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willoyd

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About willoyd

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    Addicted!

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  • Reading now?
    Almost certainly!
  • Location:
    Wharfedale, Yorkshire
  • Interests
    birding, cycling (mainly touring), running, walking, family history.

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  1. Willoyd's Reading 2022

    April Reviews A little while coming, but this covers the books read in April, a month dominated by the two chunky reads from David Fairer Chocolate House Treason and The Devil's Cathedral by David Fairer ****** The first two books in what is intended to be a trilogy, the third coming out in the autumn. The author is an ex-professor of 18th century English lit, and his knowledge of and enthusiasm for this period shines through these books. They are chunky reads, both over 600 pages, but that's as much down to the generous typesetting, making for easy reading, as for these being 'big' books. In fact they both read very easily, and the second slipeed down in 3, maybe 4, sittings. Set in the early years of the 1700s, they are centred round a 'chocolate house' in Covent Garden, the residents/regulars of which find themselves embroiled firstly in a highly political murder mystery, and secondly in one centred more on the theatrical world (Drury Lane Theatre being literally just around the corner). i found it very easy to immerse myself in this world, and was gripped trhroughougt, as much by the atmosphere of time and place as by the plots themselves. I find it a mystery why the author had to effectively self-publish - these are far better than so many of the so-called thrillers/mysteries that get churned out, but it was interesting to get some insight into this when the author did a session on the second of the two books with my book group (all of whom rated this highly). I'm really looking forward to number 3 coming out, and have already bought the first as a birthday present for various readers I know! The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett **** Read as a 'jubilee choice', this is classic Alan Bennett: a superficially light and easy read that burrows inside the human skin and provoked so much discussion on a variety of topics in the group. This was a reread, and I actually enjoyed it more second time around. Ice Rivers by Jemma Wadham *** A combined memoir, told through a series of accounts of field expeditions, and introduction to aspects of glacial geology. Theoretically this should have been right up my street (I have a background in geography-geology), but I actually found this all too ordinary. It was easy enough to get through - it's fairly slim and the writing was readable enough - but it never grabbed me, and I could have put it down at any time and walked away without regrets. Good enough to be rated 'OK', but actually rather disappointed. Small Things Like These by Claire Keegan **** A novella which has received rave reviews on so many fronts. It was certainly eminently readable and there was much to appreciate in the writing and the treatment of such a 'tricky' subject as the Magdalene laundries in Ireland, Bill Furlong makes a thoroughly credible and interesting protagonist. However, unlike for others, this never really hit the high spots for me - a vey good read, but not enough to be 'great'. I think it's simply because there really isn't enough: it's too short for me, being over almost before it's really begun. It's why I've never really been a short story fan, almost always coming away feeling I want so much more. But what there is, is very good!
  2. Your Book Activity - May 2022

    Finished Time Pears' The Horseman a few days ago for one of my book groups - excellent. Will definitely read the other two in the 'West Country Trilogy'. 5 out of 6 stars. Now moved on to The Odyssey as a precursor to having a go at Ulysses, a book I've always intended to have a go at, but never got around to. As it's the 100th anniversary.....!
  3. Your Book Activity April 2022

    Read Claire Keegan's Small Things Like These tonight - it's only 112 pages or so long and easily finished in an hour or so. Beautifully written with a lot to say, but over too quickly to become fully immersed. Just as I feel I've started to get to know the characters, it's all over and done with, something I struggle with when it comes to short stories, which this basically is. 4 stars out of 6.
  4. Your Book Activity April 2022

    Finished Ice Rivers by Jemma Wadham tonight: an account of various expeditions she has undertaken to glaciers as part of her research at Professor of Glaciology an Bristol University. Inevitably episodic in nature. Whilst interesting - particularly some of the science she covers, it never particularly engaged me and, to be honest, I was quite glad it was a short 191 pages. Pleasant enough, but no more and thus, inevitably, mildly disappointing. 3 stars out of 6.
  5. Your Book Activity April 2022

