Book review – Horatio Clare – “Icebreaker” @ShinyNewBooks @ChattoBooks #amreading

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My review for this wonderful book, which I read last month, is available on the Shiny New Books website now. One of the things I really enjoyed about this book was reading about places I know about through my work – I work for a couple of translators in Finland, working over their (already very good) English to make sure it reads as if a native speaker wrote it, and lots of the companies, towns and other details that are mentioned here were weirdly familiar to me.

Anyway, whether you’ve always secretly wanted to visit Oulu or you’d like to have an insider’s view on icebreaking ships, or you just want to find out what it’s like to be stuck in isolation in a small crew on a small ship, have a look at my review and look out for the book.

Read more here.

Book review – Edmund Gordon – “The Invention of Angela Carter” #amreading

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A review of a book that took me ages to read and has been the first completed book of the month (I have finished another since then, and am half-way through the next one). I’m still, somewhat horrendously, on last January’s books, but I seem to recall a book-buying hiatus at some time in the year, so am hoping to hop forward at some point and not be 11 months behind! See below for the first of the Christmas influx – and what a lovely beginning …

Edmund Gordon – “The Invention of Angela Carter”

(21 January 2017, from Ali)

The first proper biography of the author, even though it’s 25 or so years since she died, and very much concentrating on, as the title suggests, her own self-invention and people’s invention of her myth. Gordon takes as one of his themes her own idea that we all dress up in our personalities and perform femininity, etc. and aims to show this through the book; it’s a good theme to use, especially as he points out at the end that “She’s much too big for any single book to contain”.

He does also talk about her unreliability in her writings about herself and points out in the text when two accounts she makes in, say, a letter and an article don’t agree, or her stated memory clashes with one of her friends’. This make it an interesting and shifting work. He’s taken pains to track down old friends, editors and lovers and is clear about his process; I did find it odd, then, that at one point he mentions how “she would have viewed” A.S. Byatt’s work – surely better to quote from a source or leave that out, given the attention to reliability of sources (the endnotes are done in that modern way of quoting a page number and bit of text but there was nothing for this). Gordon also annoyed me near this assertion by implying that Barbara Comyns (loved by many fellow bloggers as well as me) was just a precursor to Carter and is not read much now. Humph.

There is an awkward encounter with Iris Murdoch, which I love, although (sorry, another although), IM appears in the index several more times relating to very light references that I wouldn’t necessarily have expected to be indexed, once for a reference to John Bayley being her husband. This seemed a little OTT but better too many than too few entries, I suppose. To be more positive, I loved her friendship with Salman Rushdie (and had no idea he accompanied Bruce Chatwin on his “Songlines” travels) and her dealings with Virago when that came about, and it’s meticulous on her contracts, contacts and trips and will be a great resource for scholars in itself.

I can’t say I warmed to Angela, not that I need to adore the authors whose work I enjoy, but I also wasn’t moved to go towards the books of hers I haven’t yet read, although I do intend to re-read “The Passion of New Eve” next year and I’d be interested in picking up some of her collected non-fiction. The rise of her mythical status as a white witch or fairy godmother (mainly seemingly based on her letting her hair grow out white) was well explained and her relationship with her main nurse brings a different angle to her last illness.

A decent book which I just didn’t love as much as I’d have liked to. But I learned a lot.


We had our BookCrossing Christmas meal on Friday and I was absolutely thrilled to receive from my friend Lorraine (who we’ve known since way back in 2005 when we moved to Birmingham) two wonderful pre-loved books from my wishlist. “Gone to Earth” by Mary Webb will be a wonderful dark Shropshire tale and Marcus Crouch’s “The Nesbit Tradition: The Children’s Novel 1945-1970” is so far up my street.

And look inside:

The Nesbit book used to belong to Manchester University’s John Rylands Library and the Mary Webb has the signatures of a past owner and a photo pasted in of the woman who played Hazel Woodus in the film. In fact, one of Lorraine’s relatives was an extra, too, as were many of her friends in the village. How wonderful (the bookmark, hand cream and (not pictured) 85% dark chocolate were all  most welcome too. Let the Book Flood begin!

