Book review – Mohammad Yunus – “Banker to the Poor” plus my first DNF of the year #amreading #books


Good news first: I have FINALLY managed to post out my competition winners‘ books plus a couple of others I owed fellow book bloggers – look out for something popping through your door soon. Looking at this picture of my TBR from the beginning of May (plus my Pile), everything’s looking very different – watch this space for tomorrow’s pic. It’s about the same size on the shelf, to be honest, with all those lovely acquisitions arriving, but it starts with that pale book after Greg Rutherford now, and the Pile is almost no more! I’ve read 22 books this month, if you count the three two-in-one Debbie Macombers as six – astounding. Just shows what a bit of time laid up will do for you. But I’m better now, back to running and proper yoga (kind of) and raring to go. So here’s one last review and a DNF (that makes 22.3 books for the month, really!)

Mohammad Yunus – “Banker to the Poor”

(29 October 2016, Brierlow Bar Bookshop, Buxton)

I think this is the last of my Buxton haul, actually. And it shows how I’ve come on as I wouldn’t have had the capacity to read this at the start of the month!

The Nobel Peace Prize winner talks about how he founded and ran the Grameen Bank, the first micro-finance organisation in the world, in Bangladesh. It takes in his own story, including the part he played in Bangladesh’s independence movement in the 1970s. Then it goes through his initial idea, founded from the poverty and despair he saw in the world around him as he travelled to and from his university job as a professor of economics, the work of the bank, its development, the people it has helped and the ways he used to help it grow, including using the old school tie network he simultaneously decries for hampering real progress in the country. He’s also not keen on the way the World Bank and other organisations work in creating reliance and greed rather than self-reliance in the very poorest people.

There’s also information on how the bank has spread to other countries and into other areas of activity, which was very interesting, and also deep philosophical economic discussions on poverty, which was a little more skimmable. I loved how he started small and practical, with the villages he could see around him, and how he encouraged his students to work on practical poverty alleviation projects as part of their theoretical studies. I was interested to read that they charged quite significant interest on loans, although this is needed for a profitable bank and all the profits are rolled back into more loans. Although it’s a bit out of date, being written in the 1990s, it gives the background for all the other micro-finance initiatives, like Kiva, that exist now.

I struggled on through NetGalley win “Greatest Hits” by Laura Barnett up to 30% but I was just so not engaged with it. It seemed a bit laboured, well-researched but not really with a spark of life. I think, particularly because I’m working on some projects on older musicians in my working life, I’d just rather read a real biography of a musician rather than a carefully invented one. I did review it and won my 80% review badge, one more review to go for my 20 books badge (is this a good or a bad thing?)

I’m currently reading Willa Cather’s “The Professor’s House” – the LibraryThing Virago Group chose her as their author for May and I only just got hold of a copy after meeting up with Heaven-Ali on Monday. It won’t be done by the end of the month but it’s marvellous.

#20BooksofSummer 2017 – the list!


#20BooksOfSummer is a nice, simple reading challenge hosted each year by Cathy from 746 Books: you can see her list here and she also has images you can download for the challenge (I’m doing 20 books, but there are also 15 book and 10 book options).

The reason I like this challenge is that it’s simple – read 20 books between 1 June and 3 September and share them on Twitter using the hashtag, or alert Cathy to what you’ve read on her blog. You’re allowed to swap in and out books and it doesn’t matter if you don’t complete all 20. I use it to find other interesting blogs to read and to find new readers for my blog.

You can read my round-up posts from 2015 and 2016 and find lists with links of all the books I read then over on my 20BooksofSummer page – scroll down, as I’ve added my list for this year there already.

So, what’s on the list for this year? I don’t have to add books from The Pile because I have got rid of most of The Pile already with my massive batch of May reading. So here are the paper books I have chosen (I say chosen; most of them are from the first half of my TBR) and a note on two additions below.

So …

Mitch Prinstein – “Popular” [not pictured] – a NetGalley book about social media likes and popularity in the digital age.

Stuart Maconie – “Long Road from Jarrow” [not pictured] – another NetGalley book in which he follows the path of the Jarrow marchers.

If I am approved for any more NetGalley books, they will have to be ADDITIONAL to these. Gulp. And I’m going to try to read these two by the end of June to give me lots of room for All Virago / All August.

