Book reviews – Jules Holland – “Barefaced Lies and Boogie-Woogie Boasts” and Ronald Rice (ed) – “My Bookstore” plus arrivals #amreading #books


Unfortunately, both of these books were a little disappointing. Unfortunately, coming after the generally humane and lovely Mark Ellen autobiography, Jools Holland came over as really quite slimy, and I should have broken up the Bookstore book rather than reading it in chunks. Neither was bad as such – I finished both of them and I am quite good at putting down books I’m not enjoying, but they were a little underwhelming. Scroll down to see the first tranche of arrivals after my clicking session (and meet-up with the lovely Sian) in the last few days …

Jools Holland – “Barefaced Lies and Boogie-Woogie Boasts”

(4 October 2016 – The Cook Book shop, St Just, Cornwall)

Finally, the last of my Cornwall purchases! His autobiography, written with Harriet Vyner and sounding like his authentic voice (I feel a bit sorry for the transcriber!). There was interesting stuff about Squeeze and his tours and about his TV shows, but it just read very arch and fake-sounding, lots of pompous stuff about lessons learned and making up for things with this book, and a way of putting things that suggests he’s the type of chap who refers to “My good lady wife” or “A pint of your finest pale nectar” in a pub. There’s also quite a lot of name-dropping and then huge crashes into bathos. It’s all patently him and not the fault of the writer. There’s also a fair bit of vomiting described, so a bit of a struggle, all told!

Ronald Rice (ed.) – “My Bookstore”

(29 October 2016 Brierlow Bar Bookstore, Buxton)

An on to the first of my Buxton purchases, I think. Over 80 writers are featured in this compilation of pieces about favourite indie bookshops around the US, which meant that while it was a lovely paean of praise to the indie, a) I hadn’t heard of most of the writers (I think the bookstores themselves were asked to choose their favourite author customer to write about them), b) not many of the pieces could therefore be very long, and c) they got a little bit samey and repetitive, talking about the horror of big box stores and the Kindle, which is fine, except I don’t have an argument with e-books as i) they let me make my own books available at the lowest price point possible and ii) they are invaluable for people with visual impairment. Anyway, it’s a lovely little book with adorable illustrations, and it’s heart-warming to read of all the great book store owners and employees out there. I should have read it interspersed with more other books, I think.

So the first delivery of brand new books has arrived – thank you Bridget for three of these, and Sian for the Bill Drummond one (I now have the challenge to see if I can get further than her through that one!).

A bit of a variety, but I do like to read a variety of books. It’s interesting to see how cover designs are specificed by genre, though, isn’t it.

I’ve finished Greg Rutherford’s autobiography (not as nice as I thought he’d be – wah!) and a fabulous YA novel called “Running Full Tilt” by Michael Currinder, and I’m currently reading Muhammad Yunus’ “Banker to the Poor” about starting the Grameen microfinance bank and another NetGalley win, “Greatest Hits” by Laura Barnett (the jury’s out on that one at the moment …). What are you reading and what have you just finished? Any naughty purchases to confess?

Competition and book acquisition news


Laura Bates Girl Up Win year of no clutterI am so sorry that it took me so long to sort out my competitions to win a copy of Girl Up and Year of No Clutter, after being all excited about setting them up. I get frustrated if I go in for something and then never hear, and I’m sure those who put in for the competitions have done too – so, sorry.

Life got in the way, basically, as it tends to do – I haven’t been well and although that’s now pretty much resolved, energy had to be reserved for working, walking, recovering and a bit of blogging the millions of books that I’ve been reading!

Anyway, the winners (chosen using a random number generator online) are …

Girl Up – Cathy Turner

Year of No Clutter – Rebecca / Bookish Beck

I have dropped both of them an email for their address and will get the books in the post as soon as I’m able.

