Book review – Daphne du Maurier – “The Scapegoat”

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I was so pleased when my good friend Ali of the Heaven-Ali blog announced she was doing another Daphne du Maurier Reading Week and I was lucky enough to be able to borrow one of the remaining ones I had to read and fancied (I’ve previously read “Rebecca“, “Jamaica Inn” and “My Cousin Rachel” for her 2020 and 2021 Weeks). I had a choice of a few but came back with “The Scapegoat” and what can I say? Another cracking read!

Daphne du Maurier – “The Scapegoat”

(April 2022, borrowed from Ali)

He was my shadow or I was his, and we were bound to each other through eternity. (p. 210

It’s hard to review this one without giving away the plot. Basically, an English gent called John with no ties or family and a sort of job lecturing in French history on a part-time basis for a university is wandering around northern France on his way home from another summer’s trip when he encounters his double! Next thing he knows, he’s been duped, tricked and drugged and is faced with the temptation of taking on a different person’s life – someone with a full life, living in a chateau with a large extended family, but also someone who turns out to be Not Very Nice, having led an idle life of minor cruelties, complete with wife and two mistresses, not engaging in the family firm; a wastrel.

Of course John could go to the police but where would the book be then? When family retainer Gaston appears with a car, off he sweeps to the chateau and what is surely longer than a week trying to work out who he’s supposed to be. And here du Maurier is her usual expert self at both instilling alarm and suspense and also at the details. How will John/Jean work out where his room is? What exactly did Jean to do ruin his siblings’ lives? Who are these gifts for and why? What happened during the Second World War, now 15 years ago, to divide the family?

Through a mixture of detective work, happenstance and having the truth shouted at him by various exasperated family members and employees, he works out what’s what and then starts to seek to change things – especially when a couple of events really shock him. Why does he do this? The chance to engage with a family, I think – he loves them, and he says he does. Only one activity of his goes wrong, when he thinks he’s being clever. When he acts out of a redemptive motivation, you begin to think his plans might work and improve matters.

Of course, all good things will come to an end. Where is Jean? Has he taken up John’s quiet life in London? Well, um …

The humour. and the justice, struck me at last. I had played about with human life; he had not. I had done my best to change his household; he had merely yawned and taken his ease. I had meddled; he had only spied. (p. 358)

I really could not work out what was going to happen. I wish the ending could have been different, but how could it have been, really (I see this is what I thought of “True Biz”, too, that very different novel: how interesting!). And who guessed John’s secret? Only those you would think might do. One weird thing I noticed was that the language read in a slightly stilted way I’ve noticed before with DdM which reminds me very much of the translation of Alain-Fournier’s “Le Grand Meaulnes” – more obvious here as it also treats ancient chateaux in the French countryside. An excellent read which I’m very glad was chosen for me!

What have you read for this Week? Have you read this one? Do link to your review in the comments if you did.

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 – Elizabeth Fair – “The Native Heath”

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I am being strict on myself this year and only joining in reading challenges I can fulfil from my own To Be Read shelves. Fortunately, when Kaggsy and Simon launched their new year-week challenge, the 1954 Club, I was able to take part, as I had an unread Elizabeth Fair novel languishing on my Kindle (the lovely people at Dean Street Press kindly sent me her whole oeuvre in ebook format from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint rather a while ago; I have read most of the others).

Elizabeth Fair – “The Native Heath”

(21 February 2017 – from the publisher)

“Dear Goatstock! It’s our native heath.”

“It isn’t exactly a heath,” said the literal Dora. “It’s just a little village.”

But Julia was too enthralled to mind.

This is one of those delicious change of lifestyle / new house / new village books which I always seem to enjoy and which were seemingly a mainstay of mid-century, middlebrow novels. In this one, we meet Julia, widowed six or so months ago and living in a rented flat, just as she has inherited a house in the village of Goatstock – she was left it by an uncle, although it’s not certain exactly why she was chosen, as she has various other cousins. In fact, she invites Dora, always seen as the “poor relation” and as having had a “hard life”, to go and live with her – not to share the house as such (this is dwelt upon) but as a sort of companion/housekeeper. She also brings Nanny, who she now claims was her old nurse, although really she was a sort of housemaid; Nanny has very firm ideas on the rights and wrongs of things and becomes more difficult. We can add Robert, Julia’s late husband’s nephew, into the mix to give a younger person, and off they trot to do up the house and settle in.