State of the TBR – December 2017 #amreading #books

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Hm, a thing of beauty or a thing of horror? With Christmas and birthday coming up, as I said the other day, I like to get the TBR down a bit. Not sure that’s quite happened this year …

I’m currently reading these two biographies. The Angela Carter one is nearly done, and it has taken me a while, although it’s generally good. Mo’s is excellent but I’m not very far in yet. Anyone read these?

Next up of course will be my next Iris Murdoch – “The Flight from the Enchanter”, and the next portion of “Cartography for Girls” – I’m reading 17.5 pages of that a month alongside the IMReadalong. Read about Enchanter here and the project page is here: it’s never too late to join in!

The start of the TBR looks like this, however I’m really not sure how far I’m going to get into these this month! Oh dear! One of my friends has just read the Springsteen book and it’s apparently really good, and a fellow book blogger has been enticing me by reading “The Year of Living Danishly”. I might pick off that and the Perkins as a palate-cleanser between big hardbacks, I have to admit.

Anything here catch your eye? What are you up to reading-wise for December?

“Under the Net” round-up and “The Flight From the Enchanter” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Well, it’s the end of the first month and I feel like we’ve had a good discussion on “Under the Net”. How did you get on? If you’ve blogged about it, please pop a link in the comments here, and you might want to contribute to the discussion under my review, or post thoughts here, it’s up to you. I will add any links to blog posts here as they still come in.

Bookish Beck has reviewed the book on her blog. She’s read four other Murdochs and placed it squarely in the middle in terms of favourites, which is fair enough! She also shared her sadly rebound library copy – but although I have four copies of my own of this one, I love seeing all the different ones you all have, so keep sending me images (you can do that via Twitter or email, see my contact form for the email address).

I had a couple of submissions of other copies people have – thank you! Thomas from Hogglestock sent me the photo of the lovely American first edition (what a glorious cover!) above, and Maria Peacock sent me a picture of her fabulous paperback – I love this! Does the picture really make a comedy man with a hat as well as the image of Jake and the stuff from the theatre, or have I made that up? I have a couple of paperbacks of early books to share later on in the series, but this is a cracker.

So, if you’ve read “Under the Net” and have yet to join in the discussion, please comment here or on my review and share your URL if you’ve reviewed it on your blog.

The Flight from the Enchanter

Moving on to December’s read, it’s time for “The Flight from the Enchanter”. This was another early one I read, and I’ve loved it ever since. Slightly shockingly, I only have ONE copy of this one. I have no idea where my original (to me) paperback has got to – I know I had it last time I read it in 2008, but where it’s gone is a mystery. I can’t afford any of the first editions on the market at the moment – this had a small print run and is I think the rarest one. But never mind, I treated myself to the Vintage reprint and what a lovely cover this is!

Here’s the blurb from the back – hope you can all read it …

… and here’s my terribly illuminating review from the last time I re-read it, in February 2008:

Second novel by IM and second in our Iris Murdoch a Month project! I enjoyed doing a closer re-reading of this intriguing novel. IM novels are not like anyone else’s – this is not a love story, not a satire, who knows what it really is, or the nature of the enchanter.

I’d forgotten one whole, very pivotal scene in the book – another reason these are all due for a re-read!

I wonder what that scene is …

So, are you joining me for this one? Have you read it before or is this your first time? I’m looking forward to hearing what everyone thinks of it!

New books in #bookconfessions #amreading

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Well, it’s that booky time of year, isn’t it: I am a member of two (Not so) secret Santas, one from the LibraryThing Virago Group and one with local BookCrossers, so my friend Sian (also a BookCrosser) and I got together and trawled our local high street for Not So Secret gifts. I think there are nine charity shops (thrift stores) with bookshelves, plus the Oxfam Books, so armed with wishlists, off we went.

The problem is all the books you see that you want, isn’t it – but you daren’t get them because not only your two secret santas but other general friends are going to be bestowing books upon you for Christmas. Added level of difficulty: my birthday’s in January: more books!