All that reading has made a huge dent in my TBR and Book Pile, so when a friend and I were swapping birthday presents (we got all out of sync so no wishing me a happy birthday as it was a little while ago), I managed to do a good bit of second-hand and special-offer ordering (plus a sneaky click on a Kindle book) to pick up some stuff I’ve heard about recently and things on my Wish List and have on the way …

Ruby Wax – “A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled” – I need to find a way to keep myself calm and sane apart from running and yoga, as when I can’t do those, for whatever reason, things can feel overwhelming quickly. I trust Ruby Wax to not be too “woo” and to give a sideways glance at stuff, and I know she’s been doing a lot of mental health awareness raising and advocacy, so this seems like a good bet.

Carole Matthews – “Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses” – because she writes very nicely done, light novels and because she’s superb on Facebook.

Angie Thomas – “The Hate U Give” – I keep seeing reviews and mentions of this, touted as the novel to read about BlackLivesMatter. I don’t know as much as I should about black lives in the US and I hope this lauded YA novel will teach me more.

Ben Fogle – “Offshore: An Island of my Own” – because I like islands and this has been on my wish list for ev er.

Amy Levy – The Romance of a Shop” (ebook) – out of copyright so a cheap e-edition, I can’t remember why this was on my wish list but she’s also a Persephone author.

Neil Taylor – “Document and Eyewitness: An Intimate History of Rough Trade” – because I do like a music book, especially one about indie music, and this has been on my wish list for aaaages, too.

I’ve also managed to acquire Bill Drummond’s “45” – he was one of the band, The KLF and my friend Sian got 60 pages in before giving up … a challenge!

Another electronic arrival is “Popular” by Mitch Prinstein – this is a non-fiction book about popularity and likeability in the status-obsessed world of social media, and was provided as some kind of pre-approved pre-link on NetGalley by the publisher! Whoo!

Some of these no doubt will appear on my 20 Books of Summer 2017 list – the only challenge I’m doing this year, because it’s just such fun taking part. A teaser post on 746Books’ blog can be found here.

Have you read any of these? Any recommendations or warnings? Are you doing any challenges this year and how are they going?

Book reviews – Arnaldur Indriðason – “Black Skies” and “Strange Shores” #amreading #books


Well, I’ve actually made it to the end of this series, which I’ve been reading since September 2015. I’m not usually good at reading crime, because I’m basically a giant wuss and can’t cope with Horrible Things. Fortunately, in most of these the violence is off-stage and not too gory. Also, I seem to have a higher tolerance for Horrible Things in Icelandic fiction – I am fine with icky stuff in sagas and other works, e.g. by Laxness, which I would blench at in other nationalities’ books (I have surprised people with my enthusiasm for having stood on the VERY SPOT where Snorri Sturluson was hacked to death, for example). So, I have coped with these where I wouldn’t have coped with other Scandi noir, and I’m very sad that they’re now at an end.

Arnaldur Indriðason – “Black Skies” and “Strange Shores”

(August 2015)

Both of these books are on a simultaneous timeline to that of “Outrage” – while Elinborg is on her mysterious case, Sigurdur Oli is pursuing a case initially privately for a friend in “Black Skies”, although an odd man who has cropped up in “Outrage” and also knows the AWOL Erlendur (busy being AWOL for the events in “Strange Shores”) keeps pestering him with an incoherent and half-formed accusation about an older man.

Sigurdur Oli gets too mixed up in his own case, which had seemed like a simple need for a visit but ends up with him implicated in all sorts of stuff and in trouble with a colleague (fortunately, he manages to get his own back on his over-zealous colleague, which is nice, as he’s always seemed a bit stiff and over-zealous himself). He’s also regretting his break-up with Bergthora and going over that in his mind, even trying to see her a few times.

The main case in “Black Skies” is an interesting one because it’s all tied up with the banking bubble that came just before the financial crisis, and explores the exploitation of Iceland’s banking system, which I hadn’t really understood from inside before. It was also nice to hear about Snaefellsness, a lovely ice-capped area to the north of Reykjavik which we’ve visited. There is a gruesome start to this book which is more about the potential for yuckiness than an actual event – this put me off for a bit, but probably because I was feeling a bit delicate, and once I’d steeled myself for it slightly, it was OK.