    Just finished David Fairer's The Devil's Cathedral, the follow-up to his first book Chocolate House Treason. These are both historical crime fiction, set in the reign of Queen Anne, and based on The Bay Tree Chocolate House in Covent Garden. They are chunky books, both over 600 pages, but that's partly because they aren't as compactly produced as most paperbacks (better quality than most mass paperback, with binding that lets the book open flat) - the pages read very quickly. Both are excellent reads. The author is a retired Professor of 18th Century Literature, and his knowledge (especially of the language) and love of the period shine through, bringing the period, and the books, vividly to life. For me these were thoroughly immersive reads, with some lovely, quiet humour in amongst the action, which is thoroughly grounded in the politics and culture of the time (and which he is also thoroughly knowledgeable about) They're also good examples of how the 'big' publishing houses can completely miss the mark: these books were effectively self-published as the author hasn't been able to find a literary agent to take him on, and without an agent the publishers won't look at you. As a series, (the third of the trilogy is due out in October, so this is a provisional score!), a straight 6 out of 6, the highlight of the year to date; books that thoroughly deserve a wider audience.
  6. Your Favourite Book when a Child?

    Late as ever! Childhood favourites (at different stages): The Faraway Tree series by Enid Blyton The Secret Seven series by Enid Blyton Enid Blyton's Nature Lover's Book Puck of Pook's Hill, Rewards and Fairies, The Jungle Books by Rudyard Kipling Winnie-the-Pooh (prose and poetry!) by AA Milne The Paddington Bear series by Michael Bond Flood Warning by Paul Berna Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang series by Ian Fleming apart from the first two, I still have copies of these books, and quite a few have been reread and enjoyed throughout adulthood (I'm now reading Paddington Bear in German - and he's just as funny!).
  7. Hux Book Blog 2022

    I find it rather hard to understand why Zola is so little read in this country - or so it seems. For me, he's one of the 'greats'.
  8. Finished Chocolate House Treason by David Fairer: a story of political intrigue and murder set in London in the first decade of the eighteenth century, during the time of Queen Anne (a period of history often overlooked), and centred on the Bay Tree Chocolate House in Covent Garden (it starts the book as The Good Fellowship coffee house!). It is a very chunky book - getting on for 700 pages - and the nicely intricate plot jogs rather than gallops along, but I loved it for the intricacy of the world recreated and the deep sense of place and history that suffused every sentence. Actually, I loved it partly because it jogged rather than galloped - it matched the time and place so much better. There's still plenty going on though, and I never felt any sense of ennui. I'm definitely up for his next, equally spacious volume, The Dark CathedraI, set more in the theatre apparently. 5 out of 6 stars.
  9. Willoyd's Reading 2022

