Book review – Anna Aslanyan – “Dancing on Ropes”


Another book from my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and I’m doing really nicely with books from other people as the last one came from Ali, this one was passed to me by Kaggsy of the Bookish Ramblings (see her review here; I managed not to record when it came in, although she offered it to me on 13 July and I recorded it in my State of the TBR on 01 August (I have three and a half of the print acquisitions recorded there left to read and all are on my 20 Books pile)), and the one I’m currently reading, “White Spines” was from Paul Half Man Half Book!

This is the thirteenth book I’ve completed from my 20 Books project (and I’m currently reading Book 14) and also comes off my TBR 2021-2022 total. I feel like I’m making some progress now, although for every slender novel there’s a hefty work of non-fiction to come …

Anna Aslanyan – “Dancing on Ropes: Translators and the Balance of History”

(late July 2021 – from Kaggsy)

My own work as a freelance translator and interpreter has never, to the best of my knowldge, tipped the scales of history. But it has given me ample food for thought, allowing me to see more vividly the figure of the translator surrounded by precarious events in which they cannot help intervening. It is this image that I would like to outline in these pages. (p. 3)

This interesting book collects various stories and themes from the worlds of translation and interpretation and discusses them in detail, usually linking them to work the author has done in her various roles in the business. Starting in the Introduction with the idea that a mistranslation stopped Japan surrendering before the atom bombs in World War Two (as with so many things, an oversimplification), she goes right back through history, looking at the groups of people who were variously untrusted or trusted too much, protected or (often) in danger – here she talks of the Afghan interpreters who of course have been in even greater peril since the recent withdrawal of troops who relied on them then were forced to leave them behind.

The author’s own experience is woven through the book; for example, she uses the same strategy with manipulative speakers as her forebears have, offering to stand aside and let them do it themselves. This offers a very human aspect to counteract the historical sources and works really well. I enjoyed the section on localisation, as that’s something I do in my own work, in my case localising from US to UK English but also doing cultural localisation or even transcreation (being more creative with the content to fit it to a different culture).

Again not keeping from the political, she talks about the state of the business for state interpreters in the law etc., and, connected in the drive to lower costs, the rise of automated and machine translation, although ending with a positive note. Nothing was too technical or complicated for the average reader, and it was an interesting and engaging read.

This was book number 13 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 7/28 – 21 to go!

Book review – Mohsin Hamid – “The Last White Man”


Second NetGalley read for the month, and what a powerful novella this is; I’m not sure I’ll be able to do justice to it!

Mohsin Hamid – “The Last White Man”

(08 June 2022)

… so Anders was prepared and not prepared, but prepared as he was, he was not expecting one of the three men who came for him to be a man he knew, a man he was acquainted with, it made it much worse, more intimate, like being shushed as you were strangled.

Anders wakes up one morning in an unknown country* and finds his white skin has turned dark brown. He panics, wants his mum (but she died after a problem with the local water supply, when a number of people developed cancer and died) and phones his old friend and sometime lover, Oona. He lives in a one-room apartment (for the time being) and hides away from his job at the gym and the people around, eventually having to venture out for groceries but wearing a hoody and gloves. When he does return to work, he finds other dark-skinned people looking him in the eye – but why – and his boss opining that he would have not coped if it had been him. Soon we find that the people are changing, one by one, and divisions that open up with (off-stage) violence and discord, where you think that people will find cohesion but instead are divided, start to be untenable as the balance shifts. Meanwhile, Oona experiments with the idea of changing and her mum is sucked into online groups and fake news sites that explain how this is the End of Days – but is it?

We live inside Anders’, Oona’s and Oona’s mum’s heads with no commentary in the narrative or in the events to indicate how we are supposed to read them, who is perhaps right and who is perhaps wrong. We can understand where each is coming from, and although we might cringe when Anders decides to finally talk to the (always dark-skinned) cleaner at the gym and engage him, rather than just seeing him like a puppy to pat on the head, and finds he’s not quite having the conversation we expected, who hasn’t navigated racial sociopolitics awkwardly?

