Book review – Susie Dent – “How to Talk Like a Local” plus #20BooksOfSummer update and one confession #amreading


So here’s Book 14 in my #20BooksOfSummer campaign, and just under two-thirds of the way through the time period we have to read our 20 books so I’m OK with being at 14/20, although I’m not reading any 20Books books right now. It’s been a diverse range so far, with six novels and eight works of non-fiction, six by women and eight by men (not the same six and eight) – this will even out with the remaining six, with four by women and two by men, and just the one non-fiction to come.

Susie Dent – “How to Talk Like a Local”

(03 December – from Sian for my BookCrossing Birmingham Not So Secret Santa)

I think this is the last NSS book chosen beautifully from my wishlist, although there are still a fair few Christmas then birthday books to get through. Not such a small book at it appears, with really quite small print, this is a fun look at British dialect words, with separate sections by Simon Elmes about particular regional accents and dialects. I liked the emphasis on new words being formed and older ones spreading and changing meaning and recognised a few from places I’ve lived or people I’ve known from various regions. I was pleased to see “coopy down” for squat, from the South-West, as this is a word I remember my Gran using.

The book does lean a little heavily on Simon Elmes’ “Talking for Britain” and also mentions Carl Chinn’s “Proper Brummie”, both books I’ve read, so not a lot seemed hugely new but it was entertaining.

This was Book 14 in my #20BooksOfSummer challenge.

I popped out to buy some picture frames and came home with some headache pills, a drinking straw dispenser and David Weir, the wheelchair athlete’s biography, as you do … I’ve already shelved it so no pics for a fairly long time, although you’ll get to see my TBR tomorrow.

I’m currently reading, as I mentioned, two non-20Books books. Arriving at the same time, “Run for your Life” is not what I expected, being a whole scheme you have to follow in order to run mindfully and solve all your problems – probably not the right thing to do in the middle of marathon training – and “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” opens on the street I used to live off and has an intelligent knowledge of literature and an engaging story so far. Then it’s on to “Eat and Run” before plunging into Virago and Persephone land for a bit. And you?

Book review – Adam Nicolson – “When God Spoke English” and some book confessions #20booksofsummer #amreading


I’m rattling through those 20BooksOfSummer books although I’m not sure I’ll get all the non-Viragoes done by the end of Monday. I have got a bus journey and post-long-run lolling to do tomorrow, though, so you never know. I popped to the local town centre of Solihull today to buy (oh, the thrills) my special cheese (I found a low-fat, high-protein alternative, should really write about that one day) and Lakeland’s bathroom mould remover (which promised so much and delivered … so much!) but unfortunately the bus stop is by an Oxfam Books and it would have been rude not to, wouldn’t it? Anyway, first a review of an excellent book …

Adam Nicolson – “When God Spoke English”

(01 December 2016 – charity shop)

I bought this when I was supposed to be buying Christmas presents – oopsie. But as I’ve often said, if Nicolson rewrote the phone book, I’d read it – he’s a real go-to author. I must get his latest one about sea birds, although it’s elegaic, apparently.

Anyway, this is a carefully done, impeccably researched and beautifully written history of the creation of the King James Bible. Starting with a vivid account of the accession of James to the throne (how much did you know about him? Me, not so much), we meet the various characters who get involved with the translation, some of whom initially took part in complex negotiations over the direction the church was going to take which motivated this new work. We then get as much detail as is available on the rules of how it was to be done (this was a fascinating chapter), who did it and how it was done, going into detail on some passages and comparing them with the sources and even modern translations. Lastly, there’s some information about the printing (rather haphazard) and selling of the bible and its subsequent revisions.

It’s very big on how different Jacobean thought and society was to ours, with humility sitting next to grandeur and florid decoration exposed by huge plain windows, all steeped in religion like you couldn’t imagine now. He touches on trade, nonconformists and the complex world which all led to rich translations with multiple layers of meaning, most of which are lost now, particularly in modern biblical translations: “The flattening of language is a flattening of meaning”. There’s a lovely sense of the compactness of Jacobean high society, with everyone seemingly linked and busily using those links to gain preferment.

