Book review – NeuroTribes

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November TBRJust one book today, mainly because I got this on NetGalley and you can save time by just putting a link in to your review when submitting feedback. And it’s the only one I’ve got outstanding at the moment, and just sometimes it’s good to be nice and tidy at the end of the month (my TBR is anything but. This will change).

Steve Silberman – “NeuroTribes”

(October 2015 – from NetGalley – thank you to the publisher Penguin Group Avery and NetGalley)

This book now rather famously (as it won the Samuel Johnson prize for non-fiction between me acquiring it and this review) sets out the history of research on, attitudes to and treatment of autism (and what eventually became known as its spectrum). It starts off with a couple of descriptions of scientists from history who we would say now are “on the spectrum”, not in a move to retrospectively diagnose them but more importantly to highlight their huge contribution to the development of science, which would not have been possible without their distinctive personality traits, which is the central theme of this book.

Some of the historical sections on diagnosis and treatment would be distressing for people with autism in their immediate family to read and were on the edge of my tolerance: but it’s important for the author to set out the arguments around eugenics and around aversion therapy (the latter being practised until almost the present day), both of which were represented, of course, at the time as “science”, because we need to know and remember what has happened in the past.

The mix of history and modern stories of advocacy and empowerment make for an engaging read; it was good to come across “old friends” such as Temple Grandin, the subject of one of Oliver Sach’s books. I particularly liked the autism activists who arose and grouped together with the development of the World Wide Web and collaborate with others in the disability advocacy groups; less welcome was the in-fighting and one-upmanship amongst the various autism organisations, but this is typical of all  movements and again, needs recording.

The book makes a convincing argument for two main strands: one, that we don’t have an epidemic of autism, but a rise in diagnosis (a process which he pulls apart forensically and convincingly) and the other that there are huge benefits to neurodiversity, much as there are to biodiversity: different kinds of minds are needed for different situations, and we shouldn’t strive to make everyone uniform.

This book will suit … anyone interested in autism and Asperger’s Syndrome (with the caveat that some stories of the Nazis and of treatments meted out in the 20th century could be found distressing).

Reading round-up – The Vicar’s Daughter and a batch of Macombers


November TBROh dear – where HAS the month gone and what have I been doing with my reading and blogging? I have no idea of the answer to any of those questions. I know I’ve worked quite a lot, run a rather horrible half marathon on an airfield and had a bit of a cold, but it’s not really an excuse. I have also been reading two review copies of non-fiction books, which have taken a bit of time – more on those later (and more purchases, wouldn’t you know). Anyway, have you missed me? I said HAVE YOU MISSED ME- oh, never mind. Here are some reviews …

E. H. Young – “The Vicar’s Daughter” (Virago)

(02 January 2015 – a gift from the lovely Kaggsy of Kaggsysbookishramblings)

A study of a week in the life of cousins Maurice and Edward. Both are vicars, but with very different theologies and world-views, and indeed lives, with Maurice a perpetual invalid and bachelor, mainly it feels out of pique at being pipped to the post of marriage to Margaret, who is now, of course, married to Edward. Maurice is, as you would imagine, fussy and pernickety, Edward academic, remote and posh (and a bit peevish, too – what a lovely pair they are). But Margaret is still Maurice’s ideal and idol, and he curiously worships Edward, too, only too eager to take a “holiday” looking after his parish while the whole family is away.

We meet Maurice and, first, the daughter and new dog of the house on the eve of Margaret and Edward’s return. There follows a week in which happenings are revealed out of order and in a tumble of mixed impressions and blurry pictures, women use their various powers and share tips on doing so, the churchwarden appears to be implicated in one set of wrong-doings and Edward appears to be implicated in yet another, all giving rise to all sorts of misunderstandings and poppings between the vicarage and the churchwarden’s house that would be material for a farce if it wasn’t so hothoused, sour and over-dramatic. Young draws them all so perfectly and cleverly, capturing all the nuances.