There’s another cousin or two around, too, and Julia has various schemes to improve people’s lots, being one of those women people seem to confide in, and then Harriet and Marian, Harriet the orphaned niece of the rather wonderful village eccentric and Marian who is engaged to a missionary no one seems to like, even though she’s perfectly happy. When Harriet spies Robert, she starts machinating to get him and Marian together, and to avoid the irritations of the boy next door. The cast is complete by a selfish vicar, his exhausted sister and the woman who may or may not be trying to push her way into the vicarage and other locals such as Mrs Prentice and Mrs Minnis, who both seem to look down on the other, and the plot by a sub-plot about the threat of a New Town being built around them, which allows for meetings and discussions among the villagers.

It’s a very funny book, with social mishaps, buttonholings and set-pieces galore; it’s hard to know what Fair thinks of her creation, Julia, as she does seem to be mocking her (she becomes quite monstrous at times) but then she might be given a happy ending. Similarly, Dora is mocked by Julia but only for being different – she has given up on feminine fripperies and is quite happy with that, but gets on well with people, and Julia comes to a fairly upsetting (for her) conclusion about her cousin. So it’s a curious book with more to think about than it might at first appear.

Thank you to Dean Street Press for sending me this book in return for an honest review and sorry it took so long to generate said review!

This book fills in a year in my Century of Books, which I have been trying to fill for almost a decade, while being determined not to buy anything myself just because it fits …

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 – Damian Hall – “In it For the Long Run”

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The last book I’m able to fit in to review for Kaggsy’s and Lizzy’s ReadIndies challenge which has been extended till today: this is my seventh read for it, although the other one I’ve been working on, Richard King’s marvellous “Brittle With Relics”, published by Faber, won’t be reviewed in time. It’s also one more down on my TBR Challenge. This is published by the lovely indie publisher, Vertebrate Publishing, whose “Wild Winter” I’ve also read and reviewed. I bought it at the same time as I bought “Pandemic Solidarity” (another ReadIndies/TBR challenge read!) after having read about Damian in Adharanand Finn’s “The Rise of the Ultra Runners“ (unsurprisingly, I’ve read all the print and none of the ebooks I talked about in that haul post!).

Damian Hall – “In it For The Long Run: Breaking Records and Getting FKT”

(13 April 2021, bought from publisher)

When reading this book, you have to remember that when Hall says he’s a below-average or moderate runner, he’s comparing himself to the elite fell and off-road runners who form his tribe. So the “just 8-minute miles” and the “not particularly impressive marathon PB of 2:36” are in that context, where people run immense distances at frightening speeds. Having got the running bug in his 30s, Hall goes on to work really hard to make his way up the ultra-running ranks, meeting and being beaten by all the contemporary greats as he goes, then gradually chipping away. He then goes in for Fastest Known Times on routes and rounds where the thing is to do it yourself (with someone around to help you prove it, so the South-West Coast Path in days (rather than the months of “The Salt Path”) or the Pennine Way in a record time.

Looking at all this, the “Salt Path” way of doing things is more relatable for me. He’s a bloke and it’s a bloke-who-runs-fast book, but it is more than that. He’s pretty self-deprecating and clear-eyed about both his abilities and the effect his hobby has on his family and friendships. Even better, he really does talk a lot about the women in the ultra world, very much admiring them, noting that it’s the men who cry and have to be persuaded not to give up, etc. He treats them as people, though, not as goddesses of running on pedestals, detailing both men and women’s relationships with their support teams or as his support team really honestly. He has something to say, too, about the dangers of extreme weight reduction in the pursuit of excellence, slamming a coach who encourages him near to an eating disorder. This is not usually discussed in running books.

Then, one better, he has quite a lot of environmental things to talk about. He’s uncomfortable about the carbon footprint of the flights he takes to races so he turns down invitations and reduces his flights. He worries about the impacts of farming and goes plant-based, including sourcing fuel for ultras that are vegan and plastic free, and generously listing the companies he gets them from (he lists sponsors in the back and not all of the ones he talks about in the text are sponsors). He tells us about Extinction Rebellion and carries a flag his children have made for him. That’s all unusual and refreshing.

Back to the running bits, reading about the camaraderie and community is always lovely. At least twice, strangers run up to a random gate to leave a snack for him to find! He really celebrates his support crews when he has them and even shares his thank you email to them for his big attempt. And he introduces us to the concept of Type 3 Fun (Type 1 Fun is fun; Type 2 Fun is not fun at the time, but is afterwards …).

A good read, not relatable as such for a slow woman runner who did her one ultra then retired from that format, but an entertaining one with some stuff to think about.