Now, I love, love, LOVE receiving books for presents, don’t get me wrong. Christmas and January are a wonderful, glorious booky time. But you do have to put things back just in case someone gets them for you (one year, I’d been hemming and hawing over the Mitford Sisters joint bio, only to open it from Jen in January – phew!). But no one, least of all me, knows what Debbie Macomber, possibly the most prolific author in the universe, books I have, so I thought I should be safe allowing myself this one!

Now, here are some lovelies that have popped through the letter box (well, arrived on the doorstep) for reviewing in Shiny New Books, the glorious online magazine I’m lucky enough to review non-fiction for. I’ve only just submitted my review of Horatio Clare’s “Icebreaker” and more books published in November and December have arrived. Aren’t they great, though – just up my political biography / travel narrative / book about weird and exciting tech stuff street(s). Look out for links to reviews to these soon, and of course none of these were on my wishlist, so I should be OK and not open doubles on Christmas Day!

Do you buy a lot of books for Christmas presents and receive a lot? Have you had a lucky escape when you’ve unwrapped a book you were meaning to buy for yourself?

Book review – Tim Ferriss – “Tribe of Mentors” #amreading #netgalley @EburyPublishing

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Timothy Ferriss – “Tribe of Mentors”

(eBook from NetGalley, downloaded 10 November 2017; published 21 November 2017)

I have had a bit of an on-off relationship with Mr Ferriss’ books – his famous “4 Hour Work Week” had some really good points about controlling the need to read new emails as soon as they come in etc but I wouldn’t want to do my job for only four hours a week and I found some of his methods a little iffy … but my interest was piqued by this new project, in which he asked lots of people he knew several carefully crafted questions to draw out their life experience and advice. He makes it clear that the hardest part was sorting the questions out, and they are good ones, for example what’s the best thing you’ve bought recently for under $100, what investments have you made that have made a difference, what book do you give to people, etc.

He interviewed over 100 people and claims that any reader will be inspired / have their life changed by at least 17 of them, while rejecting around half. I’m not sure I found 17 to change my life, but there were some really good ones, and the range of interviewees, from Ashton Kutcher to Icelandic cross-fit champions via Dita von Teese and Neil Gaiman was interesting.

Common points came out time and again: invest in noise-cancelling headphones; take up meditation; do yoga; and walk or run outdoors. This isn’t a bad thing; it’s good that these relatively small efforts help a lot of people, and the repetition reminds us of their worth. I found it a bit odd that he asked some of the cross-fit and power-lifting more questions to do with those specific disciplines, and thought that unbalanced the book a bit. There was a bit of woo and Paolo Coelho enthusiasm which I skimmed: he does talk to a lot of tech and marketing gurus so that will come through.

Some people only had a few questions and pages, others a lot of detail, and it wasn’t clear whether this was because they only chose to answer a few or some bits were edited out. I was disappointed not to have more by Temple Grandin and Gaiman, but that’s a personal reflection.

Things I really liked were the repeated advice to treat invitations as if they were going to happen tomorrow: would you be excited about them or not? Then decide whether to say yes. I also liked Ariana Huffington’s assertion that burnout is NOT a good thing, Temple Grandin’s concentration on “project loyalty”, as in you do a good job and make the project work regardless of the obstacles placed by others, and Steven Pinker’s list of advice to a bright young college graduate: find a balance between something that’s common knowledge and something only you are interested in; ignore advice to follow your intuition without thinking things through properly; and focus on the effectiveness of your actions, not your own self-actualisation. I liked best Jocko Willink’s very practical advice from life as a Navy SEAL – you need discipline to attain freedom, in all sorts of spheres, and when you feel overwhelmed, pick off the thing with the biggest impact and deal with that first. Kristen Ulmer advises to honour your moods by letting them be and then pass, which is something I’ve been trying to do for a while now.

So I did find a lot to like but there were a few repeats and a bit too much info on lifting very heavy weights …

Thank you to Ebury Publishing for making this book available via NetGalley.


