Book review – Colleen McCullough – “The Ladies of Missalonghi” and some book confessions #AusReadingMonth #amreading

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I’m very excited to be able to take part in #AusReadingMonth for once – hosted by Brona’s Books and she has loads of lists of books, divided by non-fiction and fiction and by state, so do pop over to find out if you fancy taking part. I don’t think I’ve ever managed to join in with this one, even though I have read a fair bit of Australian fiction in my time. She talked about “The Ladies of Missalonghi” a while ago, and when I found out it was about small-town Australia and had a feisty heroine with one chance of escape, well, I had to click and order a copy, didn’t I.

I read this one before “Greensleeves” but that one had to slot in first for reasons of challenge dates. And didn’t I say I wasn’t doing any challenges this year? Hm, see below the book confessions to read how true that is!

Colleen McCullough – “The Ladies of Missalonghi”

(12 October 2017)

This is a fairy tale really, but a lovely one where you really root for the heroine, and you also do get quite a lot of detail about the fate of impoverished genteel ladies trapped in small-town Australia, unable to earn any money in all but the most indirect ways and vulnerable to being preyed on by even their male relatives. As the narrator, speaking in Missy’s internal narrative says,

The Missys didn’t know enough about men, and the smidgen they did know lay in the realm of generality. All men were untouchables, even jailbirds. All men had choices. All men had power. All men were free. All men were privileged.

And of course, just like we’re seeing a bit at the moment with all the sexual harassment scandals, the worst enemies of women turn out to be other, more privileged women, blind to their plights or to the reality of their lives. This is reversed quite satisfactorily here, though, as we hope all the way through the story.

Missy Wright lives with her mother and disabled aunt, and you know she’s going to be a good heroine because she’s a big reader, even though she’s tearing through romances at the moment. She turns out to be over 30, kept in a sense of suspended girlhood, from which the only escapes, literally, are illness and marriage – and it looks like she might have ended up getting sent down the former route. When divorcee Una starts working at the library (and passing her these contraband romances), she gently enlarges Missy’s horizons, and when a stranger shows up in town, Missy determines to grab her only opportunity (it doesn’t harm her plans that he’s both handsome and kind).

There are some great set-pieces with the more wealthy side of the family (basically, the whole town is populated by the Hurlingfords of various branches) which are satisfying, and a great, if fairy-tale, conclusion. There are a few slightly rude bits among the genteel organ-playing and sewing, but they are fitting and amusing in turn as the fates of two spinsters of different kinds are decided in two contrasting ways. A good read I’m glad I picked up.


November has started with some Book Confessions already, oops! My lovely friend Cari sent me a gorgeous parcel of three excellent looking books: another Dean Karnazes (amusingly, in the UK edition, he’s fully clothed!) and a book she’s approved about running faster (I don’t necessarily need to run much faster than I do, but could do with picking up things a tiny bit). The Iceland one looks interesting but is apparently a little patchy – I am a sucker for anything Iceland, so we’ll see with that one.

Then I met my friend Gill to re-stock one of our BookCrossing shelves and there was Sherman Alexie’s “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian”, describing life on and off an American reservation, which had been on my wish list for ages and came recommended by her and two others. So …


Obviously I finished this novel a few days ago and have read “Greensleeves” since. I’m currently devouring “Under the Net” – isn’t it great when you read a book for the fourth or fifth time and you STILL can’t put it down – and I’ve also started that lovely big bio of Angela Carter, to make a bit of room on the poor neglected physical TBR. I have “Radio Free Vermont” to read for NetGalley (published today, oops) and “The Headmistress” for Angela Thirkell Reading Week with the Undervalued British Women Novelists (see what I meant about challenges, but Ali sent me this one so it would be rude not to, right?).

Have you read any of this gallimauphry of books reading and planned to be read? Are you taking part in AusReadingMonth?

