New Additions to BooksPlease

Yesterday we went Barter Books in Alnwick, my favourite bookshop (this is a secondhand bookshop where you can ‘swap’ books for credit that you can then use to get more books from the Barter Books shelves). It’s only the second time we’ve visited since January 2020 before the first lockdown.

It’s almost back to ‘normal’ now, so there was no queue to get in. Some people, but not all, were wearing face masks and it was busy, busier than I would have liked and in some sections such as crime fiction and paperback fiction in particular where the bookcases are close together, people were crowded together choosing books, so I didn’t linger, as I would normally do. Consequently I didn’t get any crime fiction books. I did manage to get three historical novels, seizing the opportunity when people had moved away.

I took back 18 books and brought home 6, so I’m still in credit:

The descriptions are from Amazon and from top to bottom the books are:

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker, the first book in the Troy series.

There was a woman at the heart of the Trojan War whose voice has been silent – until now. Discover the greatest Greek myth of all – retold by the witness that history forgot . . . Briseis was a queen until her city was destroyed. Now she is a slave to the man who butchered her husband and brothers. Trapped in a world defined by men, can she survive to become the author of her own story?

The King’s Witch – this is historian, Tracy Borman’s debut novel.

As she helps to nurse the dying Queen Elizabeth, Frances Gorges longs for the fields and ancient woods of her parents’ Hampshire estate, where she has learned to use the flowers and herbs to become a much-loved healer.

Frances is happy to stay in her beloved countryside when the new King arrives from Scotland, bringing change, fear and suspicion. His court may be shockingly decadent, but James’s religion is Puritan, intolerant of all the old ways; he has already put to death many men for treason and women for witchcraft.

So when her ambitious uncle forcibly brings Frances to court, she is trapped in a claustrophobic world of intrigue and betrayal – and a ready target for the twisted scheming of Lord Cecil, the King’s first minister. Surrounded by mortal dangers, Frances finds happiness only with the precocious young Princess Elizabeth, and Tom Wintour, the one courtier she can trust.

Nucleus by Roy Clemens – the second in the Tom Wilde series. I’ve already read book 1, Corpus and book 4, Hitler’s Secret.

June 1939. England is partying like there’s no tomorrow . . . but the good times won’t last. The Nazis have invaded Czechoslovakia, in Germany Jewish persecution is widespread and, closer to home, the IRA has embarked on a bombing campaign.

Perhaps most worryingly of all, in Germany Otto Hahn has produced man-made fission and an atomic device is now possible. German High Command knows Cambridge’s Cavendish Laboratory is also close, and when one of the Cavendish’s finest brains is murdered, Professor Tom Wilde is drawn into the investigation. In a conspiracy that stretches from Cambridge to Berlin, and from the US to Ireland, can he discover the truth before it’s too late?

The Sound of Laughter: the Autobiography of Peter Kay – this is my husband’s choice, but I like Peter Kay too, so I’ll probably read this one too.

Peter Kay’s unerring gift for observing the absurdities and eccentricities of family life has earned himself a widespread, everyman appeal. These vivid observations coupled with a kind of nostalgia that never fails to grab his audience’s shared understanding, have earned him comparisons with Alan Bennett and Ronnie Barker.

In his award winning TV series’ he creates worlds populated by degenerate, bitter, useless, endearing and always recognisable characters which have attracted a huge and loyal following.In many ways he’s an old fashioned kind of comedian and the scope and enormity of his fanbase reflects this. He doesn’t tell jokes about politics or sex, but rather rejoices in the far funnier areas of life: elderly relatives and answering machines, dads dancing badly at weddings, garlic bread and cheesecake, your mum’s HRT…

His autobiography is full of this kind of humour and nostalgia, beginning with Kay’s first ever driving lesson, taking him back through his Bolton childhood, the numerous jobs he held after school and leading up until the time he passed his driving test and found fame. 

And finally two books on painting – both to encourage me to actually do some painting, rather than just reading about it.

Painting with Acrylics by Jenny Rodwell – 27 Acrylics Painting Projects, Illustrated Step-By-Step With Advice on Materials and Techniques with demonstrations of how to paint a variety of project, such as landscapes, portraits and still life etc.

Paint and Draw with Tony Hart – I remember enjoying watching Tony Hart’s TV programmes. This book contains 50 projects in a variety of materials – oil, watercolour, acrylic, gouache, pastel, crayon and other material. It looks excellent.

