Book reviews – Mollie Panter-Downes – “One Fine Day” and Zora Neale Hurston – “Their Eyes were Watching God” (Virago Books) #20BooksOfSummer #amreading #books #Virago

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A double review today or I’m never going to get caught up, basically! However, they do go well together. For a start, they’re both published by Virago. I was given both by the same person for Christmas (thank you, Belva!). They are both part of – get this – my #20BooksofSummer challenge (books 15 and 17) and my All Virago / All August reading month AND my Reading a Century project (covering 1947 and 1937). That brings me up to 68 books covered in my Reading a Century project – no more coming up in my TBR so I might have to start doing some judicious book-picking soon. And they both evoke a very intense sense of time and place, which gives them a link that otherwise a book about the black experience in 1930s Florida and a village in post-WW2 England might not have. Both also have sudden amazing lyrical passages but a real sense of what being in that situation would actually be like.

Mollie Panter-Downes – “One Fine Day”

(25 December 2016, from Belva in my Virago Group Not so Secret Santa)

Set on one day in 1946, this perfect short novel examines what it feels like when war and danger are over and people have to settle down into a peacetime life that is both familiar and horribly new. Like many Virago and Persephone heroines, Laura has had to get used to mucking in and doing for herself when her servants went into war service; now husband Stephen is back, his job in London a mystery but his anger at the state of his once-perfect garden palpable. Daughter Victoria is alternately clingy and coolly observing and has her own complicated life at school and with friends.

There is some absolutely beautiful lyrical descriptive writing, often describing the landscape but also often, in the manner of poetic writing, inserting a clever reminder of death and destruction woven through it, so we find “sandbags pouring out sudden guts” which are contrasted with the timelessness and relative unconcern of the countryside itself.

The book reminded me of “Mrs Dalloway” – yes, the writing was just this side of that good – with Laura considering an impending visit from her mother and ruminating on her house and its demands and us inhabiting her head, so the subject-matter and the style are reminiscent. Meanwhile, social commentary comes in with the fact that the manor house is being vacated for a boys’ school, the old guard moving cheerfully to smaller quarters.

Will Laura dare to carve out a few moments to live her own life? A trip to the local gypsy’s camp to retriever her naughty dog (there is also a very neat and disdainful cat) gives her an opportunity which might also give a jolt to their carefully polite family world.

This was Book 15 in my 20BooksOfSummer project and completed 1947 in Reading A Century.

Zora Neale Hurston – “Their Eyes were Watching God”

(25 December 2016, from Belva in my Virago Group Not so Secret Santa)

An amazing and absorbing novel: don’t be put off by the dialect as it’s a very good story and a wonderful portrait of a particular place at a particular time. The dialect is fairly internally consistent, so you get the hang of it quite quickly, and there are sections of narrative which are smoother reads. Oh, but it’s worth it anyway, so worth it.

Must of the novel is set in Eatonville, Florida’s first incorporated black town, and this provides a fascinating portrait of the birth of a town, as Janie, the central character, and her husband arrive just as it’s being set up and he takes charge … as he always takes charge.

We follow Janie from girl to woman, age 16 to 40, through a series of husbands, the first two of whom crush her spirit and the third of whom, however unsuitable he seems, lets her spirit fly. We know from her return – watched and commented on by the chorus of the town’s gossips, head held high – that something has gone wrong in her life, but the book then takes us chronologically through her life to that point, with Janie’s history stretching right back to the time of slavery, through her grandmother’s stories, and also giving her the genetic heritage that leads to some fascinating discussions with other women about race and wealth. This, more than her relationships – or this and her sexual and self-awakening – will be what looks like a story of a woman progressing through marriages an important text for black American writers and feminists.

Janie is a fabulous, rounded and flawed character and the narrative moves briskly through her outer life while at the same time building her inner life. Some parts near the end might seem a little melodramatic but are still believable – it will take me a long time to forget the vivid description of the storm and flood and there are also some strikingly lyrical passages of nature description which seem to echo Janie’s sexual awakening.

I loved this and highly recommend it.

This was Book 17 in my 20BooksOfSummer project and completed 1937 in Reading A Century.


I have read Scott Jurek’s “Eat and Run” which was Book 16 in 20BooksOfSummer, in case you were wondering where that had got to, and am now reading Amber Reeves’ “A Lady and Her Husband”, a Persephone, which is excellent so far. This lady has no work to do today and is about to dive back into it!