For me in particular, there’s a very powerful passage when Oona is unable to recognise former friends and acquaintances (their skin texture and hair appear to change as well as their colour, from little hints in the book) which would stand as a good description of prosopagnosia (link leads to a post on my other blog), or face-blindness, which I have myself:

There was a kind of blindness in seeing people this way, and Oona ran into people she knew without knowing that she knew them, and had a more difficult time judging what sort of person a person was, whether they were nice or friendly or dangerous, but along with this blindness, as with actual blindness, there was a new kind of sight, other sense that grew stronger, a feeling that developed from how someone spoke to her, and how their mouth moved, and what expression their eyes appeared to hold, what light she saw in them, was it curiosity or anger, and she had to work harder to make her way with people, starting from scratch every time, and it was tiring, wearing her out by the end of the day.

Is this a novel about Covid or race? Both, I think – there’s that fear of “getting” it then the almost relief when you do, the balance shifting to everyone having had it, the looting and hoarding, but then it’s also about the sense of loss of one’s whiteness, of the certainties, of realising how people of colour have been treated. But it’s also hugely a novel about loss. Oona has lost her dad and then her brother, and Anders’ father is failing – we do see inside his head a little, too, in some very moving passages.

The style of the book is matter of fact, distanced, as I said, riots and violence happening off-stage but still palpably there. There’s a sense of fear and disconnection: I liked the style but some people have found it too cold. We’re not told what to think, but TO think – for example, like when reading about the Holocaust or other ethnic cleansing, you can’t help but think “Where would I go?” “Would I shield people?”. The plain style makes it easy to read but not easy to skim; you can’t stop reading but you also don’t stop thinking. It’s so powerful, but then there is also a powerful sense of community, healing and hope buried in the horror.

I found Hamid’s earlier novel, “The Reluctant Fundamentalist“, equally compulsive, and I see I will have to read his other works. Powerful and thought-provoking, this one will stay with me.

*I was convinced the country was Norway, from the names and snow, and also the language style somehow reminded me of books like Anja Snellman’s “Continents“. Apparently other people have seen the country as the US or UK. The whole thing being so vague and the lack of commentary on people’s interior monologues really fits with reader response theory, that the reader creates the book as they read it.

Thank you to Penguin for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “The Last White Man” was published on 11 August 2022.

Book review – Anne Booth – “Small Miracles”


The first of my four NetGalley reads for the month, and I started with the lightest and easiest one to read as I try to get through my 20 Books of Summer and the second heatwave of our summer (remembering British houses are built to retain heat, not withstand it, before those in hotter climes sigh once more). I requested this one back in February, having been attracted by the jolly cover and nun theme. Yes, I’m one of those people who likes a nun book, even though I’m not religious myself. The NetGalley description suggests it would suit fans of Sister Act, Rev and the Vicar of Dibley, rather oddly – I saw parallels with Richard Coles‘ new series.

Anne Booth – “Small Miracles”

(7 Feb 2022)

It’s the mid-1990s and Saint Philomena’s Convent is down to three nuns, Margaret, shy and not keen on pushing herself forward, but now somehow the Superior, bustling Bridget, pillar of the community, and austere, 90-year-old Cecilia, obsessed with the history of their founder. A lottery win starts off a plot of answered prayers and others helped: this is what I would call a “community” novel, like “The People on Platform 5” or even “Thrown“, with a range of other characters, each with their own story that intertwines with the whole – shy academic Matthew, expert on the convent founder’s mysterious brother, who must have a set of lost paintings somewhere, his capable sister, Sarah, who was one of my favourite characters, George the travel agent with the domineering mum, their handyman and his family.

A mysterious find spurs a trip to Italy, with the nuns staying in character but experiencing some revelations of their own. Their relationships are beautifully drawn, as is Margaret’s grief at the loss of her best friend, Helen, a true sister in the convent and taken too soon, which informs her whole demeanour and way of being. Their religion is also respected and celebrated – not self-conscious, just there, with Margaret regularly talking to God through prayer and asides, and many characters being comforted by their faith. This wasn’t pushy but calming and rather lovely, and the novel can definitely be enjoyed by the non-religious, as I prove.

The plot is cleverly done, with family history, art and a whiff of scandal all coming together, side characters brought in and a lovely resolution which I had half-foreseen but not in the way it happened. There are several delightful cats to whom nothing negative happens, and a variety of characters of different ages, the three main nuns being over 50, and a little racial diversity brought in although in side characters, one a shop owner, one a friend of the convent and its church. A nice, gentle read.