“Strange Shores”, as I’ve said, takes place at the same time again, and now we find out why Erlendur is missing (again), and needing to be asked after. He’s gone out East one last time, looking for signs of his lost younger brother, assumed perished in a snowstorm that nearly took Erlendur and his father. This story has arced through pretty well the whole series, so it’s good to dig deeper into it here. He also gets involved in an old mystery, about a woman who was lost in a storm in the 1940s. As he interrogates the very elderly witnesses and also talks to people about the loss of his brother, there’s a very strong sense of last chances, of a way of life which is being lost and a type of person that is going from Iceland.

Interspersed with Erlendur’s two plots are dreamlike sequences of extreme cold and a mysterious visitor which build beautifully towards the conclusion. A really good read, although some challenging parts, and a great end to a very good series.

I’ve read more since these, oh dear – two more finished, but luckily they were both a  bit disappointing so can be reviewed together. I’m part way through Greg Rutherford’s entertaining autobiography, but fear not – I have had a clicky-clicky session today to replenish all the gaps in the TBR, and more books will be arriving soon. How is your May reading? What’s the best series you’ve read?

Book reviews – Francis Brett Young – “White Ladies” and Virginia Woolf / Quentin Bell – “The Charleston Bulletin Supplements”


I’m still reading up a storm as I’m finding quite a lot of bits of time to curl up with a book – although I have slowed down a little bit recently as am on two quite meaty ones at the moment. Today I’ve got two period pieces – a Francis Brett Young novel published in 1935 and a work by Virginia Woolf and Quentin Bell produced in 1923-27, the latter being quite a slight work with a short review (are you getting tired of all these reviews yet? I keep thinking I can slack off and then I finish ANOTHER book …).

Francis Brett Young – “White Ladies”

(04 October 2016 – Newlyn Books, Penzance)

This is the signed first edition I felt a bit guilty for buying in a town where I know there’s another FBY fan – turned out she knew it was there and happy for me to run off with it back to the Midlands. Phew. I have been interested in FBY since I worked with his archives in the University of Birmingham Special Collections, and have been lucky enough to find and read a few of his novels. The best editions are these lovely hardbacks.

This is the story of a love affair – between a magnificent woman in her prime and a beautiful late Tudor house buried in the wilds of the Midlands. It’s also the story of the Industrial Revolution and specifically the iron and then steel industry in the Midlands, from the mid-19th century until just after WW1. It’s populated, for all its didactic intent, with marvellous, slightly too impetuous, handsome women, who far outshine the men in their lives (who tend to being dictatorial or weak) and make strong, hard decisions quickly when they need to.

As usual with FBY’s novels, I loved the descriptions of the barely disguised Birmingham and Black Country towns and villages, the teeming industries and the layers of people rising and falling. He’s particularly interested in the decay of the old landed gentry and the robustness of the self-made industrialists, and the effects – genetic, social and psychological – that occur when the two groups come into contact.

It’s a historical novel written in the 1930s (why do I not mind these? Because they’re closer in time to their subject?) and so yes, women to an extent have to protect and better themselves through marriage – but men get trapped in this process, too, and interesting contrasts are drawn between the several unmarried women and the mothers in the book, giving a wide range rather than a stereotyped view. When it comes down to it, I gulped down almost 700 pages in a few days, and that’s the recommendation you need. Do pick up FBY if you chance on him in a second-hand shop!

Virginia Woolf and Quentin Bell – “The Charleston Bulletin Supplements”

(22 October 2016 – kindly sent to me by Simon from Stuckinabook)

A British Library reproduction with transcriptions and an extensive introduction to these supplements to the Bell family newspaper, produced and illustrated by Quentin Bell and his aunt Virginia. Amusing but sometimes very obscure even to a devoted Bloomsbury fan (there are copious footnotes and there’s a list of people at the back) – it’s a lovely little read and I know someone who would enjoy this as much as I did …

I’m currently wading through the somewhat sleazy memoirs of Jools Holland (there are some really interesting bits but he comes over as rather a rum chap) and a book called “My Bookstore” which has lots and lots and LOTS of short essays by authors (most of whom I haven’t heard of) and which might need to be interspersed with another few books so as not to get too samey. I have finished the Reykjavik Murder Mysteries series and those reviews will be next up, probably tomorrow. Because I wrote this up on Wednesday and I bet I’ve finished another one by the time my next review slot comes around … sigh.

