State of the TBR – July 2022

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Having a look at last month’s picture, I feel like I’m doing pretty well – the top shelf has shifted considerably, the pile of Virago Travellers on the bottom shelf is a pile no more, AND there’s a bit of space at the end! This is down to having read more print books than I’ve acquired (though not sure the actual balance is as good if you include e-books).

I completed 16 books in June, with two more half-way through each, and I’m pleased with that, especially as one was quite a substantial hardback. I read all five NetGalley reads I had that were published in June and read and reviewed six and am part way through the seventh of my 20 Books Of Summer, which were all also from my TBR challenge – I now have 28 books to go on that from now until 05 October (update coming in a couple of days).

Shiny New Books

I reviewed Miranda Roskhowski’s “100 Voices” which prints essays by 100 women about their achievements, many in writing but in other fields as well, and Katherine MacInnes’ “Snow Widows“, about the wives and mothers of Scott’s Antarctic expedition, drawing together so many archived materials to bring their voices out on Shiny New Books in June. Do pop over to have a read.

Incomings

I was actually quite restrained with print books in this last month.

Paul from HalfManHalfBook kindly sent me Jason Cowley’s “Who are we Now? Stories of Modern England” which takes a snapshot of post-Brexit England, and “Dorset in Photographs” by Matthew Pinner which I’ve already been through greedily. I saw Wendy from Taking The Long Way Round talking about Stacy T. Sims’ “Next Level: Your Guide to Kicking Ass, Feeling Great, and Crushing Goals Through Menopause and Beyond” and felt this exercise and nutrition orientated guide could help me at this tricky time of life, so bought myself a copy immediately.

I bought three e-books for Kindle this month; well, one was a free one from the First Reads initiative, and the lovely folks at Dean Street Press sent me two upcoming new reprints:

Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow posted about the Susan Scarletts and Elizabeth Fair here with all the covers here. Susan Scarlett was Noel Streatfeild’s nom de plume for her lighthearted romances for grown-ups and I have the delightful-looking “Clothes Pegs”, and the Elizabeth Fair, “The Marble Staircase”, is a previously lost and unpublished work by this lovely author.

Meanwhile, “This Way Out” by Tufayel Ahmed was an Amazon first reads special and is a novel about a gay Muslim British Bangladeshi man with a White partner. Racheal Lippincott and Alyson Derrick’s “She Gets the Girl” I think I saw on a blog and then was cheap for Kindle; it’s a YA campus romcom and looks fun. “It Takes Blood and Guts” is the memoir by Skin, lead singer of 90s and beyond band Skunk Anansie – I liked her insights on the recent Top of the Pops history programmes and grabbed this when it was in the sale.

I won several NetGalley books this month:

“Femina” by Janina Ramirez (published in July) is an alternative history of the Middle Ages, told through the women of history who have largely been forgotten. Charlene Bauer’s “Girls They Write Songs About” (July) I was trying to ignore but someone incited me to request it on their blog, set in 1990s New York it’s about friendship and changing lives as you come of age. I was made aware of Hakim Adi’s “African and Caribbean People in England” (September) by Annabel on her possible Shiny reviews roundup and found it on NetGalley – it takes the long view of history from Roman times onwards.

Mohsin Hamid is well known for his provocative, interesting work, and “The Last White Man” (August) is a fable where people with white skin find it turning darker … Derek A. Bardowell’s “Giving Back: How to do Good Better” (August) looks at how we can redefine charity and reimagine philanthropy and all make our giving count more. “What a Mother’s Love Don’t Teach You” by Sharma Taylor (July) looks at what happens when the son a woman gave up for adoption 18 years ago in Jamaica comes looking for her in the US, and Ronali Collings’ “Love & Other Dramas” (July) has three women and two cultures engaging with one another in a novel about family and friendship

So that was 16 read and 15 coming in in June – a balance of sorts and at least tilted vaguely in the right direction!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Running in the Midpack: How to be a Strong, Successful and Happy Runner” by Anji Andrews and Martin Yelling, which is a book written for runners who aren’t new to the sport, aren’t elites and aren’t right at the back: these groups have lots of books written for them but they claim, probably rightly, that “midpack” runners don’t. Lots of mental health and all-round health advice so far. I’m also reading the first of my July NetGalley reads, “Take a Chance on Greece” by Emily Kerr, which is a fun novel with a heroine who runs back to Greece to find out where and why she got that tattoo.

Coming up

Coming up next, I have my Larry McMurtry for this month, “Moving On” – all almost 800 pages of it, but his books ARE compulsive reading, thankfully, and the next seven books on my 20 Books of Summer list (books 8-14):

My NetGalley TBR for July is a little alarming, although I am already half-way through the first one, “Take a Chance on Greece”. I do also have a Christie Barlow but still need to catch up on the rest of her series first (the publisher said they will be patient with me, as I’ve gone and bought all the earlier ones!).

