Book review – Debbie Macomber – “Any Dream will Do” #amreading

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Thank you to the publisher, Random House, for making this one available on NetGalley. The photo isn’t entirely apt, as this is an e-book.

A very different topic for Macomber here, as the central character is ex-wild-girl Shay, who has just come out of prison – fair enough, she went there for helping a family member – and is in danger from her low-life brother. At least her drug dealer ex is in prison (right?) and can’t get at her. Shay meets Pastor Drew at a turning point in her life and unwittingly gives him – a widower whose church is starting to lose congregation – a reason for hope, too.

Will Drew stand against the church elders to protect his growing friendship with Shay? Macomber does a clever thing by having the other main character a man of religion, as she can weave in themes of redemption and pardon and use themes her readers are used to. I also love how he picks up on something Shay says for a new line of sermons that help the church get full again.

There are a lot of details about the process Shay goes through at the centre she lives at for a year, and it’s well-researched and grittier than you might expect, with Shay clearly almost swearing at points and one of the homeless men she later befriends still struggling with alcohol. I really enjoyed its clear sightedness, but I wonder if very conservative friends who look for a comfort read might find it a little challenging. I suppose we’ll have to see!

Book review – Scott Jurek – “Eat and Run” #20BooksOfSummer #amreading #books

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Another book in my #20BooksOfSummer project and the final non-fiction one, joining quite a few books about running I’ve read recently. It’s coming up to the anniversary of me running my first marathon and although I’m in the middle of training for my next one, I do feel a bit nostalgic remembering the fun I had in Iceland last year (I was very chuffed to have my race report featured on an Icelandic running blog along with a few other people’s!).

Scott Jurek – “Eat & Run”

(05 December 2016 from Jen for Christmas)

This autobiography of a famous ultrarunner and vegan has inspired me … never to run a dangerous and scary ultra where you could fall off the edge of a mountain or even have to scramble up anything (an ultra is anything over the 26.2 miles of the marathon and there are nice road-based ones which I probably will eventually tackle. This guy does serious, terrifying stuff).

However, we can all enjoy reading about things we will never do, and this is a well-written and affecting read which is honest but never manipulative, even though there’s some pretty heavy stuff in here. It takes us through Jurek’s early life, when he used the woods to escape from his domineering father and his mother’s serious illness (he credits both with teaching him lessons in strength and endurance) and then takes us through his running career to date, emphasising his grit and determination and also willingness to learn and share over merely being first and fast. He shares the hallucinations Dean Karnazes had during the Spartathlon, interestingly, and highlights lots of other runners and their strengths and achievements, too, which makes it a generous book.

The most important relationship in the book is Jurek’s with his running mate and race pacemaker / supporter, Dusty. He freely admits that Dusty could have been the better runner, had he not been more concerned with chilling out, epic sessions and women, and there’s a feeling of real grief when the relationship between them threatens to go awry. It’s rare to see men writing about their friendships and this gives both laughs and a feeling of worry.

Jurek includes a running tip and a recipe at the end of each chapter, but makes it clear, especially with the recipes, that these are only suggestions, and he doesn’t try to force his opinions on the reader (I actually thought he would¬† be more forceful than he was, but of course, like the other runners whose books I’ve read recently, he’s a pretty humble and self-effacing chap). He explains how moving to a vegan diet made him feel and how it affected his running, but there are plenty of doubts at the beginning and it’s more a case of showing than telling.

Being of the opinion that it’s not worth saving up advice and learning points for yourself when you can share them and help others, he usefully lists his four points for dealing with issues that crop up – and these are valid for life issues as well as on-the-run ones: 1. Let the feeling go; 2. Take stock; 3. Ask yourself what you can do to remedy the situation; and 4. Separate your negative feelings from the issue at hand. This is really useful and something I will try to remember.

Jurek wins even more points in my estimation by encouraging people to try volunteering, and he also not only credits his co-author, Steve Friedman, on the cover and title page, but shares the author bio page with him and thanks him AND his assistant in the acknowledgements – as someone who works with ghostwriters and co-authors, this is something I’m always very happy to see.

A great read, whether or not you’re planning to do an ultramarathon and/or become a vegan.

