Book reviews – Sweet Tomorrows and Recollections of Virginia Woolf #books #woolfalong


Virginia WoolfTwo very dissimilar books here just squeaking under the end-of-month line (I don’t like having reviews spill into the next month, although it’s often not preventable and I don’t mind if other people’s do). Not on the 20 Books of Summer list (of course they’re not – I must have read 40 books of summer by now!!) but both good reads suitable for the times in which they were read, and of course the second one fits into #Woolfalong, too!

Debbie Macomber – “Sweet Tomorrows”

(22 August 2016 – from Linda)

Linda and I both love Debbie Macomber’s easy-to-read community orientated novels and I’m keeping the collection for both of us. This one is the last Rose Harbour book and the reviews contained the dreaded word “bittersweet” so I was glad to have Linda read it first (there’s a dog in the series. Note: the dog is fine).

Jo, owner of the Rose Harbour Inn, is mourning Mark, the handyman turned beloved, who has apparently walked out of her and Cedar Cove’s life to settle a matter of principle, and is trying to start afresh yet again. Emily moves in as a long-term lodger and the women form a bond – she also provides a plot device to allow Jo to get some time away from the Inn now and then. We’re reminded of – and sometimes meet – people who have previously stayed, Jo receives a message from Mark, but is it all too late, and all in all, it’s a good way to wind up the series.

Joan Russell Noble (ed.) – “Recollections of Virginia Woolf”

(4 August 2016)

Top marks to Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings for mentioning and then reviewing this one; I know there lots of Woolf books out there but this one’s been around since 1972 and I’d have loved to read it before now.

The book, published at a time when Bloomsbury was not in fashion, with the writer’s diary recently out and Woolf having a reputation as a bit nasty, seeks to redress the balance by gathering together tales of Woolf from those who actually knew her, whether central parts of Bloomsbury, people from outside like Rose Macaulay, people who worked for the Hogarth Press (I loved the views of this by different employees, one of my favourite parts of the book) and Leonard himself in a late interview; there’s also a very moving piece by Louie Mayer, who worked for the Woolfs for 30 years.

I learned some charming things about Virginia Woolf – she almost took her honeymoon in Iceland; she worked at a standing desk (apparently because someone said that her sister worked physically harder, being an artist, than she did as a writer) and she taught herself French from gramophone records but refused to speak more than a sentence in the language when in France with Vita Sackville-West. These glimpses, as well as the more commonly recorded flappy outfits and hooting laugh remind us of the real person behind the myths. Rebecca West excitingly says that Woolf was seen as being derivative of Dorothy Richardson, but reminds us the chronology doesn’t support that, so that was a nice link.

As Karen also mentions, there is a lack of context for the pieces in the book – their ordering seems fairly random, the acknowledgements state in a big block that many of the pieces came from books, others from a 1970s TV series, but it would have been useful to have that context with each piece, and there’s nothing about why particular people were chosen to be used. It appears that people were asked or the editor particular looked for pieces about Woolf’s perceived genius, and the echoes on that topic resemble those reflecting each other’s recollections.

A lovely and valuable book which will please fans of Woolf and will definitely be re-read.

This book was read for #Woolfalong Phase 4 – Biographies.

I’m currently starting to read Edith Wharton’s “Hudson River Bracketed”, which is my fourth All Virago / All August read and #20BooksofSummer Book 18 (handily, the summer continues until September 5). This has been a vintage reading month for me, with 14 books completed (if you count the Kynaston omnibus as two, which it is, and then count them both for this month as the first one hasn’t been counted anywhere else). I put this down to the two trips to Cornwall and Iceland, with their associated journeys, but it’s been very nice. The TBR is looking good (look out tomorrow) although I fear it’s about to expand again …

Book reviews – The Reef and August Folly (Virago) and some #20booksofsummer swaps #avaa #books


Aug 2016 TBRTwo books from my #20BooksofSummer project here and they are also two Virago books, so feed into All Virago / All August (which has been very much Some Virago / A Bit of August but I do feel I have taken part, at least!). “August Folly” wasn’t originally on my 20 Books list, but I swapped it in for Jane Smiley’s “The Greenlanders” – see below for a very short DNF review on that one. I’ve done one more swap, too, info and a photo below. I feel I’m doing quite well with #20BooksofSummer and, given that we’ve got until 5 September to complete the challenge, I think I’m likely to do it this time!

Edith Wharton – “The Reef”

(26 September 2015)

The reef of the title is SEX, which lurks under civilisation, however civilised it seems, and affects everyone’s emotions to some degree.

Although the book is set in Paris and a chateau in the French countryside, all the main characters are American. George Darrow is headed to a reunion with his old love, Anna Leath, who is widowed and lives with her very strict and dictatorial mother-in-law, stepson and daughter. She puts him off, and while at a loose end, he encounters the beguiling but ultimately rather shallow Sophy Viner. The plot then conspires to throw everyone together in a miasma of lies, half-truths and imaginings which threatens to destroy relationships and bring heartache to everyone.

The excellent introduction by Marilyn French brings out the contrast between French and American ideas on love, marriage and fidelity, and poor Anna, outwardly always so cold, is thrown around in a storm of emotion and conjecture. Brave in its subject matter for 1913, as there is no doubt about what goes on, even though it’s not mentioned explicitly, this is a page-turner and tour de force, even with the coincidences that surely could actually happen in a smallish ex pat community.

