Book review – The Boy With The Top Knot and Christmas book acquisitions


December To Be ReadI really hoped to finish my current read today but it wasn’t to be. I can’t believe the low total of books finished this year – I’ll disclose that tomorrow but it’s a bit shocking and I’m going to make more time for reading in 2015. Anyway, here’s one last review of another highlight, and a pic of the lovely new books I’ve been lucky enough to receive for Christmas. I hope you’ve all had a nice read over the Festive Season and are busy making your Best Of lists (again, that will appear tomorrow).

Sathnam Sanghera – “The Boy With The Top Knot”

(26 April 2014 – from Gill, around World Book Night)

My friend Gill passed this to me as it was the book she was giving away for World Book Night. I read a lot of ‘children of immigrants in the UK’ and ‘tales of emigration’ books, so I thought I knew what I was expecting, but this packed quite the emotional punch. Full of substance, feeling and discussing matters that are important to discuss – I’m not going to give the main theme away as I certainly didn’t know what it was before reading the book, but a simple discovery blows the author’s ideas about his family wide apart, and he has to work to draw the edges of his experience back together and make sense of it.

Sathnam decided to write a family memoir once he’d found out the reason for some strange behaviour on his family’s part and a reluctance to face up to things on his own. He’s searingly honest about his own role in the family dynamic and his need to partition his life into a London and a Wolverhampton section, and about his ability to block out truths he doesn’t want to see and avoid his own responsibilities: this book charts his decision and action to take responsibility and face up to things. He’s also honest about general problems in the Sikh communities in the UK and India and among the 2nd generation British citizens of whom he’s a member, and his experience as a journalist allows him to do the necessary research and synthesize it into a coherent whole …

However, he finds that his family history resists fitting into neat categories and realises that it’s easier to find out facts about a golden-tinged celeb than it is about a poor Asian immigrant who is illiterate and has health problems. He ends up including letters he wrote and letters he didn’t send, and verbatim reports of conversations, as well as the history of his family and his own probings of his relationships with his family members. It’s not all misery, though – it’s wry and funny where it needs to be, and full of affection and respect for his family. A good read.

Christmas book pileOn to Christmas acquisitions! Oh – I did acquire one more book in November – a hardback copy of Francis Brett Young’s “This Little World”, which I have read. I bought it for  a Secret Santa giftee, but when it arrived, it had a hole in the SPINE, made when something sharp had spiked through the (thin grey plastic) envelope and torn the book. I couldn’t send that as a present, so I’ve kept it, and got some other books for my Secret Santee. Grrr.

Anyway, here we have my BookCrossing Birmingham collection from the lovely Julia – Bill Bryson’s “Shakespeare”, Seb Hunter’s “Hell Bent for Leather”, the memoirs of a rock fan, Ursula Le Guin’s “Tales from Earthsea” which is short stories, and Dervla Murphy’s “Through Siberia by Accident”. All on my Wish List for years so well chosen, as was James Kelman’s “You Have To Be Careful in the Land of the Free”, from Gill.

My LibraryThing Virago Group secret santa found me two E.H. YOungs I didn’t yet have – “The Curate’s Wife” and “Jenny Wren”, and I can’t wait to read those lovely Greens (I also received a good scattering of dark chocs and a beautiful bookmark from the lovely Laura). And on my trip to the Persephone Shop back in November, I picked up three grey lovelies for myself from friends – so have Dorothy Whipple’s “Greenbanks” and “Because of the Lockwoods” from Ali and Bridget respectively, and Susan Glaspell’s “Brook Evans” from (editing friend) Laura. How lovely these all are and how tempting!

Right, time to go to bed. Watch this space tomorrow for my top ten reads of the year and reading plans for 2015 …

Book reviews – Americanah and The Talisman Ring


December To Be ReadI’m continuing with my reading frenzy – I’ve almost got the TBR down to just one shelf again, although to be fair, only 4 of my 10 new Christmas books have made it onto the shelf. Here we have one novel of America and Nigeria that I could NOT put down, and one quintessentially English novel which was a lovely comfort read. Two novels … but I think I’ve still read more non-fiction than fiction this year (for the first time in recorded history). Watch out tomorrow for one or two more reviews, then on Thursday it’ll be time for Books of the Year, a photo of my Christmas Haul, and a photo showing the full horror of the TBR …

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – “Americanah”

(12 April 2014 – from Bridget on our wedding day)

This – THIS – is why I leave doing my Books of the Year until the year has properly ended. In fact, I think that one of the books I’m reading now will make it into my Top 10 for the year, too. You never know what you might come across. I have had compulsive reading sessions over the year, but I actually missed the opportunity to open a couple of presents on Christmas Day before our carriage arrived to whisk us off to the in-laws’ for lunch because I could. not. stop reading this book. I’m even excited about the fact that I can now go back and read other people’s reviews that I’ve saved up for months!