A celebration of a word-obsessed king and a major achievement which has left few records. There are good illustrations of the main characters and a close reading that should satisfy most people.

Note that this has, weirdly, also been published under the titles “Power and Glory. Jacobean England and the Making of the King James Bible” and “God’s Secretaries. The Making of the King James Bible”.

This was Book 13 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

Now onto those confessions.

I didn’t realise until I was taking them to the counter that I’d picked up two books with “Accidental” in the title! However, I have made a bit of a blunder! Lucy Hawking’s “The Accidental Marathon Runner” did seem a little familiar, and yes, I read it in 2009 (review here). So I’m going to have to offer that to fellow reading runners now! One less on the TBR. Vikas Swarup’s “The Accidental Apprentice” is the book he published after what I read as “Q & A” but became “Slumdog Millionaire” so he obviously has a thing about adapting TV shows for books, as this one has a woman plucked from obscurity by a businessman, except she has to clear some hurdles first. It looked like the kind of book Mr Liz might be interested in, and we haven’t done a readalong/listenalong for a while, so …

And here is what I think is the last George Eliot I haven’t yet read! I was (not exactly) famous for only having read “Middlemarch” for years and years – but that over and over again, three or four times. Then a friend gave me a copy of “Daniel Deronda” and it was one of my top ten reads of the year (review here) and then I’ve gradually acquired all of her books and read them – but not forcing the issue (so that I spaced them out) but as I found them. I’ve, of course, loved them all (apart from “The Lifted Veil” but that’s notoriously odd), and you can see all my reviews on this search result here. So, when I spotted this, I couldn’t resist.

Only two added to the TBR, then: all good. Have you acquired recently, or diminished your TBR?

Book review – Farahad Zama – “Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness” #20BooksOfSummer #amreading #books


Another book from my 20 Books of Summer project so I’m getting through them nicely and should reach the target some time in August. I’m deep into marathon training at the moment, which, although it does involve lots of running and yoga, also involves making time to rest and recover properly. This means staying in bed in the early mornings if I don’t HAVE to run upstairs to do work and getting nice early nights with a read first. Good at any time, of course, but necessary, as I learned last time round, for a decent experience in training. Anyway, here’s Book 12 of 20BooksOfSummer, which only has one very short bit of running in it!

Farahad Zama – “Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness”

(05 December 2016 – BookCrossing Birmingham Not So Secret Santa from Sian)

In the fourth book in the Marriage Bureau for Rich People series, we start off with lots of uncomfortable new things – a new imam in the local mosque who seems to be influencing young men to become more devout (where the usual pattern is to  mess around in youth and become more religious in old age), a new pharmacist, a new, devious electricity meter inspector and then, later in the book, news of a road-widening scheme that will affect Mr and Mrs Ali’s house. So far, so unsettling, but stronger powers are at work and things get significantly darker.

An election seems to be stirring up religious arguments in the sleepy and tolerant town in which the book is set, and both extremist Hindus (who fortunately Rehman Ali has infiltrated on behalf of his ex-girlfriend) and militant Muslims at the mosque (including relatives and old friends) get steamed up and agitated about the Alis’ niece, Pari, bringing up her Hindu adopted son, Vasu, even though she wants to keep his connection to his own religion but he also understands Urdu and goes to Muslim festivals. Both want the boy removed and “protected” and things get quite nasty and threatening.

However, all this aggressive and worrying stuff is leavened by the kindness of the Alis’ village relatives and the lovely story of a carefully chosen present among many (Mrs Ali makes very sure that none of her niece Faiz’s sisters-in-law are given saris of the same “absolute or relative worth”: “as much thought had gone into selecting the saris as into any military campaign by Alexander the Great”), which quite literally backfires.