 

 

Book review – Stuart Maconie – The Pie at Night plus MORE books in #amreading #books #bookconfessions #IMreadalong

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I seem to have been talking about reading this one for absolutely ages, I’m not sure why it took me so long to read, apart from the fact that it’s got quite small print so had more text than I expected. Anyway, it’s done now, and was a good read, acquired via BookCrossing and going back on a shelf soon (note: I spent some time doing BookCrossing admin today, as I found I had five pages on the site of books marked Available which are clearly not in the house. Oops. Next step: registering and releasing some of the books I do have here). Read on for one book confession (which I’ve ALREADY READ) and some Iris Murdoch Readalong news.

Stuart Maconie – “The Pie at Night”

(BookCrossing, 28 January 2017)

Subtitled “What the North Does for Fun”, this is an affectionate look at leisure, as partaken in by the Northern (mainly) working classes, taking in the Midlands and upwards and starting and finishing in two of his favourite pubs. It has themed chapters which start with one on museums of working life and moves on through other more standard activities, along with potted histories of bank holidays, the rise of workers’ rights, etc. Mixed sports, football in its own chapter (including a section on a completely grass-roots, crowd-funded team called FC United of Manchester which was formed as a protest against the commercialisation of Manchester United), walking, art, music and food are main themes, and he meets a lot of interesting characters, noting these often include “the kind of bloke you find often in our urban working communities: genial, matey but with an edge that means you are never fully at ease in case the handshake turns into a headlock”.

I liked the list of things he doesn’t cover: “orienteering, amateur dramatics, go-karting, the growing of prize leeks, raffia work, home brewing, civil war re-enactment or the tango” although he also doesn’t cover running, in fact (which is a shame as the Great North Run is iconic and fell-running a well-known terrifying sport in the North). It’s a genial look around which highlights the cultural centres of Wakefield, Huddersfield, etc. and I loved the mention of Huddersfield’s contemporary music festival and the band Henry Cow: it’s amazing how topics I’ve worked on in my job do pop up in my reading now and again.

A decent read with a nice laugh and no sloppy sentimentality: I’m afraid I agree with Sian, who passed it to me, that it could have done with a final edit / proofread as there are some dodgy sentences or wordings which undermine it a bit.


I was sent Mary Beard’s “Women & Power: A Manifesto” to review for the lovely online book magazine Shiny New Books, and will link to my review when it’s published there. A good and powerful read which packs a lot into its 100-odd pages and would be a good Christmas present for the person in your life who’s interested in gender politics and power.

A quick reminder of my Iris Murdoch Readalong which starts on Wednesday 1 November with “Under the Net”. You can read about the project here and I will be doing a little post on Tuesday with information about the book and how I will be keeping up with the project on this blog. Exciting!

Book haul #amreading #books #bookconfessions #AusReadingMonth #IMReadalong

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Yesterday I wasn’t happy with my book review and didn’t want to tag on fun-packed book haul stuff. So here’s what has arrived in Dexter Towers over the last week or so.

So, first off, we have Colleen McCullough’s “The Ladies of Missalonghi”. Look at its cute bookmark! I ordered this one second-hand because the lovely Brona’s Books is having an Australian Reading Month in November – I never seem to manage to join in with this, and Brona is going to take part in my Iris Murdoch challenge, so it seemed only fair to take part! It’s a slim volume and looks like a good read – I think a few of us will be reading it in the first week of the month.

Talking book challenges, I’ve ordered brand new copies of the first five books for my Iris Murdoch Readalong. I was a tiny bit disappointed to see that they’ve all been made out of the original text blocks, so they don’t match and some of the text is pretty small. But they do have lovely new cover illustrations (and, let’s face it, some over the years have been seriously odd: I’m going to want participants to share their cover art as we do each book!) and each has a new Introduction, something that’s missing from all of my original paperbacks.

Now for two that took a while to come.

I feel like I ordered this AGES ago. “What Editors Do: The Art, Craft and Business of Book Editing” edited by Peter Ginna would be an interesting read anyway. But there’s a chapter by my edibuddy Katharine O’Moore-Klopf, so how could I not buy? Except it’s published in the US, they’ve all had their copies forever, and Amazon kept sending me upset little emails saying it was having trouble ordering it until they all of a sudden produced it and gave it to my next-door neighbour while I was otherwise engaged running a marathon!