Thank you to Vintage for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Small Miracles” was published on 4 August 2022.

Book review – Susan Scarlett – “Clothes-Pegs”


I’m so pleased that I have again a couple of Dean Street Press Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books from the publisher to review this summer. They were both published on 1 August, I reviewed Elizabeth Fair’s “The Marble Staircase” the other day, and you can read all about this one on its page on the DSP site here.

Susan Scarlett is Noel Streatfeild in disguise, and Dean Street Press is publishing all of the adult romance novels she wrote under this nom-de-plume. But to consider them “just” romances might be to underestimate them: they’re full of charm and detail, friendships and rivalries, work and families, around the romance, and the introduction makes it clear that in all of them our heroine has work that she does, here described in great detail, and in this one as a start there’s also a lovely family theme, so you could think of them as work or family novels as well as / instead of romances, if that term puts you off. Yes, there’s some wish-fulfilment and fairy-tale, but all rooted in real life with its knocks and falls, and they’re all going to be perfect comfort-reading, I’m sure. This one was published in 1939 and would have taken people’s minds off their worries for a few hours, for sure!

Susan Scarlett – “Clothes-Pegs”

(16 June 2022)

Not that Ethel minded Annabel meeting a man, but she did hope that when she did it was some nice young fellow who lived round about, who could drop in and be one of the family.

None of these thoughts showed in Ethel’s face. Even to Annabel’s self-conscious eye she appeared only to be darning hard and listening to George.

We’re thrown straight into the world of Ethel Brown, always saving for new curtains she knows she’ll never have because the money always somehow has to go towards something else, her husband George, religious and a bit set in his ways but essentially kind and loving, and her children, the beautiful Annabel, who works in the sewing room of a high-class clothes establishment, sulky Lorna who always wants to get above her station and is full of resentment, delicate Alfie who is always somehow poorly, in the time befor the NHS of course, and the youngest, Maudie, who reads very young and might have some sort of developmental delay.

Early on, Annabel thinks back to meeting two other girls on holiday who have plans for proper careers. All she really wants is a job and then to get married; she knows she’s old-fashioned but she’s happy in her ways. She’s realistic but a little starry-eyed and she knows the man of her dreams will appear one day, so doesn’t bother messing around going about with boys. While she’s innocent, she does have backbone, which she shows satisfyingly a couple of times in the novel.

Promoted to mannequin, Annabel does meet the man of her dreams, but also two bitchy colleagues who make her life very difficult, and you see her negotiating this as well as love, trying to get some nice clothes together on a budget and making friends with the fourth model. There’s also trouble at home which must be dealt with, and two very different people dropping round. And the home issues impact on the love affair, when Annabel must choose whether to meet her man to explain a mistake that’s been made or go to the hospital to be with a sick family member.

As well as romance, the book is about class and money. Annabel experiencing a very few new things, quite pathetic really – a new outfit and a go at a cocktail – has huge repercussions on the family:

But when one of the family stepped away, wore different clothes, knew different people, then it affected everybody else. She had not really changed to Dad, it was Dad who was getting self-conscious about himself because she had changed. Nothing of course could change Mum, but even she was smartening up and perhaps a bit more aware of her old curtains. But this Lorna business went deeper than that. A few months ago Lorna would have grumbled at [having to wear] the old velvet [dress to a party], but she would have worn it. In a way this mess of Lorna’s was her fault.

There’s a deliciously mean villain, misunderstandings, family worries and always the world of work and how it might wreck or save you. The world of making do and mending and harbouring dreams is familiar to Streatfield devotees. Much more than simply a romance, an absorbing and of course well-written light novel, and I will be putting print copies of all the others on my immediate wish list.

Thank you to Rupert from Dean Street Press for sending me a review copy of this book in e-book format in exchange for an honest review.

Book review – Candice Braithwaite – “I Am Not Your Baby Mother”


Another book ticked off my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and one that Ali kindly passed to me in July last year (she read it for her book group and you can see her review here).

This is the twelfth book I’ve completed from my 20 Books project (and I’m currently reading Book 13) and once again also comes off my TBR 2021-2022 total. I do really want to read some Virago books for All Virago/All August so I’d better keep reading along!

