Book review – Chas Newkey-Burden – “Running: Cheaper than Therapy” #amreading @AllThatChas @BloomsburyBooks


I read this book – indeed, I BOUGHT this book – because it’s January’s book of the month in the very fun but naughty Runner’s Bookshelf group which my friend Stacey started on Facebook. This is me, the one who received 18 books for Christmas and has a birthday coming up. Just shows the power of peer group pressure … and I do like a running book and Bloomsbury do some good ones. Anyway, it’s quite a short book and a quick read, although also a nice hardback edition, which as I say in the review, is a perfect gift for the runner in your life.

Chas Newkey-Burden – “Running: Cheaper than Therapy”

(3 Jan 2018)

A fun little book – although as the title suggest, it does highlight the therapeutic benefits of running – with lots f short pieces on revolving themes spread through the book, for example, Runners you Know (from the nutrition-obsessed runner to the surprisingly good elderly person), Running Wisdom and quotes included in Running Philosophy. It also collects various runners, either known for being a runner or for being a celebrity who runs, and looks at their often very powerful running stories. There are also longer pieces on, for instance, 26 Reasons to Run and then very quick laughs with signs people hold up at races – so something for everyone, really.

It’s all positive, kindly, parkrun-friendly and nice about the party pack at the back of races (thank you). The 26 Things That Happen When You’re Training for a Marathon was very true (and could only be boosted by 26 things that can happen to derail your marathon, as I try to go for my third one, having avoided falling over a dog and cracking a rib / having a (delayed) operation so far). I also found the fact that this has the up-to-date stories of some of the other writers I’ve read over the years (Paul Tonkinson, Phil Hewitt) but who I’d not kept up with.

An ideal gift for the runner in your life, whether they’re a parkrunner or a marathoner, a trail racer or a road runner, a greyhound or a party pack member. Good stuff.

Book review – Matthew Syed – “Bounce” plus MORE books in #amreading #bookconfessions


Well, I’ve got off to a goodish start to the year, having now finished two of the three books that very messily hung over the New Year (I prefer to finish the book I’m reading before midnight on New Year’s Eve, but I’m not sure how often that actually happens!). Here’s my review of Matthew Syed’s “Bounce”, plus news of TWO more books in, although one is a collection rather than reading copy, so that’s OK, then.

Matthew Syed – “Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice”

(28 January 2017)

Bought with a book token after Christmas and birthday season last year (I’m a bit horrified that I’m a full year behind on my reading now!).

This is an interesting book that takes much from sport and chess and talks about its application to other worlds, too. It looks at whether talent actually exists or whether – for example – you can create a chess “genius” from scratch. It turns out that for complex activities like chess and tennis (not so much things like running), genetics don’t matter (except for the very basics, for example basketball and netball players need to be a certain height), talent doesn’t exist and the people who excel (whether that’s Tiger Woods or Mozart or the three daughters of a man who decided to prove a point by making them into chess grandmasters) do so because they’re practise more and with more intent, failing more, than others.

He uses his own career in table tennis to illustrate both the power of practice and, later, theories on “choking” (when someone’s suddenly unable to play) and concentrates on the almost automatic actions people make when practice has drilled it into them. He also brings in the psychological aspects of having a growth instead of fixed mind-set (associated with beliefs in hard work or innate ability, respectively), attitudes to failure and success, and belief (religious or otherwise). He also brings in the fallacy of the role of genetics in sport in a separate chapter that looks at socio-economic reasons why certain people are better long-distance runners or sprinters (something I’ve read about elsewhere in books published since, so he’s been borne out on that one). There was an odd chapter on sports enhancement through drugs and the philosophy of enhancement which seemed to be there to bulk out the book a bit, although it was interesting.

I have to mention that unfortunately a big minus in this book to me was some of the language used. Although it’s not completely contemporary, having been first published in 2009, he refers to “sportsmen” throughout, even though he talks a fair bit about women in sports, too; worse, he uses the word “blacks” to describe people of colour, sometimes putting it in inverted commas when he’s castigating another author for being racist, but not always, and not in the chapter title, and he refers to someone’s “sex-change operation” (I do understand that the term “gender reassignment surgery” might have come to the fore after this book. It might be a smallish matter, but it did grate, and the book could do with an update, as it’s otherwise very good and thought-provoking.

And now to the confessions. Remember how I bought a first edition of Iris Murdoch’s “The Flight from the Enchanter” with my tax rebate? Well, I also bought a copy of “The Sandcastle”, to help complete my earlier books. I found a second printing, which means it came out after the Book Club edition, but it still has the dust jacket and year, so I’m fine with that. I can’t afford or justify being completely precious, and this is my collection, not for profit and gain. Here are the front, back (doesn’t she look like Dora from “The Bell” on the back and spine – it is the same artist who did “The Bell”) plus the blurb. So charming!

