Book confessions and a book I can’t review yet! #amreading #books


I’ve just finished reading Marian Keyes’ newest novel, “The Break”, acquired from the publisher via NetGalley, but although I can submit my review via NetGalley, I’m not allowed to review it on here until a week before publication – which means 31 August! So here are some nice new acquisitions. Because I never said I was on a break from buying books, did I?

The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts

Hope you’re liking the glimpses of our new duvet cover here. I had to buy this one, “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” (honest, guv), because I won the sequel, “True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop” from NetGalley, of course not realising it WAS a sequel until it was too late. Oopsie. I really do not like reading the second book in a series first, so I got this on Amazon marketplace (it seems to be unread) and will have to zip through it first. It looks a little lighter than most of the books I read except by favoured authors, but has good reviews. Anyone read it?


This one is the fault of a Runner’s Bookshelf group I’m in on Facebook, which basically consists of wicked people recommending running books to each other. It’s even teal-coloured, which is totally the club colour of the other running club in South Birmingham – shocking! Anyway, I love the tactile cover and am interested in the way it seems to solidify the good mental health benefits of running. As I’m now an England Athletics Mental Health Ambassador (along with two clubmates) and helping with a Run and Talk event started by the two MHAs at our sister club, I’m hoping this will give me some good ideas about active listening, etc. I note there are worksheets, however – shudder!

So there we go. One book I can’t talk about and two I will get round to reading before they would get to the top of the TBR under normal circs. A shocking way to go about things, right?!

Book reviews – John-Paul Flintoff – “Sew Your Own” and Veronica Stallwood – “Oxford Mourning” #20booksofsummer #amreading


Two books today as one of the reviews is a very short one that doesn’t really need a post of its own. I’m half-way through the 20BooksOfSummer project now, having completed Book 10 on 15 July (slightly less than half-way through the time span, as it finishes on 4 September). So although I’m not reading anything from the project right now, I feel reasonably confident I’ll achieve the goal. One little naughty confession too, but it doesn’t count …

John-Paul Flintoff – “Sew Your Own”

(19 November 2016)

A book claiming to detail one man’s attempt to survive the global economic meltdown and address inequality, it was a bit more episodic and chaotic than I’d have expected, had I not seen some reviews saying it was quite disjointed. I sort of assumed it was a collection of columns from a newspaper or something, and the short chapters made it easy to read.

He starts off in a posh suit shop getting measured for a tailored suit and ends up making his own clothes, all fired up by the idea that we’ve all become both dependent and oblivious, unable to look after ourselves of imagine what goes on behind the scenes to provide our power, etc., so not really working to keep energy use down, etc. He references other “quest” types like Danny Wallace and AJ Jacobs, which is nice, taking inspiration from them, although they tend to be single issue at a time people and his explorations are a mish-mash of recycling, making clothes, disposing of rats and looking into religions.

He does share some good and practical ideas (smile at a teen in a hoodie, plant a guerrilla garden) and shockingly joins the Tories for a bit. He does try to meet politicians with small and big Ps as well as representatives of different religions, although he doesn’t really come to any conclusions apart from most politicians bringing things round to themselves and the Quakers being the most restful religious group. His reporter job comes in handy, as a lot of the insights he gains from people come from interviews with them, though this undermined it a little for me, as he was able to use this access rather than gaining it for himself, if that makes sense? I also got stupidly annoyed that he assumes no reader has heard of musician and artist Billy Childish except in relation to Tracey Emin, because this reader had!

So: entertaining and a bit thought-provoking but disjointed. I loved the column supposedly written by his wife about living with such a paragon and his striving to be good!

This was Book 10 in my 2oBooksOfSummer project.

Veronica Stallwood – “Oxford Mourning”

(19 November 2016)

I’d previously enjoyed “Oxford Exit” in the same series, with its novelist main character and Oxford academic setting. But this one didn’t really do it for me – the main character is unlikeable, the plot didn’t resolve very well and there was a gift of a cat at the end, which means something horrible will happen to it in a subsequent book. So I’m going to stop looking out for books in this series, which is a shame, as the first one was good.

I’m currently reading Marian Keyes’ new novel, “The Break” which isn’t out until NOVEMBER but I got via NetGalley. Very exciting. I’m apparently not allowed to review it on here until a week before publication, but can review it on NetGalley, so will do that and set up a scheduled post on here that I’m bound to forget about.