I won “Running the Smoke: 26 First-Hand Accounts of Tackling the London Marathon” by Michael McEwan in a Runners’ Bookshelf Facebook group I’m in, quite a while ago. Now, I’m not one to complain about competitions being run slowly, because it took me an age to sort out the one I ran recently, not to mention some BookRings for BookCrossing. It could have been bad timing that it arrived two days after my own (second) marathon, but I’m all enthused and ready for the next one (Manchester, in April) so it’ll be a nice inter-marathon read. And the author signed it, which is nice.

A few naughties crept onto my Kindle via NetGalley when I was away, too. It’s when they send you those emails!

Debbie Macomber – “An Engagement in Seattle” – I can’t resist her, basically. Published 26 Dec 2017.

P.Z Reizin – “Happiness for Humans” – a woman with an AI assistant find it’s giving her tips on finding a man. I’m always interested in how novels absorb new world events and technologies: is this the first “Alexa” novel? Published 04 Jan 2018 and there’s a reviewing embargo until 2 weeks before the publishing date.

A.J. Pearce – “Dear Mrs Bird” – set in 1940, Emmy answers an advert to become assistant to an agony aunt as bombs rain down in London and kindness is needed. Looked cute. Published 05 Apr 2018.

Georgette Heyer – “Snowdrift and other Stories” – short stories by Heyer? I  had no idea until I read about it on She Reads Novels‘ blog, and I just had to seek out and request it. Published 03 Oct 2017 and next to read, I just can’t wait!


Fortunately, because of my great swathe of reading done while resting up before the marathon, my TBR shelf is looking pretty much the same as it was at the start of the month. Oh, and the Murdochs and MacCullough haven’t gone on the actual shelf as they will be read out of order.

Have you read or acquired any of these? How is YOUR TBR looking?

Book review – Courttia Newland – “Society Within” plus a small book confession #bookconfessions #amreading

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I have been reading up another storm this last week, I know, and today and tomorrow will be reviewing the last of the books I read on holiday. I don’t like broadcasting the fact that we’re both away, so I kept that a bit quiet, I know. And rather amazingly, I have managed to go to our much-loved town of Penzance and only come home with two books (and I left four at the hotel, bringing back one I’d taken down but then saved for the journey back) so I’d call that a win. I also got through 1.33 of my NetGalley TBR but won one book while I was away, so that’s less well done, I suppose. Anyway … Oh, I’ve just realised this TBR pic was a slight lie, as I had already removed the books to read on my trip as I needed to post the pic while we were away. However, I’ve added four books to the end of the TBR and only moved two to the front so there’s a balance there somewhere.

Courttia Newland – “Society Within”

(Acquired via BookCrossing 22 July 2017)

This book was published in 2000 and although it didn’t seem too dated, apart from the use of pagers, things have probably moved on and become more difficult to negotiate in its setting since then. Set on a West London housing estate, this lively, provocative and engaging novel shows in almost a set of short stories the interlocking lives of teenagers and their parents on and sometimes off the estate, although life off the estate is limited to visiting other estates and going Up West for often nefarious purposes.

There is sex, rape and gun violence, the latter being shown carefully at a distance and with consequences, but it’s not gratuitous. Attention is paid to people who are trying to improve their lives, like author Michael, tempted to get involved in some shady business in order to finally make some money, and Nathan, who wants to set up a pirate radio station. Both are trying to operate on the right side of the bad stuff, but are constantly tempted.

The youth club has already been threatened with closure and the youth workers go one of two ways – this was quite an upsetting aspect of the book, but probably rooted in reality, unfortunately: it’s clear that people can use networks of connections for good or for bad. Some people’s fates aren’t clear and I think this is a sequel, so some of their motives are also a little cloudy, with some scenes being about retribution or apology for past deeds. It’s interesting that parents are often as fallible as the kids, but the grandparents seem to stand firm and moral, even if their moral codes are a bit different from those of outside the estate.

Men are objectified as much as women and women are as strong and sassy as men; Newland writes women’s friendships well. It’s a good read, reminiscent of Bali Rai or Benjamin Zephaniah, although not as diverse racially.