Candice Braithwaite – “I Am Not Your Baby Mother: What It’s Like to be a Black British Mother”

(16 July 2021 – from Ali)

I personally don’t want to reclaim the term baby mother. It can stay on the shelf, thanks. I want black women, black women who happen to be mothers, to be given space to share their multifaceted, motherhood journeys – irrespective of their family make-up, current financial situation or number of past lovers – with pride. I want black women to know that their version of motherhood is as righteous and as sacred as any other and deserves to be as protected as any other woman’s. (pp. 4-5)

That’s not too much to ask, right? I mean, I’m a White woman and not a mother (not from choice) and I can see that’s something that should be standard. But clearly it’s not.

Braithwaite’s content creation started with a blog and Instragram account and a campaign called Make Motherhood Diverse. I’d twigged that bridal magazines and ads were pretty fully White but hadn’t gathered the lack of representation in baby and mum blogs and Instagram accounts: here Braithwaite tells it how it is and demonstrates how she is an agent for change.

Because the author started as a blogger she has a very accessible and readable style. This means that even quite distressing content can be read and absorbed and it continues to be a compulsive read (it’s also a fairly short book, coming in at just under 230 pages). She cleverly structures it around the stages of pregnancy, birth and childhood, weaving in her personal memoir and sometimes horrific experiences among more general stats and stories. I’ve seen the stats about the higher mortality rates among Black mothers and infants before but this really brings it home; like Kendi’s wife in “How to Raise an Anti-Racist“, Braithwaite has serious complications around the birth of her first child which are negated and downplayed until it’s almost too late.

She consistently turns stereotypes on their head, from the baby mother with no father in the picture to her care-provider in her own youth being her grandfather. She looks at the ways women feel they have to compete to have the right equipment, examining her own need for the trendy buggy that leaves her facing microaggressions on a doorstep a long way from home, and the ways the teachers at her daughter’s school once they’ve moved out of London downplay a racist incident and seem to feel more compassion for the child who was racist. She opens up about the desire of Black families to place their children in private schools to combat the disadvantage they experience in state schools (I had no idea of the private school thing; there’s always something to learn) and worries about her son growing up in London, hence that move, and talks openly about mental health issues and how Black communities are affected by them but also push back on talk and treatment.

It’s all blisteringly honest and she’s unsparing in her call for action at the end. While she’s been burned making comments on social media to call unthinking racism out in publications that only feature White mothers and is honest about her own ignorance of the struggles mothers of other races, other types of families or who live with disabilities faced until she started campaigning, she urges readers to fight for true representation and to try to get people talking about the issues she highlights: “What will you do when nobody is watching?” (p. 227).

One thing you could do is look up the statistics for maternal mortality in your NHS region and see how they break those down. On a quick search, I could only find stats for the West Midlands that divided ethnicity by people born in the UK and people born in the Caribbean and the Indian subcontinent, which isn’t really the point, is it? Something to look at more deeply and get going on.

This was book number 12 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 6/28 – 22 to go!

Book review – Elizabeth Fair – “The Marble Staircase”


I was lucky enough to receive a couple of Dean Street Press Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books from the publisher to review again this summer. They were both published on 1 August and you can read all about this one on its page on the DSP site here. I’ve already read four Elizabeth Fairs which were published in her lifetime – this is a lost one, rediscovered by her heirs – it looks like it was sent out and rejected by her publisher around 1960 and the editorial matter in the book opines that she fell foul of the same publishing winds as Barbara Pym at that time; it’s very much a “library book” just as the commercial circulating libraries were closing and fashions were becoming more bold and extreme. It’s a super story with an extra location in Italy not found in my other Fair reads so far, and I’m very glad it’s been rediscovered and published!

Elizabeth Fair – “The Marble Staircase”

(16 June 2022)

… looking back, she couldn’t believe she had ever shown much obstinacy in the past where Alison was concerned. But she was undoubtedly prepared to be obstinate in the future. She felt strangely bold and determined, and she wondered whether this was becaise she was in Mrs Gamalion’s house, where something of Mrs Gamalion’s enlivening spirit still remained. But probably it was because she was far away from Alison. It was much easier, he thought ruefully, to be bold and determined in a letter.

