State of the TBR October 2020

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We have no piles! I finished eighteen books (EIGHTEEN BOOKS!) in September (one was one I’d been reading for months with my best friend and one was a cartoon book, but still) and even though only five of those were from the physical shelf (five were ebooks, three review books that came in during the month, four were off the piles on top and one was from my main shelves) and I took one off that I just did not fancy reading (“Julian Grenfell” by Nicolas Moseley, a Persephone I bough in Oxfam, which I will gift onwards) it was enough to shift things around so that everything can stand up.

In fact, can you see, at the end … there’s a GAP! I can’t remember when I last had a space for one book on the TBR without creating Piles! And there aren’t many balanced on the top now, either, just three WW2 Angela Thirkell novels left to go!

I’m just finishing off the wonderful “Kitted Out” which I am reviewing for Shiny New Books, that will be done by the end of the day, and I’m currently reading “Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey” by Madeleine Bunting, which is a wonderful book taking its time on each of about 20 islands, with history and reportage and nature, and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” is my current readalong with best friend Emma. We’ve covered the first chapter so far – I did know a fair bit of the history it covers, much thanks to David Olusoga et al’s excellent Alt HIstory strand “Black British History We’re Not Taught in Schools“, but not all of it by any means, so I learned a lot about Black support organisations and fascinating individuals and I’m looking forward to reading more tonight.

Next up I need to read “Slay in Your Lane” by by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, which shared stories of successful Black British women and offers advice to Black women wishing to follow their paths, because I won their follow-up book, “Loud Black Girls”, where 20 writers ask what’s next on NetGalley and that’s published today. Then my Paul Magrsathon carries on with “666 Charing Cross Road” which I’ve selected because Bookish Beck can get hold of a copy and it fits into her plan for spooky October reading. Also recently published in Arvin Ahmadi’s “How it All Blew Up”, another NetGalley win, which is described thus: “A nuanced take on growing up brown, Muslim and gay in today’s America, HOW IT ALL BLEW UP is the story of one boy’s struggle to come out to his family, and how that painful process exists right alongside his silly, sexy romp through Italy. “

And after that, as I’m now beautifully almost only a year behind myself, and as the books on the start of my TBR, with one notable exception, are a bit samey – monocultural to an extent, and mainly about nature! – whereas the newest ones are a bit more diverse in all ways, I think I might start alternating again, especially now I can get to the back shelf without moving Piles. I do of course still have a million books on Kindle too, so those will feature as well, and I know of at least two review books winging their way to me. Fun times!

I have a week off work next week so hope for a good batch of reading then. Not going anywhere as I’m in the middle of the Midlands extra lockdown region and very near some big hotspots, so no day trips or meeting up with friends in their houses or gardens, let alone holidays, but some clearing out and, yes, lots of reading …

Have you read any of these featured books? What are your October reading plans? Any challenges?

Book review – Elizabeth Eliot – “Cecil” @DeanStPress

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September 01 2020 TBRI’m up to July 2019 in my TBR – another few books and I’ll only be a only a year behind, even if that year is made up of almost two shelf-worths of books – and here’s another Dean Street Press book from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint, this time passed to me by lovely Ali when she realised she had somehow got two copies (follow this link to see all my DSP reads so far). Back on form with Elizabeth Eliot for the last of her novels I own, with an exciting mystery twist, too!

Elizabeth Eliot – “Cecil”

(30 June 2019 – from Ali)

Back to the first person here as we watch with his sister in law Anne as her husband’s half-brother is systematically ruined by his narcissistic and semi-invalid mother. That he doesn’t have a chance is clear from the start, and Anne, Charlie and wry American cousin Nealie can only look on in horror, try to help, and speculate as to what can be done.