This book was Book 16 in my #20BooksofSummer project.

Jane Smiley – “The Greenlanders” (DNF)

I do love Smiley’s brave attempts to write each book in a different genre, and she’s had some really good successes. This book opens exactly like the Icelandic sagas it emulates, is hundreds of densely packed, small-margined pages long and is apparently horribly bleak. I would really prefer to spend the time with a REAL Icelandic saga (see the photo at the top of this post for a  big, thick book full of the things) so I abandoned this one only a few pages in.

This book would have been Book 17 in #20BooksofSummer but I swapped it for …

Angela Thirkell – “August Folly”

(25 December 2015 – from Ali)

The fourth of her Barsetshire novels, and I enjoyed the first three and asked for this for Christmas. It’s quite charming, but perhaps not entirely sure what it’s trying to be.

It’s August in the village of Worsted. Richard is sulkily back with his embarrassing parents, plus their insufferable donkey and his ignored sister, after fearing he’s failed his Finals, and of course the local Big House is putting on a play, with various cousins and village people roped in.

Love blossoms in unlikely places, there’s a dreadful earnest curate and a presumed confirmed bachelor confidant, and the locals play up (like in “Between the Acts”, which this book does not otherwise resemble). There are some sweet characters and perceptive descriptions of their psychology, and I loved the gentle satire of academics personified in Mr Tebben, always writing in to the Snorri Society and reading the Saga of Burnt Njal to his children as a bedtime story. But Thirkell plays the book for laughs more often than not, and this leaves it a tiny bit uneasy, somehow. Not enough to stop me reading the rest of the series, however!

This book WAS book 17 in my #20BooksofSummer project.

20 Books of Summer update / swaps

So, as you can see, that’s books 16 and 17 completed, and we’re nearly there. I have A.S. Byatt’s “Ragnarok” and Edith Wharton’s “Hudson River Bracketed” left to read, and one Icelandic book to finish.

August 2016 1As I’ve mentioned, I swapped the very odd “The Greenlanders” out and put “August Folly” in, and I’ve done another swap, too, with my Icelandic books. My lovely friend Deborah accidentally bought an Icelandic children’s book for her grand-daughters, meaning to buy the English version. She passed it to me, knowing I am learning Icelandic, but as the English copy I found in Iceland was horribly expensive, I hit on the plan of translating it, printing out the translation and sending it back to her. Blómin á þakinu (Flowers on the Roof) has the advantage of being shorter than the previous incumbent, Af Hjervu Gjosa Fjoll?, so I’m hoping I’ll be able to get most of it read by the end of the project.

In other news, I’m reading the rather lovely “Recollections of Virginia Woolf”, which is quite moving in places and a good read. I should have that done for the end of the month, which satisfies the section in the #Woolfalong project that covers biography and autobiography.

How are you doing with your summer projects?

Book reviews – To Everything A Season and Arctic Chill #books


Aug 2016 TBRTwo more books that weren’t in the 20 Books of Summer or any other challenges. I basically needed some easy reads a) before and around my big run in Iceland and b) when I got home, so these fitted the bill perfectly, and while it’s nice to read a gentle book about people in the middle of America when you’re nervous or tired, it’s even better to read a book set in Reykjavik when you’re actually there!

Sherri Schaeffer – “To Everything a Season”

(August 2016, ebook)

I spotted this book in a free ebooks email I get every day – I’ve never seen anything I fancied in there and then this one appealed – I do like a book about the Amish, for some slightly inexplicable reason.

Businesswoman Taylor, whose work is her life, comes across an Old Order Amish family in difficult circumstances and becomes deeply involved with them for reasons she and they (and her father) find difficult to fathom. Oldest brother, David, seems settled but Jacob and Becca are on their Rumspringa, the time all young Amish people have when they can run a bit wild and flirt with modern technology and habits in order to really know whether they want to stick with their community. Jacob is rebellious and craves more, particularly knowledge, while Becca is unsure how to navigate the outside world, but is keen to explore and learn.

Taylor’s attempts to help and explain are met with some resistance and she makes some bad mistakes, but she comes to feel she’s gained more than the Yoders have, while Jacob and Becca, while making their own decisions based on their loyalty to their family and community, do also use the resources she’s given to them.

A good book with nicely done and rounded characters; the only thing I’d pick up on is that the author feels she has to cram in every single bit of research she’s done, which is a common issue, but does make some of the book quite slow. The Amish stuff is really interesting, but there’s a lot more comparative religion, art history, etc. which wasn’t so much so. But a good easy read with no silly romances shoehorned in.

Arnaldur Indriðason – “Arctic Chill”

(August 2015)

It’s the cold Icelandic winter when a young Thai boy is found dead. Exploring the immigrant experience in Iceland in an interesting and sensitive way, this novel breaks the mould of the previous books in the series by concentrating pretty much only on the present day, with the only older material being related to flashbacks to Erlendur’s childhood and the loss of his brother and an incident in Sigurdur Oli’s schooldays which explains a lot of his character.