Susie Dent – “How to Talk Like a Local” – one of her little books on language, this time on regional dialects and idioms.

Farahad Zama – “Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness” – the fourth in the Marriage Bureau for Rich People series which I’ve been reading for a while. Should be light but with a bite of social conscience.

Miriam Toews – “A Boy of Good Breeding” – from the wish list, I like her novels about small town Canada although this seems very whimsical indeed.

By the way, I’m not necessarily going to read them in this order …

Scott Jurek – “Eat and Run” – to some of us, he’s a famous vegan ultrarunner and quite a lot of my running friends have read this. I love reading stories about how runners have achieved great feats.

Adam Nicolson – “When God Spoke English” – as regular readers know, I would read a re-writing of the phone book if it was done by Nicolson, and this is about the King James Bible.

John-Paul Flintoff – “Sew Your Own” – he goes looking for the meaning of life and ends up sewing his own clothes. Reviewers have not loved this as it’s quite disjointed and theoretical rather than explaining how he did things – I suspect I may end up swapping this out!

Francis Brett Young – “The Black Diamond” – rural and urban and industrial history mixed with violence, sex and football. As you do.

Eric Newby – “Something Wholesale” – the only book of his I haven’t read, about his adventures in the rag trade. Might be a good contrast with the Flintoff book.

Natasha Solomons – “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands” – novel I know nothing about but recommended by my friend Luci, who passed it to me originally.

Jane Gardam – “Old Filth” – her book centred on a male character which I have ignored all these years in favour of her female-centric ones. We’ll see.

Barbara Taylor – “Eve and the New Jerusalem” – feminism and socialism rising in the 19th century.

From here for a bit are reserved for All Virago / All August (which includes Persephones) which I do with the LibraryThing Virago Group. Not as many this time as last year.

Gladys Huntingdon – “Madame Solario” (Persephone) – a great big novel set in Cadenabbia on Lake Como, where we have stayed!

R.C. Sheriff – “Greengates” (Persephone) – I love his quiet observation of family life and this looks lovely, the tale of a man and his wife finding a building project in their retirement.

Amber Reeves – “A Lady and Her Husband” (Persephone) – what would you do if you found your husband was scrimping on the wages of the women who work in the tea rooms he owns?

Mollie Panter-Downes “One Fine Day” (Virago) – I’ve enjoyed her short stories and now it’s time for this novel set just post the Second World War, which many friends have admired.

Zora Neale Hurston – “Their Eyes Were Watching God” (Virago) – a classic of course, though a lot of dialect in it.

Dorothy Whipple – “Every Good Deed and other Stories” (Persephone) – I know these short stories will be wonderful.

Nick Baker – “ReWild” – another review copy, for Shiny New Books, about reclaiming our life in the wild places of our immediate world. This will need to be read soon for review.

So, what do you think of my list? 11 fiction and 9 non-fiction, no travel but going to the US and India and around the world on ultramarathons. A book on tech and a book on running and a book on nature. Mid-century women’s writing, the Midlands and a fair dose of feminism. That gives quite a good picture of my reading in general!

Have you read any of these? Are you doing 20BooksOfSummer this year?

Book review – Michael Currinder – “Running Full Tilt”


Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for making this review copy available to me in return for an honest review.

Near to the beginning of this compelling Young Adult novel, Leo and his family move house and Leo has to negotiate a new school, with the usual quotient of jocks and bullies, and some potential friends. There’s a Girl, too, but he’s not sure how to handle himself around her. They are forced to move because Leo’s older brother, Caleb, who lives with autism as well as a range of other non-specified issues, has been causing trouble in the neighbourhood. Now that trouble seems to be centring on Leo, and his parents seem more concerned about scoring points off each other than protecting Leo from the regular beatings he’s experiencing or noticing that he has to literally flee the house on regular occasions.

It did bother me at first that the character with autism was portrayed as violent, however it’s reasonably clear that this violence is more a product of the family dynamics than it is his condition. He’s not understood or supported: the parents are shown as feeling helpless, and they are not the forceful and supportive campaigning types that my friends with children with spectrum disorders tend to be. The author and his character Leo are sensitive in portraying Caleb’s quirks and celebrating his unusual ways of being; and certainly the worth of a new friend is measured by how they handle his questioning. I loved the way his friends from his special class at school were also portrayed, with a range of issues but first and foremost individuals worthy of respect. Leo also extends that respect and support to anyone else a little different, making an enemy on his first day at school when he sees a school caretaker being bullied.