This was Book 16 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

 

Book reviews – Mollie Panter-Downes – “One Fine Day” and Zora Neale Hurston – “Their Eyes were Watching God” (Virago Books) #20BooksOfSummer #amreading #books #Virago

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A double review today or I’m never going to get caught up, basically! However, they do go well together. For a start, they’re both published by Virago. I was given both by the same person for Christmas (thank you, Belva!). They are both part of – get this – my #20BooksofSummer challenge (books 15 and 17) and my All Virago / All August reading month AND my Reading a Century project (covering 1947 and 1937). That brings me up to 68 books covered in my Reading a Century project – no more coming up in my TBR so I might have to start doing some judicious book-picking soon. And they both evoke a very intense sense of time and place, which gives them a link that otherwise a book about the black experience in 1930s Florida and a village in post-WW2 England might not have. Both also have sudden amazing lyrical passages but a real sense of what being in that situation would actually be like.

Mollie Panter-Downes – “One Fine Day”

(25 December 2016, from Belva in my Virago Group Not so Secret Santa)

Set on one day in 1946, this perfect short novel examines what it feels like when war and danger are over and people have to settle down into a peacetime life that is both familiar and horribly new. Like many Virago and Persephone heroines, Laura has had to get used to mucking in and doing for herself when her servants went into war service; now husband Stephen is back, his job in London a mystery but his anger at the state of his once-perfect garden palpable. Daughter Victoria is alternately clingy and coolly observing and has her own complicated life at school and with friends.

There is some absolutely beautiful lyrical descriptive writing, often describing the landscape but also often, in the manner of poetic writing, inserting a clever reminder of death and destruction woven through it, so we find “sandbags pouring out sudden guts” which are contrasted with the timelessness and relative unconcern of the countryside itself.

The book reminded me of “Mrs Dalloway” – yes, the writing was just this side of that good – with Laura considering an impending visit from her mother and ruminating on her house and its demands and us inhabiting her head, so the subject-matter and the style are reminiscent. Meanwhile, social commentary comes in with the fact that the manor house is being vacated for a boys’ school, the old guard moving cheerfully to smaller quarters.

Will Laura dare to carve out a few moments to live her own life? A trip to the local gypsy’s camp to retriever her naughty dog (there is also a very neat and disdainful cat) gives her an opportunity which might also give a jolt to their carefully polite family world.

This was Book 15 in my 20BooksOfSummer project and completed 1947 in Reading A Century.

Zora Neale Hurston – “Their Eyes were Watching God”

(25 December 2016, from Belva in my Virago Group Not so Secret Santa)

An amazing and absorbing novel: don’t be put off by the dialect as it’s a very good story and a wonderful portrait of a particular place at a particular time. The dialect is fairly internally consistent, so you get the hang of it quite quickly, and there are sections of narrative which are smoother reads. Oh, but it’s worth it anyway, so worth it.

Must of the novel is set in Eatonville, Florida’s first incorporated black town, and this provides a fascinating portrait of the birth of a town, as Janie, the central character, and her husband arrive just as it’s being set up and he takes charge … as he always takes charge.

We follow Janie from girl to woman, age 16 to 40, through a series of husbands, the first two of whom crush her spirit and the third of whom, however unsuitable he seems, lets her spirit fly. We know from her return – watched and commented on by the chorus of the town’s gossips, head held high – that something has gone wrong in her life, but the book then takes us chronologically through her life to that point, with Janie’s history stretching right back to the time of slavery, through her grandmother’s stories, and also giving her the genetic heritage that leads to some fascinating discussions with other women about race and wealth. This, more than her relationships – or this and her sexual and self-awakening – will be what looks like a story of a woman progressing through marriages an important text for black American writers and feminists.

Janie is a fabulous, rounded and flawed character and the narrative moves briskly through her outer life while at the same time building her inner life. Some parts near the end might seem a little melodramatic but are still believable – it will take me a long time to forget the vivid description of the storm and flood and there are also some strikingly lyrical passages of nature description which seem to echo Janie’s sexual awakening.

I loved this and highly recommend it.

This was Book 17 in my 20BooksOfSummer project and completed 1937 in Reading A Century.


I have read Scott Jurek’s “Eat and Run” which was Book 16 in 20BooksOfSummer, in case you were wondering where that had got to, and am now reading Amber Reeves’ “A Lady and Her Husband”, a Persephone, which is excellent so far. This lady has no work to do today and is about to dive back into it!

 

Book review – Annie Darling – “True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop” #amreading #books

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Another NetGalley read from the publishers HarperCollins – I couldn’t resist jumping almost straight into this one after I so enjoyed the first in the series, “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts“. This series really is a treat; yes, they are essentially light and fun romances, but they have a lovely community of characters and enough literary references to satisfy this reader, at least. Highly recommended for a gentle and fun read that you won’t be able to put down.

And it never stops – those pesky (not pesky) NetGalley emails pop through and before you know it, you have a book called “Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows” popped into your Kindle. Just the kind of multi-generational, cross-cultural novel I love and should be another treat.

