Book review – Jon Bloomfield – “Our City” #20BooksOfSummer20 #SpanishLitMonth


This book is not in the pile pictured to the left! It’s the replacement for the upsetting “Outposts” which I tried to read earlier in the 20 Books of Summer Challenge. As I’ve now eliminated all 2018-acquired non-Viragoes or Persephones from the TBR, I gave myself free rein for my final July book and picked this excellent book about migrants in Birmingham from the June 2019 region. A very good choice and I’m so glad I a) bought it, b) read it now.  I also report on reading my very first book in Spanish for Spanish Lit Month!

Jon Bloomfield – “Our City: Migrants and the Making of Modern Birmingham”

(11 June 2019)

Our cityA magnificent book tracing the effect of post-WW2 migration into Birmingham, which works from interviews with 46 people, first, second or third generation immigrants to the UK and Birmingham, who have come from Hong Kong, Pakistan, Bulgaria, Ireland, the Caribbean … plus some other folk such as city council politicians and one farmer who employs migrant workers. I was thrilled to find they included at least three people I know (Immy from the former Impact Hub, Mo from Kuskus Foods and Mr Rehman from one of the local newsagents! – but that’s One Degree of Birmingham for you (a city of a million people, all somehow connected!).

After a history of the city we take a look at people in various types of jobs, from heavy industry which many came to in the 50s and 60s through the service industries to the dirty jobs people don’t tend to want, such as care home work and work in the food service industries. Then there are themes such as race, religion, education, etc. People’s direct experience is quoted a lot, and we’re reminded who people are well when they crop up again in the book. The author, a historian and expert on urban policy, who used to work for the City Council, perhaps labours the role of the council a little, but it has had a major effect on policy and there is other meat in the book. As with Clair Wills in “Lovers and Strangers“, Bloomfield is himself a product of immigration, his grandparents having been Jewish emigrants from Europe to London, and he brings in some of his family’s story, too.

There’s an emphasis on interculturalism throughout the book – a third way between forced assimilation and policies of multiculturalism which can lead to segregation of communities:

For interculturalism, the issue is not to extol the virtues of each culture but, rather, their relationships, the co-existence of people from different cultures and what is shared among them all. Relationships and interactions are seen as crucial. Thus diversity is recognised as an asset but within a context where it goes alongside equality and positive interaction (p. 225)

This does not mean that specific issues in health etc that relate to particular groups are ignored, but there needs to be more concentration on poverty-related issues and issues of class to help bring up the living standards of all Birmingham residents.

It’s not afraid to address difficult issues and there is a good assessment of some that face the city: although it’s a  positive book in the main, it’s not seeing the city through rose-tinted glasses by any means. We have some of the lowest educational achievement records in Europe, with 17% of people of working age having no formal qualifications. Revitalisation will come from the bottom up, and places like Impact Hub, where several of the interviewees have work places, will help to foster this.

I learned a lot from this book – I didn’t know the Islamic Relief charity was founded here – and it was lovely reading about my city, familiar spaces and places and even people! It was published by Unbound last year and I wish I’d been as assiduous in scanning for new titles then as I am now, as I’d have definitely contributed to the crowdfunding (and I saw a few familiar names in the list of subscribers in the back!).

This was Book 13 in my 20 Books Of Summer project and completes my planned reads for July.

Jul 2020 3It’s Spanish Lit Month this month, run by WinstonsDad, and I’m happy to report that I have read my very first book in Spanish! OK, it’s a children’s book but with the help of my dictionary, I understood every (simple) word of it. “I Love My Mums” by Elias Zapple has been translated into Spanish by Camila Ayala Teran – I didn’t quite realise it was translated so hope it’s OK to use. It’s a sweet book with great role model mums who look after the child when they’re ill and cheer them in egg and spoon races and also know how to mend everything! The only unfortunate thing is that, given the way Spanish (currently?) works, the dedication is to all parents and children – padres e hijos – because the masculine represents the general in this gendered language. Anyway, I did feel a sense of achievement having read it!

I’m currently reading “The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book”, edited by James Raven and full of wonderful illustrations.

