Book review – Mitch Prinstein – “Popular” @ShinyNewBooks #amreading #20BooksOfSummer


I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley and have reviewed it for the lovely book review newsletter, Shiny New Books – do pop over and have a look at some other reviews there, too! Here’s an extract from my review, and you can see the full thing over at the Shiny site – just click on the “read more” link at the bottom.

“Prinstein’s basic tenets in this book are that popularity as such only starts to become a big issue in adolescence; how popular you are in your adolescence can form the basis of how popular you’ll be in later life; and being Unpopular can put you at risk of all sorts of health issues and later-life problems, both mental and physical. So far, so depressing. I’m not sure, but I’d like to bet that those of us who were in the less popular segment at school are probably the more likely ones to be picking this book up. So does Prinstein doom us to a life of the same status we had at school (shudder!)?

Not exactly (thank you!). Because it turns out there is more than one kind of popularity, and the ones all those Homecoming Queens and jocks had isn’t always going to carry through into brilliant times for the rest of their lives. So that’s OK, then. And there are also ways in which you can “fake it till you make it,” i.e. mimic the behaviours of the truly likeable until you become more so yourself …”

[read more]

This was Book 2 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

Book review – Natasha Solomons – “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands” #20Booksofsummer #amreading


Pushing on after my reviewing slump, I’m having a catch-up so expect a few posts (though there’ll be a mid-week break while I catch up my business blog, currently in the middle of a series about dealing with spam, if you’re at all interested). I’m reading two fabulous books at the moment, so this horrendous sight is diminishing almost as I write this! Even better, they are Books 7 and 8 in my #20BooksOfSummer project, which means I’m keeping nicely up to date with it and won’t have a terrible scramble at the end of August. This one, Book 5, is from the lovely Luci again, at our LibraryThing mini-meet and book buy, back in November.

Natasha Solomons – “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands”

(19 November 2016, from Luci)

Set (or starting) in the 1960s, we follow the story of Juliet Montague, a woman both married and not married living in a conservative Jewish community which holds conforming in the highest regard. Her husband left here a few years ago, but having a husband who’s disappears brings with it an embarrassing and awkward half-status and Juliet feels half-alive as a consequence. Accidentally falling in with a group of artists, she forges her own way in life – daring to be different and even going on a road trip in the US. But can she ever really escape her origins? She remains slightly outside the riotous 60s life, allowing us to observe it from the outside and the inside, and her community, where she still returns to lay her head, sums her up thus: “She was polite but there was pertness in her gaze”.

This was a good read, but I felt that the author was maybe slightly too keen on her subject – unsurprisingly, if you look at the note about her inspiration for her book – she never really comes wholly alive for me, perhaps because she’s a representative cipher and nothing is really allowed to be negative about her. I also felt it suffered a bit in the latter stages from rushing to update us on all the characters. The different tracks of her children’s lives are interesting, as is her daughter’s rebellion in the only way she can find to shock her mother. And I do like the idea of all the portraits of this fairly ordinary woman lining her stairs. Another point in its favour is that it didn’t end as I started to fear it would.

This was Book 5 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

So I’m loving both Francis Brett Young’s “Black Diamond” and “ReWilding”, which I started to leaf through then couldn’t put down. The latter is being reviewed for Shiny New Books but I’ll make sure I do a summary and a link here so you can all find it easily.

Book review – Barbara Taylor, “Eve and the New Jerusalem” #20booksofsummer #amreading


I’ll admit here that I’ve had a bit of a blogging slump – I haven’t posted since Monday, I think (did anyone notice, though?) and have got into that cycle one gets into of “Does anyone care what I read anyway,” etc. All very tedious. I’ve slipped behind with my blog reading, too – not because I don’t care but just I think because I’ve got out of the habit of keeping my life ordered and under control, with house chores slipping around all over the place etc., since I’ve tried to come back to full arrangements now my medical issues seem fully resolved. Anyway, here’s a book I finished a while ago, and I’ll annoyingly be scrambling to catch up again now as I’ve finished two more since then!