The usual laconic Icelandic style and the focus on the investigation and relationships rather than yuckiness, alongside the two good intertwined plots and social observation, added to the elements of the detectives’ own lives, makes for a satisfying read.

I was sad to see that it was translated by the usual Bernard Scudder and Victoria Cribb, and the dedication was to the memory of Bernard Scudder. I couldn’t see the join in the translation, but this did make me sad, as he was an excellent translator of these great stories.

I finished the Indriðason at home and have now got stuck into “Recollections of Virginia Woolf”, which I only bought a short while ago but needs to fit into #Woolfalong before the month is up. I’ve also started the rather odd “The Greenlanders” by Jane Smiley, which is so exactly like an Icelandic saga that it makes me wonder if I shouldn’t just read an actual Icelandic saga instead …

Book reviews – This Mum Runs and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running #books


IMG_20160819_155248128_HDRTwo books on running this time – I’m playing catch-up with reviews as I managed to get a fair few finished while we were on our short break to Iceland (see previous post). I read the Jo Pavey book before we left – as she was in the Olympic 10,000 metres, I wanted to get it read before the Olympics started, and did get it in before the athletics. She’s such a hero of mine, in the Olympics in her 40s! The Murakami was a re-read – I remember it being very inspiring when I read it the first time, back in 2009 (I reviewed it here and said I would definitely re-read it, so that’s nice that I have, seven years later!), and so it was a no-brainer to take and read on the day before I ran my own marathon – and here I am, in the picture, clutching it sitting by a path I was going to run down the next day.

Oh, I promise this will be the last of running for a bit …

Jo Pavey – “This Mum Runs”

(25 July 2016)

I picked this up at the same time as “Your Pace or Mine”, as it was one of those “People who bought that bought this” books that I don’t usually fall for. But she was doing the Rio 10,000m, so it had to be done. It’s a lovely autobiography, which gets off to a good start when she actually has “with Sarah Edworthy” on the title page (I’m a bit sensitive on behalf of ghost-writers now I work with a few of them!) and it was fab thinking she was at her 5th Olympics as I was reading it.

The book opens with an excellent story mid-way through her career which involves her forgetting her club running vest and having to source it in a hurry to wear in a race. That’s something quite a lot of runners have done, and made it feel an intimate and down-to-earth read. I also particularly liked the fact that she said more than once what a privilege it is to be running in road races with the “masses” who are running for clubs and charities – one of the things I like is getting to run in the footsteps of the stars, and it’s lovely that at least a few of them think the same from the other side. She also mentions parkrun (free, 5k organised runs every Saturday morning in parks; I volunteer regularly at our local one) as a good thing to build up to when you start running, in a short section on the subject. Oh, and she thanks all the volunteers throughout athletics at the end of her acknowledgements, too! What a star indeed.

More grim and dark than even her battles through injury are the comments on the effect that others’ doping has had on her career. Written in 2015 after the doping scandals hit, this is the first book I’ve read that really addresses this issue, and it’s heart-breaking to hear of people being given better positions and even medals way after the event as people are re-tested, which is obviously not the same as receiving those positions and medals at the time. She does have hope for the future with this, which I hope is borne out.

Readable, well-written and inspiring. Although she does talk about being a mum and family life, it’s clear that it’s all part of her life, something she’s proud of, but not something she’s twee about.

Haruki Murakami – “What I Talk About When I Talk About Running”

(20 April 2009)

A re-read of this excellent book about long-distance running and writing. It’s personal, self-effacing and honest: he claims to have an unlikeable personality, being most keen on both running and writing alone, but is an engaging companion and fits well into the worlds of marathons and triathlons (I’d completely forgotten that he talks about tris and his struggles with biking and swimming as well). Much more of a memoir than a how-to, but he does get the feel of endurance running across brilliantly, and has the great mantras, “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional” and “I am a machine”, which can help in tricky situations. A good, worthwhile pre-marathon read.

When I’d finished these two, I was in the middle of reading a novel about an Amish community and had started Edith Wharton’s “The Reef” – watch this space for reviews of those as I try to catch up with myself before the end of the month. Neither of this books filled in any places in challenges, but I’m glad I read them both.

Race report – Reykjavik Marathon 2016


I don’t do a report for every race, but this was my first marathon, so it seems relevant …

The training

I followed my own plan, doing a half marathon at least every month from September 2015 then building up my distances on my long runs each week, mile by mile. I was up to 16 miles on Easter Sunday when disaster struck and I fell over a dog, bruising and possibly cracking some ribs and getting a lot of scrapes and bruises. Six weeks off running, then 4 to 14 mile long runs in the next 6 weeks, followed by adding my yoga back in, and I was back on track. I added a bit to my long run every week, three weeks on, one week off, and did 2 hours of yoga per week. I had to train for endurance rather than speed, and would have added some track work, hill work and interval training had I not had the fall, but I did an 18 miler, two 20s and a 22.5 and felt ready.

The other important training was practising with the gear I was going to use – clothing, shoes, underwear, hair (I know, but a damp long ponytail end can give you a sore bit on your neck and anything else that can rub will), gels and food, drink, etc. I even set up a fuelling station in a bag in my recycling bin and went via the house at 13-16 miles to replicate that aspect.

This all paid off well.

