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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

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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.


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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?

Reading Cause And Effect: Family History

A photo of a number of scrolls in a bowl

This photograph was taken by Clarence.

I once bought a book I’d never seen before by an author I knew nothing about – so begins many happy stories. But this one is quite different. Having studied the cover I came to the conclusion that the author was somewhat known and, liking the story set in historic Britain, bought it. It arrived battered. I was peeved – if anyone should ruin a book it should be the owner; in that vein I’ve now flipped through it enough I’ve added to the ruin.

It was a defining moment; one day some months after I’d finished it, my mother entered the room, speaking to someone on the phone about family history. I didn’t listen in… until she said the surname of the factually-based characters in my book. She had a book in her hands, a different one, with one of the surnames in her family tree on it. I commandeered it when she put the phone down.

I’ll say now, there’s no awesome end to this story. When you’re dealing with family trees and a book that follows only one line, trying to find out whether your own ancestors are in the muddle can prove impossible – it did this time. But my subsequent research led to experiences I’ll remember for a long while. After the author of the historical novel replied to my excited questions, sadly unable to answer them as they didn’t know of the people I’d quoted, I realised it was best to abandon my initial port of call – the start of the chronology in my mother’s book – and study the last pages instead, try and see if I could find a link to my family there.

To that end I contacted a historic house. This is a daunting thing to do when your query is valid but you know you’re likely to appear a gold digger. Nevertheless I got a reply from the archivist. I got the phone number of the owner of the estate. I got an invitation to talk about a possible link and my mother’s book; whilst my mother had her misgivings about my taking it, I had to point out that we hadn’t been able to work out if it concerned our family in particular but that it most certainly concerned the estate’s.

In the end I didn’t learn anything and having found nothing since have not been in contact with the estate, but I did have a lovely day. My meeting was scheduled along with that of the staff of another house. We had wine and made conversation in the library, followed by a wonderful lunch in the dining room. I got to see areas tourists couldn’t access and gained knowledge of periods I love, as well as history about the house. Yes, the content of my day did match my worry – it was a bit touristy and made me wonder if I was indeed thought a gold digger.

Still, it’s not every day a book results in such an experience. Sometimes it’s the people you meet only fleetingly that leave an impression on you. They can create a spark that leads to further adventures as the things the owner told me led to – it was a conversation with him that got me thinking about university. And I went back to the first pages of my mother’s book, researching simply out of interest, going a few generations beyond the information in the introductory pages. I’ve made a couple of trips to visit places of interest but I also find myself in places I’ve visited for other reasons, that turn out to be connected, which can be quite fun as well as a bit too uncanny. Not so fun are the times I wanted to see a sight for unrelated reasons, couldn’t, and learned there was a potential familial connection only once I was back home, too far away to return.

And yes, I’m still reading the author of the historical novel, finding a whole new meaning in their books.

Have you ever tried (or indeed succeeded!) to trace your family history?

Terri Fleming – Perception

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Publisher: Orion Books (Hachette)
Pages: [to come]
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-409-17062-4
First Published: 13th July 2017
Date Reviewed: 25th September 2017
Rating: 4.5/5

With Jane, Lizzie, and Lydia married and away from the family home, only Mary and Kitty remain. When Mr Montague arrives in town – single, wealthy, – Mrs Bennet sees possibilities ahead. Mary is inclined to believe marriage is not for her, but the man proves bookish, has a large library, and may have taken a shine to her.

This is a superb book, a fine follow up to a famous book by someone else.

Fleming has chosen to stick with Austen’s way with words; the language is Victorian and the effort to get it right practically leaps off the page – but it’s never overwhelming: Fleming blends in. Are there occasion moments of modernity? Yes, but more often than not it’s a discrepancy with grammar, wherein one could say that perhaps, maybe, Austen or her contemporaries might have said whatever it is. It would be impossible to say that this book has not been gone through with a fine tooth comb and that those few errors are not the equivalent of the odd typo found nowadays. (Indeed there are far fewer errors here than there in new books sets in our present era.)