Barbara Taylor – “Eve and the New Jerusalem”

(19 November 2016 – from Luci’s generous book bags at our London meetup)

As the subtitle is “Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century,” I thought it was going to be more about the late part of the century and the New Woman, but in fact it’s very specifically about Owenism in the 1830s to 1840s. This was a movemenbt which looked to create a new world order based in part (though more on the part of the followers than the founder) on sex equality and marriage reform, with a more standard emphasis on communal property and communities of believers (or should I say non-believers, as I understand it to be quite anti-established-religion?).

There were plenty of women providing voices and role models in the movement and more writing in to its newspaper, and the author works well with the primary sources – it’s a classic bit of 1980s feminist history work, which made me quite nostalgic for my university days just as Women’s Studies was fading out a bit. It’s great also great at setting the movement within its context, both in terms of the history of feminist and socialist writing extending from the 1790s and in terms of the anti-Jacobin suppression by organised religion of those movements and then also the suppression by “Victorian values” which quashed Owenism in the end, too.

There’s a good understanding of double or mixed standards and tensions within the movement and society, with working class families supporting the movement and an awareness that in fact women were tied not so much by marriage as by maternity. A careful and thorough work, even if it wasn’t quite what I expected.

This was Book 4 of my #20BooksOfSummer

I’m about to start “Rewilding” about getting back to nature, and “The Black Diamond” in case I don’t fancy returning to nature over the breakfast table, having read “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands” and “Something Wholesale”. And I’ll read your blog posts soon, if you’re someone I usually read!

Book review – Helen Mitsios – “Out of the Blue” #20booksofsummer #amreading


At last some progress on my #20BooksOfSummer project – I’ve read number 2 and submitted my review to Shiny New Books and will post here when that goes live, so you’ll just have to believe I’ve read that one (it was Mitch Prinstein’s “Popular”) and move on to Book 3. This was a swap for “Old Filth” which I’ve discovered I still just don’t want to read – fortunately, I had a few books waiting around I could swap, and this was the earliest published on my NetGalley list so got to hop into its place. Now, read on to marvel at a massive assumption I made about books by Icelandic authors …

Helen Mitsios – “Out of the Blue”

(E-book 8 June 2017)

Thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley for making this book available in return for an honest review.

This is a collection of Icelandic short fiction, I’m assuming fairly new pieces. I  was initially surprised to encounter Icelanders on summer holidays in Europe, on the beach and so forth! All the other Icelandic fiction I’ve read so far has only ventured as far as other Scandinavian countries, and so it was interesting to read about Icelandic folk in these places.

Some of the stories were a little bit gruesome or unpleasant – but I was expecting more of this and there certainly wasn’t any of the deeply bloody Scandi-noir you find in so many of the novels – an Unpleasantness or two, one for comic effect, and certainly not what I’d call gratuitous (there is a sad pet bit, in the Raven story, so you might want to avoid that one). Some  other stories were dreamy and a bit surreal, which I would expect.

I particularly liked the incursion of Icelandic texts into the stories, especially in “Afternoon by the Pacific Ocean” by Kristin Omarsdottir, which sees Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo curling up to read Egill’s Saga to one another! There are also surprising twists and funny or heart-wrenching endings and outcomes, and I particularly liked the clever very short piece, “A Pen Changes Hands” by Oskar Arni Oskarsson. As a whole, I think the collection gives a good overview of the range of Icelandic writing, and it’s also full of the ironic, deadpan style I’ve liked from the sagas through Laxness to modern novels.

This was Book 3 in my #2oBooksOfSummer project 2017.

I’ve read Book 4 and I’m currently on Book 5, Natasha Solomon’s “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands”, which is just starting to hot up. How are you getting on if you’re doing the challenge?

Book review – Dean Karnazes – “The Road to Sparta” and final book confessions (for now) #amreading #books #bookhaul


I think the final two books from my ordering frenzy have now appeared … Well, I typed that yesterday and then today I got the bus that I have to get off half way up the high street, and found myself in The Works … the only word I can say really is “Oops”. Photos below, but do read the review first as it was in interesting read.

Dean Karnazes – “The Road to Sparta”

(bought 16 June 2016 so I could join in the Runners’ Bookshelf June read)

Karnazes has already published a few books on ultra-running, which I haven’t yet read, so here we get a potted history of why he took up the sport and how he has progressed to being a bit of a celebrity in the field. This book is mainly about his embracing of his Greek heritage and attempt to run the incredibly gruelling Spartathlon (fortunately, this run that takes in the path of the first marathon runner has off-road bits, horrible hill climbing and really strict cut-offs, so not something I’d ever consider attempting). He also attempts to bring the story of Pheidippides, that original marathon runner, to life and explain just what his achievement really was, as he feels this has got lost in history written by people who don’t understand (ultra) running.

