Market research – please give your answer!

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I’m trying to work out whether it’s worth producing my book, Going it Alone at 40: How I Survived my First Year of Full-Time Self-Employment, in a print version. This will also help me to decide how to produce my new book, Who are you Calling Mature? Running a Business after Start-up. Thanks for answering the poll – just click on one of the answers!

Book reviews – Gold Rush and Just Julie


Oct 2013 tbr Well, I’ve been working my way through those shiny celebrity autobiographies on the TBR shelf (which, by the way, sports an optical illusion. See those mainly blue books stacked horizontally on the shelf itself? The TBR double-stacked front row extends right up to those even though it looks like there’s a gap. I wish it was that small!) and here are reports on two of them. Of course, the Steven Tyler book was a dead loss, as reported here, but I’ve just had a good two in a row. Well, a good one and an interesting page turner, anyway …

Michael Johnson – “Gold Rush”

(12 March 2013, Poundland)

Having encountered Mr Johnson via the TV commentary coverage at the Beijing and London Olympics, we know that he’s a somewhat serious man, shall we say, who doesn’t suffer fools gladly and demands perfection of (to be fair) himself as well as others. And so he shows himself to be here, in this interesting examination of what makes an Olympic champion, apparently published to take advantage of the build-up to London 2012, but applicable at any time.

He interviews notable Olympians from Daley Thompson to Rebecca Adlington, but often seems to be concentrating on moaning about people (especially Usain Bolt) who don’t take it all seriously enough and don’t (Usain) live up to their true potential and just seem (Usain) to want to coast along and take the easy way out, whereas (Usain) if they trained like Johnson did and stop mucking around at the start line (U…) they would do a heck of a lot better. Young people today (not our Rebecca, though) etc., etc.

But, well, he’s a grump, we know he’s a grump, and he does tell stories against himself as well as using himself as an exemplar of good training and attitude. He obviously wrote it himself, too (in a good way), taking the time to thank his writing coach in the acknowledgements. I found the rants quite amusing and found a lot to enjoy in the rest of the book

Other Olympics reads: Awaken the Olympian Within, The Secret Olympian, From the Slopes of Olympus to the Banks of the Lea, and of course my own mini-Olympic adventure blog post.

Julie Goodyear – “Just Julie”

(12 March 2013, Poundland)

Everything a celebrity autobiography should be: full of events, relationships, secrets, scandals, tears and gossip, and told in an authentic voice which reads just like its subject has grabbed you by the arm in a slightly sticky pub and dragged you into a corner to regale you with her side of the story. It’s got never-before-seen photos and a leopard print inside back cover, too – you can’t go wrong, can you?

Chronicling her eventful life, she seems very open, and all is plausible although quite clearly her attempt to set the record straight on a few things. Fair enough, as she did have a rough ride in the papers and quite a lot of bad luck. Her fondness for her major role as Bet Lynch shines through, and she applied a Michael Johnson-like seriousness to the business of researching and creating Bet which just shows that a bit of application can get you a long way.

Goodyear is obviously a formidable lady (nothing wrong with that) who is proud of her roots and of having stayed close to them and survived adversity. She even uses her accent in the writing of the book, with plenty of “me Mam”s scattered through it, which gives it that immediacy. Well and grippingly told and an interesting read about survival.


Still reading “Dance to the Music of Time” and a book I had for my birthday back in January – oops! Having said that, I’ve only acquired one book this month so far, and the TBR is slowly going down …

Book reviews – Heritage and Starting Now


Oct 2013 tbr Today we have two books by women – two very different books, although maybe we can say that they are both about grabbing opportunity where you can and making a new start in life, and about changing what you do with your life part way through it. Too tenuous a link? Well, reviewing books in pairs as I now do does tend to throw up these contrasts and links, as I do try to post in order of reading and not try to force them into matching pairs! Anyway, here we go with the first of a couple of catch-up posts …

July 2013 4Vita Sackville-West – “Heritage”

(17 July 2013)

The last of that lovely crop from Bello Books, and very bad I feel indeed about having taken so long to read them all! But they’re all read and reviewed now, and I’m very glad of the fine print-on-demand reprint issues Bello is doing.