… and of course my two Dean Street Press lovelies. Ten novels, a few of them what I’d consider “light” and two non-fiction, I know “Femina” is quite a long one.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 2 books to finish and 18 to read. I will note that quite a lot of the NetGalley books are light novels this month, and I have a week’s actual staycation (staying at home with a week off work) coming up this month so maybe it’ll work …


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

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “The Late Child”

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The conclusion of my second, short series in my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project: the two Harmony and Pepper novels: I read and reviewed “The Desert Rose” last month. According to my records, this was the fifth McMurtry I read, back in September 1998 (I read a lot of his books in 1998!) from the library, presumably Lewisham – very sadly, they appear not to have any print copies of his books now. The copy I read this time around was a BookCrossing copy, sent to me from Australia by Peggysmum in 2005

Larry McMurtry – “The Late Child”

(15 February 2005)

‘I guess I don’t own very much,’ Harmony said, as the four of them stood in the empty living room. ‘I thought I surely owned more than would fit in one trailer.’ (p. 98)

When I read this one in 2005 I had this to say about it:

The sequel to Desert Rose, this is brilliant. Classic McMurtry – funny, sad and always well-observed. The ultimately uplifting tale of ex-showgirl Harmony’s road trip across America with her eccentric sisters.

And that is the crux of the matter: but why does Harmony go on a road trip? Because, as we find out on the first page, her daughter, Pepper, has died. Her life starts to unwind after this blow, and when she finds herself in what must be her mid- to late 40s, alone, her latest boyfriend having walked out, and only her small son, the marvellous Eddie, to keep her going, even Gary and Jessie and Myrtle, her old friends, don’t seem enough and she needs her sisters around her.

When Neddie and Pat turn up, they load all of Harmony and Eddie’s goods in a U-Haul and set off across country, first turning to New York, where Laurie, the woman who had written to Harmony with the news, can be found. Picking up some slightly stereotyped Indian taxi drivers and a couple of homeless Black kids (although there are stereotypes involved in their jobs and socioeconomic status, these are all individualised characters and warm and caring), and with a segue for Eddie and his new puppy to become nationally famous and meet the President, various of them make it to Oklahoma, where Harmony finds that her family is in a mess that no one can sort out, although she helps with some of it.

She learns that sometimes you have to cut your losses and wonders if it’s better to live with the same man for 30 years with no love or many men for much shorter times with brief moments of love. But it’s not a depressing book: it’s funny and surprising and has female and family solidarity and a slightly shocking scene that even shocks a showgirl from Vegas.

Will Harmony go back home to her chosen family or stay with her birth family? Will Eddie ever stop watching the Discovery Channel and using it to debunk the Bible stories his aunts tell him? He’s a wonderful creation, the story is warm and involving and satisfying, full of strong and complex women, and even though I remembered nothing about this book, I loved it and I can see why it helped to hook me into my life-long love of McMurtry.

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” how are you getting along?

State of the TBR – June 2022

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Well, looking at last month’s picture, the TBR is about the same but with fewer review copies balanced on top, so that’s a win, right? I’ve left my stash of Three Investigators novels in the pic although they don’t count in the “official” TBR somehow. Sorry for the slightly wonky picture.

I only managed to finish fifteen books in May, that’s still one every two days or so but I’d hoped to read more. I don’t have any read in May to review fully here but there are two reviews for Shiny New Books that I haven’t mentioned on here yet. I read or am still reading all of the print TBR I said I MUST read. I read and reviewed seven out of the nine NetGalley books I had TBR for May, DNF’d one and have one still to read (“The New Doctor at Peony Practice”; I need to read the first six in the series, I’ve got the NEXT one now too, but the publicist at the publisher is fine about the delay). I read and loved “The Scapegoat” for Ali’s Daphne du Maurier reading week.

I picked two books off the TBR out of my new quarter of TBR challenge books but haven’t finished them yet, so still have 36 left to go.

Shiny New Books

I reviewed Jude Rogers’ “The Sound of Being Human” for Shiny New Books – a wonderful memoir of her life in and with music and exploration of how music shapes our lives.

Incomings

I was actually quite restrained with print books in this last month.

I’m reading and reviewing Nicholas Orme’s “Going to Church in Medieval England” for the Wolfson History Prize book tour, something I’ve been taking part in for several years now. It looks fascinating and approachable and I’ll be reviewing it on 15 June. I saw mention of “Iceland: People, Sagas, Landscapes” by Hans Swik on Paul’s Half Man Half Book blog and had to track down a copy for myself (I had a lucky catch of a copy on Abe Books); a super book of photos and essays. “Haramacy” edited by Zahed Sultan is my latest Unbound subscription copy to arrive: it’s essays from the Middle East, South Asia and diaspora. And Hayley from Rather Too Fond of Books highlighted Patrick Hutchinson’s “Everyone Versus Racism: A Letter to Change the World” by the guy who carried a White counter-protestor to safety out of a Black Lives Matter protest last year and I had to pick up a copy.

I bought NO e-books for Kindle this month.

I won a few NetGalley books this month again:

I haven’t actually read Ibram X. Kendi’s well-respected earlier books but was intrigued by his “How to Raise an Antiracist” (published July), which concentrates on bringing up children to be actively antiracist. I was offered Emily Kerr’s “Take a Chance on Greece” (July) by the publisher and it looks like a fun holiday read with a setting somewhere I’ve only been once myself. “Refugee Wales: Syrian Voices” edited by Angham Abdullah, Beth Thomas and Chris Weedon (November) continues my strand of reading about Wales and its diverse populations. I was offered “100 Queer Poems” (June), selected by poets Mary Jean Chan and Andrew McMillan by the publisher on the strength of my review of “Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head”; it collects past and contemporary poets together. And the Reverend Richard Coles’ “Murder Before Evensong” (June) was a must-request when I was reminded by Hayley that I wanted to read it: I assume we’re in Richard Osman territory but it should be fun, too.