Twenty-five years ago, downtrodden Charlotte Moley, newly widowed at 20 and with a small child at home who is turning into a carbon copy of her domineering mother, manages to escape to Italy for a holiday. She walks around in a depressed daze, feeling like she’s locked behind glass, until she encounters the parrot-like Mrs Gamalion, of uncertain and fictitious age, screeching about bargains and excursions, two girls she’s taking around (for payment?) trailing behind her. She takes up Charlotte and Charlotte finds a new world of experiences, colour, food and a set of faithful friends who go in and out of favour and are moved in and out of the better rooms at Mrs Gamalion’s whim.

Of course there’s a man, a foppish Merchant-Ivory hero in a hat who is artistically keen on Charlotte but is suddenly reminded of his own domineering mother at the crucial point. Also, in these steps back into the past, there’s a too-good-to-be-true scheme for these ladies to be able to have a house in Italy to go to whenever they want, which is bound to end in tears and culminated in a Mrs Yeobright-like trek through dusty paths to find out the truth.

In the present day, Mrs Gamalion has left Charlotte her house, half of a semi-detached villa in a seaside town (identified as Lytham-St-Anne’s). It’s in a mess, and Charlotte goes there to simply look at it and put it up for sale. But two things happen: Mrs Gamalion’s presence is felt in the house and gives her new firmness and backbone, writing to her capable daughter that she is NOT coming back home just yet, and she meets Mrs Bateman, another strong mother but without so much interference, and her kind son, who help her with the house and give her a glimpse of a new life.

Of course there are some intrigues and being Elizabeth Fair, the small coastal town is brought to life, with more inhabitants. She’s such a perceptive and clever writer – for example, there are echoing pairs of aged married couples living a peculiar life of their own choosing in Italy and England. Little details are poignant as well as funny at times; finding all her own gifts to Mrs Gamalion, carefully packed away to enjoy later, and the realisation that time has passed and we have to be sensible:

Charlotte looked away and the spell was instantly broken. The absurdity of it was what struck her now – of feeling herself a girl again, of experiencing in rainy middle age the poignant emotions that belonged to youth and Italy. It was rather like seeing a ghost, she thought; one would be tricked for a moment into thinking it was a living human being and then realize it was a phantom, dead long ago. It was the young Charlotte, not Harley, who was the ghost.

A lovely book, sure to appeal to lovers of Fair, of course, but also the D.E. Stevensons and other kind women novelists we love from this imprint. And I did love the Lake Como setting, because we’ve spent a lovely week there ourselves, and visited Menaggio and the Villa Carlotta and other places mentioned in the novel.

My photo of Menaggio waterfront from 2009!

Thank you to Rupert from Dean Street Press for sending me a review copy of this book in e-book format in exchange for an honest review.

Book review – Angie Thomas – “On the Come Up”


Another book from my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and a June 2021 acquisition (I bought this in my Summer 2021 Book Token Splurge, picture here (scroll down), ordered from Hive or (this year’s one will be done IN A LOCAL INDIE BOOKSHOP that’s about to open!) and I’m pleased to say that I have read all of the books in that picture apart from “Wanderland”, which is waiting to be a me-and-Emma read).

This is the eleventh book I’ve completed from the 20 Books project (and I’m currently reading Book 12) and also comes off my TBR 2021-2022 challenge pile so things are feeling a bit more manageable and positive for both of those challenges now …

Angie Thomas – “On the Come Up”

(30 June 2021 – Book Token Splurge)

Thousands of people just heard me act like that. Millions more may see the video. They won’t care that my life is a mess and I had every right to be mad. they’ll just see an angry black girl from the ghetto, acting like they expected me to act.

Supreme laughs to himself. ‘You played the role,’ he says. ‘Goddamn, you played the role.’ (p. 346)

I really enjoyed “The Hate U Give” when I read it in 2018 and have been looking forward to this one for ages. Set in the same location as the earlier novel, Garden Heights, the events in it happen a little after the killing and protests referenced in that book, so there’s a heightened awareness amongst the inner-city Black kids who are again the focus of the book about the dangers out there from police as well as gang members.

Our central character, Bri, is 16 and a talented rapper – a talent she inherited from her late dad. Her mum, eight years sober and trying to keep the household together, and her older brother, with a degree in psychology and a job in a pizza place, aren’t that keen on her rapping, wanting her to concentrate on her education. But it’s her life and when she gets notoriety following a rap battle at the local venue and then a song she puts out after she gets thrown to the floor by her school security guards, she has an opportunity to better their lives but also has to make a choice as to whether to go with her own authentic self or the view of her that outsiders will have. Added complication: her one song was written ironically but will not (and is not) seen in its full layers of meaning by its audience.