A novel of Nigeria, the US and (less) the UK, this is the story of Ifemelu, who can never quite forget her first love, Obinze. She makes a new life for herself in America – becoming the ‘Americanah’ of the title – discovering issues about race that she never knew existed and ending up being a successful blogger. When she returns to Nigeria to work for a magazine run by a wealthy socialite, she finds Obinze, who she has pretty well lost touch with after experiencing tough times in America, is now a wealthy property developer. The experience of her aunt, favoured by a general on one side of a power struggle and forced to flee when the struggle turns, is always in the background, and she is confused by and wary of the new social order she finds herself in.

This unputdownable novel flits between many locations, but it’s always clear where we are, when, and with whom. We keep returning, in a nice framing motif, to the hair salon where Ifemelu is getting her hair braided before returning to Nigeria, which allows us to learn a great deal about the experience of Nigerians in the US and the contrast between their experiences and expectations and those of people from other African countries and American-born black people (to use the categorisation used in the novel). There are sympathetic and nasty characters of all races and positions in life, making this a colour-blind as well as racially aware novel, and it’s also a very good story.

In addition to the characters and story, and the excerpts from Ifemelu’s fictional blog, there were also interesting discussions about whether you can understand a culture from reading novels about it, a real index of white privilege referenced and inserted into a blog post which should be required reading for everyone in the world, and a fascinating portrayal of some aspects of what it was like to be black and in America when Barack Obama was elected. I’m very glad that I’ve finally read this excellent book.

Georgette Heyer – “The Talisman Ring”

(16 April 2014 – The Works, Kendal)

Bought on our post-wedding break in the Lake District. A jolly read and a classic Heyer, even though it’s one of her very early ones. There’s an ageing patriarch deciding to marry off his grand-daughter to ensure her inheritance, and some argumentative cousins, a feisty heroine and a second heroine with amused grey eyes and a more sensible outlook – so lots of boxes ticked there. We even have someone being shot in the shoulder, which is a regular occurrence in Heyer’s novels. But it’s not samey at all – it’s delightful and has a galloping plot, period detail, charming characters and some light satire of young women’s flights of fancy based on the Gothic novels they’ve been reading (“Northanger Abbey” of course also does this).

This book also ticks off 1936 in my Century of Reading.


More reading to come, as I said. Hope you’re having a warm, well and book-filled time of it!

Book reviews – The Liberty Book of Simple Sewing and So Much to Tell


December To Be ReadMy reading fest continues with two more from the TBR shelves – a book about sewing and a book about books, which seems nicely appropriate for me. I’ve enjoyed having some time off over Christmas / New Year – and have two more books to review tomorrow and more on the go – are you having a reading season, too? Of course, this is useful, as along with the books I received at the BookCrossing Christmas meal, I had a nice little pile of seven on Christmas Day – I’ll be sure to photograph the TBR in situ and this pile in particular over the next couple of days …

Linda Gamberton & Christine Leech – “The Liberty Book of Simple Sewing”

(14 February 2014 – from Matthew)

I don’t think this was a Valentine’s present as such; I suspect that I was randomly in the bookshop and asked for this to be bought from what we refer to as ‘Bank of Matthew’ – a Christmas and Birthday fund which takes away from the bother of having both main gift times within a month of each other and spreads the shopping joy (hmm) over the year.

As it says, this is a book of fairly simple sewing project, both useful and simply decorative, showcasing the lovely Liberty fabrics that I’ve known since my childhood (although they can be made up in any fabric you choose).

Did anyone else go and buy those skirt or dress lengths from the Liberty shop (or perhaps your local Bentalls) where you just had to sew up the side seam and do the hem and there was a lovely flowery skirt with an elasticated waist or a sundress with a shirred bodice? None of those in this book, but seeing those fabrics did remind me of those heady days in the 80s.

The text is simple and the illustrations useful – the patterns do have to be blown up using a photocopier, but the instructions for doing that are nice and clear. The confident assertion that the lack of nice fabrics being used to make commercially available pet beds being a home design worry did make me giggle, but overall this has some lovely patterns and gift ideas, and I will be attempting some of them in the months to come.

Valerie Grove – “So Much to Tell: The Biography of Kaye Webb”

(31 March 2014 – from Verity)

This was the last part of my lovely Virago LibraryThing Group secret santa gift from the lovely Verity. Like, I suspect, many of my UK readers, I was a member of the Puffin Club in my childhood, so it was good to find out about this biography of the founder of Puffin Books and the Club.

