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September 2017 Reading Round-Up

I was pleasantly surprised to find I’d read four books this month. It’s been a long four weeks and I’d forgotten a couple of them… actually I thought the Ramaswamy might have been it. With everything that’s going on at the festival, home fixing, and my own events, I didn’t expect to have much to list here, but here it is. I’ve one more review deadline to make and then I’ll be moving on to reading A J Waines’ backlist for my Conversation, so next month may look a bit samey but with good reason. I’m already planning December – on Saturday I bought my first Woolf, and I’ll likely be reading The Essex Serpent and the new Philip Pullman (finally!)

The Books
Non-Fiction

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Chitra Ramaswamy: Expecting – The author chronicles the nine months of her pregnancy, filling the pages with details, commentary, and bookish references. A book about pregnancy that’s interesting to both parents and those who don’t plan to have children.

Fiction

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Fanny Blake: Our Summer Together – Separated from her husband and watching him get with a much younger woman, Caro realises it’s time to live her own life and when a younger man from a different country enters, she throws caution to the wind. Sweet, but it’s got a slight sheen of patronisation to it.

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Lesley Glaister: The Squeeze – Romanian Marta goes to meet the man at the hotel against her intuition; she’s trafficked to Scotland; meanwhile Norwegian Mats travels to Scotland for work and decides against his better judgement to join a coworker at a brothel. Quite good, but full of editing problems.

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Orlando Ortega-Medina: Jerusalem Ablaze – A collection of short stories about the darkness inside of us. An awesome book that’s a fulfilling but easy read (for good reason – the author says himself the stories are to entertain rather than send messages).

Two favourites – the Ortega-Medina and the Ramaswamy. In terms of reviewing, the first wins, but I enjoyed them both a lot.

Quotation Report

None this time.

As busy as it’s going to be, I’m looking forward to this next month. Though there will also be relief when it’s over, perhaps best shown in the way I originally accidentally titled this post ‘October’ reading round up.

What are you currently reading?

 
August 2017 Reading Round-Up

Lots of reading this month – I decided early that I wanted to make up for the last two and I managed it. The small moments helped but just making a firm decision and stopping yourself from watching a film (or Mozart In The Jungle in my case, the follow up series to the last several months’ Parks & Recreation) is great. I can’t say I remember having many conversations about a topic other than books but for one month that’s okay.

The Books
Non-Fiction

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Adrian Mourby: Room’s Of One’s Own – Wanting to find out about and experience the spaces past writers have inhabited and worked in, the author journeys around the world to visit them. An okay book; often Mourby is denied access to the buildings which means you end up reading his suppositions instead, and there is a distinct lack of diversity.

Fiction

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Alison Sherlock: A House To Mend A Broken Heart – A self-proclaimed bad housekeeper struggles to keep a large historic house clean without any estate income and when the Lord’s grandson arrives and schedules some builders the company may end up being dodgy but the man himself seems a winner. Lacking in chemistry, characterisation, and writing.

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Barbara Erskine: Sleeper’s Castle – When Andi’s partner dies and his long-gone ex-wife reappears looking for a fight, Andi travels to Hay-On-Wye to house sit and finds herself dreaming of people who used to live in the house… and it seems they are aware of her presence. Strictly okay.

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Eric Beck Rubin: School Of Velocity – Jan’s lined up to play in front of an audience, one of many occasions he’s done so, but this time the random music in his head is too much to bear; he takes us back to his childhood, his extremely popular and extroverted friend, and a relationship that he’s still to get his head around. A super book about the lasting affects of a friendship and a whole lot about music in all its technicality.

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Isabella Connor: Beneath An Irish Sky – When Jack’s estranged wife is killed in a car crash he doesn’t want to visit the hospital bed of the teenager people are calling his son but he does, even if it would upset his snobby parents; he still doesn’t know why his wife left him and young Luke’s councillor is interested in helping. The basic story is all right but there are some stereotypes, and the relationship between Jack and his son’s trauma councillor raises questions.

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Kitty Danton: Evie’s Victory – Britain during World War Two; Evie wants to be a better person. There’s no plot to this book – it’s a series of social calls – and there is far too much telling and explaining of commonly understood things.

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Naomi Hamill: How To Be A Kosovan Bride – The story of two women from the day of their weddings, one who passes her virginity test but doesn’t like her husband, and another who fails and goes to university instead. A wonderful book interwoven with stories of the conflict and folklore tales.