Book review – Tim Parks – “Where I’m Reading From” #20BooksOfSummer20


Another 20 Books of Summer book finished, and another from April 2019. I’m really pleased with how my TBR is looking (which you will see on Saturday, of course) – very different from its appearance at the start of 20 Books! I really liked finding these birthday books from Sian in my pile – we did the same this year and it’s fun to have some books that come in as gifts part-way through the year (this year, I notably had a book and then a charity shop “voucher” so I could browse for some more lovelies, something I was glad to be able to come back to last week at Oxfam Books (and I haven’t come down with anything after that, a week later, so fingers crossed it is all safe!).

I have also read in the interim Nadiya Hussain’s novel “The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters”, however, as this is part of a trilogy and I seem to be reading a bit more recently with lots of review posts flying out, I thought I’d save that until I’ve read the other two, to do a joint review.

Tim Parks – “Where I’m Reading From”

(21 April 2019 – from Sian)

The subtitle, “The Changing World of Books” should perhaps have given away to me that there was going to be quite a lot about the death of the modern novel in this collection of essays – which turn out to all be articles from the New York Review of Books, therefore a lot more serious and, well, ‘hard’, than the popular pieces I was expecting when I put this on my wishlist. I was also irritated early on by a note explaining that the writer was going to use “he” instead of “he and she” (with a very few exceptions, apparently), as in “the old impersonal he”, not to be chauvinistic, but for clarity. Then I would say about half the pieces used “he or she” and the note only served to emphasise the clumsiness of this construction! The book was published in 2014, however: maybe he’s keener on singular they now. However there was a lot to enjoy amidst the discussion of modern novels I don’t know well and slight irritation.

I liked very much the pieces on translation (and the one on editing, which also had something decent to say about too-careful adherence to in-house style guides at the expense of readability), and the insights into his own writing and translating life. The pieces on translating an author’s style, especially when they say things in ways contrary to expectations, is fascinating, as is the piece on the untranslateable quality of cultural items of which US fiction can be particularly full (reclining chairs, foosball tables, etc.) while European writing seems to be moving towards a simplified, translateable norm; and even towards English as opposed to its own syntax, creating almost a lingua franca for easy translation. His piece on writing a book for the US market and the localisation he had to endure made me smile, as I work on this kind of thing from US to UK English and it does feel quite fussy sometimes.

In the essay entitled “Where I’m Reading From” he posits the theory that people’s family background and the particular aspects of life and personality that a family is concerned with (whether that’s good and evil, cautiousness and profligacy, bravery or timidity) affects what books the person growing up in that family will be drawn to. Thus, his hatred of his father’s Bible concordances feeds into his dislike of over-complicated literary theory which he criticises in a later piece. I’m not sure I completely subscribe to this myself, but it is an interesting idea.

Finally, the pieces on his personal experience as a writer, from being a different writer in England, Italy and the US to the stupid questions people ask at book events, were engaging and easier to read. So on balance a good read with some tougher pieces, as you’d expect from a book of essays.

This was Book 12 in my 20 Books Of Summer project.

I’m currently reading Jon Bloomfield’s “Our City” which is about immigrants in my adopted home city of Birmingham and a fascinating, warm and very readable book, although making some hard-hitting points about exploitation and economics. That’s my last non-Virago etc Book of Summer so I feel I’m doing quite well there. It’s hard to put down so should be finished soon!

Book review – Dorothy Evelyn Smith – “Miss Plum and Miss Penny” @DeanStPress #FurrowedMiddlebrow


Another of the lovely books which will be published by Dean Street Press in their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint in August. This is one from 1956 which has the lovely theme of village life, with its smallnesses but safety, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Here’s a new post from the Furrowed Middlebrow blog about the six new books for August.

Dorothy Evelyn Smith – “Miss Plum and Miss Penny”

(20 June 2020)

A Furrowed Middlebrow novel which seems to be just another portrayal of 1950s village life but has both dark and slightly subversive undertones, which I loved.

Miss Alison Penny lives an orderly, calm life with her housekeeper Ada, her annual letter from her old flame George on her birthday and her friendships with fussy Stanley with his perfect residence and chaotic vicar Hubert (both of whom consider whether they should just get on and marry her during the course of the book, with no discussion with her!) and the rest of the village.

