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?

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