Book review – Mark Mason – “Mail Obsession” #books #amreading


TBR shelf March 2017Wow – I’m having  a super reading month this month; this is the eleventh book I’ve finished and I’m galloping through another lovely Elizabeth Fair and should have that one done and dusted by the end of tomorrow. I haven’t had a huge amount of leisure time, as I’ve done a LOT of work this month, but I haven’t been watching much television at all, as there’s been nothing on that I’ve wanted to see (apart from a few documentaries, like the one set at Birmingham Central Mosque, the never-ending episodes of Only Connect from before Christmas and good old Big Bang Theory). So lots of early nights curled up with a book and the TBR is going to be looking good on Saturday!

Mark Mason – “Mail Obsession”

(10 September 2016 – outpost of The Works in Stirchley Co-op)

I can’t even remember why we went in Stirchley Co-op, but I do recall buying this book and a jigsaw puzzle of a map of London.

Apparently someone who is a serial writer of “quest” books (I think he’s travelled the length of Britain on buses, too), Mason sets out in this one to collect a quaint or interesting fact about each main postcode area in the UK (so we’re talking just the letters, no numbers). While he has memorable visits to many places and includes a lovely description of posting a letter as far as he can from home (to the Shetlands) and then taking it himself on the final part of its journey, and lavishes quite a lot of time on London’s postal museum, well, I might be wrong, but I don’t think he actually visits each postcode (even though the subtitle of the book is “A Journey Around Britain by Postcode”). The index obscures or confuses this a bit: it has an italicised entry for each postcode fact, but then doesn’t, for example, list Aberdeen as a city, while he does visit Aberdeen on the same page as the AB fact, but he has a fact for Birmingham and doesn’t seem to pop in there at all.

The facts are OK, although I did know a few of them, if not where they were precisely located. He’s an engaging companion and I liked the bits about his long-suffering wife, but there were a lot about football. An OK light read but not a re-read, and I can’t say fairer than that.

My next book is the story of a man carving a whole tree into things, bought in Penzance, a book on running with the Kenyans, Mark Ellen’s autobiography or a school story. Hm …


Book review – Arnaldur Indridason – “Outrage” #books #amreading


TBR shelf March 2017So here I am, persisting with just about the only crime series I’ll read. I started them because they’re set in Reykjavik and not too gruesome, but they are good in their own right, too. Before we start, did you see my COMPETITION to win a copy of Laura Bates’ “Girl Up”? It’s a proper giveaway just by me, not a funny thing to (not) click through to, so give it a go if you’re in or related to the target audience. Oh, and some Book Confessions below …

Arnaldur Indriðason – “Outrage”

(August 2015 or thereabouts)

I’m slowly working my way through my pile of Reykjavik Murder Mysteries, and I have to say that this was a real return to form after I didn’t think so much of “Hypothermia” back in December.

This one is centred around Detective Elinborg, so we learn more about her home and family life as she investigates the grisly murder of a possible rapist. Things are never easy in detectives’ lives, are they – even I know that – but it’s well done and sets her work against a happy marriage but difficulties with two of her children, one of whom has taken to blogging about them all.

I really liked the way that Elinborg’s love of cooking (before this one, I think about the only personal detail we knew about her was that she’d published a cookery book) was brought in to help her to solve the mystery, as her sense of smell and knowledge of the cooking supplies shops locally help her to unravel clues. I also enjoyed the Reykjavik location, mainly set in the network of streets between the lake and the church, but also featuring a visit to a small town and a look at what it’s like to live in a more isolated area.

Sigurdur Oli is a minor character in this one, messing things up for Elinborg, in fact, and Erlendur, the central character in the previous novels is off looking into his past, only being mentioned in passing. There’s a mystery there for the next book. A good read.

Some confessions now. But the first ones since my lovely glut of review copies …

In fact, I’ve already read and reviewed “Girl Up” of course, as I wanted to get it read and out there. The Debbie Macombers are all set in, you’ve guessed it, Alaska, and are only just out. I’m saving these up for when I need some comfort reads, but I’ve checked and it is a new series – she’s quite good at publishing books under different titles in the US and UK, or republishing old ones, both of which are OK of course, but you do have to check.