“The Wilderness Cure” by Mo Wilde (August) looks like it came from an email where the first 100 to request get the book: it’s the author’s description of living off free and foraged food for a year. Emiko Jean’s “Mika in Real Life” (September) is a novel about a woman trying to create a relationship with the teenage daughter she gave up for adoption when she was a teenager herself. Tasneem Abdur-Rasheed’s “Finding Mr Perfectly Fine” (July) is a novel about a Muslim girl in London trying to find Mr Right before her mum finds him for her. And Christie Barlow’s “New Beginnings at the Old Bakehouse” (July) is the one I mentioned in the Love Heart Lane series that is waiting on me reading the first six, with the PR’s blessing.

So that was 15 read and 13 coming in in May – not too bad!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “The Virago Book of Women Travellers” edited by Mary Morris, which Ali kindly passed to me as it’s a massive, heavy hardback; it fitted in with the LibraryThing Virago Group’s life stories theme for May and it’s full of wonderful tales (I have skipped those that are in the Travellers books I bought recently so I get the full effect when I read them). I’m loving Sheila Gear’s “Foula” about life on a remote Shetland island, and I’m also loving Helen Ashton’s “Yeoman’s Hospital” which is a novel set over 24 hours in a wartime regional hospital and fascinating. I’m still reading “Cut From the Same Cloth?” with Emma, too: these essays from British women who wear the hijab are so interesting.

Coming up next, the start of my print TBR …

Obviously I’m prioritising “Going to Church in Medieval England” and then I have my Larry McMurtry, “The Late Child”, sequel to “The Desert Rose” which I loved in May. Then it’s also the start of my 20 Books of Summer project (see my introductory post here), so Ruth Pavey’s “A Wood of One’s Own”, Helen Ashton’s next Wilchester novel (they’re hard to find so it’s not the next one after “Yeoman’s Hospital”), “The Half-Crown House”, Stella Gibbons’ “The Bachelor” and Jeffrey Boakye’s “Black, Listed”. Hopefully I’ll get through more than those and the three books I’m currently reading.

My NetGalley TBR for June is nice and small which should help with the above.

From the incomings above I have “100 Queer Poems” and “Murder Before Evensong”, then “These Impossible Things” by Salma El-Wardany (three British Muslim women against the world, then something happens to divide them), “Dele Weds Destiny” by Tomi Obaro (three Nigerian women against the world, then one of them marries a White man and moves to the US, we see their friendship over 30 years), and Mya-Rose Craig’s “Birdgirl” (story of a young environmental activist).

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and 11 books I plan to read this month, plus more off the 20 Books of Summer and a couple of Love Heart Lane e-books if I can. Seems doable, right?


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

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “The Desert Rose”

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I’m already on to my next series in my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, having finished the Duane Moore series last month. Now I’m onto the two Harmony and Pepper novels. “The Desert Rose” was apparently the third McMurtry novel I read, from the library (presumably Lewisham Library) in March 1998; bizarrely, I don’t have a record of having read this copy, bought in January 2004, from Borders (presumably in London), I imagine with a birthday book token.

Larry McMurtry – “The Desert Rose”

(25 January 2004)

“That’s the nice thing about Las Vegas, though,” Harmony said. “I was never talented like you are, I was just pretty. Nobody would have known what to do with me anywhere else, but here I got to be a feathered beauty.” (p. 250)

It’s not clear why McMurtry has found himself writing a preface to this book only a year after its publication, but he talks about that process and then reveals that he wrote this novel in three weeks, while in the middle of writing “Lonesome Dove”! He was making glacial progress with the massive novel and was asked to write a treatment for a film about Las Vegas showgirls, which turned into this novel. But they’re not as disparate as you might think:

I have always been attracted to dying crafts – cowboying is one such. It became clear that the showgirls were the cowboys of Las Vegas; there were fewer and fewer jobs and they faced bleak futures, some with grace, and some without it. (p. 7)

Unlike my reservations about the Duane series, this novel is very firmly centred on the female experience, with care and respect and an understanding of the issues women face in relationships and the workplace. Much like in his other novel, none of the men in the book are much to write home about; even Harmony’s best friend and most stalwart support, Gary, is often snippy and critical, if good at making an apology.

Harmony works as a showgirl, standing on a disc and being lowered from the ceiling at one of the big Las Vegas shows. She’s done it thousands upon thousands of times; she’s no singer or dancer, so her job is to look beautiful and give of that beauty to the people in the audience, many of whom have carefully saved to get their week of glamour in Vegas. But she’s a dying breed: she’s coming up to 39 and is no longer the most beautiful woman in Vegas, doing photo opps with celebrities; her daughter Pepper, who is 17, is hot in pursuit, and she can dance.

Pepper is a bit of a one. Unlike the glacial Jacy from Thalia, she is off around, sleeping with boys and taking risks. Is she horrible to Harmony because she’s jealous, because she’s a teenager or because she’s just horrible? It’s hard to tell, though different people have different theories. On a weird assignation with her dopey boyfriend to have photos taken by some older guy, she finds a different way to live, expansive and expensive, high-end but muted, and forms a friendship with Mel (who I used to think was a lovely character but is actually quite creepy; also I am now older than him, which feels a bit weird).