Although lots of people have mixed history with “in the footsteps” books, they have usually been historians first, and some of the historical writing does feel a little bit clunky – but bravely done, with his heart and soul put into it, and he’s clear where he veers off into conjecture. He has a bit of a flowery writing style, too, which reads sometimes more like a talking style, but that’s easy enough to get into.

One thing I was surprised by was that he wasn’t as arrogant as I’d expected (I don’t know why I expected that, just from his exploits, I suppose, as every ultra-runner I’ve known or met has been very nice). He’s pretty self-effacing and humble, and he talks about being dyslexic, even “not that bright” and with not-great people skills: he manages to be very engaging in his book for all that (it’s worth mentioning here that I don’t feel his writing style is indicative of his dyslexia at all, but I wonder if he worked with recording his words first, hence the similarity to spoken language). He’s suitably grateful to the people who support races and respectful of his fellow runners, which is typical of most runners but lovely to read.

The book’s also funny – for example when he signs up (alone) for a 199 mile relay race in order to get the distance in, wondering whether the organisers will be confused by every member of the team having the same name. He runs a marathon in a toga, just to see what it’s like, and gets some interesting chafing. He also admits his errors, running on empty and not doing basic self-care routines during Spartathlon, but mentioning that this is hypocritical, as it’s something he tells newbie runners firmly not to do!

Exciting and engaging, the book winds up with a description of the end of the race (though has he run all the way himself?) which involves being given a wreath and touching a statue, so not your usual race finish! He has some true things to say about how even the marathon winkles out your weaknesses, and I will certainly be picking up his other books.


On to these last purchases. This one was down to some awful, wicked recommendation in a Runners’ Bookshelf group I belong to. It’s about the neuroscience of sport, looking at elites but also how you can apply some of the learning to the amateur athlete. Well, I can’t resist a running book, can I?

While we’re here, I appear to have developed some more NetGalley books (I’ve lost my 80% reviewed badge for the time being, because I have got a few TBR now and haven’t read enough to make myself stay in that 80% category if I add too many new ones).

“The Gender Agenda” by James Millar and Ros Ball is about the new gender issues that have become more visible recently. Danzy Senna wrote a novel called “From Caucasia with Love” which I adored years ago and has come up with a new novel, “New People”. Joshua Clark Davis has written “From Head Shops to Whole Foods” about the changing face of activist entrepreneurs, Marta McDowell’s “The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder” looks fascinating although I have to read it on my PC in a weird format (grr) and finally Debbie Macomber’s publishers got in touch with an automatically approved offer of her new one, “Any Dream will Do” (cue earworm). What’s a girl to do??

And this is a new one by the lovely Paul Magrs – if you enjoyed his Brenda and Effie series, you won’t want to miss this one, about a group of authors in 1930s Oxford (remind you of anyone in particular?) and their elusive servant, Brenda … I will NOT be able to control myself and will end up reading this before it reaches the top of the TBR, I just know it.

I then had the aforementioned issue in The Works and had one last fling with book buying for the foreseeable future. Well, a Debbie Macomber I hadn’t seen before, another Cornwall book (I’ve got two nights there and two long train journeys …) and one about a MOBILE LIBRARY … you see my problem.

Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings mentioned the other day that she’d love to see a photo of the TBR in its current, horrendous state, so here’s a special photo just for her. No one else can even SEE it, right?

And yes, it’s double-stacked, and the back row goes all the way behind the Pile. I don’t think this is the actual worst it’s ever been, but incomings have been much higher than outgoings just recently …

In final news, I’ve had a swap around already in my #20BooksOfSummer list. I just couldn’t face Jane Gardam’s “Old Filth” as I just don’t want to read about ageing and crumbling at a time when I’ve been doing just that! So I have swapped in an e-book I recently won on NetGalley called “Out of the Blue”, edited by Helen Mitsios, which is new short stories from Icelandic writers. Exciting (and I’ve had a lazy Sunday and have read it already – review tomorrow!).