Running Like a GirlAnd that confession – well, my lovely BookCrossing friend Cari, who I’ve known for over a decade and shared many books with, has recently started running and bought this book to read. She kindly sent it to me, so I now have a very clearly American edition of a British book, which I think is quite cool. I have just the person to pass it on to, and will therefore promote this up to the TBR pile so I can get it to them before the next running club 5k and Beyond group starts up.

How are you doing with 20 Books of Summer, if you’re doing it? What are you reading at the moment?


Book review – Nick Baker – “Rewild” @shinynewbooks #amreading #20BooksOfSummer


My reviews have got a little out of order, I’m afraid, because books I review for Shiny New Books have a necessary gap between reading and reviewing which is (usually) slightly longer than the gap on here. So, this was #20BooksOfSummer Book 7 and apart from being a really difficult book to photograph (the cover is meant to look like bark and then it has shiny wording – however you take the photograph it shines weirdly!) it was a very, very good read indeed, and hugely inspiring.

Here’s an excerpt from my review on the Shiny website – to read more, follow this link.

The book gives practical tools and tips for how to, for example, navigate a moonlit walk (did you know how long it takes your eyes to adjust to the dark?) or walk more quietly (not necessarily barefoot), backing it up with his own examples (watching badgers and being surprised by a Masai tracker creeping up on him, respectively) and also the science behind it (rods and cones explain why it takes your eyes that long, and the bare foot has many nerves and receptors).

… He makes it very clear that these skills are not special ones that we need to learn, but innate abilities we simply need to relearn; that our bodies and brains are set up to be able to do this stuff. (read more)

I’ve just finished reading Book 10, John-Paul Flintoff’s slightly patchy “Sew Your Own”, which will be reviewed next, as Book 9, Stuart Maconie’s excellent “Road from Jarrow” was also reviewed for Shiny and isn’t out quite yet. Anyway, as I’m just under half way through the 20 Books period, I’m keeping up nicely and on track. Having said that, I couldn’t wait to red Marian Keyes’ new book, “The Break” from NetGalley, so I’m currently on that and another non-20 Books read.

How are you getting on? Do you fancy a midnight walk?

Book reviews on a Cornish mini-trip: Samantha Tonge – Breakfast under a Cornish Sun”, Liz Fenwick – “A Cornish Stranger” #amreading #books


Two books from the Terrible Tottering Pile (not quite so terrible now) which are Cornwall-themed, were read on the way to and in Cornwall, and were LEFT in Cornwall. It was the annual gathering of the photo-a-day group I’m in, and I and a few local friends travelled down for a long weekend, two of us on the train together. We stayed in St Austell and had a lift to and from the party from a lovely woman from the group; didn’t see much of St. Austell but it was a pleasant stay (the Whitbread Inn attached to our hotel fried everything in rapeseed oil so I could treat myself to a fish and chips dinner and two cooked breakfasts!) and a lovely party. I read the first book on the train down and at the hotel, and the second one at the hotel, finishing it in a bit of a rush as I really wanted to leave it on the book table at the party …

Samantha Tonge – “Breakfast Under a Cornish Sun”

(03 June 2017 – Oxfam Books)

Bought on my naughty trip to Oxfam last month, on purpose to read on the way to Cornwall (so it didn’t count – right??). A very light novel, even thought it tries to deal with Issues, too. Kate is trying to get over the loss of her boyfriend and grabs the chance of a Cornwall trip with her boss/friend Izzy. She’s near her Gran down there, and also thinks she has more of a chance of meeting the Ross Poldark-alike she’s rashly promised to bring to her frenemy’s upcoming wedding (also in Cornwall). But the holiday park they get a good deal on is run down and the owners sad. What can business-minded Izzy and creative Kate do to help?

There’s a nice range of characters in the book, of mixed ages and races, but I wasn’t really invested enough in Kate to catch her grief. There are a few stand-out comedy moments, or so I noted in my review done at the time,  but I’m now struggling to remember them – this could be due to my slabs of reading over the weekend, however – and I did like all the clear detail on how they tried to turn the holiday camp around, but the serious themes in these books often seem like they’re there because they are supposed to be, and while the plot did work, it was a  bit jarring between comedy and tragedy, with a bit of detecting coming in, too. It did keep me reading to the end and is a pleasant holiday read.

Liz Fenwick – “A Cornish Stranger”

(18 June 2017 – The Works)

Another naughty June purchase, this is a denser and more well-written (or should that just be literarily-written?) and complex story that would appeal to lovers of Mary Wesley and Rosamund Pilcher, although some of the content is a little stronger and more modern than either of those older writers.