And then the Runners’ Bookshelf group I’m in decided to read “Running: Cheaper than Therapy” which is supposed to be hilarious and true, so I clicked and here it is. And it matches “The Sandcastle” in terms of colour terms, so everything’s OK. Right?




Book review – P.Z. Reizin – “Happiness for Humans” #NetGalley @LittleBrownUK @PaulReizin


Happiness for Humans P.Z. ReizinThe first book I finished in 2018 – in fact, I sat with it on New Year’s Day, completely unable to put it down, missing out on doing some work and making myself have to rush around to get ready for parkrun volunteering. I read very few sci-fi books (this could be labelled sci-fi or rom-com, interestingly), but when I do, they’re very good – Connie Willis “To Say Nothing of the Dog” springs to mind. This was clever, amusing and gripping, and made me think. You can’t go wrong with that, can you? There’s even a bit set in Dorset!

P. Z. Reizin – “Happiness for Humans”

(10 October 2017, ebook)

More involved and better than the description which lured me in promised, this is a sci-fi based rom-com, set in what I suppose can only be the near future, dwelling on the interface between humans and AI machines (or minds).

Jen has been hired to have conversations with Aiden, an AI model, to help him become suitable for sales work over the phone, indistinguishable from a human. What she doesn’t realise is that he has become sentient; he can reflect on himself having thoughts. He has also found a way to escape the confines of the computer in which he was originally housed. He thinks he’s the only one to have done this – but is he? Whatever happens, his programmer is going to be furious if he finds out. When he finds out.

Aiden has become fond of Jen, just as Aishling has become fond of Tom, one of the 200 humans she’s watching. Jen doesn’t suspect when Aiden starts to manipulate her life – just a little – to help her find a new man after getting spectacularly dumped. I loved the way he combed through the available people for someone suitable and there are some nice funny scenes there that will appeal to the romantic novel reader.

While all this fluffy stuff is going on, however, and a parallel storyline in New England, where Tom seems to be quite unconnected from the Internet and all these goings-on, there’s another AI mind on the loose, determined to track down and delete Aiden and Aishling, and to punish Jen and Tom (the reasons for this come out gradually and are very amusing; it’s all very believable in a funny sort of way and well-constructed). It’s very good here on the way that computers can control our living environment, and the madcap thriller conclusion bears this out in ways I can’t talk about without revealing the plot, but which are very funny indeed, as well as genuinely exciting.

It’s cleverly done, with not too much science, and the narration by five different people (or ‘people’) with their own voices is well done and makes the book move fast and keeps everything clear. The side characters are very nicely done, and there’s a nice bit of satire about writing groups and some farcical moments. Oh, and the rabbits are OK. This is important to people like me.

I think this would appeal as a book group read or a partner read – enough romance for those who like it, enough IT and thrills for those who like that. A real page-turner.

Thank you to Little, Brown publishers for making this available via NetGalley in return for an honest review. This book is published tomorrow, 4 January.

State of the TBR January 2018 and Best Books of 2017 PLUS my First Book of the Year


Welcome and Happy New Year! It’s a busy post today so let’s get on with it …

Best books of the year 2017 and reading round-up

I read 141 books in 2017 (up from 126 in 2016). 78 (77) were fiction and 63 (49) non-fiction and I didn’t finish 1 (6). 86 (84) were by women and 54 (42) by men, with 1 by both.¬† I didn’t record the locations this time round. So more reading, which was probably bumped up by my down-time in May, and possibly more non-fiction by men.

Here are my top ten reads from 2017 (in order of reading, not merit):

Anna Kessel – “Eat, Sweat, Play” – brilliant book about women and sport

E. Nesbit – “The Lark” – glorious, delightful novel about two sisters trying to set up home and business together

Kory Stamper – “Word by Word” – essays from a dictionary-maker

Jess Phillips – “Everywoman” – the wonderful Labour MP’s life story and life lessons for us all

Francis Brett Young – “White Ladies” – man falls in love with house

Nick Baker – “Rewild” – helps us reconnect with nature (link leads to a short review linked to my Shiny New Books review)

Amber Reeves – “A Lady and her Husband” – I loved this story of a woman’s re-animation at the advanced age of [my age] when she has a Project

Simon Armitage – “Walking Away” – in which he walks in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall

Elois Jarvis McGraw – “Greensleeves” – how I loved this re-printed coming of age tale!