So Harmony sits in her yard, feeding her peacocks and crying, but it’s not all misery. Completing the cast are the aforementioned Gary, dresser to the show, a gay man with a depressive side but very supportive; Jessie, the other showgirl-on-a-disc, lurching from crisis to crisis with her miniature poodle the most important man in her life; and Myrtle, who lives in the other half of Harmony and Pepper’s duplex and keeps goats (all the animals get through OK though one peacock is lost before the novel starts), a rackety older woman with a taste for yard sales and vodka who is also a repository of secrets. Pepper’s dad Ross is out of the picture, seemingly offering no escape from their precarious life and the poverty that comes knocking constantly, with failing cars, exploitative boyfriends and cancelled Visa cards.

When Harmony’s job is threatened while Pepper is offered marriage and a fancy job, will everything fall apart? This bittersweet, lovely novel, full of sunsets across the desert and the distant view of the Strip, offers a form of hope, though another precarious one. I loved it as much as I remember loving it before.

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one?

State of the TBR – May 2022

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Oh, the shame of my TBR shelf! For there is … a PILE! How could there be? But there is. It’s down to the amazing haul of books I scored from the Oxfam Bookshop Moseley in the month (see here for details). And I have (at least) managed to get it into the run of books, albeit sideways and in a pile, because I have taken several off the shelves since last month (I’ve realised I’ve included my big stash of Three Investigators novels in the pic – I normally move them aside and they play no part in my stats (OK?!)).

I managed to finish a grand total of TWENTY books in April, which I was really pleased with (helped by being near the end of a couple at the turnover of the month and finishing one of my readalongs with Emma). I managed to finish and review eight out of the nine e-books I intended to read, including the two non-fiction books published in March that I’d not got to that month, and only missing “The Go-Between” (not that one), which was published in January and adding in one more that I’m half-way through “True Biz”. (“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois” is resisting me but I will get to it.). I have two books finished in April whose reviews are written but will be published next week).

I started my new quarter of TBR challenge books and managed to complete five of them, so not brilliant but not hopeless, with 36 left to go.

Shiny New Books

I reviewed “This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music” edited by Sinéad Gleeson and Kim Gordon for Shiny New Books – an excellent and diverse collection of essays on women in music by women, which really had something for everyone.

Incomings

In print books, it looks like I was quite restrained until we remember the nine books from earlier in the month.

The publisher Michael Walmer offered me a choice of backlist books after I reviewed “Letters on Shetland” and I chose “Foula: Island West of the Sun”, a memoir by Sheila Gear about farming on a tiny remote island. Natalie Morris’ “Mixed/Other” was a book that Past Me had pre-ordered in paperback; it’s a book about multiraciality in Britain today. And I popped up to Oxfam Books to pick up two more Virago Travellers for Kaggsy and it’s therefore entirely her fault I spotted Robert MacFarlane’s “Landmarks” in the window (actually, it was Matthew who pointed it out to me …) and had to buy it.

I bought several e-books for Kindle this month:

Because I’d won Christie Barlow‘s newest Love Heart Lane novel from NetGalley, I felt I needed to fill in books 4-6 (“Starcross Manor”, “Primrose Park” and “The Lake House”) so I could get all the back story filled in. Simon at Stuck-in-A-Book heartily recommended E. Nesbit’s “The Red House” and I found a cheap copy, and David Harewood’s memoir “Maybe I Don’t Belong Here” on race and his breakdown, and John Barnes’ “The Uncomfortable Truth About Racism” were both on my wishlist and both in the Kindle sale.

I won a lot of NetGalley books this month again:

Lucy Dickens’ “The Holiday Bookshop” (published in July) sees the heroine running a bookshop in the Maldives, a bit different there, Josie Lloyd’s “Lifesaving for Beginners” (July) is an ensemble piece about female friendship and sea swimming and Camille Baker’s “The Moment we Met” (July) pits a busy Black woman against a dating app. Emily Henry’s “Book Lovers” (May) is an enemies-to-lovers light read set in the world of book editors and agents, “Daisy’s French Farmhouse” by Lorraine Wilson (May) was offered to me by the publisher and has the heroine find a new life in France and Christie Barlow’s “The New Doctor at Peony Practice” (May) is the newest Love Heart Lane novel set in Scotland. In non-fiction, “Birdgirl” by Mya-Rose Craig (June) is the memoir of a young woman committed to birdwatching and environmentalism, “Inside Qatar” by John McManus (Sep) looks at the rise of this tiny, rich and troubled country, and “The Ponies at the Edge of the World” by Catherine Munro (May) continues my interest in Shetland. “Why We Read” edited by Josephine Greywoode interrogates 70 writers on why they read non-fiction.

So that was 20 read and, along with the 9 of the Oxfam haul, 28 coming in in April – oops!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Katherine MacInnes’ amazing “Snow Widows” about the wives of Scott of the Antarctic et al. and Jude Rogers’ super “The Sound of Being Human” (started in pdf but I wanted to get the book) for Shiny New Books. “Cut from the Same Cloth?” is my current read with Emma (got off to a very theoretical start but looks like a good mix of essays by British women who wear the hijab) and my e-book novel is “True Biz” by Sara Novic, a novel set in a school for deaf people in the US which is fascinating.

