Incomings this month so far

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I haven’t got anything ready to review as I’ve been concentrating on a read and review for Shiny New Books, but I have had some lovely Incomings that I don’t want to get mixed up with anything that might or might not be arriving for my upcoming birthday, so here we go with a small but perfectly formed pile of lovelies.

Bill from The Australian Legend and I had been discussing how it was almost impossible to order books on or by Indigenous Australian people in the UK (this is similar to how US publishers are often unable to ship to the UK and it’s well-nigh impossible to get anything by Indigenous Canadian authors, too, hence me falling on that slightly weird book about the first premier of Nunavut at a good price and available a while back. Sometimes you can obtain these books in ebook form but if I’m going to pay more than a few pounds for something, I like to have it physically in front of me, able to be kept or passed on (I keep my Kindle for cheap light reads and NetGalley).

Bill then very kindly sent me a selection of books by and about Indigenous Australian people (I’m using that term after Brona helped me to research best practice in terms: this may change in the future of course) and they arrived in much less than the promised 25 days! “Growing up Aboriginal in Australia” edited by Anita Heiss does what it says on the tin: an anthology by both well-known and high-profile authors and newly discovered writers. Nugi Garimara / Doris Pilkington’s “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence” is the original book that inspired the film of the same name I was too feeble to watch, and is the story of the author’s mother’s escape from an institution in 1931. And “Another Day in The Colony” by Chelsea Watego is a collection of essays by Watego looking at the ongoing daily racism faced by what she describes as First Nations people in so-called Australia. These look wonderful and powerful and I now need to decide if I am going to save them for Brona from This Reading Life‘s AusReading Month or Lisa from ANZ Litlover‘s Indigenous Lit Week in July!

I do like being a subscriber for Unbound books – you get to help all sorts of more unusual books that can’t – or don’t want to – attract a conventional publisher, you pay a bit of money upfront and in the fullness of time, you get a book that has your name in the back (the books go on to be published and available; I’ve bought quite a few books published by Unbound over the years that I didn’t realise came from them and hadn’t subscribed for). The only problem is that you come in right at the beginning of the publishing process, sometimes even before the author’s finished writing the book, and then suddenly you get an update that it’s on its way and there it is, trying to squeeze onto your already crowded shelves! But this, Lucy Leonelli’s “A Year in the Life”, looks like a good one, as they all are, of course: the author tires of the corporate ladder and decides to spend a year exploring Britain’s many subcultures, finding amusement and eccentricity but also community and care.

Have you read or subscribed to any of these? How’s your book buying going this year so far?

Book review – Kari Gislason – “The Promise of Iceland”

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I’m working my way steadily through Annabookbel’s NordicFINDS challenge, and yes, we’re in Iceland again, as we will be for most of the time now (“River Kings” and “The Magnetic North” both cover a variety of Nordic countries).

I bought this memoir while in the middle of reading Kari Gislason and Richard Fidler’s wonderful “Sagaland“, as Richard mentions when describing Kari’s search for his Icelandic father and family and his quest to get himself added into the Icelandic record of blood-lines. So reading it, I was in the somewhat unusual position of knowing the basics of the story, and also what happened next, although it didn’t matter in the slightest and I still greatly enjoyed this one.

Kari Gislason – “The Promise of Iceland”

(04 November 2021)

I suppose my generation tends to declare its feelings more openly, and I am by nature the type who writes things out in order to understand them. I must admit that I wonder how my story will be interpreted by my own children, when they eventually come to join in the creation of the past with their own reading of this book. (p. 271)

Opening in Reykjavik in 1990, we encounter the 17-year-old Kari meeting his father for the first time as an adult; the father who had an affair with his English mother then swore her to secrecy when she became pregnant. Discussing the fact they’d both encountered the President of Iceland, Gisli unfortunately also extracts a promise of secrecy from Kari. Bouncing around between Australia, England and Iceland, just like his restless mother (and her parents, who switched between Australia and England), Kari is always on the move, never making a proper, fulfilling relationship, always drawn back to Iceland (as those who love the place always are: even though I have no genetic connection to the place, I always wanted to go, and once I went, I have had to go back and back; I’m missing it at the moment).