The preparation

IMG_20160817_210431121Being a careful (or paranoid) person, I packed two lots of everything, wore my old trainers and made Matthew carry a pack of gels through security, too. But I did forget my water bottle! Fortunately, I had practised drinking Powerade out of their sports bottles, and was able to get that from the supermarket, so added my squash to that bottle for the first half of the race.

I also packed food for the night before – mixed beans, chopped tomatoes and a portion of brown pasta, plus Shreddies for the morning. I’d trained and raced with these foods, so went for it. My packing pile was a bit unusual, though …

The expo

I wasn’t nervous travelling and flying for once, which must have been because I was quite nervous about the event by this time. I’d had a long “taper”, which is where you conserve energy while keeping your legs ticking over, so as to reach a peak for the race, but a slightly misguided weekend in Cornwall followed by a frantic work week did for me a little.

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The Expo, where we picked up our numbers, was in a sports hall in Laugardalar. I’d never been to an expo before, and this was quite unnerving. I felt very small and old as seemed to be queuing up with a million tall young American boys.

IMG_20160819_155248128_HDRBut there it was done, number picked up, scanned for no apparent reason, Tshirt collected, exhibition looked round and done. Oh, I almost forgot to give in my pack of gels and food and drink which they were to give me at 21k. Oops. (Hollow laugh, see below). I checked with the info lady – yes, that would be there however long it took me to get round. Can you see where this is going?

We met up with the lovely Sushma from my running club and said hello – she was over for the half marathon with her whole family. Matthew then decided he needed to find the half-way point where he’d be waiting with my alternative fuelling pack. So he went off to do that and I settled down to some final training, drinking a choc milk and reading a running book.

IMG_20160819_163223232_HDRI actually ended up walking down this path to find Matthew as he’d discovered a nice shopping centre with a cafe. Very Icelandic it was, too, no menus in English, and Tonight With Jimmy Fallon on the telly with Icelandic subtitles – very good for my language learning! It was nice but scary walking down here, as I knew it was on the race route! Here’s the view, on a greyer, cooler day than it turned out to be on the day.

IMG_20160820_202651128We went back to the guesthouse we were staying in, on the bus, and I reaheated the meal I’d made for myself at lunchtime, and ate that fairly grimly, getting a bit nervous now but also excited. I accused a German couple of doing the marathon when I found them in the kitchen making pasta later – no, just Germans making pasta!

I settled down for an earlyish night – here are my essential pre-marathon supplies!

On the day

I got up at just before 6 and had a bowl of Shreddies and oats from the supplies brought with me. I was jittery but OK. Got dressed in all my kit and was ready to walk the 5 minutes to the start at just after 8am – the start was at 8.40. I got really emotional seeing all the people all ready and excited! Here’s a general view of the start, me indicating that I am a member of a running club, and my Before photo:

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I actually burst into tears at one point, but managed to say goodbye to Matthew, pull myself together, find the loos and get into my Purple Pen for the Slow, noting that “Slow” meant over 2:05 half-marathon so I’d have to be careful not to go out with them! I met a lady from nearby Telford Harriers and a lady from Essex doing her first half, and also ran into two American girls I’d met at the expo, one of whom had had her shoes stolen and was frantically looking for some to borrow! Oh no!

Lots of announcements in Icelandic and English (“a gun will be used to start the race” and it was) and we were off!

IMG_20160823_174246954_HDRWe started in central Reykjavik and ran across the lake and through a residential district where lots of people were out banging pots and pans and shouting encouragement. I yelled Goðan daginn to lots of them and got smiles, waves and laughs back. I also managed to have a conversation in Icelandic with two Icelandic runners, so that was one aim achieved right there! I also accidentally spoke wholly in Icelandic at a water station. There were quite a few half-marathoners with me, lots of nice Canadians. Water stations with water and powerade came quickly, and we were soon (dodging the traffic!) on the south coast of the peninsula, heading round there for the first time (so there was overlap but no laps as such). Memorable music from this part – “Love Will Tear us Apart” played by a live band, as well as the usual “Uptown Funk”. Hm. Not the first time I heard it, either. We took the shorter route across Seltjarnarnes this time, and the excitement and crowds started to diminish. Running up the north side of the city, along the coast, the views were AMAZING and made me well up – the view of all the mountains across the bay was exactly what I’d been looking forward to through all that training.

But. It was hot. Very hot. Reports say 16 – no way. I got sunburned and I never get sunburned. I realised it wasn’t going to be wonderful and I was going to have to look after myself.

As we approached the out and back you can see looping across the top, I got chatting to a lovely chap called Hardeep from Walsall, running in memory of his grandparents and for Stroke Association. We kept together for much of it, drawing apart then catching up, as happens. I also chatted on the way out with a lovely lady from a running club called Femirun in Norway. As I went, I told people about Lisa Jackson’s marvellous book and Ben the 401 marathons man (I was wearing a branded headscarf and Matthew had on the wristband I was given when I ran with Ben back in December). Going out, I spotted Sushma running back and we managed to shout to each other – hooray!