Not a comfy read, but a well-observed and slightly cringey one, notable for seeing marriage as warfare and family as stunting at a time when these opinions would not be popular if expressed in public.

This book will suit … Virago readers, perhaps Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor fans, as it’s a “cool” book, observed and detatched rather than messily involved in all the emotion.

Debbie Macomber – “Three Brides, No Groom”

(Part of the Liz and Linda Collection, can’t remember when it entered the household)

A clever conceit in this standalone novel sees three women in their 30s meet in the centre of an American college campus at their 15-year reunion. The cheerleader, top law student and professional bad girl hadn’t known each other way back when, but they sit down, get to know each other and share their stories – each revolving around the fact that they were so sure about their futures as they finished college, but then found them twisting in unexpected ways, from running off with a biker to discovering a latent maths genius.

And what happened to that hapless groom (or grooms)? As the evening comes around the women prepare to attend the big party, maybe we’ll find out by the time we get to the end. A refreshing and fun read.

Debbie Macomber – “Heart of Texas I & II”

(Same situation as above)

We’re in a new (well, new to me) eight-book series here, set in the small town of Promise, Texas (which is almost Larry McMurtry land), with its ranchers and business owners, long-established families and new folk in town. Each of these two books contains two self-contained novels, although they’re best read in the series like this.

In “Lonesome Cowboy”, Savannah meets and falls for a hitchhiking cowboy, seemingly down on his luck, but her brother Grady, who’s been running the ranch with her since their parents died and their younger brother ran off with their inheritance, is not convinced.

“Texas Two-Step” brings Ellie to the centre: she runs the feed store and is in mourning for her late dad. She leans on best friend Glen, but then Richard Weston from the first story starts sniffing around and there’s an embarrassing scene at a dance before things can work out how they should do. I liked the chorus of gossips and the stern retired schoolteachers in this one.

In the clumsily named “Caroline’s Child”, it’s the turn of postmistress Caroline and the fabulously grumpy Grady to take centre stage. They’ve sparred for years and he’s a bit of a caricature where the ladies are concerned, but do they actually care for each other? All would be well but for the mystery parentage of her five-year-old, Maggie (who is well observed in her part of the adventure).

“Dr. Texas” is the new girl in town in the fourth, funny, novel – she’s a Californian through and through, getting money off her student loan by working in the tiny medical unit in Promise and planning to get out of there as soon as she can. But then she starts making friends and getting to grips with the Texan ways … and men!


Ivory Vikings Well, that covers a bit of reading, and here are the two non-fiction review copies I’ve also finished.

“Ivory Vikings” was read for the lovely online magazine, “Shiny New Books” – there’s going to be an Extra Shiny coming out at the beginning of December which will feature this review. I’ll link to it when it comes out, as I have had to save my review for the magazine. It was an interesting book, though, linking the Lewis Chessmen into pretty well the whole of the Nordic world by using different chess pieces to tell social and political history.

The other book is Steve Siberman’s “Neuro Tribes”, which has just won the Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction – I got that one from NetGalley. It’s a history of attitudes to, research on and treatment of autism which was very interesting and engaging. I’ll be reviewing that one on here, but separately (because NetGalley lets you link to your review on your blog, which is useful).

Running booksA couple of confessions to round off this mega-post. First off, my lovely friend Julie, who is going through the ordination process, was downsizing her Virago collection, and I was the lucky recipient of Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” vols 2 and 3. I had had vol 1 for ever, and picked up 4 last year in a charity shop, so this was most fortunate. And I’m hatching a plot to read all 13 sub-volumes, one per month, starting in December, as I’ll have finished the Forsyte Saga by then and a couple of people want to read along.

And the other ones, see above. I’m really getting into my running again, I’ve run three half-marathon distances in the last three months (including that airfield one, ugh), and I want to improve my form and stamina. So I asked for recommendations and have picked up these two books. I’m not going to overdo it or hurt myself, but if I want to do a marathon next year (which I MIGHT want to do), it would be useful to get a bit stronger and quicker. So some runner reading to do. And running, obvs.