When Gabe comes to Cornwall to look after her ailing grandmother Jaunty, she expects to spend her time holed up in the secluded cabin where Jaunty has lived for years, working on her jingle composing job. She doesn’t expect a handsome stranger to (literally) wash up in the creek, or for him to weave himself so tightly into their lives.

It’s a close-knit community and the writing of this part was the most attractive aspect of the book for me. Gabe can’t help but get drawn in to the community again, and maybe she’ll even sing in public again one day; they treat her music as just part of life, in the same way as her grandmother’s internationally renowned art is.

Meanwhile, Jaunty is scribbling her life story on scraps of paper – will she be able to explain everything to Gabe before it’s too late, and has she trusted her secrets to the right person? Moreover, can they both trust the stranger they saved from a sea that has taken too many others?

It’s well done, but there’s an odd obsession with one male character’s flamboyant waistcoats that seemed to go nowhere (unless he was a roman a clef character or one written in after winning a competition to be included – I didn’t get round to reading the back matter so am not sure) and was definitely odd. And I was a bit disappointed by the ending; although it tied in with aspects of Jaunty’s life herself, it seemed to let the central characters of the book down a bit. But as I say, I did read it quickly so might have missed some of the subtleties. I liked this enough that I will definitely read the other of her books I have on the Pile.

Neither of those books was a #20BooksOfSummer read, even though they were read in the summer and set in the summer. But I started Stuart Maconie’s “The Long Road from Jarrow” on the way home from Cornwall and am 75% of the way through it at the moment, and that’s Book 9 (and I believe my review of “ReWild”, Book 8, will be up on Shiny New Books this week.

How is your summer reading going? Do you like to match a book or two to your destination when you travel?

Book review – Francis Brett Young – “The Black Diamond” #20BooksOfSummer


Another one ticked off the #20BooksOfSummer list – number 8, although if you’re wondering where number 7 has gone, that was Nick Baker’s “ReWild” which was read specifically to review for Shiny New Books. Like my short review of “Popular“, it will therefore appear on here when the review is published on Shiny, so out of order with the numbering. We can cope with that, right? This Francis Brett Young book, and I do always love a book with a map in the front, don’t you? was a magical find outside Any Amount of Books on the Charing Cross Road, just £1 on that lovely November London book-buying trip I took (I might be at the end of those now, although one Icelandic one on my Pile also came from there).

Francis Brett Young – “The Black Diamond”

(Any Amount of Books, 19 November 2016)

A long drama set mainly in the Welsh borders but starting in the mining communities of the Black Country, this Hardyesque tale of fate and social issues takes us through the early life of Abner Fellows. Starting as a miner as soon as he’s old enough, he’s given a cushy job when he shows talent as a footballer, then loses out when he refuses to throw a match. All through the book there’s a strong theme of how being in or out of favour with the bosses and upper classes has a huge role to play in the lives of ordinary people, coupled with the wider chorus of the rest of the general population, moved to be divided and conquered and to concentrate on their own petty disagreements and being used to maintain the status quo through disapproval and common acting.

Abner has some standards, for example in matters of football, and if he makes a promise to a friend, he does endeavour to keep it, but although he’s frequently mentioned as being physically attractive, I don’t find him a morally attractive character, as he’s a bit of a chancer. But is this a role he’s forced into by his masters? His care for – and subsequent loss of – his dog (there is a second dog, which survives, for anyone concerned) maybe contributes to his difficult nature, if I’m being generous.

But the book is more than a portrait of one flawed man. Its contribution lies in its attention to societal issues, its recording of the building of Birmingham’s Elan Valley reservoir (this crops up a lot in his books and I also noted a reference to the hamlet of Far Forest, the setting for another of his novels), and careful and lyrical description of the physical world of the Welsh borders. I also liked the description of his senses all being super-aware during a midnight poaching session, as I was reading about how the senses work in the dark in “ReWild” at the time – a nice overlap.

Does Abner get his just deserts at the end of this sometimes exciting but sometimes slow, slightly uneven novel? He does achieve a freedom of sorts ….

This wasn’t my favourite of FBY’s novels, which are still “Far Forest” and “This Little World“, even “White Ladies“, read quite recently, but it was a fine read.

This was number 8 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

I’m reading “Oxford Mourning”, a light crime novel, and about to start Stuart Maconie’s “Long Road from Jarrow”, only one of which is a #20Books read. What are you up to reading-wise?