Coming up next, my print TBR that I must read …

I want to get my teeth into “Foula” and I need to read those two British Library Women Writers novels, Rose Macaulay’s “Keeping up Appearances” and Maud Cairnes’ “Strange Journey”. It’s Real LIves month in the LibraryThing Virago Readers group so time to tackle this substantial “Virago Book of Women Travellers” and it’s Heaven-Ali’s Daphne du Maurier Week this month and she kindly loaned me “The Scapegoat to read for it … and there’s also of course my Larry McMurtry.

My NetGalley TBR for May is fairly full, and because it includes that Love Heart Lane book, I need to read books 1-6 of that series first (I have the first three as a cheapy omnibus e-book).

So from those incomings above, I have “Why We Read”, “Daisy’s French Farmhouse”, “Book Lovers”, “The Ponies at the End of the World” and “The New Doctor at Peony Practice”, then I have Sara Cox’s novel of community and pottery, “Thrown”, Susanna Abse’s therapists’ tales, “Tell me the Truth About Love”, Akwaeke Emezi’s “You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty” (I hear this novel opens with a shocking scene so hope I can deal with it!) and Clare Pooley’s new community-based novel, “The People on Platform 5”.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 21 books I think I’m going to read this month, and that’s not including getting a few more off the print TBR, too! I do have a weekend away with two longish train journeys coming up this month at least …


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

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “When the Light Goes” and “Rhino Ranch”

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I gave myself two books to read for my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project for this month; the final two, fairly short in the schemed of things, “Thalia” novels, following Duane Moore, pretty well the last man standing of his generation by the end. I acquired these in March 2012 and read and reviewed them together in November of that year, and it’s interesting to see how my take on them has changed in that time.

Larry McMurtry – “When the Light Goes”

(27 March 2012)

“What have either one of us done but make bad choices?” Duane asked. “In your case it’s mostly been bad choices about women. In my case it’s been bad choices about food.” (p. 135)

We rejoin Duane as he’s back from his holiday to Egypt to see the Pyramids – unfortunately, this appears to be the “older man wish fulfilment” volume of the series and he’s immediately confronted with a perky chested employee of his (now his son’s) oil drilling company, an accomplished geologist and would-be sex kitten who’s actually alarmed by the act itself and wants some affection. Life in Thalia goes on as normal but interspersed with many sex scenes that are a bit distasteful, though always consenting – just that older man / (much) younger woman thing. Maybe I’m less accepting of such stuff these days.

There is poignancy, with older cast members leaving us, Ruth Popper shocking her old friends and the old corner store having turned into an “Asian Wonder Deli”, delighting the people of the neighbourhood. Duane has troubles with his daughters, as they appear to have made good marriages to rich Texas men but then things fall apart in a confusion of sexual orientations. Duane’s comment to Bobby Lee, his old friend / thorn in his side for all these decades, quoted above, sums up the book, as Bobby Lee is shot by a girlfriend and Duane has heart issues.

Larry McMurtry – “Rhino Ranch”

(17 March 2012)

For much of his life Thalia had mostly depressed Duane, but lately he had developed a kind of tolerance for it. Maybe it was just that as the funeral bell came closer to tolling for him he felt a tendency to linger in what had been, or maybe still was, home. (p. 24)

In this more upbeat and longer novel, we do lose to a large extent the young girls throwing themselves at Duane. He’s married to the one from the last book, and they’ve moved to Arizona, but he’s hankering to get back to Thalia and still seeking advice from his old therapist, Honor. Back in Thalia, K.K. Slater has set up a ranch to save the black rhino, with Bobby Lee and an elderly cowboy guarding the animals from a single watch tower. Duane’s grandson Willy shows the only sensible head in the family, getting a scholarship to Oxford and representing hope for the next generation, and Duane’s obvious fondness for him is a big point in his favour.

The most touching relationship in the book is between Duane and the rhino Double Aught, who escapes seemingly at will and is spotted all over Texas and beyond. Pacing on either side of the fence, they are both the great patriarchs, now with little to do, and much in common. There’s also a great scene where Duane confronts some elderly racists. And although there’s another very young woman who’s after him for a bit, Duane draws strength from and has great respect for Dal, a Cambodian woman who has been through war and come over to the US as a refugee and gives him food and friendship when he needs it.

He still had people, he still had duties. Not going on would be a betrayal of all he believed. (p. 237)

So Duane goes on, and lives through the remainder of the main action of the book, as the rhino ranch and various plans come and go. It’s only in the last chapter that we see his end, almost off-stage, but also get a round-up of those who are left. And like Double Aught, K.K. is never seen in Thalia again, as this elegaic novel ends.

Next month, we’re back to the 1980s and a pair of novels set among Las Vegas showgirls that I remember as being powerfully moving and bittersweet. I wonder if I’ve remembered them correctly!

State of the TBR – April 2022

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Looking at my TBR shelf I notice that it’s about as full as it was last month (though with more review books) so at least it hasn’t got any worse, has it …

I read 13 books in in March, which I was pretty disappointed with, although I was having a very busy time at work in the first couple of weeks, and it’s still not too bad (note that there are a few more books in than out last month, however!) I only managed to finish and review seven of the eleven NetGalley ebooks I intended to read, although I have since finished two more (“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois” is STILL proving hard to get into but I will persist). I have two reads from March left to review which is fine as I like to be reviewing in advance in case I don’t have time during the week. One of these was the Maya Angelou poems that finishes my set and I read my Larry McMurtry 2022 book for the month. The Angelou was number 13 out of 53 in the second quarter of my TBR Project, so I have 40 books left to read of that (I’m reading one at the moment) in six months, which makes 6.66 books per month and means I need to get on with that! I read two books for Reading Wales 2022, both by Richard King, “Brittle with Relics” and “The Lark Ascending” and bought another.

