Book review – K.J. Findlay (ed.) – “The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward” #amreading #iceland

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I have promoted this up the TBR because I couldn’t wait until next October to read it. I’ve been excited about this book ever since Katherine Findlay, who I’m lucky enough to count as a friend and who I’ve had a coffee with in Iceland but never met up with in the UK (yet) started talking about the manuscript she’d come across detailing the adventures of a Devonian fish trader in Iceland.  And then, in October, here it was, and I rushed to buy it but then a few other reading things got in the way (sorry!). I really loved it, as I knew I would.

K.J. Findlay (ed.) – “The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward”

(02 October 2018)

The edited 1906 diaries of a Devon fish merchant who instigated such trade with Iceland that he ended up being awarded the Grand Cross of the Order of the Icelandic Falcon. It’s a fascinating look at the country in its very much less developed days, something I imagine like the Iceland of Halldor Laxness’ novels.

The first and most important thing to say about the book is how beautifully it’s edited. Katherine provides an excellent introduction to both the background of Ward’s work and a potted history of Iceland that has just enough detail to let the reader understand what’s going on and what led up to the events described in the book. There’s a great epilogue which details what happened next to both Ward (a house in Teignmouth called Valhalla and full of Icelandic artefacts!!) and the Icelanders he writes about, as well as some intriguing mysteries. There’s also a good map, reproductions of the actual photographs Ward mentions taking (and on proper plates, not just printed on the paper) and useful but not intrusive footnotes, making this an excellent example of an edited manuscript. And this wasn’t an easy job, as the note on the text explains. The references are extensive and there’s a thank you to my friend Chris in the acknowledgements which weaves the Icelandophiles of my circle neatly together.

Having mentioned how the stories of Iceland and Britain were intertwined in the early Middle Ages, we see how the two countries are drawn closer through Ward’s endeavours and those of other pioneers. He comes across quite a few British folk, some managing in the country more successfully than others. I love how his fish are called Wardsfiskur and his bay and farm Wardsvik; it’s also very endearing when he compares the majestic scenery of Iceland to the somewhat quieter views around his native Devon.

As someone who knows Iceland a bit, it was lovely to read about it a century or so ago. Some things are very different, for example the small bay where the quiet village of Keflavik is found (now the site of the international airport), and reactions to a sculpture by a now-revered artist. In the middle is the beginnings of the city of Reykjavik as we know it, as well as details of towns that are all still here today, but very different. And some things remain the same: there’s still a famous lighthouse at Reykjanes, Icelandic horses have a sturdy will of their own and surprise you by when exactly they want to speed up, and Icelanders have a somewhat eccentric and relaxed attitude to playing by the rules (this meant I wasn’t too worried about missing the cut-off in the Reykjavik marathon by a minute or so …).

A really lovely book and a great and entertaining read for anyone who loves Iceland or a good travel narrative (or both).


I’m currently reading the very lovely “Spring Magic” by D.E. Stevenson, very kindly sent to me by Dean Street Press as one of their new Furrowed Middlebrow titles coming out in January. Gentle but absorbing, the story of a woman finding herself after a live of servitude to her aunt in a Scottish village in WW2 is unputdownable. A review soon!

State of the TBR – December 2018 (and a small confession)

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Well I’d been doing very well with my reading, having read all my paper books for review that were previously reclining on top of the TBR shelf and eight books in total (and took one off that I didn’t want to read). And actually the problem I  have of more TBR is a lovely problem, because dear Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings has just sent me a Lovely Parcel (see below).

So here’s the current state of the TBR.

I mean, I’ve still got room for the pile, right, so it can’t be that bad.

This is the reason for it all moving around a bit:

So we have Margery Sharp’s “The Eye of Love,” Ellen Wilkinson’s (her of the Jarrow March) “Clash”, and two Henry Handel Richardsons: “Maurice Guest” and “The Getting of Wisdom”. All lovely Viragoes, too!

Reading at the moment and coming up shortly, I’m very much enjoying Samantha Ellis’ “How to be a Heroine” and would have finished it already were it not for my strange hobby of standing in muddy fields pointing the way or writing down numbers. Next up is “The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward,” edited by the lovely Katherine Findlay, and then it will be the next Iris Murdoch Readalong read, “An Accidental Man” (14th out of 26 of her books, so I feel we’re already sliding towards the end!).

I’m aware I haven’t addressed the horrendousness of the Kindle TBR recently and I know there are some books on there I won from NetGalley and need to work on. I’m also behind on reading everyone’s blog posts (sorreeee!) and as I’ve got heaps and heaps of work on at the moment, I think I’m just going to have to give up on watching TV in December or something to get everything read!