There we go – did you miss me, then? Probably not after that mammoth read – ha! If you’re a book blogger reading this, I’m behind with your blogs, too, but will catch up soon, promise!


Wyke Farms: Please change your mind on your Superlight Cheese!


Wyke Farms Superlight Cheese

Wyke Farms Superlight Cheese

Way back when I discovered I had high cholesterol and became determined to get it down using diet rather than drugs, my friend Gill went to the Good Food Show and came back with some SuperLight cheese by small producer Wyke Farms. Hooray – created for a family member who had high cholesterol himself, this cheese had only 1.5% saturated fat. And.




it tasted really nice. Like proper cheddar. Because it was proper cheddar. Cheese you would want to cut a slice off and actually eat (but would melt nicely on toast or on top of your pasta, too). I wrote about it in my book. I wrote about it in this blog.

First of all, I could get it from a few places locally. Then it narrowed down. But hey, it was OK, because I could still get it direct from Wyke Farms, in packs of three, for only £12. (And it worked really well, by the way – came in the post, never any problems, even in the summer.)

And then, I went to order it again and it was NO LONGER THERE.

I got in touch with Wyke Farms.

They had had to discontinue production.

Because even though it’s brilliant cheese with a good taste that has low enough saturated fat not to affect the cholesterol levels of those of us (and there are thousands of us, right) whose cholesterol is affected by their saturated fat consumption, the supermarkets, while stocking other Wyke Farms products, did not get behind this one. They don’t order it, people don’t know about it, people stop buying it …

Well, I don’t want to stop buying it. Given that I pay £2.50 odd for a much smaller block of really quite inferior “cholesterol reducing” cheese, which has more saturated fat, and which I certainly wouldn’t want to slice a bit off just to nibble, I would pay MORE for this cheese, even if I had to order it online.

I would love Wyke Farms to reconsider, and to re-start production, on a smaller scale, selling online. Wouldn’t you? Please say yes. Because Wyke Farms is a business and they need to see that there’s demand before they start making a load of cheese they don’t know if they can sell.

I’m spreading the word on social media. I’m sharing this post on my other blogs. I’m asking YOU, if you would buy this cheese again (or for the first time), PLEASE pop a comment below AND share this post, using the place you found it on social media and/or the sharing buttons below, to say please Wyke Farms, reconsider and continue producing SuperLight Cheese for people who eat low fat, whether for their cholesterol or other reasons!

Here’s what I’d like you to do:

  • Share my posts if you see them on social media
  • Share this post using the sharing buttons below
  • Comment that you’d buy the cheese if they started producing it.
  • Bookmark this page and I will post an update if we’re successful.

PS Wyke Farms are in no way connected to this blog post. They will know about it about 2 minutes after I posted it, because I’m going to tell them, and they might share my plea if I’m lucky, but this was done entirely off my own bat.

State of the TBR – November 2015


November TBROops – I’m a bit late with this one, as it’s been a busy day. Anyway, the TBR has gone a bit major: this post explains how it happened, although I then added five more substantial Viragoes (pictured here).

Nov 2015 the whole horrorAnd I haven’t shared the full nightmarish horror of it all before now (have I), including the standard double stacked TBR to be read in order of acquisition, the  “Debbie Macomber and books in series” pile, the “Three Investigators and pony books” pile and the Arnaldur Idriðason pile, which results in the bookcase that holds Matthew’s and my TBRs looking like this (the circled ones are mine, sitting neatly in front of rows of other, tidier books). Oops, indeed.

Nov 2015 currently readingAaaaaaanyway, moving swiftly on, I’m currently reading the subtle and horrifically well-observed “The Vicar’s Daughter” by E.H. Young, which was sent to me by fellow book blogger and commenter-on-here Kaggsy – a lovely Virago and a good and absorbing read.

I am about to start a lovely-looking non-fiction book that I’m reviewing for Shiny New Books – I admitted that I can never remember if we’re allowed to reveal what we’re reviewing before the mag and review comes out, but two of the editors kindly commented on this post, so I can reveal that it’s “Ivory Vikings” by Anne Marie Brown – exciting!

