Book review- Paul Magrs – “Aisles” plus new books in for the challenge and a giveaway #magrsathon #bookgiveaway @paulmagrs

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The first book read this year, and indeed this was the photo I sent into the first book of the year blog. I chose this reread as my first book because Iris Murdoch, whose 26 novels I’ve just finished rereading, is a character in the book!

Paul Magrs – “Aisles”

(26 September 2019)

We’re introduced to an Internet chatroom in Norwich, where middle aged lecturers can pose as cheeky monkeys, and Robin spends much time in the spare room doing just that, and the women who surround him could be just anybody, too, including people he might know through six degrees of separation – and suddenly someone calling herself Iris Murdoch is dialling in from a boat on the North Sea full of other dead writers…

The focus pulls out: there’s a car crash (a bit detailed but not too much) which involves most of the characters in one way or another, from a young straight man smitten (sometimes) with his gay best friend to a 77 year old mature student with two secrets. Parents and children, lovers and flirters, the spotlight shines on each, but in a natural way, not like a writing exercise (I’m thinking of other books that do this kind of thing that I haven’t liked so much: it’s more like “The Lido” than “If Nobody Speaks of Remarkbable Things”, and that’s a Good Thing in my book!

Warm and wry, celebrating ordinary and different people with a dash of magical realism … and who’s that on the tills at the end …?

New books in!

These books have arrived for me to read later in the year. I will admit to being a tiny bit nervous about these, as I’m not a big reader of other-planetary sci fi, however I’m going to trust Paul and give the “Mars Trilogy” (“Lost on Mars”, “The Martian Girl” and “The Heart of Mars”) a good go.

Giveaway time!

Paul Magrs’ “Exchange” is s lovely novel, which I first read a good while ago. It’s the story of a boy and a bookshop and about growing up, and, most excitingly, has a mention of Bookcrossing, a hobby I still engage in today. That fact compelled me to write only my third ever fan letter to an author!

To win this second hand but pretty pristine copy of “Exchange”, comment below saying you’d like to go in the draw, and have a go at guessing who my other fan letters were to (your answer won’t affect the draw, but might be fun!).


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy in particular is available new.

 

State of the TBR January 2020 and reading stats / best books of 2019

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Oh, goodness me. Oops, even. So I acquired a beautiful stack of books for Christmas (see them all here) as well as a book token and the exciting promise of a trip up the high street for charity shop book shopping and a cuppa after my birthday, and even with all the reading I did in December, there was NO WAY all those books were fitting on the shelf. So here’s the top shelf, double-stacked, with two pony book reprints and four Jane Linfoots, the Christmas volumes of which I didn’t get to this year, with the previous incomings and my BookCrossing secret santa books tucked in on the back shelf. Colonising one of Matthew’s shelves are my Christmas books in a pile (left) and my upcoming Paul Magrs books plus a trilogy I haven’t got round to and some random books in series where I need to either get the missing books in the series or basically get over myself. Ah well. Worse problems to have, etc.

I other people’s challenges (while I’m here). I have happily found that I have an Irish book (“Too Many Ponies”) for Reading Ireland Month in May and “The Three Miss Kings” for Australia Reading Month in November, plus two Du Mauriers for Ali’s week, enough Viragoes and Persephones for more than All August, and will be doing Non-Fiction November and 20 Books of Summer again.

My first book of the year was Paul Magrs’ “Aisles” and I took a somewhat alarming photo of myself with it for the First Book of the Year blog – it didn’t make it onto there, probably because I committed some terrible transgression, but here you go:

That’s “Aisles” in the middle, with the four Phoenix Court books which are the next four months’ reads, around me. See more on my Paul Magrsathon here.

Up next on the physical TBR are these lovelies. We’re going back to May 2018 here so I’m going to make a concerted effort to get some of these read and get the Christmas books fitted on before I revert back to my one from the oldest, one from the youngest, one on Kindle routine.

So “Footnotes” by Vybar Cregan-Reid (why we run), Dave Heeley’s “From Light to Dark” (his story as a blind runner), Harold Nicolson’s travel memoir “Journey to Java”, Sarah Henshaw’s self-explanatory, “The Bookshop that Floated Away”, Simon Garfield’s “On the Map”, Carter and Barker’s “ABC for Book Collectors”, George Eggleston’s mysterious “Tahiti” and Thor Gotaas’ history of “Running” – I’m hoping to read all of these this month.

2019 stats

For the first time, I’ve kept breakdowns of various book stats. So here they are with little to compare them with apart from the totals and genders!

I have got 2018 (in parentheses) figures for this first bit. So in 2019 I read 116 (115) books, of which 62 (56) were fiction and 54 (59) non-fiction. 79 (75) were by women, 35 (39) by men, 1 (1) by both (multiple authors) and 1 by a non-gender binary person (a new category this year, as it was for a few people whose blogs I read).

Where did my books come from:

gift 20
netgalley 17
bookshop online 16
publisher 14
bookshop physical 14
charity shop 10
bookcrossing 7
bookshop online second hand 7
own 3
bought from publisher 2
bookshop second hand 1
passed on 1
bought from author 1
loan 1
unbound subscription copy 1
author 1

How lovely that so many of my books were gifts!