On to the confessions.

I visited all of the charity shops of Penzance and only found Christopher McDougall’s “Born to Run” (I seem to buy running books in Penzance). I visited the marvellous Edge of the World Bookshop and bought Gillian Tindall’s “The Tunnel Through Time” which is about the layers of communities and history the excavation of the new Queen Elizabeth Line in London brought to light. I like to buy a “nice book” in this bookshop every time I go down, and got “The Man Who Made Things Out of Trees” there last time. I did go to Newlyn Books on Chapel Street, but only to buy a book for a friend who was giving us lunch, and not one to keep.

When I got home, I discovered that dear Ali had picked up on a hint I’d made (OK, quite a heavy hint) about the Virago Angela Thirkell re-issues, and had sent me a lovely copy of “The Headmistress”. As I was expecting a parcel from the Virgin London Marathon containing a top that you get sent when you DON’T get in, and my only other post was the quite dense journal of the Norse Atlantic Society, while Matthew had lots of lovely birthday cards, this was most cheering indeed.

I was thinking of sharing some photos from the holiday with my last review, especially as that book is set partly in Cornwall. Would you like to see those?

Book review – Bill Drummond – “45” #amreading #books

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My friend Sian recently passed me two books. One, “Proust and the Squid”, about the neuroscience of reading, she had really enjoyed; this one, by one half of the band KLF, among others, she’d not really taken to. Well, I loved this latter book and didn’t get on with the Proust one, so there you go!

Bill Drummond – “45”

(21 May 2017) via Bookcrossing, from Sian)

A sort of patchy autobiography, possibly work of fiction and dabbling in psychogeography, looking at life from the age of 45, this is hilarious, irreverent and self-undermining, an excellent read, although I’m wondering if it’s best read in large chunks, as I’ve done, to catch all the references and re-references.

In effect, it’s a series of shortish pieces going all over the place physically and temporally and covering many of Drummond’s art and music works either directly or obliquely. At various points, he creates a set of fake bands and a record label to promote them; recalls going to Iceland aged 17 with his sister and hitching around the island while reading the sagas; walks and colours in pages of the A to Z to spell his name across the map; travels by bus in Finland; considers changing his name after an error in a music reference book; meets one of his heroes while realising the German translation of his own book is not as it should be; remembers a trip to Serbia and fails to draw a connection between the Balkans and Take That; and creates a theme tune for democracy demonstrations. As you do.

I loved his piece, “My modern life”, detailing a day in his writing life, including all the signs he sees on his way, and loved his description of partner in crime Jimmy’s project to paint some weird, horrific canvases: “Then he destroyed the lot by sanding the paint off the canvases, carefully sweeping up the dust and keeping it in a series of jam jars. One jam jar for each painting. Why? Best not to ask We  all deal with our moments of doubt in different ways”.

Funny, human, and surprisingly readable, however real or fictionalised the individual episodes were.


Have you had startlingly opposed views on a book to one of your readerly friends?

 

State of the TBR – October 2017 #amreading #bookconfessions

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Well, here’s the state of the TBR, and you know what? I don’t think that’s too bad.

Of course we’re going to ignore the unopened Book of Running a Marathon, aren’t we …

I’m currently reading these two. Lynsey Hanley’s “Respectable” is a book about class, seen through the lens of her own life, born a few years after me and growing up on a council estate in Chelmsley Wood. It’s a hard read, both because you have to concentrate (it mixes background information, her life and sources to good effect, but it’s still quite dense) and because if you’re solidly middle-class, you can’t help feeling a bit guilty (even though she’s at pains to point out that all classes are bound by their edges, by traditions, etc.). And because I obviously need reminding what running a marathon is like, I’m reading a book by a man who’s run 25 of the things. I’ve done his first one with him now, so not that far in, and already I REALLY want to run London. Hm.