There is hope that all will be resolved through the cleverness of Mrs Ali and the other ladies, playing the protagonists, men of religion and politicians off against each other in a complicated plan that might just work, but you’ll have to read the book to find out (actually, really you need to read all the other books in the series before this one – it would just about work as a standalone but is much richer seen as part of its series). It’s a warm and charming, but deeper than it appears, novel of modern India which doesn’t shy away from issues but doesn’t describe anything horrible.

This Book 12 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

I have finished Book 13, as well – Adam Nicolson’s “When God Spoke English” – so look out for that review on Sunday. I have two more I want to fit in this month: Scott Jurek’s “Eat and Run” and Susie Dent’s “How to Talk Like a Local”, before I have a clear run of Persephones and Viragoes next month. I’m reading “Run for your Life” at the moment, but it’s more of a specified mindfulness programme and less a book about general mindfulness and running, so I’m not sure and might put it aside. What are you up to this rainy July?

Book review – Miriam Toews – “A Boy of Good Breeding” #20BooksOfSummer #amreading


Well I have got on track with 2o Books of Summer again but appear to be reading or reviewing three books for it at the same time – this one won, and I’m also reading “When God Spoke English”, which is quite involved but very good, and “Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness” which goes deeper than you might expect and is unputdownable, so will probably beat the Adam Nicolson book to completion, too. I am enjoying the breadth of books I’m reading for the challenge and hope to complete all the non-Virago and Persephone ones this month so I can concentrate on those next – they are quite varied so I won’t get bored reading from the same publisher. See my 20 Books of Summer list here.

Miriam Toews – “A Boy of Good Breeding”

(05 December 2016 – from Sian for my BookCrossing Birmingham Not So Secret Santa)

Yay – I’m on to books from December so only 8 months behind … but December and January always take up a disproportionate amount of my TBR, what with Christmas, birthday and the odd book-buying expedition.

In this engaging novel, Hosea Funk is the mayor of Algren, a town with around 1,500 inhabitants. This number is important, because it makes it a candidate for being the smallest town in Canada, and thus attracting a visit from the Prime Minster. Not only that, but Hosea, a man with a mysterious background, believes he has a link to the PM and daydreams about him appearing in the town. So Hosea won’t let his girlfriend move in, hovers around the hospital, annoying the only doctor and panicking about triplets, not actively wanting people to die but … And he gets stressed when his old friend Tom’s daughter Knute moves back to town with her daughter, Summer Feelin’.

Knute’s trying to deal with her anxious mother, poorly father and oddly behaving daughter (she flaps and tics; she’s quite plainly on the autistic spectrum but is accepted and encouraged to accept herself for who she is, which is a nice touch) and the reappearance of Summer Feelin’s dad [there should be two apostrophes there but I can’t do it!], maybe a deadbeat, maybe not.

I loved the portrait of small-town life, where everyone knows everyone else, of peripheral characters like the man who wants to be fire chief but is always having his farm moved out of the town’s borders (but is very much not a comic character, with his own dark back-story) and Tom and Hosea’s long and taken-for-granted friendship. Although there are some slightly icky sections which I had to skim, this is a warm-hearted and endearing read.

This was Book 11 in my #20BooksOfSummer project

What are you reading? What’s the best book you’ve read this summer so far?

Book review – Alexandra Heminsley – “Running Like a Girl” #amreading #amrunning #books @hemmo


Running Like a GirlMy friend Cari very kindly sent this book over from America for me (we used to swap books on travel: she travelled, I didn’t much. Now it’s all about the running, for both of us. Hooray!). So I was in the odd position of reading a book about running in the UK by a UK author but in the American edition – lucky not too traumatic as there were just a few figures in dollars to cope with. I love the fact that she states that she asked for the book not to have a pink cover, and this will join my recommendation list for certain. Read on to find out how I’m getting on with #20BooksOfSummer, having gone off-list for a few books …

Alexandra Heminsley – “Running Like a Girl”

(13 July 2017 via BookCrossing)

A practical, inspiring and honest book about the author’s decision to take up running and what happened next, including the horror of that first run (it doesn’t have to be horrible, but so many people go and fling themselves around the block, exhaust themselves and give up, so it is accurate!), the fears (will I fall over in front of people? will I have another kind of accident in the middle of a race? Yup, those fears that we all have), the exhilaration when it clicks, the increase in self-esteem and obsession with kit and all the psychological highs and lows in both training and races.