The book opens on her 40th birthday, when there’s no letter from George (leading Ada to display a charmingly gruff displeasure) and she somehow saves Miss Plum from herself when out for a trip and finds herself taking her in, gradually realising that Miss Plum is both taking her over, and taking everyone else in.

When a figure offers Alison escape from her humdrum existence, will she take it, worries Ada. Her outburst when made the offer gives us a clue, and is very sweet. Meanwhile, Stanley worries if his very ordered existence is enough, and will Hubert ever manage to reconnect with his son, who is in a particularly annoying phase of teenage arrogance.

Everyone except Ada seems to be taken in by Miss Plum, and we wonder how Miss Penny will ever pluck up the courage to get rid of her (I liked the comparison with “Not at Home” in this aspect). We can only hope that the natural order of things will prevail.

I love the village surrounding the action and the little moments that are not laboured but are poignant (for example when a returnee to the village has an encounter with the love that Ada lost, which we will only notice if we picked up the details she recalls). I really enjoyed the celebration of Miss Penny’s secure place slotted into the community:

Everybody in the village was known to her and she to everybody. Wherever she went there was a voice calling, the nod of a head, a grumble, a cup of tea, an item of gossip.

Engaging and quietly satisfying – and I loved the ending!

Thank you to Rupert at Dean Street Press for sending me this book in return for an honest review.

I’m continuing with my 20BooksOfSummer at the moment, with two to finish and review by the end of the month, and then I have some delicious Shiny and other review copies to read. Hooray!

Shiny loveliness and new acquisitions @ShinyNewBooks #BookConfessions @eandtbooks #BLwomenwriters


Time to round up some Shiny New Books reviews I’ve had published recently and also highlight the new additions that have come into my life.

I was very lucky to be sent “Into the Tangled Bank” by Lev Parikian by the lovely folk at Elliot & Thompson after I’d retweeted my Shiny review of their “The Seafarers” when it came out in paperback.

Lev Parikian is a conductor and, more recently, a birdwatcher, and you might have seen or read his book on birds, Why do Birds Suddenly Disappear? which was published on Unbound, so it’s nice to see he’s found a traditional publisher for this one. This is a very pretty and enticing book with a lovely cover which includes birds, butterflies, insects, plants and a … crisp packet, because it’s essentially a book about British people’s relationship with nature.

Read my full review here.

I was also asked to revisit my review of Candice Carty-Williams’ “Queenie” to celebrate its paperback edition, so I rewrote it to be a bit less personal and a bit more universal.

This Sunday Times bestseller, which was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, has been touted as being “The Black Bridget Jones”. While it might also be the iconic book that defines a generation of women of a particular time, I think it goes much further than Helen Fielding’s novel, and is more shocking and perhaps more valuable for that. Certainly it’s a must-read for the person staring at a Black Lives Matter reading list (and let’s face it, lots of us have been poring over those) and offers a great complement to the theoretical books helping us thing differently. Here, we’re right in the action, right in someone’s life, finding out what the Black London community thinks of mental health issues, or about just how diverse that diverse, welcoming workplace really might be. And if you want to understand what a micro-aggression is, go directly to this novel.

Read my full review here.

Carty-Williams became the first Black author to win book of the year at the British Book Awards.

Right, a varied set of incomings now.

First of all, a while ago I spent the book tokens I’d accumulated on a lovely pile of books from Foyles’ website and six of them arrived while the last one didn’t (and I had to eventually buy it from Amazon, because they were the only people who I could it from, and I needed it). Anyway, this all meant that part of one of my book tokens and some Foyalty points were refunded to me, so I had BOOK MONEY hanging around. Reading the gal-dem book the other day gave me some ideas for some books I wanted to read (the Windrush one and a different trans history one) so I went a clicking and only had to spend £15 of my own money by using the refund and the rest of the Foyalty points I’d accumulated …

In my usual way I tried to leaven the more ‘worthy’ thought-provoking books with a lighter one, but of course Nadiya Hussain is known for her frank discussions of mental health issues so her book “Finding my Voice,” is not necessary going to be that fly-away and non-profound. “Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows” ed. Christine Burns is a collection of essays by trans people about their own experiences and their relation to the slow changes in society which have afforded some more positive visibility and freedoms, but have also allowed a lot of phobia and bigotry to remain. While I am committed to supporting trans rights, I felt I didn’t know enough of the history, so this should be ideal.