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Terri Fleming: Perception – With Jane, Lizzie, and Lydia married and away, there are just two girls remaining, and whilst Mary doesn’t think she’ll ever marry there may be a bookish man out there for her. A sequel to Pride And Prejudice, this is a very well told book with an excellent use of language, great knowledge of the characters, and no fear in sticking to the idea of less action in a story… and there is a fair amount of time spent organising library.

I think the Fleming just gets it this month in terms of pure enjoyment – it’s an easy read and a very pleasant surprise (I’m suspicious of sequels). In terms of literary appreciation the Hamill wins with the Rubin following swiftly afterwards.

Quotation Report

In School Of Velocity, Jan recommends a musician use the energy in the air as the house lights go down as a kind of armour. Then there’s this:

Accompaniment is a particular skill. You are the bridge between the audience and the soloist, a lens that magnifies the leading melody, a handler to the outsized personality next to you, one player who sometimes has to be two.

And in Rooms Of One’s Own, Mourby quotes from William Morris (“Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful”) which makes one wonder whether Marie Kondo is a fan.

The coming month is likely to be chock-a-block. I’ve a lot of reading to do – we’ve secured an author for the conversation in Southampton for So:To Speak – and I’m working with the festival generally, which means lots of content to write. But I’m very much looking forward to it; by the end of October I imagine we’ll all be exhausted but hopefully it will pay off in spades.

Did you make a rough goal of how many books you wanted to read this year, and, if so, are you on track to achieve it? (I’ll probably be somewhere between my usual 50-60.)

 
July 2017 Reading Round-Up

I tend to read a fair amount in the month of July, be it in the number of books I read or page count, but this time I’ve finished very little. It’s been an overcast month (being outside away from electronics helps) and seeing my nephew a lot more than usual ensured I spent more time answering multiple proliferations of questions rather than concentrating on books. Many evenings have been spent playing Monopoly and Mouse Trap. For once, I regret nothing in terms of numbers, even if I’ve now a huge pile to read post haste.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Susanna Kearsley: The Shadowy Horses – When Verity is offered an archaeology job in Scotland she takes it and decides to keep it even when she meets the leader of the dig who is basing his theories on supernatural events. A fair book but Kearsley leans too much on a fictional/literal Scots dictionary, constantly halting scenes.

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Tove Jansson: Letters From Klara – A collection of short stories with a subtle underlying theme. You need to make time for it, because subtle really is the word, but it’s good.

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Zoë Duncan: The Shifting Pools – A woman who suffered war-based trauma as a child and has yet to heal goes through her grief, eventually finding herself in a fantasy world where the people require strength to fight battles. It’s difficult to sum this up well – saying there is a fantasy world sounds, well, too out there, but it really works; a wonderful book.

Duncan’s book wins this month, hands down. I loved it; the fantasy element could be considered too lengthy but the structure of the book and general way it’s all been written is exceptional. It’s worth reading the back story, the author’s childhood, that is the reason for the book.

Quotation Report

In The Shifting Pools, Duncan puts forth the concept of getting over something, healing, and studies it, saying why time doesn’t heal, it merely allows you to scab over, to find new ways to live. Stasis rather than healing.

In theory, August should be packed.

How is your summer/winter going?

 
June 2017 Reading Round-Up

This month has been about finishing books. I started only a couple of new books, keeping with my expectations – I read new books when I’d finished a couple of longer-term reads and during times in the month I knew I’d likely be able to finish the new books in. The middle of the month, for example. I haven’t finished all my long-term reads; there were 6 and I’ve finished 3.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Anthony Cartwright: The Cut – The story of Cairo’s life in Dudley and Grace’s hope to create a film about leavers and remainers. A story about the divide in Britain in regards to Brexit, this was specially commissioned by Peirene Press after the vote and it’s a subtle, mindful look at the issues involved.

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F Scott Fitzgerald: Tender Is The Night – A young filmstar meets an older American couple and becomes infatuated with the husband, which further exposes the problems in the marriage. A mess.

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Joanna Hickson: The Agincourt Bride – A story of Catherine de Valois, looking at her early years to the start of her marriage to Henry V. A well-researched and constructed book about a lesser-known queen.

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Marie-Sabine Roger: Get Well Soon – In hospital after an accident that’s a bit of a mystery, Jean-Pierre must deal with staff who won’t close his door, bad food, a rescuer in trouble, and a girl who wants to steal his laptop. An enjoyable enough story, just lacking in conflict and progression.