I love all the supporting cast – first we have gay Sonny, who is his own self and friend and a fully rounded character but serves to remind us of the challenges of being gay in a hyper-masculinised community and Malik, talented film-maker who speaks his truth to Bri and isn’t always appreciated, who are at the same school, a White-majority arts school that could be accused of using its Black and Brown students to gain kudos and funding, There’s a coalition of students standing strong together against the racism of the school, modelling how that could be done. Aunt Pooh, who supports Bri’s career but whose money comes from drug dealing is a positive character who’s shown as having lost her way, and Bri’s paternal grandparents are firm and stern and really don’t like her mum. Mum Jay has two good women friends, Sonny and Malik’s mums, and I like how her life is portrayed, struggling for her family but giving back to the community, too. Her pride but resourcefulness and struggle to accept welfare is very moving. The White characters, James the record exec who has all the stereotypes in the book and (literal) Karen, the pro-gun woman who reports Bri’s song, and the headmaster, who does listen and learn, demonstrate pretty well all the ways you can impose stereotypes, racism and micro-aggressions onto people different to yourself but also do better. So we can learn from the book, but it’s not didactic or preachy in the slightest as far as I read it.

I think this is aimed at YA audiences, although very readable by adults; as such there’s a quite sweet romance, as there has to be, and also a certain amount of wish-fulfilment as the plot unwinds: characters surprise, a school principal is willing to learn, and it turns out that standing by your authentic self, even if it loses you an opportunity, is a valuable thing to do. Well, yes, wish-fulfilment but also a positive message and a hopeful one, too. Just as good at “The Hate U Give” and I must pick up “Concrete Rose”, too.

This was book number 11 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 5/28 – 23 to go!

State of the TBR – August 2022


Having a look at last month’s picture, I still feel like I’m doing OK – the top shelf has shifted along again and there’s still a little space at the end. It is a bit shocking however that I’m onto books acquired in June and July 2021, which means that all these books have arrived in the last year (the vertical ones). Oops.

I completed 15 books in July, with two more on the go. I read seven of my ten ebook TBR books, DNF’d two and didn’t start one, but did read an extra one I won during July, too. I didn’t read all of my print TBR, reading four, including my huge Larry McMurtry, “Moving On”, the 800-pager that took up most of my week off. I’m currently on book 11 of my 20 Books Of Summer, which are all also from my TBR challenge – I now have 24 books to go on that from now until 05 October and none of that is strictly ideal – I don’t think I’ll get either challenge finished (obviously, there are worse things to worry about and at least I am getting through my books and keeping more up to date).

Shiny New Books

My review of “Going to Church in Medieval England” by Nicholas Orme, which I read and reviewed here for the Wolfson History Prize, came out on Shiny New Books – do pop over and have a look.


I was actually quite restrained with print books in this last month.

I saw “It’s a Continent: Unravelling Africa’s History One Country at a Time” by Astrid Madimba and Chinny Ukata mentioned on another blog and had to snap a copy up. Then I was thinking about world Englishes, as you do, and found Edgar W. Schneider’s “English Around the World”. Claire Coleman’s “Lies, Damn Lies” I bought after seeing The Australian Legend’s review and will fit in with Brona’s Aus Reading Month in November. I went to the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham in my week off and spotted “A Brief History of Black British Art” by Rianna Jade Parker, which felt relevant after watching Lenny Henry’s “Caribbean Britain” TV series, and for the same reason ordered a copy of “Life Between Islands”, on Caribbean art, the catalogue of an exhibition at the Tate Gallery I didn’t manage to get to. Michael Walmer kindly sent me his new novel re-print, Jessie M. E. Saxby’s “Rock-Bound: A Story of the Shetland Isles”, part of his Northus Shetland Classics imprint, and Kaggsy of the Bookish Ramblings sent me (and Ali) Reshma Ruia’s British Asian novel, “Still Lives”.