Afrua Hirsch’s “Brit(ish)” is another seminal BLM book that went out of stock and has only just come back in, though it’s been on my wishlist for a good while. This memoir unpacks systemic racism, prejudice and disadvantage and how the impact of historical issues plays out on lives today. “Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children” edited by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff tells 22 real-life stories of people who came to Britain on the Windrush ship, their children and grandchildren. So four lots of direct voices telling their lived experience in this batch.

Here’s a funny thing I noticed when I was shelving these – they’re all lovely and bright in purples, yellows and red, and the spines the same …

… yet when I went to shelve them (and yes, they DO fit on my TBR shelves!) (just), I noticed that the whole front row is grey, green, blue and white. How odd! I know I do have a load of Persephones and Viragoes waiting to be read next month but that’s by no means all of them!

On to the next one, and the people at the British Library Women Writers series have kindly sent me a lovely paperback to review of “Dangerous Ages” by Rose Macaulay, which looks at three women of varying ‘dangerous ages’ and what life throws at them. This is a gorgeous object of a book, with a lovely patterned and textured cover, a silhouette of the author and French flaps. It’s out next month in their new batch and I hope to have it reviewed on publication date. Thank you to the lovely British Library Publishing folks for sending it to me!

And finally, we’ve obviously been in lockdown here in the UK and all non-essential shops were shut, which was a Good Thing. Then they’ve been gradually opening up, but I’ve been feeling very timid and risk-averse and sticking to my usual two-supermarkets-plus-savers routine. Then I was running with a friend on Sunday who mentioned that the local charity shops are being very good, controlling entrance to the shop, having someone on the door with hand sanitiser, and generally feeling OK. So as I had to go to Holland & Barrett (also safe and well-organised; you scan your own items and the staff are behind plastic screens), I girded my loins and went across the road to Oxfam Books (I was thinking that there are only books there, so less backing into racks of clothing, etc.). It was absolutely fine, there was hand sanitiser at the door and a note of how many people could be in the shop at any one time, everyone who came in after me used the sanitiser as did I. I was careful not to pick up and put down books, although this meant I took one down to browse, couldn’t work out how to put it back (do I tell the staff I’ve touched it? there’s no trolley to put them on as apparently Waterstone’s has) and bought it anyway, although I do think I did really want it! I paid by card using contactless and the volunteer was behind a screen. I did quarantine the bag of books in the spare room for 72 hours, so feel pretty safe.

So what did I pick up?

A lovely hardback of Armistead Maupin’s “Logical Family: A Memoir” – I’ve had this on my radar for a while and can’t wait to get to it. Damian Le Bas published “The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain” a while back and it has been on the back burner of my wish list. I did think that if I’m doing all this reading around Black and Asian British lives I should devote some time to the very criticised and abused Traveller and Gypsy communities so it’s good I found this. Tristan Gooley’s “How to Read Water” is about the patterns in water from a puddle right up to the sea, and looks fascinating – I think this will also appeal to the wild swimmers I know.

What a lovely haul, and exactly the kinds of finds I was envisaging when thinking of all those lockdown clearouts and donations that have been going on. I can’t say I’ll be trawling the charity shops all in one go like I used to, but this felt like a new return to something normal.

Have you read any of my new acquisitions?

Book review – Kim Gordon – “Girl in a Band” #20BooksOfSummer20


I’m on to Book 11 in my 20 Books of Summer and with only two more to read this month (and I’m probably reading one of them by now as I had to do a big review catch-up and schedule over last weekend) it feels like I’ll be able to end the project with a Virago and Persephone fanfare and without any of this month’s batch clamouring to be finished.

Also please notice that I’m up to books acquired in April 2019 – so the project has worked in its aim to clear off the oldest books from my shelf. I’m hopeful I’ll get back to being only a year behind myself by the end of this year!