I could identify with so much of her experiences – I was reading about marathon running thinking, “No, I didn’t have that in mine,” but then thought of various horrible struggle-filled halves and 10ks before I realised distance is my thing and yoga is my friend. I particularly liked her mention of the murderous rage engendered by a stray wisp of hair – I did think that one was only me! She shares some lovely stories, too – it’s by all means not all doom and murderous rage, and I loved her new relationship with her dad, himself an old-school runner with memories of only having lucozade tablets for fuel before all the fancy stuff came in. And I welled up a few times, as I usually do when reading running books.

After the narrative about learning to run, being supported and supporting others, and the lovely stories of people met during races (including the Midlands’ own Blind Dave – very exciting to see him mentioned!), there’s a very useful section, still written attractively and in a really friendly way, about the theory stuff – how to cope with a running shoe shop (to be fair on the ones I go to in Birmingham, they’re all very good and approachable), a bit on injuries, and the secrets to happy running and how long she ignored each one for!

As an experienced runner, I read this with shouts of agreement and shared pain and joy. It would be interesting to see what a brand-new runner makes of it: would they be put off by the horrible bits or has she got the balance right (I suspect she has) between true tales and inspiration? She certainly makes you feel that anyone can take up running, and that’s got to be good! Definitely joining my recommended reads list.

You can read about my own marathon experience here, if you wish. I’m currently beautifully back on track with #20BooksOfSummer – I’m reading Book 11, Adam Nicolson’s “When God Spoke English”, a charming, erudite and witty book about the life and times of the King James Bible, and in in Book 12 in (very) small-town Canada with Miriam Toews’ “A Boy of Good Breeding” which is marvellous so far, full of memorable characters. What a good pairing this is turning out to be. How are you doing with your reading challenges?

Book confessions and a book I can’t review yet! #amreading #books


I’ve just finished reading Marian Keyes’ newest novel, “The Break”, acquired from the publisher via NetGalley, but although I can submit my review via NetGalley, I’m not allowed to review it on here until a week before publication – which means 31 August! So here are some nice new acquisitions. Because I never said I was on a break from buying books, did I?

The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts

Hope you’re liking the glimpses of our new duvet cover here. I had to buy this one, “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” (honest, guv), because I won the sequel, “True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop” from NetGalley, of course not realising it WAS a sequel until it was too late. Oopsie. I really do not like reading the second book in a series first, so I got this on Amazon marketplace (it seems to be unread) and will have to zip through it first. It looks a little lighter than most of the books I read except by favoured authors, but has good reviews. Anyone read it?


This one is the fault of a Runner’s Bookshelf group I’m in on Facebook, which basically consists of wicked people recommending running books to each other. It’s even teal-coloured, which is totally the club colour of the other running club in South Birmingham – shocking! Anyway, I love the tactile cover and am interested in the way it seems to solidify the good mental health benefits of running. As I’m now an England Athletics Mental Health Ambassador (along with two clubmates) and helping with a Run and Talk event started by the two MHAs at our sister club, I’m hoping this will give me some good ideas about active listening, etc. I note there are worksheets, however – shudder!

So there we go. One book I can’t talk about and two I will get round to reading before they would get to the top of the TBR under normal circs. A shocking way to go about things, right?!