Set in 1917, looking back at the 1880s onwards, there’s an unexpected plot twist when the inevitable happens, and the attractive narrator, calm and firm although somewhat unnerved by her stepmother-in-law, with her own two children who she sees with a loving but not suffocating eye, balances out something of a monster in Edythe and the acerbic charms of Nealie:

‘Very noble,’ Nealie said, ‘but then the young always have such high ideals. I suppose that’s natural. Having lived for a shorter time than we have, they have had less to put up with.’ (p. 81)

I loved Nealie’s arrangement of her admirer’s affections and her provision of a sardonic chorus, dear, solid Charlie who is always there in a crisis and provides a supportive background for Anne, and Cecil’s manservant Thompson in this intriguing and fun book with a psychological edge and a cracking plot, about which I can’t write any more without giving that plot away!

Book reviews – Gareth E. Rees – “Unofficial Britain” and Sarah Maslin Nir’s “Horse Crazy” @ShinyNewBooks @eandtbooks @simonschuster #bookbloggers

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Two high-quality and well-written books I’ve reviewed recently for Shiny New Books, and I was slightly unnerved by both of them when I received them, but was OK in the end!

GUnofficial Britain gareth reesareth E. Rees – “Unofficial Britain”

The worry: too scary and uncanny for feeble little me?

Another excellent and exciting read from Elliott & Thompson. I gladly accepted this when I was offered it as I do like a bit of psychogeography, then I got a bit worried when I read the opening, set in a mystical area of Olde Worlde Britain and descending into a scenario like a horror film, and then read it was going to feature housing estate poltergeists, trading estate catmen and wolf-like figures perambulating around liminal areas. But the quality of the writing and especially the bringing together of old phenomena and new drew me in, and as long as I read it in daylight, preferably outdoors, I was fine (I am notably easy to alarm!).

The central premise of the book, that modern spaces a) attract as much myth and storytelling, emotion and nostalgia as older ones and b) often overlay and/or echo those older spaces, is a powerful one that pulls the book together and gives it shape. Not just a collection of weird tales, it’s an explanation of the power of story in our lives today, and the attraction of unloveable spaces.

One of the themes throughout the book is the link between older traditions, myths and stories and modern ones, whether that’s community memories of housing estates being built on graveyards, the placing of real or ersatz standing stones within motorway junctions, links between scary wolf figures of previous centuries and those which pop up today, the “thin places” of Celtic myth and the liminal places of the modern day where you could slip into … anything, or the arrangements of motorway junctions and their reflection of the layout of ancient sacred sites. Rees does really good work on this and it’s fascinating. He also does a good job of weaving his own memories in with the ones he tracks down and researches here without making the book tediously all about himself; this is most notable in his return to the M6 motorway in the final chapter, which also manages to pull together all the themes of the book

Read my full review for Shiny here.

I have to say that I found myself waiting in a liminal space between the bit of the canal that features the remnants of a swing bridge to a road that now goes nowhere and a large and secretive-looking mineral works, by its abandoned former building, for a friend who was having a comfort break in a nearby wooded area, and thoroughly unnerved myself, which I feel the author would have appreciated!

Thank you to Alison from Elliott & Thompson for asking me if I’d like to read this and sending it over in return for an honest review.

Sarah Maslin Nir – “Horse Crazy”

The worry: All the horses will die and I’ll have to read awful things about the Holocaust!

I received this book via NetGalley and it seemed like a good fit for Shiny so I proposed to review it for them, too. It’s about a woman who loves horses but feels she’s not in quite the right horsey set. In addition, she’s labouring under a huge load of survivor’s guilt because her father escaped the Holocaust as a child. I hadn’t realised about that aspect when I requested the book, and when I realised that each of the chapters was named after a horse that had been important in her life, I really worried that I’d be wading through terrible stories and horse deaths.

I needn’t have worried. There were no graphic details of the war and of course horses are long-lived beasts, so apart from a couple of demises, off-stage and copable-with, many of the ones described and commemorated are living out their retirements or still going strong. It was a fascinating read and recommended.