Book review – Angela Thirkell – “The Headmistress” @ViragoBooks #amreading

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I started this book last week for the Undervalued British Women Novelists Facebook Group’s Angela Thirkell Reading Week. Unfortunately, the Reading Week finished yesterday and I finished reading this book today, but I’m still going to post it there and I’m glad I read it. This was the book that Ali had posted me to surprise me when I returned from our Cornwall holiday, and she read the book (in a different edition) at the same time as me – see her review here. We had quite similar views (and reservations) about this book, so it’s nice that we’ve reviewed it on the same day, too.

Angela Thirkell – “The Headmistress”

(7 October 2017 – from Ali)

One of the Barsetshire series, read slightly out of order, although that doesn’t seem to matter too much as it didn’t feature characters centrally that I’ve come across in others of her books. It’s set during the Second World War, and I always find it terribly poignant when a book set at that time was published, as with this 1944 novel, before the end of the conflict. Thirkell wouldn’t have known what was going to happen to her characters any more than we do (maybe a Thirkell expert can comment on whether we meet the Boltons again in a later novel).

A girls’ school has finally found a place to live in Harefield Park, and although this means the Bolton family have had to move out and rent it to them, the rent comes in very useful and they actually enjoy living more centrally in the village (although renting from one of their tenants!). The headmistress of the school, Miss Sparling, is an asset to the small community, making friends with the residents and providing a point of interest (is she a perfect headmistress or TOO perfect a headmistress?) and her girls weave their way into society, too, seen on the edge getting up plays or going skating. Miss Spurling also ends up with two special men friends, and I did like the way romance delicately blossomed for this lady in late middle age.

There’s much to like – a reference to Trollope’s own Barsetshire resident, Dr Thorne, early on, the real pathos of Mrs Bolton’s feelings about her sons and daughter, all rushing around doing dangerous war work, and the psychological acuity on relationships between the women of the village, shown up most during their working parties, and the schoolgirls, not to mention the relationships between the Bolton family members, and the lovely eccentrics, most notably the accident-prone but charming Mrs Updike.  The details of life during the war, too, are beautifully portrayed, with the Vicar trying to work out how to paint a line round the bath to keep down his water usage and the make-do-and-mend and trying moments when all the help has gone to the armaments factories.

However, there’s the trademark Thirkell snobbery, most obvious in the tradesman in his bear-like tweeds and his unattractive daughter, Heather (although she has pathos and does show promise and strength) and the servants that still remain (although, again, the one put-upon maid might just prevail and get her moment of romance after all). Unlike Ali, I didn’t mind the new brisk woman doctor with her new-fangled ideas, mainly because I felt she was only made into a female character in order to produce one effect on another character to do with hats, but I did take exception to a moment where Mrs Bolton cheerfully tells her daughter’s fiance that Elsa could do with a good beating: this seemed out of character for both author and character. There’s also some really quite nasty casual racism around the ‘funny foreigners’, the Mixo-Lydians and Slavo-Lydians, OK just about when they’re a pet project of the silly doctor’s wife, but presented in such a way as tiresome refugees with ancient rivalries that feels like what would now be a somewhat Brexity attempt at the time to humour people who were presumably tiring of real refugees from the war. I heartily wished those sections excised.

However, the good outweighed the bad and I certainly enjoyed reading this more substantial Thirkell and will keep reading her others.


I’m still working my way through “The Invention of Angela Carter”, another gift from Ali – I’m just not liking Carter at all (OK, you don’t have to) and have a few issues with the way the book’s put together. We’ll see. I need to start “The Icebreaker” next to review for Shiny New Books, and I have won two more NetGalley books (leaving my reviewed books percentage hovering neatly at 80%!), Tim Ferriss’ “Tribe of Mentors”, which has inspiring stuff from entrepreneurs and other achievers, and Jan-Werner Muller’s “What is Populism?” which claims to help us understand the rise of populist movements around the world, but I fear might be a bit heavy for me.

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