Book review- Paul Magrs – “Does it Show?” #magrsathon #bookgiveaway @paulmagrs

2 Comments

Coming in just under the wire on finishing reading this and then getting my review in – I will do better next month! A good read that I enjoyed much more than last time – and huge thanks to Paul who sent me a Word document when I suddenly discovered I had blank pages in my copy of the book!

Paul Magrs – “Does it Show?”

(11 April 2018)

This is one of Lethe Press’s republished Phoenix Court series (you can buy them from their website or on Amazon),  with introductions by Paul and in this one two extra special short stories, too. I had an early copy, and the printing problem was apparently sorted out, so feel safe to buy!

So we’re back at Phoenix Court but with an emphasis on a group of houses, and I can’t work out why in my original review of this I wasn’t as keen as I had been on “Marked for Life” as this was great. I can’t see what I wouldn’t have liked last time in this tale of young gay love revisited, errant bus drivers and terribly glamorous trans folk. It reminded me a bit of Catherine O’Flynn’s “What Was Lost” with its slightly prosaic mystery set among, here, shopping precincts and small areas of natural land among the concrete, gossiped and picked over by the locals.

The women of the neighbourhood are tangled into each other’s lives; Penny, daughter of the newly arrived and glam Liz, and Vince, a young teacher trying to be down with the kis, thing they’re different, but they get drawn and settled into estate life, too. Everyone’s related or linked to everyone else, too. The magic realism is confined to a bit of light levitation, some lucid dreams and some weird tiny creatures (do they appear in one of the Brenda and Effie stories, too?) but they add a shimmering extra dimension. Magrs in the Introduction calls it

A phantasmagorical opera set in the midst of concrete brutalism.

Mark Kelly and Iris from the first novel reappear a couple of times (I think Paul wrote this one first so I wonder if he added them in afterwards or fleshed them out from these mentions for the other book?) and we hear something of how Mark’s life is going (so maybe the former). Class distinctions are minutely dissected by the characters and there’s a heartbreaking moment when Liz tries to communicate with her clever daughter:

“You sound like a soap opera.”

“If I do, it’s because I watch soaps. I don’t read your kind of books. How would I saw what I want to say … how would I say it in your language? The one you like?” (p. 134)

It was interesting to note that Liz is 41 – as with so many of my Iris Murdoch re-reads, I’ve overtaken her in age, closer to Vince and Andy (surely named after Erasure?) than her the first time I read it!

Of the two extra short stories, I preferred “Nude on the Moon”, which follows Liz and Cliff on their escapades in the Lake District and picks at their relationship. “Bargains for Charlotte” was a bit creepy for me!

And I managed to collect two bits of Synchronicity like Bookish Beck’s finds: in this novel, Janet’s mum is about to make a surprising second marriage, and in Jane Linfoot’s “Summer at the Little Wedding Shop” (not yet reviewed), the central character’s mum is about to do the same. And in this novel, Vince likes a completely plain white room with no distractions, which is how Edith in “Tenterhooks” by Ada Leverson (also not yet reviewed) likes her rooms, too!


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 and the Phoenix Court series are available new.

 

Book review- Paul Magrs – “Marked for Life” #magrsathon #bookgiveaway @paulmagrs

10 Comments

Ignore “Aisles” now in the picture – I’m onto the first in that arc of books behind me, “Marked for Life”, the second book Paul wrote but the first to be published (I think I’ve got that the right way around). It’s the first in the Phoenix Court series of magical realist novels set on North-East England housing estates full of precints and odd goings-on.

I first read this book a little while after it was first published, in around 1997. I was living  in New Cross Gate in my own flat, working up by London Bridge, and I used to catch the number 36 bus on a Saturday to Lewisham and go to the library. It was a Routemaster bus and I’d be havering away on the back platform, trying to steel my nerves to get off, and sometimes it’d whip me all the way round the back of the library and half-way up the high street before I could get off. I read all sorts of books in those years: Lewisham Library had an excellent collection and I broadened my horizons hugely in the books I read by writers of colour, LGBTQ writers and writers from different backgrounds to my own. I found Paul’s books and hoovered them up as they came out, and always remembered these fondly – although I have to say I didn’t remember much about this one apart from Mark, the man tattooed from head to foot (even his eyelids) but a gentle man. Having said that, if I read this book in 1997 that was 22-23 years ago, so I’ll have read around 2,500-3,000 books since then – so I’m sure I’ll be forgiven for a few memory lapses. 

While I’m on not forgetting I’ve only had two entries in my competition to win a copy of “Exchange” so you’re in with a good chance. Do pop over to my review of “Aisles” to enter – you don’t have to answer the competition question to have a go, that’s just a bit of fun.

Paul Magrs – “Marked for Life”

(11 April 2018)

It was so exciting when Lethe Press republished the Phoenix Court series (you can buy them from their website or on Amazon), and they’ve included introductions by Paul and special short stories, too, making a lovely keepsake.