Nonfiction November: Week 3: Be the Expert

Week 3: (November 15-19) – Be The Expert/ Ask the Expert/ Become the Expert with Veronica at The Thousand Book Project: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert). 

I’m doing Be the Expert, but I am not an expert! My post is about a subject that I read a lot and enjoy enormously, and that is Autobiography/ Biography and Memoir.

These are just some of my favourites.

  1. Ice Bound:  One Woman’s Incredible Battle for Survival by Jerri Nielsen. Dr Jerri Nielsen was a forty-six year old doctor working in Ohio when in 1998 she made the decision to take a year’s sabbatical at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station in Antarctica, the most remote and perilous place on earth. Whilst she was there during the dark Antarctic winter of 1999 she discovered a lump in her breast. This is a true story of survival under extreme circumstances, of courage and endurance. 
  2. Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China by Jung Chang – Jung Chang’s book about her grandmother, her mother and herself, telling of their lives in China up to and during the years of the violent Cultural Revolution. Her family suffered atrociously, her father and grandmother both dying painful deaths and both her mother and father were imprisoned and tortured.
  3. Toast by Nigel Slater – the story of his childhood and adolescence told through food; food he liked and food he hated. Reading it was a nostalgic remembrance of my childhood, even though mine was so very different from his, apart from the food.
  4. Daphne by Margaret Forster – an extremely well researched and informative account of Daphne Du Maurier’s life, taken from her letters and private papers, with personal memories of her from her children, grandchildren and friends. It is a candid account of her relationships, eg her troubled married life; wartime love affair; and friendships with Gertrude Lawrence and Ellen Doubleday, as well as an excellent source of information on Du Maurier’s method of writing and views on life. 
  5. Jane Austen by Claire Tomalin – I was surprised by how detailed it is given the fact that few records of her life have survived. Claire Tomalin admits that it was not an easy story to investigate, as Jane Austen wrote no autobiographical notes and if she kept any diaries they did not survive her. Most of her letters to her sister Cassandra were destroyed by Cassandra and a niece destroyed those she had written to one of her brothers. But as Tomalin discovered her life was “full of events, of distress and even trauma, which left marks upon her as permanent as any blacking factory.”
  6. Victoria: A Life by A N Wilson – masterful and detailed and like all good biographies this is well researched and illustrated, with copious notes, an extensive bibliography and an index. He had access to the Royal Archives and permission from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to quote from materials in royal copyright. He portrays her both as a woman, a wife and mother as well as a queen set against the backdrop of the political scene in Britain and Europe.
  7. Rebus’s Scotland: A Personal Journey by Ian Rankin is fascinating, with insights into Ian Rankin’s own life and that of the character he has invented, along with his thoughts on Scotland and the Scottish character. It’s partly autobiographical, blending his own life with Rebus’s biography. It also describes many of the real life locations of the books, in particular Edinburgh, Rebus’s own territory.
  8. Giving Up the Ghost a memoir by Hilary Mantel, which she states she wrote to take charge of her memories, her childhood and childlessness, feeling that it was necessary to write herself into being. From the age of 4 she believed that she had done something wrong and she was ‘beyond remedy and beyond redemption’. She thought it was because of her that her parents were not happy and that without her they would have had a chance in life. Home was a place where secrets were kept and opinions were not voiced. Her experience of ghosts at the age of 7 was horrifying she felt as though something came inside her, ‘some formless, borderless evil’.

Books Read in October 2021: Part One

I won’t be able to finish reading any more books this month, but it’s been a bumper month of reading, with a total of 8 books. Five of them are nonfiction (including one audiobook) which is probably the first time I’ve read more nonfiction than fiction during one month. But I’ve only written posts about 2 of them! I’ve definitely spent more time reading than writing this month.

These are books I’ve reviewed with links to my posts:

The Way Home: Tales from a life without technology by Mark Boyle 4* – This is not a ‘how to’ book, nor is it a guide to living without technology. It’s an account of what it was like for him, living in a wooden cabin he built on a smallholding in Ireland. He has no running water, no car, no electricity or any of the things it powers: the internet, phone, washing machine, radio or light bulb. He writes about the loneliness he experienced, the lack of contact with his parents and friends, and the damage to his relationships. The book follows the seasons of the year and is a collection of tales about his experiences and his observations about attempting to live a technology-free life.

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman 1* – light, easy to read crime fiction, this is a follow up to The Thursday Murder Club. Many people have written glowing reviews of this book, but Richard Osmond’s style of humour differs from mine, so I didn’t find it very funny. I don’t like being so negative about a book but I think the characters are rather stereotypical and the plot is over complicated and unconvincing. In addition it’s written in the present tense which usually irritates me – and it did.