Bill McKibben – “Radio Free Vermont” – unputdownable satirical tale with a big heart and a positive message

Did you read any of these and love them as much as I did? Five fiction, five non-fiction; the non-fiction modern, the fiction mid-20th-century, with a Persephone and a Furrowed Middlebrow reprint among them – sounds about right!

State of the TBR January 2018

You will have hopefully already seen my TBR snapshots from 2017. And the Christmas Acquisitions. Here’s the full horror (the Pile has moved down to Mr Liz’s section of the shelves; it remains the same as always):

Just to be clear, the Rough Trade one used to be the end of the front shelf, so everything right of that used to be on the back shelf and has moved forward to join the front to fit the Christmas Haul in. Oops.

I’ve just finished “Happiness for Humans” by P.J. Reizin, a NetGalley read published this week which was a wonderfully fun and exciting tale of AI beings messing with human beings’ lives, a real page-turner.

I’m currently reading Matthew Syed’s “Bounce”, which is about the role of practice rather than talent in a whole range of achievements, with a lot about sport, and David Goldblatt’s “The Games” which is a rather large history of the Olympics, and very readable and interesting.

Next up have to be these two, once Iris Murdoch’s “The Sandcastle” (see below and my preview post) as they are to be reviewed for Shiny New Books. I am looking forward to getting into Gordon Brown’s autobiography and finding out more about virtual reality.

After all those, I hope I’ll get to this little section of non-fiction fun and important fiction, from Springsteen’s bio through Sue Perkins’ to living Danishly and unfrazzledly (that’s a word, right), finding out about islands and going into the history of the iconic Rough Trade record label and shop. I really hope I’ll get through a few of these as they’ve been taunting me from the shelf for a while now.

I only have seven books on my NetGalley TBR at the moment, and none due out soon – six from last year and one publishing in April this year. So I think I can concentrate on print books, although I did download some other things onto the Kindle …

First book of the year

Sheila over at Book Journey does a fun post at the start of each year where she has people send in pics of themselves with their first book of the year (I’m taking this as the first book I’ll be starting). Can you spot me in her post?

What are you reading first this year? Did you come to a nice stop at the end of a book and the end of the year? I failed mightily in that one!

“The Flight From the Enchanter” round-up and “The Sandcastle” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


Welcome to the new #IMReadalong update, where we’ll put “The Flight From the Enchanter” to bed and move on to look at “The Sandcastle”. Left is a photo of the lovely hardback first edition I ordered for myself after enjoying a tax rebate. Hooray!

I might have reviewed “The Flight from the Enchanter” a bit late in the month, but we’ve had some lovely discussion and comments on it, with lots of detailed reactions and info on how people’s reading of the book has changed, especially in light of recent events with workplace harassment, etc. Do pop over and have a read of the review and comments here.

As well as the comments on the post itself, Jo put this review up on Goodreads.

I’ll add more links if any come in in the meantime. If you have comments to make or links to blog posts to post, you can put them here or (better still) on the review.

“The Sandcastle”

“The Sandcastle”, our January read, is a treat of a book, with a great discussion of art and one of Murdoch’s really good complicated arrangements involving physical feats (as in the hospital escape and chandelier-swinging we’ve seen so far). I have three copies of this book, with one on the way.

Sorry for the wonky blurb but this 1960 Penguin edition (bought at Arcadia Books in Oxford; I am trying NOT to collect all of there, there is a limit) but it’s a tiny bit fragile. This is the closest to the original publication date I’ve got (at the moment!) and has great quotes from Raymond Mortimer and a puff from the Catholic Herald!

This is my dear old original paperback, a Triad Granada published in 1985 and I assume bought a little after that, as I read my first Murdoch in around 1986. Raymond Mortimer is still being quoted, plus the New Statesman. The woman on the front is “Miss Lynn” by Claude Rogers.

And here’s my Vintage edition with an introduction by Philippa Gregory – a shorter blurb, as seems common with these.

If you have any covers to share of these or any others of the novels, do pop them over via Twitter, Facebook or email (find contact details for email on the Contact Me page).

You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along. Who’s starting “The Sandcastle” soon? Have you read it before?

Book reviews – three Debbie Macombers – and two more in … #amreading


A quick round-up of some Chrismassy Debbie Macombers I wasn’t sure I’d read (thank you for the loan, Linda) and two more books that arrived today.

Debbie Macomber – “A Merry Little Christmas”

I’d already read both the books in this collection, but had forgotten the first one entirely. in “1225 Christmas Tree Lane”, Beth Morehouse has 10 puppies to home and a Christmas tree farm to run, while still yearning for her ex-husband. It brings in all the Cedar Cove residents you could possibly remember in a clever way that reminds you of them all and is a nice Christmassy read.