We then travel back to follow his life as a child in Iceland then, as I mentioned, moving around, his mum making the “choices” she has to make as a single mother who never lets any other partner in her life – but has an excellent, disparate group of English and Australian secretaries and their husbands as friends in Iceland who then provide a safe space for Kari on his visits, too. Losing then regaining his Icelandic, he finally resolves to be secretive no more, and manages to make contact with his uncle then his half-siblings, remarkably and beautifully kind and accepting. Will he make peace with his father’s evasiveness? He even lives in the Westfjords and Reykjavik for a year, bringing his wife with him and having their first child there – I’d read about this in “Saga Land” but there was much more detail in this volume just about Kari.

It’s nicely written, warm and engaging, self-effacing and accepting his errors. I loved all the details about living and growing up in Reykjavik (more so somehow because he’s almost an exact contemporary of mine), stepping onto the frozen pond Tjornin, which I’ve seen frozen with the small corner for greedy water birds just the same, etc., and how he helped the President, Vigdis Finnbogadottir, with her shopping, so small and safe and interconnected is the island community. He also visits a few saga sites, which is always pleasing, though again makes me yearn to return myself.


A good bit of Bookish Beck Book Serendipity with this one. Yes, I’m reading a lot of Icelandic books so it’s not as unexpected as it might have been, but I was concurrently reading Egil’s Saga in my saga book when reading this, and Egil’s lament for his lost son turned up in this book, which I’m just about to come to in the saga!


This was my third NordicFINDS read and (re)covered Iceland. I bought it too late for it to be part of the big TBR Challenge but that’s OK!

Book review – Jane Linfoot – “Tea for Two at the Little Cornish Kitchen”

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I’ve read a number of Jane Linfoot’s St Aidan (loose) series, mainly the Little Wedding Shop By the Sea ones, and actually I discovered I’d missed out the previous Little Cornish Kitchen ones, so this is about third in that series within a series (various characters and locations from the Little Wedding Shop series pop up in this) and there is a group of established friends, the “mermaids” who play an important role in this one, only one of whom I’d encountered before. So for completeness’ sakes and so as not to know the outcome for everyone else in the previous books, it might be an idea to read these in order.

I need to say right away too that there is a big trigger warning for baby loss and infertility issues/treatment to this book. I can’t give details as both play quite a large part in the plot, but it’s definitely worth noting. There’s also a pet in peril (twice) but that’s more positively resolved.

Jane Linfoot – “Tea for Two at the Little Cornish Kitchen”

(2 December 2021)

One other important thing to say about this book is that, like Linfoot’s other stories, it’s a nice, chunky substantial volume, coming in at over 400 pages, so we get room for a lot of plot and character development (and a lot of characters), which is lovely and makes you feel this was written for itself rather than the standalone seasonal books you get which seem written to order.

We meet Cressida, aka Cressida Cupcake, an overnight Internet sensation who suddenly crashes when she exhibits a soggy bottom on a TV cookery programme. Overnight again her book deal and sponsors fade away – but fortunately she’s already hiding out in the lovely Cornish village of St Aidan, pet-sitting for her brother and his wife, who are off on honeymoon. Clemmie has left a standing invitation to be part of her friendship group, something Cressida has not really had before, and while she thinks she can stand alone, soon she’s accepting their support and one of the girls. But who’s this hoving up on the horizon, locuming at the vets as he tries to piece together his career after an accident? Yes, it’s her old love, with whom she has some very sad history.

Although it says it’s a “Pure delight” on the cover, this book is deeper than that. It covers some difficult themes (well) and emphasises the need to communicate and be open even about those difficult things, and has another theme of the old people’s home in the village, which is threatened when new rules and regulations come into play, and needs some fundraising. Cressy pulls herself together after her disaster and starts offering baking classes to first the residents of the home and then the villagers. Yes, there are disasters, but can this help her to realise everything doesn’t have to be picture-perfect and she can accept herself as she is?

A basically kind book about the power of community (this always features in this series) and friendship, as well as baking (there are some lovely looking recipes in the back), and realistic and detailed about social media “careers”, but with the caveat it might be a little raw if the issues I mention above are triggering for you. The pets in the book do end up OK, thank goodness, and Jane Linfoot avoids the risk of tying everything up too, too perfectly.


I was invited to download and read this book via NetGalley by the lovely folk at One More Chapter (thank you, Sara!) in return for an honest review. The e-book is out on 30 January and the paperback in early February.

