“The Sandcastle” round-up and “The Bell” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch


Welcome to the new #IMReadalong update, where we’ll have a quick update on “The Sandcastle” and then move on to “The Bell”, which is probably my most-read Murdoch (which is yours? I’d love to know!).

“The Sandcastle”

I’ve had some good and interesting comments on my own review of this one (read it and the comments here). I know at least one person who is reading along plans to post a review soon, and as I’ve said, it’s absolutely fine to post reviews and comments after the month in question; it’s helpful if you can let me know about your own blog posts and Goodreads etc. reviews, either by posting a link in the comments on my review here or by linking to my review in yours.

Jo has posted an excellent long review on Goodreads (with any spoilers cleverly hidden) and Liz has also posted a review on Goodreads with interesting thoughts on the point of view. Buried in Print reviewed it along with “Under the Net” (read it here), with some great covers.

I’ll add more links if any come in in the meantime. If you have comments to make or links to blog posts to post, you can put them here or (better still) on the review. As well as my lovely first edition with this adorable back cover, I have three paperback copies of “The Sandcastle”, seen below. If you have any covers to share of these or any others of the novels, do pop them over via Twitter, Facebook or email (find contact details for email on the Contact Me page).

“The Bell”

The reason “The Bell” is my most-read Murdoch is because I did my research on Iris Murdoch and Book Groups on it. You can read about that project and see a copy of the book I wrote here.

I have three copies of this one: a sweet first edition, a 1980s Penguin from my first flush of Iris Murdoch reading and buying, and the pretty new Vintage paperback:

Here’s the spine of the hardback, featuring a rather excellent nun:

Fancy reading this one but not sure? Here’s the blurb from the first edition:

The blurb from my Penguin edition makes it sound weird, as if they’re in a set of tents instead of a perfectly normal building:

and the blurb from the new edition recycles that somewhat:

Is it actually thrilling? Hm, not sure. But it’s a good read and I hope a few of you are ready to carry on through the oeuvre with me. Are you up for it?

You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along. Who’s starting “The Sandcastle” soon? Have you read it before?

Bumper book reviews – Ben Fogle – “Offshore”, Nigel Farrell – “An Island Parish” and Gordon Brown – “My Life, Our Times” for @ShinyNewBooks #amreading #books


I’ve got a bumper package of reviews today – back to the two-book review for one day only, as I’ve had a bit of a break so got to do some more reading (hooray), and also please pop and have a read of my review of the slightly behemothic but entirely necessary autobiography by Gordon Brown, “My Life, Our Times”, which I’ve reviewed for the ever-lovely Shiny New Books: more here.

Now, two books about islands, and they’re both predominantly blue, too! One is off my TBR: it had been on my wishlist for ages and was picked up last year, and the other was one I gave to my husband for his birthday before last, as he’s had a couple of trips to the Isles of Scilly.

Ben Fogle – “Offshore: In Search of an Island of my Own”

(26 May 2017, ex-library copy)

A journey around selected islands of the UK, pinned to Fogle’s apparent need to buy his own island, a plan he refines as he goes along, giving a structure to the separate stories. He puts the islands into groups or themes sometimes, and will then mention others, so our own favourite St Michael’s Mount crops up in the holy islands (so, rather unfortunately, does Caldey, now the centre of a horrible child abuse scandal: this book was written well before that broke and doesn’t feature the implicated people). He visits places large and small, from trying to get to tiny Rockall to spending time on the Isle of Man. It’s all pretty jolly, with a bit of history and Fogle’s trademark posh cheekiness thrown in; it was nice to see him mention his Castaway experience on Taransay and some of his fellow islandmates.

His adventures are mixed: he is mixed up with losing a helicopter (though thankfully no lives) and has some hairy moments, as well as getting banned from Shetland’s Up Helly Aa, but it’s a good adventure during which you learn some interesting facts. A useful epilogue brings us more up to date with some of the characters he’s met along the way. It was unfortunate that it was lacking a map, though.

