Book stats and best books of 2021

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I know I said I wasn’t going to publish my top books of 2021 until 1 January, but I’ve got such a big TBR post to do then, and I am not going to finish one last book for this year, so I thought I’d share my reading stats and top 18 books for 2021 tonight. So here we go …

Reading stats for 2021

I kept a spreadsheet recording various aspects of my reading again this year, and here are the salient points …

In 2021 I read 185 (159 in 2020) books, of which 86 (83) were fiction and 99 (76) non-fiction. 116 (94) were by women, 62 (56) by men, 5 (8) by both (multiple authors) and 2 more (1) by a mix of male, female and non-gender-binary people.

Where did my books come from?

NetGalley 47 – Bookshop online (mainly Bookshop.org and Hive nowadays) 41 – Gift 27 – Publisher 24 – Own 20 – Charity shop 9 – Bookshop physical 4 – Author 4 – Bookcrossing 2 – Bookshop independent 2 – Bought from publisher 2 – Subscribed 1 – Lent 1 – Bought from author 1

Still fewer from charity shops, which was down to the pandemic plus a lot of NetGalley and Shiny New Books reads (thank you, publishers!)

Most books by far were set in the UK although fewer in number and proportion than last year at 94 (99) with the US second 44 (24) and then 24 (12) other countries (some a combination of a few) plus fantasy worlds and the whole world.

I read books by 87 (76) different publishers, the most common being Vintage (because of Anne Tyler, last year Virago because of Angela Thirkell), Virago and Penguin.

I read most books published in 2021 at 60 (39 from 2020 last year), which is down to Shiny and NetGalley. I read books from many different years, with all decades in the 20th and 21st centuries represented.

Onto diversity of authors and themes. 73% (79.25%) of the authors I read were White (as far as I could tell), with 26.5% (19.5%) People of Colour and 0.5% (1.26%) a mix of White and POC authors. The UK is apparently 87% / 13% so I was pleased to increase my diversity count again this year. 112 (121) authors were British and 54 (26) American, the others from 13 (9) other countries or a mix. Out of the 185 (159) books I read, I assigned a diversity theme to 74 of them (43/159 last year), so 50 (21) about race, 17 (8) LGBTQI+ issues and 3 (10) covering both, 2 (3) disability and (1) LGBTQI+ and disability, 1 (none) about class and 1 (none) class and race. This doesn’t meant such themes didn’t come up in other books, just that they weren’t the main theme.

Best books of 2021

As I read 185 books, I allowed myself 18 best books. I have some honourable mentions, too, and one is a bit of a cheat … These are in order of reading through the year.

Best fiction

Dorothy Evelyn Smith – O, the Brave Music

Paul Magrs – Hunky Dory

CLR James – Minty Alley

Jo McMillan – Motherland

Anne Tyler – Ladder of Years

Alex Haley – Roots (how could I not!)

Buchi Emecheta – Second-Class Citizen

Honourable mentions to the publishers Dean Street Press and British Library Women Writers, who produced consistently very enjoyable and absorbing books that as a whole brightened my year considerably. Molly Clavering in particular was an excellent new find, reflected in my Christmas incomings (see tomorrow).

Best non-fiction

Christine Burns – Trans Britain

Isabella Tree – Wilding

Maya Angelou – her whole autobiography!

Mike Pitts – Digging up Britain

Sathnam Sanghera – Empireland

Johny Pitts – Afropean

David Olusoga – Black and British

Pete Paphides – Broken Greek

Hassan Akkad – Hope not Fear

Lev Parikian – Light Rains Sometimes Fall

Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason – Saga Land

Honourable mentions to Madness’ autobiography – “Before We Was We“, Kit de Waal’s collection of memoirs, “Common People“, Stephen Rutt’s “The Eternal Season” and Shon Faye’s “The Transgender Issue” (I added the Burns instead because of the variety of voices covered).


A great year of reading. I have Fallen Behind but will look at everyone else’s best-ofs tomorrow, promise!

Book review – Winifred Boggs – “Sally on the Rocks”

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One of the highlights of my year has been being on the mailing list for the British Library Women Writers series, an excellent set of reprints of 20th century novels, each with accompanying information. I was on the blog tour for “The Love Child” and this one, which arrived with it, has been my last full read of 2021 (I don’t like to leave a year untidily but won’t finish my current read today).

Winifred Boggs – “Sally on the Rocks”

(13 October 2021)

“It will be a close thing. You have the wit and beauty, but I am safe and domestic and have been through the mill, nicely broken in. You look as if nothing could either bend or break you … ” (p. 144)

As you open this book, poignantly both set and published during the early years of the First World War, it seems quite traditional, slightly older in its writing style, settling down to a good story of English village life. We have characters building up, the clergyman with his wayward ward, the village gossip, the man of importance but an over-indulged sense of his own importance, the widow trying to catch a husband, the old lady in the manor house controlling people through what she gives out in her will. But very swiftly it turns into a strongly feminist message which gives it a delightful twist. Because while Sally and her rival, Mrs Dalton are supposed to be just that, rivals, they quickly form a friendship based on an honest appraisal of how much they both need to marry a rich man, and the different attributes they bring to the contest.