And here are a few notes about 2 of the remaining 6 books with links to Amazon:

The Library of the Dead by T L Huchu 4* – I loved this fantasy novel, set in a future or alternative Edinburgh, with a wealth of dark secrets in its underground. Teenager Ropa, has dropped out of school to become a ghost talker and when a child goes missing in Edinburgh’s darkest streets, Ropa investigates his disappearance. It’s a dark story, but with flashes of humour to lighten the darkness, and is a mix of Zimbabwean and Scottish magic and culture. If you enjoy Ben Aaronvitch’s Rivers of London novels, you’d enjoy this book.

I Love the Bones of You by Christopher Eccleston 5* an audiobook read by actor, Christopher Eccleston, who has played many roles. He is probably my favourite Doctor Who and I especially loved his portrayal of Maurice Scott in the BBC drama The A Word. Maurice is an eccentric and lovable man who has an autistic grandson. I Love the Bones of you is not the usual celebrity autobiography that is just all about him and his work. This is a really vivid portrait of his relationship with his family and particularly with his father who had dementia at the end of his life. He talks about his lack of confidence in his acting ability together with his experiences with anorexia, depression and breakdowns and talks honestly about his struggles with mental health..

~~~

Part Two of Books Read in October 2021 will follow shortly.

Ice Bound by Jerri Nielsen with Maryanne Vollers

Ebury Press | 2001 | 379 p | Own copy | 5*

I read Ice Bound: One Woman’s Incredible Battle for Survival over two months, taking my time. Dr Jerri Nielsen was a forty-six year old doctor working in Ohio when in 1998 she made the decision to take a year’s sabbatical at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station in Antarctica, the most remote and perilous place on earth. She had just been through an acrimonious divorce and could no longer see her children.

The first part of the book describes life at the South Pole in detail, the layers of clothing needed in the extreme cold, the adjustments to living at 11,000 feet above sea level, and the difficulties of living at the pole with power failures, fires, frostbite, boredom, memory loss, nausea, and getting lost in the darkness and total whiteout. But she also describes the friendships she made and how she felt about celebrating her forty-seventh birthday at the South Pole:

It was the best birthday I had had since childhood. I was forty-seven and surrounded by friends, in a community that needed me, in a place that I loved, discovering more every day about what truly mattered in life. (page 138)

It’s about half way into the book that she describes when in the dark Antarctic winter of 1999 she discovered a lump in her breast. Whilst the Pole was cut off from the rest of the world in total darkness she treated herself, taking biopsies and having chemotherapy, until she was rescued by the Air National Guard in October 1999. She said this about her experience:

I can say that after living at the South Pole nothing can possibly terrify me, even looking at my own death. That is one of the many things this place does to you. Nothing after that really matters. (page 190)

The descriptions of the polar landscape are just beautiful:

I was fascinated by the concept of twilight and its three discrete stages. Yet all I truly understood was that the world outside the Dome seemed beautiful and alien every day. Now the sky was deep purple with bands of orange on the horizon. I was outside watching the sky one day when I saw my first aura. It looked like a shimmering green curtain, rolling in a solar wind, with pink searchlights shooting into the atmosphere like heaven’s own movie premier. The rest was silence and space. (page 147)

This is a true story of survival under extreme circumstances, of courage and endurance. Even without cancer I cannot imagine coping with life at the South Pole. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 and had a lumpectomy and radiotherapy so I have experienced some of what she went through, but it was nothing compared to what Jerri Nielssen had to go through. To take my own biopsies and administer my own chemotherapy like she did would be beyond me. It is hard for me to read even now years later and I found it immensely moving.

The book alternates between narrative and personal letters and emails and in her acknowledgments Jerri Nielssen thanks Maryanne Vollers for her help in telling her story. It held me spellbound from beginning to end.

I wanted to know what happened next to her. The book has an Epilogue that describes how she was treated – mastectomy, more chemotherapy and radiation. The cancer then went into remission, but in 2005 it returned in her bones and liver, later spreading to her brain and she died in June 2009. A brave and truly inspirational woman.

My Friday Post: The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

This week I’m featuring a book I’m about to start. It’s The Salt Path by Raynor Winn. It was her first book and it was shortlisted for the 2018 Costa Biography Award and the Wainwright Prize. I want to read it because it’s a true story about a couple, Raynor and Moth, her husband who is terminally ill, who had lost their home and their business. Faced with this terrible situation they decided to buy a tent and walk the Salt Path, the south-west coastal path, from Minehead in Somerset to Poole in Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall.

There’s a sound to breaking waves when they are close, a sound like nothing else. The background roar is unmistakable, overlaid by the swash of the landing wave and then the sucking noise of the backwash as it retreats.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. *Grab a book, any book. *Turn to Page 56 or 56% on your  ereader . If you have to improvise, that is okay. *Find a snippet, short and sweet, but no spoilers!

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

The first time I saw Moth across the sixth-form college canteen I was eighteen. He was wearing a white collarless shirt as he dipped a Mars bar in a cup of tea. I was mesmerised.

Since travelling the South West Coastal Path, Raynor Winn became a regular long-distance walker and writes about nature, homelessness and wild camping. She lives in Cornwall. Her second book, The Wild Silence, is her follow-up book. I bought The Salt Path in 2018 and was keen to read it, but so many other books intervened, and it was only when I saw Raynor Winn on Kate Humble’s Coastal Walks programme on the South West Coastal Path that I remembered about her book.

My Friday Post: Ice Bound by Jerri Nielsen

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

I’m reading Ice Bound: One Woman’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole by Jerri Nielsen.

It begins:

If this story is to begin anywhere, it should begin in the night. I have always been a night person. When the sun goes down, my spirits rise.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice. *Grab a book, any book. *Turn to Page 56 or 56% on your  ereader . If you have to improvise, that is okay. *Find a snippet, short and sweet, but no spoilers!

These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.
  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Page 56:

I quickly learned to keep the head of my stethoscope in my bra to avoid giving my patients frostbite when I lifted their three to five layers of clothing. Fully undressing patients was impractical here.