Then the next books on the shelf, which still include some from Christmas last year, include “The Little Bookshop of Big Stone Gap”, “The book for Forgotten Authors” and “Long Live Great Bardfield (the great big Persephone) as well as Stella Gibbons; “Westwood”, kindly sent to me by Verity. Then we have two I picked up between Christmas and my birthday before we start on the birthday books.

What are you reading this month? Do you have any special December reading rituals?

Book Review – The Pool – “Life Honestly” plus book and mag news #amreading #netgalley

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I was really excited when I got an email from the publisher offering me the chance to read this collection of essays from The Pool, a refreshing platform for busy women which publishes honest and interesting articles with a feminist slant, founded by Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne which is transparent about its sponsors and which I’ve been reading for a while now when its articles crop up via social media.

So a quick review because without picking out millions of articles in detail, I can only talk about it in general terms, and I just urge you to go and look at the platform and/or the book, and then I’ll be sharing some magazine and book loveliness. Yes, more of it! Oops!

The Pool – “Life Honestly”

(16 August 2018, from NetGalley)

I really enjoyed this collection of essays and enjoyed its intersectional nature, featuring issues and writers from a range of communities, not just middle-class white women. Put into sections that feel sensible, with no essay or section so long it gets boring, these are great reads which I would press into the hands of any woman who doesn’t already read The Pool. I have to say that as an occasional reader with a photographic memory, I did recall having read some of the pieces already.

Covering major sections on gender politics and power, work, friendship, body, relationships, wombs, mind, money, parenting and style, there’s something to pique everyone’s interest, whether that’s centred on dealing with coercive control, womanning up about your finances, what kind of friends you should get rid of to how black women source and share information about wedding planning when the ‘mainstream’ media don’t feature them at all.

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for making the book available in return for an honest review, via NetGalley.


So, when we got home from our holiday, as well as the book I’ve highlighted already, I was excited to find in the post two of the magazines I now read, with another appearing in the week. Two of them had mentions of me in them!

The Iris Murdoch Review (No 9) is an A4 format journal which has a few essays on IM, often developed from conference papers, something about some primary texts (here, letters to her last PhD student), reviews and reports from conferences and events. I was a little nervous as I knew there was a review of my book, “Iris Murdoch and the Common Reader” (scroll down in the link to see the book and links onwards) by the ever-lovely Pamela Osborn: I knew she wouldn’t savage it, of course, but I do fear academic rigour and feel myself lacking in it (as, indeed, she pointed out, very kindly in the review). But it was a lovely review, and I was particularly happy that she appreciated my warm and friendly but still academic tone, as that’s something I strive for in all my writing.

Saga-Book, which is the journal of the Viking Society for Northern Research, has some really meaty essays on aspects of the sagas and other Old Norse literature. I rejoined the Society having been a student member 30 years ago, and don’t get to the meetings but do enjoy dipping into these publications and seeing familiar names from my student days still going strong.

The Persephone Biannually highlights the new publications from Persephone and also has short stories, reviews from the papers and Our Bloggers Write – the latter including an excerpt from my review of “Princes in the Land” by Joanna Cannan – how exciting!

Unseen: I still enjoy The New Statesman, especially for the reviews and for catching up with news in different parts of the world. I had mag-lag with that one, too, as one arrived just before our holiday and one during.

I’m proud to say I’m all caught up now, with only Saga-Book left to read!

And so to new books in.

Mr Liz (Matthew) and I are very keen readers of Barbara Kingsolver’s novels. I’ve been reading them since her first, slimmer works, and have loved her ever since, and we even “did” “The Poisonwood Bible“, which hadn’t appealed to me for years after it was published (we’ve still not read “The Lacuna”, as I have a strong dislike of the use of real people as central fictional characters in novels, but I bet we succumb some time, just because her writing is so excellent). Anyway, I was writhing in envy when a few bloggers I read had got hold of review copies of her new one, “Unsheltered” and so took the unusual for me step of getting hold of a hardback copy as soon as it came out. Matthew’s zooming ahead of me in the audio book (read by Kingsolver herself, which is always a treat as she does it so well, apparently) and I’m very much appreciating the clever zeitgeisty workings of the early part of the book (although the situation the modern characters are in feels like an Anne Tyler situation, which is confusing me a little!). More to follow on this one. Who will finish it first?