Book reviews – John-Paul Flintoff – “Sew Your Own” and Veronica Stallwood – “Oxford Mourning” #20booksofsummer #amreading


Two books today as one of the reviews is a very short one that doesn’t really need a post of its own. I’m half-way through the 20BooksOfSummer project now, having completed Book 10 on 15 July (slightly less than half-way through the time span, as it finishes on 4 September). So although I’m not reading anything from the project right now, I feel reasonably confident I’ll achieve the goal. One little naughty confession too, but it doesn’t count …

John-Paul Flintoff – “Sew Your Own”

(19 November 2016)

A book claiming to detail one man’s attempt to survive the global economic meltdown and address inequality, it was a bit more episodic and chaotic than I’d have expected, had I not seen some reviews saying it was quite disjointed. I sort of assumed it was a collection of columns from a newspaper or something, and the short chapters made it easy to read.

He starts off in a posh suit shop getting measured for a tailored suit and ends up making his own clothes, all fired up by the idea that we’ve all become both dependent and oblivious, unable to look after ourselves of imagine what goes on behind the scenes to provide our power, etc., so not really working to keep energy use down, etc. He references other “quest” types like Danny Wallace and AJ Jacobs, which is nice, taking inspiration from them, although they tend to be single issue at a time people and his explorations are a mish-mash of recycling, making clothes, disposing of rats and looking into religions.

He does share some good and practical ideas (smile at a teen in a hoodie, plant a guerrilla garden) and shockingly joins the Tories for a bit. He does try to meet politicians with small and big Ps as well as representatives of different religions, although he doesn’t really come to any conclusions apart from most politicians bringing things round to themselves and the Quakers being the most restful religious group. His reporter job comes in handy, as a lot of the insights he gains from people come from interviews with them, though this undermined it a little for me, as he was able to use this access rather than gaining it for himself, if that makes sense? I also got stupidly annoyed that he assumes no reader has heard of musician and artist Billy Childish except in relation to Tracey Emin, because this reader had!

So: entertaining and a bit thought-provoking but disjointed. I loved the column supposedly written by his wife about living with such a paragon and his striving to be good!

This was Book 10 in my 2oBooksOfSummer project.

Veronica Stallwood – “Oxford Mourning”

(19 November 2016)

I’d previously enjoyed “Oxford Exit” in the same series, with its novelist main character and Oxford academic setting. But this one didn’t really do it for me – the main character is unlikeable, the plot didn’t resolve very well and there was a gift of a cat at the end, which means something horrible will happen to it in a subsequent book. So I’m going to stop looking out for books in this series, which is a shame, as the first one was good.

I’m currently reading Marian Keyes’ new novel, “The Break” which isn’t out until NOVEMBER but I got via NetGalley. Very exciting. I’m apparently not allowed to review it on here until a week before publication, but can review it on NetGalley, so will do that and set up a scheduled post on here that I’m bound to forget about.

Running Like a GirlAnd that confession – well, my lovely BookCrossing friend Cari, who I’ve known for over a decade and shared many books with, has recently started running and bought this book to read. She kindly sent it to me, so I now have a very clearly American edition of a British book, which I think is quite cool. I have just the person to pass it on to, and will therefore promote this up to the TBR pile so I can get it to them before the next running club 5k and Beyond group starts up.

How are you doing with 20 Books of Summer, if you’re doing it? What are you reading at the moment?


Book review – Nick Baker – “Rewild” @shinynewbooks #amreading #20BooksOfSummer


My reviews have got a little out of order, I’m afraid, because books I review for Shiny New Books have a necessary gap between reading and reviewing which is (usually) slightly longer than the gap on here. So, this was #20BooksOfSummer Book 7 and apart from being a really difficult book to photograph (the cover is meant to look like bark and then it has shiny wording – however you take the photograph it shines weirdly!) it was a very, very good read indeed, and hugely inspiring.

Here’s an excerpt from my review on the Shiny website – to read more, follow this link.

