland, which I don’t know much about (looking at his other novels, this seems to be a theme that he returns to).

I knew quite a few of the places that were mentioned, and could visualise the landscape and townscape in detail, which did add extra interest to my reading experience, and I noted in my written review that “I will def get his others” – see below for how that worked out …

This book would suit … lovers of Scandi-noir, people interested in Iceland.

So, not bad holiday reading all in all, I think you’ll agree (what kind of book do you take on holiday? I really like a classic as well as some shorter and lighter books).

September 2015 1I was lucky enough to meet up with Jane from the Beyond Eden Rock book review blog while I was away – we had a lovely cup of tea in a delightful cafe, and, as I originally know her from the LibraryThing Virago Books group, swapped Viragoish books. I ended up with a lovely Julia Strachey volume including “Cheerful Weather for the Wedding” and “An Integrated Man” and a charming copy of Ann Bridge’s “The Lighthearted Quest”. Thank you, Jane!

September 2015 2And then THIS ensued today – I knew that The Works had a whole load of other Indriðasons in their 3 for £5 offer, but I’d been sensible and picked up just the one to try out. Now I know I like them, I snapped up these, but of COURSE they’re not all of the books in the series; I saw “Jar City”, the first in the series but managed not to buy it (guess where I’m going tomorrow), and there are several more that come after these (and some prequels), so I hope they all live up to the first one I’ve read. Thank you to those of my readers who reassured me about “Silence of the Grave” so I tried it!

I’ll be catching up with everyone else’s blog posts over the next few days (we’ll have to self-cater next holiday so there’s more time for hanging out and doing stuff and less rushing around looking for dinner!) and hope I’ve not exhausted you with this larger-than-usual post! Thank you for reading this far!

Book reviews – Silver Linings and a DNF


TBR September 2015Just one review to round up, plus a Did Not Finish. I seem to have been reviewing books in ones recently, mainly because I like to do my Persephones in singles in case the publisher wants to link to them, and recently read a book and its sequel and wanted to avoid the risk of spoilers. Anyway, I have one review and one Did Not Finish which was really quite disappointing, so let’s get on with it …

Debbie Macomber – Silver Linings

(September 2015)

I should learn not to get all over-excited about new books (which, to be fair, I hardly ever do) – I bought Harry Potter 5 within two days of it being published and read it in all its needs-editing glory in about 24 hours, and I feel for the “Girl With a Pearl Earring” hype, too (bleugh). So maybe this one would never have lived up to expectations when I pre-ordered it after reading the third in the Rose Harbour series fairly recently.

I bought this so as to catch up with the doings of Jo Marie Rose and her life in Cedar Cove, with the extra story of guests at her B&B provided by Coco and Kate, very different old friends attending their high school reunion to settle old scores. Things don’t turn out as expected for the friends, and the story continues past their immediate weekend stay, as they only live across the water – sometimes these books have been very much centred around a smaller space of time, so it was nice that it had room to breathe. One of the love interests does seem to be recycled from a Cedar Cove character without actually being that character, but every author has their tropes, so I’ll let that one go.

The Jo Marie and Mark The Handyman drags on a little, with Mark seemingly determined to leave town in a cloud of self-recrimination and mystery. Then things get a bit odd, with a later scene in the book set at Thanksgiving 2015, and one strand I felt was a bit too current and even bandwaggony, whereas usually the author appears to go to great pains to make her books less rooted in a particular year or even era. That made it a little less satisfying to me, although I will of course read on through the series.

This book would suit … Debbie Macomber / Rose Harbour readers, romance readers in general (though it has more to it than straight romance).

John Algeo – “British or American English?”

(September 2012)

Published by Cambridge University Press and with that title, I expected a book comparing the two forms of English, perhaps with British as the base, as it comes first in the title. Unfortunately, it turns out to a) compare British English to a baseline of American English, and b) come in the form of sets of lists of words and their uses which even I found too dull to read. I localise from American to British English and bought this book to help that side of my work. It doesn’t.

It was in my 20 Books of Summer project, but that’s OK, because the point was to get it off the side-pile and tackle it, and that’s what I did!

Currently reading: I’m currently enjoying Trollope’s “Dr Thorne” … still. It’s a good one, though.


Older Entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,593 other followers