While there’s a fascinating chapter of the weird-eared Marwari Horse (look them up and be prepared to be surprised; this is not a horse breed of which I was aware before), a horse which you won’t see outside India as there’s a ban on exporting them, most of the stories in the book centre around American people and their horses – and those horses rather fascinatingly range from little plastic models at actual shows for … little plastic models, to giant work horses used to patrol Central Park. We meet the real Misty of Chincoteague and the horses used on urban farms, to dish-faced Arabs and the ubiquitous racing thoroughbred.

Read my full review for Shiny here.

Thank you to Elizabeth from Simon & Schuster for making this one available to me on NetGalley in return for an honest review.

 

Book review – Paul Jepson and Cain Blyth – “Rewilding” @IconBooks #Rewilding #NetGalley

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Another NetGalley win, a book by an academic and a practitioner respectively in conservation and ecology, and part of the “Hot Science” series which looks at exciting new topics in the scientific world.

Paul Jepson & Cain Blyth – “Rewilding: The Radical New Science of Ecological Recovery”

(19 May 2020)

A fascinating book that explores the science and research that underpins the theories and practicalities of rewilding, understood in various ways but basically the practice of returning landscapes to a previous, more diverse and “natural” iteration – although what that iteration should be is a matter of discussion and controversy, much like rewilding itself can be.

The book concentrates on the idea of reintroducing megafauna (animals over 40kg such as wild cattle and horses up to rhinos and at its most extreme, re-created mammoths etc) to landscapes, which produce not the tree covered land we might think of as natural but more of a patchwork of grasslands and scrublands. This also includes the controversial idea of introducing non-native but similar species to replace extinct ones (this has already been done with giant tortoises but requires very careful consideration).

Some big schemes that are already going on are explained in detail, so we can see how the theory can be applied, and what changes can be made, the political issues that arise and what possible mitigations can be introduced. “Protect the best, rewild the rest” is a central theme, with charismatic predators and more prosaic beavers and wild cattle being reintroduced, and those herbivorous megafauna, allowing habitats to adjust and smaller populations to burgeon.

The use of very new technology, for example very small trackers and zones used to follow bison movements, is described in fascinating detail. It’s not at all dry theory but illustrations of very interesting practical measures that are going on now. The final chapter ends with predictions for the next decade, when questions will be answered and rewilding will become more mainstream, in the authors’ eyes.

Thank you to Icon Books for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Book review Angela Thirkell – “Growing Up” @ViragoBooks #Bookconfessions

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Three Thirkell novelsI’ve been continuing to work my way through Thirkell’s Second World War novels, which basically tell the story of the war as it’s going on, this one being published originally in 1943 and now republished by Virago, in a funny order but finishing off the series (I have two more to read before I get to “Peace Breaks Out”, the third one published this August, one of which I acquired in 2018 and the other in 2019, as they came out!). I’m finding I’m falling in love with her work all over again, as these books are detailed, careful and very poignant, with little of the snobbery, xenophobia and racism we can find in her novels. Just two book confessions after the review …

Angela Thirkell – “Growing Up”

(20 August 2020)

The young people we’ve been encountering in the novels are growing up and assuming responsibility for people, houses and their own ongoing lives in this installment. Even more poignant than the previous ones, as the war grinds on (it also opens with the death of a cat; however, I’m glad to say that his replacement flourishes), we’re at the Priory near Winter Overcotes with its fascinating two-level railway station, and Sir Harry and Lady Waring take in their niece Leslie after her health breaks down, plus Noel and Lydia Merton, Lydia so much more sensible than when she was Lydia Keith but still a jolly and attractive character who always tries to do her best for people. The Warings lost their son in 1918 so are old hands at grief and loss, but also know that the Priory will pass to Leslie’s brother, and both Lydia and Leslie have much-loved brothers overseas; the station master, Mr Beedle, has a son in a prisoner-of-war camp and everyone is trying to keep their spirits up but showing the strain. The feudal responsibility we saw in the last novel is strong here in Sir Harry:

What a weary business it all was, giving one’s best to a place where one’s widow wouldn’t even have the right to live. Still, one could keep the place going … and there were old men about the place who had known his father, and young men who looked to Sir Harry to get them out of trouble … One must keep going  for them. (p. 33)

As well as the interweaving stories of finding work and finding love, making friendships (that of Lydia and Leslie, both practical women, is particularly nicely done) and the amusing incidents of the convalescent troops from the big house at the kitchen door of the attractive housekeeper we have lovely set pieces, for example Mrs Morland’s attempt at a lecture to the troops (and I loved the passage about how difficult she’s finding it writing novels through the war when all her heroes and heroines have got separated), the young woman porters bringing new life to the railway station, the quick mentions or scenes with characters from previous novels (even Captain Barclay gets a mention, and Mrs Spender and Octavia put in an appearance) and the nods back to Trollope’s own Barsetshire novels.

A good and absorbing read.


Kitted OutOne book in from the publisher, The History Press, to review for Shiny New Books – they sent a PDF but then very kindly sent me a hard copy too, which is useful, because there are some lovely illustrations and I’ll be wanting to flick forwards and back to them as I read. “Kitted out: Style and Youth Culture in the Second World War” by Caroline Young looks at young people around the world taking part in the war, whether on the home front or the land or in active service, and how they perceived, adapted and wore the uniforms, official or unofficial, of their times. It looks fascinating and I will be reading it soon as it’s out already.

Then I spotted Neil Price’s “Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings” on NetGalley and even risked going under my 80% review rate to request it. I can’t resist a book on the Vikings and that’s all there is to say about that. This was published in August so another one I hope to get to soon.


I’m ahead of myself in terms of reading vs. reviews, so by the time this is published I may well be on to the next volume (“The Headmistress”). I’ve read my Paul Magrs for the month and review a very interesting book on the science of rewilding in a couple of days …

Book review – Elizabeth Eliot – “Mrs Martell” #20BooksOfSummer20 @DeanStPress

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September 01 2020 TBRI reached the end of my 2019 birthday books with this one (and then I seem to hop to April and quickly to August – I can’t have bought many books in mid-2019, unlike this year!), another Dean Street Press book from their Furrowed Middlebrow and the other one my best friend Emma gave me (follow this link to see all my DSP reads so far). This wasn’t my favourite of Eliot’s novels but is still sharp, readable and engaging.

Elizabeth Eliot – “Mrs Martell”

(21 January 2019 – from Emma)

Mrs Martell looked at him inquiringly, reprovingly and seductively, all at the same time. She managed this by raising her eyebrows, opening her eyes very wide and by throwing her head just a fraction backwards, and on her beautiful mouth – partly opened to show her beautiful teeth – there was a suggestion of a smile. (p. 26)

This tells you all you need to know about the calculated nature of Mrs Martell and her beauty. It’s a fictional portrait of a truly dreadful woman  akin to Elizabeth Taylor’s “Angel” or Mrs Bankes in “Not at Home“, who we meet in her late 30s, a suburban daughter made slightly good but wanting more, a brittle woman who we meet as she speculates on a murder in the shop downstairs, then see in flashback as she grows from her teens then follow as she convinces her distant cousin Laura that she’s mentally ill (there’s a great bit of pacing here where we slowly build and then jump through time so we’re as confused as poor Laura for a moment) so that she can get her claws into Laura’s husband.

There’s great observation of her relationship with her equally disappointed mother, trying to get her attention as she lives out her years by the sea in an Elizabeth Fair-like boring town; it’s all very well-observed and slightly malicious, but doesn’t have that artless first-person voice I’ve loved in the author’s other novels. I did cheer when Laura fought back in her own way, while Mrs Martell is found out when she lets the facade slip and loses her temper (Laura seems without artifice, which is both her problem and her saving grace), and the ending is a triumph for the woman woh can gather herself up and start again.

