Book review – Adharanand Finn – “The Rise of the Ultra Runners” @RunBookshelfFB

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PIle of birthday books

Looking at this picture of my birthday books from last year, I’m very chuffed to see I’ve read all of them apart from “Because Internet” (which arrived slightly after my birthday), although I have the two Persephones still to review, too. I have had a bit of a reading frenzy over the beginning of this month, with four books finished and two more started, so reviews should trickle through for a bit now.

Adharanand Finn – “The Rise of the Ultra Runners”

(21 January 2020 – from Gill)

I’ve previously read Finn’s other two books on running with the Kenyans and running in Japan, so was keen to get my hands on this one. I also know a good few ultra runners and have even attempted an ultra myself! (I did the least terrifying one I could find to do – race report here if you’re interested). I have to admit that part of the joy of reading this one was seeing someone who’s quite successful as a runner finding himself very much challenged by the combination of going off-road, going slower and actively choosing to walk up hills, all the while eating a lot on the go which characterises these longer-than-a-marathon events!

He looks into the history of the sport and interviews many of the big names, like with his other books, offering good pen portraits of the characters he meets. He also covers the darker side of the sport – the mysterious points system that allows you to get into the Mont Blanc ultra he’s aiming at, ideas about doping and cheating and social media competitiveness. He also talks to plenty of women and raises the issue of their lower prize money and sponsorship, even though women are now proving just as strong if not stronger than men at very long-distance endurance running.

At first, Finn can’t really grasp why people run ultras. He finds a lot of people who have beaten adversity and addictions, and seems to find that people enjoy having some adversity and challenge in their easier lives (this is certainly why I was happy to just do one and go back to the idea of more marathons (road ones) in the future). This is also, for a different reason, why he can’t get his Kenyan colleagues interested in ultras, as they have usually got into running to make enough money for their families to survive rather than as a leisure activity.

Although Finn is at the sharper end even of ultras and doesn’t mention much about the folk at the back of the pack (he does interview one slower woman and also stays to cheer people through near the cut-off time, though), there are still some points in the book that chimed with my experience: he discovers watermelon is the.best.thing.ever while racing, and has a weird burst of energy in the final fifth of a few races (when he excitedly tells other ultra runners, he gets a sort of, “Yeah, and?” vibe back!). And the range of people who do these races and their range of mental and physical strength is there, especially in this amusing quotation:

In my state of almost total deterioration, it’s a little disconcerting to get passed by two women discussing the cost of hotels in Venice. (p. 114)

So a good solid history and survey of the sport with lots of time in the pain cave and talking about different ways of assessing and improving gait – I think most people interested in running would get something out of this, and I do like the way he’s not afraid to laugh at himself.

Book review – Phillipa Ashley – “An Endless Cornish Summer” @PhillipaAshley #NetGalley

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I was really pleased when the marketing manager of Avon Books got in touch to let me know a new Phillipa Ashley series was starting and I could access the first new book via NetGalley. I have really liked her books in the past and felt this was a bit of a new departure and richer and deeper, a good progression!

Rose follows a trail of clues from Cambridge, where she works as an academic, having had to put her career on hold while she recovered from a life-threatening illness, to a tiny coastal Cornish village, desperate to find the donor who saved her life after an event in her life triggers the possibility of another new start.

Of course, Cornish village communities being what they are, Rose is soon sucked into local life, and she’s almost counted as a local, since she’s working on an archaeological dig in the area and also applying for funding to do more. She bonds with a local shop owner, the very much non-woo-believing Oriel, who happens to run a shop full of crystals and pixie lore, gets involved with the Regatta, starts to learn to sail and meets the hunky Morvah brothers, one of whom might hold the key to her search. But of course, the more she gets to know everyone on their own terms – and hers – the less she feels she can reveal why she came here in the first place.

I loved the interesting setting with lots of sailing and archaeological/academic detail which made it a nice and deep, satisfying read. I also loved reading about some of the standing stone sites I know (Ashley cheerfully admits to moving some of these around a little for the sake of the story and I’m fine when that’s clear!) and the whole area is described beautifully, as always. There’s comedy and suspense enough to keep you reading on but enjoying it in a light way.

