Book review – Larry McMurtry – “The Evening Star”


I missed a month of my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project last month as I was so concerned with my Dean Street December challenge. But I’m not too worried, as it was always going to drift into this year, with one final novel, “Cadillac Man”, which I will now read in February. This one is the final novel in the Houston series and is pretty well set back in the city, with everyone from the previous books having their stories rounded off if they haven’t been already.

I acquired this copy in July 1999 and read it that August, and I don’t seem to have read and reviewed it again since. My copy was a second-hand one, though I didn’t recall where it came from – I suspect a charity shop rather than the book market in Greenwich as there’s a price crossed out but no alphabet code. I had been reading McMurtry from the library (Lewisham Library) since September 1997 and it looks like this one was the first of his I bought.

Larry McMurtry – “The Evening Star”

(17 July 1999, charity shop)

Her mother had always hoped she would write, or, failing that, sing, but she had done neither. She had, in the end, merely lived, partaking rather fully of the human experience, absorbing it, and yet doing nothing with it. That was the common way, of course, and yet the knowledge that she had not transcended the common way left her discontented, restless. It seemed to her that her problem may have been that she absorbed experience too avidly – so avidly that she had never taken time really to think about it. (p. 32)

As it’s the last book in the series, concentrating on Aurora Greenway, who it feels McMurtry had really wanted to write about again and again, and she’s entering her 70s along with her maid, Rosie, the General being in his 80s, you’re aware as you pick this up that it’s going to be a descent into losing the main characters you’ve read about in great detail over six books. And so it happens, although there are plenty of people left at the end and we extend into Aurora’s great-grandson’s adulthood in the final chapter.

We open with Aurora and Rosie visiting Aurora’s grandson Tommy in prison, a hated but necessary routine. Her daughter Emma died a few books ago, Tommy, Teddy and Melanie’s father lives in California with a new wife and kids and Aurora and Rosie have done their best to raise the children, but Tommy is in prison, Teddy has had major psychiatric problems and Melanie has lost her childhood charm and is dissatisfied and pregnant with a deadbeat boyfriend – classic McMurtry territory, then.

Over the book we cycle through chapters from the viewpoints of Aurora, Rosie, Teddy, Teddy’s son ‘Bump’, Tommy, Melanie and the General, Aurora’s last-remaining beau from “Terms of Endearment” (we get a quick update on how all the others were lost, as well as mention of Danny Deck’s daughter’s fate from the last novel), as well as a new character, the cod-psychoanalyst Jerry.

There are a few new boyfriends, Pascal the Frencher-than-French Frenchman and two delightful Greek brothers, and other recurring characters, notably Patsy Carpenter, in whose mind we spent so much time in “Moving On“, now older and damaged by all her poor choices of men but still looking out for the grandchildren and sparring with Aurora. Time wears on, the narrative becomes more fragmented, people move to LA, people die, and we’re often left with four old people bickering in a house, but it’s still classic McMurtry, as clear and precise as reportage, socking you with an emotional punch when you’re not expecting it. The fragmented scenes seen through young Henry’s eyes as he spends time with his failing great-grandmother as as masterful as anything McMurtry (or a lot of other writers) ever wrote.

In the end, it’s a meditation on the use of a life (see the quote at the top; this spurs Aurora into a fruitless project to remember every day of her life) and a bittersweet conclusion to a sprawling, uneven series I very much enjoyed.

State of the TBR – January 2023


Looking at last month’s picture, and given that I have added my Christmas books already, I haven’t done too badly! Incomings have come in but books have come off the TBR, too, although from the middle mainly down to my Dean Street December challenge (remember you have until the end of Monday to submit your reviews to me). The pile at the end is still there, but it’s only one pile …

I completed 17 books in December although I have three left to review (two of Susan Cooper’s “Dark is Rising” sequence, which I’m going to review together, and Dave Grohl’s memoir), and am part-way through three more (one my Reading With Emma Emma Read). I read two of my six ebook TBR books (four for December and two older one) although I started one and only have three January publishing dates so might do OK this month. I read eight out of the ten Dean Street Press books I put out to choose from (seven print and one ebook) and one of the other print TBR I’d set aside for myself (the Christmas stories) but I didn’t get round to my Larry McMurtry for the month.


Incoming print books. I have already shared my Christmas incomings in another post (see here) and also gathered these ones during the month (only four!):

I picked up “Birmingham: The Brutiful Years” by Mary Keating, Jenny Marris and John Bell in advance of their author talk for The Heath Bookshop, and had it signed at the event. It’s about post-war architecture in Birmingham, at risk, lost and saved. My dear friend Cari bought me Alison Mariella Désir’s “Running While Black: Finding Freedom in a Sport that Wasn’t Built for Us” at her launch event and had it signed for me – this is a US book and I’d love to know if anyone has seen similar from the UK. My lovely friend Chrissie popped Peter Oborne’s “Basil D’Oliveira: Cricket and Conspiracy the Untold Story” through my letterbox the other day as she knows I enjoy a sports book, and OUP have kindly sent me Carl Abbott’s “Suburbs: A Very Short Introduction” to review for Shiny New Books.