In “Marked for Life” we meet tattooed Mark, settled down with his feisty wife Sam and their small daughter, but getting letters from his old best friend Tony, with whom he shared a passionate affair as teenagers. Meanwhile, Sam’s mum Peggy is shacked up with the somewhat mysterious Iris, who claims to be an Orlando-type ageless figure but with the odd touch of regeneration, and they’ve got into some wild walking about the place. Then Sally’s suddenly abducted and everyone, including Sam’s police officer lover, whizzes down to Leeds to get her from a weird old house full of funny objects and odd inhabitants. But where’s Tony? Is he in fact there?

It’s a joyful book, full of play and books and yes, the odd sex scene, but tenderness and family feeling, even if the family is far from traditional. I wondered if it might have dated but the only feel of the 90s, apart from no one having mobile phones, of course, is that it reminds me a touch of one of Angela Carter’s more readable novels: real, down-to-earth people mixed with just a smidgeon of magic.

The first short story, “Patient Iris” I think looks at a previous life of Iris’ and is full of seals and mystery. “Judith’s Do Round Hers” is fuller and reminds me a bit of “Aisles”, a lovely character study of a woman who works in a newsagents and comes home to her twins, a “sensitive” boy and a girl who’s handy with electrics, and, in a place where everyone’s lived there forever and no one seems to leave, has a good handle on everyone’s past lives as well as their present ones.


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 and the Phoenix Court series are available new.

 

State of the TBR February 2020

27 Comments

Well, I’m pleased to say that I finished 13 books in January, of which six were ebooks (I have one left to review), so I feel I’m doing well with the print TBR. Some of those books were from my Christmas acquisition pile but you will see a change in the start / oldest part of the TBR which is cheering after some stasis there.

So here’s the TBR as it stands. The Christmas books are on it (and could have been piled higher!) – you might be able to just see them behind the Magrs Mars books to the right. I am going to leave them stacked horizontally, as (well, hm, see below) they mark the point on the shelf I want to get up to by the end of the year.

Currently reading

I’m currently reading two books from the oldest part of the TBR (I really wanted to read them and couldn’t face shoehorning books from the front row off to get at pre-Christmas ones!). Simon Garfield’s “On the Map” is a really super exploration of the history of maps, from the very earliest ones to modern stuff around Google Maps, etc. It’s got nice illustrations (though printed on the page so a bit fuzzy sometimes) and is very engaging and fun to read. John Carter and Nicholas Barker’s “ABC for Book Collectors” is a newish edition of a firm favourite which I first encountered when I worked in Special Collections at the university library in 1992 – it goes through all the parts of a book and how books are made and described, but is far from dry, as it has all these funny and wry little notes scattered through it. Fun to dip into and perfect for reading at the dinner table.

Up next

Well first off of course it’s my Paul Magrs book for the month – going back to the Phoenix Court novels which were his first, and “Marked for Life” (which I think he wrote second but published first) so a lovely bit of magical realism set in North-East England estates and precincts. There are two bonus short stories in this Lethe Press edition, plus an intro by Paul. “Mr Loverman” is by Bernadine Evaristo and I’ve picked it off the October 2019 bit of the TBR (bought from a charity shop in Penzance when I thought I didn’t want to read “Girl, Woman, Other” because it was “written in poetry” – rather ironically, alternate chapters are in the same experimental style) because a) my friend Laura has just read it, b) Bookish Beck has just read it and I want to not have to keep her review for another 9 months before I can read it, and c) it sort of ties in with Valentine’s Day, right? It’s the story of what happens when a pillar of the West Indian community in London is discovered to be secretly gay and looks so well done and interesting. Finally, Hiromi Kawakami’s “The Nakano Thrift Shop” which I also bought in October will mean I can take part in The Japanese Literature Challenge 13 – I’m only taking part in challenges I can do from my TBR so was pleased to remember I did have a Japanese book!

Oldest on the TBR

The Oldest book on my TRB picture has changed quite a lot from January, as I’ve read four of the books that were on there and am currently reading another two. As I mentioned above, this really pleases me as it feels like I am actually reading the books I’ve pounced on with such glee in various places. So I have books on travel in Tahiti, running (a history and a memoir about blade-running), a book about the Great Storm of 1997 and the renewal of those fallen trees (how is that long enough ago to have a book about it, mind??), a book about where artefacts belong, one about Icelandic women travellers and one about birdwatchers.

I do have some novels on NetGalley that I will be getting to, as well, and those three works of fiction above, so a good mix, I think. Will I delve further into the back shelf? Not sure!

 

 

New in!

As people who read my running posts (not sure how much overlap there is!) will know, I have a reserve place in the London Marathon with my running club. This means I hopefully won’t have to run it, as the two people who got the places will be all fine and able to do it, but I do need to train up and be ready to do it just in case. So training to not do a marathon. While I intend to do a DIY marathon the week after London, taking a fun trip around a long bus route in Birmingham, it’s sometimes a bit hard to motivate myself, and having had a cold for the last week I wasn’t really adoring my 16-mile training run today. HOWEVER, all was made infinitely better by finding a rectangular parcel when I got home – a gift from the very lovely Verity of Joan Aiken’s “The Serial Garden”, which is all of the brilliant Armitage Family stories in one volume. Hooray!


How was your reading in January and what do you plan to read in February? Have you read any of these books?

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

17 Comments

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 a 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

38 Comments

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

13 Comments

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!