ReadIndies publisher note: This one is from Vertebrate Publishing, who say about themselves, “At Vertebrate Publishing we publish books to inspire adventure. It’s our rule that the only books we publish are those that we’d want to read or use ourselves. We endeavour to bring you beautiful books that stand the test of time and that you’ll be proud to have on your bookshelf for years to come.”


This was officially my seventh ReadIndies read.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 11/53 – 42 to go.

Book review – Anne Tyler – “French Braid”

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While I was doing my Anne Tyler 2021 project, I heard the news that she was about to publish another novel, “French Braid”. I think I still have a paper copy coming but I managed to nab an e-book from NetGalley and plunged into it as my first March read. I’ve not seen any other reviews of it yet apart from the ones on NetGalley, so I’m looking forward to finding out what other bloggers I follow think of it. I’m mainly glad I’ve finally read it – and it was a good one, although curiously, I found myself in floods of tears at the end, even though the ending isn’t violently sad!

If you’re reading along with the project or just this one or whatever, please do share your thoughts in the comments at the bottom or add a link to your review on your blog or Goodreads, etc.. I’m adding links to these reviews plus all the reviews I am alerted to to the project page, so do pop there to see what other people have thought, too.

Anne Tyler – “French Braid”

(23 February 2022, NetGalley)

“Even her father, a few yards away from her, was swimming now toward shore. A passerby would never guess the Garretts even knew each other. They looked so scattered, and so lonesome.”

How many Anne Tyler novels open in a railway station? Quite a few of them, and stations are featured in more. Here we meet Serena and James, off home after visiting his parents for the first time, with mentions of James’ large (well, not by AT standards but substantial) family meeting her next time in her memory as she thinks she sees one of her cousins, but isn’t sure. There’s then some almost-snideness about people who have let their families get away from them, people from fractured families, for Serena is in that position.

That was in 2010, and somewhat oddly, we don’t meet Serena again apart from off-stage, being discussed by her mother, one of the three siblings this book is actually about. It’s quite a common Tyler trope, at least in the later books, to start modern then step back in time to fill in the details, although here we then go past 2010 to come right up to date into pandemic times in the latter part of the book. We follow the family, two sisters and a much younger brother, as they navigate childhood and young adulthood and consider why they make the choices they make. We watch sibling rivalries overtake the two sisters and the nature of the men they marry, all the while as their mother makes her own plans to have a second life after her one as a mother and wife. What will follow into the grandchildren – what tropes and looks, and how will they be woven together – or will they be?

Unlike in “Redhead by the Side of the Road“, we don’t have authorial side-comments coming in about the characters; it’s a much more traditional Anne Tyler book in that respect, among others. There’s the family holiday showing up the characters, the escaping wife trope (although here she pretty well does escape and gets to stay escaped, and people notice, while pretending not to). We have people inheriting a slightly quirky business (here a plumbing store). Someone’s neck is spindly and sad, someone marries a person who already has a peculiar child.

There’s a person’s character being shown up through their treatment of animals (someone takes a cat to a shelter when they feel he’s cluttering up their space; this was sweetly so upsettingly done although obviously the cat will be fine; weirdly, though, all the blurbs for this book suggest he’s the family cat, and he just is not!). There’s the big house with the workshop in the basement, but maybe subtler distinctions between groups of characters; no one has weird food or clothing habits, although one character lives by inventing slightly odd things, and no one corrects anyone else’s grammar. The division is between ages of children and amount someone can be trusted to be “sensible … or wacko”, although who is which is subject to dispute.

Now, somehow this book felt like it might be her last one. It felt elegaic – was it the subtlety, was it the coming bang up to date within the pandemic? I’m not sure, and I might be wrong; I’d be interested to know what other people think. I enjoyed the layers of family and the substance of the read, quite a bit longer than “Redhead”.

Thank you to Vintage for choosing me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “French Braid” is published on 24 March 2022.


Have you read this one? What did you think?

Book review – Kalwant Bhopal – “White Privilege”

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Thank goodness Kaggsy and Lizzy extended their ReadIndies challenge to the middle of this month: this is my fifth read for it. It’s also my oldest book on the main run of acquisitions in my TBR Challenge (I have some older randoms) so it felt good to have it out of March’s TBR photo finally (I read this in February). I bought this book in August 2020, apparently following a policy in buying diverse books of “buying some serious, hard-hitting books full of statistics and info and some lighter ones” and I’d been recommended it by a Facebook group I was in at the time (I think an anti-racist one that descended into virtue signalling and finger pointing … ).