Annie Darling – “True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop”

(ebook, downloaded 11 July 2017)

Starting almost where the last book left off, this tells the story of what happens when introvert Verity, the assistant manager of the shop and someone who refuses to even work the till, ditches her completely imaginary boyfriend and takes up with a real man – but not a boyfriend – for the summer of social doings where it’s so much easier to have a plus one than be badgered with blind dates. She’s not to fall in love with him, however, because his Heart Belongs To Another.

So yes, the central story is light and a little silly because you kind of think they’re bound to end up together, but it’s very charming because of the layers and intelligence of the structure around it. Plus there’s not one of those shoehorned-in Imagined Peril sub-plots that lesser novels often seem to use to build the tension. Verity has a wonderful family of loud sisters and a Vicar dad / The Vicar’s Wife mum, and they’re beautifully drawn. She has a quote from Pride and Prejudice for every occasion and a cat for comic relief (and I trusted the cat-loving author to look after him, which she thankfully did), plus Poor Alan, the Vicarage dog, complete with bee-keeping outfit (I have a friend who will love this book just on the strength of that). There’s an excellent villainess and one point where the reader can feel clever knowing they’ve picked up a clue Verity hasn’t, and believable friendships among the characters and the businesses around the shop, which gives a lovely solid aspect to the book.

And who can beat a writer who can do a lovely light romance and also work in references to E.M. Delafield and have her family of lively sisters look back fondly on their favourite game of “Being the Mitford Sisters”? It’s wry and clear-headed and modern, and while there’s not as much bookshop detail as in the first novel (although the mysterious PhD student, Tom, with his bow-ties and cardigans is described as catnip for female shoppers!), it’s just as good as the first one and I can’t wait for the next in the series to come out!


Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for making this available in return for an honest review.

I’m still currently reading “Their Eyes were Watching God” and “Eat and Run” (a funny pairing, but one upstairs and one down, so they don’t get mixed up) and I’m hoping for some solid reading time over the weekend to get those done and burrow into a Persephone. What does the weekend’s bookiness hold for you?

 

Book review – Stuart Maconie – “Long Road from Jarrow” #20booksofsummer @ShinyNewBooks #amreading

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I was sent this book by the publisher via NetGalley and reviewed it for the lovely Shiny New Books online book review magazine, so just a quick note about it here.

The book is both a state-of-the-nation review of attitudes and happenings post-Brexit vote and a history of the Jarrow march told through a re-walking of the march route on its 80th anniversary. So it attempts to do two things in one book – but fortunately Maconie is a good and accomplished writer and he handles his material beautifully. There’s a lot about commemoration and memory, about fake news and false memories, about the multi-culturalism of our country, but it’s told with Maconie’s trademark warmth and wit, so it never gets worthy.

My full review for Shiny can be found here, and I do encourage you to pop through and read it and maybe have a browse around the categories.

This was Book 9 in my #20BooksOfSummer project, reviewed here a little out of sequence as I’m currently reading Book 16!

Book review – William Pullen – “Run for your Life: Mindful Running for a Happy Life” #amreading #books #running

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Another book which isn’t on my #20BooksOfSummer list but which was crying out to be promoted up the TBR (interestingly, I haven’t done the same with Ruby Wax’s book on just mindfulness, so it’s the running bit that’s obviously luring me in. I expect this is because I’ve taken on this Mental Health Ambassador role run by England Athletics and Mind, which at the moment is involving lots of meetings and notes and asking questions, but also means I get to help out with two-weekly Run and Talk events in a local park to promote well-being by running (or walking) and chatting. I was hoping this book would be useful for that, although I’m not sure it’s as well-matched to what I needed as I thought …

William Pullen – “Run for your Life: Mindful Running for a Happy Life”

(18 July 2017)

I’m not entirely sure what I made of this book in the end – I thought very carefully about this review. I thought it would be a more general book about mindfulness and mental well-being as it relates to running, but it’s a much more structured and set out programme called DRT (Dynamic Running Therapy) for improving mental health while running which includes exercises, questions and spaces to make notes in parts of the book. I’ll admit that that kind of thing always worries me a bit and makes me feel a bit resistant, even though I know you are allowed just to write your own notes! Anyway …

Each chapter looks at a different area, then has questions to ask yourself while running (alone or with a partner) and the aforementioned space to make notes. There are chapters on depression and anxiety which explain how to spot these and where they might come from, then on relationships (including with oneself), anger, decision-making and mindful running with children. The length of the book means these areas aren’t treated in great detail, and I wonder if it would have been better off as a series of books for each area, as it’s a bit of a mix.