Were you a member? Did you go to any of the meetups or even the holiday trips? Both Matthew and I recall going to event in London – I certainly met Harry Secombe at one, but went to a few. What about you? It’s a right old trip down memory lane today, isn’t it!

Anyway, moving on to the review, as with many heroes – and book-related ones – Kaye Webb wasn’t quite as I imagined, with several marriages and a sometimes less than ideal relationship with her children. She herself said that her career went marvellously, but not so much her private life.

The book was well-researched and comprehensive, while remaining lively and interesting. There were reminiscences from many colleagues and authors with whom she worked. The best part for me was reading about the authors and other people who are now well known who started out as Puffin Club members and, often, competition enterers, before going on to their further careers. The details of the guardians of a Puffin time capsule (now held in a museum) were interesting, too.

Ultimately, I got an impression of a woman whose life was so wrapped up in and invested in her work that she was really very lost when she retired and her author friends started to drop away. A lesson to us all to not concentrate on one area of our life only, perhaps.


So, two good reads there, and more to come. Do share your memories of Liberty fabrics and the Puffin Club – I’d love to hear about their role in your early lives, if they had one!

Book reviews – The European Tribe, Map of a Nation and The Making of Victorian Birmingham


December To Be ReadSee, now I’ve got a bit of breathing space, I’m whizzing through books. So there’s a bumper three for the (no) price of two reviews today, and I’ve already finished another one. It’s looking like it’ll be “Americanah” on Christmas Day/Boxing Day, which I’ve very excited about – I’ve been saving up other people’s reviews to read once I’ve read that one. That, incidentally, is why I only ever publish my “best of” post on 1 January: you never know what you’re going to read in the end period of the year, and I was vindicated in this the year that “Daniel Deronda” was the last book I picked up in 2012 and would have been my top book for that year, had I been able to stay up late enough to finish it at the end of that December (it was in my top ten for 2013, instead). Anyway, here we have three books that look at mapping, history and travel in various ways – an excellent trio of non-fiction with plenty of time to read them.

Caryl Phillips – “The European Tribe”

(26 January 2014 – from Gill)

A slim volume I’d been after for ages, which charts Phillips’ journey around Europe, basically looking at race relations and social issues. Chillingly when read today (it was published in 1987), it talks of the rise of racism, the rejection of people from former colonies of European countries and their Europe-born children, and the rise of the far right, predicting the riots that we had only a few years ago when he talks about the dangers of a consumer society which encourages people to feel the need to “gratify the needs they are conditioned to feel”.

He also speaks eloquently of the role of the government and media in spreading misinformation and dividing communities along racial lines, talking about the British riots of the early 1980s. He’s also scathing about the corralling of educated black people into the race relations industry rather than society working towards true equality – is this not equally true today when we look at those responsible for equalities in government and organisations?

It’s not all po-faced, though – far from it – which makes it the persuasive and engaging read that it is. He’s perceptive, self-aware and on occasions, amusing. A good, if uncomfortable, read, and I’m glad I finally got to own and read it.

Rachel Hewitt – “Map of a Nation”

(25 January 2014 – Oxfam in Stratford-upon-Avon)

A biography of the Ordnance Survey, apparently developed from her PhD, and done extremely well. It’s very readable indeed, full of characters and information on map-making, as you would expect, but also asides and digressions into discussions of notions of natural beauty, enclosure, the beginning and development of modern tourism, poetry …

I learned a lot reading this book, and was pleased to note that Sheet 1 of the first map, while nominally being of “Kent”, features the location of my three first homes in London, with their roads clearly visible, even if none of the actual buildings were there yet!

Hewitt wears her learning lightly and is able to both give a good idea of people’s personalities and relationships and explain the intricacies of technical detail when explaining the instruments used to do the mapping. Black and white illustrations throughout the text and colour plates, along with extensive notes and a full bibliography, plus the inclusion of a few personal anecdotes about the author’s visits to various locations important to the book (or to her) make this book a joy to read for the expert and the novice alike.

Victor Skipp – “The Making of Victorian Birmingham”

(25 January 2014 – charity shop in Stratford-upon-Avon)

A good and detailed history of, indeed, just the Victorian part of Birmingham’s history, although mentioning earlier and later events as it goes. It covers civic leadership, housing, sanitation, education, public buildings, transportation, etc., as you would expect. There is quite a lot of detail, some of which could be considered slightly too exhaustive when we get into civic wrangling, but in the main it’s very good and readable, with excellent overviews of the main characters and their roles.