14054752_10154926782932119_647416405_nAfter the out and back was a nasty bit of hot road with no one else around me and I had a little “moment” here (OK, a cry). But I pushed on. That, at about mile 11 was the worst bit, I think. I had a little walk and told myself it was OK to walk-run from now on. So I did. Ran through Laugardalar and saw Matthew! Oh, the joy! See how much botter it was than in that photo from the previous day. This chap, from Hong Kong, there with his sister, was last finisher.

I then pushed on round the wiggly bit into the park you can see on the map. On my own but trotting along, found the 20k water station and had a banana segment, but where was my fuelling pack? They’re not here, they must be at the next one. OK. Round the wiggly bit and there’s Matthew, my hero, with my spare fuelling pack. No sign of any others so I took that, stopped for a chat and a hug, worried him by being quite warm, and pushed on. That was 14 miles and 3 hours in, so I had 3 hours to do 12 miles and not hit the cut-off time. Eeps!

I carried on through the parks – the next bit was where parkrun was run a few times and I remembered my friend Dave’s tales of getting lost there. I remembered his race position a bit wrong and it encouraged me to start picking off people. I was chasing a lady in pink for ages, then caught her, and that was the lovely Bente, from Norway again, who I ran with from about 16 miles to 24. She was brilliant, with her daughter on a bike riding up and down, and she was about my pace and level of exhaustion, so we encouraged each other along, round the big loop to the south, which ended up on the geothermal beach area – I knew this from a long walk with Matthew last time.

14088946_10154926774452119_1913275723_nBente and I picked off people as we ran, encouraging them to run with us and chatting about all sorts. We did the big loop round the Seltjarnarnes Peninsula – here’s me the next day in PERFECT running weather modelling an attractive green road arrow.

Matthew had manfully marched back across Reykjavik by now and was in Harpa, the opera house, sheltering from the sun and watching the tracking. We’d found there were timing mats every 10ish km and they updated to a page that recorded split times. All well and good, and he found there was a 37.2k one, i.e. 5k from the end (it was weird but nice having km markers, they come along a lot sooner than mile ones!).

By this time, Bente and I had tracked down “naked man” – a very nice Romanian chap called Adrian who was a little undertrained and deeply uncomfortable in the Tshirt from the Expo, so had taken it off – and Dave From Alaska, who was running this a second time. They were both run-walking too and we pulled them along with us so we were all together. But Bente wanted to hit that cut-off and could do it, whereas I knew I couldn’t (see below for Learning Point on this) and so she went on ahead.

14081471_10154926780842119_792852074_nThis pesky 37.2k mat then didn’t update online for 20 minutes! Matthew was doing his nut, knowing I’d finish if I’d done 32k and wondering where I had gone. Sushma was also tracking me, again with no luck. Here’s where it was, picture from the next day.

I was pleased to find that, although I was going slowly and was hot and tired, I didn’t hit the “wall” at all, keeping nicely fuelled, and I didn’t find the bit after 22.5 noticeably worse, so that shows I got my fuelling and training quite well arranged and was an achievement. Dave and I let Adrian go and he caught up with Bente. We plodded on, where’s Reykjavik, where, THERE it is, there’s the harbour. Here’s Icelandic Fish + Chips! Where are we going? What’s that truck doing? OK … one last walk for me and a run for Dave with a promise to photograph him at the end. And then I ran, not as emotional as I thought I’d be.

I ran up the finish straight, all alone! I could hear shouting from lots of people at a crossing all cheering me. I saw Matthew! I could hear Sushma, who had leapt the railings and got near the finish. Here I came …

14089351_981598105296749_1344752961_n (1)I crossed the finish with head held high – gun time of 6:04:54, chip time (start line to finish line) of 6:01:13 and time spent in motion around 5:53:00. I managed not to look at my watch as I crossed (for the photos) and had a hug from Sushma, babbling “Do I still get a medal?” which I did, then went up the funnel, found Dave From Alaska and was given my medal by a volunteer. I then found the promised pretzels, which I’d been excited about then forgot – v salty, no thanks!

Sushma took some After photos – behind me is Bente, who did make it in the cut-off time, hooray! She was absolutely fine, as we chatted to her after I’d gone up to the guesthouse, realised I hadn’t given in my timing chip off my shoe and come down again!

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So all was done, all was fairly good. I have to say I was NOT disappointed by my effort and achievement, but I was a b it disappointed that the weather was so different from what I’d expected, really like a June day here rather than the Octobery one I was expecting.

Learning points

I can do a marathon. Wow. And I didn’t really have any trouble with it apart from a few tears at desolate places. I was OK being on my own, but happy reacting to crowds. The big one for me was this, though: I cannot push myself. I have such a strong risk-avoidant personality and self-preservation strategy that if it comes to pushing it such that I might have to lie down afterwards or slightly hurt myself, I can’t make myself do it. I kind of knew this from parkrun and various races, and it does mean I don’t get hurt (I have been fine after the event), but it means I’ll never be much of a competitor. But I’m tough and determined and I’ve done a marathon.


I didn’t ask for sponsorship before the run as I didn’t want the extra pressure.

I’ve since donated to four charities that mean a lot to me in celebration of completing the marathon – if you would have sponsored me if I’d asked for sponsorship, please do pop to one of them to make a donation (and mention it’s for this reason if you feel like doing that). The 401 Challenge,LUCIA (Life Uplifted by Change in Africa), Anawim and Gilgal Birmingham – links below if you’d like to donate.