Now to the good stuff: the parts on how to listen if you’re running with someone, and on a grounding technique involving noticing all five senses (similar to something we do in yoga class sometimes and really powerful and calming), and on running with kids are excellent and full of good, practical suggestions. In fact, I’m going to share the conditions of being the listener from p. 43 as I think they’re excellent:

  1. Listen without judgement: Offer your partner a safe place in which to share. One where they feel free to explore and find acceptance for the parts of themselves that are less than noble or that they find shameful. There is no need to indicate approval or disapproval, surprise or agreement. Just stay present.
  2. Listen with empathy. Your role is to truly hear what the other person is saying. This does not mean constructing unsolicited theories of your own about what may be behind your partner’s problems or coming up with a good solution to them. It means taking in what you hear and empathizing without interpretation. Here and there you can reflect back any appropriate sympathy you may feel, but keep it to a minimum unless you are confident that it is wanted. The idea is that you are present, not totally silent, but mostly. It is their time to talk – your time will come.
  3. Be present. Make yourself as personally present and available to your partner as possible during your time together. This calls for you to relate to them in a way that is genuine, not obscured by personal needs to appear caring, interested, attractive, intelligent or successful.  So be true to who you really are and let that be a guide for you.

I think this is great, especially as I do tend to try to solve problems, and they’re something I’ll bear in mind. The part on mindful running, just noticing your footfalls and the places around you are good, too, although I realised that I am quite in the moment when running anyway, counting or looking around or going through my senses. I don’t listen to music when I’m running, which probably helps there.

Coming to the parts I felt troubled by, there are some lists of quite deep questions that you are supposed to ask yourself internally or discuss with your running partner while running. Now, I’m not a big reader of self-help books, and apparently a lot of these do include quite challenging exercises to do. However, I’d imagine these are done in the safety of your own home. The problem here is the worry (for me) about taking potentially triggering or upsetting questions and letting emotions wash over you, while running. Maybe the author’s clients run in safer, more wild places, but he talks about open sobbing and breaking down, and I would not feel comfortable doing that on the streets or in the parks of the city where I live; I just don’t think it would be that safe to be that vulnerable. And that’s obviously a shame, but that’s my lived experience and that of many runners, I’m sure.

It would be great as an exercise book to accompany guided DRT therapy, or if you do live somewhere where you can run howling down a beach and someone’s not going to try to nick your phone or you’re not going to accidentally run into the road. I took a lot from this book anyway, it’s just not exactly what I thought it was and doesn’t mesh completely with what I might need or use.


I’m reading the same books as I was reading yesterday, so no change there. Have you read self-help books? Do people do the exercises in them or is it more like when you buy a really lovely recipe book and then just read the recipes? I have nothing against them, I just don’t know!

Book review – Annie Darling – “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” #amreading #books

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I bought this book solely because I won volume two on NetGalley, not realising it was the second book in a series. I really hate reading series out of order (do you, too?) so I picked up a second-hand copy to read first. Having now started the e-book of the second installment, I’m really glad I did that, as you would need to read the first one first to get the full enjoyment. In this and the next book to be reviewed tomorrow I have veered off the #20BooksOfSummer track but fear not, I’m back on track now and have read my next one and started another!

Annie Darling – “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts”

(18 July 2017)

I wasn’t expecting a huge amount from this book – a gentle story with some books and amusement and a lot of romance, but it was actually absolutely enchanting, page-turning, intelligent and a great read.

Posy inherits the bookshop she works in and the flat she lives in with her younger brother, Sam, whose guardian she now is, but on the condition that she keeps it running profitably. She has a great idea on how to do this, and to revive its flagging fortunes, helped by her former colleagues, now employees (this shift is nicely and believably done), uber-introvert and Very Shy Person Verity, slightly odd postgrad student Tom, Nina with her 50s pin-up style and terrible taste in men, and Little Sophie. But she’s overshadowed by old sparring partner, Sebastian, grandson of the original owner and the official Rudest Man in London.

Will Posy succeed in remodelling the shop in time for the grand opening and before the money runs out? There’s a lovely lot of detail on how they redo the shop and its attendant tea rooms, she knows her Heyers and Thirkells, Austen and Brontes, and there’s a great cast of supporting characters, from a villainous ex-Eton chap to Sam’s rather marvellous friend Pants. Very readable indeed and brought a tear to my eye on occasion – this deserves a wider audience than perhaps the cover and marketing would suggest.

Read my review of the sequel here.

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