Book Review – Eric Newby – “Something Wholesale” and #20BooksOfSummer update #amreading #books


This book was read in June but I have got behind with my reviewing (and blog reading, oops) , so the photo is of my old, mid-June, horror TBR and not the (slightly) less horrific one from the beginning of July. Eric Newby’s book was part of my #20BooksOfSummer project, and below the review you’ll find a report on how that’s going. I’d love to know how everyone else who’s doing the project and reading this blog is doing, too!

Eric Newby – “Something Wholesale”

(19 November 2016 – Any Amount of Books, Charing Cross Road)

This was another book bought on my late autumn trip to London; the only book by Newby that I didn’t have and hadn’t read!

It’s the story of Newby’s post-war, pre-travelling years, working for his family firm in the wholesale clothing industry, supplying clothes to boutiques and department stores across Britain. It’s full of notable and eccentric characters: his colleagues, the buyers at the shops, other commercial travellers and, not least, his father, whose portrait he paints in an affectionate yet exasperated way, in his customary dry and hilarious fashion.

He’s as at home writing about London dressmaking and his haplessness at being a travelling salesman as he is writing about his travels, and added depth is provided by his portrait of his parents and his early days with his wife, Wanda. His father is a capital-c Character, with foibles that reminded me of the Mitford Sisters’ father (and of the same era of course), obsessed in his case with rowing and inflicting boats on his long-suffering family (even on his wedding day), and storing years’ worth of newspapers in his office in case he needs to look something up.

A lovely and often laugh-out-loud read, although there’s a slightly dull postscript about the end of the firm which seems to be there only to bulk the book out.

This book was number 6 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

2o Books Of Summer update

This book at the end of June was Book 6 in the list and, at the end of June, I was reading Books 7 and 8. Here’s the list so far

Dorothy Whipple – Every Good Deed and other Stories – Book 1 read and reviewed

Mitch Prinstein – Popular – Book 2 read and reviewed on the blog and for Shiny New Books

Jane Gardam – Old Filth – Book 3 Did Not Start, replaced by Helen Mitsios – Out of the Blue – read and reviewed

Barbara Taylor – Eve and the New Jerusalem – Book 4 read and reviewed

Natasha Solomons – The Gallery of Vanished Husbands – Book 5 read and reviewed

Eric Newby – Something Wholesale – Book 6 read and review pending

Nick Baker – ReWild – Book 7 currently reading (now finished – will be reviewing for Shiny so might be a bit delayed being posted)

Francis Brett Young – The Black Diamond – Book 8 currently reading

I feel I’m doing OK as 6 books per month in June, July and August and then a couple at the very beginning of September seems doable, especially as I have a trip to a conference in early September (I also have a trip to Cornwall coming up but have specific and non-20Books for that).

How are you doing?

State of the TBR – July 2017 #amreading


Apologies for the shoddy photos this month – I’ve been at the athletics all day (the British trials for the World Championships) and got back a bit late for the light. Anyway, here’s the state of the TBR, and it looks quite bad (the front shelf ends with the big red Angela Carter bio) but actually my mid-June one looked a LOT worse (see the post where I exposed it here). I read just nine books in June (way down from May’s 22!), four non-fiction and five fiction (one not yet reviewed) but finished one this morning.

I’m currently nearly at the end of Francis Brett Young’s “The Black Diamond” and starting a quick crime novel for some light reading while I think about my Shiny New Books review of “ReWild”.

Up next on the shelf are these lovelies:

However, I do appear to have added Paul Flynn’s “Good as You” (about 30 years of gay Britain from the 80s onwards), “The Shadow District”, which I requested AGES ago and forgot about, first in a series about Arnaldur Indriðason’s Detective Erlendur in his early years, and Naomi Klein’s “No is Not Enough”, about direct action to take in these difficult world times, all from NetGalley. I might get my 25 Reviews NetGalley badge soon but will take a while to work back up to my 80% reviewed status! So a mix of e and paper books this month, I expect.

Plus I’ll be reading those three Cornwall books on the Pile soon enough, as I have a weekend in Cornwall with my photo-a-day group coming up. Exciting!

Not taking part in the LibraryThing Virago Group read this month (Rumer Godden – I like her – she’s not on my TBR) means I can concentrate on #20BooksofSummer. And having added two  books I’d forgotten to link, I’ve now read books from 67 of my 100 years in my Century of Reading!

What are you planning to read in July? Are you doing any challenges?

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