Kim Gordon – “Girl in a Band”

(21 April 2019 – from Sian)

Kim Gordon was one of the main protagonists of the band Sonic Youth and I have to admit right at the start that Sonic Youth are one of those bands that I like the idea of more than I actually love (see also Polly Harvey, the Bad Seeds, really, if I have to admit it, Yo La Tengo and Neutral Milk Hotel). But I love a good music memoir and I’ve always admired what I’ve seen of Kim Gordon’s strong persona (although she undermines that media-created image in this book). Anyway, there’s enough detail about other things than intricate information about recording techniques and band timelines, including about the wider alternative music milieu to mean you don’t have to be a hard-core fan to enjoy this book.

Starting at the end with their final gig, this well-done music memoir is frank, honest and down-to-earth. I love Gordon’s career-long dedication to her visual arts work as well as her music – it has to come and go as family comes first but it’s “mine alone, where I could be anyone and do anything,” akin to the feeling she has when immersed in the flow of music, but just hers. This isn’t a book full of laughs, although there are amusing moments, but then “it’s hard to write about a love story with a broken heart” (p. 87) and her questioning of her whole relationship with Thurston Moore (and of the pattern of her relationships with men going right back to  her troubled brother) permeates the book.

It’s certainly not all misery and regret, though. Also permeating the book is her deep fondness and love for her friends, and her fierce love for, and pride in, her daughter Coco. I loved her thoughts about being female in an area of music dominated by men, and her admiration of the other women she finds there, and I also love her uncompromising attitude to the book (she chooses which songs and albums she wants to talk about based on whether she thinks she has something to say about them). She dislikes and avoids drama and has some strong words to say about Courtney Love (and some loving ones to say about Kurt Cobain); she’s proud of her side-projects and the time she self-recorded and produced a song and video for $19.99 total in an era of MTV slickness. Gordon discusses techniques like choosing random lyrics that she’s used throughout her career and I enjoyed her way of sticking to how she likes to work. She is generous to Moore with regard to their work on the band and his role as Coco’s father, so it’s certainly not a hugely bitter book, though it has its moments and frankly why shouldn’t it?

Although she’s honest about her co-dependent involvement with narcissistic men and talks about how she’s always gone out of her way to accommodate people’s feelings, the book ends on a personally powerful note about her new life which is cheering. An honest and readable account of a unique life in modern music.

This was Book 11 in my 20 Books Of Summer project.

Who knows what I’m currently reading? Ever got into such a reviewing backlog but not wanting to bombard your readers, so you’re writing Thursday’s review on Sunday?

Book review – Kate Weston – “Diary of a Confused Feminist” #DiaryofaConfusedFeminist #NetGalley @teambkmrk


Diary of a Confused Feminist coverI like reading young adult fiction (not the paranormal stuff, though) to find out what young people are experiencing and also to find out about how diversity and acceptance are flowing through younger generations. While this covers fewer issues than the excellent US book, “Full Disclosure” which I also read recently, this hits harder than it perhaps looks from the cover (or feels from the opening) on issues around mental health.

Kate Weston – “Diary of a Confused Feminist”

(01 March 2020, NetGalley)

This Young Adult novel in diary form opens with Kat and her friends Sam and Millie being interrupted while spraying #TimesUp in red paint on the school playground, and more farcical scenes follow their accidental graffiti of “#Tim”. They’re 15, about to turn 16, a tight group of friends, but boys are coming into the picture and it’s all too easy to feel left behind. They’re trying to be feminists and to work out their place in the world at a difficult time anyway.

While Kat’s self-deprecating diary entries start off funny, they spiral into self-hatred and anxiety, and just when I was starting to find this a bit  distressing and depressing to read, we find out why, and it’s all justified and cleverly done, as you almost don’t see the gradual decline.

It’s good on the pernicious influence of social media on especially teenagers and the need to check your phone constantly. It’s also great at inserting interesting resources such as the “Girl Up” book and Instagram accounts and hashtags to follow and hopefully these will get followed up by readers who haven’t come across them before. While it’s not as diverse as books like “Full Disclosure” (there’s a gay best male friend, mention of a lesbian couple and a bit of racial diversity) we do get some discussion about what it was like for Sam’s mother as a Black woman forging her way in the world, although Sam seems untouched by issues of racism, which feels a bit unusual. I love the mums, too, as someone who’s probably older than they’re supposed to be, from Kat’s hotshot scientist mum to her friend’s mum’s anti-men railings, and boys are shown as being feminist, too, especially those with sisters.