Nov 2015 coming upComing up, I got a  bit confused, because I was sure that this picture was oh, too similar to October’s one – however, I know that I have in fact read 11 books in October. How did this happen? Well, for a start, I was still reading three books as the month started, which were off the TBR. Then I read three Debbie Macombers off my DM pile, and two ebooks, one loaned book and one book that I bought within the month for the 1924 Club. When you add those up, it does work, honest. And these are indeed the books that are coming up.

So, the perennial questions – how is YOUR TBR doing, what have you got coming up, and have you read any of these lovelies?

Book reviews – Superfreakonomics, Penny Red and Pattern


October tbrA bumper three non-fiction reviews today, because I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading (hooray!) and wanted to get these in before the end of the month. Two of them are dispatches from the front line of what one could loosely call sociology, talking about real-life examples; the other is a really pretty book about lovely patterned fabric! Here goes, then …

Stephen D. Leavitt and Stephen J. Dunbar – “Superfreakonomics”

(Borrowed from Sian, that inveterate lender of books and expander of my TBR)

A new book building on their previous volume (which I appear to have read on Christmas Eve 2007) and taking the same idea of marrying the techniques of economics enquiry to what they call “a rogue, freakish curiosity” about cause and effect and relationships between entities and events.

They freely admit in the introduction that the book doesn’t have a plan or an arc, and this does come through in the rather scattershot nature of the book, darting between matching the economics of prostitution and Christmas Santas, looking at how measures to improve matters often only serve to make them worse, and devoting a whole chapter to climate change. I did note this about the previous book, too, and I feel the same here as I did eight years ago: it’s all very interesting, but the lack of a unifying concept means that it doesn’t really stick in the mind after you’ve closed the book.

This book will suit … anyone with an enquiring mind, people who like pop psychology and popular science.

Laurie Penny – “Penny Red”

(20 January 2015)

Subtitled “Notes from the New Age of Dissent”, this consists of dispatches from the front line of protest, anti-capitalism and feminism, mainly written for the New Statesman magazine and published there just before I started subscribing to it.

The stories from the youth protests about the education cuts of 2010 and the experience of anti-capitalists and squatters in the run-up to the Royal Wedding in 2011 were particularly distressing to read and find out about – in fact I shed a tear on the bus when reading this on the way home from town one afternoon. I wish I’d known about this at the time, and it’s horrendous that the treatment meted out to protestors was so violent and so unreported.

My only problem with this book was that there are many problems highlighted and eloquently explained, but few solutions, apart from calls for solidarity and a commitment to telling the truth as it happened (both of which are highly laudable, of course) and some unpickings of other people’s theories and books. But I don’t think that’s what this book is for: it’s front-line reportage, often unfiltered and actually written and constructed in the thick of things, and for that it should be applauded. It’s a good work of social history, read after the fact, and it’s important to have this book out there (which is why I’m going to share it via BookCrossing rather than keeping it to re-read).

This book will suit … I fear it may preach to the converted, but I’d like people who think protests are all coordinated by a “dangerous few rotten apples” etc to read the truth as seen from inside the protests and movements to read it. However it will probably find most readers in lefty, not particularly capital-minded folks.

Orla Kiely – “Pattern”

(08 January 2015)

I bought a copy of this lovely hardback for my best friend for Christmas then wished I’d bought a copy for myself and had to hunt one down: there’s a lesson there (I also then had to buy some MORE books to make up the order to free delivery, and there’s a lesson there, too).

So, in this book, which sits a little uncomfortably with the anti-materialist stuff above, is by that lady who designs the beautiful apple and stem print materials that you see on stationery, mugs in my house, cards, or bags, duvet covers and clothes for those who are less parsimonious than me. I do love the stuff though,and thoroughly enjoyed this book, which talks about her life and business in a surprising and gratifying amount of detail. Full of gorgeous illustrations and notes helpful to business owners, professional designers and amateurs looking to make their home beautiful or wear colours and patterns, this turned out to be a good as well as a pretty read.