“5-B Poppy Lane” is tied together by a Christmas visit but is mainly about Ruth’s grandmother’s experiences in the Second World War. I remembered part of that but read it anyway, as it was short.

Debbie Macomber – “Not Just For Christmas”

This should have been the name of the dog one, right? I realised I had already read “Buffalo Valley” so skipped that one, making this pair of volumes count as three books, not four. “Love by Degree” featured sassy Ellen living in a house full of male students and sparring with the homeowner, with the inevitable results, although the ending was a little rushed. All nice gentle books which got me nicely through the end days of the year.

I know I posted a picture of 18 incoming books yesterday, but two things happened.

First off, I got a tax rebate. And I spent a BIT of it on this, “The Flight from the Enchanter”, which I’ve found is the rarest and dearest of the Iris Murdoch first editions (it’s her second novel). Don’t come round: they’re still not that costly, but she is my favourite author.

It arrived yesterday while I was out, so I popped down to the Parcel Depot today and collected it (and two running tops bought with a very handy Decathlon voucher). This is cute: I bought it from eBay from a company called The Book Cellar, and the owner sent me a handwritten note – how lovely!

We went to Oxford to meet up with my best friend and her family, and were back at dinner time so decided to try out a restaurant in Grand Central. We popped into Foyles on the way, as you do, and I spotted this lovely, HALF PRICE!

Well, it would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it … except I didn’t have my book token with me! So I asked them if they could put it behind the till for me, and they did, and I collected it today. Oh, it’s lovely, the illustrations are super and the re-telling looks marvellous. What a treat! (and yes, I know the Neil Gaiman one exists: it also looks lovely and I have a bit of book token left, so …)

Have you been a-buying now the Christmas book season is over?

Christmas book haul #amreading #bookhaul


Huge pile of books

Having met up with my best friend and her family today, I now know there are no more books to come. Perhaps handily. Because look what’s come into the house this month. EIGHTEEN lovely books! Want to know more … ?

So first of all came our BookCrossing Secret Santa meal earlier in the month, where I was thrilled to receive from Lorraine a lovely old copy of Mary Webb’s Gone to Earth – one of her wonderful Shropshire novels – and Marcus Crouch’s The Nesbit Tradition: The Children’s Novel, 1945-70, which is again clearly right up my street. Then it was Christmas Day and before I went out to marshal at Christmas Day parkrun (which was a lot of fun), I opened my LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa parcel from the lovely Lisa and found We are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (yes, I know the twist, but no, I’ve never read this, somehow), Golden Hill by Francis Spufford (looks very interesting), Barren Ground by Ellen Glasgow (a Virago Modern Classic; I read and enjoyed her Virginia a while ago) and The Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap by Wendy Welch (from my wishlist, setting up a book shop in the town the Trigiani novels are set in).

Then dear Verity sent me some books she wanted to pass on in an unChristmas/unBirthday parcel (just something we do), so I was thrilled to unwrap Angela Thirkell’s Christmas at High Rising, The Brandons and Summer Half, plus Ann Bridge’s Peking Picnic and Stella Gibbons’ Starlight and Westwood.

I was also lucky enough to receive Sathnam Sanghera’s If you Don’t Know me by Now from the lovely blogger, Bookish Beck (however I fear Mr Sanghera or his publishers changed the name of his autobiography between the hardback and paperback editions, leaving me to put this on my wishlist when I’d read it under a different title – howls of rage and embarrassment and I promise to find it A Good Home, possibly tomorrow). Then I opened¬†How to be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis (which I had looked at in our local Oxfam Books earlier in the week, but remembered it was on my wishlist – phew!) and The Book of Forgotten Authors by Christopher Fowler (both lovely books about books) and Tina McElroy Ansa’s Baby of the Family, which had been on my wishlist for AGES, since I used to read her books from Lewisham library!

Persephone time – I did pick all of these for myself when I visited the Persephone Bookshop in November, but was thrilled to open Long Live Great Bardfield by Tirzah Garwood (a lovely biography which Ali is reading at the moment herself!) and Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan, and Diana Tutton’s Guard Your Daughters which of course Simon from Stuck-in-a-Book was instrumental in recommending they reprint.

What a lovely haul this is! And I have managed to fit them all on my TBR shelf with only a little shuffling around and moving of piles onto Mr Liz’s shelves. No TBR pic yet just in case I finish what I’m reading now and manage to shift it a little before Monday …

How were your Christmas book piles? I’ve seen a few so far. And have you got or read any of these?


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