    March reviews 5 books this month - a bit of a slowdown compared to previous months, but bolstered by some other incomplete reading which will get listed next month probably. 2 more books towards my Read Around the World too. The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith * A book group read - I wouldn't read a McCall Smith book otherwise after previous goes, and this proved exactly why. Described as quirkly and pleasantly off-beat by one of the other members of my group, it's an attempt to gently spoof Scandi-noir, being described in the blurb as 'Scandi-blanc'. I found it trivial, bland, tedious, with the most fragile of plots - more a series of episodes - and shallowest of characters. I don't think I'll bother again, even if selected for a book group again - there's surely more to life than this. His Excellency Eugene Rougon by Emile Zola **** Not as engaging as other Zolas I've read, but still engaging, with some interesting insight into the politics and social machinations of Second Empire France. Everybody's on the make and take! A relief, at least, to read this after the previous book. In The United States of America by Abdourahman Waberi **** My second book for my Reading Around the World challenge, this for Djibouti, and the second book translated from French this month - two heavily contrasting novels! An interesting concept, where Africa is the first world continent, and the USA and Europe make up the 'third world', one which I would have liked the author to more fully develop, although there were some nicely humorous touches (the Arafat rather than Nobel prize for instance!). The narrative centres on a white girl, renamed Malaika, adopted into a black African family, who is in search of her own sense of identity, culminating in a visit to the slum city of Paris in search of her birth-mother. Written in a strongly poetic style, occasionally rather overblown for my taste although that may have just been the translation, it required careful reading to keep a hold of the sense. I suspect it needs a reread to get the most out of it, but it certainly provided the variety to my usual reading that I started this challenge to find! The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin **** A book group choice that took a good hundred pages to really get my head into, being well out of my usual reading comfort zone, and one where I really started to ask myself why it was regarded as a classic of its type - and which a suprising number of sci-fi fans said that they found less than gripping too. However, once I learned to just let it al wash over me, even if I didn't fully understand what was being described or said, it really grew on me, and by the end I was really glad to have read it - and pretty much all of what I'd been unclear about was sorted out! The last hundred or so pages, effectively a study of the relationship between the two main characters as they traverse the planet's ice cap completely isolated, was both fascinating and evocative of place. Very thought provoking, and right on the topical nail even given its age, particularly in the issues of gender fluidity that it raises, although I think I enjoyed it most for that relationship study (which the gender question strongly affected). Beloved by Toni Morrison ***** Another book group choice, and another classic of its type where I started to wonder a bit why it was regarded as such, but which grew on me to the extent that by the end I was distinctly wowed! Interestingly, I was the only member of this particular group to feel that way, and almost a third of the group failed to finish it. I do have to acknowledge that I needed to start again more than once, and found the opening pages both more understandable and involving when I returned to reread them having finished the book, but for me it turned out to be a powerful, challenging read, that opened my eyes to aspects of slavery that I'd never really taken on board before - a slow burner that truly came to the boil! It rewarded careful reading, ensuring I didn't skip or skim! Morrison does not pull any punches. This was also my choice for the USA book in my Read Around the World, and by the end this. at least in my book, certainly warranted its place.
  10. Finished Beloved. After my doubts in my earlier post, ending up actually being rather wowed by this! A book that took a bit (quite a lot!) of getting into, but it grew and grew, proving a challenging, almost difficult, read, but ultimately powerful and very rewarding. Was totally immersed for the last half - literally unputdownable - and found I appreciated the earlier pages far more when I returned to reread them. 5 out of 6 stars.
  11. Willoyd's Read Around The World

    Book #3: Beloved by Toni Morrison for the United States. Review to follow.
  12. Went back to Chocolate House Treason but then needed to read Beloved (Toni Morrison) for another book group (!), so am in the middle of that. It's also my choice for the USA in my Read Around the World challenge. After Song of Solomon and with its reputation, was expecting to be wowed, but 120 pages in I'm still finding it difficult to become fully engaged. So far, I can't say it's as good as her earlier book, and am not really impressed with the 'ghost' aspect.
  13. Had very reluctantly to put Chocolate House Treason (which I was really enjoying) aside to ensure I finished The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula Le Guin) in time for the book group whose choice this was this month. This (latter) was one that took some considerable effort and more than one go to get into, but eventually rewarded that effort with narrative that grew on me (and a powerful passage set on the planetary icecap) and considerable though provocation, particularly over gender, but also on aspects of society and government. I'm probably undergrading it, but initial reaction says 4 out of 6 stars.
  14. France's reading 2022

    I picked this up in a bookshop just after it won the Booker, and started browsing. I certainly found the layout slightly unsettling to start with, but within a page I was settled in, and after two pages I decided I had to buy the book..... Same here on both wariness and on it deserving the plaudits. This was my personal book of the year in 2019, and well up there amongst my all-timers. I've gone on to read a couple of her other books. Not quite as good perhaps, but that's only because this was one was so outstanding - she's a superb writer.
  15. Willoyd's Read Around The World

    Second up was In the United States of Africa by Abdouhrahman Waberi, from Djibouti. This was a slim volume (123 pages) with an interesting premise - Africa being the first world continent, and Europe and North America being the third world. The main protagonist, Maya, is a European born white girl adopted by a black couple, who travels to France to look for her birth mother. It's a challenging read, requiring considerable concentration, but is written with a strongly poetic rhythm and style; there's some real bubbles of humour in amongst otherwise fairly stark material.. The last quarter, in France, is the easiest section of the book to read, leading to a sense of acceleration towards the finish. I do think, though, that the author could have perhaps made more of what was a fascinating premise. Even so, it proved an very interesting read (4 stars), and one that positively demands I return to it in the near future.
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