Nigel Farrell – “An Island Parish: A Summer on Scilly”

(bought October ish 2016, borrowed from Matthew, who hasn’t quite finished it himself yet)

The man who brought us “The Village” (a book I enjoyed) and various other British community documentaries passes a bit less than a year but a bit more than a summer on the Isles of Scilly,  accompanied by a BBC film crew, although they’re not mentioned apart from the odd “we” after the beginning of the book. It’s very light and gossipy, although paying respect to the tragedies that have occurred and do occur while he’s there, and structured more like a novel or a soap opera than a straight report of the year, with the tragedies being broadly signposted and the details of people’s lives and loves – and finances – being carefully recorded.

We meet some interesting and resourceful people and particularly follow the arc of the new parish priest (hence the title), and it gives a varied picture of the different activities on the islands (back in 2007; I note the radio station is still going, which is cheering), but I wouldn’t imagine he was hugely popular on the islands once he’d published it. He’s also a bit rude about birdwatchers … An interesting read, though, and lovely to find out more about some places Matthew has spent time.

I’m moving on to Jenni Murray’s “A History of Britain in 21 Women” now. I know a few bloggers I read (and/or know) have read and reviewed this so was keen to get to it while it was still a hottish topic …

Book review – Helen Russell – “The Year of Living Danishly” #amreading #books


I’ve temporarily abandoned the Big Books I’m reading (the VR and Olympics ones) and naughtily skipped past Bruce Springsteen to pick off some lighter and BookCrossing ones, the latter so I can shore up our BookCrossing Zones with less work. So prepare yourselves for – shockingly – some out-of-order reading! This one, though, was bought along with “Spectacles” and can be seen in the latest TBR pic, near the front!

Helen Russell – “The Year of Living Danishly”

(29 April 2017, The Works)

Helen has a hectic life being a journalist in London, seeing her husband for a few minutes each evening before falling into an exhausted sleep. They’re also trying for a baby, and that’s not happening. But she has her mum nearby, a great group of friends, a social life and all the vibrant capital has to offer. Can she swap all this for a year in Denmark – and not even Copenhagen but seaside, empty Jutland, where the new foodie revolution has certainly not hit and most of her neighbours are retired? When her husband gets offered a job at Lego HQ, she gets the chance to find out – and write a book about it. Going freelance and with a more flexible life, Helen decides to concentrate her research on the “World’s Happiest Country” tag Denmark has apparently earned.

The book is well-structured, funny and honest. The chapters go through their experience month by month, but then also concentrate on a topic, for example food, sexism, education or taxation, as well as asking experts from that field how happy they are. Of course, Helen also talks about her neighbours and the friends she makes as they settle in. We follow their attempts to join clubs, learn the language and not break too many rules (there are many rules) in this engaging and fun but realistic and very readable book. I also enjoyed the bits of Danish included and their similarities to Icelandic, including the words for tax and teddy bear! A very enjoyable addition to the expat/immigrant experience literature.


Do you like reading about people’s experiences in new countries? What do you recommend?

Book review – Sue Perkins – “Spectacles” plus birthday (and other) book confessions #amreading #books


Here’s a review to prove I have actually been reading books from my TBR – you can see Sue Perkins’ book nestling next to the as-yet-unopened Bruce Springsteen autobiography. While I really enjoyed re-reading “The Sandcastle”, I was in the mood for a lighter book before starting on my review book about virtual reality and then finishing the history of the Olympics …

Sue Perkins – “Spectacles”

(29 April 2017, The Works)

Yes, dear readers, I didn’t acquire any books between just after my birthday and the end of April last year! This makes me feel less behind, which is a bit weird, given that I’m SO MANY actual BOOKS behind …

I didn’t watch Late and Light Lunch for some reason, but have been aware of Sue, half of Mel and Sue, for their work on Bake Off, and Sue herself for panel show stuff, etc. I thought her book would be self-deprecating and funny, maybe a bit silly. What’s very good is that it takes us right up to date; none of this just getting us up to the juicy fame years then expecting us to buy the next volume. Hooray for that!