Now, I have the idea that this is one of the preferred of Vita’s books and I have to say that I personally felt more engaged with “Family History”. Not to say that this is a bad or lesser book, I suppose it’s just a very different one. It’s the convoluted and slightly farm-Gothic (is that a genre? You know what I mean, right – Mary Webb, Cold Comfort Farm … doings and goings on in a rural setting, lots of emotion and repression and large farm-hands and quivering daughters …) tale, framed by the narratives of one young man who’s the main narrator and another who he meets on a retreat in London and who narrates his own story in one section of direct speech and then a number of long letters. By all sorts of machinations of fate and free will, they both end up involved with a Kentish family with Spanish incursions, and then over the course of a decade or two that takes in the First World War, they separately engage with the family, correspond at length about it and, frankly, meddle in the affairs of the simple farming folk with predictably disastrous consequences.

While this is in part a portrait of Violet Trefusis (I think I read somewhere – but where?) and while the countryside of the Weald is a beautifully drawn character, to me the book never quite comes alive as fully as the other books of Vita’s that I’ve read, and doesn’t leap off the page at you. Maybe one issue is that the narrators admire their fellow characters too much – I’m not sure. But even though it’s flawed, still a good read and I’m glad that it’s been republished.

Debbie Macomber – “Starting Now”

(September 2013 – BookCrossing)

A Blossom Street series book, although Lydia and her family are really the only main Blossom Street characters to have a significant role, this is quite a hefty book in terms of pages, but a bit light on character variety, as it mostly concentrates on one character, Libby, ex-lawyer, coming to realise what she’s sacrificed for her career. In a way, while it was absorbing at the time (but, it has to be said, a time that really called for a very light read), it brings to mind an extended version of one of her Mills and Boon type shorter books, and I’m not quite sure that the lower protagonist count can truly sustain a full length book.

A good few of the plot points did seem a bit implausible, with the author not letting a few legal or child protection issues get in the way of a good storyline (which was odd, as her books do usually feel pretty believable in their everyday details), and, although the book makes an effort to work out how you can, indeed, ‘have it all’ in the end, this part is the least convincing. The side characters are bursting to become more fully used, I feel. But a comforting and easy read.


I’m currently working my way through “A Dance to the Music of Time: Winter”, but there are a few more reviews stacking up to be published in the next few days, as yes, I have been reading, I’ve just got behind on my reviewing! Watch this space …

Helping at the Social Media Surgery


I’m helping out at the Birmingham Social Media Surgery tonight, and I’m helping a lady from The Jan Foundation to learn a bit more about blogging. Here’s a post I wrote over on my other blog about how Social Media Surgeries work  and here’s one my friend Bridget wrote recently about attending one. I really recommend getting involved if you know anything about social media and want to help community groups learn more.

Book reviews – A Dance to the Music of Time, A Group of Noble Dames, another DNF and an acquisition!


Oct 2013 tbr I have been lagging sadly behind on my book reviews, although they are all written up in my little notebook, of course. So expect a small rush of them over the next week – I have been reading, honest! I’m making some headway with the TBR mountain, although I’ve remembered there are two books for challenges / projects that I neglected to mention / photograph in my State of the TBR thread. And one Did Not (Actually Really Start or) Finish cuts down the pile, too …

Anthony Powell – “A Dance to the Music of Time: 3 – Autumn”

(02 May 2001, bought I know not where with a book token given to me when I left EBSCO (the first time))

This set of three books covers the Second World War and so we meet a host of new characters as Nick goes into the army, first in training as a junior officer and then as a liaison in London with Allied troops in exile. Our old friends are back, too, although Powell pulls no punches, dispensing with characters in a way that reflects life in all its contingency perhaps more than the usually structured and controlled arrangement of fiction (Matthew commented on this set that you would expect to find most of the characters you started with making it through to the end of a big sequence, whereas here they fade out of contact, disappear or indeed sometimes die in a seemingly random way).

Notable among the new characters is Pamela Flitton, practically psychopathic and working her way through the Forces / Allies  and seeming to come into contact (or ‘contact’) with most of the main characters as she tears through London with the destructive power of an attractive woman in what is often a very masculine world.