Book review – Gideon Defoe – “An Atlas of Extinct Countries” #NetGalley @4thestatebooks

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I do like a book on geography, and I also like an amusing book. I think some of this book’s good qualities might have been diluted by the massive pain that was using the NetGalley Shelf App for the first time …

Gideon Defoe – “An Atlas of Extinct Countries”

(11 August 2020 – NetGalley)

I was attracted to this book by the maps on the front cover and the fact it’s about countries that no longer exist.

Countries are just daft stories we tell each other. They’re all equally implausible once you get up close.

It was OK, it was very light, and there were a few selected facts on each country. One thing I can’t fault the author on is his insistence on pointing out the white, patriarchal, colonial and mendacious identity of most of the people who founded these countries – and when it’s not an individual, it’s a scribbling of lines by post-war administrators. Some countries were formed by their inhabitants as a protest against or escape from larger ones but the majority are from the former category and this is one bit of repetition that is welcome.

Some reviewers have mentioned this is one to dip into rather than read right through and they may be right, as I found the very short chapters and the darting around the world and history a bit bewildering reading through it. There are chapter headings on political creations, etc. (East Germany and the horrendous fake countries South Africa created within itself, etc.) but within each chapter we jump around in time and place and I couldn’t make out how it was ordered. There are sections on flags and national anthems at the back which offer more amusement. There are references occasionally in footnotes (not organised in the same way) and a comprehensive bibliography: some reviewers have mentioned inaccuracies, but I am not expert enough to spot these.

The maps of each country were nicely done, with little pictorial details, but many were in too large a scale to really get the context of where they were. I can see looking at the book website listings that they come out beautifully in the print edition of the book.

An OK read that could bring someone in to studying more closely histories of colonialism or various continents.

One for Bookish Beck’s synchronicities: I rarely read two books in a row featuring Ghengis Khan!

Thank you to 4th Estate for making this available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.


A word on the reading experience: while the loss of the detail of the maps wasn’t too bad, having to read this on the new NetGalley Shelf app was a pain. The publisher didn’t make it available for sending to Kindle (and I slightly panicked that I was going to have to read all my NG books like this, but no, all the subsequent wins have been available for Kindle, phew!) but you never seem to realise this until you’ve been accepted for the book. Knowing how irritating the previous Adobe Digital Editions was, I feared the worst. I got the app downloaded on my tablet OK and once logged in all my books were there. So far so good.

The reading experience is not fun, though. Even though the user guide that suddenly appeared did have flip pages, I could only read this book by endlessly scrolling down, which is annoying in itself – I like reading a book like a book, sorry! Then there was no facility like you have in Kindle or even ADE to mark a certain portion of text to return to when you’re reviewing. You could only bookmark a whole page by tapping on the bottom of the screen (this was also the only way you could see your progress through the book, which I found disconcerting) then hope you remembered what interested you on that page when you returned to it (I read this book over two days and had forgotten some when I sat down to write my review). When you wanted to look at the bookmarks, you had to tap at the bottom again and go to “Table of Contents” (of course! Thank  you user guide or I’d never have found them) and there was a tab with the bookmarks, but no text, just position. This did detract from my reading experience – not sure if anyone else has tried the app for reading books yet, but I will be sticking with my Kindle for the time being, for sure!

Book review – Vijay Menon – “A Brown Man in Russia” #amreading

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September 01 2020 TBRThe lovely Kaggsy of the Ramblings sent me this book when I mentioned I’d like to read it (and I note that she was very prompt at sending it over to me, a mere few days after she published her review!) I will admit this isn’t one of the two first books on my shelf, which will be read next, I promise, but was a tall book that was getting in the way of my Thirkell Pile sitting comfortably!