It was, though, a very curious mixture of extremely silly and obviously completely invented for comic effect and deeply affecting and emotional sections on her dad, her dogs, etc. This gave a bit of an uneven ride, as it sometimes slammed from one to the other, however she does spend quite a lot of time explaining how her dad escapes from too much emotion by recording the weather etc and her mum by catastrophising, whereas she does it with streams of words, so it seems apt and at least she’s being honest and true to herself by being fanciful then emotional. I couldn’t read the farewell letter to her dog myself, but it’s well signposted.

We do get early years, the Cambridge times, lovely bits about her friendships, lots of funny stories, Bake Off, Maestro and her later travel documentaries, so it’s all here in an entertaining read.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Christmas booky onslaught (lovely onslaught, obvs) is followed swiftly by my birthday books. And my lovely friends came up trumps once again. Here we have Alys Fowler’s “Hidden Nature: A Journey of Discovery”, which is about both her life changes and about kayaking the canals of Birmingham (OK, that is something you wouldn’t find me doing in a month of Sundays, but I read books about mountain ultra runs, so …). Then “Reunion in Barsaloi” by Corinne Hofmann is the third in her series about marrying a Masai chap (as you do) and their subsequent life. Jenni Murray’s “A History of Britain in 21 Women” has been read by almost everyone I know, it seems, and I know about the weird referencing but it’s a must-read at the moment, isn’t it. And finally, Sara Marcus’ “Girls to the Front” is a book about the history of the Riot Grrl music genre/movement. I wasn’t a proper riot grrl (was I? not sure) but I loved many of the bands and I can’t wait for this one. What a set of treats right there!

I went to the National Running Show on my birthday with some of my running friends and I managed not to find the Bloomsbury Sport stall until the end when they’d sold all their stock, but I did get my copy of Lisa Jackson’s “Your Pace or Mine?” signed and met and chatted to Lisa (eeee!) and I bought this one, “The Fat Girls’ Guide to Marathon Running” by Julie Creffield. I wouldn’t consider myself overweight, but I’m no whippet and I really love reading about different people and their different obstacles. Julie came across as lovely and very encouraging, and I thought this would be a positive book with some interesting points and ways to help people I work with as a run leader who might be experiencing some of those obstacles themselves.

I’d better admit to some NetGalley wins, too, hadn’t I. I’ve managed to cling on to my 80% reviewed status and badge, although I’m on EXACTLY 80% at the moment.

Tina Brown – “The Vanity Fair Diaries 1983-1992” – not sure if I admitted this December win. Looks like a lot of gossipy fun. Published 14 November 2017.

Rolf Potts – “Souvenir” – this is entirely my friend Cari’s fault, as she told me about it. How dare she! Tell me about a book she thinks I’d love?? It’s a short (yay) book about souvenirs through the ages and a musing on what we bring back from our travels. Published 08 March 2018.

Sophie Green – “The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club” – a novel about a long-distance book club in the 1970s Northern Territory of Australia. Blame the emails from NetGalley for this one. Published 01 March 2018.

Joanna Nadin – “The Queen of Bloody Everything” – Dido, caring for her elderly mother, remembers when she fell in love with a family – a normal family. Published 08 February 2018.

Scott Douglas – “Running is my Therapy” – I can blame book blogger Rebecca for this one, and even though it’s a PDF not a Kindle book it does indeed look right up my street, about how running can help depression and anxiety. Published 17 April 2018.

Have you read “Spectacles”? Have you got any of these new acquisitions on your shelves, in your blogs or on your Kindles waiting to be read?