I won five NetGalley books this month:

Elizabeth Day’s “Friendaholic: Confessions of a Friendship Addict” (published in March) is a non-fiction account of her own and others’ thoughts and research on the phenomenon of friendship. Libby Page wrote “The Lido” and “The 24-hour Cafe” which I really enjoyed (and I might just have bought “The Island Home” on Kindle as I missed that one) and her “The Vintage Shop of Second Chances” (February) is another warm community novel. I enjoyed Julie Shackman‘s “A Scottish Highland Surprise” so was pleased to be offered “A Scottish Country Escape” (March) by the publisher. Anika Hussain’s “This is How You Fall in Love” (February) is a South Asian YA romcom and Krystle Zara Appiah’s “Rootless” (April) looks at the “happily ever after” as a British-Ghanaian marriage falls into crisis.

And I bought no e-books (hooray!)

So that was 17 read and 17 coming in in December – I call that a win in a busy month for incomings!

Currently reading

I’m currently still reading Jini Reddy’s “Wanderland” with Emma, seeking the mystic places of Britain with the author; we should have it finished and reviewed soon and it’s been an interesting if a little frustrating read so far. I’ve decided to use Annabookbel’s “Nordic FINDS” challenge to finish that Icelandic Sagas book I’ve had on the go for EVER so am picking that up for 20 minutes or so a day. And I’m part-way through one of my December NetGalley reads, Eris Young’s “Ace Voices” about the asexual spectrum and people’s everyday experiences.

Coming up

This month, I’ll also be reading my Larry McMurtry from December – “The Evening Star”, which I wanted to do justice as it’s a big book. Then I have two review books to prioritise: Mary Gordon’s “Chase of the Wild Goose” which is “part biography, part novel, part spiritual memoir” about the Ladies of Llangollen, published by the fab young publishing house, Lurid Editions, and the aforementioned “Suburbs: A Very Short Introduction” from OUP for Shiny.

My NetGalley TBR for January has just these three books, but I have one to finish and one to read from my December books and those two September/October ones. I reckon I can manage seven in the month, right?

Colin Grant’s “I’m Black so You Don’t Have to Be” is an intergenerational biography which places the author’s British-Jamaican identity in context; Nell Zink’s “Avalon” is a coming-of-age novel set in the context of late-capitalist California, and Jyoti Patel’s “The Things that We Lost” is a debut novel covering families and mental health in the British Asian and Black communities. With the ones I’m currently reading (including my readalong which will only take another week or so), that’s three books to finish and nine to read in full, though I would also like to get to Barbara Kingsolver’s “Demon Copperhead”, which Matthew has finally finished reading!

Reading Challenges

I am not going to do an author reading challenge this year for the first time in a decade or so. I have two Larry McMurtrys to finish and then I’m going to concentrate on my TBR (I will do Dewithon, Reading Ireland, 20 Books of Summer, NonFiction November, AusReading Month and Novellas in November as well as running Dean Street December again, plus Simon and Karen’s two Year Weeks, but I will fulfil all those from my TBR). I have also realised that I buy hardback books only to find the paperback is out by the time I get round to reading them, so I am going to prioritise the newer hardbacks on the TBR and then try to read any more that I acquire as I go. What are your reading intentions for 2023?

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

State of the TBR – December 2022


Looking at last month’s picture, I have done quite well again! Incomings have come in but books have come off the TBR, too. Even though I’ve added five books to the little pile at the end, it’s not as big as last month.

I completed 23 books in November (thanks to my week’s holiday and doing Novellas in November), and am part-way through three more (one my Emma Read and one reading along with Matthew), plus the long-term ongoing Tolkien and Sagas books. I read all my ebook TBR books for November (my picture was wrong last month; I have yet to review two of them), and also got my September ones and all but one of my October ones read or (one) started. I read eight out of the fifteen novellas I put out to choose from and two others (one in from a publisher then read right away, one from the TBR), making a total of ten, and I read three books for AusReading Month (one left to review) and twelve for NonFiction November.


Incoming print books. I had some lovely books in this month.

“Mary & Mr Eliot” by Mary Trevelyan and Erica Wagner is an author copy from the publisher – it’s based on Mary Trevelyan’s manuscript about her friendship with T.S. Eliot which I copy-typed a few years ago to start off the process for Erica to edit and provide commentary on it. Lovely publisher Michael Walmer kindly sent me a review copy of his reprint of Howard Sturgis’ “On the Pottlecomble Cornice” which I promptly reviewed for Novellas in November and the British Library Publishing folk kindly sent me “Stories for Christmas and the Festive Season” which of course I have saved to read this month. We had a tea party at Ali’s the other weekend and Meg gave me her copy of Claire Keegan’s “Small Things Like These” while Ali passed me her copy of Elisa Shua Dusapin’s “The Pachinko Parlour”. I went to a Brian Bilston poetry reading run by The Heath Bookshop last week and bought a copy of his latest book, “Days Like These” (a poem for every day of the year!), and finally I received a copy of Nigel Green and Robin Wilson’s “Brutalist Paris” which I had helped crowd-fund. What a lovely variety of ways to receive books!