The 401 Challenge is a guy running 401 marathons for Kidscape and Stonewall…/showFundraiserPage.action…

LUCIA (Life Uplifted by Change in Africa) supports women and girls in Ethiopia (use the Donate Now button on this page). I’ve fun for LUCIA for years and years now!

Anawim – Women Working Together supports women and children in the West Midlands, especially women vulnerable to prostitution

Gilgal Birmingham is a refuge for women experiencing domestic violence (donate under the fundraising tab)


To the Kings Heath Running Club, Cannon Hill parkrun folks and all the rest of the running community who have supported, advised and encouraged me, Dave and Claire from yoga, 401 Marathons Ben for inspiration and author Lisa Jackson for last minute pep talks (emails). To Sushma and family for their support on the day – amazing. And to the wonderful Matthew for putting up with all the training, 3am breakfasts, moans, dirty running kit and stress on the day.


Book reviews – Modernity Britain 1957-1962 and Butterflies in November #books #20booksofsummer #WIT


20 books of summer 2016

20 books of summer 2016

Two books ticked off my #20BooksofSummer list in this post – that’s numbers 14 and 15. I’m still reading 16 and 20 and the challenge runs until 5 September, so it looks like I have a chance of getting there. Of course, the Kynaston is the one I’ve been reading for aaaaages, and it’s actually two books in one, but as you can see from the picture, it is a massive tome – and it was very enjoyable. There’s no link between the books apart from them being in this slightly wonky pile you can see to the left, but maybe they show important aspects of my reading – novels / non-fiction, sociology, travel, Iceland … The novel also fits into Women in Translation Month or #WIT – I didn’t do that on purpose as had quite enough on the TBR, but was pleased to find one that fitted into the challenge.

David Kynaston – “Modernity Britain”

(6 August 2015 bought on a trip to London with birthday and Christmas book tokens)

This tome is made up of “Opening the Box” and “A Shake of the Dice”; it’s a custom now for me to wait for the two individual volumes to come out then pick up the lovely hardback omnibus that follows – this is the third such volume, with many more to come as he works his way all the way to 1979.

These fine volumes tackle British social, economic and political history through the years, using materials from Mass Observation diaries, biographies and memoirs, letters, newspapers and some official histories. As usual, there are long passages detailing the often weirdly clashing events and opinions, the mundane and world-important mixing in one paragraph, as well as context and longer pieces on topics such as how town planning is going in various cities (one of these surprised me by being in a different layout than usual and some of the lists seemed a little rushed; however, in the acknowledgements, the author makes it clear that he was suffering from a severe health issue while putting together these books, so this is very much forgiven).

People are disenchanted with politics, Labour has split almost irrevocably, there’s a rise in racism and a constant threat of violence and riot in the streets and politicians are starting to deal with having to be on the media more and handling that with the appropriate spin … so not that different from modern times in many ways. But also the nationalised industries are doing well (maybe peaking), the Empire is being dismantled and the rise of consumerism is evident.

I missed an introduction which explains the sources, as I’m sure I found in the first volume – the diarists are introduced as such with an assumption you know what he’s talking about which might seem odd for a reader new to the series and not familiar with MO etc. But I’ll forgive him anything for actually thanking his transcriber by name (and how I would love to be that transcriber!).

This book was Book 14 in my #20BooksofSummer project.

Auður Ava Olafsdottir – “Butterflies in November”

(25 December 2015 – Not So Secret Santa gift from Jane)

A mid-30s woman goes on a rather random road trip with a small Deaf child in a car which accumulates or kills various animals (the mention of killing animals got me nervous and I did a little skimming ahead – basically a goose at the beginning and some goldfish, although several other animals make an appearance), after seeing her marriage disintegrate, apparently because she’s not very organised or well-groomed.

Will our narrator be able to take charge of another human being when she can’t seem to look after herself or her marriage? Does speaking multiple languages really have any use when trying to communicate with someone with apparently little language? The darkest month of the year and the people of Iceland’s new and older cultures will test her to the limits in this whimsical and very Icelandic novel.

This book was Book 15 in my #20BooksofSummer project and was also read for #WIT month.

I’ve scheduled this post in to catch up with reviewing, so I’m not sure what I’m reading at the moment you read this – Edith Wharton’s “The Reef” is on the go as I write this, and I’ve just finished Jo Pavey’s excellent autobiography. How’s your August reading going?

Book reviews – Being Freddie and Your Pace or Mine? #books #20BooksOfSummer


Aug 2016 TBR

Two sporty books today, one from the TBR and a #20BooksOfSummer read, the other an impulse buy after a recommendation from a running club friend, which I have since recommended on to many others. It’s a little ironic that I have probably read more than 20 books since starting the summer challenge, however it is nice to make a pile of books and keep to it, and I am working my way nicely through that pile.

Andrew Flintoff – “Being Freddie”

(6 October 2015 – from a box of books donated to BookCrossing by a running club friend)

I picked this out of the box because I do like a sporting biography and also like cricket. This did show me that I’ve lost touch with the younger generation of cricketers, but was still enjoyable.