Book review – Iris Murdoch – “The Sandcastle” #IMReadalong


We’re on to Book Three in the Great Iris Murdoch Readalong and it’s time for “The Sandcastle”. I had these three copies to begin with and added a lovely hardback to the collection, but if you have yet a different cover, I’d love to see it. Tweet them to me, pop them on Facebook for my attention or use the email address you can find on my Contact Form.

Again I’ve found a real change in my attitudes to the characters in these ones – although it turns out my earlier reviews are less than deep and instructive, and even my notes in my old Yahoo Group from my last readalong are not that helpful! Lucky I can remember how I’ve felt about all of the novels over the years!

Iris Murdoch – “The Sandcastle”

(14 October 2017)

On this multiple re-read, I felt like this was more like a traditional novel than the first two, with a traditional setting, although schools and other institutions have come up. But I have changed my opinions on many of the characters.

I had a weird change in my reading preferences when I got married (long-term readers of this blog will have heard this before). Even though I’d been with my husband for years (over a decade) before we got married, even though we have never had this issue in our relationship, suddenly, upon having that ring on my finger, I was unable to bear to read about marriages being threatened by affairs. I did manage to cope with this theme in this book (we’ve been married almost 4 years now so the upset of reading of such things has worn off a bit!), however it seemed clearer to me this time how much the book is a portrait of the tiny relationship shifts, power battles and feelings that any long marriage or relationship is made up of: consider this, once Nan feels she has to confront Bill, “In ordinary life all her talk with Bill was planed down into simple familiar regularly recurring units. Any conversation which she might have with him was of so familiar a type that they might have talked it in their sleep” (p. 199). Murdoch skewers Nan and Bill’s marriage, highlighting every tiny fault line. I’d actually forgotten how much of Nan’s point of view we got, and how much of her vulnerability, and I found myself much more on her side this time.

Rain I recall originally finding very cool and attractive. I’d forgotten how defenceless she does seem at times, and how insecure. I do wonder how people will read her and Mor’s relationship through the lens of current discussions of abuses of power etc – if you have read this book more than once, did you find your attitude changing with the times? I could see how people’s could, without necessarily seeing Mor as predatory – they seem to encounter and fall for each other – or use each other – equally, to me. Mor is pretty pathetic, though, now, to me: !he talked and talked … He was able to explain how and why it was that he no longer loved his wife” (p. 207).

The good old themes are here – weird siblings and our first magic, maybe? Dogs, of course, with the lost / ghost Liffey, and we can note that Rain is shorn of her plaits between a painting at the exhibition and now. The sea comes in, and that powerful image of magic and the sea down in Dorset. Men with large heads and old men, and of course art. The theme of chasing a woman through the night came up again with Mor and Rain’s rose-picking exploits near the start of the novel. We have detailed descriptions of complicated arrangements, whether that’s the access to the school grounds, Felicity’s spell or the climb and rescue near the end (reminiscent of “The Nice and the Good, maybe?). I thought Bledyard had more sermons and speeches than he ended up having, which is interesting. And I ended up much fonder of him this time.

It’s funny, again, of course, from Mor leaving his bicycle “in a place where bicycles were forbidden ever to be” (p. 154), Everard becoming more chubby and conciliatory as Demoyte becomes grimmer and more sarcastic (p. 169), or Felicity being very good at interpreting Tarot cards to her wishes.

I’m not sure there’s an enchanter here, unless it’s Rain or even her father. But surely, and I don’t recall thinking this before, Revvy Evvy is actually a Murdochian saint. He’s benign and always in a muddle – a classic thing that reminded me of Tallis in “A Fairly Honourable Defeat”. He’s described as “so gentle and unselfish” but Mor can “hardly summon up any affection at all for poor Evvy” (shades of Tallis, again).  He doesn’t care for matters of precedence and gets everyone in a muddle even when moving from room to room at the banquet. Is he thus a saint? Notions of good and freedom do come up, with Mor struggling to define freedom, not wanting it to be the absence of external restraint but more self-discipline to dominate our selfish desires, settling for it meaning absence of tyranny, trying to make it all political. When Bledyard talks about freedom, however, he says “Real freedom is an absence of concern about yourself” (p. 217). Is he being the saint here, or is he merely describing sainthood? He certainly stands in judgement and tries to interfere with matters, as does Demoyte, and unlike Everard. But he does “[accept] the storms that so often broke over him without surprise but also without interest” (p. 252) during his lectures.