Phil Hewitt’s “Keep on Running”, which is about his multiple marathons as a “normal” runner (rather than an elite), was recommended to me by the lovely Cari, a friend originally from BookCrossing, but now also on Facebook. She and I used to join each other’s bookrings like mad, liking the same reading. I recently noted she’d started running (hooray!) and now we can recommend running books to each other, too!

Have you got any authors you stockpile for gloomy, sad or unwell days?

Book review and COMPETITION TIME Laura Bates – “Girl Up” #books #amreading


Laura Bates Girl UpThis is the book I wish I’d had when I was 16. And if you’re a late teen who identifies as a girl to any degree, or an adult who is around one, then please do enter the competition to win my copy – you just need to comment on this blog post. Although I’m very much not a girl in her teens, I learned a lot about the battles people are facing and the wonderful positive stuff that’s going on, too, and I think this book is massively important. Thank you to my friend Barbara for telling me about it in the first place.

So, do read the review, and if you’d like to win a copy, put a comment in the comments. This is open to all but if you’re outside the UK I will send it by surface mail. I’ll do a random draw on 3 April and post who won then. Good luck!

Laura Bate – “Girl Up”

(March 2017)

A book for those who identify in any way as teenage girls, and something every older female-identifying person will wish they’d had as a teen. It would certainly have stopped some assumptions I had and saved me from some risky situations and upsetting feelings, at very least. It gives a name to stuff that happens and tells you how to push back against stuff happening, and how to work on society to make sure the stuff has less chance of happening – whether that stuff is institutional sexism, rape culture, dress codes in schools …

It’s funny, frank, open, pretty rude (as my friend Barbara said, there are some pages where you wouldn’t want the book to be reflected in the Tube window behind you while you were reading it!) and incredibly inclusive. On this last point, it goes to great pains to explain what it means by terms it uses (women, people with a womb, genderqueer, etc.) and makes sure it walks the walk throughout the book, never making assumptions on gender, sexuality or orientation. It’s a guide to coping with the pressures of teenage life now, some of which are the same old, same old (bullying, the pressure to have sex before you want to, date rape, although I’m not sure when that term came in) and some of which are new (social media stuff, the pressure to send someone naked photos, a hell of a lot easier these days than when you’d have to have them developed at Boots).

It’s brilliant on how to fight back, whether that’s listing come-backs you can use when cat-called in the street, sharing the stories of women who’ve fought the system or teaching us exactly how to set up a campaign with all the myriad channels you can use to turn those weapons against the abusers. There’s a great chapter on feminism and how to set up a feminist society (including whether / how to include men) and the book is imbued with a powerful and practical feminism and call to arms.

There are chapters on sexual behaviours and relationships and a hilarious but sadly apparently necessary chapter on the difference between porn and real-life sex (this is a massive issue for younger people, which I hadn’t quite taken on board, with assumptions on both sides). There are some great analogies – who would have compared virginity to one of those “reject if the button depresses” supermarket lids?

It’s funny but it’s not trite or too funny, more like an older sister or aunty sharing information she’s gleaned through her own struggles – and triumphs. It’s pretty text-heavy, which might be slightly off-putting (I hope not) but the text is broken up with fabulous illustrations, call-out quotes and full-page quotes (or, memorably, a page of responses to photograph and use if someone sends you a photo of his bits and bobs).  It’s also positive and celebrates cooperation rather than competition – for example, in the section on careers, it mentions that once you’ve got somewhere, you should use your platform to help other young women further themselves, and has this to say about friendship standing against bullying for being different:

Good friends are the ones who hold their hand around your flame when other people are trying to blow it out. (p. 82)

Continuing the positivity, after quite a lot of text telling us about how magazines remove choices by pretending to give us them (for example, giving a range of lipsticks to try but not mentioning the option not to wear it; telling you how to dress for your shape but ignoring the fact you might just want to wear whatever you fancy) there’s a list of great new magazines and online resources that are much more sensible (but still look fun).