Leo finds an older brother substitute in Curtis, star of the cross-country running team he joins – and I loved the accurate and exciting descriptions of both cross-country and track training and racing (some reviewers have found these bits a little dull:  I found them beautifully accurate, showing the highs and lung-bursting lows so well). The love interest, Mary, is a great character in her own right and I liked Leo’s combination of an ability to ‘read’ Curtis’ moods because he’s studied his brother for so long and inability to deal with Mary’s different ways of interacting with him and, indeed, Caleb.

A sensitive novel and the inevitable crisis feels natural and not forced. It has an understanding of the autistic spectrum and running communities (from what I’ve read about the author, this is semi-autobiographical, so it will be interesting to see what he comes up with next: more running novels, please!). A good read that will stay with me.

Book review – Greg Rutherford – “Unexpected” plus MORE arrivals #amreading #bookconfessions #books


I thought my reading was a bit more under control as normal life reasserts itself, not to mention a fairly healthy work schedule. But I still find myself two reviews behind … and reading two more books (which are taking me a bit longer, so fingers crossed …). Will I be all caught up by the time I post my June TBR photo, and will the TBR be larger or smaller, given that I’ve read more than 20 books this month (hint: oops. But the Pile is definitely smaller). Anyway, here’s Greg, and look how far along he was at the beginning of this month! But also,here are three new arrivals. Again: oops.

Greg Rutherford – “Unexpected”

(12 November 2016 – an impulse click when on sale, I think)

His life story, written with Sean Ingle (who is credited on the title page and gets acknowledgements of his own, in which he thanks his transcribers, so a double win there), opens where it should, with the long jump final at London 2012. It’s described atmospherically and I loved that Greg hung around by the flame after his challenge to watch Mo Farah come in. Then it follows the usual format, although there’s more than standard about his slightly different religious background as a member of a strict Jehovah’s Witness family and community, which saw him not allowed to celebrate Christmas or birthdays and being left with odd ideas about presents. This looks to be what led him to go through a fairly serious amount of rebellion, nothing you would guess from the good guy, ‘I love mediaeval history, me’ persona he puts out now. There was some pretty bad behaviour and a serious drinking habit which lasted longer into his career than I would have imagined, and it’s fair enough that he doesn’t want to gloss over the detail and bad bits as some sports and celebrity bios do, but it’s a bit disappointing in a way. Also, to be fair, he doesn’t come out of it that well and is clearly not proud of himself.

He’s honest and open about his family relationships and some public spats with other athletes and famous figures, but he glosses over the goings-on as people wind down after major sporting events, which is probably done for the sake of protecting others but was a bit of a shame: if you’re going to tell us everything, tell us everything (but then, would I want to know?). The descriptions of his injuries are visceral (sometimes literally) and one episode is not for the faint-hearted, and he explains accurately just what was going on behind that game face and why he performed less well on some occasions. Basically plagued by illness and injury, he’s been strong to keep going; it was sad to read him acknowledge that London 2012 was probably indeed the high point of his career.

The rest of my purchases from the other day arrived in the post this morning and I’m looking forward to getting around in due course to Ben Fogle’s book about searching for an island of his own and Neil Taylor’s history of the Rough Trade record label. But before those will come this absolutely beautiful book – the photo really doesn’t do the tactile and wood-line cover justice – “ReWild: The Art of Returning to Nature” by Nick Baker. The publisher has kindly sent me this one to review for Shiny New Books and it looks so very enticing, doesn’t it.

I’m currently still reading “Banker to the Poor” and “Greatest Hits”, both of which I was also reading two days ago, so maybe I’m finally stemming the flow of reading and reviews … Have you read any of these? Do you like a sporting bio or is that just me?