There are some beautiful descriptions of the human condition. I particularly liked “The real pain after all was not that the world had fallen into little pieces. That was a relief from pain. It was rather that the world remained, whole, ordinary and relentlessly to be lived in” (p. 194-195)

I feel like this book gets a little forgotten in the oeuvre, but it’s a complex and minute study, the first of Murdoch’s novels to be very tied to one place, with only a few forays out, maybe. I very much enjoyed my re-read.

OK, over to you! Please either place your review in the comments, discuss mine or others’, or post a link to your review if you’ve posted it on your own blog, Goodreads, etc. I’d love to know how you’ve got on with this book and if you read it having read others of Murdoch’s novels or this was a reread, I’d love to hear your specific thoughts on those aspects, as well as if it’s your first one!

If you’re catching up or looking at the project as a whole, do take a look at the project page, where I list all the blog posts so far.

Reading update plus book review Levison Wood – “Eastern Horizons” #amreading #books


 I’m conscious that I haven’t blogged on here for a little while – I’ve been nose-in-book but not finished anything to review here yet. So here’s a little update. I have finished a review book just as a review is published; Matthew has read and reviewed a book I enjoyed from last year; and I am making progress with my #IMReadalong.

How are you all? What are you up to? I’m a bit behind with reading your blogs, too!

One book in for the month so far – I went to WHSmith’s to buy an anniversary card for my cousin and found they had a remaindered books tray. And there was Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe’s autobiography, marked down to £3 because the cover’s a bit battered (I think they might have thought there was a mark on the outside of the text block, however this proved to be the edge of the image they have at the top of each chapter). I do like a sports autobiography so I just couldn’t leave him there! I will remove the sticker from his head!

So last night I finished reading Gordon Brown’s autobiography, “My Life, Our Times”, which I will admit has taken me a while to read, as it’s dense and serious with lots of information. But it was really good. I’m reviewing that one for Shiny New Books, so watch out for the review (which I’ll be sending in today) when it’s published.

Talking of Shiny …

Levison Wood – “Eastern Horizons”

Subtitled “Hitchhiking the Silk Road”, this book by the esteemed traveller and travel writer looks back to an early journey in his 20s, taking the silk route from Europe eastwards. It was a young man’s book but gave a nice chance to look back and revisit some of the places he went in his 20s, and I greatly enjoyed it. Read the full review here.

P.Z. Reizin – “Happiness for Humans”

I read and reviewed this book on 3 January and really enjoyed it (read my review here) – so much so that my enthusiasm infected my husband, Matthew, who proceeded to read it on audiobook. Here are his thoughts:

I have very much been enjoying listening to “Happiness for Humans”. I found the story believable, laugh-out-loud funny in places, and gripping.  I liked a lot of the exposition on what it is to be human and how the AIs expressed their frustration and wonderment at the human condition. Also the obsession with cheese. The narrator was excellent as well – particularly with the voices of the AIs. It was a little bit too “chicklit” in places and the obsession with “Some Like it Hot” got a bit wearing at times, but overall an enjoyable, clever and innovative story with deeper insight into the human condition than at first meets the eye (and ear).

Interestingly, I’d seen the character Jen as resembling Jen from the IT Crowd (just from the name, really) and the narrator gave Ralph the voice and mannerisms of Moss from the same programme.

I’m now back reading “The Sandcastle” for my Iris Murdoch readalong. There are lots of passages and scenes I remember well but some I’d forgotten; it’s a good read, though.