I won five NetGalley books this month:

“The Silence of the Stands” by Daniel Gray (published November) is about football’s lost season in the lockdowns – whose blog did I see this on?? Alexis Keir writes about returning to St Vincent [edited out my error, apoplogies to the author] and tracing his family’s journeys to the UK and New Zealand in “Windward Family” (Feb 2023) and in “Black Girl from Pyongyang” by Monica Macias (Mar 2023) we’ll learn about how the author was transplanted from West Africa to North Korea to be raised, and how she searched for her identity once she’d grown up (that’s going to be a good one for the Stranger than Fiction segment of NonFicNov next year!). “Happy Place” (April 2023) looks like another good novel from Emily Henry, a break-up novel with a big lie to all the friend group and Shauna Robinson’s “Must Love Books” (Feb 2023) pits a young Black woman against the world of publishing.

And I bought three e-books from Amazon in their Black Friday sale:

I always think I have Trevor Noah‘s memoir, “Born a Crime” but I didn’t, until now. John Cooper Clarke is one of the few poets I like and I couldn’t resist his autobiography, “I Wanna Be Yours”, for 99p. And Patrick King’s “Stand Up For Yourself, Set Boundaries and Stop Pleasing Others” might stop me making myself labour over these massive posts (right?!).

So that was 23 read and 15 coming in in November – back in the right direction!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Settlers: Journeys through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London” by Jimi Famurewa, which is a NetGalley book published in October and is marvellous so far, Jini Reddy’s “Wanderland” is my readalong with Emma and most entertaining so far, and I’ve finally got to reading Dave Grohl’s “The Storyteller” with Matthew, so he does a bit of the audio book (with Dave narrating and a musical background) on his walk and I catch up with the book (no Dave’s voice or music) at home.

Coming up

This month, I’m taking part in two challenges: my own Dean Street Press December, of course (see my main post here) and I’ve laid out all the DSP books I have in paperback plus one more modern one on Kindle. I’m looking forward to seeing what I and everyone else can read in the month from this lovely publisher.

And I’ve also decided to do #DiverseDecember to maintain the diversity of my reading, though I don’t have a main post to link to for that. So upcoming are Nova Reid’s “The Good Ally”, Riva Lehrer’s memoir of her life and art living with a disability, “Golem Girl” and Rabina Khan’s essays, “My Hair is Pink Under this Veil”. I have my lovely Christmas stories from the British Library, too, and my great big Larry McMurtry, “The Evening Star”. This isn’t the end of Larry McMurtry Rereading, though, as I only have “Cadillac Jack” left so am going to read that in January.

My NetGalley TBR for December has just two books, but of course I have September to November ones, too:

“Beyond Measure” and “Femina” are older ones I need to get read, “The Racial Code” and “The Christmas Castle in Scotland” are two from October I need to polish off (the latter saved on purpose of course) and Meron Hadero’s “A Down Home Meal for Difficult Times” and Eris Young’s “Ace Voices” are published in December.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s one book to finish and 21 to read (ten of them paperback novels and I have a week off over Christmas …), but I’m looking forward to it all!

How was your November reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection? Are you doing Dean Street December with me?

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Some Can Whistle”


The fifth (loosely) of the Houston Series (this one is partly set there) which forms the last section of my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project. In this one, we find that McMurtry cannot leave Danny Deck, last seen or heard of drowning his second novel, and possibly himself, alone, for here he is again.

I acquired this copy in October 2004 via BookCrossing (I swapped it with someone in Georgia for a Barbara Kingsolver) and sent it to Canada for a journey before it came home again. Amusingly, it was away while I moved to my current house, as I mentioned I had saved a space for it on my new bookshelves. No review on here but I do have my review from my BookCrossing journal entry: “

This was brilliant – classic, vintage McMurtry. I particularly liked the way that they went into Thalia a few times, Cadillac Jack and Duane from the Last Picture Show trilogy popped up in the story incidentally, and Emma Horton was mentioned too – makes it all seem more real!”

Larry McMurtry – “Some Can Whistle”

(15 October 2004, BookCrossing)

But my daughter, an evidently healthy young woman who had two small children and worked at a Mr. Burger, might well not see it that way. To her I might just seem like an aging freak, slopping around my house in caftans, not leaving my hill for months on end, watching horrible European policier videos half the night, and talking on the phone hour after hour to a kind of aural harem of beautiful women scattered all over the world, most of whom i only saw for maybe an hour or two a year. (p. 32)

This one lacked the preface others have had and I missed getting McMurtry’s thoughts on it. However, he obviously couldn’t leave Danny Deck along and here he is with a whole book of his own. It opens strongly with a woman calling Deck at his California designer adobe residence, shared with the fairly disgusting old English professor, Godwin, and his housekeeper, Gladys and asking if he’s her father. And there T.R. is, 22, with two small children, bursting into his life with a crowd of extras and turning it upside-down. Previously, Deck had lived a quiet life with only a series of phone calls and voice mails with several women friends to keep him occupied. He’s made his fortune writing a wildly popular sitcom, and indeed one of his women friends starred in it: after deciding he didn’t want to drown himself in the Rio Grande, he worked his way into the TV industry, although he’s always looking for the perfect first line for another novel.