All of the illustrations are black and white, and unfortunately many fall into the central gutter of the book, but there are some good images and maps. Poignantly, as this book was published in 1983, many of the Victorian buildings discussed and pictured, especially factories and other industrial buildings that were already falling into disrepair at the time of writing, have now gone altogether. So the book also serves as a good reminder and archive of those remnants. A good addition to my Birmingham shelves. Oh, and it fills in a year in the Century of Reading!

Well, I’m glad that I’ve got through all of the books purchased in January, as I don’t like to be a whole YEAR behind (I seem to recall that I did have a bit of a gap in the book acquisition later in the year, so that shouldn’t be the case soon, I hope). I’ve read a nice book on sewing since finishing these, and will undoubtedly have a few acquisitions and hopefully some more reads to report after Christmas. And, of course, look out for my Books of the Year and reading plans for 2015, to be published on 1 January!

For now, though, Merry Christmas, Season’s Greetings, Happy Solstice, or just hello to all of my lovely readers and commenters. Wishing you a great reading year for 2015, although I’ll see you all again (on this screen) before the end of the month!

Book review – Pippa Funnell – “Team Spirit”

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December To Be ReadA confession: I received the excellent Victoria Eveleigh books from Orion Children’s Books, then something went awry and I received a parcel of books for younger children. In the excitement of sorting it all out, I failed to notice that I’d been sent “Team Spirit” by Pippa Funnell to review, and have left it rather late to review it. So, sorry, lovely people at Orion, and hope this review makes up for it.

Pippa Funnell – “Team Spirit”

This is the first in a standalone series (called Tilly’s Pony Magic) about Tilly and her horse, Magic Spirit,  competing in Pony Club Eventing, which is also part of a long series of Pony Tails by popular and successful eventer Pippa Funnell. I think I’ve got that right – the series are intermixed and a bit confusing, but reading the reviews and website, extremely popular with the pony-mad. First of all, I have to say that the author does a good job inserting riding and pony care instruction into the narrative without making it too clunky, which is a difficult thing to do. And while it is something of a celebrity endorsed series, she is following in a tradition which goes back at least as far as Pat Smythe’s 1950s and 60s books about her own stables. While a ghost-writer does apparently help, Pippa has the ideas for the main characters and obviously has input into the educational and informational side of things, and as I said, the story and the instruction are woven well together.

The book is aimed at the 9+ age group, although the large print in the book (this was an uncorrected proof so this aspect may have changed in the printed book) and the associated website do suggest a slightly younger audience. Although the characters are teenagers and have some teenage preoccupations, the themes of friendship and rivalry should still work for a younger reader.

We meet Tilly and her grey pony, Magic Spirit at a point where they know each other well and have a good relationship, but are still learning. They come across that pony book archetype, the posh girl with the perfect pony, when a team is formed to compete in eventing as part of a Pony Club competition. Things get a bit bitchy, but it’s clear that teamwork is the most important thing, and dissent will threaten the team’s progress.

There are no talking horses or fairy dust, with the only Magic being in the pony’s name (there is some horse whispering and Native American stuff, but this is well-known and well-respected in equine circles, so doesn’t come under the pink and sparkly category that many pony books unfortunately fall into these days). While the book might lack the humour of the “Jill” books or the passion of the “Jinny” books, the plot canters along nicely and the values of hard work and team spirit, indeed, are got across without being preachy.


I’ve been having some good reading time recently – hooray – so watch out for some more reviews coming up over the next few days … And thank you again, Orion Children’s Books, for sending me this book.

Book review – The Editor’s Companion


Dec 2014 3You might think that I get enough editing and thinking about words in my day job as an editor, proofreader, transcriber and localiser, but in fact I’m always up for a good and interesting book on topics around editing, small businesses, language, words, etc. So reading this book on the business of editing was certainly not a chore and I learned something from it, too!

Steve Dunham – “The Editor’s Companion”

I understand this useful book to be intended as a guide for new editors or people who are assigned editing work in their organisation but might not have a full understanding of what this involves.

It helpfully defines and is then divided into chapters on editing for content, focus, precise language and grammar, with a section on typography and layout which will be very useful for proofreaders and a good section on editorial relationships. There’s a chapter titled “A Few Tips” which looks at some commonly misused words, homophones, etc., although this is a larger subject than can be treated in a short chapter.

A chapter on “The Editor’s Tools” includes a very useful checklist for editors, and points out the use of keeping a list of incorrect but “real” words, which Dunham charmingly calls his “Bad Words list” (asses, theses, form, etc.) to run a final search on. These are good, real-world and applicable tools which I’ve not seen in other books of this kind.

