Book reviews – Superfreakonomics, Penny Red and Pattern


October tbrA bumper three non-fiction reviews today, because I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading (hooray!) and wanted to get these in before the end of the month. Two of them are dispatches from the front line of what one could loosely call sociology, talking about real-life examples; the other is a really pretty book about lovely patterned fabric! Here goes, then …

Stephen D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dunbar – “Superfreakonomics”

(Borrowed from Sian, that inveterate lender of books and expander of my TBR)

A new book building on their previous volume (which I appear to have read on Christmas Eve 2007) and taking the same idea of marrying the techniques of economics enquiry to what they call “a rogue, freakish curiosity” about cause and effect and relationships between entities and events.

They freely admit in the introduction that the book doesn’t have a plan or an arc, and this does come through in the rather scattershot nature of the book, darting between matching the economics of prostitution and Christmas Santas, looking at how measures to improve matters often only serve to make them worse, and devoting a whole chapter to climate change. I did note this about the previous book, too, and I feel the same here as I did eight years ago: it’s all very interesting, but the lack of a unifying concept means that it doesn’t really stick in the mind after you’ve closed the book.

This book will suit … anyone with an enquiring mind, people who like pop psychology and popular science.

Laurie Penny – “Penny Red”

(20 January 2015)

Subtitled “Notes from the New Age of Dissent”, this consists of dispatches from the front line of protest, anti-capitalism and feminism, mainly written for the New Statesman magazine and published there just before I started subscribing to it.

The stories from the youth protests about the education cuts of 2010 and the experience of anti-capitalists and squatters in the run-up to the Royal Wedding in 2011 were particularly distressing to read and find out about – in fact I shed a tear on the bus when reading this on the way home from town one afternoon. I wish I’d known about this at the time, and it’s horrendous that the treatment meted out to protestors was so violent and so unreported.

My only problem with this book was that there are many problems highlighted and eloquently explained, but few solutions, apart from calls for solidarity and a commitment to telling the truth as it happened (both of which are highly laudable, of course) and some unpickings of other people’s theories and books. But I don’t think that’s what this book is for: it’s front-line reportage, often unfiltered and actually written and constructed in the thick of things, and for that it should be applauded. It’s a good work of social history, read after the fact, and it’s important to have this book out there (which is why I’m going to share it via BookCrossing rather than keeping it to re-read).

This book will suit … I fear it may preach to the converted, but I’d like people who think protests are all coordinated by a “dangerous few rotten apples” etc to read the truth as seen from inside the protests and movements to read it. However it will probably find most readers in lefty, not particularly capital-minded folks.

Orla Kiely – “Pattern”

(08 January 2015)

I bought a copy of this lovely hardback for my best friend for Christmas then wished I’d bought a copy for myself and had to hunt one down: there’s a lesson there (I also then had to buy some MORE books to make up the order to free delivery, and there’s a lesson there, too).

So, in this book, which sits a little uncomfortably with the anti-materialist stuff above, is by that lady who designs the beautiful apple and stem print materials that you see on stationery, mugs in my house, cards, or bags, duvet covers and clothes for those who are less parsimonious than me. I do love the stuff though,and thoroughly enjoyed this book, which talks about her life and business in a surprising and gratifying amount of detail. Full of gorgeous illustrations and notes helpful to business owners, professional designers and amateurs looking to make their home beautiful or wear colours and patterns, this turned out to be a good as well as a pretty read.

This book will suit … people who lust after her lovely mugs, duvet covers, bags, etc.

Well, that’s the last three out of the TWELVE books I’ve read this month, as I don’t think I’ll get “The Vicar’s Daughter” finished tomorrow. Have you had a good reading month (especially those of you who’ve had a half term or university reading week)? My November has been written on the physical calendar, it’s so busy, and seems to consist of a heady mix of peculiar runs (a half marathon consisting of laps of an airfield and my first proper cross-country race), gigs (two in two weeks!) and helping out with local efforts to collect goods to send over to refugees suffering in Europe. So I’m not sure how much reading time all that will give me …

Book reviews – Seducers in Ecuador / The Heir and Flowering Wilderness


1924-ClubThree books in a bumper review which also includes my entry for the 1924 Club hosted by Simon at Stuckinabook and Karen at Kaggsysbookishramblings – I’m so pleased that I joined in with this jolly and relaxed reading of books published in a particular year, because I got to read a book I wouldn’t have got round to for ages, AND another really good one, so win-win there, I feel. Simon and Kaggsy have also collected older reviews as it’s always the case that when you start a challenge you’ve just read a book that will fit perfectly, so if you fancy reading some great books from that year, do pop and have a look at their blogs. And a public thank you to both for a lovely, simple challenge that I managed to achieve!

Vita Sackville-West – “Seducers in Ecuador” and “The Heir” (Virago)

(12 October 2015)

October 2015 3Both of these are novellas, “Seducers in Ecuador” being particularly short, so they are usually found together and this Virago edition is the classic one – I was lucky enough to snaffle it from Amazon Marketplace, almost unread.

Seducers is an odd little fable about a man who tries to do the right thing while on a rather odd yachting trip with some disparate characters. Mainly through believing what people tell him, and what he tells himself about them, he ends up doing quite the wrong thing, especially for himself. Vita plays with the reader, laying down the essence of the story at the outset and then letting it twist and writhe in her hands. It’s mysterious and intriguing and has a lot to say about what people hear and believe in different contexts.

This book completes another year in my Century of Reading!