Book review – Christiane Ritter – “A Woman in the Polar Night”

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This is my second read for Annabookbel’s NordicFINDS challenge, and I’ve enjoyed picking all these books off my TBR (surely the challenge I’ve been able to fulfil most numerously from the TBR, apart from 20 Books of Summer, ever!) and working my way through them. Like “The Museum of Whales …“, I bought this last summer, using lovely Christmas book tokens from friends, and I’ve now read five out of the nine books bought then, not bad considering they’re so (relatively) recent!

This classic of Polar literature was first published, in German, in 1938. The English translation was done by Jane Degras in 1954 and this really pretty edition was published by Pushkin Press in 2019 – I’d imagine I saw it on a few blogs at the time.

Christiane Ritter – “A Woman in the Polar Night”

(24 June 2021)

‘No, we don’t need anything. We’ve got everything we need. Nor do we want to leave here yet. The only thing is that our supply of coffee has given out.’

We are entertained onboard ship, and are given a whole kilogram of coffee and four tins of condensed milk as well as a four-week-old newspaper. Then we return happily to our wilderness. (p. 211)

There are lots and lots of classics of Polar literature of course, but very few of them, and certainly not until very recent times, have been written by women. Because the women were the ones who stayed at home, looking after the household and worrying about their explorer husbands. In fact, this book has some similarities with that modus operandi, except Christiane is waiting for her husband in the northern part of the Norwegian island of Svalbard, and the household is a two-room hut, shared by them plus a younger hunter, Karl, that is heated by a broken unreliable stove and buried in snow they have to dig themselves out of half the time, and their dinners are constructed of oats and seal meat.

On the seals: yes, there is quite a lot of hunting in this book. I know we all got a bit concentrated on whether the whale museum in the last book was a hunting museum, but I have to say this is a book with a lot of hunting in it. There’s even the worry of having a house-arctic-fox around the place, who will eventually be trapped for his fur, however much Christiane tries to save him (because of who I am and who a lot of my readers are, I will say here that he gets through OK). So there’s hunting to make sure they have food, and trapping to get furs to sell to keep themselves going, and that’s not going to appeal to everyone – it didn’t appeal to me, of course, but I was able to read it as part of a particular – very particular – situation in which it is understandable. I did enjoy more the tales of finding a tiny bit of ancient dried yeast so they could make bread, etc.

The descriptions of life, especially as the polar night falls and retracts (they are well north of the Arctic Circle and so literally don’t see the Sun for months and months, this is not like reasonably cosy Iceland where it does still rise in the winter) are beautiful, and the portraits of the northern lights stunning. Weird things happen – voices and other sounds travel miles across the still ice and Christiane is surprised to recognise one of her own old bedcovers, trapped in the ice having been used as a sail before she got there. But mainly she adapts to life there and never wants to leave, the austere beauty and the hard work capturing her heart.

It’s a fascinating book. There are many mysteries we will never see answered (Christiane never wrote another book, so this is it). How do they conduct their marriage, especially with Kurt around until the last few weeks? We see her husband calling her stupid a few times when she makes the kind of mistakes anyone would make, but not much real affection. He is silent on the privations he suffers on hunting trips across the frozen wastes, and she doesn’t ask. She mentions leaving all the servants and her house in Austria, but there is one mention of their daughter, apparently a teenager at the time of the journey. We get psychological insight, sometimes raw, sometimes incredibly moving, as well as lots of delicious and not-so-delicious details of life in such an inhospitable place.

There’s a lovely map in the front, drawings of the goings-on of everyday life throughout the book, and reproductions of a few photographs in the back – it’s of course a beautifully designed Pushkin Press book so we have French flaps and an impeccable cover image. I’m so glad I’ve finally read this.


This was my second NordicFINDS read and covered Norway, in the form of the archipelago of Svalbard.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 2/53 – 51 to go.

Book review – A. Kendra Greene – “The Museum of Whales You Will Never See”

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This is my first read for Annabookbel’s NordicFINDS challenge, which loosely involves reading as many books from the Nordic countries as possible. She has particular weeks for particular countries, but you’re also handily allowed to just freestyle.