Dunham’s background is in working as an in-house editor, so there’s not much in the book about freelancing, although most of the general information in the book can be applied to freelancers and those who work on contract for publishers, for example. His general principles are very sound: here are two of them

If you have something worth saying, then care about communicating it (p. 17)

If you need to read something twice to understand it, then it needs editing (p. 58)

We can all learn something from even the most basic of guides, and I certainly picked up some pointers in this book. I usually work in Word with style suggestions turned off, so I didn’t know that you could set Word to pick up gender-specific terms in your document, which could be very useful (I’m planning to blog about this with screen shots soon!). I also found a good explanation of why you don’t hyphenate words ending in -ly (the hyphen shows you which words are connected, e.g. “best-known artist” (best known) vs. “best known artist” (best artist); a -ly word can only link to the verb, e.g. “barely known artist” (barely artist doesn’t work)).

It’s worth noting that the book and its author are American – this is certainly not a deal-breaker, but should be kept in mind when reading the sections on language use and also on style guides. For example, it mentions the Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press Stylebook but not Oxford style. But mentioning style guides at all and pointing to their existence means the UK reader will soon work out which guides they should be using when dealing with UK content, and it’s useful for those who work with US English, too (I can’t be the only person to have a shelf of UK and US style guides).

All of the examples of errors and their editing are drawn from real life, including the author’s leisure reading on occasion, and this intensifies towards the end of the book which features “Ones That Got Away”. I tend to feel a little uncomfortable about criticisms of “bloopers”, but I appreciate that this is informed by my client base, which includes many non-native speakers and people who have issues with their production of English: the examples here are apparently all drawn from texts which should have been edited properly in the first place, and the tone is not particularly snarky. I can see the value of using real examples, especially for newer editors who may not be sure what to look out for; the problems are explained in detail and the solutions presented. Non-specialists will find something to amuse here, too.

Overall, it’s a practical and useful book for those considering a career in or newly in an editorial position or, indeed, for giving to people who wonder loud and often about what we actually do all day in this editing job.

This book is published in January 2015 in the UK and is out now in the US – here’s the page for it and the page and you can also visit Steve’s website for more information.

Disclosure: I was sent a review copy of this book by the publisher after being contacted by the author. My work is quoted in the book and appears in the reference list and index. I did not allow this to influence my view of the book (I hope!). We did a review swap, and I write about Steve’s review of my book here.

Book reviews – The Bookshop Book and Youth and the Bright Medusa (plus Christmas comes early!)


December To Be ReadWhat HAVE I been doing? It’s 16 December and this is the first book review I’ve posted this month? I’ve looked around and I really can’t find that I’ve missed out reviewing some huge book that I’ve read. Oh dear! And my TBR has burst (more on that later) so I’ve really got to find the time for MORE READING! I am reading a book on editing to review, so there’ll be a standalone review later on in the week, and I have also been writing up my Iris Murdoch research, which has gone out for comments to my lovely mentors and will be going off to my reading groups once I’ve made a few amendments – that took a couple of evenings. Anyway, here are two book reviews that are both related to booky events.

Jen Campbell – “The Bookshop Book”

(Borrowed from Ali)

This book was the Books Are My Bag book this month – you can read more about this and this book on Heaven-Ali’s blog and it was she who loaned me this lovely book to read (don’t worry: I’ve got her back with a lend of a little pile myself!).

This is a delightful wander though the bookshops of the world, celebrating the shops (whether selling new, second-hand or a mix of books), their owners, customer and pets, with interviews with writers about their favourite bookshops and pages of little snippets and facts. It’s really nicely done by someone who clearly has a huge love for bookshops, and some of the stories about pairing customers and books are very affecting.

It was great to see some bookshops that I know in the mix, and good to be reminded of the excellent second-hand bookshop in Reykjavik which I haven’t explored properly (yet). Bookshops do come and go, so it couldn’t be used as an actual guidebook for very long, but it’s a lovely book to dip into, with a gallimauphry of images and impressions of book shops and their owners.

We don’t have an independent bookshop in Birmingham, but I would mention the excellent arts bookshop in the Ikon Gallery. Other favourites of mine are Any Amount of Books on the Charing Cross Road, the Penrith Bookshop in the north of the Lake District, Fireside Books in Windermere (which is moving to East Sussex), Halls in Tunbridge Wells (which I think is still there) and the marvellous High Street Books in New Mills.