I won just the six NetGalley books this month:

“Black Voices on Britain”, ed. Hakim Adi (published Sept) is a collection of African, Caribbean, American and British voices from the 18th to early 20th centuries. “Black England” by Gretchen Gerzina (Sept) is about Georgian England and “Black Victorians: Hidden in History” by Keshia Abraham and John Woolf (also Sept) does the same for the Victorian era. Diya Abdo’s “American Refuge” (Sept again) collects stories of the refugee experience, Eris Young’s “Ace Voices” (Dec) collects what it means to be asexual, aromantic, demi and grey-ace, and Kamila Shamsie’s “Best of Friends” (Sept again!) is a novel about friendship spanning thirty years.

So that was 15 read and 13 coming in in July – still tilted vaguely in the right direction!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Angie Thomas’ “On the Come Up”, the excellent follow-up to “The Hate U Give” (the characters aren’t connected but the location is as it’s set just after) and Elizabeth Fair’s “The Marble Staircase”, which is one of the Dean Street Press Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books they kindly sent me for review (out today, review coming soon). I’ve also taken “Square Haunting” by Francesca Wade off the shelf as it’s my and Emma’s next read and we’re starting it this week.

Coming up

Coming up next in print books, I have my Larry McMurtry for this month, “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers”, the lovely book from Michael Walmer and the remaining nine and a half books on my 20 Books of Summer list (books 11-20; see their descriptions here):

My NetGalley TBR for August is a lot calmer than it has been:

“Femina” by Janina Ramirez, which I had left over from July but am committed to getting read, is an alternative history of the Middle Ages, told through the women of history who have largely been forgotten. Anne Booth’s “Small Miracles” is a heartwarming novel about three nuns whose convent is slated for closure. “Giving Back” by Derek A. Bardowell promises to redefine the role of charity and reimagine philanthropy through a reparative lens, and Mohsin Hamid’s “The Last White Man” is a satirical science fiction (I think you’d call it?) novel about what happens when White people’s skin starts to turn dark overnight. Then of course I have my two Dean Street Press novels to finish, including Susan Scarlett’s (aka Noel Streatfeild) “Clothes Pegs”.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 2 books to finish and 16 to read. Can I do that? Hm, possibly not!

How was your July reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?

Book review – Alex Hutchinson – “Endure”


Slowly, slowly creeping through, it feels like at the moment, I’ve ticked another one off my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and my last May 2021 acquisition (I bought this in May 2021 from the local Oxfam Books along with “The Pants of Perspective“, and I can report that I have now read all five of the “books in” I listed in mid May (here).

This is the tenth book I’ve completed from the 20 Books project and of course also comes off my TBR 2021-2022 challenge pile. I got a bit bogged down in my massive Larry McMurtry and then finished this one but didn’t have time to write up the review, so I am part-way through Angie Thomas’ “On the Come Up” but I feel I’m not going to manage my 20 Books of Summer this time (again). Having said that, I only have three NetGalley books published in August plus one to finish, rather than the nine I read this month, so who really knows?

Alex Hutchinson – “Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance”

(09 May 2021 – Oxfam Books)

Part of the challenge is that endurance is a conceptual Swiss Army knife. It’s what you need to finish a marathon; it’s also what enables you to keep your sanity during a cross-country flight crammed into the economy cabin with a flock of angry toddlers. The use of the word endurance in the latter case may seem metaphorical, but the distinction between physical and psychological endurance is actually less clear-cut than it appears. (p. 9)

As a long-distance runner of a very amateur and slow kind and big book-reader, I do like a sports book, and I enjoy reading about psychology, sociology and sports science. So I was attracted to this book about what exactly affects endurance sportspeople and I was not disappointed.

While it takes a deep dive into both physiological and psychological aspects of endurance sports (and other ones, sprinting and middle-distance stuff coming into it, too), with chapters on fuel, hydration, heat and then brain training and belief, Hutchinson wears his learning and research lightly, as probably befits someone who writes for popular but niche publications like Runner’s World. It’s well-referenced, with the authors of studies noted in the text and references listed by page number and a text extract, although there isn’t a separate bibliography.

Two even more attractive points about the book: he’s woven through it short chapters on the first iteration of the Nike project to produce an under-two-hour marathon run, and as a decent runner himself, he uses himself as both an example and a guinea pig in some experiments (while being clear on how he doesn’t tend to review or write about his own experiences with tech in his journalistic work). This makes it approachable and immediate. He writes with humanity about researchers and their subjects.