Shiny New Books

I reviewed “Brittle With Relics” for Shiny New Books as well as on here (see link above) with a less emotional and more “professional” review.

Incomings

In print books, you would think I have NOT been restrained this month as I was last month. But actually it’s all down to review copies coming in (thank you!), books being pushed on me and Unbound books getting published, oh, and needing to buy the second book in a series when I won the third one on NetGalley. So really, I only slipped up with Ted Edwards’ “Fight the Wild Island: A Solo Walk Across Iceland” which I suddenly found at a good second-hand price (so that hardly counts, either!).

I was kindly sent “Snow Widows” by Katherine MacInnes (the story of the widows of Scott of the Antarctic and his expedition mates and what happened next: how cool is that?), “This Woman’s Work”, edited by Kim Gordon and Sinead Gleeson, about women and music; Rob Cowan’s poetry book, “The Heeding” (OK, the publicist sent this to me in error but I peeked at it and was drawn in, it came in Feb, actually); and Maud Carnes’ “Strange Journey” and Rose Macaulay’s “Keeping up Appearances” which are the two latest in the British Library Women Writers reprints series.

Then “100 Voices” ed Miranda Roszkowski is an Unbound book I subscribed to, showcasing 100 women and their stories of achievement; my friend Meg pressed “Detransition Baby” by Torrey Peters onto me, saying I had to read it; and I had to buy Nicola May’s “Starry Skies in Ferry Lane Market” because I have book 1 already and won book 3 on NetGalley.

I bought two e-books this month: Malala Yousafzai’s “We are Displaced: My Journey and Stories from Refugee Girls” and Charlotte William’s “Sugar and Slate”, a memoir of growing up Black and Welsh which was the readalong for Reading Wales this year – I was holding out for a print copy but none was to be found that was affordable and I won’t leave it till next March!

I won a lot of NetGalley books this month (but not toooooo many are published in April, thank goodness):

“Tell Me the Truth About Love” by Susanna Abse (published in May) is tales from a therapist on love and relationships; Sara Cox’s “Thrown” (May) is a novel about community and, yes, pottery; Osman Yousefzada’s “The Go-Between” (Jan) is a coming-of-age story set in 1980s and 1990s Birmingham where the author crosses two worlds and cultures; Nicola May’s “Rainbows End in Ferry Lane Market” (Apr) is third in a series about a small community; Salma El-Wardany’s “These Impossible Things” (Jun) charts the lives of three British Muslim women over the years; Sara Novic’s “True Biz” (May) is set in a school for the D/deaf and examines both the pupils and the head as it struggles for survival; in “You Made a Fool of Death With Your Beauty” by Akwaeke Emezi (May) a Nigerian woman struggling with grief goes to the Caribbean and finds love and friendship; and Candice Carty-Williams’ “People Person” (Apr) has a woman in South London finding she has five half-siblings …

So that was 13 read and 18 coming in in March – oops!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Sairish Hussain’s “The Family Tree”, a multigenerational saga set in a Muslim family in the UK, because I had to take something from my standard print TBR. When I took this picture earlier today, I was reading Warsan Shire’s “Bless the Daughter Raised by A Voice in Her Head” but I’ve finished this amazing hook of poetry already, as it was both short and powerful.

Coming up next, my print TBR that I must read …

… includes the review books already mentioned, TWO Larry McMurtry’s (they are short ones) to finish the Duane/Thalia series, and that middle Ferry Market novel. I would ideally like to get something else from the normal print TBR, too.

My NetGalley TBR for April isn’t too bad:

So from those incomings above, I have “The Go Between” by Osman Yousefzada, “People Person” by Candice Carty-Williams and the two Ferry Lane Market books (books 1 and 3). I also have Julie Shackman’s “A Scottish Highland Surprise”, which the publisher kindly offered me via NetGalley, and Bonnie Garmus’ exciting looking “Lessons in Chemistry”. Elizabeth Fair’s “The Native Heath” was sent to me by Dean Street Press ages ago and somehow got overlooked: it fits in with Kaggsy and Simon’s 1954 Challenge so out if comes! I do also have “Shadowlands” and “The Ship Asunder” left over from my March NetGalley TBR, however I notice that all but one of the April ones are novels, which should help me get through them relatively rapidly, I hope …

That’s 15 books to read this month, which I hope I can manage, but hopefully I’ll get a few more off the print TBR, too!


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

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Duane’s Depressed”

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As no one else appears to be reading along with my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project at the moment (which is fine, of course, it’s my project; lots of people do seem to be planning to read “Lonesome Dove” at some point in the year and I’m not sure I’ll get to it so please do just go ahead!) so I’m not beating myself up for having this review out after my planned date of “on the 20th of every month”. I really enjoyed it, and that’s the main thing! Why did I buy this one two days after “Texasville”, that’s the big question. Was I in the US at the time (this seems like a US copy)? I reviewed this last in November 2012 and mentioned then that I’d read it once before but didn’t have a review anywhere. Once again, I only remembered one salient point about this novel, though it was a big plot point.