This autobiography (ghost-written but acknowledged as such) takes us up to winning the Ashes in 2005. Thanking his publisher for getting the book out so soon after the Ashes, a lot of the final chapters are devoted to a blow-by-blow account, so it’s in a way more of a memento for that series than it is a book to keep for the illuminating life story. There are the requisite cricketing stats in the back, so it is one for the real fan of the sport.

It does take us through his career, injuries, exercise plans and friends/ colleagues, but the massive gap and the elephant in the room once you know about it is that he does not mention the eating disorder which undermined his life and health during his professional career. He talked about this five-odd years later, and it does make the book come out a bit odd, half a story.

Well-written, though, and full of funny anecdotes as well as play-by-play cricket.

This was Book 13 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

Lisa Jackson – “Your Pace or Mine?”

(25 July 2016)

One of Jackson’s blog posts for Runner’s World was shared on Facebook by a running club friend and the next thing I knew, I was clicking on the buying link. A perfectly timed read for me, this lovely book chronicles the ups and downs and learning points of Jackson’s marathon and ultra experiences. It’s not a how-to book and there’s little about her training, nutrition, etc., but that’s not what this book is for (she’s written a how to run book, too, which covers all that).

What it is is a joyful celebration of being a SLOW runner and enjoying herself far more (right) at the back than she would further forward (her worst marathon experience was when she got her 4:38 PB and couldn’t talk to anyone). She shares what she’s learned in themed sections, not forgetting about adversity and the death of her close running pals and relatives – the book does literally make you laugh and cry.

She also shares other people’s stories, both family members, people she’s met during races and more elite athletes who even share why they do it in the first place (not, mainly, for the medals or glory). There’s even a place to record your own favourite runs at the back.

I loved this book. It’s so inspiring and one to press onto people and read again and again. The production values are high in a nice-looking and well-made book, the editing is excellent, and it’s a must-read for the slower or novice runner.

I’m a bit behind in my reviewing, so look out for a review of #20BooksofSummer books 14 and 15, coming soon (the Kynaston is finished! and I read a great Icelandic novel, too). I’m now into Edith Wharton’s “The Reef”, as well as about to finish Jo Pavey’s inspiring autobiography. The Wharton is a 20Books book, leaving me with thre and a bit to finish by 5 September – I think I can do it!

Book review – Oberland #books #Virago #AVAA


Dorothy Richardson - PilgrimageI’ve got myself all behind with reviews and busybusybusy. I’ve got A Big Thing coming up and I’m trying to get sorted out for it, and I seem to have been near the end of David Kynaston’s “Modernity Britain” forEVER. Argh. Plus I’ve read two books that I want to review with a third. And why are all clothes in the shops vile at the moment, by the way?? Aaaaanyway, here’s my review of the next in the “Pilgrimage” series. Aren’t I good to have got it read so early in the month?! Oh, and of course, it counts as my first (and only so far) All Virago / All August read (or Some Virago / Some of August).

Dorothy Richardson – “Oberland”

(28 March 2015)

We’re onto that last big volume at the bottom of the pile now – can you believe it? Five slim books in this tome picked up in Macclesfield which led me to think, “Well, I’ve got 1 and 4 and there are 2 and 3 on offer, so …” Well, they ARE slim books so it won’t be too much of a time-consumer through the rest of the year, and I couldn’t give up now, could I!

This is Book 9 of the series and rather than trudge around London in the rain thinking of comparative religion and Russian philosophy, we accompany Miriam on a two-week holiday to Switzerland.

To be honest, she seems pretty snobby and man-mad in this volume. She’s trying to impress them by being not-like-a-normal-woman, but seemingly trying to impress them all the same, and this gets a bit annoying (sorry, Miriam). I did love the descriptions of the scenery and her attempts at tobogganing and reconnection with skating – she seems at her best when engaging in sports, somehow. But the book was also frustrating. There was talk of well-remembered times in Cambridge that I just do not recall reading about (please, someone, correct me if I’m wrong – we have got through quite a lot of bookage!) and there were some scenes from the Continent from a time I don’t remember with her, too, including a sad animal thing thrown in for seemingly no reason at all!

So a bit patchy, I’m afraid, although perfectly readable in itself. And I still want to know what Miriam gets up to next.

This was the first book for my All Virago / All August mini-challenge.

So, as mentioned, I’m STILL finishing the Kynaston but I really do have only about 20 pages to go. I’ve also read two sports books, Freddie Flintoff’s biography and an excellent book on being a slow but happy runner, Lisa Jackson’s “Your Pace or Mine?” which I recommend to any runner. I’m part-way through Jo Pavey’s autobiography, and you can see why I want to review those three together. But I will be picking up a Virago for my next fiction read, soon, and it’s going to be a Wharton – “The Reef”. Anyone read that?

See - almost there. Copious notes take up a lot of the last lot of pages.

See – almost there. Copious notes take up a lot of the last lot of pages.

Book reviews – The Lighthearted Quest and Moon Country #20booksofsummer #books


TBR July 2016Oh dear, one book left over from July and, even more horrifically, one book that I read in May, mentioned reading in May in another review, and NEVER REVIEWED! Not in my paper reading journal, not on here. I was only alerted to this fact when I was telling someone about my Reading a Century of Books project, was scanning down the list, noticed the title, thought “I’m sure I’ve read this”, looked for the review to link to it, and there was no review. So a little scrapheap for you here, and two books that are totally unrelated apart from the fact that they’re both set in different countries from the UK.