Kalwant Bhopal – “White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society”

(20 August 2020)

The main argument of this book s that within a neoliberal context policy making in its attempt to be inclusive has portrayed an image of a post-racial society, when in reality vast inequalities between white and black and minority ethnic communities continue to exist. Policy making has exacerbated rather than addressed the inequalities which result from professes of racism, exclusion and marginalisation in which white identities are prioritised and privileged above all others.” (p. 1)

In this academic title (really looking like one I’d have been putting on course booklists back in my university library days) dating from well before the big Black Lives Matter movement and publishing push, Bhopal looks carefully at the evidence for white privilege in the fabric of British and American society, looking mainly at education, work and wealth and finding that we are far from being the “post-racial” society we claim to be.

White privilege is, as we probably all know by now, the fact that by dint of being White, someone is the mainstream that other races are “othered” from and that whatever their level of education, poverty, etc., their world is not made worse by the colour of their skin. That’s very reductive and basic I know. But White privilege means I might not see middle-aged, childless women represented on the telly and in books, but I will easily be able to find White people represented, for example. Or I’ll find someone who looks like me to vote for (if I want to) and I won’t be singled out for my colour in a work meeting or asked to represent all White people with my behaviour and views.

Bhopal interrogates statistics and finds institutional racism still alive and kicking in universities, schools and workplaces, looking at the effects of that on income and living standards across people’s lives. She does look at intersectionality to (as in the combined effects of someone’s race and gender, race and class, or race and gender and class, etc.). What did feel slightly odd was the US-based bits, which did seem a bit bolted on, maybe an editorial decision to increase the book’s market. Education works differently in the US so the paragraphs in the university chapter didn’t really gel, and some chapters don’t have a US section at all. I think she could have left it at the UK stuff and still had a good and useful book.

It’s notable in this pre-pandemic read that there’s not much about health inequalities – I’m not sure those had been studied so much by the time she was researching and writing in presumably around 2016-17, and maybe one good thing coming out of the pandemic was the increased research output on ethnicity-based health outcomes. She does look at Traveller communities in that respect, when pointing out there are “acceptable” White and “non-acceptable” White communities, a point that echoes things I’ve read about the way some communities in the US had to lobby to “become” White and the work that recent writers have done on unpicking the conceptions and invention of race.

Like so many books, it’s slightly unfortunately heavy on the descriptive statistics and lighter on what can be done to address/redress the situation. Bhopal states that universities need to address the inequalities experience by their “black and minority ethnic” students and staff and understand that racism does exist in them, and in the final chapter talks more about this and about running unconscious bias training at least for recruiters. It’s interesting to consider whether she would have felt empowered to be bolder in her demands post the upsurge in publishing on race (also, would she have felt she had to include a personal note about the racism she and her family experienced, or would that have been more woven into the narrative?).

A decent, if academic, work that is still relevant today.

ReadIndies publisher note: This one is from Policy Press, who are an imprint of Bristol University Press and describe themselves as publishing “work that seeks to understand social problems, promote social change and inform policy and practice. Our core aim is to improve the day-to-day lives of people who need it most.”


This was officially my fifth ReadIndies read.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 10/53 – 43 to go.

Book review – Marina Sitrin and Colectiva Sembrar – “Pandemic Solidarity”

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I’ve done quite poorly with my lovely pile for Kaggsy and Lizzy’s ReadIndies challenge: this is only my fourth read for the challenge, but fortunately they’ve extended it until the middle of March, so I have time to squeeze in a few more. It fits into my TBR Challenge, too, at least. This excellent book from Pluto Press showcases community activist responses to the Covid-19 pandemic, and this seemed a good time to read about it. I originally spotted this on Lovely Bookshelf’s list of Books for Leftists during Non-Fiction November 2020 and bought it in April 2021 among a lot of other books but I do cheerfully note that I have read 11 out of the 16 books featured in that post (and I’ve just created a NetGalley collection on my Kindle so I can see the poor neglected e-books from other sources that languish on it …).

Marina Sitrin and Colectiva Sembrar (eds.) – “Pandemic Solidarity: Mutual Aid During the Covid-19 Crisis”

(24 April 2021, bought with money Ali gave me at Christmas)

The fact we have created a web of solidarity that is able to reach the most vulnerable and precarious during this crisis – it’s a great achievement. (p. 153)

Rushed out to be published in June 2020, this takes a look at endeavours from around the globe inspired by the very beginning of the pandemic; the editor and her circle took a sort of snowballing approach through their networks to reach out to people who might want to contribute and submit pieces or interviews about their or people in their networks’ work. It’s very determinedly non-hierarchical and as equitable in what and who it shows as it can be, extending to putting America (or Turtle Island, as North America is known by many of its Indigenous inhabitants) and Europe towards the end of the book, and covers such a huge range of projects so it feels very inspiring and also bittersweet.