This book will suit … people who lust after her lovely mugs, duvet covers, bags, etc.

Well, that’s the last three out of the TWELVE books I’ve read this month, as I don’t think I’ll get “The Vicar’s Daughter” finished tomorrow. Have you had a good reading month (especially those of you who’ve had a half term or university reading week)? My November has been written on the physical calendar, it’s so busy, and seems to consist of a heady mix of peculiar runs (a half marathon consisting of laps of an airfield and my first proper cross-country race), gigs (two in two weeks!) and helping out with local efforts to collect goods to send over to refugees suffering in Europe. So I’m not sure how much reading time all that will give me …

Book reviews – Seducers in Ecuador / The Heir and Flowering Wilderness


1924-ClubThree books in a bumper review which also includes my entry for the 1924 Club hosted by Simon at Stuckinabook and Karen at Kaggsysbookishramblings – I’m so pleased that I joined in with this jolly and relaxed reading of books published in a particular year, because I got to read a book I wouldn’t have got round to for ages, AND another really good one, so win-win there, I feel. Simon and Kaggsy have also collected older reviews as it’s always the case that when you start a challenge you’ve just read a book that will fit perfectly, so if you fancy reading some great books from that year, do pop and have a look at their blogs. And a public thank you to both for a lovely, simple challenge that I managed to achieve!

Vita Sackville-West – “Seducers in Ecuador” and “The Heir” (Virago)

(12 October 2015)

October 2015 3Both of these are novellas, “Seducers in Ecuador” being particularly short, so they are usually found together and this Virago edition is the classic one – I was lucky enough to snaffle it from Amazon Marketplace, almost unread.

Seducers is an odd little fable about a man who tries to do the right thing while on a rather odd yachting trip with some disparate characters. Mainly through believing what people tell him, and what he tells himself about them, he ends up doing quite the wrong thing, especially for himself. Vita plays with the reader, laying down the essence of the story at the outset and then letting it twist and writhe in her hands. It’s mysterious and intriguing and has a lot to say about what people hear and believe in different contexts.

This book completes another year in my Century of Reading!

The longer “The Heir” concentrates on Peregrine Chase, Wolverhampton clerk, who inherits a small but perfect Elizabethan manor house and falls under its spell. This first read was very much about what will happen as the commercial world does its best to close in around the house and its inhabitants, but I will happily re-read it for the absolutely gorgeous descriptions of the house and the Kentish countryside. In a book where the hero starts off not planning to do the right thing, these passages have the same effect on the reader and the protagonist. Marvellous – and I’m even more happy that I got to read this.

This book will suit … lovers of Vita’s work, people who care about the countryside, people who love beautiful descriptions

John Galsworthy – “Flowering Wilderness”


Book 2 of “The End of the Chapter”, the last Forsyte Saga trilogy, focuses very much again on Dinny, daughter of an ancient house, independent but loving her country and her land, her family and her village. In the opening scene, three characters contemplate a statue in London. In Dance to the Music of Time fashion, they are all connected in some way, and it is thus that Dinny encounters Wilfred Desert, returned from the trip East he took after failing to tempt (Dinny’s cousin Michael’s wife) Fleur away from Michael in the last trilogy.

It’s love at first sight for both of them, but of course there’s a problem: Wilfred converted to Islam in the desert, something that’s very much Not Done, and even though he can explain his actions, as soon as the news comes out (which it does through his own need for truth as a poet), it sends ripples through the Establishment, and is seen as Very Bad Form indeed.

Once again, as with the first book in this trilogy, the actions of an Englishman abroad are questioned, and it’s an interesting dilemma which gives a good added dimension to the book, although it’s harrowing for poor Dinny, who is really put through the wringer (as is Desert’s faithful batman and, indeed, his dog) as she faces a conflict between everything she holds dear – even the Uncles, who try to straighten things out – and the only man she’s truly loved.