T.R. is enchanting and frustrating and roars through the novel. But the father of her oldest child is a constant background threat, and although Deck hires a bodyguard for her, you get the feeling her fate might come for her. But surely not to such a whirlwind of power and fearlessness? Times around the pool with a set of family and chosen family remind us of the Duane novels, and indeed Duane makes a short appearance, as does Cadillac Jack from his eponymous novel (I feel like I’m not finished with McMurtry and might polish off some standalones early next year), which is lovely. Less lovely is hearing about Jill Peel’s sad fate, Joe having died at the end of the last novel, and what happened to her after that. This does set the stage for McMurtry making you care about his characters and then turning the screw at the end (this has happened in a couple of reads recently, also notably Jonathan Coe’s very different novel, “Bournville”.

The novel also has a lot to say about the fate of women in the TV and film industry as they age, with incisive commentaries from the narrator, Deck, about the career trajectories of his friends. His harem of women friends remind me of Charles Arrowby in “The Sea, The Sea,” and indeed there is a mention of Iris Murdoch appearing at the end of Deck’s graduate studies in English (this book was published a decade after “The Sea, The Sea” and I really must research IM’s influence on LM!

The lives of happy people ar dense with their own doings – crowded, active, thick – urban, I would almost say.

But the sorrowing are nomads, on a plain with few landmarks and no boundaries; sorrow’s horizons are vague and its demands few. Jeanie and I had not become strangers; it was just that she lived in the city and I lived on the plains. (p. 368)

Funny but ultimately touching and a meditation on sorrow and grief, the work of a master hidden in the covers of a potboiler!

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

State of the TBR – November 2022


Looking at last month’s picture, I have done shockingly badly! Not only have the Three Investigators pile moved back to in front of the books; there’s now a vertical pile of the most recent incomings there, too!

I completed 13 books in October, and am part-way through four more. I read none of my ebook TBR books for October, but did get three of my September ones read and I’m going to make a real effort to keep going and clear them properly. I read some of my print TBR books, including two of my three review books from publishers, I gave up on “The View from the Corner Shop” because it was just too detailed.


I talked about my 22 incoming print books in a separate post this month and have managed not to acquire any more since!

I won six NetGalley books this month:

Jonathan Coe’s “Bournville” (published Nov) is a family saga set in the suburb a few miles from me. Alba Donati’s “Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop” (Nov) is the tale of a bookshop founded in a tiny town in lockdown. “The Racial Code: Tales of Resistance and Survival” by Nicola Rollock (Oct) investigates race and racism in Britain today. Meron Hadero’s “A Down Home Meal for these Difficult Times” (Dec) is a set of short stories set around immigrants and immigration which I imagine I saw on someone else’s blog, but where? Ore Agbaje-Williams’ “The Three of Us” (May 2023) is a novel taking place in one day as a marriage and a best friendship collapse. Colin Grant’s “I’m Black so you don’t Have to Be” (Jan 2023) is a memoir told through a range of intergenerational stories.

I also bought three e-books from Amazon:

Dayo Forster’s “Reading the Ceiling” was another one I think I saw on a blog. It’s a first novel set in Africa and the UK which looks at three directions a young woman’s life could go on. Dipo Faloyin’s “Africa is not a Country” looks at stereotypes and how to break them, and Jane Linfoot’s “A Winter Warmer at the Little Cornish Kitchen” is a bit of fun in a series I’ve read from before to read in December.

So that was 13 read and 31 coming in in October – still going very much in the wrong direction!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Black Victorians” which is a NetGalley book from September and Jessie M.E. Saxby’s “Rock Bound”. Jini Reddy’s “Wanderland” is Emma and my next readalong after finishing “Square Haunting” (review to come soon). I’m also inching my way through that big Tolkien book.

Coming up

As well as the Larry McMurtry for this month, I’m taking part in three challenges: NonFiction November, Novellas in November and AusReading Month. I have set aside books for NovNov and AusReading Month and most of the former and all of the latter are nonfiction books, so the reading for NonFicNov will look after itself and I’ll be bombarding you with Monday posts for the themed discussions.

For AusReading Month, hosted by Brona of This Reading Life (introduction and master post here), I’ll be looking at social justice, with four books looking at colonialism and the current and recent experiences of Aboriginal people (an acceptable term to use at the moment, thanks to resources from Brona last AusReading Month). Anita Heiss edited “Growing up Aboriginal in Australia”, collecting people’s experiences, Doris Pilkington / Nugi Garmara’s “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence” is the true story behind the film of an epic journey made by children (this is also under 200 pages so will fulfil all three of my challenges). Chelsea Watego’s “Another Day in the Colony” looks at the effects of colonialism, as does Claire G. Coleman’s “Lies, Damned Lies,” which is a personal exploration of this.