Willa Cather – “Youth and the Bright Medusa”

(Kindle book – downloaded in December)

7-14 December was Willa Cather Reading Week, and again inspired by Ali, I downloaded this book of short stories, reasoning that even if I only read one out of the collection, I’d still be taking part in the Reading Week (and read more about that here and the round-up here). I did actually manage to read the whole collection by the end of Sunday (but didn’t get round to writing this review).

I’ve read several of Cather’s  novels over the last decade and greatly enjoyed their construction and atmosphere, although these have tended to be her pioneer novels (with the exception of Alexander’s Bridge, which was partly set in London). Here’s a link to all of the reviews I’ve done so far – some early ones laughably wispy! These stories mostly address Cather’s other main strand of interest: the artist and their psychology, with “Coming, Aphrodite!”, the longest and first story, examining both a painter and a singer and their startlingly modern relationship. “The Diamond Mine” goes into the demands placed upon the goose that lays the golden egg, narrated by that marvellous type, the quiet sidekick who’s seemingly there for every event while not taking part in the action themselves. “A Gold Slipper” throws the artist up against the implacable but strangely erodable dislike of Industry. “Paul’s Case” takes a different direction and is a fascinating and hugely atmospheric piece about a boy whose only desire is to grab a bit of sophistication and luxury for himself; I really don’t know how Cather manages to foreshadow the rather grim ending so that it is entirely expected, but a shock all the same, but she does, and she does it well. “A Death in the Desert” is a superb exploration of identity, art, personality and family.

These are very good stories, old-fashioned in a good way (I’m one for a short story that tells a proper story) and reminiscent of Edith Wharton’s stories, or even Thomas Hardy’s. I love the way she describes people’s faces and clothes, and the unexpected details of a room in a shabby house or the birds in Washington Square. I have downloaded “The Song of the Lark”, which takes her heroine from the frontier town to a singing career, and will definitely get to that one soon.


Dec 2014 2Christmas started this year with the BookCrossing Christmas party, with its attendant Not So Secret Santa parcels flying around the table. I was thrilled to open the parcels containing these four lovelies, all from my wish list (some wished for aaages ago), as well as a lovely ornament, some chocolate and a Lush Christmas Pud bath bomb. Lucky me! I’m in another two Secret Santas this year – my LibraryThing Virago Group one has arrived and I can tell there are two books in there but I’m not opening it until Christmas Day, and I’m thinking the Project 365 Photo-A-Day one (not yet arrived) might NOT contain books, although you never know (and I will admit to sending my Santee a book …) I also have a little pile of grey-wrapped, grey books which I bought for myself from other people on my trip to the Persephone Bookshop in November – so that’s my own fault, isn’t it. There are two Dorothy Whipples in there, so what’s the betting I promote one up my TBR pile and get into it between Christmas and New Year.

Dec 2014 3I’m currently reading this book on editing which was kindly sent to me by the publisher. I’m quoted in the book and appear in the index, which is quite exciting (but won’t influence my review, I promise). On reviews, I’ve sent off my piece on James Evans’ “Merchant Adventurers” to the folks at Shiny New Books and will point you to the review when it’s out in January.

Claire visitsOne more thing – I had a lovely afternoon with Claire from the LibraryThing Virago Group, up in Birmingham for a training day, on Sunday. We had two cuppas, looked round town and peered at the Library of Birmingham, and had a nice meal with Matthew at Woktastic. Here’s a photo for all those LibraryThingers who wanted to see one!

Have you received any book-shaped parcels yet? Are you getting any reading in among the tree decorating and card writing (if you celebrate Christmas) or are you planning a reading fest between Christmas and the New Year?

My year in first lines


December To Be ReadI have taken the inspiration for this idea from Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book and Fleur In Her World (both posts explain where they get it from and I’m sure I’ve seen it on other people’s blogs, too, but these were the ones that triggered me doing it). The idea itself? Take the first line from your first post in each month, and see what that tells you about your blogging life. Well, my usual first post of the month is my State of the TBR one, so I’m not sure how illuminating this will be, so I might cheat and pick the first line from the first review I’ve posted each month instead …

January 2014

“Well, it’s that time again – my friend Ali and I decided to have a month of re-reading every six months or so, to revisit those books we’ve loved and kept, but not got round to re-reading because of the huge, tottering To Be Read mountain.” (from A month of re-reading in January – my selection)

February 2014

“For once I’m doing a singleton review, not really for any reason other than the fact that I’ve got two pairs of Viragoes and two non-fiction books coming up, and this one really belongs to the Month of Re-Reading.” (from Book reviews – Jude the Obscure)