 

Book review – Annie Darling – “True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop” #amreading #books

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Another NetGalley read from the publishers HarperCollins – I couldn’t resist jumping almost straight into this one after I so enjoyed the first in the series, “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts“. This series really is a treat; yes, they are essentially light and fun romances, but they have a lovely community of characters and enough literary references to satisfy this reader, at least. Highly recommended for a gentle and fun read that you won’t be able to put down.

And it never stops – those pesky (not pesky) NetGalley emails pop through and before you know it, you have a book called “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” popped into your Kindle. Just the kind of multi-generational, cross-cultural novel I love and should be another treat.

Annie Darling – “True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop”

(ebook, downloaded 11 July 2017)

Starting almost where the last book left off, this tells the story of what happens when introvert Verity, the assistant manager of the shop and someone who refuses to even work the till, ditches her completely imaginary boyfriend and takes up with a real man – but not a boyfriend – for the summer of social doings where it’s so much easier to have a plus one than be badgered with blind dates. She’s not to fall in love with him, however, because his Heart Belongs To Another.

So yes, the central story is light and a little silly because you kind of think they’re bound to end up together, but it’s very charming because of the layers and intelligence of the structure around it. Plus there’s not one of those shoehorned-in Imagined Peril sub-plots that lesser novels often seem to use to build the tension. Verity has a wonderful family of loud sisters and a Vicar dad / The Vicar’s Wife mum, and they’re beautifully drawn. She has a quote from Pride and Prejudice for every occasion and a cat for comic relief (and I trusted the cat-loving author to look after him, which she thankfully did), plus Poor Alan, the Vicarage dog, complete with bee-keeping outfit (I have a friend who will love this book just on the strength of that). There’s an excellent villainess and one point where the reader can feel clever knowing they’ve picked up a clue Verity hasn’t, and believable friendships among the characters and the businesses around the shop, which gives a lovely solid aspect to the book.

And who can beat a writer who can do a lovely light romance and also work in references to E.M. Delafield and have her family of lively sisters look back fondly on their favourite game of “Being the Mitford Sisters”? It’s wry and clear-headed and modern, and while there’s not as much bookshop detail as in the first novel (although the mysterious PhD student, Tom, with his bow-ties and cardigans is described as catnip for female shoppers!), it’s just as good as the first one and I can’t wait for the next in the series to come out!


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for making this available in return for an honest review.

I’m still currently reading “Their Eyes were Watching God” and “Eat and Run” (a funny pairing, but one upstairs and one down, so they don’t get mixed up) and I’m hoping for some solid reading time over the weekend to get those done and burrow into a Persephone. What does the weekend’s bookiness hold for you?

 

Book review – Stuart Maconie – “Long Road from Jarrow” #20booksofsummer @ShinyNewBooks #amreading

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I was sent this book by the publisher via NetGalley and reviewed it for the lovely Shiny New Books online book review magazine, so just a quick note about it here.

The book is both a state-of-the-nation review of attitudes and happenings post-Brexit vote and a history of the Jarrow march told through a re-walking of the march route on its 80th anniversary. So it attempts to do two things in one book – but fortunately Maconie is a good and accomplished writer and he handles his material beautifully. There’s a lot about commemoration and memory, about fake news and false memories, about the multi-culturalism of our country, but it’s told with Maconie’s trademark warmth and wit, so it never gets worthy.

My full review for Shiny can be found here, and I do encourage you to pop through and read it and maybe have a browse around the categories.

This was Book 9 in my #20BooksOfSummer project, reviewed here a little out of sequence as I’m currently reading Book 16!

Book review – William Pullen – “Run for your Life: Mindful Running for a Happy Life” #amreading #books #running

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Another book which isn’t on my #20BooksOfSummer list but which was crying out to be promoted up the TBR (interestingly, I haven’t done the same with Ruby Wax’s book on just mindfulness, so it’s the running bit that’s obviously luring me in. I expect this is because I’ve taken on this Mental Health Ambassador role run by England Athletics and Mind, which at the moment is involving lots of meetings and notes and asking questions, but also means I get to help out with two-weekly Run and Talk events in a local park to promote well-being by running (or walking) and chatting. I was hoping this book would be useful for that, although I’m not sure it’s as well-matched to what I needed as I thought …

William Pullen – “Run for your Life: Mindful Running for a Happy Life”

(18 July 2017)

I’m not entirely sure what I made of this book in the end – I thought very carefully about this review. I thought it would be a more general book about mindfulness and mental well-being as it relates to running, but it’s a much more structured and set out programme called DRT (Dynamic Running Therapy) for improving mental health while running which includes exercises, questions and spaces to make notes in parts of the book. I’ll admit that that kind of thing always worries me a bit and makes me feel a bit resistant, even though I know you are allowed just to write your own notes! Anyway …

Each chapter looks at a different area, then has questions to ask yourself while running (alone or with a partner) and the aforementioned space to make notes. There are chapters on depression and anxiety which explain how to spot these and where they might come from, then on relationships (including with oneself), anger, decision-making and mindful running with children. The length of the book means these areas aren’t treated in great detail, and I wonder if it would have been better off as a series of books for each area, as it’s a bit of a mix.