Book review – Sandhya Menon – “When Dimple Met Rishi” #books #amreading


when dimple met rishiThank you to the publisher Hodder & Stoughton for making this available via NetGalley, and to NetGalley for choosing me to review it. I like books about people from one culture growing up in another, and have read quite a lot of Young Adult stuff in the past (although I don’t enjoy vampires and violence, so have had that limited a bit recently!), so this one ticked all the boxes and promised to be a nice light read when I wanted one. I was attracted by the setting of a coding summer school and the description of a couple with different attitudes to their South Asian heritage coming together and clashing or …

This one comes out in June according to Amazon (July according to NetGalley) so not long to wait.

Sandhya Menon – “When Dimple Met Rishi”

(eBook, NetGalley, 28 April 2017)

High school graduate Dimple is overjoyed when her parents actually encourage her to attend a coding summer school in San Francisco before taking up her place at Stanford. Maybe they’re finally abandoning their stifling and traditional ways and maybe her mum will stop pestering her to grow her hair, wear contacts and give up her dreams of creating the perfect app … or maybe they’ve sniffed out an opportunity for her to meet an Ideal Indian Husband. Oh-oh.

Rishi is a lot more traditional himself, having to play the good son and please his parents, going to a coding convention he’s not that interested in to show himself more willing than his sports-obsessed younger brother to do their bidding. when the two meet, will it be on purpose or by accident, and will sparks of romance fly or will the similarities in their upbringing be outweighed by the differences in their outlooks?

Given a taste of freedom for perhaps the first time, a group of American late teens show many of the characteristics of the high school cliques: is it now possible for the divisions to be broken and the geeks to stand up for the jocks? Does who your father is and who your mother wants to you be matter more than who you are yourself and your deepest dreams? While Dimple and Rishi manage to stay true to themselves, finding support in their friendship, others get caught up and pulled into an unpleasant situation.

There’s a lot to like here: Dimple’s love of coding and refusal to change herself (she might borrow some clothes from her roommate but she only straightens her hair when she wants to resemble a favourite old cartoon character) and Rishi’s essential kindness and love of art. Also impressive is the casual introduction of a character who just happens to be hearing-impaired, just placed in there, not as a plot device. There’s no real violence, and the characters are shown reflecting and reflecting on their culture, career choices and friends in a realistic not forced or preachy way. I would read more by this author.

Book review – Jess Phillips – “Everywoman” @amreading @books


I’m glad I took a nice picture of this one for the blog a few days ago, as it wouldn’t be right to use the usual TBR picture, given that it didn’t actually hit my TBR at all. My friend Meg bought me a copy and got it signed (“To Liz, badass feminist salute”) a little while ago but was saving it to give it to me at a particular time. Hooray – there was Meg and there was the book on Sunday, and I think I had it finished by Tuesday. It didn’t even get on the TBR shelf, it went straight onto my bedside table and into my hands. It’s a rare book that bypasses my terribly restrictive (not) read in order of acquisition policy, and I was hoping it lived up to the (friend-induced) hype. Did it?

Jess Phillips – “Everywoman: One Woman’s Truth about Speaking the Truth”

(From Meg, 7 May 2017)

The Labour MP for Hall Green (the neighbouring constituency to mine; I do wish I lived a few streets over!) and her call to arms and memoir promised much and handily delivered, too. Taking in chapters on motherhood, starting work, equality, politics and trolling, and more, she speaks about her own experiences and then places them within the context of (mainly women’s) general experiences. She’s open about her own experiences, good and bad, and her own personality – she knows she can speak her mind too much and yes, she does seek publicity, but so that she can highlight the women’s and equality causes she really cares about. I do realise that most political autobiography is going to be biased and self-justifying to an extent, but I really feel she’s being honest here, and I did try to read it with a critical rather than fan’s eye. It was empowering to read that she feels just as threatened and insecure as the rest of us when walking into an event or standing up and speaking about something; she explains that when under threat, she tends to expand rather than contract (I tend to do this, too, my worst examples being when about to go under anaesthetic: oh, I blush!) and that makes a lot of sense when you see how she acts and reacts.