For Novellas in November, hosted by Cathy 746 Books and Bookish Beck (intro post here), I have laid out 15 books (like last year!) which I don’t expect to get through; 14 of them are non-fiction and all but two are by Global Majority People authors, too, so I’d like to read as many as possible. I won’t list them all here so you won’t get disappointed when I don’t read your favourite!

My NetGalley TBR for November has just four books, but of course I have the September and October ones, too, including the one I won in October, published then. Two you have seen about above, then “Refugee Wales” is a project looking at Syrian people who have settled in Wales, and Hakim Adi (ed.) “Black Voices on Britain” takes original sources into account, although by then I’ll have read about lots of Victorians and Georgians so I wonder if there’s going to be a lot of overlap.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and a big choice to read, but I only really have to read my Australian ones and I’ll cover all my challenges, so only a minimum of eight!

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

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Somebody’s Darling”


The fourth (loosely) of the Houston Series (not set there this time) which forms the last section of my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project. In this one, we follow the fortunes of screen writer Joe Percy, who we met first in “Moving On” and Jill Peel, Danny Deck’s ex-wife, with bits of news of Danny, his old tutor, Godwin, and also of Patsy from “Moving On”.

I acquired this copy in September 2004 via BookCrossing then sent it on a “Book Ring” to Alabama, New Mexico and New South Wales before putting it in my permanent collection. I must have read it some time in 2005: I fear I haven’t indexed the first half of that year’s reading journal before I started my blog in August 2005. The only record of my thoughts on it then are on my BookCrossing entry: “It wasn’t classic McMurtry (he admits in the preface that he was never that happy with it) but still worth it for completeness sake, especially as he takes characters from Moving On (STILL need that book!) and All My Friends are Going to be Strangers.”

Larry McMurtry – “Somebody’s Darling”

(20 September 2004, BookCrossing)

In the end I did grow up: as she was dying. Up until then it had been unnecessary, maybe even undesirable. I remained her roaring boy, lover, wayward son, whatever. (p. 30)

An ageing man looks back on past conquests and life in the entertainment industry. He sees the importance of Attention. He mulls over his dead wife. He drinks too much. He drives a Morgan. His much younger friend, over whose life he has always had an influence, lives in a chaotic mess. The author, a realist who has a tendency to produce baggy monsters of novels and is used to describing the intimate and minute stages of falling in love, states they are influenced by Dostoyevksy and George Eliot. I have said before that McMurtry and Iris Murdoch have been twin joys in my reading life, and have seen the comparison grow stronger: it really struck me in this one.

There’s a Preface in this one in which McMurtry admits that he’d gone off the boil about Jill Peel by the time he came to write it, having been very enthusiastic about her after writing “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers” in which she and Danny Deck featured. He was also a bit experimental in this one, writing in the first person in three sections, narrated by Joe Percy, Jill and, in the middle, Jill’s lover Owen Oarson, which McMurtry himself admits should have been in the third person, and is indeed not as successful, but putting it in a different viewpoint would have caused different problems.

The book is set in Hollywood: Jill has just had a success directing a film and is brought into to trouble-shoot another and shoot yet another. Joe, her friend and mentor, first supports her, then drifts away, then is brought back for a chaotic road-trip. Owen is trying to overcome a non-starry background to get into the movies in some way; he’s always able to get distracted by another woman, and he’s swift with his fists, which gives some nasty scenes of violence with Jill that I didn’t like reading (they’re narrated in his section and there’s no sense of approval from McMurtry, just of setting down that this is what this guy is like).

The story rambles and doesn’t really have an arc, apart from that of a tight friendship loosening and then drawing close again – and that’s of course fine; it’s great to read a novel about a friendship. Older men and younger women feature, as they do in McMurtry, and everyone ends up bobbing around in the mucky sea of the film industry, no one coming off particularly well. Contingency features (another Murdochian trope) in some shocking events that punctuate the book, and we hear enticing small details of Danny (DID he die in the Rio Grande?) and Patsy (several husbands on now). It ends on an elegiac note from Joe, recorded by Jill:

Life ought to be like a good script. The incidents ought to add up, and the characters ought to complement one another, and the story line ought to be clear, and after you’ve had the climax it ought to leave you with the feeling that it has all been worth it. But look at my case, just to take one. I passed the climax without even noticing it, and I’ve forgotten half the characters already. There was never a clear story line and most of the incidents were just incidents. (p. 399)

Not the most successful Larry McMurtry book but entertaining and weaving in to make the whole.

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

State of the TBR – October 2022


Looking at last month’s picture, I haven’t done too badly or too well – it’s slightly fuller than it was last month but a few more have disappeared from the oldest part, top left and there is now NO PILE in front of the shelves! My Three Investigators Mysteries pile is still tucked in, albeit turned around.