The longer “The Heir” concentrates on Peregrine Chase, Wolverhampton clerk, who inherits a small but perfect Elizabethan manor house and falls under its spell. This first read was very much about what will happen as the commercial world does its best to close in around the house and its inhabitants, but I will happily re-read it for the absolutely gorgeous descriptions of the house and the Kentish countryside. In a book where the hero starts off not planning to do the right thing, these passages have the same effect on the reader and the protagonist. Marvellous – and I’m even more happy that I got to read this.

This book will suit … lovers of Vita’s work, people who care about the countryside, people who love beautiful descriptions

John Galsworthy – “Flowering Wilderness”


Book 2 of “The End of the Chapter”, the last Forsyte Saga trilogy, focuses very much again on Dinny, daughter of an ancient house, independent but loving her country and her land, her family and her village. In the opening scene, three characters contemplate a statue in London. In Dance to the Music of Time fashion, they are all connected in some way, and it is thus that Dinny encounters Wilfred Desert, returned from the trip East he took after failing to tempt (Dinny’s cousin Michael’s wife) Fleur away from Michael in the last trilogy.

It’s love at first sight for both of them, but of course there’s a problem: Wilfred converted to Islam in the desert, something that’s very much Not Done, and even though he can explain his actions, as soon as the news comes out (which it does through his own need for truth as a poet), it sends ripples through the Establishment, and is seen as Very Bad Form indeed.

Once again, as with the first book in this trilogy, the actions of an Englishman abroad are questioned, and it’s an interesting dilemma which gives a good added dimension to the book, although it’s harrowing for poor Dinny, who is really put through the wringer (as is Desert’s faithful batman and, indeed, his dog) as she faces a conflict between everything she holds dear – even the Uncles, who try to straighten things out – and the only man she’s truly loved.

This book will suit … Well, I think you have to read these all together to get the full effect, but it maintains the interest and strength of the series and makes one keen to get on to the next one.

Currently reading – I’m weeping reading Laurie Penny’s dispatches from the front line of the new discourse of opposition to the government by the youth movements of the early 2010s – they were published in the New Statesman just before I started subscribing, so I missed these pieces and the knowledge I could gain from them then.

Book reviews – three visits to Debbie Macomber’s Blossom Street


October 2015 2My friend Linda and I have a bit of a Debbie Macomber “thing” going on, and as I allegedly have more room in my (bursting-with-books) house, I offered to curate the joint collection. That’s partly (though not completely) how the situation pictured left arose (see how it happened here). Now, the clutter of books not even in a proper pile was distressing me a little, so I decided to go for some quick wins, and worked my way through the Blossom Street books that I hadn’t yet read …

Debbie Macomber – “Hannah’s List”

I’ve talked before about how books with husbands and wives who have affairs and / or die have been bothering me since I got married (this also came up when I read “Twenty Wishes“), but as Linda and I have agreed before, there’s something about the safe and essentially kind world of Debbie Macomber that means you can read about all sorts of horribles and still be OK. So, this one was worrying, but was also fine.

Michael’s wife Hannah died a year before this book opens, and she’s left him a letter in which she gives him a list of three women, all of whom she’d be happy to see him marry. He steels himself to meet all three, and they all learn something about themselves and love along the way. While this might seem a bit trite, it’s actually really well done and convincing – Michael’s grief is written respectfully and it’s done well from a man’s point of view (it’s not common in her books to have a male narrator the whole way through).

It ended up being a good and entertaining read, and I even learned a top tip for not being a shrewish wife (which I have yet to put into practice: sorry, Mr Liz) because obviously Michael can’t end up with all three women, so some of them will resolve older issues as they go along. A bit away from the world of Blossom Street, but a good read.

Debbie Macomber – “A Turn in the Road”

This one was excellent, one of the best of hers I’ve read – different and funny. Bethanne, her daughter Annie and her ex-mother-in-law Ruth decide to go on a road trip from Seattle to Florida, taking in various byways and detours as they go. All of them have something to work through – Annie’s boyfriend has sprung a surprise on her, Ruth is facing meeting a flame from way back at her school’s 50th reunion and Bethanne’s ex, Grant, is free again and sniffing around for a reconciliation. They have some excellent adventures along the way, especially involving some bikers they meet on the road, and it’s a refreshing and fun read.

Debbie Macomber – “Blossom Street Brides”

Bethanne from the last book is married once more; Lydia from A Good Yarn (hooray – back to where we started!) is worrying about her adopted daughter and the future of her business, and Lauren has a whirlwind romance that leaves little space for second thoughts while her boss’s daughter is in a whirlwind of her own. Will the complicated family dynamics work out? Will Bethanne and Annie patch things up? And who is leaving community knitting baskets around town, contributing both to charity and to a new phase of Lydia’s business?

These books will suit: Anyone looking for a nice easy but well-written and engaging read. Fans of Maeve Binchy and Cathy Kelly who like a read that’s about relationships and family but also community.

I’m currently reading “Superfreakonomics” from the authors of “Freakonomics” (loaned to me by Sian), and a NetGalley review copy of “Neurotribes” by Steve Silberman, which is about autism and Silicon Valley. Next up is a review copy for Shiny New Books (ooh) and my 1924 Challenge book, which is thankfully TINY.

Oh, and this.

October 2015 4A lovely friend was passing on a batch of her Virago books to make room on her bookshelves, and I couldn’t resist these lovelies. Even though I’d chosen them from a photograph, I hadn’t quite realised how “substantial” they were. Oh well, they all look GREAT and the two Edith Whartons are a book and a sequel, so I’m glad I chose both. Honestly. I’m hoping to palm off one of them on our weekend visitor, because I don’t think all of these will fit on my TBR shelf …

What are you reading? How’s your TBR going? Do you have a quick win comfort author and a big pile of their books?

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?

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