Another thing I don’t often do these days is put in for a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book as they all seem to be genre fiction (and the genres are sci fi or thrillers, which I’m not keen on) but I did go for “Mammoth” by Jill Baguchinsky and a nice paperback proof copy duly arrived. Blogging and palaeontology with a bit of light romance thrown in: it does look fun. I have to remember you’re supposed to read and review LTER books within the month, however, so it will have to go in after “Unsheltered”.

I have just finished Cathy Newman’s “Bloody Brilliant Women” which was well-done but I’m reviewing it for Shiny New Books so will share that in due course.

What new books have you let into the house recently? What magazines or journals do you read? Have you got mag-lag or do you assiduously read them as soon as they come in?

 

Book review – Jackie Kay – “Red Dust Road” plus holiday book confessions #amreading #bookconfessions

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I’m just back from a holiday in West Cornwall and on the Isles of Scilly – had a lovely time, with lots of walking, some running, a bit of horse-riding (once every two years is about my record on that one) and, of course, plenty of reading. I read all the books I took with me and left them in our two hotels, but of course acquired more while down there from some favourite shops and the great charity shops of Penzance. And then finished reading one of the acquisitions on the train home!

Jackie Kay – “Red Dust Road”

(12 October 2018 – Penzance charity shop)

My friends in the Very Small Book Group had read and raved about this a while ago (Ali will let me know when, I’m sure) and so when I spotted it in a charity shop I couldn’t resist. Ostensibly the story of her finding her Nigerian father and family, it’s also an autobiography and tribute to her adoptive parents.

It’s a lovely, warm, self-deprecating but strong read, and I did indeed love it. I giggled at times and I did have a tear in my eye at one point. I really loved the stories of her mum’s down-to-earth Scottish reactions to the more outlandish parts of her “journey” as well as the heartfelt descriptions of her meetings with her birth mum and dad and musings on what it is to be adopted and the howling wind-filled centre of your mind that is never truly still. As a poet and novelist, Kay is full of stories, of course, but she shares this with her mum and talks movingly of how the two of them wove together a story of what happened to her birth parents that sustained them and drew them closer: “It was a big bond, the story” (p. 44).

Kay is so honest, especially sharing how she’s an open and trusting person and so all the secrecy around her adoption really got to her. She’s thrilled to meet her Highlands of Scotland aunts and draws interesting comparisons between the Scottish and Nigerian villages she originates from. She’s generous in her thanks to the people who support her along the way, and while it’s not an easy read as such, the pages slip by. I will be looking for some of her poetry to read now.

Here‘s Ali’s review of the book, which brings out some quotations I loved, too.


We had a sort of “extra” day in Penzance on Friday, as our boat from the Isles of Scilly was moved forward because of storms coming in on Friday and Saturday. We didn’t do much (we had a trip out on Sunday, instead, which we thought would be our down day) but I scoured the charity shops and the wonderful Edge of the World Bookshop for lovelies. Eric Newby’s “A Small Place in Italy” is about restoring an Italian house and not one I had or had even read! The Jackie Kay we now know about. “Bird Watching Watching” by Alex Horne (who we know from the rather wonderful programme Taskmaster) is about a year birdwatching with his dad and was not to be resisted.

I bought Philip Marsden’s “Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place” because it centres around West Cornwall, where we were. This seemed the ideal book to buy there. I love this shop so much – website here – it’s so friendly and has a marvellous stock, and has just moved a few doors up the road into larger premises. If you’re ever in West Cornwall, do pop to Penzance to pay them a visit.

There are a couple of other lovely bookshops in Penzance. Barton Books does art and design and children’s books and lovely notebooks, and Newlyn Books has a wonderful selection of second-hand books and art books, including a wonderful local collection.

Amusingly, I bought a copy of Colin Duriez’ “The Oxford Inklings” there – I say amusingly because of course Tolkien was a son of Birmingham, and last time I went to Newlyn Books I bought a Francis Brett Young book (another local). This has very good reviews by a number of scholars and looks like another good addition to my shelf.

The final addition to my TBR came when we got home. A running and reading friend had asked if I could help the publisher out by taking on a review copy of Mark Atkinson’s “Run Like Duck: A Guide for the Unathletic” and as we know, I’m always up for a running book (plus this one mentions ultras) so I was very happy to find it on the doormat when we returned (along with the Iris Murdoch Review, which includes a lovely review of my book “Iris Murdoch and the Common Reader”, and Saga Book from the North Atlantic Research Society, so I’m going to be a busy Lizzie for a while!

What have you been up to while I’ve been away? I’ve tried to keep up with blogs though had to catch up first!