Being the Icelandophile that I am, I knew I could cover this challenge nicely from my TBR, and I’m also pleased to be able to pick off the very oldest, lingering books on the TBR for it – that great big sagas book, which I bought in 2014 between our wedding and our honeymoon in Iceland (I have so far read the great big introduction), and Jon Kalman Stefansson’s “Heaven and Hell” trilogy (which needs a space in the upstairs reading schedule as it’s going to be a not over dinner one, I’m fairly sure) which dates from 2015-2016! I started Christine Ritter’s “A Woman in the Polar Night” first but finished this before that, so off we go around Iceland …

I bought this book with my 2021 birthday book tokens and it arrived in July that year – there’s a picture of that set of books here, along with a frankly upsetting picture of my TBR at that stage, just one and a half shelves of vertically arranged books and a pile! I’ve actually read 4.5 of the 9 books bought then, which gives the lie to my claim to reading my TBR in acquisition date order! Oh well!

A. Kendra Greene – “The Museum of Whales you Will Never See: Travels Among the Collectors of Iceland”

(01 July 2021 – book tokens from my birthday)

I have come for the perimeter of territory staked out under the name ‘museum.’ Because for all the museums I have worked for or volunteered at or interned with, for all the continents where I have been the museum visitor, I have never known a place where the boundaries between private collection and public museum are so profoundly permeable, so permissive, so easily transgressed and so transparent as if almost not to exist. (pp. 2-3)

This is a lyrical, whimsical chase around some interesting museums and collections, musing as it goes on what is a museum and what is a collection and really collecting the interesting people that started them. Long chapters on individual museums (Galleries) are interspersed with Cabinets, short pieces on other museums and collectors which are more vague and wispy but equally interesting. The big museums include a rather touching piece on the Phallological Museum in Reykjavik (I haven’t been) and the Herring Era Museum, and it’s nice that the book covers the whole country, from the Westfjords to the eastern shores, as well as Reykjavik and its surroundings.

Although the list of museums visited on the author’s long trip include several I’ve visited myself, I was a bit personally disappointed that she doesn’t talk about any of those. I have, however, also failed to go to (both) the museums of whales – the ones she doesn’t see in the title (it’s the museums, not the whales, I think). So there’s that. The author is a museum specialist and an artist and there are charming line-drawings throughout the text, although I couldn’t work out if they were by her or another artist.

There are “Points of Reference” at the front of the book, including notes on seasons, weights and spellings, and a list of museums and their addresses at the back. I liked most the author’s love of Iceland, the way when she goes to a new town, she likes to find the first street the town had (named for the harbour or sea) and the second (Main Street or some such). She accepts the Icelanders she meets as they are, without making them silly or exotic or naive. There is a lot to like about this rather strange little book.

This was my first NordicFINDS read and covered Iceland.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 (I had to re-count and start again!) Book 1/53 – 52 to go.

Book review – D. E. Stevenson – “The Fair Miss Fortune”

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This is the second review copy that Rupert at Dean Street Press kindly sent me: another Furrowed Middlebrow imprint book. Here’s the full list of what’s coming out this month, with their covers shown here, and how wonderful they all look!

I recently read and reviewed “Five Windows” which was such a lovely one, this was another super treat, gentle but absorbing. This one has the same autobiographical essay in the back but be warned and DON’T READ the correspondence between the author and her publisher reproduced before the text of the novel until you’ve read the actual novel, as you will find out a major spoiler!

D. E. Stevenson – “The Fair Miss Fortune”

(18 November 2021)

‘I mean she’s my mother. She has given up everything for me.’

‘No she hasn’t,’ said Charles firmly. ‘She hasn’t given up anything for you. She’s selfish. No mother has a right to … to swallow her children whole.’

Charles and Harold, the first speaker in the quote above, were childhood friends, but Charles went off to be in the Army and Harold was kept at home by his over-protective mother, and is soft, pale and idle. When Charles comes back home on a long leave from India, it coincides with Harold and his mother having moved house to a weird modernist white cube on top of a hill, selling their old cottage to newcomer Jane, who wants to open a tea shop to attract the trade from the new bypass which has blighted it for the previous residents. Charles’ mother is kept pretty well housebound by an unspecified ailment but is careful not to lean too heavily on her son and to keep a light touch – an interesting and well-done contrast. We do sympathise with Charles as he gets to know Jane by helping her with the cottage (unfortunately, we don’t get as far as setting up the tea house so lack that delicious detail I’d have liked) but Harold seems more of a study rather than a person, though he firms up (literally) when he gets hold of some books from the rather hilarious village general store.