Larry McMurtry – “Duane’s Depressed”

(11 April 2000)

The process of change that began when he had locked his pickup and put the keys in the old chipped coffee cup was more serious than he had supposed. He hadn’t just been walking for amusement: he had been walking away from his life. (p. 89)

While on paper this should be a depressing book (and Matthew remembers finding it so when he read it with me last time around), revolving, as it does, a man having an existential crisis and then experiencing bereavement, while most of the characters from the previous novels in the series are dead or die within the novel. But somehow it manages to be funny, engaging and fascinating.

Duane Moore is 62 in this one, so we’ve hopped forward a few years. He’s still in his long marriage to Karla, and prey to her Looks and suspicions, the house is even more full of children and grandchildren, Jacy Farrow is dead and Sonny is in a decline. At the very start of the book, Duane suddenly, for no reason that he or we ever fathom, decides he’s had enough of life in a pick-up truck, where most of his life has been carried out up to then, and makes a choice to walk everywhere. Soon he’s moving into a little shack on the edge of his property, 6 miles from his house; then he’s only shopping at a weird hardware shop on the cross-roads, not even daring to go into Thalia. If he does get back into the orbit of his family, he risks getting sucked in, yet he hasn’t left Karla and doesn’t want a divorce.

Can a therapist help him? The description of the process of therapy is what makes this book: his authentic reactions and emotions are moving and funny at the same time. He even has a classic case of transference, not that he realises that. Meanwhile, those affected by his change of heart and lifestyle have their own changes in their own lives; Ruth Popper finally retires and his children all seem to embrace actual jobs and marriages, for once. Did they need the king-pin of their lives, the stoical hard worker and general good role model to vanish to come good themselves?

There’s a very funny moment late on in the book which will chime with other McMurtry readers: this happens when he’s struggling through Proust, as you do:

‘Duane, I can’t believe you’re doing this,’ she would have been sure to say. ‘You can’t read a book that long. The only long book you ever read was Lonesome Dove, and if the miniseries had been on first, you wouldn’t have read that one either.’ (p. 429)

A long book in itself, but I gulped it down. The story of healing it contains, whether from an existential crisis or a loss, and the story of hope, is beguiling. I’m very much looking forward to reading the next two instalments in the series.

State of the TBR – March 2022

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It’s the second month with my new TBR shelf, and it has been marvellous being able to see what I’ve got, as well as being easier to move around when I take books off it (not that that happened much this month!). For example, I was able to grab “Anna and Her Daughters” off the bottom shelf when Ali read it and I just had to follow suit.

I read 15 books in February, which I was quite pleased about given that I started slowly, including all the NetGalley ebooks I intended to read and one more I acquired during the month (“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois” is proving hard to get into but I will persist). Three of my reads I have yet to publish reviews for, and one was published in Shiny New Books (more below). My Maya Angelou fitted into our monthly Virago challenge and I read my Larry McMurtry 2022 book for the month even if I was a bit late with my review. I have not done that well with ReadIndies, having read five (two to review) and I’ve read book 10 out of 53 in the second quarter of my TBR Project (I have got book six and eleven in the respective challenges off the shelf to read).

Shiny New Books

I read “No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy” by Mark Hodkinson for Shiny New Books and my review is out today! I really enjoyed reading about his journey from a working-class household with one book to his discovery of the world of books and progress to being an editor and publisher. I also showcased “Brown Girls” and “Black Cake” there in a double review highlighting these two great debut novels.

Incomings

In print books, I have been very lucky and also very restrained. I bought a second-hand copy of Christina Hardyment’s “Arthur Ransome and Capt. Flint’s Trunk” after seeing this book about the locations of the Swallows and Amazons series on someone’s blog (help – whose?). Then lovely Verity sent me Katherine May’s “The Electricity of Every Living Thing” about a woman’s self-healing through walking (and what a beautiful cover) and while she thought she’d sent it late, it arrived on just the most perfect day to get a surprise book in the post, and the publisher Michael Walmer has very kindly added me to his list and sent me Peter Jamieson’s “Letters on Shetland” which I can’t wait to get stuck into very soon, as I love reading about Shetland and its history.

I had a bit of a NetGalley influx this last month, although even though there was one more than this (Kate Weston’s “Must Do Better”, reviewing tomorrow), there were 13 books in and 15 read in the month, so that’s a victory of sorts, right?

Matthew Green’s “Shadowlands” (out in March) is an enticing book about lost villages and the like in Britain (I know at least two people who will also be tempted by this one!). Anne Booth’s “Small Miracles” (August) is a heart-warming, positive novel offered to me by the publisher. Télé-Michel Kpomassie’s “Michel the Giant: An African in Greenland” (February) is a travel book I’ve been looking for for ages (you know how I am obsessed with Greenland and love books about different cultures encountering one another) and I discovered had been republished by Penguin. Julie Shackman’s “A Scottish Highland Surprise” (April) is another light novel offered to me by the publisher: wedding shop, mysterious tea sets and small community life: yes please. Charlotte Mendelson is an author I’ve enjoyed before and “The Exhibitionist” (March) is another perceptive family story. Margaret Atwood’s “Burning Questions” (today!) is her new book of essays. “The Ship Asunder” by Tom Nancollas (March) (yes, I have yet to read his lighthouse one) looks at British maritime history in bits of eleven ships and boats combined in one imaginary one. Erika L. Sanchez’ “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” (March) is a coming of age novel about a Mexican American young woman. And last in the picture but first in my TBR (probably), finally I’ve got my hands on a copy of Anne Tyler’s “French Braid” (March) although I’m still hoping for my ARC from the publisher, too. At last I’ll finish my Anne Tyler project (for now).