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Sally O’Reilly: Dark Aemilia – Having married her kin after falling pregnant with Shakespeare’s child, Aemilia Lanyer attempts to become a published poet in an age where women stayed in the home and most certainly didn’t enlist the help of reputed witches. An interesting book with a particular concept, the backdrop of theatre behind every chapter.

This month was a lot of fun where reading was concerned. The books were pretty good but in addition there was that happy productive satisfaction of striking books off my reading list and being able to look at my main list of the year’s books knowing it’s becoming more of a true reflection of how much I’ve read rather than a list of numbers that up until now haven’t stood for much. I definitely had a book I didn’t like – Tender Is The Night. It’s been a long time since I’ve given a book such a low rating and when I went to log the finish date I saw I’ve been reading it for much longer than the 7 or so months I’d thought – it’s been 18 months. I’m glad I’ve read it because I think I would have always wondered about it, but I’m glad to have done with it. No book stands out as a favourite. The genres were so varied, the subjects too, but on an appreciation level, all but the Fitzgerald would win joint first prize. Cartwright did a good job of explaining a delicate subject in an interesting way; Hickson’s use and care of research is excellent; Roger’s technique is great; O’Reilly’s concept full of literary merit. It was a month full of literary appreciation and good craft.

Quotation Report

In Get Well Soon an older man wishes people would just get on with the idea of accepting people as they are. And in The Cut, Cairo reminds us that whilst the media talks a lot about a divide and makes it seem all-pervading, most often people just get on with their lives.

I’m finishing up a book I started in June and then moving back to a tome… or two. In terms of finishing books I started long ago there are a few 500+ pages still on the list. As is becoming the norm here, my plan is just to read as much as possible.

How is your summer going, or your winter if you live in the Southern hemisphere?

 
May 2017 Reading Round-Up

It’s very unlike me to post a round up before the month is over, in fact I think this is the first time, but it’s unlikely I’ll finish any more books today. True to last year’s form I’ve read very little whilst at Hay. Other than this, however, I’ve read a fair amount. As soon as the sun comes out and the weather improves I find myself reading a lot more and this year is no exception. I’m having a reading ball.

The Books
Non-Fiction

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Tom Malmquist: In Every Moment We Are Still Alive – When Tom’s pregnant wife is diagnosed with late-stage Leukaemia he faces the likelihood that he’s about to become both a widower and a new single father. You’ll find this book in the fiction section because it’s being called a fictional autobiography but everything in it is true; as much as one can use the word it’s a good book.

Fiction

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Emma Cline: The Girls – In the 1960s, a young teenager spent her time with a group of women lead by a charismatic man, and looking back at the horrors this later caused she reflects on her life. There’s not much here that is original.

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Joanna Cannon: The Trouble With Goats And Sheep – Mrs Creasy disappears during the 1976 heatwave and the village thinks Walter must have something to do with it; meanwhile Grace believes that if God is everywhere he must be at a neighbour’s house and she plans to find him. A great book about discrimination and stereotypes against a backdrop of supposedly perfect domesticity.

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Juan Carlos Márquez: Tangram – A tale of red herrings and seemingly-unrelated stories that culminate in a murder. A very clever use of characterisation of playing with the reader’s assumptions.

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Kit de Waal: My Name Is Leon – Confused as to why he can’t stay with his mother as he is doing a good job looking after her, Leon is taken in by a foster carer whilst his white brother is adopted. A fantastic look at the British social services in the 1980s and the wider issues involved.

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Nicholas Royle: An English Guide To Birdwatching – Silas and Ethel have handed their undertaking business to their son in exchange for a relaxing retirement by the sea, and meanwhile an unrelated Stephen Osmer is hammering out diatribes on his computer keyboard, but both stories are woven together in the form of their unfortunate connection to a literary critic called Nicholas Royle who has unwittingly upset them all. A brilliant piece of meta fiction by one of the two writers called Nicholas Royle.

My favourite this month was the de Waal. It will make my ‘best of’ list; it’s absolutely excellent in every way. The Cannon and the Royle were both pipped to the post; both were a lot of fun. Cannon’s book could have done with a slightly stronger ending, and Royle’s book is only held back by the amount of attention and consideration it requires – it is a great book but de Waal’s is arguably easier to enjoy.

Quotation Report

None this time.

Looking forward, I’ve some books from Hay to read; whilst the usual case of a reader not getting to every book they acquire will likely prevail there are a couple that have gone straight to the top of my list. I’ve the 600 page Christina Stead to get to and get through and I really want to make June the month I read Sarah Perry’s novel. We’ll see!

What book are you currently reading?

 

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