Anne Bridge – “The Lighthearted Quest”

(11 September 2015 from the lovely Jane at Beyond Eden Rock)

I met up with Jane when we were on holiday; we’d sent each other photos of books we had going spare, and I profited greatly from her passing me the Julia Strachey volume and this one. It’s a lovely elderly hardback with the dust cover just hanging on, and that does add to the reading enjoyment, doesn’t it.

This was a lovely, light (in the main) and fun novel which i have since found out is only the first in a series of eight Julia Probyn novels which I will now have to look out for! The estimable and pretty unflappable Julia (who still manages to be a very attractive and sympathetic character) takes on the task of finding her cousin Colin, who’s needed to take over the family estate in Scotland. Using her dumb-blonde exterior as a disguise, and making full and unashamed use of her many admirers and contacts, she’s soon skipping around Morocco with an assortment of bankers, bar owners, whiskery Belgian archaeologists and elderly ladies with mysterious nephews.

The threads of the story all come together beautifully: some you can guess, some people more accustomed to mysteries would have guessed before me, and some probably can’t be guessed, although it all works out logically. There are some charming characters, too. The only slight issue is there’s a LOT about the socio-political issues of French colonialism, which is interesting given the 1950s time of writing, which is perhaps a little heavy and over-emphasised (however, there is a frighteningly prescient comment about “elites [using] nationalist sentiments to use Islam as a lever to rouse the ignorant multitudes and try to create an independent African Moslem Empire”).

On balance, a charming book, well written and amusing, and I would read more in the series.

This was Book 12 in my #20BooksofSummer project.

Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell – “Moon Country” (May read)

(14 April 2015)

I bought this book second hand online after having been alerted to its existence by Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings, who seems to be a prime enabler at the moment (to be far, she’s only really compelled me to buy two books in over a year …). It follows Auden and MacNieces’s seminal “Letters from Iceland” (which I re-read in August 2012) with these two poets making their own way around the country, like their predecessors, including reportage, poetry, funny Icelandic soubriquets and playscripts in the work they produce. A lot of the Reykjavik and other western areas were familiar to me after having visited the country twice myself (trips 3 and 4 are currently being planned), and it was more jolly and readable than the earlier work.

This book covered 1996 in my Century of Reading project.

There we go, all neat and tidy now. I’ve since read book 13 in #2obooks (“Being Freddie” by Andrew Flintoff) and am making good progress with the Kynaston which might just be book 14. I’m half-way through the month’s Dorothy Richardson volume, and a half-loving it, half frustrated by it; I’ve also read a book about running marathons slowly. How are you all doing?

Review and acquisition round-up – Evelyn Waugh, Philip Sassoon and Virginia Woolf #SNB #books #Woolfalong


Shiny New Books logoJust a tiny round-up today to cover almost the last two books I read in July (one Ann Bridge review to come!) plus a naughty but nice acquisition.

First off, I was lucky enough to get two fab mid-20th-century biographies to review for Shiny New Books. I love being part of the non-fiction gang, and these two really fitted in well with my interests. Snippets here, but do pop through to the full reviews.

And then I might have bought something to read for #Woolfalong. Oops.

Philip Eade – “Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited”

When approaching a biography of Evelyn Waugh, one can’t help but assume it’s going to be a portrait of quite a nasty man who was mean to his friends and savaged friends and enemies alike in his novels. There have of course been quite a few biographical works on Waugh over the years, with his own autobiography being a major source, and there was Selina Hastings’ major work in 1994. But this is indeed a ‘Life Revisited’, as Philip Eade had access to quite a few sources that no one else has seen. He also seems to have a mission to save Waugh from this reputation of nastiness, and does indeed go some way towards doing this. Read more

Damian Collins – “Charmed Life: The Phenomenal World of Philip Sassoon”

Damian Collins, MP for the same constituency that Sassoon held almost uncontested (literally, sometimes) for three and a half decades, only came across his predecessor when he visited the estate of Port Lympne, which Sassoon created from nothing and fitted out lavishly. He posits that Sassoon always felt something of an outsider due to his ‘oriental’ and Jewish heritage, and there’s an implicit suggestion that this is the reason that this the first biography of the man to emerge. However, there may be other reasons for this. Read more

Virginia WoolfNow, this acquisition is entirely Not My Fault, and probably actually Doesn’t Count. Heaven-Ali’s #Woolfalong project is up to Phase 4: Biographies. I was entirely prepared to re-read the lovely “Orlando”, which counts. Then Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings wickedly posted a blog post about working on this phase, mentioning a Woolf bio that I had never come across before: “Recollections of Virginia Woolf”. I have a lot of bios of VW, but I’d never seen this. Then I had. A bit of a look on the dreaded Amazon, and what do I find, but the lovely High Street Books in New Mills is selling a copy.

So it had to be done, didn’t it – and it arrived today, looking very tempting. I have a little road trip coming up soon and I think it will be coming with me – there or to Iceland … Of course, one very good thing is that it was published in 1976, a year that is missing in my Century of Books. So that’s OK, then, right?

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