I found the last scenes at the memorial service after the War moving and a well-crafted and fitting end to what many say is the best sequence of the set (having said that, I’m currently enjoying catching up with everyone again in the last big volume). Especially pleasing was the reappearance of one old friend, and I also loved the engagement with Proust while in France in the middle of the book, well and cleverly done with a wry nod at the book he is challenging here!

Thomas Hardy – “A Group of Noble Dames”

(borrowed from Ali)

I only have this in my KIndle all-Hardy collection and it’s annoying enough not knowing how far through the book you are without having the same problem with each story, so I accepted the loan gratefully!

Using the conceit of members of a local society gathering and telling tales of notable women of the locality, this shows off Hardy’s prodigious short story telling powers in a pleasing set of tales linked by their theme of local noblewomen through the ages. Some are fleshed out more than others, and there are of course classic Hardy turns of fortune and people’s fates lying in wait for them. There are also an awful lot of discreet liaisons and children born in somewhat suspicious circumstances (or swapped like so many material possessions) which reflect an age-old desire for gossip and scandal.

The voices of the narrators are sensibly not differentiated, with the stories being retold in the master narrator’s voice, which makes for a more unified concept and probably saves us from Hardy’s love for the comedy and dialect that can – sorry – get a bit wearing sometimes. Not one I’ve read before,  as far as I know, but very readable and enjoyable.

Steven Tyler – “Does the Noise in my Head Bother you?” (DNF)

(12 March 2013; Poundland)

This is literally – and literarily, I suppose – unreadable. Clearly written by Tyler, or mumbled into a dictaphone and transcribed as was, there is no editor, internal or external, only the vaguest sense of arrangement, and while the individual words obviously have meanings, I could not fathom my way through the thing. Some pretty pics, and I’ll pass it to a friend to look at before she, too, discards it in horror! Sorry, Mr T, you have graced my TBR pics for a good few months, but will be BookCrossed and off forthwith.


Oct 2013 1 Only one new book on the TBR so far this month, and that’s this rather wonderful one, recommended by my friend Sandy, who knows all about teaching English. It basically looks at how the English that learners produce is influenced by their native language, something that’s always fascinated me, as I work a great deal with non-native English texts, and am always noticing similarities in the way people who share the same native language write – and make mistakes.

Oct 2013 2This has a very comprehensive coverage as you can see from the picture of the contents page, and being a Libro book, it’s going on the little horizontal pile to be picked up out of sequence (shock!) and I’ll review it soon.

As you will know if you’ve read the reviews above, I’m currently working my way through the last three books of the Anthony Powell. I have also read a few more from my TBR, reviews coming soon, and have Hardy’s “Tess” and Barbara Pym’s “An Unsuitable Attachment” up next for those authors’ respective readalongs. What are you reading as the nights draw in and the fires go on?

State of the TBR – October


Oct 2013 tbr Just a quickie as I’m in a bit of a work frenzy … and a horrendous state of the TBR, barely smaller than at the beginning of September (some of the books from the front shelf of that pic have moved back, as I removed a couple of books to read last month). Hm. In my defence, I only acquired three books last month, one of which I’ve already half read and given up on, and I have also finished two three-volume collections from the “A Dance to the Music of Time” series, which has taken up quite a lot of my reading time this last month. But very enjoyable time. Only one volume of that to go.

Oct 2013 next upOther books on the go and to come shortly are Thomas Hardy’s “A Group of Noble Dames” and a book on Iris Murdoch that I’m reading at the moment (the Noble Dames are the July-August Hardy read and didn’t feature in the September picture because they have been leant to me) and to come are Hardy’s “Tess” (the Sept-Oct read) and then I MUST read the last book kindly sent to me by Bello. Among those will come “A Dance to the Music of Time: Winter”.

Oct 2013 to readThen, and only then, will I be able to dip into the books in this picture, which does look suspiciously like last month’s … I do hope I will get to some of these tempting lovelies, but it all depends on work, unfortunately! Oh – I have those cat behaviour books balanced on top, they are for dipping into, and only the bottom two on the little horizontal pile are pending, as the novels are awaiting others earlier in the series … I have one book on order, another one for Libro purposes, all about how English learner’s first language affects their English, but I will prioritise the poor old current TBR before it gets to Christmas / Birthday season and it all goes pop!

What are you planning on reading this month? Are you TBR piles going down, gentle readers, or waxing full, or remaining static?