A confusion around a sister, some typical village events (garden parties to raise funds are discussed but not attended but there is a very satisfying golf club dance), a vicar, some elderly residents and some awful ones and a will-they-won’t-they romance – all very lovely and absorbing, with a clever, careful message about families which is often found in her works.

D. E. Stevenson had this one rejected by her publishers in the 1930s; Greyladies Books published it in 2011 after it was found by her daughter in the archives, but then it slipped out of print again, I believe – it’s so lovely to have it back, and the main plot device is a relatively common one but by no means too common and very nicely done indeed!

Book review – D. E. Stevenson – “Five Windows”

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The lovely Rupert at Dean Street Press kindly sent me another two Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books to read and review for their upcoming release this week. I am so fortunate to be on their mailing list for advanced ebook copies (you’ll also have seen that I received five of their books for Christmas, with more requested for my birthday). Here’s the full list of what’s coming out this month, and their covers are here, and how wonderful do they all look?!

I have this one and “The Fair Miss Fortune”, which I’m currently reading and will be reviewing soon. What treats they are, gentle and kind books in the main, comforting but incredibly well-written and absorbing. I’m so glad DSP are bringing so many of Stevenson’s books back out as they’re not the easiest to find.

D. E. Stevenson – “Five Windows”

(18 November 2021)

‘Life is like looking out of a lot of different windows,’ explained Malcolm. ‘At least that’s the way I think of it. My father was a fisherman, our cottage was close on the shore, and when I was a laddie I slept with my brother in a room with a wee window that looked out over the sea. Since then there’s been a good many different windows in my life. This one has been the best, I’ve been well-contented here’.

When the shepherd Malcolm tells our young hero, David, this, he’s about to enlist and go off to the Second World War. He’s already taught him a lot, including how to make a really fine piece of work that’s worth waiting for, and there are more lessons to learn. We follow David through a fairly quiet and ordinary life – but one that’s so rich and absorbing. Moving from the manse to live with his city-dwelling uncle and go to school, David learns how lovely his parents are, and when he moves to London, he has more lessons about who to trust and who to live with – there are excellent scenes in the boarding house he initially goes to. He retains his core of decency, although knowing he’s one of life’s avoiders of conflict, which causes him some trouble. And he changes his view on the three sisters he used to play with, or rather comes to a realisation about them.

And those five windows? Well, the manse, his room at his uncle’s and the boarding house are three and the other two would offer spoilers. We move along gently through his life but oh-so-satisfyingly – I’ve realised I particularly like books that show how someone sets up home – exactly how they do it – and we get that here (it’s something I’ve found in other Dean Street Press and also Persephone books and must be a feature of mid-20th-century lit!). There are gentle lessons about friendships and I’d love to know what happens next – I wonder if any of her other books mention them (I thought it was funny there was a set of Lorimers, as DES’s great friend Molly Clavering wrote a Mrs Lorimer novel!).

The book includes a lovely autobiographical piece by D. E. Stevenson, which includes these words that really sum up her work:

Sometimes I have been accused of making my characters ‘too nice’. I have been told that my stories are ‘too pleasant’, but the fact is I write of people as I find them and am fond of my fellow human beings. Perhaps I have been fortunate but in all my wanderings i have met very few thoroughly unpleasant people, so I find it difficult to write about them.

Well, I for one love her pleasant books about nice people, and am looking forward to my second one this month!


A note of two Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moments with this one. First off, having just read Winifred Boggs’ “Sally on the Rocks” (published in 1915), I was amused to find Ned, one of the boarding house lodgers, referring to himself as being “on the rocks” in this one (published in 1953), not having knowingly encountered the phrase for a while. And in this novel, David receives a note inviting him to visit an old friend and not to bother to reply as there’s not time, but just to turn up, something that’s just happened in Richard Osman’s “The Man Who Died Twice”! (I should have saved this for that review but it’ll take ages for me to read it as I’m reading along with Matthew on audiobook). So rich in many ways!

State of the TBR – January 2022

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It’s time to share the state of my TBR after the addition of my December incomings (which were many and various). After sharing incomings paper and e-book, I’ll talk about the reading challenges I’m working on this month. There’s a report on what I’m reading now and next and I’m also going to share the position of my special TBR 2021-2022 project, to read all the pre-05 October 2021 books by 05 October 2022 at the end of the post.