Book review – Gurjinder Basran – “Everything Was Good-Bye” #20BooksOfSummer #Amreading

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I’ve finished the 20 Books of Summer Challenge! It finishes today, I finished the last book today and here I am reviewing it. Hooray! What fun as always. Cathy has done a round-up post of her own experience with it here.

Gurjinder Basran – “Everything Was Good-Bye”

(25 October 2017)

Everything in Meena’s life can be viewed in two ways. There are six daughters in her family but only five of them are mentioned after Harj ran away. Aunties watch your every move and the family unit is protected, but domestic violence is witnessed and ignored. Meena wants to be a writer but her writing is used against her. Unconventional, arty Liam says he’ll wait for her and doesn’t.

Set in the Canadian Sikh community from 1990 through into the 2000s, it’s threaded through with pop culture – mostly music – references that will resonate with anyone but imbued with a special sense of what it is to be embedded in a community within a community – and with a precarious position within that inner community. When Meena is criticised for this, you wonder what her other choice would be. Very difficult, whatever the reason.

It’s very well done, especially as I think it’s a first novel, and we’re pulled into caring for Meena as she tries to negotiate life without much support, navigating the arranged marriage to another bad boy that she’s accepted, her only real ally – even when Liam reappears in her life – her childhood friend Kal. And he’s her husband’s cousin, so which side is he supposed to be on?

I guessed one of the plot points but it’s a really good, engaging read.

This was Book 20 in my #20BooksOfSummer project and rounds off the project.


A couple of quick confessions. I nipped up to ASDA and went past a few charity shops. How could I resist this terrible, lurid 1971 Iris Murdoch cover (the book is reviewed here, it’s not exactly as described!)

It’s a 1971 Avon Bard Books imprint book and it looks like they did a few titles in the US. I didn’t want to start collecting weird IM editions but I couldn’t help myself with this one!

This is more conventional: a history of running by a Norwegian, published in the early 2000s so not completely up to date but it does look interesting – Thor Gotaas – “Running: A Global History”.

Did you do 20 Books of Summer and finish it? What’s the next challenge? I’m reading Bart Yassos’ “My Life on the Run” at the moment but it’s quite … visceral, so I need something else to read at the table. Probably the next Iris Murdoch …

State of the TBR – September 2018 #amreading

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Oops. Well, I have read nine books from the standing-up books and one from the Murdoch pile but I’ve also had quite a few book confessions this month. Oh well, my new plan of trying not to work at the weekends is going well, so I do have more reading time, and I can’t wait to get stuck into lots of these. Actually, it’s not as bad as it has been, as I note I can fit the whole Pile in at the side in its normal order, not with the shorter books carefully at the bottom and the bigger ones overhanging!

What’s up next? Gurjinder Basran’s “Everything was Good-Bye” is literally waiting on the kitchen table for me to start. It’s the final book in my #20BooksOfSummer project (see the list and all the reviews here) and it seems fitting that I did manage to fill August with Viragoes and Persephones (and one Iris Murdoch) as I’d planned, for All Virago (and Persephone) / All August, and am starting this final read in time to (hopefully) finish it by the end of Monday, when the challenge ends.

Then, although I’ve got lots of lovely books coming up (and some to review, see below), I can’t help but think that I’ll be diving into Murdoch’s “The Nice and the Good”, one that I adore and am really looking forward to re-reading again. Whatever happens, it will be read and reviewed early in the month.

I’m not sure whether I’ve shared these three brilliant review books with you. Kindly sent by the publishers to review on Shiny New Books, they all look like the kind of read I’m going to have a personal, emotional connection to, so I’ve arranged to do a full review on here and then a more serious and literary review for Shiny (thank you, lovely Editors, for allowing me to do that). Thomas Williams’ “Viking Britain” deals with the history of the Vikings in Britain (oddly enough) and looks fascinating and readable. Cathy Newman’s “Bloody Brilliant Women” deals with unsung heroines of the 20th century, and Joni Seager’s “The Women’s Atlas” (which I know I haven’t told you about, as it arrived yesterday) looks at various reproductive, safety and health statistics for women worldwide and presents them in an accessible infographic form – it will be of course both depressing and uplifting, but it’s certainly an important book and looks to have been done excellently.

I have also got a few NetGalley books that are coming out soon; notably, Ingrid Fetell Lee’s “Joyful” (about being more … joyful, taking joy from small things etc.), Roxane Gay (ed.) “Not that Bad” (a book of essays about rape and sexual assault, again, necessary if uncomfortable and dispiriting), Nancy Campbell’s “The Library of Ice” (travel in the ice of the Far North, I saw this reviewed on Bookjotter’s blog and she kindly gave me a link when I couldn’t find it myself!) and “Life Honestly” which is a collection of essays and writings from the writers at The Pool (I love their honest articles so this looked great). These are all not out yet; I do have a shameful backlog of books published a while ago now.