~~~

About the book – from the back cover:

Dr Jerri Nielsen made international headlines worldwide when, as the only doctor at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station she diagnosed herself with breast cancer. The world’s media anxiously followed the immense efforts she and her fellow ‘polies’ took to treat her, the frantic drops of essential supplies and the final high-risk mission to airlift her out.

[This] is not just a powerful account of her struggle for survival, but also a thrilling adventure story about how a small community copes in the most hostile environment on earth, and a moving personal voyage of self-discovery and courage. But at its core lies a romance that makes even these pale into insignificance – Jerri’s realization that, dangers and discomforts and even cancer notwithstanding, she would rather be in the terrible beauty of Antarctica than anywhere else on earth.

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

Judith at Reader in the Wilderness hosts this meme – Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times.  I am enjoying this meme, looking round my actual bookshelves and re-discovering books I’ve read or am looking forward to reading. The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun basically.

This week I’m showing more biographies and an autobiography. This is the shelf below the one I featured in this post a few weeks ago. 

img_20200514_070759538

The books on this shelf are all books I’ve had for a long time but I have only read some of them – those marked with an *. From the left (as you look at the screen) they are:

Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now by Barry Miles, based on hundreds of hours of exclusive interviews undertaken over five years and on access to McCartney’s own archives.

Next to that is Long Walk to Freedom: the Autobiography of Nelson Mandela. I have read part of this long and detailed book.

Then comes Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir. I have started this book, the first of two I have about Mary (the other is by Antonia Fraser).

After that is David Starkey’s biography of *Elizabeth: Apprenticeship. This is an account of her life from her birth in 1533 to her accession to the throne in 1558. I read this many years ago and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Next is The Sovereignty of Good by Irish Murdoch. I’ve read several of her novels, but this is book of philosophy, a collection of three papers on the nature of goodness. I have not got round to actually reading it yet.

But I have read the next three books – *Iris: a Memoir of Iris Murdoch by John Bayley, *Iris: A Life by Peter J Conradi, and *Iris Murdoch As I Knew Her by A N Wilson. Bayley’s book is inevitably partly autobiographical as it is about their marriage and about living with Alzheimer’s. It is one of the most moving books I’ve read. I read these before I began blogging and really can’t remember much about the Conradi and Wilson biographies. I remember more about Bayley’s book, maybe because I watched the film, Iris, a film that had me and most of the audience at the cinema in tears.

I’ve also read *L S Lowry: a Life by Shelley Rohde. Lowry is one of my favourite artists, well known for his urban paintings of industrial towns and ‘matchstick men’, but his work covers a wide range of themes and subjects, from landscapes and seascapes to portraits.