Book reviews – Jools Holland – “Barefaced Lies and Boogie-Woogie Boasts” and Ronald Rice (ed) – “My Bookstore” plus arrivals #amreading #books


Unfortunately, both of these books were a little disappointing. Unfortunately, coming after the generally humane and lovely Mark Ellen autobiography, Jools Holland came over as really quite slimy, and I should have broken up the Bookstore book rather than reading it in chunks. Neither was bad as such – I finished both of them and I am quite good at putting down books I’m not enjoying, but they were a little underwhelming. Scroll down to see the first tranche of arrivals after my clicking session (and meet-up with the lovely Sian) in the last few days …

Jools Holland – “Barefaced Lies and Boogie-Woogie Boasts”

(4 October 2016 – The Cook Book shop, St Just, Cornwall)

Finally, the last of my Cornwall purchases! His autobiography, written with Harriet Vyner and sounding like his authentic voice (I feel a bit sorry for the transcriber!). There was interesting stuff about Squeeze and his tours and about his TV shows, but it just read very arch and fake-sounding, lots of pompous stuff about lessons learned and making up for things with this book, and a way of putting things that suggests he’s the type of chap who refers to “My good lady wife” or “A pint of your finest pale nectar” in a pub. There’s also quite a lot of name-dropping and then huge crashes into bathos. It’s all patently him and not the fault of the writer. There’s also a fair bit of vomiting described, so a bit of a struggle, all told!

Ronald Rice (ed.) – “My Bookstore”

(29 October 2016 Brierlow Bar Bookstore, Buxton)

An on to the first of my Buxton purchases, I think. Over 80 writers are featured in this compilation of pieces about favourite indie bookshops around the US, which meant that while it was a lovely paean of praise to the indie, a) I hadn’t heard of most of the writers (I think the bookstores themselves were asked to choose their favourite author customer to write about them), b) not many of the pieces could therefore be very long, and c) they got a little bit samey and repetitive, talking about the horror of big box stores and the Kindle, which is fine, except I don’t have an argument with e-books as i) they let me make my own books available at the lowest price point possible and ii) they are invaluable for people with visual impairment. Anyway, it’s a lovely little book with adorable illustrations, and it’s heart-warming to read of all the great book store owners and employees out there. I should have read it interspersed with more other books, I think.

So the first delivery of brand new books has arrived – thank you Bridget for three of these, and Sian for the Bill Drummond one (I now have the challenge to see if I can get further than her through that one!).

A bit of a variety, but I do like to read a variety of books. It’s interesting to see how cover designs are specificed by genre, though, isn’t it.

I’ve finished Greg Rutherford’s autobiography (not as nice as I thought he’d be – wah!) and a fabulous YA novel called “Running Full Tilt” by Michael Currinder, and I’m currently reading Muhammad Yunus’ “Banker to the Poor” about starting the Grameen microfinance bank and another NetGalley win, “Greatest Hits” by Laura Barnett (the jury’s out on that one at the moment …). What are you reading and what have you just finished? Any naughty purchases to confess?

Competition and book acquisition news


Laura Bates Girl Up Win year of no clutterI am so sorry that it took me so long to sort out my competitions to win a copy of Girl Up and Year of No Clutter, after being all excited about setting them up. I get frustrated if I go in for something and then never hear, and I’m sure those who put in for the competitions have done too – so, sorry.

Life got in the way, basically, as it tends to do – I haven’t been well and although that’s now pretty much resolved, energy had to be reserved for working, walking, recovering and a bit of blogging the millions of books that I’ve been reading!

Anyway, the winners (chosen using a random number generator online) are …

Girl Up – Cathy Turner

Year of No Clutter – Rebecca / Bookish Beck

I have dropped both of them an email for their address and will get the books in the post as soon as I’m able.

All that reading has made a huge dent in my TBR and Book Pile, so when a friend and I were swapping birthday presents (we got all out of sync so no wishing me a happy birthday as it was a little while ago), I managed to do a good bit of second-hand and special-offer ordering (plus a sneaky click on a Kindle book) to pick up some stuff I’ve heard about recently and things on my Wish List and have on the way …

Ruby Wax – “A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled” – I need to find a way to keep myself calm and sane apart from running and yoga, as when I can’t do those, for whatever reason, things can feel overwhelming quickly. I trust Ruby Wax to not be too “woo” and to give a sideways glance at stuff, and I know she’s been doing a lot of mental health awareness raising and advocacy, so this seems like a good bet.

Carole Matthews – “Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses” – because she writes very nicely done, light novels and because she’s superb on Facebook.

Angie Thomas – “The Hate U Give” – I keep seeing reviews and mentions of this, touted as the novel to read about BlackLivesMatter. I don’t know as much as I should about black lives in the US and I hope this lauded YA novel will teach me more.