Vijay Menon – “A Brown Man in Russia”

(20 May 2019, from Kaggsy)

The narrative of 20-year-old Vijay’s journey on the Trans-Siberian Railway with travelling companions Jeremy and Avi, another American of Indian heritage. Each short chapter about their trip is followed by a TED-talk-style learning point, and indeed this book started life as a TED Talk. These are fairly obvious and didn’t add a huge amount to the narrative, although I was amused by the references to contemporary trendy thinkers and rappers that peppered them: he does state at the end that he wrote the book to make people think, and there were some decent sentiments about kindness, etc. I also found his language hugely over-flowery – it actually surprised me to read that he was born and raised in the US as it was more reminiscent of Indian English than American (that’s not a criticism: it’s a different register of English, a different variant, not any less worthwhile). Although what I say in the parentheses stands, it does get in the way of the narrative at times.

It is however a valuable record of their journey and especially their stays in a couple of cities along the way and then in Mongolia, and of the kindness of strangers and the huge value of kindness. There are many amusing moments, such as when they are sitting in an “Indian” restaurant in Mongolia, constantly being asked by the staff what they think of the food and realising that Avi and Vijay must be the only diners of Indian heritage to have made it there.

Vijay accepts and checks his privilege and is clear on the requirement for the privileged to help those who have been dealt a less kind hand. Then he also reflects on his position as, as he says, a “brown man in Russia” and models dealing with humour and graciousness when confronted with open racism or just questions and queries. I would have liked to have read more about this aspect, as it was very interesting indeed.

I liked the update on their lives since the journey in 2013 that we get at the end, and the fact that they continued to travel together after this trip – presumably with Avi continuing to be the one who got round to learning the language/alphabet required and Jeremy doing his gently mocked ‘white saviour’ bit as necessary. All the photographs were reproduced after the epilogue, which I wish I’d realised when I started reading it.

A decent and interesting book that I’m glad I read.

Book review Angela Thirkell – “Marling Hall” @ViragoBooks plus #bookconfessions

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This book was part of my Christmas 2018 haul and I managed to realise I shouldn’t read it until the ones that came in between these four had been published – which is now. Read on for some acquisitions, too. Will I ever get down to one TBR shelf by the end of the year …?

Angela Thirkell – “Marling Hall”

(25 December 2018)

It’s 1941 and the war presses on – this book was published in 1942 and there’s a fascinating update of the war so far at one point which I found quite moving – we’re at Marling Hall for this one, where the family have adapted the house to circumstances and reduced Help and are making the best of things. There are a lot of characters introduced early on which got me a bit confused, but they did separate out and become clear. There were also no Mixo-Lydians and just some weird sentiment about Russians which was more to reflect the characters’ confusion than anything else, no hunting, and only really the snobbery that comes with a hierarchical society – the inhabitants of the Hall accept Mrs Smith, who is renting her house out to two intellectuals, as a sort of member of the community where kindness is owed back and forth, even if she drives her tenants to distraction. There is unfortunately a ‘village idiot’ but he’s a valued and useful member of the small society who fixes things and makes friends.

We find another bumptious younger daughter in Lucy, and it seems Thirkell can’t do without these, but she’s fun and a nice contrast with her reserved sister Lettice, widowed at Dunkirk, who has a more traditional time with suitors coming from all directions to court her. There are lovely nods back to the Pallisers and a nod forward if you have the whole series, as Miss Bunting features strongly but has her own book later on. I loved the interplay of the various nurses, administrators and secretaries, admitting privately they couldn’t do each other’s jobs!


A few books in and some pre-ordered that we won’t talk about until they arrive, right?