Coming up apart from all these review copies, this is the beginning of my actual TBR – running, memoir, light reading, mid-century reading, a book on E Nesbit (ee!) and two books that got a lot of blogspace when they first came out but I’ve come to later in their lives. And yes, anyone with an eagle eye or the patience to search or an eidetic memory will note that in this picture I get up to CHRISTMAS 2017! So there’s an achievement of sorts.

As I’m usually in a few Not-so-secret Santas which start building up in September/October, this is traditionally a time of reading and not buying, but I’m not going to limit myself in that way as we all know what that leads to.

Anything catch your eye here? Anything you’ve read and can’t wait for me to read?

 

Book review – Stella Gibbons – “Starlight” #20BooksofSummer #amreading

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This is the book I started reading accidentally a week or so ago, mistaking it for a Virago somehow. But hooray – Virago published Stella Gibbons’ “Nightingale Wood” so she counts as a Virago author and I’m counting her therefore in my All Virago / All August total. I am saving the Persephone “Long Live Great Bardfield” for the time after #20BooksOfSummer when I’m just working my way through my TBR again.

So the picture to the left does not represent this book but is the pile of books I put together initially for my 20BooksOfSummer. I haven’t done one of these where I haven’t swipped and swapped, so it’s all good! And I’m excited that I only have three books to finish by 3 September, they’re all reasonably short, and I’ve even started Book 18 already!

Stella Gibbons – “Starlight”

(25 December 2017 – from Verity)

Well, I have to say this is a Very Strange Book, and I’m not entirely sure how it got published. The heroines are a pair of elderly and dotty sisters, Gladys and Annie, who live a precarious existence in a falling-down “cottage” in Highgate, London, with an elderly even-more-eccentric upstairs and a family downstairs … until the building is sold to what they identify as “the rackman”, Mr Pearson (after the notorious slum landlord), and he installs his beautiful, ailing wife there. Meanwhile, their daughter Peggy is a sort of assistant to a wealthy woman and her dogs, while her son sniffs around, trying to grab a squeeze and a kiss. A pair of clergymen in a fairly desolate vicarage, an odd German teenager who has been somehow sprung from an itinerant life by Mr Pearson, and a parishioner and friend of Gladys who is tempted by esoteric religion and wants her fortune told by Mrs Pearson and her accompanying spirit, make up the rest of the curiously unattractive cast.

It is an interesting read, as Gladys and Annie become more worried about Mrs Pearson and her odd “fits” and Peggy sits and waits for her life to begin, instigates it beginning and is slapped back down. Some kind and honest characters get a good fate, others really don’t, and it builds very slowly then suddenly all the cards fall and there’s a pretty melodramatic ending, including an exorcism, before suburban and rural life grab hold again and everything sort of smooths out.

The descriptions of Hampstead Heath are lovely and reminded me a bit of passages in “Old Baggage”. The perilous life of the unconnected poor and the attempt to subsume Erika the German girl into English life are shown in detail and convincingly. Details are beautifully done – when the Vicar, Mr Geddes, is being thoroughly frightened by the decidedly un-English Mr Pearson about his wife’s possible possession,

… as he spoke, he was very aware of the stout old cupboard that contained the choir surplices. Its glossy bulk was comforting. (p. 243)

and his mother’s arrival and adoption of the vicarage cat as well as the relationship between Mrs Corbett and her dogs and son are very nicely done, too.

But it’s an odd book, and I can’t deny that.

This was Book 17 in my #20BooksOfSummer project and also falls into All Virago / All August. Read Ali’s review here.


I’m currently reading Enid Bagnold’s “The Loved and Envied” and getting mixed up and confused by all the French and Scottish characters, but I’m sure it will come good.

One small confession: I ordered myself a second-hand copy of Charles Thomas’ “Exploration of a Drowned Landscape: The Archaeology and History of the Isles of Scilly” as we’ll be going there in the autumn and I wanted to read up on the Iron Age etc. sites. My friend Liz recommended this one by a friend of hers, I picked it up at an OK price from Abe Books (I don’t want everyone rushing to look on Amazon and seeing how much it goes for there!) and it looks amazing. I did like the stamps on the package, too, the Brownie and Guide one dating from 1982!

 

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