First, the horror …

I read 20 books in December, which was really quite pleasing, including all of the print books and all but 2.5 of the ebooks I planned to read (I added an e-book and started one of my two Dean Street Press books out on 06 January; Matthew has only just got to “The Man Who Died Twice” so I’m starting it today. However, all the incomings are now on the shelf and yes, that is a pile at the front and three piles at the back plus some vertical books. I think that might be the worst it’s ever been! (now I’ve removed a pile of books to read for challenges, the front shelf is all vertical again, like that makes it any better). There are some small additional piles with those books in series etc, but they have gone down a lot.

Incomings

I shared my interim incomings part way through the month after a lovely, generous BookCrossing Not So Secret Santa, a super parcel from the lovely Bookish Beck and various naughty purchases. Of course several of my lovely friends provided books for me to open on Christmas Day, too (as well as some book tokens for mid-summer joy!).

From the top, Tessa Wardley’s “Mindful Thoughts for Runners” which is quite a comprehensive look at mindfulness and being in the moment when running which I had somehow never encountered but Meg cleverly found. Margery Sharp’s “Fanfare for Tin Trumpets” (a boarding house novel), Stella Gibbons’ “The Swiss Summer” (a 1950s trip to the Alps) and D. E. Stevenson’s “Smouldering Fire” (Scottish man lets his home, romance and mystery ensue), plus Jokha Alharthi’s “Celestial Bodies” as the story of three Omani sisters, adds a new country to my list and is a Woman in Translation month candidate, too – all from Ali. Emma kindly sent me two Molly Claverings, “Near Neighbours” (cheerful tale of an older woman liberated to enjoy life) and “Dear Hugo” (woman moves into small Scottish village, becomes one of the community) – I came to love this gentle Scottish writer last year, and five of those last six books are Dean Street Press ones, hooray! And Sian found me [Susie] “Dent’s Modern Tribes”, about the specialised language used by experts in various fields.

In ebooks, I both went a bit naughty in the sales on Kindle (and the free e-book I get every month with our house Amazon Prime account), and also requested and won a good few NetGalley reads. Oopsie. First the NetGalleys …

Symeon Brown’s “Get Rich or Lie Trying” March) is about the Influencer economy online and how it works. In Bonnie Garmus’ novel, “Lessons in Chemistry” (April) a woman teaches America to cook in the 1960s but teaches women more, too. Honoree Fanonne Jeffers’ “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois” (November 2021) is an epic tale of a Black US family from slavery to now (it’s massive, too!). Jane Linfoot’s “Tea For Two at the Little Cornish Kitchen” (Jan) returns us to St Aidan’s in Cornwall for gentle reading. Donna McLean’s “Small Town Girl” (Feb) tells the real life behind the spy cops scandal I read about in “Skylark“, and Warsan Shire’s “Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head” (Mar) is poems by a British Somali woman.

… and then the Kindle books. Chandra Blumberg’s “Digging Up Love” was the free one through Amazon Prime and has an American woman moving cities to work in a bakery and meeting a palaeontologist (I do love that cover); Sue Cheung’s “Chinglish” was on special offer and is an illustrated “almost entirely true” memoir about growing up in Britain with Chinese heritage. I’ve already read Louise Lennox’s “Merry Kiss Me” and ordered a boxset of the first three “Love Heart Lane” novels after enjoying Christie Barlow’s “Heartcross Castle“.

Currently reading and coming up first

I am hoping to get through a few books this month, especially as I have a week off work around my birthday (I was going to go somewhere but I’m now going to do more local fun things and see friends individually). I’m currently still reading Afua Hirsch’s “Brit(ish)” with Emma, but we’re nearly done so will start another one this month. The next Maya Angelou is “Mom & Me & Mom” and will be read this month. Thomas Harding’s “White Debt” is a book on slavery legacies to read for Shiny New Books, and Larry McMurtry’s “The Last Picture Show” is my first read in my Larry McMurtry 2022 project (I will be reading “Lonesome Dove” but want to fit this in first).