Up next are these lovelies, I think mainly from birthday and just afterwards – I remember buying Mo, Bounce and Springsteen at the end of January, and these actually seem to have got out of order, as apparently I picked up Stuart Maconie’s “The Pie At Night” on the same day, via BookCrossing, so it should hop past Angela Carter and “The Games” really.  Sue Perkins was picked up in The Works, I believe. These are all non-fiction, even if some of them are quite light, so I suspect I’ll be popping ahead in the TBR to grab some fiction, or reading that on the Kindle (more on the horror of NetGalley wins later).

Now for a few confessions. Matthew and I got really excited about reading this book together – Robert Webb’s autobiography but also musings on gender. I’ve enjoyed his pieces in the New Statesman on the topic and this is very readable – in fact I picked it up idly when it arrived and couldn’t put it down. Matthew’s going to read it on audiobook, read by Webb.

When I went to save this image in my Book Confessions folder, I thought, “Oh, gosh, the only book acquired this month, aren’t I good”. Then I thought to look at my NetGalley wins. Oops. So I should confess that the following all arrived this month:

Allison Pearson – “How Hard Can it Be” – I hadn’t realised this was the follow-up to “I Don’t Know How She Does It” until I read that on a blog, and even though I read that aeons ago and don’t remember any of the characters, I had to go for it.

Helen Thorpe – “The Newcomers” – non-fiction about a group of refugee girls at a school in Denver, charting their first year there.

Indu Balachandran – “The Writers’ Retreat” – three Indian writers go to a writing retreat on a Greek island – looks like a fun multicultural novel.

Bill McKibbon – “Radio Free Vermont” – a novel following a group of Vermont patriots who think their state might be better off independent.

Connie Glynn – “Undercover Princess” – YA novel about swapped identities which looks quite fun.

I’ve also won this one from LibraryThing Early Reviewers

Susan Ryan – “The King of Lavender Square” – a group of disparate folk, from African mother and son to an advertising whizz-kid live in a Dublin Square – what will bring them together into a community?


Well, there we go, a smaller physical TBR and a bigger electronic one (I’m slightly gutted that I just won the Allison Pearson because I was at 79% reviewed on NetGalley and they recommend 80% and give you a BADGE) but not too bad. Have you read any of my upcoming print or ebooks? What have you got to confess and how’s your TBR looking?

Book review – Alan Powers – “Living With Books” #amreading #books #bookconfessions

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A lovely coffee-table book today which wasn’t in my planned reading for the month, but it’s been flopping around on my TBR shelf and having to be carefully fitted in and not dropped, and so I decided it was time to bring it out and leaf through it. I’ve been reading it gradually through the month, a lovely alternative place to go at quite a busy time! Also watch out for some book confessions …

Alan Powers – “Living With Books”

(21 January 2017 – from Gill, for my birthday)

How exciting a book that arrived this year being read out of the TBR, but as I explained above, it is slightly out of order – you can see it with the turquoise spine in the picture.

It’s  a lovely, lavishly illustrated book full of beautiful photos of rooms in houses and other spaces full of books, too perfect to be actually inspiring for something you’d do in your own house, but delightful to look at!

It’s bookended (hah) by a history of books and their production and a section on how to make your own bookshelves and the care of books, so it’s a lovely resource. It looks at topics as large as home offices and as niche as trompe d’oeil wall coverings and is a delight to read through.


I’ve recently acquired Daniel Tammet’s “Every Word is a Bird We Teach to Sing: Encounters with the Mysteries & Meanings of Language” to review for Shiny New Books, plus Robert Andrew Powell’s “Running Away” about marathon running and Virginia Hanlon Grohl’s (Dave Grohl’s mum!) “From Cradle to Stage: Stories from the Mothers Who Rocked and Raised Rock Stars”, the latter two in the Kindle sale although I feel I’ll want the last one in a real book. I’ve also won a book on self-publishers through the ages from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme, having not requested anything for months and months, but that hasn’t arrived yet.

I’m still reading “Madame Solario” but fear I won’t have it done by the end of August or the end of #20Books as it is a biggie. Very good, though. I’m off to the Iris Murdoch Conference at the weekend, so will be taking the Tammet and some post-its and my Kindle to that and trying not to come back with too many more tomes …

 

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