The book gives practical tools and tips for how to, for example, navigate a moonlit walk (did you know how long it takes your eyes to adjust to the dark?) or walk more quietly (not necessarily barefoot), backing it up with his own examples (watching badgers and being surprised by a Masai tracker creeping up on him, respectively) and also the science behind it (rods and cones explain why it takes your eyes that long, and the bare foot has many nerves and receptors).

… He makes it very clear that these skills are not special ones that we need to learn, but innate abilities we simply need to relearn; that our bodies and brains are set up to be able to do this stuff. (read more)

I’ve just finished reading Book 10, John-Paul Flintoff’s slightly patchy “Sew Your Own”, which will be reviewed next, as Book 9, Stuart Maconie’s excellent “Road from Jarrow” was also reviewed for Shiny and isn’t out quite yet. Anyway, as I’m just under half way through the 20 Books period, I’m keeping up nicely and on track. Having said that, I couldn’t wait to red Marian Keyes’ new book, “The Break” from NetGalley, so I’m currently on that and another non-20 Books read.

How are you getting on? Do you fancy a midnight walk?

Book reviews on a Cornish mini-trip: Samantha Tonge – Breakfast under a Cornish Sun”, Liz Fenwick – “A Cornish Stranger” #amreading #books


Two books from the Terrible Tottering Pile (not quite so terrible now) which are Cornwall-themed, were read on the way to and in Cornwall, and were LEFT in Cornwall. It was the annual gathering of the photo-a-day group I’m in, and I and a few local friends travelled down for a long weekend, two of us on the train together. We stayed in St Austell and had a lift to and from the party from a lovely woman from the group; didn’t see much of St. Austell but it was a pleasant stay (the Whitbread Inn attached to our hotel fried everything in rapeseed oil so I could treat myself to a fish and chips dinner and two cooked breakfasts!) and a lovely party. I read the first book on the train down and at the hotel, and the second one at the hotel, finishing it in a bit of a rush as I really wanted to leave it on the book table at the party …

Samantha Tonge – “Breakfast Under a Cornish Sun”

(03 June 2017 – Oxfam Books)

Bought on my naughty trip to Oxfam last month, on purpose to read on the way to Cornwall (so it didn’t count – right??). A very light novel, even thought it tries to deal with Issues, too. Kate is trying to get over the loss of her boyfriend and grabs the chance of a Cornwall trip with her boss/friend Izzy. She’s near her Gran down there, and also thinks she has more of a chance of meeting the Ross Poldark-alike she’s rashly promised to bring to her frenemy’s upcoming wedding (also in Cornwall). But the holiday park they get a good deal on is run down and the owners sad. What can business-minded Izzy and creative Kate do to help?

There’s a nice range of characters in the book, of mixed ages and races, but I wasn’t really invested enough in Kate to catch her grief. There are a few stand-out comedy moments, or so I noted in my review done at the time,  but I’m now struggling to remember them – this could be due to my slabs of reading over the weekend, however – and I did like all the clear detail on how they tried to turn the holiday camp around, but the serious themes in these books often seem like they’re there because they are supposed to be, and while the plot did work, it was a  bit jarring between comedy and tragedy, with a bit of detecting coming in, too. It did keep me reading to the end and is a pleasant holiday read.

Liz Fenwick – “A Cornish Stranger”

(18 June 2017 – The Works)

Another naughty June purchase, this is a denser and more well-written (or should that just be literarily-written?) and complex story that would appeal to lovers of Mary Wesley and Rosamund Pilcher, although some of the content is a little stronger and more modern than either of those older writers.

When Gabe comes to Cornwall to look after her ailing grandmother Jaunty, she expects to spend her time holed up in the secluded cabin where Jaunty has lived for years, working on her jingle composing job. She doesn’t expect a handsome stranger to (literally) wash up in the creek, or for him to weave himself so tightly into their lives.

It’s a close-knit community and the writing of this part was the most attractive aspect of the book for me. Gabe can’t help but get drawn in to the community again, and maybe she’ll even sing in public again one day; they treat her music as just part of life, in the same way as her grandmother’s internationally renowned art is.