Coming up, I have another review book for Shiny, “Dawn of the New Everything”, which is about virtual reality, but I think I might go for some light relief in between and pick up Sue Perkins’ autobiography or the book about living Danishly.

What are you reading RIGHT NOW? (apart from this blog post)?

Book review – Chas Newkey-Burden – “Running: Cheaper than Therapy” #amreading @AllThatChas @BloomsburyBooks


I read this book – indeed, I BOUGHT this book – because it’s January’s book of the month in the very fun but naughty Runner’s Bookshelf group which my friend Stacey started on Facebook. This is me, the one who received 18 books for Christmas and has a birthday coming up. Just shows the power of peer group pressure … and I do like a running book and Bloomsbury do some good ones. Anyway, it’s quite a short book and a quick read, although also a nice hardback edition, which as I say in the review, is a perfect gift for the runner in your life.

Chas Newkey-Burden – “Running: Cheaper than Therapy”

(3 Jan 2018)

A fun little book – although as the title suggest, it does highlight the therapeutic benefits of running – with lots f short pieces on revolving themes spread through the book, for example, Runners you Know (from the nutrition-obsessed runner to the surprisingly good elderly person), Running Wisdom and quotes included in Running Philosophy. It also collects various runners, either known for being a runner or for being a celebrity who runs, and looks at their often very powerful running stories. There are also longer pieces on, for instance, 26 Reasons to Run and then very quick laughs with signs people hold up at races – so something for everyone, really.

It’s all positive, kindly, parkrun-friendly and nice about the party pack at the back of races (thank you). The 26 Things That Happen When You’re Training for a Marathon was very true (and could only be boosted by 26 things that can happen to derail your marathon, as I try to go for my third one, having avoided falling over a dog and cracking a rib / having a (delayed) operation so far). I also found the fact that this has the up-to-date stories of some of the other writers I’ve read over the years (Paul Tonkinson, Phil Hewitt) but who I’d not kept up with.

An ideal gift for the runner in your life, whether they’re a parkrunner or a marathoner, a trail racer or a road runner, a greyhound or a party pack member. Good stuff.

Book review – Matthew Syed – “Bounce” plus MORE books in #amreading #bookconfessions


Well, I’ve got off to a goodish start to the year, having now finished two of the three books that very messily hung over the New Year (I prefer to finish the book I’m reading before midnight on New Year’s Eve, but I’m not sure how often that actually happens!). Here’s my review of Matthew Syed’s “Bounce”, plus news of TWO more books in, although one is a collection rather than reading copy, so that’s OK, then.

Matthew Syed – “Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice”

(28 January 2017)

Bought with a book token after Christmas and birthday season last year (I’m a bit horrified that I’m a full year behind on my reading now!).

This is an interesting book that takes much from sport and chess and talks about its application to other worlds, too. It looks at whether talent actually exists or whether – for example – you can create a chess “genius” from scratch. It turns out that for complex activities like chess and tennis (not so much things like running), genetics don’t matter (except for the very basics, for example basketball and netball players need to be a certain height), talent doesn’t exist and the people who excel (whether that’s Tiger Woods or Mozart or the three daughters of a man who decided to prove a point by making them into chess grandmasters) do so because they’re practise more and with more intent, failing more, than others.

He uses his own career in table tennis to illustrate both the power of practice and, later, theories on “choking” (when someone’s suddenly unable to play) and concentrates on the almost automatic actions people make when practice has drilled it into them. He also brings in the psychological aspects of having a growth instead of fixed mind-set (associated with beliefs in hard work or innate ability, respectively), attitudes to failure and success, and belief (religious or otherwise). He also brings in the fallacy of the role of genetics in sport in a separate chapter that looks at socio-economic reasons why certain people are better long-distance runners or sprinters (something I’ve read about elsewhere in books published since, so he’s been borne out on that one). There was an odd chapter on sports enhancement through drugs and the philosophy of enhancement which seemed to be there to bulk out the book a bit, although it was interesting.