She’s great on sisterhood and acknowledging support systems and goes out of her way to prove that she doesn’t hate men in general (just the ones who beat or rape people, or troll from behind a web of anonymity, etc.). She also deals with her own family issues and her own failings honestly, and I think her explanation that having these things in your background is not something that should make you keep out of politics is going to be helpful to people.

Phillips provides strong comebacks and reasoning through the book on various issues such as why women in abusive relationships might not leave their partners – this reminded me of the “Girl Up” book with its useful resources (I wonder if she’s read that and what she thinks of it. She does mention Laura Bates’ Everyday Sexism project so I’m guessing she’d be positive about it). There’s also a good understanding of why everyone isn’t as gung-ho as she is: she knows that people who tweet in support of her are likely to get trolled and explains that it’s OK therefore not to, but exhorts people to “press on the bruise” and do what they feel they can do.

I left the book with much more of a sense of who she is as a human being, and of how the Labour Party works in the House of Commons in practical terms, from the inexplicable ironing boards in the loos to the support systems among women MPs.

Book reviews – Jane Smiley – “Champion Horse” and “Star Horse” #amreading #books


Two in one today as these two books are the final two in a five-part series and follow on from one another without a gap. By the way, this pile is looking pretttttty good now: all that’s left are the Sagas, the Earlene Fowlers and one Indriðason. So the TBR shelf has receded a little, but the Pile is practically gone!

Jane Smiley is famous for writing each book in a different genre, and she’s worked her way through the campus novel (“Moo”), the unreadable Icelandic saga (“The Greenlanders”), romance, Shakespeare re-workings, all sorts. She did one about racehorses which I really liked, then started on YA pony books – and of course, being YA pony books, you can’t just have one, you have to have a series, so she did one. As I’ll explain, the blurbs don’t really fit the books, but they’re good reads for the more serious pony book fan.

Jane Smiley – “Champion Horse”, “Star Horse”

(7 April 2017)

The final two of her Abby books and a nice read, although the puffs on the front and back covers would likely leave more excitable readers a little disappointed. On the first, we’re asked whether Abby can tame this feisty horse, and on the second, told that she is offered opportunities away from the family farm, which isn’t the whole story by any means. The horses on the covers are also surrounded by stars and sparkles, whereas a nice thing about Abby is that she’s resolutely ungirly and not bothered about all the high school fuss. Anyway.

The books are written in the somewhat flat, plain tone of the other novels – which is fine, as Abby is a plain thinker herself, and this works as she negotiates High School and its changed priorities (suddenly you have to select a special hairstyle in which to present yourself, for example), as well as her horsy responsibilities and her religious family (this last is presented sympathetically although with pity, as the world slips from easy distinctions and rules).

In “Champion Horse”, she has trouble getting her own horse, True Blue, to jump, but does well with friend Sophia’s Pie in the Sky. But why is Sophia not riding her horses herself? The eating disorder theme in this book is treated wisely, with the effects on the person’s friendship group and family looked at and a tentative but not fairytale solution shown in the margins of the story.

In “Star Horse”, Gee-Whiz, an ex-racehorse, comes to the ranch and Abby uses some of the techniques she’s learned with Blue (and rejects others even though they’re presented by an expert, with support from her friends) to teach him to jump. She also has to face saying goodbye to Jack, the surprise foal of an earlier book, when it’s time for him to start his racing training.

There’s a lot of detail about training horses here, including descriptions of lessons and practice sessions, which I found interesting but would probably bore a non-horse person. Especially in the last book, the modern world – pop records! Vietnam! – start to intrude into the family’s world. And then … it just stops. But good reads.

I’ve read two more books since these so be prepared for more reviews. Two cracking ones up next! What are you reading? How ARE you?

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