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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?

 
April 2017 Reading Round-Up

Being busy has affected reading time, as busy tends to, but it’s been good. And I’m still knee-deep in classics and loving it.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Emma Henderson: The Valentine House – Mathilde has worked at the holiday home of the Valentine family most of her life and has kept a secret for much of that time; George travels to the house having lost his parents and looking for an escape. Okay, but lacking in story.

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Helen Irene Young: The May Queen – In her younger years, May’s sister abandoned the family, having fallen pregnant, now, as war comes to Britain, May leaves home for the Wrens in London. Good factual history, just needed more detailing.

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Jennifer Donnelly: Revolution – Whilst in Paris working on her high school thesis, Andi discovers the diary of a young woman near the heart of the French Revolution. Lots of anachronisms, but the latter section is fun.

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Phillip Lewis: The Barrowfields – Henry looks back on his childhood, his father who tried so hard to be a writer, his distant relationships with mother and sister, and his own attempts to be someone. Utterly fantastic.

The Lewis was the stand out this month; it’ll very likely make my best of list, it’s just incredible. The Donnelly I’d been wanting to read it for a relatively long time, having heard much about it and having enjoyed Donnelly’s A Gathering Light (A Northern Light in the USA) in my younger years; it wasn’t nearly as good as I thought it would be. As for ongoing reads, I’ve Joanna Hickson’s The Agincourt Bride on the go; she was to be our next author in Southampton and whilst that event has been cancelled I’ll be finishing and reviewing the book. I’ve made a rough start on Charlotte Turner Smith’s Emmeline, which I’ll be prioritising soon, and I’m quite a way through Dark Aemilia.

Quotation Report

None this time.

A screenshot from The Sims 3 of a disco

A bit of a diversion from round ups, but this post is post number 1000. Getting on for 4.5 years since the post I wrote to celebrate 500 posts. (I used the same picture then – I still remember it taking a long time to set everything up; please don’t mind me re-using it here!) I should have hit 1000 last week but as I had to take a short blogging break the date got moved back. Here are the (all important?) stats:

Reviews: 391
Discussion posts: 212
Non-review posts on an individual book: 46
Comments: ~4500 (that aren’t my own replies)
Most viewed post: What Happened To Faina At The End Of The Snow Child?
Most reviewed author: Elizabeth Chadwick and Shannon Stacey (9 books each)
Earliest book reviewed: Utopia (1516)

I’m looking forward to more classics and some award shortlists – apart from the Turner Smith I have Christina Stead’s Letty Fox: Her Luck (1946) on my list. On the shortlist front, Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats And Sheep, Emma Cline’s The Girls, and Kit de Waal’s My Name Is Leon are three of the contenders for best début for The Bookseller’s British Book Awards – and I’ll be reviewing them over the next couple of weeks.

What have you been reading recently?

 
March 2017 Reading Round-Up

This month I decided to concentrate on finishing a longer-term book or two and get through some classics; they crossed over a (minor) bit. At the end of the month I also found myself in a mini Southern states phase, reading Harper Lee and Kate Chopin at the same time. It was accidental but it allowed me to compare the historic periods and get a better idea of the situations from those who lived them, something I’ve so far almost completely read about third-hand in non-fiction.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman: With Her In Ourland – Ellador travels around the world with Van, giving him her opinions on everything the world does wrong. A lecture about why we should do things differently, whilst it has some good points this sequel to Herland falls widely past the mark.

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Harper Lee: To Kill A Mockingbird – A girl grows up amidst a changing society that’s not quite ready to let go of the idea of racial superiority. Loved it – it was different to what I thought it would be like (I thought it was all courtroom drama) but nevertheless great.

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Kate Chopin: Bayou Folk – A collection of short stories that were originally published in magazines. Not a bad collection – some stunning stories some very mediocre.

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Rory Gleeson: Rockadoon Shore – A group of friends go on a weekend away in the hope that they can improve their collective relationship. Not bad but doesn’t have enough going on.

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Samanta Schweblin: Fever Dream – A woman on her death bed is made to explain recent happenings to an acquaintance with the idea that she must work out how she became so ill. This is a very confusing book but it’s meant to be so; it’s also rather enjoyable in a literary sense.

I enjoyed a lot of what I read this month. I suppose it would be fair to say that the Lee was a stand out, alongside some of the stories in the Chopin. The Perkins Gilman was very different to what I thought it would be like, the story moving from its beginnings in science fiction to sociological tract; I think I’d read Herland again but not this sequel. In all I’ve finished 6 pre-1970s books so far this year which I believe is more books than any other (whole) year. I’m in a bit of a classics phase at the moment.

Quotation Report

In Bayou Folk, a woman who seems 125 years old is respected, however, she is not 125 years old… she may be older.

Looking forward to spending more time out in the sunshine and the return of Easter in April (last year was very strange).

How was your March?

 
February 2017 Reading Round-Up

In terms of time, February has been better. I struggled at one point with blogging and reading but all considered I managed to get a fair number of books read. As much as it’s been raining recently, there was one day when I sat outside in a t-shirt. Our overall good weather and lesser colder temperatures are still here.

All books are works of fiction.

The Books

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Caroline Lea: When The Sky Fell Apart – A group of residents live through the Nazi occupation of Jersey. A great, if harrowing, book.

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Charlotte Perkins Gilman: Herland – A trio of exploring gentlemen discover a land of women and decide to journey there to see how primeval it must be. A very good commentary of early 1900s society.

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Ricarda Huch: The Last Summer – Lyu decides to aid the plotters and assassinate the governor who has closed the university. Great early 1900s novella.

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Tom Connolly: Men Like Air – Three British and one American man in New York, living their lives, getting the flu, ending strange relationships, and working in art galleries. Difficult to summarise, I’ve opted to show the comedy element; this is a fab book.

I really appreciated Herland. I think ‘love’ is a strong word because there are some problems with it – in a modern context at least it can be a bit uncomfortable but I found it to be well structured and created, the use of extremes in the trio of male visitors and the relative balancing Perkins Gilman aimed for in making the more moderate character her narrator, a good set of things. Due in part to the sudden ending (one of those ‘where is the next page?’ situations) I moved straight on to the sequel, With Her In Ourland which can be found at Feedbooks. This sequel seems to be less read and studied but with good reason, I believe: as much as you might want to complete the story, it’s more a set of thoughts than a novel. I very much enjoyed the Huch and the Connolly, too. The Huch was a nice quick read that boosted my feeling of accomplishment as well as added to my goal of reading older books. The Connolly was rather clever and contained so much. The Lea was fantastic, too, just a few steps behind the Connelly for me.

Quotation Report

None this time.

Spring is certainly on its way.

What book did you most enjoy in February?

 

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