Now to the good stuff: the parts on how to listen if you’re running with someone, and on a grounding technique involving noticing all five senses (similar to something we do in yoga class sometimes and really powerful and calming), and on running with kids are excellent and full of good, practical suggestions. In fact, I’m going to share the conditions of being the listener from p. 43 as I think they’re excellent:

  1. Listen without judgement: Offer your partner a safe place in which to share. One where they feel free to explore and find acceptance for the parts of themselves that are less than noble or that they find shameful. There is no need to indicate approval or disapproval, surprise or agreement. Just stay present.
  2. Listen with empathy. Your role is to truly hear what the other person is saying. This does not mean constructing unsolicited theories of your own about what may be behind your partner’s problems or coming up with a good solution to them. It means taking in what you hear and empathizing without interpretation. Here and there you can reflect back any appropriate sympathy you may feel, but keep it to a minimum unless you are confident that it is wanted. The idea is that you are present, not totally silent, but mostly. It is their time to talk – your time will come.
  3. Be present. Make yourself as personally present and available to your partner as possible during your time together. This calls for you to relate to them in a way that is genuine, not obscured by personal needs to appear caring, interested, attractive, intelligent or successful.  So be true to who you really are and let that be a guide for you.

I think this is great, especially as I do tend to try to solve problems, and they’re something I’ll bear in mind. The part on mindful running, just noticing your footfalls and the places around you are good, too, although I realised that I am quite in the moment when running anyway, counting or looking around or going through my senses. I don’t listen to music when I’m running, which probably helps there.

Coming to the parts I felt troubled by, there are some lists of quite deep questions that you are supposed to ask yourself internally or discuss with your running partner while running. Now, I’m not a big reader of self-help books, and apparently a lot of these do include quite challenging exercises to do. However, I’d imagine these are done in the safety of your own home. The problem here is the worry (for me) about taking potentially triggering or upsetting questions and letting emotions wash over you, while running. Maybe the author’s clients run in safer, more wild places, but he talks about open sobbing and breaking down, and I would not feel comfortable doing that on the streets or in the parks of the city where I live; I just don’t think it would be that safe to be that vulnerable. And that’s obviously a shame, but that’s my lived experience and that of many runners, I’m sure.

It would be great as an exercise book to accompany guided DRT therapy, or if you do live somewhere where you can run howling down a beach and someone’s not going to try to nick your phone or you’re not going to accidentally run into the road. I took a lot from this book anyway, it’s just not exactly what I thought it was and doesn’t mesh completely with what I might need or use.


I’m reading the same books as I was reading yesterday, so no change there. Have you read self-help books? Do people do the exercises in them or is it more like when you buy a really lovely recipe book and then just read the recipes? I have nothing against them, I just don’t know!

Book review – Annie Darling – “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” #amreading #books

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I bought this book solely because I won volume two on NetGalley, not realising it was the second book in a series. I really hate reading series out of order (do you, too?) so I picked up a second-hand copy to read first. Having now started the e-book of the second installment, I’m really glad I did that, as you would need to read the first one first to get the full enjoyment. In this and the next book to be reviewed tomorrow I have veered off the #20BooksOfSummer track but fear not, I’m back on track now and have read my next one and started another!

Annie Darling – “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts”

(18 July 2017)

I wasn’t expecting a huge amount from this book – a gentle story with some books and amusement and a lot of romance, but it was actually absolutely enchanting, page-turning, intelligent and a great read.

Posy inherits the bookshop she works in and the flat she lives in with her younger brother, Sam, whose guardian she now is, but on the condition that she keeps it running profitably. She has a great idea on how to do this, and to revive its flagging fortunes, helped by her former colleagues, now employees (this shift is nicely and believably done), uber-introvert and Very Shy Person Verity, slightly odd postgrad student Tom, Nina with her 50s pin-up style and terrible taste in men, and Little Sophie. But she’s overshadowed by old sparring partner, Sebastian, grandson of the original owner and the official Rudest Man in London.