I completed 11 books in September, and am part-way through three more. I finished NONE of my ebook TBR books for September, although I did DNS one as I couldn’t get the file to work. I read or abandoned eight of my print TBR books and am in the middle of my ninth. Those were all also mainly from my TBR challenge – I now have 3 whole books and several to finish to go on that from now until 05 October, the good news being that Matthew won’t be ready to start the Dave Grohl book that initiated the challenge until a few days after that. I am now still on books that came in in September 2021 but should be “just” a year behind again soon.


I was NOT restrained with print books in this last month. This is probably down to my lack of self control as the new bookshop opened in Kings Heath, where I live – I reported on the opening weekend and the books I bought there here.

As well as those on the top row that came then, Meg passed me Ali’s copy of “Sankofa” by Chibundu Onuzo, about family secrets and a return to Africa to read, I bought Rob Beckett’s memoir / consideration of British class systems “Class Act” very cheap in The Works, I introduced Matthew to the Heath Bookshop and how wonderful to just browse and not just have to search for books on my wishlist, so I went for Eniola Aluko’s “They Don’t Teach This” about her career in British football, and Robert Twigger’s “Walking the Great North Line” about a walk through the middle of Britain. Claire kindly picked up our mutual friend Sally Brooks’ novel “Four Movements” (50 years, four people, one piano) for me at her book signing. Two review books arrived, from the British Library in their Women Writers series, “War Among Ladies” by Eleanor Scott (about teachers at a girls’ school!) and “Chase of the Wild Goose” by Mary Gordon is a novelisation of the Ladies of Llangollen from new publisher Lurid Editions (not out till Feb so reading in November). Finally, my pre-order of Damian Hall’s important book about the carbon/climate effect of running, “We Can’t Run Away from This”, popped through the letterbox.

I won just the four NetGalley books this month:

I went looking for “Pineapple Street” by Jenny Jackson after seeing it mentioned by another blogger (who?) – it’s a saga about monied folk in Brooklyn Heights (pub April 2023). Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogos’ “This is What It Sounds Like” (Oct 2022) is about why we like the music we like. “The Things That We Lost” by Jyoti Patel (Jan 2023), winner of the 2021 #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize is about the secrets that lie in family histories, and Jessica George’s “Maame” (Jan 2023) is a debut following a young woman’s journey to independence.

So that was 11 read and 17 coming in in September – even if I have read the two short story collections, going very much in the wrong direction!

Currently reading

As well as my readalong with Emma, “Square Haunting”, I’m still reading “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym” and picking away at those Icelandic sagas (Matthew has granted me that I’m reading them so they are off the TBR challenge even if not finished) and Stacey Dooley’s “Women Who Fight Back”, a very engaging but often shocking read about some of the subjects of her documentaries.

Coming up

As well as the Larry McMurtry for this month, these books take me up to and through Dave Grohl’s “The Storyteller” while covering the three review books I must get to in print.

My NetGalley TBR for October covers Africans in London, why we like the music we like, a Christmas novel I might read later, a book about healing through nature and edited primary sources on Black people in Britain:

All very achievable if I didn’t have the EIGHT books from NetGalley published in September that I have yet to read! And I think there’s a Kaggsy and Stuck in a Book Year read coming up, too, for which I have an e-book languishing somewhere.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and 21 to read, minimum. Can I do that? Hm: no!

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

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Terms of Endearment”


The third of the Houston Series which forms the last section of my hugely enjoyable Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, and I’m realising that you need to read the series as one whole work, weaving in and out of the time sequence, as this one takes us back to before Emma and Flap Horton have their two sons, then forward a decade and more.

I bought this copy in April 2000 and read it in July of that year, along with “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers” which I’d previously read in 1997 from the library; I can only assume that as I bought them together, I realised the link and read them together which makes sense, although there’s more linkage between this one and “Moving On“.

Larry McMurtry – “Terms of Endearment”

(09 April 2000)

Rosie tried to smile but wanted to cry. Seeing Emma sitting there, so trusting and goodhearted, such a happy-looking young woman, filled her with memory suddenly, until she felt too full. She had come to the Greenway house two months before Emma was born, and it was all so strange, the way life went on and seemed the same even tough it was always changing. It never quite slowed down so you could catch it, except by thinking back, and it left some people more important than others as it changed. (pp. 186-187)

In some ways this is an oddly uneven book, in its structure, anyway, as it has one very long section set in 1962 and then a forty-page section bringing us up to date (and breaking our hearts) in 1971-76. In the Preface, McMurtry writes that this is his most “European” book to date, as he wrote it in Europe and had been reading a lot of the European realist classics by Balzac, Tolstoy and Eliot (cementing my realisation of why I love him AND Iris Murdoch when they seem on the face of it to be so different). He compares Emma to Harmony from “The Desert Rose” to Emma’s benefit, but developed a “cool distaste for my own writing” after finishing this, which he saw as the third of a trilogy (now six books) that didn’t subside until Harmony came into his mind.

I have enjoyed these prefaces but of course the text and our reaction to it is the main thing, right (according to my espousal of Reception Theory), so let’s get into the web of relationships spun around Emma’s mother, Aurora Greenaway.