First off, the ebooks – all NetGalley except the last one. I don’t think I’d mentioned Chris McMillan’s “The London Dream: Migration and the Mythology of the City” (published 30 August) which is about just that, or Laura E. Gomez’ “Inventing Latinos: A New Story of American Racism” (published 25 August) which looks at the position of Latinx people in American society, both won in late August and obviously to be read soon. “No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention” by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer (published 08 September) fits in with my interest in books about new businesses and their cultures. I won all these by asking for them, but Phillipa Ashley’s “A Surprise Christmas Wedding” (19 October) and Emily Hougton’s “Before I Saw You” (04 February 2021) were both offered to me by their publishers, which was so lovely. I like Ashley’s Cornwall books and this is a Lake District one so should be fun, and “Before I Saw You” is about people who meet on a hospital ward but don’t see each other for ages, which sounds intriguing. Finally, Claire Huston’s pitch for me to read and review “Art and Soul” was so very well done (she’d obviously looked at my blog for one thing!!) that I couldn’t say no.

Moving into print, I don’t think I told you about Elliott & Thompson sending me Gareth E. Rees’ “Unofficial Britain” which is a work of pscyhogeography about liminal spaces like multi-storey car parks and motorway intersections. I though some of it might be a bit creepy or extreme for me when it arrived, but I’ve read it already and it was excellent. Review for Shiny New Books coming soon.

More psychogeography with Iain Sinclair’s “London Overground: A Day’s Walk Around the Ginger Line” – I forgot why I’d ordered this but I’d been discussing it with my best friend as another potential read together, and maybe one day we’ll get to walk it together ourselves (not in one day, though!).

With that one arrived “My First 1000 Spanish Words” which fills in a lot of nouns I wanted to learn and is also delightfully inclusive, with a multicultural range of faces in the illustrations and somebody who uses a wheelchair on every page. And today “Conversational Spanish Dialogues” arrived – 104 dialogues to read and listen to and learn from (I’ve felt we’ve missed out on joining up our Spanish with Duolingo’s concentration on individual phrases.

It’s fortunate maybe that we’ve entered an enhanced lockdown where I am again, although I wasn’t doing an awful lot of meeting up with people indoors or out anyway. But instead of expanding our social life we’ll be rewinding it – more time for reading!

Have you got or read any of these?

Book review – Elizabeth von Arnim – “Father” #BLwomenwriters @BL_Publishing #bookbloggers

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Another of the British Library’s new, beautiful Women Writers reissues, which was published on 03 September. I am very happy to have landed on their mailing list – I really enjoyed Rose Macaulay’s “Dangerous Ages” last month and this was another super read (and also with the pretty cover, extra information and French flaps).

Elizabeth von Arnim – “Father”

(29 August 2020)

A fool, a spinster, and propinquity. What mightn’t, thought Alice, result from such a combination?

While the first paragraph of this excellent novel marches briskly through a daughter’s deathbed promise to a mother to look after Father, said father’s remarriage and said daughter’s freedom, we have 289 pages of delicious description of how she starts to achieve her own version of that freedom, and in particular to the power of vigorous gardening (something Elizabeth in her German Garden I seem to recall doesn’t actually achieve herself) to restore the spirit.

We also see the parallel attempt of the vicar local to Jennifer’s new home to free himself from his sister’s tyranny, and while there are some serious points and a very difficult train journey, his attempted physical escape is hilarious. The book is not lacking in subtlety: while there are some fairly crashing coincidences at one point, with Alice the vicar’s sister, though a monstrous creation, we can also see her pain and her fears for the future – very real ones in a world with an excess of women after the First World War.

A lovely ideal of male companionship is presented (and here, knowing of the author’s unhappy marriages gives one a sad jolt):

The man’s personality didn’t get in the way of one’s happy thinking, it didn’t come between her and what she wanted to attend to. (p. 78)

but will this actually come to pass?

The final paragraph is as amusingly succinct as the first one, having expanded out into thought processes and ruminations in the middle. A great read that was very engaging indeed.

The book comes with a 1930s timeline, a biography of the author and a preface, as well as an afterword by series consultant Simon Thomas, making this a great package and another ideal gift. Did I mention how pretty it is, too?

Thank you very much to British Library Publishing for sending me a print copy of this book in return for an honest review. Ali reviewed this today, too: read her take on it here.

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