Will Posy succeed in remodelling the shop in time for the grand opening and before the money runs out? There’s a lovely lot of detail on how they redo the shop and its attendant tea rooms, she knows her Heyers and Thirkells, Austen and Brontes, and there’s a great cast of supporting characters, from a villainous ex-Eton chap to Sam’s rather marvellous friend Pants. Very readable indeed and brought a tear to my eye on occasion – this deserves a wider audience than perhaps the cover and marketing would suggest.

Read my review of the sequel here.

State of the TBR – August 2017 #amreading #books

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Well, here’s the current state of the TBR and it’s, erm, about the same as it was last month? I’ve actually got round to adding things up now, and I read 13 books in July … but I acquired 12 (Oh, I’ve reviewed 11, don’t worry. The Marian Keyes I read has to be reviewed next month and the Stuart Maconie will come out on Shiny New Books in a few days and then on here, too). The print ones all appear under the Book Confessions tag, but I do appear to have snuck some through on the e-book side, too – you can see which ones I downloaded in July from NetGalley in the photo below, plus I can confess to having bought the e-books “The KLF” by John Higgs and “Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of Nike” by Phil Knight. Oops. No wonder this picture is similar to July’s!

Moving on hastily, these are the two books I’m currently reading. I’m kind of toying with “Run for your Life” as it’s not really what I expected, being a plan for sorting your problems out while running which isn’t coming at the right time for me really, but it does have some interesting points, for example on how to listen while running, so I will persevere. “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” is a well-written and intelligent delight, it really is – with references to Angela Thirkell – yes, it is a romance, but there’s plenty more detail about running a bookshop, etc., and a range of interesting characters. I bought this because I won the sequel on NetGalley and I’m really looking forward to that now.

Coming up, well, here’s the paper version. I will be going against my “read in acquisition order” policy here, although actually all of the front row of my TBR apart from “Eat & Run” arrived for Christmas or Birthday or was bought with a book token in January, so they’re not exactly widely spaced out. Anyway, thanks to the 20 Books Of Summer project, and All Virago / All August, which is a challenge done in the LibraryThing Virago Group online, once I’ve read “Eat & Run”, I will be picking off the two Virago books and three Persephones before the other books by other publishers. Shocking, I know, but fortunately I do do this every August. I also suspect I’ll be saving the Simon Armitage for when I’m in Cornwall again later in the year. Other books that will feature this month are Linda Gillard’s two in my Pile so I can get them all shared out via BookCrossing.

And here’s my NetGalley TBR, in publication order – if you can see this (can you expand it?), you will see that I haven’t had the older ones for ages but downloaded them fairly recently.  I will make a big effort to read the ones that are being published in August or are just published, and will I’m sure push on to the second “Little Bookshop” volume.

How’s your TBR?

Book review – Susie Dent – “How to Talk Like a Local” plus #20BooksOfSummer update and one confession #amreading

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So here’s Book 14 in my #20BooksOfSummer campaign, and just under two-thirds of the way through the time period we have to read our 20 books so I’m OK with being at 14/20, although I’m not reading any 20Books books right now. It’s been a diverse range so far, with six novels and eight works of non-fiction, six by women and eight by men (not the same six and eight) – this will even out with the remaining six, with four by women and two by men, and just the one non-fiction to come.

Susie Dent – “How to Talk Like a Local”

(03 December – from Sian for my BookCrossing Birmingham Not So Secret Santa)

I think this is the last NSS book chosen beautifully from my wishlist, although there are still a fair few Christmas then birthday books to get through. Not such a small book at it appears, with really quite small print, this is a fun look at British dialect words, with separate sections by Simon Elmes about particular regional accents and dialects. I liked the emphasis on new words being formed and older ones spreading and changing meaning and recognised a few from places I’ve lived or people I’ve known from various regions. I was pleased to see “coopy down” for squat, from the South-West, as this is a word I remember my Gran using.

The book does lean a little heavily on Simon Elmes’ “Talking for Britain” and also mentions Carl Chinn’s “Proper Brummie”, both books I’ve read, so not a lot seemed hugely new but it was entertaining.

This was Book 14 in my #20BooksOfSummer challenge.


I popped out to buy some picture frames and came home with some headache pills, a drinking straw dispenser and David Weir, the wheelchair athlete’s biography, as you do … I’ve already shelved it so no pics for a fairly long time, although you’ll get to see my TBR tomorrow.

I’m currently reading, as I mentioned, two non-20Books books. Arriving at the same time, “Run for your Life” is not what I expected, being a whole scheme you have to follow in order to run mindfully and solve all your problems – probably not the right thing to do in the middle of marathon training – and “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” opens on the street I used to live off and has an intelligent knowledge of literature and an engaging story so far. Then it’s on to “Eat and Run” before plunging into Virago and Persephone land for a bit. And you?

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