The overall literary atmosphere is also Victorian, with Fleming keeping to the same relative lack of action as Austen. In terms of physical movement, nothing much happens – it’s all in the character development, which is rather good. It’s also an easy read, a book that makes you want to keep reading and isn’t at all difficult to resume reading when you need to take a break. It can be read in short bursts to no ill effect.

As said before, the character development is good. Fleming’s got them just right – they match Austen’s well yet Fleming manages to bring a bit of our present day feeling into it without distracting from the original context. Where, for example, some now say that Mr Bennet did not treat Mrs Bennet well (I’m personally of the opinion that they are a bad match and Mr Bennet is dealing with a lifetime of unnecessary drama), Fleming slides this idea in finely, looking at the question without detracting at all from the surface dressing.

There are a few characters that the book could have done without, namely the two shopkeepers whose role doesn’t have any true impact and who could have been edited out without issue. Thankfully their chapters are very short and there are only a handful of them. (They are also two of the purely fictional people so that combined with their lack of impact renders them completely irrelevant.) The other new characters work well and the original characters have been handled carefully, Fleming putting her own spin on proceedings and detracting from the original context as little as possible.

This is a book for book lovers. In addition to the major factors of the book, the story revolves around libraries, with Mary’s bookish nature allowed full reign. Whereas Jane and Lizzie’s stories are full of sweeping romance, Mary’s is more quiet (though no less compelling). It could be said it wraps up a bit too neatly but the same could very well be said of Mansfield Park.

Kitty’s romance is a lot less important in context, and isn’t as developed – at least in terms of time – as Mary’s, but given the relative shadow over her from Lydia’s presence, it’s not so out of place, so to speak. That Mary is provided more time, with all things considered, does make sense.

Perception is fantastic. It looks to conquer any language and structure issues head on, and creates a story that whilst factually unnecessary, does provide a lot of value, enough that you can say that its worth goes far beyond the simple idea of continuing a story very much loved. It’s also an excellent read just for the effort put into it, Fleming’s time spent researching and getting it all right being a delight to witness for itself.

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Lesley Glaister – The Squeeze

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Tempted by the fruit of another has nothing on this.

Publisher: Salt
Pages: 286
Type: Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-1-784-63116-1
First Published: 15th August 2017
Date Reviewed: 18th September 2017
Rating: 3.5/5

Norwegian Mats sees something changing in his marriage to his beloved Nina, and true to his thoughts, she wants to split up. He gets a job in Edinburgh, moves overseas. Meanwhile, Romania Marta, a girl from a poorer family, is lured into a hotel meeting with a man a gut tells her has bad intentions. She pushes past her worries; she is trafficked to Edinburgh to work in a brothel. Mats’ life is unstable, his new wife depressed and relying on alcohol, and Marta is trying to find a way to contact home.

The Squeeze is a fairly fast-moving thriller that looks at trafficking in 90s Scotland – girls from Romania in this case. It uses both regular chapters and a diary format to tell a tale full of narrators (but never too many).

This isn’t a particularly long book – it teeters on the 300 pages mark – but it manages to get through three periods of time without any rush. More an exploration than any edge-of-your-seat action (though due to the subject matter you will be wanting to find out what’s happening), Glaister takes the story beyond transport and prostitution to the home life of the regular person. And this is really what makes the book what it is – the lack of rush and the incorporation of the everyday of 90s Scottish living brings an added horror to what’s going on as well as a nod towards the fact that this goes on where others would not think it. Glaister uses accents to good effect, using a stereotypical Scottish dialogue that makes you think things are okay, normal, before pulling the rug from underneath you.

In this book, the trafficked girls – mostly girl, singular – are main characters. The book looks at both happy and bad times, with Glaister structuring it all carefully, considerately, but still with enough of the hopes of the reader in mind to, well, keep you reading. There’s detail in the book but not too much, again the three periods of time, the progression of it but all you need to know, is done well. There’s also a good mix of plot and character development, enough that it’d be difficult to say which is more significant. Glaister likes both.