March 2014

“Well, I am pleased to say that I have made inroads into the terrible State of the TBR at the beginning of February – hopefully you can see from the picture that the blue book about two-thirds of the way along the shelf is the end of the front shelf.” (from State of the TBR – March 2014)

April 2014

“Here’s the TBR on 1 April and no, that’s not an April Fool and it’s looking quite good, isn’t it.” (from State of the TBR – April 2014)

May 2014

“Well, here’s my TBR looming out of the gloom: it’s not that “good” in terms of numbers, is it, but it is full of great books.” (from State of the TBR – May 2014)

June 2014

“So, here is the TBR shelf and it’s not actually looking that bad, is it! I’ve got quite a lot read, although I have removed some, too (sorry again, EJ Howard!) – and the reviews are stacking up waiting to be posted on here, as I’ve had a very busy couple of working weeks and got all behind with my reviewing (but not my reading!).” (from State of the TBR – June 2014)

July 2014

“Well, I have to say, the TBR is not looking too bad at all, is it?” (From State of the TBR – July 2014)

August 2014

“Just a quick post today because all my patient Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn contacts were bombarded with stuff about my business, Libro’s, fifth birthday and my new website I’ve set up for the books I’ve written (did I mention I’ve written some books?).” (From State of the TBR – August 2014)

September 2014

“OK, so here is the full TBR as of 1 September 2014. Please note that there are no books in front, that’s just one shelf from left to … well, towards the right.” (From State of the TBR – September 2014)

October 2014

“Oops. I knew the wonders of the September TBR weren’t going to last – have a look at the Book Confessions category to see how this has come to pass!” (From State of the TBR – October 2014)

November 2014

“Well, here’s the TBR, and that’s not doing too badly, is it?” (From State of the TBR – November 2014)

December 2014

“Hello! It’s the first of December and time to report on the state of my TBR.” (From State of the TBR, a book confession mystery and why I’m glad I “lost” NaNoWriMo)

Well, I don’t know about you, but I quite enjoyed that little excursion into the ups and downs of my TBR and my obvious need for reassurance from my readership that “it’s not too bad, is it?”! You can see it waxing and waning (and there are pictures on all the linked posts if you’re so inclined). I have never done this before, but I am going to extend it over to my usual round-up post on my Libroediting blog (last year’s example here) where I share the rankings for the most popular posts on the blog for the year)


A book confession and a bit of excitement!


December 2014 1Regular readers might recall me claiming not to be acquiring any new books during this season of Christmas, not so secret Santa schemes and upcoming birthday. Well, unfortunately, this appears to have happened … what am I talking about? It’s fortunate – it’s lovely!

First off, one I forgot to include in November as it got itself into a pile of handbags – my good friend known in this household as Editor Laura (to distinguish her from the other 1,000 Lauras I know) visited us at the weekend with her other half, and kindly gave me “Unbridled Spirits”, which is a book about women of the English Revolution and looks fascinating. Then I was in The Works yesterday, picking up bits and bobs, and I found a copy of “Mr Selfridge”, which patently Doesn’t Count because I did have a copy I’d picked up in a second-hand shop, but it was really manky with odd stains and I ended up … discarding it. I did want to read it, though, and now I can. And then a biography of Dolly Parton. I’m kind of assuming that none of my friends or secret santas will be buying me a book on Dolly Parton for Christmas. But I love her, I have done for years, and was reminded of this only the other day while watching a TV programme about Nashville. So, Dolly’s on the TBR shelf.

And the exciting thing? Well, only last Monday I was talking about how I was glad I didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo but I was going to carry on working on my Iris Murdoch research anyway. I had a free evening tonight and I sat down and FINISHED writing up an extended version of the presentation on book groups reading “The Bell” which I gave at the Iris Murdoch Society conference in September. It’s with my mentors now for a read-through, and with any luck it’ll be going out to my book group leaders and other interested parties before the end of the month. Hooray! And thank you to everyone who’s supported and encouraged me through that.

I also worked on my longer piece, which will look at both aspects of the research I have done and pull it all together with a bit of theory and discussion. Who knows *what* that is going to turn into, as it’s an awkward 18,000 words long at the moment, but this piece will feed into it and we’ll see what happens then. But I have Research Output, and it feels like a good milestone. Night night! (or good morning if you’re reading this tomorrow!)

State of the TBR, a book confession mystery and why I’m glad I “lost” NaNoWriMo


December To Be ReadHello! It’s the first of December and time to report on the state of my TBR. I also have some book confessions, a MYSTERY and a note about NaNoWriMo, so we’ve got a lot to get through this month. Let’s get started …

Well, the TBR is not looking bad (confession – I added two books to the end of the shelf after I took this pic. BUT they slotted in the gap at the end, so it’s still only one shelf long.