I bought *Shakespeare the Biography by Peter Ackroyd in Stratford-upon-Avon some years ago after going to the theatre there. I’ve several of Shakespeare’s plays and seen productions at the Barbican in London and at the Stratford. Structured mainly around the plays, this biography places Shakespeare within his own time and place, whether it is Stratford or London or travelling around the countryside with the touring companies of players.

I haven’t read the next four books on the shelf, yet. They are Virginia Woolf: A Writer’s Life by Lyndall Gordon. I bought this because I’ve read some of Woolf’s books and wanted to know more about her.

And then there are three books about Marilyn Monroe, none of which I’ve read. First Marilyn Monroe– a biography by Barbara Leeming, It looks remarkably comprehensive, with lots of photos. Then there is Marilyn: the Ultimate Look at the Legend by James Haspiel, a memoir of James Haspiel’s eight year friendship with the Marilyn Monroe, and Marilyn in Fashion: the Enduring influence of Marilyn Monro by Christopher Nickens and George Zeno, full of even more photos.

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

Judith at Reader in the Wilderness hosts this meme – Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times.  I am enjoying this meme, looking round my actual bookshelves and re-discovering books I’ve read or am looking forward to reading. The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers.

This is really a Friday meme, but once more I’m late writing my post!

For this week’s post I’ve been looking through some of my oldest books.

The Secret Garden

First is a book from my childhood, The Secret Garden by Frances  Hodgson-Burnett. It is now yellowing and a bit battered, but still in one piece. In the description at the front of the book the editor writes: Girls like it most, and between the ages of nine and fourteen – and, be warned, keep your copy carefully. You will want to go back and read it over and over again. I can’t remember how old I was, but the editor was right – I did read it over and over again.  I’ve wanted a walled garden ever since I read about the secret garden that Mary found at her Uncle’s house, Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire. It’s about the magic of nature, that makes plants and people grow and develop, the magic of the power of positive thinking and prayer, of the healing power of the mind, and of laughter and love.

Mist over PendleNext a book I read as a teenager – Mist Over Pendle by Robert Neill. Set in rural Lancashire in the early 17th century it tells the story of Margery Whitaker, an orphan who went to live with her relatives on the Lancashire and Yorkshire border. People have died, apparently from belladonna poisoning and two old crones are suspected of witchcraft. Margery and her cousin Roger investigate whether they really were witches. I found it fascinating and it was probably the book that started me off reading historical fiction.

YogaI began doing yoga when I was in my thirties and Yoga by Ernest Wood is one of several books I bought at the time. It’s not just a book about the yoga breathing practices or the yoga postures – and there are no photos demonstrating them – it’s more about the classical background of yoga and its goals – the awakening of the higher spirit, bodily and mental health and the benefits of yoga in daily life. So, there are chapters on the ethics and morality of yoga, yoga and the intellect, yoga and vitality and the basic philosophy of yoga.

Lark Rise mineAnd finally a book I read in my forties. I’d had a really bad case of flu which meant that I couldn’t even lift my head off the pillow, never mind pick up a book! But when  I was recovering I read and loved Flora Thompson’s book Lark Rise to Candleford. It’s a trilogy including in addition to Lark Rise, Over to Candleford and Candleford Green. It’s a record of country life at the end of the 19th century, based on the author’s experiences during childhood and youth. It chronicles May Day celebrations and forgotten children’s games as well as the daily lives of farmworkers and craftsmen, and her friends and relations.

Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times

Judith at Reader in the Wilderness hosts this meme – Bookshelf Travelling for Insane Times.  I am enjoying this meme, looking round my actual bookshelves and re-discovering books I’ve read or am looking forward to reading. The idea is to share your bookshelves with other bloggers. Any aspect you like:

1. Home.
2. Books in the home.
3. Touring books in the home.
4. Books organized or not organized on shelves, in bookcases, in stacks, or heaped in a helter-skelter fashion on any surface, including the floor, the top of the piano, etc.
5. Talking about books and reading experiences from the past, present, or future.

Whatever you fancy as long as you have fun basically.

This is really a Friday meme, but what with one thing and another, it is now Sunday and I have only just finished writing this post! I am so behind with everything these days.

If you were to visit our house as soon as you came in you would see a wall lined with bookshelves. The first bookcase has six shelves – the top two are filled with OS maps, then there are three shelves of biographies and autobiographies, with the bottom shelf containing random books. The photo below shows one of the shelves of autobiographies/biographies.