What is the outcome of the book? Well, I suppose you should read it to find out, but it’s part physical, part mental, effort and its perception plays a huge part in endurance (but you can’t trick that perception too often) and there’s much to learn on the topic.

This was book number 10 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 4/28 – 24 to go!

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Moving On”


For the second half of my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, I’m tackling the Houston series, six books set in the Texas city. I bought this one in November 2004 and read it some time between January and August 2005, as it appears in my “Best Books of 2005” post but I started my (original LiveJournal) blog in the August. I find I have a gap in my reading journal record between 2003 and 2011, so it’s not covered in that at the moment, either (must dig out my paper journals for those years and finish that project!). So I can’t easily check what I thought of it, apart from it was one of my top ten reads for that year.

Another small issue is that I found on reading this one and remembering others in the series that the order they were written and published in is not necessarily the internal chronological order, so someone is mentioned in this one in the past who features strongly in one of the other ones. I’ve told myself, since I’ve read this 800-pager now, that I’m experiencing the series as someone would have who read them all as they came out.

Larry McMurtry – “Moving On”

(26 November 2004)

The fact that most women didn’t much like Patsy was a profound shock to me. I liked her a lot – enough to devote much of an eight-hundred-page novel to her – and I fully expected women to like her as much as I did. (Preface, p. 5)

A long, in-depth study of a few years in the lives of Jim and Patsy Carpenter, in the preface, McMurtry wonders why he decided to pin it around the twin themes of rodeos and graduate school, but the two areas make for a wide portrayal of the people of Texas and I think it works. We start off with Jim having taken up an interest in photography and deciding to photograph rodeos – another of his dilettante interests (he and Patsy are both independently wealthy, him more so, but he likes to pretend to be poor and hops from interest to interest like an Anne Tyler hero) and meet various characters from the rodeo, notably the sweet clown, Pete, and his fiancĂ©e, Boots, Sonny, charismatic rodeo hero, and PeeWee, failed kid at the bottom of the heap. Then when Jim decides to do a literature PhD, we meet a host of doctoral students and tutors; this bit reminded me of hanging out with the postgrads in 1992, when I was just graduated, and the mid-2000s when Matthew worked in a pyschology lab at the university, and not much really changes in terms of the types.

There are other family characters, too – rackety aunts, naughty sisters and a rancher uncle who offers Patsy a different way of being. The action moves around Texas (including Thalia) and briefly to California, and as usual McMurtry’s sense of place is always there in the background. There isn’t a huge amount of plot, some affairs, a marriage unravelling, friends supporting each other, a baby or three, but what there is is detail.

It was when reading all this detail that it struck me why I often quote Iris Murdoch (mentioned here the once, as I described in my review of “Girls They Write Songs About“) and Larry McMurtry as two favourite authors (George Eliot and Thomas Hardy fit in here, too) even though superficially they seem very different. Both have a web of interlinked characters who happen upon each other in different combinations; more importantly, both are realist writers, who will set down every thought and sensation of their characters as they fall in and out of love and go about their day. Here are Patsy and young son Davey, walking home after Davey has grasped a temporarily unused basketball and hugged it, thinking he was playing with the big boys, only to have it summarily removed for play by those boys, ignoring him:

Patsy carried Davey as far as the sidewalk and then set him down and offered him a finger, thinking they might walk along together. But Davey had not forgotten the humiliation of the the basketball court. He was not pleased with his mother and didn’t want to walk with her. He slapped at her finger and looked petulant. Then he sat down. He did not intend to walk at all, and especially not with Patsy. He seemed to feel that what had happened on the basketball court was entirely her fault. He was not about to forgive her for the fact that he was small. His look showed clearly enough that he considered her responsible for the whole business. (p. 791)

It did take me a long time to read, but it was so absorbing and almost like reportage in its realism. Patsy’s every thought is shown and it’s a fascinating portrait, and seems to me like McMurtry has created another character, like Harmony in the Las Vegas novels, who is realistic and believable, even if, as he mentions in the preface, she’s living just before feminism hit and spends much of the novel in tears. And did I dislike her, as McMurtry says in his preface most women did? No, I liked her. I liked Joe Percy, Emma Horton and Pete the clown just as much, though, the side characters making the novel, as often happens.

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

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