Oct 2014 1Yes, that’s right – only one shelf long still. I’ve been carefully Not Buying Books because it’s Christmas (and Not So Secret) season – I’m in three Not So Secret Santa schemes this year, two booky, one not specifically booky, plus I have a lot of booky friends, so I’ve had to be good just in case duplicates ensued. See below for a slight slip off the non-buying wagon, but I have done OK with that on the whole. I did acquire one Persephone during November,  but I was in charge of the Big Persephone Trip this year, so I just made sure I didn’t buy it for myself from anyone!

Dec 2014 next to readI currently have “Merchant Adventurers” on the go – I’ve just got them sailing off in their three new ships to find the North-East Passage. I’m reading this for the Shiny New Books Newsletter, coming out in the new year, so I’ll point you towards the review when it’s out.

Coming up next, I’ve got a lovely book, “The Bookshop Book”, which my friend Ali has kindly loaned me – I suspect I’ll be buying copies for a few people in the near future. I loaned Ali “The Constant Nymph” for a Margaret Kennedy reading week but fancy re-reading it myself, so that might slot into this month or maybe my January of re-reading.

Book Confessions, including a Mystery

November 2014 3My friend Laura came to visit with her other half at the weekend. We’d promised them the delights of Kings Heath’s charity shops and had a good old rummage. I was mainly shopping for my two booky Not So Secret Santa gifts, but I couldn’t resist these two. I’m not sure anyone else is going to spring on Tony Benn’s diaries for me in the next couple of months – in fact we ran into the person who would be most likely to do that on the day, so I carefully showed it to her. And “Estates” is a book I have on my Kindle, so a weird buying of the print version of something I have electronically, but more importantly, it’s not on my wish list!

November 2014 2Now to the mystery. I found this copy of Iris Murdoch’s “Henry and Cato” in one charity shop. That pic is to show the spine colour, as there has been some confusion over whether it’s a first edition – one known first I’ve seen pictured has a yellow spine where mine is red, but I can’t see from their pic if it’s faded.

November 2014 2aThis one has the known first edition cover, and the back of the title page seems to suggest that it is one, so I’m going to put it on my small shelf of firsts. Oh, and also, in case anyone’s wondering, I’ve already popped back to the charity shop and give them an extra donation, because it’s worth more than I paid for it and that seems fair.

November 2014 2bBut here’s the mystery – on the title page, it has this round sticker that reads “Presented by Britain” with a crest.

It’s really hard to Google that, or the book title and presented by Britain. So I’m hoping a blog reader might know what this signifies! Do comment if you know or can point me to a resource.

On losing NaNoWriMo

So, finally, congratulations to my readers who wrote their 50,000 words in November and “won” NaNoWriMo. Hooray! I’m so pleased for you – it’s a big commitment and achievement. I started doing NaNoWriMo, convinced that I was going to write up my Iris Murdoch research. I’ve been working on this for years, first reporting at the Iris Murdoch Society Conference in 2012 on my scheme to read all of her novels with a group of friends, then getting 24 book groups to read “The Bell” and answer a questionnaire on various aspects including what they knew of Murdoch and whether they thought “The Bell” was a good book group read.

I was planning to write up A Book of some sort. I’d considered the possibility of registering for a PhD, but I know only too well what that entails, and it didn’t work with my life. I am used to writing and I’m OK with self-publishing, although I had had a very, very, very preliminary chat with a publisher about submitting a synopsis etc. I started off, put all of the text I had already in place, zeroed my word count and started adding words.

A few days in and it became patently, blindingly obvious that I do not have the ability to understand, synthesise and apply literary theory to my work. And to produce a work that’s academically relevant, I would need to. Oh dear. Tears ensued. Discussions ensued. Lovely people offered their kind help.

But when it comes down to it, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to write up my research in a much shorter form (and yes, patient book group members, I will produce something by the end of the year (this year: 2014) reporting on my work with you). I’ll add the chronological read to the book group research, fill in the background, draw conclusions and include a tiny bit of theoretical background. It won’t be a PhD, it won’t be a full-length book, it won’t be publishable by a publishing house, but I’ll probably make it available electronically. My hard work will be recorded and I will have produced something, just not what I thought I was going to produce.

I’m glad I started NaNoWriMo because I found out what was going to happen to my research a lot sooner than I would have otherwise. So I’m glad I “lost” NaNoWriMo!


Whew, a long post – did you make it to the end? Any thoughts on any of this will be eagerly read, and I hope you all have a lovely December reading time!