The ending perhaps ties the book up a little neatly – it’s personal preference here all the way; does it really matter how it ends when what Glaister had to say has been completely already and achieved with aplomb? The only area in which the book does fall somewhat is in the editing – besides the somewhat broken English of Romanian Marta, which fits her, there are missing words and typos. These don’t make it difficult to understand, but are noticeable.

The Squeeze is good – well, as much as it can be given the subject matter. Glaister has produced a book that deals with a current subject of news but kept it well away from being a report or an opinion. Difficult sometimes but never so much that you feel the need to put it down.

I received this book for review.

Related Books

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Reading Life: 18th September 2017

A photograph the Breacon Beacons, taken from a few metres from the edge of a mountain

Firstly, thank you all for your messages about Tabby. I’m not able to respond individually at the moment but I did read them all. Thank you.

My reading life has been different lately; I’m still figuring out reading times in regards to my job – I’ve been doing some content marketing for the SO: To Speak festival of Southampton and it’s been a lot of fun, finding out connections between Jane Austen and the city, and Southampton composers and Charles Dickens.

I am a bit behind on my reviews so I’ll be scaling back during November and December. The biggest thing will be reading for my event with A J Waines. Waines is a psychological thriller writer with two interesting stories. One is fair – she is a hybrid author, self-published in Britain and traditionally published in Europe. The second is pretty awesome – in 2013 she published a book called Girl On A Train. You can probably guess the rest – two years later sales of her book increased and, a fact we’re using verbatim in the promotional material, The Wall Street Journal said that she started getting lots of reviews saying it wasn’t what people expected.

Many readers have said they liked it a lot more than the other one.

I’ve retitled the event this time; instead of ‘in conversation with’, we’re calling the evening The Original Girl On A Train, neatly sidestepping any issues over using Hawkins’ title but being obvious about what we’re talking about. I’m looking forward to it, it’s in conjunction with the festival so there’s more support and advertising opportunities.

But, and admittedly more to the point in the context of these posts, Waines’ has quite a backlist, so I’ve lots of reading ahead of me.

In terms of other titles, I’m in the midst of Nicholas Royle’s Ornithology, a short story collection based around the theme of birds that has similarities to other books – Max Porter’s Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, for one. More importantly, in terms of similarities, you may remember a few months ago I reviewed An English Guide To Birdwatching by Nicholas Royle. Excellent book – only it wasn’t written by the Nicholas Royle whose short story collection I’m reading now. However, An English Guide To Birdwatching references the short story collection – I believe it is in part why the title of the novel includes birds. The two authors met a few years ago – they didn’t know about each other until they both submitted work to the same literary magazine and the editor of that magazine sent the replies to both stories to a solo Nicholas.

It’s confusing, yes. But having first read In Camera (‘Salt’ Nicholas, as I’ll likely refer to himself from now on – he works at Salt Publishing), and then Birdwatching, reading Ornithology is a particular experience I’d never have had in another situation. It’s this weird situation wherein there’s added context to the book that in a way shouldn’t be there.

I’ll stop there.

Moving on, I’ve just finished Fanny Blake’s Our Summer Together – a contemporary romance about a 60-something British women who has a relationship with a younger Bosnian immigrant. Not bad, just a bit repetitive and with two highly different characters. I’m a fair way through Lesley Glaister’s The Squeeze – a difficult read but well written. Next up is Chitra Ramaswathy’s Expecting – a non-fiction essay collection about being pregnant that’s up for the Polari Prize – and after that I may read a bit of Dorthe Nors. I’m going for shorter books at the moment.

I’m considering making a start on Virginia Woolf’s oeuvre before Christmas but we’ll see – previously I didn’t know much about her and so was surprised not to find her books on Project Gutenberg. I now know a lot more, including the new fact that I want to go and visit Monk’s House, and so will work on the idea that if I get all the reading that needs to be done before Christmas… done… I’ll go purchase Orlando.

What are you reading at the moment, what did you read previously, and what will you read next?


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