Coming up next

My main print reading this coming month will be for Annabookbel’s Nordic FINDS challenge, although I’m going slightly off-piste and interpreting it in my own way – I’ve pulled all the Nordic or part-Nordic books off my shelf, including the huge “Sagas of Icelanders” books, and will try to read and review them all in the month. So I have Jon Kallan Stefansson’s “Heaven and Hell” trilogy (Iceland), Christine Ritter’s “A Woman in the Polar Night” (Svalbard, thus Norway), A. Kendra Green’s “The Museum of Whales I will Never See” (Iceland), “The Book of Reykjavik” (short stories, Iceland), Sara Wheeler’s “The Magnetic North” (Svalbard and Lapland, not sure whose bit), Kari Gislason’s “The Promise of Iceland” (Iceland) and Cat Jarman’s “River Kings” (Vikings, so various bits).

I will also have a few NetGalley out this month to read, plus “The Love Songs of W.E.B. Du Bois which seems to be out this month but NG says November last year):

So there’s Nikki May’s “Wahala” (Nigerian English women in London face a threat from a fourth friend), Johann Hari’s “Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention”, Daphne Palasi Andreades’ “Brown Girls” (a group of young women of colour growing up in Queen’s, New York, should be a good comparison piece to “Wahala”) and the “Little Cornish Kitchen.

So that’s 19 books in total: which is doable, right?!

TBR 2021-2022 challenge report

A quick update on my TBR Challenge, I have got the numbers all wonky so I’m calling it Quarter 2 with 53 books to read. Here they are:

Far fewer than in the original picture and I’ll count down from 53 and hope it works this time. Several of the ones above are from this category, so I should be able to keep on track (at least 6 per month to get done by 05 October).


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

Book stats and best books of 2021

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I know I said I wasn’t going to publish my top books of 2021 until 1 January, but I’ve got such a big TBR post to do then, and I am not going to finish one last book for this year, so I thought I’d share my reading stats and top 18 books for 2021 tonight. So here we go …

Reading stats for 2021

I kept a spreadsheet recording various aspects of my reading again this year, and here are the salient points …

In 2021 I read 185 (159 in 2020) books, of which 86 (83) were fiction and 99 (76) non-fiction. 116 (94) were by women, 62 (56) by men, 5 (8) by both (multiple authors) and 2 more (1) by a mix of male, female and non-gender-binary people.

Where did my books come from?

NetGalley 47 – Bookshop online (mainly Bookshop.org and Hive nowadays) 41 – Gift 27 – Publisher 24 – Own 20 – Charity shop 9 – Bookshop physical 4 – Author 4 – Bookcrossing 2 – Bookshop independent 2 – Bought from publisher 2 – Subscribed 1 – Lent 1 – Bought from author 1

Still fewer from charity shops, which was down to the pandemic plus a lot of NetGalley and Shiny New Books reads (thank you, publishers!)

Most books by far were set in the UK although fewer in number and proportion than last year at 94 (99) with the US second 44 (24) and then 24 (12) other countries (some a combination of a few) plus fantasy worlds and the whole world.

I read books by 87 (76) different publishers, the most common being Vintage (because of Anne Tyler, last year Virago because of Angela Thirkell), Virago and Penguin.

I read most books published in 2021 at 60 (39 from 2020 last year), which is down to Shiny and NetGalley. I read books from many different years, with all decades in the 20th and 21st centuries represented.

Onto diversity of authors and themes. 73% (79.25%) of the authors I read were White (as far as I could tell), with 26.5% (19.5%) People of Colour and 0.5% (1.26%) a mix of White and POC authors. The UK is apparently 87% / 13% so I was pleased to increase my diversity count again this year. 112 (121) authors were British and 54 (26) American, the others from 13 (9) other countries or a mix. Out of the 185 (159) books I read, I assigned a diversity theme to 74 of them (43/159 last year), so 50 (21) about race, 17 (8) LGBTQI+ issues and 3 (10) covering both, 2 (3) disability and (1) LGBTQI+ and disability, 1 (none) about class and 1 (none) class and race. This doesn’t meant such themes didn’t come up in other books, just that they weren’t the main theme.

Best books of 2021

As I read 185 books, I allowed myself 18 best books. I have some honourable mentions, too, and one is a bit of a cheat … These are in order of reading through the year.

Best fiction

Dorothy Evelyn Smith – O, the Brave Music

Paul Magrs – Hunky Dory

CLR James – Minty Alley

Jo McMillan – Motherland

Anne Tyler – Ladder of Years

Alex Haley – Roots (how could I not!)