I was really pleased to see the diversity back. Of course no Cornish village is going to be like an urban area in the Midlands, but Oriel has a firm girlfriend and neither of them is a stereotype, and there’s a boatyard apprentice called Gurdeep who brings in excellent snacks, as well as mentions of the wealthy boat-commissioning Choudhourys. So it’s delicately done but brings an extra dimension that I very much appreciate.

A really good read with a great heroine who makes mistakes but who you can really root for. I look forward to more in the series!

Thank you Avon Books for making a copy of this book available to me on NetGalley in return for an honest review.

State of the TBR – April 2021 plus a few #bookconfessions

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I finished or read 14 books in March, a total I’m very pleased with, and it’s shown up in my TBR, as well (some books came from the front shelf and some from the back shelf, which is why the front shelf seems to have shortened from both ends compared to at the beginning of March). A couple of these were review books for other sites, one is up now on Shiny and linked below.

I did also read some e-books but I’m pleased the pile tottering on top of the books is now at least to the side (and two of the books in he pile are the same book, an ARC and a finished copy.

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Expiation” by Elizabeth von Arnim, which is a real page-turner of a story about a woman who’s disinherited for being Bad – our sympathies lie very much with her and my heart is in my mouth at the moment wondering what’s going to happen to her. My other current read is “The Rise of the Ultra Runners” by Adharanand Finn: I’m enjoying his discomfort as he moves from the safety of road running to the excitement of off-road stuff (knowing I’ll never have to do that myself again!). These were both books I was given for my birthday in 2020 and I’m relieved to say I’ve read all my 2019 books at last!

Up next

I have three lovely review books to finish and review for Shiny New Books: Sathnam Sanghera’s “Empireland” is an investigation of how Britain’s imperialism has shaped the country itself, “Field Work” by Bella Bathurst is about farming and working on the land and its effects on people and the land, and Mike Pitts’ “Digging Up Britain”, about new developments in archaeology, has had its publication date moved back a couple of times but is aiming for this month now.

Then I have my two Anne Tylers for the month, “Earthly Possessions” and “Morgan’s Passing” – again, I don’t recall much about these but I’m sure I’ll enjoy them.

Coming up

These are the next books at the front of the TBR, and as I’m trying to get as up to date as possible, I will be concentrating on these.

Stella Martin Curry’s “One Woman’s Year” completes my longest-outstanding Persephones, I may skip Sathnam Sanghera’s novel given I’m reviewing him this month, then we have some round the world travel, discussion of East Germany, invention in Africa and a book I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to read on the Internet’s influence on language.

I realise I should have read the ebook “Between Worlds: A Queer Boy from the Valleys” by Jeffrey Weeks last month for Dewithon – it’s published today so I will get to it soon, and one of my most recent NetGalley wins is out this month, too, so those will hopefully be in the mix as well.

Incoming

I have been quite careful this month and not too many books have come in. A couple of recent NetGalley wins (OK, a few) – I was offered Phillipa Ashley’s “An Endless Cornish Summer” by the publisher and have read it, ready for review at the weekend, and I have Greg McKeown’s “Effortless” which is about sorting your life out and doing the most important things, and Natasha Brown’s “Assembly” (a novel in which a young Black woman gets sick of it all and tells it how it is – this is described as shocking and might be out of my comfort zone but it does look important).

Past me also pre-ordered Debbie Macomber’s “Welcome back to Cedar Cove” which is an ebook of stories from the fictional town she wrote a whole series about (will I remember who’s who) and I got too excited about Emma Dabiri’s (of “Don’t Touch My Hair” fame) new book, “What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition” to wait. I’ve also got Anne Tyler’s “Redhead at the Side of the Road” arriving in paperback to complete my collection.

Shiny Fun!

Last but of course not least, I have reviewed two books for Shiny New Books recently.

The “Grayson Perry’s Art Club” exhibition catalogue was a lovely memento of the first series of the televised art club, with all the interviews and pieces by the celebs and other guests, and images and stories from the members of the public who exhibited, too. Of course the exhibition never opened (or hasn’t yet) so this is a lovely thing to have and helps the gallery, too.

Read my review here.

And “Hyphens & Hashtags*” by Claire Cock-Starkey was an excellent read about the history of symbols and glyphs, mostly found on the keyboard, some not, with a good theme pulled out of how these settled in the first place and have changed since.

Read my review here.

So that’s it, March in review and April to come. What was your best read of March and what are you looking forward to reading in April?

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