Meanwhile, Jaunty is scribbling her life story on scraps of paper – will she be able to explain everything to Gabe before it’s too late, and has she trusted her secrets to the right person? Moreover, can they both trust the stranger they saved from a sea that has taken too many others?

It’s well done, but there’s an odd obsession with one male character’s flamboyant waistcoats that seemed to go nowhere (unless he was a roman a clef character or one written in after winning a competition to be included – I didn’t get round to reading the back matter so am not sure) and was definitely odd. And I was a bit disappointed by the ending; although it tied in with aspects of Jaunty’s life herself, it seemed to let the central characters of the book down a bit. But as I say, I did read it quickly so might have missed some of the subtleties. I liked this enough that I will definitely read the other of her books I have on the Pile.

Neither of those books was a #20BooksOfSummer read, even though they were read in the summer and set in the summer. But I started Stuart Maconie’s “The Long Road from Jarrow” on the way home from Cornwall and am 75% of the way through it at the moment, and that’s Book 9 (and I believe my review of “ReWild”, Book 8, will be up on Shiny New Books this week.

How is your summer reading going? Do you like to match a book or two to your destination when you travel?

Book review – Francis Brett Young – “The Black Diamond” #20BooksOfSummer


Another one ticked off the #20BooksOfSummer list – number 8, although if you’re wondering where number 7 has gone, that was Nick Baker’s “ReWild” which was read specifically to review for Shiny New Books. Like my short review of “Popular“, it will therefore appear on here when the review is published on Shiny, so out of order with the numbering. We can cope with that, right? This Francis Brett Young book, and I do always love a book with a map in the front, don’t you? was a magical find outside Any Amount of Books on the Charing Cross Road, just £1 on that lovely November London book-buying trip I took (I might be at the end of those now, although one Icelandic one on my Pile also came from there).

Francis Brett Young – “The Black Diamond”

(Any Amount of Books, 19 November 2016)

A long drama set mainly in the Welsh borders but starting in the mining communities of the Black Country, this Hardyesque tale of fate and social issues takes us through the early life of Abner Fellows. Starting as a miner as soon as he’s old enough, he’s given a cushy job when he shows talent as a footballer, then loses out when he refuses to throw a match. All through the book there’s a strong theme of how being in or out of favour with the bosses and upper classes has a huge role to play in the lives of ordinary people, coupled with the wider chorus of the rest of the general population, moved to be divided and conquered and to concentrate on their own petty disagreements and being used to maintain the status quo through disapproval and common acting.

Abner has some standards, for example in matters of football, and if he makes a promise to a friend, he does endeavour to keep it, but although he’s frequently mentioned as being physically attractive, I don’t find him a morally attractive character, as he’s a bit of a chancer. But is this a role he’s forced into by his masters? His care for – and subsequent loss of – his dog (there is a second dog, which survives, for anyone concerned) maybe contributes to his difficult nature, if I’m being generous.

But the book is more than a portrait of one flawed man. Its contribution lies in its attention to societal issues, its recording of the building of Birmingham’s Elan Valley reservoir (this crops up a lot in his books and I also noted a reference to the hamlet of Far Forest, the setting for another of his novels), and careful and lyrical description of the physical world of the Welsh borders. I also liked the description of his senses all being super-aware during a midnight poaching session, as I was reading about how the senses work in the dark in “ReWild” at the time – a nice overlap.

Does Abner get his just deserts at the end of this sometimes exciting but sometimes slow, slightly uneven novel? He does achieve a freedom of sorts ….

This wasn’t my favourite of FBY’s novels, which are still “Far Forest” and “This Little World“, even “White Ladies“, read quite recently, but it was a fine read.

This was number 8 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

I’m reading “Oxford Mourning”, a light crime novel, and about to start Stuart Maconie’s “Long Road from Jarrow”, only one of which is a #20Books read. What are you up to reading-wise?

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