It’s a personal book, with the author sharing her own experience and that of her contemporaries – right down to sharing a photo-shopped image of herself with the original. She uses material from her Everyday Sexism project to good effect and she is a good enough writer that the book will appeal to a lot of people while still having a personality.

I’ll just share my two last favourite quotes. This one is in a photograph and written ON a banana skin:

Be the banana skin on the patriarchy’s complacent stroll. (p.89)

and this one’s in the section on consent:

Consent is really too low a bar: hold out for enthusiasm. (p. 230)

So, wish this book had been there for me; comment below if you’d like it to be there for you or someone you’re close to.

Book review – Elizabeth Fair – “Seaview House” (Furrowed Middlebrow) @DeanStPress #books #amreading


Elizabeth Fair seaview house furrowed middlebrow dean street pressI was very lucky to be sent e-book copies of Dean Street Press‘s SIX Elizabeth Fair offerings via their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint in February, at the same time as receiving the lovely copy of E. Nesbit’s “The Lark” (click link for pic and review). I couldn’t wait to dive in as they looked just my thing, gentle comedies of manners set in small communities, described somewhere as having a dash of lemon to add tartness to the experience. Based on this one, I can’t wait to read the others! Look at them all, lined up on my Kindle and ready to read (they have pretty covers, too, and you can see those here).

I’m not sure why I started with this one, although I thought it was the one Ali was reading (it, of course, wasn’t) but the seaside town setting did appeal to me, and rightly so …

Elizabeth Fair – “Seaview House”

(e-book, 21 February 2017)

Lucy lives with her widowed mother, Rose,and her aunt, Edith (beautiful and wispy and practical and resilient, respectively) in a seaside hotel they run, Edith and Rose having come firmly down in the world from being Canon Newby’s feted daughters. They now live in cramped quarters, crammed in with all the “good” furniture and pictures, including one of their late father that sneers down at visitors, for fear of their heirlooms being destroyed by their guests. Lucy’s oldest and best friends are Nevil, an ineffectual school master with ideas of socialism, who it’s always somehow been her unspoken fate to marry, and the deliciously awful Philippa, who is obviously “fast” and wears tight jeans and has pretensions to an acting career.

Into this staid and settled life comes Edward, the recently rediscovered godson of the delightfully peevish and waspish Mr Heritage – the best portrait in the book by far, and you just ITCH to see him get his comeuppance – apparently Fair has a good line in these bachelor gossips which is something to look forward to). Edward is here to oversee the building of some holiday let cottages which are just the start of the regeneration of this sleepy and backward seaside hamlet and which have predictably divided the community (again, apparently Fair likes an architect and enjoys describing houses, so more to love there, too).

So, we have a disruptor of community and relationships who has a reason to keep returning, a house (his godfather’s) to stay in and a more attractive household (Seaview House) to visit and even play waiter in, something Nevil’s too lofty to do, how will this skew things in the village and the hotel?

On the basis of this read, Elizabeth Fair occupies the intersection between Dorothy Whipple (though her books are shorter) and Barbara Pym: although the book is not laugh-out-loud funny, there are some great set-pieces and there is close observation of family relationships, a slightly hopeless and old-fashioned central character, terrible servants, widows, clergymen and gossipy neighbours. Marvellous stuff!

Thank you to Dean Street Press for this book, sent in return for an honest review. I’ve got some book confessions but they will have to wait for another post …

Book review – Leigh Gallagher – “The AirBnB Story” #books #amreading


Thanks to the publisher, Virgin Books, for making this review copy available via NetGalley. I do like a book on business, and did even before I ran my own business. I’m very far from being the kind of dynamic start-up AirBnB was, but I am always fascinated by a good, well-written story that goes into the nitty-gritty of how a company was started and is run, and this certainly gave me that. I’m gradually chipping my way through this rather frightening Kindle to-be-read list by the way; I’ve read and reviewed one from there already, this is the second and I’m reading another one right now!