This book will suit … Well, I think you have to read these all together to get the full effect, but it maintains the interest and strength of the series and makes one keen to get on to the next one.

Currently reading – I’m weeping reading Laurie Penny’s dispatches from the front line of the new discourse of opposition to the government by the youth movements of the early 2010s – they were published in the New Statesman just before I started subscribing, so I missed these pieces and the knowledge I could gain from them then.

Book reviews – three visits to Debbie Macomber’s Blossom Street


October 2015 2My friend Linda and I have a bit of a Debbie Macomber “thing” going on, and as I allegedly have more room in my (bursting-with-books) house, I offered to curate the joint collection. That’s partly (though not completely) how the situation pictured left arose (see how it happened here). Now, the clutter of books not even in a proper pile was distressing me a little, so I decided to go for some quick wins, and worked my way through the Blossom Street books that I hadn’t yet read …

Debbie Macomber – “Hannah’s List”

I’ve talked before about how books with husbands and wives who have affairs and / or die have been bothering me since I got married (this also came up when I read “Twenty Wishes“), but as Linda and I have agreed before, there’s something about the safe and essentially kind world of Debbie Macomber that means you can read about all sorts of horribles and still be OK. So, this one was worrying, but was also fine.

Michael’s wife Hannah died a year before this book opens, and she’s left him a letter in which she gives him a list of three women, all of whom she’d be happy to see him marry. He steels himself to meet all three, and they all learn something about themselves and love along the way. While this might seem a bit trite, it’s actually really well done and convincing – Michael’s grief is written respectfully and it’s done well from a man’s point of view (it’s not common in her books to have a male narrator the whole way through).

It ended up being a good and entertaining read, and I even learned a top tip for not being a shrewish wife (which I have yet to put into practice: sorry, Mr Liz) because obviously Michael can’t end up with all three women, so some of them will resolve older issues as they go along. A bit away from the world of Blossom Street, but a good read.

Debbie Macomber – “A Turn in the Road”

This one was excellent, one of the best of hers I’ve read – different and funny. Bethanne, her daughter Annie and her ex-mother-in-law Ruth decide to go on a road trip from Seattle to Florida, taking in various byways and detours as they go. All of them have something to work through – Annie’s boyfriend has sprung a surprise on her, Ruth is facing meeting a flame from way back at her school’s 50th reunion and Bethanne’s ex, Grant, is free again and sniffing around for a reconciliation. They have some excellent adventures along the way, especially involving some bikers they meet on the road, and it’s a refreshing and fun read.

Debbie Macomber – “Blossom Street Brides”

Bethanne from the last book is married once more; Lydia from A Good Yarn (hooray – back to where we started!) is worrying about her adopted daughter and the future of her business, and Lauren has a whirlwind romance that leaves little space for second thoughts while her boss’s daughter is in a whirlwind of her own. Will the complicated family dynamics work out? Will Bethanne and Annie patch things up? And who is leaving community knitting baskets around town, contributing both to charity and to a new phase of Lydia’s business?

These books will suit: Anyone looking for a nice easy but well-written and engaging read. Fans of Maeve Binchy and Cathy Kelly who like a read that’s about relationships and family but also community.

I’m currently reading “Superfreakonomics” from the authors of “Freakonomics” (loaned to me by Sian), and a NetGalley review copy of “Neurotribes” by Steve Silberman, which is about autism and Silicon Valley. Next up is a review copy for Shiny New Books (ooh) and my 1924 Challenge book, which is thankfully TINY.

Oh, and this.

October 2015 4A lovely friend was passing on a batch of her Virago books to make room on her bookshelves, and I couldn’t resist these lovelies. Even though I’d chosen them from a photograph, I hadn’t quite realised how “substantial” they were. Oh well, they all look GREAT and the two Edith Whartons are a book and a sequel, so I’m glad I chose both. Honestly. I’m hoping to palm off one of them on our weekend visitor, because I don’t think all of these will fit on my TBR shelf …

What are you reading? How’s your TBR going? Do you have a quick win comfort author and a big pile of their books?

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