Here I must pause. When I re-read all of Iris Murdoch a few years ago, I was shocked to discover that many of the “older” characters in her novels were my age or slightly younger. Here, although I know Aurora is an old woman in “The Evening Star” at the end of the series, and in her 60s at the end of this book, she is just about to turn FIFTY in most of this one, which is my age!

So Aurora has a suite of suitors, all of them lacking in some way, all of them past their best (or never having reached it); the General, a sailor who drops in twice a year, a sad Hispanic guy with a more jolly son, and we add Vernon, who I love, a man who lives in his car but is an oil millionaire. She’s very glamorous but lives her life in a bed of cushions, tended by her maid, Rosie, who has her own problems with her roving-eyed husband, Royce. Emma and Flap are negotiating the early years of their marriage and first pregnancy, and the novel revolves around the relationship between Aurora and Emma, two very different women who can’t seem to find their way to one another.

Is there a plot? There’s life, really, in its meanderings, encounters and daily routines, with a sketched-in arc that becomes clearer but also speeded up in Part 2. But it’s full of marvellous set-pieces – when Royce drives his truck into a dance hall being a memorable one – and characters, and the minutiae of a marriage, explored in true realist detail. I loved all the intertextuality with the other novels – Patsy is present throughout, loving her dear friend and coming into conflict with her mother, Danny Deck appears again with a pivotal moment in his and Emma’s friendship finally given in detail, Joe Percy the screen writer pops up, and at a party, we see Cybill Shepherd, who had appeared in the film of “The Last Picture Show” a few years before this was published. The descriptions of Houston, really a character in these novels itself, are beautiful – especially a long scene describing Vernon’s view from the top floor of his multistorey car park, sometimes with the mists below him, sometimes above.

It’s a melancholy book in some ways, but with the flashes of humour and ridiculousness that McMurtry is so good at. I’ve never seen the film, but it certainly has a visual quality and drama. And yes, I cried at the end, even though I’ve read it at least once before and knew what the end involved!

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

State of the TBR – September 2022


Looking at last month’s picture, I’m pleased at how things are going. My little pile of Three Investigators Mysteries is safely tucked into the shelf now, and things have definitely moved on in the oldest part of the TBR (top left). Hooray!

I completed 16 books in August, and am part-way through two more. I finished two of my ebook TBR books and am part-way through a third, with one unread as yet. I read ten out of eleven of my print TBR books, not managing the Michael Walmer, which I’d warned him might happen. I completed my 20 Books Of Summer challenge! Those are all also from my TBR challenge – I now have 14 books to go on that from now until 05 October, which isn’t going to happen, see below.

Shiny New Books

Shiny has been having its August break so no books reviewed there.


I was again restrained with print books in this last month.

Kaggsy of the Bookish Ramblings sent me “Country of Origin” by Dalia Azim, a novel about Egyptians in New York. I was reminded of the existence of “Life Among the Qallunaat” by Mini Aodla Freeman (an Inuit woman’s memoir of living among the non-Indigenous settlers) by The Australian Legend’s review and managed to find an OK-priced ex-library copy, and publishers Elliott & Thompson kindly sent me Aliya Whiteley’s “The Secret Life of Fungi” which I will review here on Fungus Day in October and also for Shiny.

I won just the five NetGalley books this month:

The nice folks at Faber offered me “Avalon” by Nell Zink (published January 2023), a novel about utopias and finding yourself, and then when we were discussing their non-fiction list, approved me for history of measurement, “Beyond Measure” by James Vincent (June 2022). I was also offered Julie Caplin’s “The Christmas Castle in Scotland” (October 2022) by its publisher, having enjoyed one of her novels before. “Fire Rush” by Jacqueline Crooks (March 2023) is a coming-of-age novel set in 1970s London and Crooks was named best debut Black female novelist by Bernardine Evaristo in the Guardian, which is enough for me to request it from the tempting email, and Jimi Famurewa’s “Settlers: Journeys Through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London” (October 2022) looks very interesting and also pairs nicely with the novels I’ve read recently about British Nigerian Londoners.

So that was 16 read and 8 coming in in August – very much in the right direction!

Currently reading

Slightly oddly, I’m currently reading two books loaned to me by Heaven-Ali – “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym” by Paula Byrne, the biography of our beloved writer, and “Desert of the Heart” by Jane Rule, a 1960s lesbian classic about a woman staying in Reno to accomplish her divorce (I was attempting to include this in All August / All Virago and the Virago Groups’s travel theme for August but didn’t get it finished). Actually, I think this is Ali’s hard copy of Francesca Wade’s “Square Haunting” too – Emma and I started this as our readalong this month and are thoroughly enjoying it, as predicted. On the Kindle is Derek A Bardowell’s “Giving Back: How to Do Good, Better” which is an excellent and powerful book on the social sector and how we can all make our money and work go further and to the right people.