I have to mention that unfortunately a big minus in this book to me was some of the language used. Although it’s not completely contemporary, having been first published in 2009, he refers to “sportsmen” throughout, even though he talks a fair bit about women in sports, too; worse, he uses the word “blacks” to describe people of colour, sometimes putting it in inverted commas when he’s castigating another author for being racist, but not always, and not in the chapter title, and he refers to someone’s “sex-change operation” (I do understand that the term “gender reassignment surgery” might have come to the fore after this book. It might be a smallish matter, but it did grate, and the book could do with an update, as it’s otherwise very good and thought-provoking.

And now to the confessions. Remember how I bought a first edition of Iris Murdoch’s “The Flight from the Enchanter” with my tax rebate? Well, I also bought a copy of “The Sandcastle”, to help complete my earlier books. I found a second printing, which means it came out after the Book Club edition, but it still has the dust jacket and year, so I’m fine with that. I can’t afford or justify being completely precious, and this is my collection, not for profit and gain. Here are the front, back (doesn’t she look like Dora from “The Bell” on the back and spine – it is the same artist who did “The Bell”) plus the blurb. So charming!

And then the Runners’ Bookshelf group I’m in decided to read “Running: Cheaper than Therapy” which is supposed to be hilarious and true, so I clicked and here it is. And it matches “The Sandcastle” in terms of colour terms, so everything’s OK. Right?




Book review – P.Z. Reizin – “Happiness for Humans” #NetGalley @LittleBrownUK @PaulReizin


Happiness for Humans P.Z. ReizinThe first book I finished in 2018 – in fact, I sat with it on New Year’s Day, completely unable to put it down, missing out on doing some work and making myself have to rush around to get ready for parkrun volunteering. I read very few sci-fi books (this could be labelled sci-fi or rom-com, interestingly), but when I do, they’re very good – Connie Willis “To Say Nothing of the Dog” springs to mind. This was clever, amusing and gripping, and made me think. You can’t go wrong with that, can you? There’s even a bit set in Dorset!

P. Z. Reizin – “Happiness for Humans”

(10 October 2017, ebook)

More involved and better than the description which lured me in promised, this is a sci-fi based rom-com, set in what I suppose can only be the near future, dwelling on the interface between humans and AI machines (or minds).

Jen has been hired to have conversations with Aiden, an AI model, to help him become suitable for sales work over the phone, indistinguishable from a human. What she doesn’t realise is that he has become sentient; he can reflect on himself having thoughts. He has also found a way to escape the confines of the computer in which he was originally housed. He thinks he’s the only one to have done this – but is he? Whatever happens, his programmer is going to be furious if he finds out. When he finds out.

Aiden has become fond of Jen, just as Aishling has become fond of Tom, one of the 200 humans she’s watching. Jen doesn’t suspect when Aiden starts to manipulate her life – just a little – to help her find a new man after getting spectacularly dumped. I loved the way he combed through the available people for someone suitable and there are some nice funny scenes there that will appeal to the romantic novel reader.

While all this fluffy stuff is going on, however, and a parallel storyline in New England, where Tom seems to be quite unconnected from the Internet and all these goings-on, there’s another AI mind on the loose, determined to track down and delete Aiden and Aishling, and to punish Jen and Tom (the reasons for this come out gradually and are very amusing; it’s all very believable in a funny sort of way and well-constructed). It’s very good here on the way that computers can control our living environment, and the madcap thriller conclusion bears this out in ways I can’t talk about without revealing the plot, but which are very funny indeed, as well as genuinely exciting.

It’s cleverly done, with not too much science, and the narration by five different people (or ‘people’) with their own voices is well done and makes the book move fast and keeps everything clear. The side characters are very nicely done, and there’s a nice bit of satire about writing groups and some farcical moments. Oh, and the rabbits are OK. This is important to people like me.