Biographies

I have read some of these books – those marked with an *. From the left (as you look at the screen) they are:

*Curzon: A Most Superior Person, a biography by Kenneth Rose. George Nathaniel Curzon was the first and last Marquess of Kedleston, who in 1898 became the Viceroy of India. I bought this book after we visited Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, several years ago. It’s been the home of the Curzon family since the 12th century.

Next to that is *The Princes in the Tower by Alison Weir. I first read this book many years ago. In it she examined the available evidence of the disappearance of the princes in 1483 at the time her book was first published in 1992.

Then comes Boris: the Rise of Boris Johnson by Andrew Gimson, published in 2012. I bought this book secondhand several years ago after Boris had been elected as Mayor of London and it is an updated version of his earlier biography to include his time as the Mayor of London.

After that are two autobiographies that I have started reading, but haven’t finished yet. They are Elizabeth Jane Howard’s Slipstream, and Michael Palin’s Diaries 1969 – 1979: the Python YearsNext The Brontes by Juliet Barker, inspired by my visit to their family home in Howarth.

The biography of Eric Clapton by Michael Schumacher is my husband’s book. I’d probably enjoy it though as I like his music too.

I was stunned when I read *An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan, about the time he was kidnapped by fundamentalist Shi’ite militiamen and held in the suburbs of Beirut for four and a half years between 1986 and 1990.

I haven’t read the next book, Howard Hughes: the Untold Story by Peter Brown and Pat H. Broeske, although my husband has – he thought it was excellent. It’s the book that inspired Martin Scorses’s film, The Aviator.

I’ve read the next four books, John Worthen’s *D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider, Agatha Christie’s *An Autobiography, * Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days by Jared Cade and *Charles Dickens: A Life by Claire Tomalin.

On top of the rest, because I couldn’t fit them in anywhere else, are two more books – one I have read, a biography of *Daphne du Maurier by Margaret Forster and John Grisham’s The Innocent Man, another book my husband has read but I haven’t yet. It tells the true story of Ron Williamson, who was arrested, tried, found guilty of the rape and murder of a cocktail waitress. He was sent to Death Row.

Our Betty: Scenes from my Life by Liz Smith

Our Betty

Simon & Schuster UK| New Ed edition (5 Mar. 2007)|240 pages|Library book|3*

Description from Goodreads:

Liz Smith is one of Britain’s much loved character actresses. This is her life story – from her cosseted yet lonely childhood with her beloved grandparents, through the war, marriage and children, divorce and poverty, long years working in dead-end jobs to her big break at the age of fifty.

From the back cover:

In her brilliantly quirky memoirs Liz Smith tells the hanuting story of her bitter-sweet pre-war childhood’ Daily Mail

These evocative scenes from Lincolnshire life are as good as anything in a Beryl Bainbridge novel. Liz Smith … is our greatest character actress. Her genius is to give all those grotesques and cartoons a measure of her own perky, quirky nature and generous soul. Daily Express

Typically idiosyncratic …shot through with shafts of broad comedy. It’s difficult not to gobble it all up in one go. Sunday Telegraph

From Wikipedia:

Betty Gleadle MBE (11 December 1921 – 24 December 2016), known by the stage name Liz Smith, was an English character actress, known for her roles in BBC sitcoms, including as Annie Brandon in I Didn’t Know You Cared (1975–79), the sisters Bette and Belle in 2point4 Children (1991–99), Letitia Cropley in The Vicar of Dibley (1994–96) and Norma Speakman (“Nana”) in The Royle Family (1998–2006). She also played Zillah in Lark Rise to Candleford (2008) and won the BAFTA Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for the 1984 film A Private Function.

My thoughts:

I loved the first part of this book as Liz Smith recalls scenes from her childhood. She was born almost a century ago now and the pictures she paints of her childhood in her words and in her little pen and ink sketches reveal a world so far removed from life as we know it today. She gives an excellent portrait of life between the two world wars. Her mother died when she was two and when she was seven her father left home and she never saw him again. She was brought up by her grandparents.

She writes in short sections telling about her home, how she loved going to the pictures, about the neighbours and the shops, about Christmas, the games she played, her first day at school, summer days, riding her bicycle, learning to be a dressmaker and then what she did during WW2 and her life after the war and becoming an actress.

I had thought before I read the book that it would have been all about her life as an actress, but I’m glad it isn’t. Although I was interested to read about the people she worked with in the various parts she played it was no where nearly as fascinating to me as her early years. It is quirky, funny in parts but also sad and moving.

Reading challenges: this is the 12th library book I’ve read this year and completes my Virtual Mount TBR challenge for the year.