Leigh Gallagher – “The AirBnB Story”

(17 February 2017 – ebook)

The well-done and lively authorised story of the foundation and rise of this disruptive firm, taking us through the history of its growth in detail, warts and all, describing problems hit along the way, including well-documented accidents, issues with damage to houses and racial discrimination issues (on the part of hosts and guests, not the company, as such) and how the company dealt with these bumps in the road while adhering to its special and unique culture. It also looks at the reaction of city authorities and townspeople, again examining the company’s claims to want to limit multiple listings and adding pressure on difficult housing situations, and the reactions of the hotel industry, along with an excursion into a short history of other hotel industry disruptors that have been gradually absorbed into the mainstream and ways in which this is being done with the sharing-houses concept, too.

It also looks at the way the company has been scaled, including a celebration of the fact that it’s practically the only start-up which has retained the three original founders and their complementary skillsets, also examining how (on Earth!) they have developed the management skills necessary for running a huge company when they were essentially two designers and a coder with little management experience between them (it turns out they’ve done this collaboratively, too, using gurus from all sorts of industries, bringing in employees where they have gaps in knowledge, and bravely asking for assessments of the way they manage in order to do it better).

A good attempt is made at describing the company culture which has so appealed to millennials but spread out to the rest of the age groups, too, and with the author’s access to the three founders, investors and employees as well as hosts, it feels rounded and authentic. The future is examined, always hard in a very fast-moving company like this one, with talk of brand extensions and then an up-to-date epilogue (written in November 2016) once some of those had been officially announced. There is much focus on how the company has been able to scale its growth while preserving its mission and culture, largely because it has chosen its own investors and not gone public yet (I know from my small experience that being independent is the only way to retain your own culture and values unless you are very, very careful).

There are lots of notes, which is great, as it shows a commitment to proper referencing, however it suffers here from the standard problem with ebooks, in that you don’t know where the book will end and the notes start, so you don’t really know how far through the book you are. There’s also a rather annoying non-interactive index with a note at the top reminding us that it won’t work as such as it comes from the print version, so ebook readers will need to look up terms using their search function. Why include it, then?

This aside, a good read with a nice lot of detail.

I’m now reading Elizabeth Fair’s “Seaview House”, which I started during some bus journeys to buy cheese and skyr and meet my friend Meg for coffee. Absolutely CHARMING as anything so far. And probably matches my usual readers more closely than this review. Anyone else out there appreciate a good, solid business read?

Book review – Adam Alter – “Irresistible” #amreading #books #ShinyNewBooks

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I read this one back in February, but the review has just been published on the online book recommendation marvel that is Shiny New Books so do pop across and have a read. All that I will tell you is that this book, subtitled “Why we Can’t Stop Checking, Scrolling, Clicking and Watching” has changed my life, my sleep pattern and my productivity. Read my review here

Book review – Brian Hayles – “The Moon Stallion” #books #amreading


Brian Hayles The Moon Stallion I have to admit that I approached this book with trepidation. It might seem like just another 1970s children’s book cover here but SEE the scary shadow! Know that I had to stay up late to finish it then read a bit of the book about Airbnb to take the taste away …

I spent years looking for this book. I half-remembered a TV series from the very early 1980s featuring the White Horse of Uffington, Beltane Fires, Wayland’s Smithy, and no, it wasn’t Susan Cooper’s “The Dark is Rising” sequence because I knew those. Anyway, some time in the last decade I found out what it was called, and then I found out it had been reissued! And for some reason then a few original copies made it out into the marketplace and I picked one up.

I’m known for being quite feeble with my reading and viewing matter and some of this was seared into my memory (that’s made  me think of the terrifying home-videos on Screen Test – I’m going to have to look at some fuzzy puppies for a bit). Anyway, I managed to read it and I’m sending it on to a friend who likes this kind of thing.