Even more acquisitions! #books #bookhaul


I don’t normally do just a book haul post, but I didn’t want to mix this up with yesterday’s review (I like to review books publishers have sent me without distracting details) and I do like to keep up to date! I kind of fell into The Works on the way back home from volunteering at parkrun on Saturday and this happened. First of all, yes, I know this is not a book. I am a bit obsessed with jigsaw puzzles and, indeed, fear I have nowhere to store this one. I wanted to buy this when I was unwell last month; a 500 piece puzzle doesn’t normally last me long enough. Given that it’s of Cadenabbia on Lake Como in northern Italy and given that I have “Madame Solario” on my 20BooksofSummer list, which is set there, I thought I’d better do the decent thing and buy the puzzle to do when I’m reading the book! There’s a plan!

And so to the books. And look – our new duvet set – hooray! Anyway, I’m off to Cornwall for a weekend with the Project 365 photography group I belong to, in about a month – it’s a long train journey and I thought it would be a lovely idea to take some books set in Cornwall, read them on the train down then share them at the party (people with a good memory will recall that I bought “Breakfast Under a Cornish Sun” a few days ago). Those two have joined the Pile, so aren’t really on the TBR (so don’t count …?).

Then we have “Deep South” by Paul Theroux – he’s someone whose travel books I will always read, and I hadn’t realised he’d done one about the southern states of America, so that’s perfect. And William Sitwell’s “Eggs and Anarchy” is about the people responsible for food rationing and communicating about it in Word War II, which also fits my collection policy well, so is totally OK. I think Sitwell is the grandson of Sacheverell Sitwell, brother of Osbert and Edith, too!

I need to stop now, though, don’t I. I am not photographing the current state of my TBR for (wo)man nor beast …

Book review – Elizabeth Fair – “Landscape in Sunlight” (Furrowed Middlebrow) @DeanStPress #amreading


I’m slowly working my way through Elizabeth Fair’s novels, which have been kindly supplied to me by Dean Street Press in their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint. I’ve previously read “Seaview House” and “A Winter Away“; I’d say this is more gentle than either of those, but a really lovely read still. I also share some MORE acquisitions tomorrow, which arrived over the weekend (oops – not oops). Thank you, Dean Street Press for this lovely read!

Elizabeth Fair – “Landscape in Sunlight”

(21 February 2017 ebook)

In this very gentle book on village life a few years after the second world war, we get a feeling of not much change, of a few newcomers to the village bedding in (or maybe not) and of the seasons of tennis when the lawn dries out enough and the Church fete carrying on as before. This would have been reassuring at the time it was published, in 1953, and is reassuring now, especially in uncertain times. A bit of escapism is no bad thing, and well-written escapism into characters you can enjoy and their varied relationships is, in my opinion, a Very Good Thing to have.

We are introduced to the main families in the village in turn – the Custances, made up of the absent-minded vicar, his wife, a woman of uncertain temper and sudden dislikes, and their daughter Cassandra, who they’ve probably kept with them too long and who doesn’t care for make-up and men; the Temples, brother and sister raising their niece and nephews, and various relatives associated with them; the Midges, a too-close mother and son combo; and the Brighams at the Manor House, George desperate to make some money and therefore going into trade, to the horror of his father.

All of the older characters have their ways and eccentricities, Mrs Custance with her ability to mend anything mechanical, Eustace Templer with his fear of scorpions and hatred of artists, and there’s a clutch of other odd characters in the village, all watching each other’s affairs. There’s a tension between the houses, with Cassandra working as a governess at the Templers’ and forced to stay there when her parents are made to go on holiday, and George Brigham at the Manor, formally intimate with the other families, being in some kind of exile following an ill-judged engagement.

Matters coalesce around the most perfectly observed and awkward picnic ever, complete with a self-proclaimed jolly chap falling into the sandwiches, and the Church Fete, highlight of Mrs Custance’s year and driven on by her into a kind of obsession for everyone, and featuring lots of hard work, imagined grievances and Unfortunatenesses. It is a very gentle, Miss Read kind of read (or Angela Thirkell without the snobbishness and odd children), with great character observation and lots going on under the surface; you will root for a happy ending among all the misunderstandings.

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