Buchi Emecheta – Second-Class Citizen

Honourable mentions to the publishers Dean Street Press and British Library Women Writers, who produced consistently very enjoyable and absorbing books that as a whole brightened my year considerably. Molly Clavering in particular was an excellent new find, reflected in my Christmas incomings (see tomorrow).

Best non-fiction

Christine Burns – Trans Britain

Isabella Tree – Wilding

Maya Angelou – her whole autobiography!

Mike Pitts – Digging up Britain

Sathnam Sanghera – Empireland

Johny Pitts – Afropean

David Olusoga – Black and British

Pete Paphides – Broken Greek

Hassan Akkad – Hope not Fear

Lev Parikian – Light Rains Sometimes Fall

Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason – Saga Land

Honourable mentions to Madness’ autobiography – “Before We Was We“, Kit de Waal’s collection of memoirs, “Common People“, Stephen Rutt’s “The Eternal Season” and Shon Faye’s “The Transgender Issue” (I added the Burns instead because of the variety of voices covered).


A great year of reading. I have Fallen Behind but will look at everyone else’s best-ofs tomorrow, promise!

Book review – Winifred Boggs – “Sally on the Rocks”

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One of the highlights of my year has been being on the mailing list for the British Library Women Writers series, an excellent set of reprints of 20th century novels, each with accompanying information. I was on the blog tour for “The Love Child” and this one, which arrived with it, has been my last full read of 2021 (I don’t like to leave a year untidily but won’t finish my current read today).

Winifred Boggs – “Sally on the Rocks”

(13 October 2021)

“It will be a close thing. You have the wit and beauty, but I am safe and domestic and have been through the mill, nicely broken in. You look as if nothing could either bend or break you … ” (p. 144)

As you open this book, poignantly both set and published during the early years of the First World War, it seems quite traditional, slightly older in its writing style, settling down to a good story of English village life. We have characters building up, the clergyman with his wayward ward, the village gossip, the man of importance but an over-indulged sense of his own importance, the widow trying to catch a husband, the old lady in the manor house controlling people through what she gives out in her will. But very swiftly it turns into a strongly feminist message which gives it a delightful twist. Because while Sally and her rival, Mrs Dalton are supposed to be just that, rivals, they quickly form a friendship based on an honest appraisal of how much they both need to marry a rich man, and the different attributes they bring to the contest.

There’s also a strong critique of the way people’s pasts are allowed to affect their futures differently according to their gender. Without giving the plot away, hopefully, Sally has come from rackety stock, but was carefully raised by her guardian and his wife; but rackety will come through if encouraged and she has something Not Quite Nice in her past which is likely to come back and bite her. The man involved, not so much, and this is made very plain. The plight of women who are not allowed to earn their own decent living is also emphasised – even the horrible Miss Maggie, who uses her sleuthing abilities to cause real harm, is almost excused with the idea that she could have been a really first-rate professional had she had the opportunity, and there are some acerbic comments about women’s ageing and its effect on their prospects:

“The ‘getting on’ stage is the most trying, don’t you think? After you are past it, well, people leave you alone; but till you are, you MUST keep on struggling. (p. 10)

There’s also a strong critique of attitudes to the war, with Mr Bingley coming under heavy criticism for finding its privations personally tedious, but giving £10 to charity, and thinking it would be terrible to go to the Front lying, having pretended to be younger than one is (I cheered when I read in the accompanying matter that the age of conscription is raised just after the book ends, even if he is a fictional character!).

I think the author also works to undermine a few of the tropes of the literary time – there are a couple of characters who very handily come into money, and one certainly seems to have a habit of fortuitously losing relatives and gaining their money. Although there are a few struggling souls and the general point of the book, about women being unable to support themselves and relying on their ability to marry, is a bit dour, there’s lots of lightness and fun in the book, including sections narrated by the interior monologue of a dog and a cockerel, as well, as well as a good wellspring of capability and practicality which I really liked.

As is usual with these volumes, there is a timeline of the 1910s, a piece about the author and a perceptive Preface, as well as an Afterword at the back, which outlines the development of women’s professions as well as talking about the book in particular.


Thank you so much to the British Library for sending me this book and others in the series in return for an honest review. You can buy all the British Library Women Writers books (and more) at the British Library Shop (https://shop.bl.uk/).

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