Most books by far were set in the UK (74) with the US second (17) and then 14 other countries plus one set in a fantasy world.

I read books by 53 different publishers, the most common being Vintage (12) (Iris Murdochs in the main), Penguin (9), Virago (9), Avon (8), HarperCollins (6) and Thames & Hudson (5).

I read most books published in 2019 (30), which surprised me, although I reviewed a lot of books for Shiny and NetGalley. Eight of my top ten years were in the 2010s with only 1941 represented there from a much older decade. However, I did read books from 39 different years, from 1910 to 2020, although no books from the 1930s.

Onto diversity of authors and themes. 88% of the authors I read were white (as far as I could tell), with 12% People of Colour (I put everyone who was non-white in this category after a lot of fretting). The UK is apparently 87% / 13% so I’m  not far off that, but I want to increase the diversity. I might record nationality next year as well. Out of the 116 books I read, I assigned a diversity theme to 39 of them (feels like this should be higher), so 12 books specifically talking about women’s issues, 8 about race (plus one about indigenous peoples’ experience which I counted separately and one about women of colour), 6 LGBTQI+ issues, 4 mental health, 2 about gender in general, 1 about disability, 1 about class, 1 about race and class, 1 about non-neurotypical people and 1 about people with prosopagnosia. This doesn’t meant such themes didn’t come up in other books, just that they weren’t the main theme. It’s good to keep an eye on my intersectional reading and I’ll see if this changes with some of the books I bought towards the end of the year.

Top 11 books of 2019

And finally, my top eleven! Well, that represents just under 10% of my reading, so I think that’s OK. Links to reviews. 7 women and 4 men (about right), 7 non-fiction and 4 fiction (I did read a lot of nice light series set in Cornwall). Not mentioned as they’re somehow a given: the 12 works by Iris Murdoch I re-read this year.

Tirzah Garwood – “Long Live Great Bardfield” (my first book of the year!)

Jennifer Niven – “Holding up the Universe

Stephen Rutt – “The Seafarers

Harriet Harman – “A Woman’s Work

Margaret Atwood – “The Testaments” (because it was such an event and because I HAD wanted a sequel)

Richard Grant – “Dispatches from Pluto

Bernadine Evaristo – “Girl, Woman, Other” (this was probably my book of the year)

Clair Wills – “Lovers and Strangers

Tayari Jones – “An American Marriage” tied with Kiley Reid – “Such a Fun Age” – both important books about modern black lives in America (so OK that’s 12 then)

Joe Harkness – “Bird Therapy

Mark Mason – “Walk the Lines” (see, I was right not to compile this list until today)

Have you read and rated any of these? Are you taking part in any reading challenges? Are you joining me in the Paul Magrsathon (there might be a giveaway tomorrow …)?

 

Special announcement: it’s my new reading challenge for 2020! @paulmagrs #magrsathon

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Liz with almost all her Paul Magrs books

Me with almost all my Paul Magrs books

Well, given that Paul Magrs is a writer of the spooky and gothic, it seemed a good idea to announce my new reading challenge for 2020 on Halloween (even if I am still too feeble to read “To the Devil a Diva”.

To those who don’t know Paul, he’s a fiction and non-fiction writer who made the brave and bold decision to write magic realism novels set on a council estate in the North-East of England – the Phoenix Court series, which I read from Lewisham Library when I moved to London in the 1990s. Then he branched out into stories of the Bride of Frankenstein living and running a B&B in Whitby and solving mysteries, and continued his work in the Doctor Who world. He’s written books for children, teens and adults, and has written how-to books on writing and cat stories. I love his characters and the diversity in the books, and he even mentioned my hobby of BookCrossing in “Exchange”, which led to me finding his work email address when he worked in academia and dropping him a line, forging a friendship which has been a lovely thing in my life for years now.

You can find a list of Paul’s novels on his Wikipedia page and he has a lovely website, too.

What am I going to read?

I haven’t planned the whole year yet but here goes with the beginning …

I’m reading “Aisles” first because it features Iris Murdoch as a character and I’m just finishing off my Iris Murdoch readalong at the moment.

Then I’ll read the Phoenix Court novels – including the one that wasn’t originally published.

After that – and I haven’t got them yet – I’ll be tackling the Mars trilogy, set in a human colony with a female protagonist.

And then, I will still have four spaces left (one per month) – what will I include?

How can you get involved?

During my Iris Murdoch readalong, people have commented here on the blog when I’ve posted my review of the book of the month, and we’ve had a good discussion. I’d love that to happen this time, too.

I’ll be reading one book a month. I’ll share a post at the end of the month with what’s coming up and will have a page on this website with the schedule. Do join in with reading along or come back to posts and comment afterwards, I really don’t mind!

I’ll also be doing some giveaways …

… I found an as-new copy of “Exchange” the other day so that will be up for grabs.

If you’d like to read a book I’m NOT including, and you blog about it in some way, or do a Goodreads review, submit your link to me via my Contact Form and I’ll link up to it on the project page.

I also hope to have some exclusive interviews with Paul himself to post up. Exciting times!


Who’s in?

Anyone fancy reading some or all of the novels along with me? I do hope so! See you in January!