Brian Hayles – “The Moon Stallion”

(8 September 2016)

Published in 1978, this is the novel of a TV series (I see that this was repeated in 1980, when I was eight, which makes more sense than having the whatsits scared out of me at the age of six!) that affected me so powerfully that I still can’t see an image of – or the actual – White Horse of Uffington without shuddering.

I’d been warned (who by?) that this story o f blind Diana’s affinity with the mysterious white stallion that seems to be a harbinger of death and their opposition to Sir George Mortenhurze and his stableman Todman’s greed to control it – was written boringly and tedious to get through. I didn’t find that, although reviews of the TV series suggest that it was slower than people now like. The combination of time-worlds clicking into sync at the ancient liminal festivals, old country lore and unending battles for natural power was reminiscent of Susan Cooper (even to the point of featuring Wayland’s Smithy: Oxfordshire and Berkshire are certainly places of fascination and ancient magics). There was a lot of mysticism and symbolism (and some unexplained or undiscussed: yes, Todman is related to toads and thus horse-whisperers, but what about Tod meaning Death in German, and Estelle can’t be accidentally named, either).

There’s also a huge environmental and anti-war message bolted into it in some of the visions Diana has – this had totally passed me by originally or been forgotten, even though it makes the book totally of its time (and mine – anyone else in their mid-40s have a primary school teacher who ran away to Greenham Common, leaving you unable to tell the time or hold a pen correctly?). Not as scary as I’d feared, and no white horses came to me in my dreams, thank goodness.

Have you revisited a childhood favourite and found it different / more or less scary?

Book review – Lord Kinross – “The Innocents at Home” #amreading #books


TBR shelf March 2017Another one off the TBR – I am trying to keep one TBR book and one review book going at all times, so as to give equal attention to both sides. This is almost my last book from the autumn’s trip to Astley Book Farm – I have a Hard Book about literature that I didn’t quite fancy picking up next and a D.E. Stevenson I’m sort of saving and then those are exhausted. But as you can see, I’m not lacking reading matter …

Lord Kinross – “The Innocents at Home”

(3 September 2016 – Astley Book Farm)

Otherwise known as Patrick Balfour, this chap takes in his 1959 book a very British view of American life in New York and various parts of the South, South-West, West Coast, etc. He’s good on the struggle to fit into New York life, which is stratified in very different ways to his homeland, and the descriptions of the artists he falls in with are the most lively part of the book. He’s descriptive and aware but dismissive of the Colour Bar as only an British aristocrat could be. There’s perhaps too much description of some of the quite ordinary people he meets – there’s nothing amazingly interesting about them but he describes them as if they’re household names. Another writer who is wry and Eric Newby-ish but not up to the great man’s travel writing; but looking at his biography, he wrote several scholarly works, so this looks like a light-hearted by-product of some trips to the US. Readable but slight.

I’ve picked up “The Moon Stallion” to read next as my non-review book but it’s a bit scary for the evenings (I scared myself silly with the TV series in the 70s). So Leigh Gallagher’s “The Airbnb Story” is doing double duties as mealtime and bedtime read at the moment. It’s very good indeed, though, so not a problem.

What are you reading RIGHT NOW? Have you read more fiction or non-fiction this month so far?

Book review – E. Nesbit – “The Lark” (Furrowed Middlebrow) #books #amreading


I was very fortunate to be sent this in hard copy by the lovely team at Dean Street Press – it’s one of their new Furrowed Middlebrow titles (Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow has blogged about the upcoming titles here). I also have e-books of a whole load of their Elizabeth Fair titles, which is super-exciting and I’ll be getting to those soon. Left is the lovely book accompanied by some new notebooks that also arrived when I was in Iceland – oops, looks like my book reviewing and stationery buying secrets are out! But aren’t these books pretty, with their frame of a house and subtle colours.

E. Nesbit – “The Lark”

(25 February 2017)

An incredibly charming and joyful read; it’s one of Nesbit’s adult novels but the two heroines are still young and naive and lively and you can imagine quite easily that they’re the children from one of her books for younger readers, just a bit more grown up.