Ben Fogle – “Offshore: An Island of my Own” – because I like islands and this has been on my wish list for ev er.

Amy Levy – The Romance of a Shop” (ebook) – out of copyright so a cheap e-edition, I can’t remember why this was on my wish list but she’s also a Persephone author.

Neil Taylor – “Document and Eyewitness: An Intimate History of Rough Trade” – because I do like a music book, especially one about indie music, and this has been on my wish list for aaaages, too.

I’ve also managed to acquire Bill Drummond’s “45” – he was one of the band, The KLF and my friend Sian got 60 pages in before giving up … a challenge!

Another electronic arrival is “Popular” by Mitch Prinstein – this is a non-fiction book about popularity and likeability in the status-obsessed world of social media, and was provided as some kind of pre-approved pre-link on NetGalley by the publisher! Whoo!

Some of these no doubt will appear on my 20 Books of Summer 2017 list – the only challenge I’m doing this year, because it’s just such fun taking part. A teaser post on 746Books’ blog can be found here.

Have you read any of these? Any recommendations or warnings? Are you doing any challenges this year and how are they going?

Book reviews – Arnaldur Indriðason – “Black Skies” and “Strange Shores” #amreading #books


Well, I’ve actually made it to the end of this series, which I’ve been reading since September 2015. I’m not usually good at reading crime, because I’m basically a giant wuss and can’t cope with Horrible Things. Fortunately, in most of these the violence is off-stage and not too gory. Also, I seem to have a higher tolerance for Horrible Things in Icelandic fiction – I am fine with icky stuff in sagas and other works, e.g. by Laxness, which I would blench at in other nationalities’ books (I have surprised people with my enthusiasm for having stood on the VERY SPOT where Snorri Sturluson was hacked to death, for example). So, I have coped with these where I wouldn’t have coped with other Scandi noir, and I’m very sad that they’re now at an end.

Arnaldur Indriðason – “Black Skies” and “Strange Shores”

(August 2015)

Both of these books are on a simultaneous timeline to that of “Outrage” – while Elinborg is on her mysterious case, Sigurdur Oli is pursuing a case initially privately for a friend in “Black Skies”, although an odd man who has cropped up in “Outrage” and also knows the AWOL Erlendur (busy being AWOL for the events in “Strange Shores”) keeps pestering him with an incoherent and half-formed accusation about an older man.

Sigurdur Oli gets too mixed up in his own case, which had seemed like a simple need for a visit but ends up with him implicated in all sorts of stuff and in trouble with a colleague (fortunately, he manages to get his own back on his over-zealous colleague, which is nice, as he’s always seemed a bit stiff and over-zealous himself). He’s also regretting his break-up with Bergthora and going over that in his mind, even trying to see her a few times.

The main case in “Black Skies” is an interesting one because it’s all tied up with the banking bubble that came just before the financial crisis, and explores the exploitation of Iceland’s banking system, which I hadn’t really understood from inside before. It was also nice to hear about Snaefellsness, a lovely ice-capped area to the north of Reykjavik which we’ve visited. There is a gruesome start to this book which is more about the potential for yuckiness than an actual event – this put me off for a bit, but probably because I was feeling a bit delicate, and once I’d steeled myself for it slightly, it was OK.

“Strange Shores”, as I’ve said, takes place at the same time again, and now we find out why Erlendur is missing (again), and needing to be asked after. He’s gone out East one last time, looking for signs of his lost younger brother, assumed perished in a snowstorm that nearly took Erlendur and his father. This story has arced through pretty well the whole series, so it’s good to dig deeper into it here. He also gets involved in an old mystery, about a woman who was lost in a storm in the 1940s. As he interrogates the very elderly witnesses and also talks to people about the loss of his brother, there’s a very strong sense of last chances, of a way of life which is being lost and a type of person that is going from Iceland.

Interspersed with Erlendur’s two plots are dreamlike sequences of extreme cold and a mysterious visitor which build beautifully towards the conclusion. A really good read, although some challenging parts, and a great end to a very good series.

I’ve read more since these, oh dear – two more finished, but luckily they were both a  bit disappointing so can be reviewed together. I’m part way through Greg Rutherford’s entertaining autobiography, but fear not – I have had a clicky-clicky session today to replenish all the gaps in the TBR, and more books will be arriving soon. How is your May reading? What’s the best series you’ve read?

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