Kat’s friends abandon her for their boyfriends a bit, but they learn their lesson, and her own romantic status at the end is refreshing. The book portrays anxiety almost as well as “Queenie” does, by very much showing rather than telling, and that would make it a good resource as well as an entertaining read. I loved the extra “How not to be a confused feminist” list at the back of the book.

Thank you to Hodder Children’s Books for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review. “Diary of a Confused Feminist” was published on 06 February 2020.

Book review – John Sutherland (ed.) – “Literary Landscapes” #20BooksOfSummer20 + #bookconfessions


A step back into 2018 for the last time until the Viragoes and Persephones – I was reading this at the same time as “Murder Runs in the Family” but this was a larger format hardback book so stayed upstairs or on the sofa. I’m very pleased to be at 20 Books of Summer book 10 with this one, so half-way through around half-way through the month (I’ve had a reviewing lag so I actually finished this one a good few days ago now).

See below for some exciting incomings, too!

John Sutherland (ed.) – “Literary Landscapes”

(25 December 2018 – from Ali)

When Ali read this back in October 2018, I alighted on it with excitement (and may have become a little bratty and demanding in the comments to her post), and it duly arrived for Christmas that year!

I will admit to having become a little confused, as I thought this book included created maps for each of the books it describes. That’s not quite the case, although maps are certainly features: instead this lavishly illustrated hardback “charting the real-life settings of the world’s favourite fiction”, as the subtitle lays out, takes contemporary illustrations and sometimes maps for the areas in which very location-specific books are set. The choice of books is global, with lots and lots of authors I’d not even heard of (which is fine and often intriguing, of course). It runs from Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” to Miguel Bonnefoy’s “Black Sugar” and for each book you get a little bit about the author (with a picture, except in the case of Elena Ferrante!) and the book, including its translator and date of first publication in English if it was translated. Then for example we see an illustration from Punch showing cholera in all its evils in the article for Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House”.

It’s careful to be fair and even-minded: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s troublesome division into us and them as regards Native Americans (although she is somewhat sympathetic to them at times) is addressed in the piece on “Little House on the Prairie” and the resder is directed to the article on Louise Erdrich’s series of novels with their switched perspective on the same timeframe.

I learned a lot about world writers as well as discovering lots of little juicy facts, for example about Daphne du Maurier only being able to afford to live in Menabilly thanks to the success of the book and film of “Rebecca”! Written by many contributors (they’re not attributed in each article but there’s a list of potted biographies at the end including which articles they wrote) but manages to have a pretty consistent tone. A good read and I’m glad I finally got to it!

This was Book 10 in my 20 Books Of Summer project.

I’m currently reading Book 11 in the project, “Girl in a Band”, having finished a light NetGalley read, and I’m not entirely sure what’s next (exciting!).

New acquisitions …

Remember that lovely big order I did from Foyles which arrived the other week? I had ordered “Sagaland” by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason as part of that order, but they eventually admitted it was out of print and they couldn’t get it. I reluctantly went to Amazon (I am trying not to these days) and they DID have it and now I have it. It’s a lovely fat tome which re-tells some of the Icelandic sagas, and then they also travel to saga sites (this is not something that is offered on commercial tours in Iceland at the moment, which makes me sad – I have been to Egil’s grave on one trip that gave some highlights, and also had a pizza at a petrol station/shop at Hliðarendi, location of Gunnar’s house in Njal’s Saga, but only by accident) and there is a connection between Gislason’s family and one of the sagas, too. I bet this doesn’t live for too long on my shelf before being consumed. Anyway, imagine it with the others, leavening out the (of course very) worthwhile modern reads on race and gender with a good dollop of Iceland stuff.