Coming up

Coming up next in print books, well, this isn’t going to happen. This is all the books that will get my TBR project finished, plus two review books, and doesn’t include my Larry McMurtry as I’d taken the picture and shelved the books before I thought about it. It also includes the first volume of David Lodge’s memoirs, as I have the second volume in the TBR project but need to read that first. Argh!

I’m not going to list them because it’s ridiculous, but basically I’m going to concentrate on the review books, of course, “Rock-Bound” and “The Secret Life of Fungi” and then try to eliminate those ‘extras’ that have been hanging around on the shelves, so the top row of light women’s novels and two Earlene Fowler quilting cosy mysteries and that massive Tolkien catalogue. Any others will be a bonus. Sensible, right?

My NetGalley TBR for September:

Well, there is a bit of diversity in the print TBR but I seem to be giving myself more of a course in Black British history and diverse people’s lives in America. Alternative history of the Middle Ages, “Femina” by Janina Ramirez, is still on there, and I’ve added “Beyond Measure” so it doesn’t get forgotten. Then I’ll be covering Black British Georgians (“Black England” by Gretchen Gerzina), Black British Victorians (“Black Victorians” by Keshia N. Abraham, John Woolf) and Black Britons in the whole of history (“African and Caribbean People in Britain” by Hakim Adi). Then Diya Abdo’s “American Refuge” covers stories of the refugee experience in the US and “Mika in Real Life” by Emiko Jean is the story of a Japanese woman in America. Kamila Shamsie’s “Best of Friends” travels from Pakistan to London, and “Inside Qatar” promises to show the real history of the place hosting the men’s football World Cup (people have had trouble downloading this one, so fingers crossed). So this time it’s mainly serious non-fiction on the Kindle and light fiction in print books!

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and 17 to read, minimum. Can I do that? Hm, possibly not!

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

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers”


As part of my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, I’m now tackling the Houston series of six books: this is the second. I bought it in 2000; it was the first McMurtry I read and recorded in my reading journal (in September 1997) and I read this copy in July 2000 (again in written reading journal form and before I started blogging).

The whole of this book was born out of one paragraph about its hero, Danny Deck, in “Moving On” and in the “new preface” by McMurtry he says he started writing this immediately after finishing that one: he says he felt he could carry on and get a whole new novel out before he succumbed to the fatigue of writing that long previous novel.

Larry McMurtry – “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers”

(09 April 2000)

It was always a borderland I had lived on, it seemed to me, a thin little strip between the country of the normal and the country of the strange. Perhaps my true country was the borderland, anyway. (p. 285)

McMurtry says in the Preface that this is a book about the questions, given that most writers are going to be minor ones, “Is the sacrifice of common happiness worth it if one is only going to be minor?” and “Is Danny correct in his judgment that it is art that’s distancing him from happiness?” (p. 4). I think that’s a fair assessment, though Danny’s choices of women to pursue seem to distance him from happiness, too. In this picaresque novel, which sometimes, especially in the latter stages, reads a bit like a fever dream, we meet Danny, married to the sulky Sally, who he met very recently at a student party (he attends Rice alongside Flap Horton from “Moving On”), find out how he acquired his unsuitable wife, then follow them out of Texas and to California, where they are just too late to meet the Beat poets and he meets the love of his life, Jill Peel. Will he end up with either woman? With Emma Horton?

More than “Moving On”, this is partly a love letter to Houston, a city Danny leaves but pines for:

Houston was my companion on the walk. She had been my mistress, but after a thousand nights together, just the two of us, we were calling it off. It was a warm, moist, mushy, smelly night, the way her best nights were. The things most people hated about her were the things I loved: her heat, her dampness, her sumpy smells. She wasn’t beautiful, but neither was I. I liked her heat and her looseness and her smells. These things were her substance, and if she had been cool and dry and odorless I wouldn’t have cared to live with her three years. We were calling it off, but I could still love her. She still reached me, when I went walking with her. (pp. 62-3)

The most bizarre passages are when he visits his Uncle Laredo on his flight from California. Uncle L lives next to a weird gothic mansion, farms camels and rides one, and terrorises his Mexican ranch hands. He’s scathing about Danny and represents the last relic of the Old West, which in the Afterword, Raymond L. Neinstein claims is being left behind by McMurtry himself in this last of his “early” novels (here it’s a bit weird not reading all the novels in order of publication, though that would also be confusing because they’re grouped into series!).

Danny meanders through a few months of his life, gradually abandoning women, possessions, his car, even, and in the inconclusive ending he decides his second novel is no good, certainly not as good as the first, which has sold and given him what should be some stability but has ended up not really helping. McMurtry has something to say about his fate in the Preface, that people ask him what happened and he says Danny is still out there somewhere …

An absorbing, uneven and winding novel which you only start to connect up as you near the end; doubled visits, friends, and plenty of water and near-drownings show up in a pattern. I am not sure what about this one made me grasp for any more of McMurtry’s works I could get my hands on, as it’s an odd work to some extent; but it clearly did, and thanks to Lewisham Library, which introduced me to so many still-loved authors!

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

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