Our heroines, Jane and Lucilla, cousins, are suddenly removed from the school where they’ve been languishing, waiting for their exciting lives to begin, by their mysterious guardian, who has lost their inheritance and left them with just a small house and a smaller amount of capital. But Jane, the more dominant and talkative of the two, is determined to see everything as a “lark”, and they are nothing if not resourceful. So, revelling in the new post-WWI freedoms afforded to young women (sometimes even travelling around London without a chaperone, meeting strange young men, but oh, so innocently), they have small but delightful adventures, setting themselves up as businesswomen, eschewing any attentions they might get from the young men who seem to suddenly surround them, and setting up a floristry business which somehow develops into a guest house with some rather odd guests and several difficulties with servants. I particularly liked all the detail here of exactly how they set things up, something I always appreciate in a novel.

There are disguises, revelations and yes, some love interest, mostly rebuffed, it has to be said, and very innocent. There’s also an excellent portrayal of female friendship – in all its up and downs – here, which is very well done, and reminds me of the well-drawn sibling relationships in her children’s novels. There’s also some charming metafiction: at the point where explanations are needed, the author interpolates to point out that she’s going to insert them, and there’s a discussion later in the book about whether real-life chaps are the “loverish” heroes that they have to be in books to give the books interest.

The book as a whole makes real the life-affirming statement that life’s a lark so long as you have enough to live on. Our heroines’ hard work is rewarded, as is the hard work of other characters, but it’s not preachy and is, indeed, charming. Thank you again, Dean Street Press, both for republishing this gem and for sending me a copy.

Book Review and blog tour – Eve Schaub – “Year of No Clutter” #books #amreading


Year of No Clutter book coverToday I’m excited to be participating in a blog tour – I don’t do these very often as I didn’t use to read many very modern books, but my NetGalley adventures have given me all sorts of up-to-date things to do and this is one of them. There’s a competition to win a copy of this book and a link to sign up for a decluttering week *if that’s your thing* but I’m posting these to say thank you to the publisher, Sourcebooks, for sending my review copy and there is no expectation from me at all that you’ll click the links!

Eve Schaub – “Year of No Clutter”

(20 January 2017 – From the publisher, Sourcebooks, via NetGalley)

Rather than a how-to or a you-must-do-this book, this is a what-I-did one (or what I like to classify as a Quest book), so a far more comfortable read and maybe more likely to inspire people. Schaub in fact has a collection of anti-clutter books herself, and I started to really like her when she disclosed that she’d mislaid her copy of THAT Marie Kondo book in the terribly messy and cluttered place in her house she calls the Hell Room!

While following her own and her family’s progress (watch out for how she gets her husband to sort through HIS stuff!) through a bit more than a year of sorting-out, she also looks at the psychology of hoarding, discussing various famous hoarders and one who is a friend of a friend; the differences between mess and clutter; and the particular mental tics needed to honestly think (and act on that thought) that it’s a good idea to keep every single tiny note someone has ever given to you.

Schaub is honest about her own problems and her family inheritance of hoarding, and how this tendency exhibits itself in her daughters, too. But there is hope: although she adds some large items she really should keep to her collection, she does get much better at discarding items and deciding that things should be used now or got rid of – no more keeping things in case they come in handy at some point in the future (we have a lot of that in this house).

It’s OK not to be perfect (of course it is: we all know that already, right?) and that’s a big lesson for both Schaub and her readers. It’s better to clear enough space to have a go at having an art room than it is to stay paralysed by the enormousness of the task in front of you.

You won’t learn exactly HOW to pare things back from this book, but you will learn what it feels like to do so, and I think that’s a very valid benefit of the book.

And here are those links I promised you could click if you wanted to …

Sign up to receive a daily e-newsletter with tips, advice and videos from Eve Schaub on how to start conquering clutter this spring during the Week of No Clutter, March 7-14. Sign up now!

… and here’s a Rafflecopter giveaway (I’m afraid this is for US and Canada readers only – sorry!)


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