It’s Spanish Lit Month and I noticed this on Ali’s blog, too – this reading month is run by blogger Winston’s Dad and you can find the post about it here. As I’ve been learning Spanish on an app for the past 470-odd days, and not being up to their special past historic tense used in chapter books onwards (plus stsill slightly reeling from that time I attempted to read a Mr Men book in Icelandic), I decided to keep my horizons limited to what I knew I could do and searched for a children’s book in Spanish. “Amo a mis mamas” (by Elias Zapple, translated by Camila Ayala Teran) “I Love My Mums” is actually a tiny bit more basic than I was looking for, but I’m going to work my way through it (there are some words I need to look up still) and see if that counts. It looks lovely and sweet, anyway.

In Shiny New Books news (and I’m very aware I need to share with you my latest two reviews on there, coming soon!), I have received a digital copy of James Raven (ed.) “The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book” – an absolute perfect fit for me, of course, and featuring wonderful looking essays by many experts in the field. This one is out on 13 August so I will be fitting it into my reading schedule very soon (on my tablet, so I can see the colour illustrations properly) and reviewing it in Shiny and sharing that.

And finally, in NetGalley news, hot off the press (or not even off the press yet) is “Loud Black Girls” ed. Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, which is an anthology of pieces by twenty Black British writers, exploring what it means to live in these current turbulent times and what comes next. This is published on 01 October but I am so looking forward to reading it (although these authors also wrote “Slay in Your Lane” and I’m thinking I should get hold of that first …

Any new incomings for you? Read or about to read any of these?


Book review – gal-dem – “I Will Not Be Erased: Our Stories About Growing Up As People of Colour” @galdemzine


Four books to read this monthIn some ways, I’m not the audience for this book, and indeed it will be a lifeline for a young woman or non-binary person of colour growing up in the West, but I know it’s so important to a) know what is going on in your society and b) understand what it’s like from the direct testimony of people who are experts in their own experience. So I read this with great interest, and enjoyed reading these passionate, clever, articulate and meaningful essays.

gal-dem is an online magazine and platform which (quoted from the book)

addresses inequality and misrepresentation through platforming the creative and editorial work of young owmen and non-binary people of colour across fashion, lifestyle, politics, music, arts and opinion. (p. 195)

I came across them when they guest-edited the Guardian newspaper’s Weekend magazine, and they have a Twitter and Instagram feed you can follow: they share a lot of useful content.

gal-dem – “I Will Not Be Erased: Our Stories About Growing Up As People of Colour”

(24 September 2019)

Stories and illustrations from the gal-dem editorial team and writers, women and non-binary people of colour, mainly sharing a diary entry, poem or even Facebook Messenger conversation from their younger teenage self then writing a letter to that person, encouraging them and talking about how their lives are going to change.

As well as these pieces, there’s a powerful Uncool Girl’s Manifesto, biographies of all the writers and illustrator and a good resource list covering issues raised in the autobiographical pieces. The introduction makes it plain that the purpose of the book is:

Your voice matters and your experiences are important. (p. 9)

and it encourages readers to write their own diaries and pieces, too.

From issues with your parents’ culture (and exhortations to embrace it) to fearing you’re not Black enough, to issues around sex and gender to sage and useful advice about drug-taking, it covers a whole range of topics with enough seriousness to hit home but a light touch where it’s needed (obviously individual pieces vary in this). I would imagine it would be a great resource for young people of colour as a friend to stand beside them and teach them and educate them, and also to reflect their own experiences, but also it’s a fascinating record for people other than the core audience (like me) to learn a lot about what it’s like growing up in this world at this time, and a decade or so ago in the case of the younger selves.

The illustrations by Jess Nash are warm and empowering, and it’s a positive book that will do a lot of good in the world if it’s read as widely as it deserves to be. Recommended reading as I say for younger people of colour for seeing themselves reflected, and for older people not of colour for seeing our society and thinking about what we can do for change.

Book review- Paul Magrs – “All the Rage” #magrsathon @paulmagrs


Liz with almost all her Paul Magrs books

Me with almost all my Paul Magrs books

I was really looking forward to re-reading this one and it didn’t disappoint. I first read it in 2002 from the library (that must have been Lewisham Library, where I discovered Paul’s books from the late 90s onwards, and probably the last one of his I had from there, as I swapped over to the smaller Charing Cross Library when I moved into central London in 2003), and then again in 2008 after buying it in Hay-on-Wye in May of that year. I do love having authors I can re-read, although I know a lot of people don’t do much re-reading (I think next year  might include a re-reading challenge of some sort).