Coming up next

I am only reading one main book right now, and that’s Richard King’s “Brittle With Relics: A History of Wales 1962-1987”. It’s such an amazing work of oral history that I’m really savouring it and reading it slowly, and even though I provided administrative support on the book, it’s so beautifully put together it’s like everything is new to my eyes. I’m reviewing it for Shiny New Books but will write about it here, too. As well as Maya Angelou’s “And Still I Rise” book of poetry, which I’ve started to dip into but neglected to photograph, I have Larry McMurtry’s “Duane’s Depressed” and then Damian Hall’s “In it For the Long Run”, published by Vertebrate so another ReadIndie book, about ultra running. I haven’t read a running book for ages, it feels.

My NetGalley TBR for March is pretty horrendous:

So from those incomings above, I have “Shadowlands”, the Atwood and Anne Tyler, “An African in Greenland”, “I am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”, “The Ship Asunder” and “The Exhibitionist”. In addition, I have Kasim Ali’s “Good Intentions” (novel about a mixed heritage secret relationship), Symeon Brown’s exploration of influencer culture, “Get Rich or Lie Trying”, Lizzie Damilola Blackburn’s “Yinka, Where is Your Huzband” (life as a Nigerian British woman who’s as yet unmarried), and Warsan Shire’s “Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head” (poetry by an award-winning Somali British woman).

That’s 15 books to read this month, which I can manage, but hopefully I’ll get a few more off the print TBR!


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

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Texasville”

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I’m late with this instalment in my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, but I don’t think anyone’s reading along with this bit of it (are you? Everyone seems to be planning to read “Lonesome Dove” at some point in the year) so I should get away with it. No reluctance to read this novel, just a glut of work cutting into my reading time (and it’s not quite the book you read over mealtimes, just in case …). I read the battered US edition you can see in the photo, which I bought on the same day I bought “The Last Picture Show”. I last read it in October 2012, when I was working my way up to reading the fourth and fifth volumes in the series, and handily typed my review from 2000 into that review from my notebooks.

Larry McMurtry – “Texasville”

(09 April 2000)

He had never supposed that people really lived as they ought to live, but he had gone through much of his life at least believing that there was a way they ought to live. And Thalia of all places – a modest small town – ought to be a place where people lived as they ought to live, allowing for a normal margin of human error. Surely, in Thalia, far removed from big-city temptations, people ought to be living on the old model – putting their families and neighbors first, leading more or less orderly, ore of less responsible lives.

But he knew almost everyone in Thalia – indeed, knew more than he wanted to know about most of them – and it was clear from what he knew that the old model had been shattered. The arrival of money had cracked the model; its departure shattered it. Irrationality now flowered as prolifically as broom weeds in a wet year. (pp. 323-324)

We’re 30 years on from the events of “The Last Picture Show” although shockingly the main characters still manage to be slightly younger than I am myself now, reading it! Duane has been married to the somewhat terrifying Karla for over 20 years and they have a range of slightly feral children, from Nellie and her many short marriages, through Dickie, who’s shagging everyone and selling drugs, to the terrible twins, Jack and Julie, who just cause mayhem. There are a couple of grandchildren in the huge house, and a succession of guests who move in and out. Oh, and a dog, Shorty, who makes it through the book, although not loyally. Sonny is still around, owning half the town but quiet and sad and a perpetual bachelor, and Ruth Popper is there, too, happily, running marathons and Duane’s office. A large cast of town characters, cowboys, oil workers and farmers complete the personnel, revolving around Sonny’s shops, the courthouse and the Dairy Queen.

It’s the 1980s and the bust years after the boom, and McMurtry’s central idea, set against the structure of preparations for the town’s centennial event, which allows him to pull in characters and set them against each other, is that everyone’s morals have been knocked loose by either all the money or the threat of bankruptcy. All the women appear to have left their husbands and set up with other men – often Duane’s son, Dickie, as it turns out, and are getting pregnant by men not their husbands. I have to say though that the women have far more agency in this one and are the lead characters, controlling both action and emotions. None more so than when Jacy, Duane’s old love, reappears, fresh from a career in Europe as a film star but also mourning a child. There’s a wonderful scene where they repeat their homecoming queen / football captain moment (which Duane recalls they mocked at the time) on a float in the centennial parade. Jacy’s a mystery and gradually adopts almost the whole town, and it’s only at the end that her real motives come through.

There are funny scenes, the tumbleweed stampede in particular (which I had forgotten again!), the bit where Duane is somehow forced to judge an art show, the visit to the psychiatrist, but also such poignant ones. Sonny’s in some kind of decline neurologically and is found sitting in his old picture show, mostly destroyed, up on the remaining seat, thinking he can see a film against the sky in what I feel is the central scene of the novel.

Long and sprawling, wide and somewhat wild, this was indeed worth a re-read.

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