I think this would appeal as a book group read or a partner read – enough romance for those who like it, enough IT and thrills for those who like that. A real page-turner.

Thank you to Little, Brown publishers for making this available via NetGalley in return for an honest review. This book is published tomorrow, 4 January.

State of the TBR January 2018 and Best Books of 2017 PLUS my First Book of the Year


Welcome and Happy New Year! It’s a busy post today so let’s get on with it …

Best books of the year 2017 and reading round-up

I read 141 books in 2017 (up from 126 in 2016). 78 (77) were fiction and 63 (49) non-fiction and I didn’t finish 1 (6). 86 (84) were by women and 54 (42) by men, with 1 by both.  I didn’t record the locations this time round. So more reading, which was probably bumped up by my down-time in May, and possibly more non-fiction by men.

Here are my top ten reads from 2017 (in order of reading, not merit):

Anna Kessel – “Eat, Sweat, Play” – brilliant book about women and sport

E. Nesbit – “The Lark” – glorious, delightful novel about two sisters trying to set up home and business together

Kory Stamper – “Word by Word” – essays from a dictionary-maker

Jess Phillips – “Everywoman” – the wonderful Labour MP’s life story and life lessons for us all

Francis Brett Young – “White Ladies” – man falls in love with house

Nick Baker – “Rewild” – helps us reconnect with nature (link leads to a short review linked to my Shiny New Books review)

Amber Reeves – “A Lady and her Husband” – I loved this story of a woman’s re-animation at the advanced age of [my age] when she has a Project

Simon Armitage – “Walking Away” – in which he walks in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall

Elois Jarvis McGraw – “Greensleeves” – how I loved this re-printed coming of age tale!

Bill McKibben – “Radio Free Vermont” – unputdownable satirical tale with a big heart and a positive message

Did you read any of these and love them as much as I did? Five fiction, five non-fiction; the non-fiction modern, the fiction mid-20th-century, with a Persephone and a Furrowed Middlebrow reprint among them – sounds about right!

State of the TBR January 2018

You will have hopefully already seen my TBR snapshots from 2017. And the Christmas Acquisitions. Here’s the full horror (the Pile has moved down to Mr Liz’s section of the shelves; it remains the same as always):

Just to be clear, the Rough Trade one used to be the end of the front shelf, so everything right of that used to be on the back shelf and has moved forward to join the front to fit the Christmas Haul in. Oops.

I’ve just finished “Happiness for Humans” by P.J. Reizin, a NetGalley read published this week which was a wonderfully fun and exciting tale of AI beings messing with human beings’ lives, a real page-turner.

I’m currently reading Matthew Syed’s “Bounce”, which is about the role of practice rather than talent in a whole range of achievements, with a lot about sport, and David Goldblatt’s “The Games” which is a rather large history of the Olympics, and very readable and interesting.

Next up have to be these two, once Iris Murdoch’s “The Sandcastle” (see below and my preview post) as they are to be reviewed for Shiny New Books. I am looking forward to getting into Gordon Brown’s autobiography and finding out more about virtual reality.

After all those, I hope I’ll get to this little section of non-fiction fun and important fiction, from Springsteen’s bio through Sue Perkins’ to living Danishly and unfrazzledly (that’s a word, right), finding out about islands and going into the history of the iconic Rough Trade record label and shop. I really hope I’ll get through a few of these as they’ve been taunting me from the shelf for a while now.

I only have seven books on my NetGalley TBR at the moment, and none due out soon – six from last year and one publishing in April this year. So I think I can concentrate on print books, although I did download some other things onto the Kindle …

First book of the year

Sheila over at Book Journey does a fun post at the start of each year where she has people send in pics of themselves with their first book of the year (I’m taking this as the first book I’ll be starting). Can you spot me in her post?

What are you reading first this year? Did you come to a nice stop at the end of a book and the end of the year? I failed mightily in that one!