Paul Magrs – “All the Rage”

(18 May 2008 – bookshop in Hay-on-Wye)

A ‘straight’ novel with no magic realism but still with Paul’s trademark wit and warmth, revolving around the story, in alternate chapters, of a boy-girl-boy-girl band in the 1980s who mess up their Eurovision chance but are taken to the hearts of the British public then follows the inevitable trajectory of fall-outs and new musical directions, and of Tim discovering Debbie Now in her mum’s karaoke bar years later and embarking on an epic road and rail trip around the UK of her past. Discovering their hit is going to be covered by a vapid starlet, they collect Tony, Debs’ old best friend (who lives with a rather marvellous creation, another has-been pop star, who has gone beyond gender and, it appears, sense) and then her ex-husband Clive as the plot spins faster and faster, ending up with a hilarious set-piece.

Will meeting Tony be a let-down for Tim, who saw him as someone like him on the telly before he even knew who he was? Is Tim’s job at the shop selling rubbish for your house gone forever (funnily enough, the scenes in the store rooms at the beginnning of the novel made me think of Catherine O’Flynn’s “What Was Lost“, which is partly set in the backstage of a shopping centre, and of course I found I read both novels in April and August 2008!) and can he repair his friendship with colleague Shanna?

Full of warmth – Tony being the centre of this, supporting Debs by shouting out the truth about both of them at school, carefully laundering Tim and Debs’ clothes when they stay over – and care for characters who don’t have much self-confidence (Tim is “just … being nice, not wanting to disappoint people”). There are also big, over-the-top characters: Brenda the fourth member of the band with her helmet of telly hair and Roy the enormous and unapologetic transvestite band manager. Oh, and characters from other novels, something I love about Pau’s books – I whooped out loud when they met a tall, black guy working in a chip shop in Blackpool and yes! it was Timon from “Fancy Man” (although that book was lost by then, so this is the first time I would have made that connection!)

A great fun re-read with a big, warm heart.

Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy and the Phoenix Court series plus Paul’s excellent books about creative writing are available new. Find all my posts here.


Book review – Anne George – “Murder Runs in the Family” #20BooksOfSummer20


I’m really excited to say that with this book I’ve jumped into 2019 acquisitions for this month. My intent with my #20BooksOfSummer challenge this year was to clear out books acquired in 2018 from the TBR that had been sitting there forever at the start of the shelf. And now all there is there is Viragoes and Persephones, some of which are still from 2018, which I will read in August. So achievement has been accomplished and I’m really pleased to have moved things along.

Here we have a small volume which Gill kindly gave me for my birthday last year. I really like American cosy mysteries set in quilting shops and the like, and came across my first one in this Southern Sisters series, “Murder on a Bad Hair Day” at a BookCrossing meetup in Shrewsbury (as you do!), read it back in 2009 and popped all the others on my wishlist. You can get hold of them at the moment and I’m tempted to pick up the rest of them, although I don’t think I ever finished the Benni Harper quilting mysteries, either!

Anne George – “Murder Runs in the Family”

(21 January 2019 – from Gill)

A Southern Sisters mystery, set in Birmingham, Alabama (a place I have actually visited – and when I moved to Birmingham, UK, quite a few people thought I was moving there, as the company I worked for at the time had its headquarters there!) that finds sisters Mouse and Sister investigating the death of a distant relative of Sister’s new son-in-law, a genealogist in an apparently dog-eat-dog world who has a lot of enemies. Meanwhile, Sister has an elderly new beau and Patricia Anne’s husband of 40 years is having business worries, while their daughter is seeing someone new – could be be that precious jewel in the humid South, a sinus doctor?

I love how Meg, the murder victim, has sisters named after the rest of the March girls from “Little Women” and when she, or later others, refer to them and reach Beth, their listener murmurs, “Oh, no”. So funny (she’s fine and lives in Hawaii) and I love those little touches in a well-written and fun little novel

This was Book 9 in my 20 Books Of Summer project.

I’m currently reading Book 10 in the project, “Literary Landscapes”, and then I think it’s time for my next Paul Magrs, “All the Rage”.


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