I suppose my reading of this felt a little bit like when I read Mass Observation archive books or novels set in the two world wars and written before they had finished. There’s an air of expectation and hope that feels poignant: people often comment how the best has been brought out in communities – which it was, of course, at that time – and how this is likely to last, and I’m not sure whether we haven’t fractured back into individualism as things have gone back to “normal”.

The efforts range from helping elders who are in lockdown to people with disability’s reaction and activism through food banks and radio stations, pet care and keeping in touch by phone. The countries covered range from South Korea to Italy to Mexico, Argentina, Greece, Kurdistan – and it’s very notable that the basis for the UK work seems here to be on community groups rather than the fierce, protective, left-wing activism in many other countries, where disparate groups banded together to give a combined response.

A worthwhile work of record and history and a book to warm the heart, although reading it now raises more questions than it would perhaps have done at the time of publication.

ReadIndies publisher note: This one is from Pluto Press, who describe themselves as “An independent publisher of radical, left‐wing non­‐fiction books. Established in 1969, we are one of the oldest radical publishing houses in the UK, but our focus remains making timely interventions in contemporary struggles.”


This was officially my fourth ReadIndies read (one of them was a book published by Canongate I reviewed for Shiny New Books, which I talked about on Tuesday).

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 9/53 – 44 to go.

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 – D. E. Stevenson – “Anna and her Daughters”

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OK, this is entirely Ali’s fault. Yes, it’s an indie publisher for the ReadIndies challenge, but I have plenty of Dean Street Press books that I’ve acquired earlier than this one (a birthday present from this year!) but she read this and then I had to. It’s a terrible shame, isn’t it! On the ReadIndies theme, this is one of Dean Street Press‘s wonderful Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books; I have quite a few of these now and should really photograph them together at some point. D. E. Stevenson is such a reliable favourite with her gentle tales, often set in Scotland, although this one goes quite far overseas, too!

D. E. Stevenson – “Anna and her Daughters”

(21 January 2022 – from Emma)

What a lovely treat when you find a book is about those perennially interesting subjects, a set of sisters and a necessary move to save money. I love all the little details and we certainly get them here, and a really lovely first-person narrative in the slightly naive, wide-eyed voice of Jane, the youngest sister and the “plain” one of the family. Oh – it’s also a novel about writing novels! The joy!

So we open with selfish, lovely Helen breaking the news to Jane that their father’s death has left them with no money and they must move from the big London house to some dreadful flat. They’ve only known their mother, Anna, as a glittering socialite who’s good for her husband’s career, but lurking beneath was always a tweedy, practical woman who decides they will return to her home village of Ryddleton, where they can just afford to buy a little cottage. Helen and the middle daughter, Rosalie, a sort of weaker copy of Helen in looks and easily led, are horrified and try to get jobs in London but off they all go and Jane and Anna revel in their new life (even if Jane is rubbish at housekeeping). Helen is soon off, and Jane gets a job as a secretary to a local writer after she knocks her over on her bicycle which is the making of her.

Rosalie also gets a job, as the nursemaid to the doctor’s family and on holiday with them meets the doctor’s brother. Something for herself for once … until he catches sight of Helen. And then, in one of those leaps of faith we sometimes have to take, it turns out Jane has met him, too. From there, the plot winds up, with quite a lot of drama, including a side-trip to South Africa of all places; there are also fantasies fulfilled for Anna’s cousins and lots of delicious details of village life and kindness (and a mention of “Miss Buncle’s Book” in passing!).

I particularly liked the celebration of unconventional “families” with Jane setting up house with her aunt and someone from the next generation down, and the fact that an unmarried woman, instead of being left on the shelf and sad, can have a fulfilling life with hobbies and travel. That’s nice to read in this 1958 novel, which is a very good read!


This was officially my third ReadIndies read of the month, as I’ve read Mark Hodkinson’s “No One Round Here Reads Tolstoy” from Canongate, but that’s for Shiny New Books and the review isn’t out yet. In other challenge news, two very busy work weeks have left me Behind with my current Larry McMurtry, which I dearly hope to have finished and reviewed in the next week!

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