There’s also a strong critique of the way people’s pasts are allowed to affect their futures differently according to their gender. Without giving the plot away, hopefully, Sally has come from rackety stock, but was carefully raised by her guardian and his wife; but rackety will come through if encouraged and she has something Not Quite Nice in her past which is likely to come back and bite her. The man involved, not so much, and this is made very plain. The plight of women who are not allowed to earn their own decent living is also emphasised – even the horrible Miss Maggie, who uses her sleuthing abilities to cause real harm, is almost excused with the idea that she could have been a really first-rate professional had she had the opportunity, and there are some acerbic comments about women’s ageing and its effect on their prospects:

“The ‘getting on’ stage is the most trying, don’t you think? After you are past it, well, people leave you alone; but till you are, you MUST keep on struggling. (p. 10)

There’s also a strong critique of attitudes to the war, with Mr Bingley coming under heavy criticism for finding its privations personally tedious, but giving £10 to charity, and thinking it would be terrible to go to the Front lying, having pretended to be younger than one is (I cheered when I read in the accompanying matter that the age of conscription is raised just after the book ends, even if he is a fictional character!).

I think the author also works to undermine a few of the tropes of the literary time – there are a couple of characters who very handily come into money, and one certainly seems to have a habit of fortuitously losing relatives and gaining their money. Although there are a few struggling souls and the general point of the book, about women being unable to support themselves and relying on their ability to marry, is a bit dour, there’s lots of lightness and fun in the book, including sections narrated by the interior monologue of a dog and a cockerel, as well, as well as a good wellspring of capability and practicality which I really liked.

As is usual with these volumes, there is a timeline of the 1910s, a piece about the author and a perceptive Preface, as well as an Afterword at the back, which outlines the development of women’s professions as well as talking about the book in particular.


Thank you so much to the British Library for sending me this book and others in the series in return for an honest review. You can buy all the British Library Women Writers books (and more) at the British Library Shop (https://shop.bl.uk/).

Book review – Maya Angelou – “A Song Flung up to Heaven”

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We’ve had a bit of a gap but here’s the next (and last full) instalment of Maya Angelou’s wonderful autobiography, which has definitely been a highlight of my reading this year, even more enjoyable because I’ve read them along with Meg and Ali (I was a little ahead of Ali in my reviewing schedule so here’s her review now).

Maya Angelou – “A Song Flung up to Heaven”

(April 2021)

‘Maya, your tongue is too sharp. I’ve told you time and time again. You must watch out for your tongue.’

But my tongue was all I had, all I had ever had. (p. 131)

Angelou returns to the US from Ghana at the start of the book, planning to go and work for Malcolm X in New York. But she diverts to California first, keen to see her mother and brother, work out how to escape the clutches of her royal prince boyfriend who isn’t going to let her go without a fight, and regroup herself and fight the guilt of having left her son, Guy, in Africa to finish his education. Then of course, Malcolm X is assassinated, and she’s left bewildered by the reaction. After some work on drama and her own writing, she is contacted by her old friend Martin Luther King Jr to help him on his poverty march campaign. She will, she says, but only after her birthday. It’s 1968 and when she tells him the date of her birthday – yes, 4 April – you can’t but wince in advance. Spending time with James Baldwin and other central figures, she is started to write poetry seriously, supported by a kind man who wants nothing from her (for once!) and building a close circle of friends, we leave her, aged a little over 40, starting to write the first volume of her autobiography.

I will admit I was a bit disappointed that this is the end, she’s aged 41ish out of the 86 years she lived, and just starting her literary career. I believe the last volume this was packaged with, “Mom & Me & Mom”, is a consideration of her relationships with her mother and grandmother rather than covering more years in such detail (and the final volume in the pile is poetry, which should be good to get to in due course). So I’m now on the look-out for a good biography – any suggestions?

I did enjoy this still – her great, smooth prose, her ability to laugh at herself and admit her weaknesses and mistakes make this a very attractive, if slight, volume.


This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 29/85 – 56 to go (possibly, again, I will say let’s wait till I lay them out on the floor again on 1 January!)

One last wintry book review – Ruth Thomas – “The Snow and the Works on the Northern Line”

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I was visiting Ali back in September (it must have been my first visit after she moved into her lovely new flat, actually) and she, as is her wont, pressed this upon me, telling me I’d like it. Into the TBR it went, as it did look good, and I had someone in mind I could pass it on to afterwards, too, and then, when I was looking for wintry reads for this month and had decided to dart around in the TBR to pick some out, there it was! This is my last wintry read (well, until I start in on Annabel’s Nordic FINES challenge in January) as I’ve picked up a British Library Women Writers novel to read next, and have two Dean Street Press reads to get to, too (hooray!).

Ruth Thomas – “The Snow and the Works on the Northern Line”

(10 September 2021, from Ali)

I did see some Barbara Pym comparisons in the review bits at the front of this, but I trusted Ali and her knowledge of my taste so pressed on into it. And yes, it is quite Pymmish, and in the deadpan tone of the writing a bit Comyns-y (without the yuck factor), or Dodie Smith’s adult books or Victoria Clayton, who does that well, too. So I was already primed to like it from the first page.

Sybil is as we meet her a young woman working in a slightly fusty museum as a finds cataloguer, living with a fussy man who’s really into peculiar grains and special cooking. It’s a funny life but it’s OK, until 1) Sibyl’s ex-university tutor, Helen, swishes back into her life, working for an organisation that helps museums get into the modern world, gunning for a position on the trustees’ board and pushing her own, slightly dodgy research and – worse, and this is so funny – trying to sell a line of cups inspired by the actual Beaker People. Soon she’s got her claws into both the Institute and Sibyl’s boyfriend, and while Sibyl tries to recover from a freak skating accident and is not sure what’s real and what’s a feature of her head injury, worms her way in, gets rid of bits of the museum, puts people’s backs up, gets all over the telly and generally makes a nuisance of herself.

Sibyl visits her slightly comedy parents in slightly comedy Norfolk, moves in with a well-meaning but rather brisk old friend and takes a poetry course that is supposed to be “for the terrified” but is actually terrifying. The scenes there are marvellous. She also meets a librarian, Bill, who might be able to help her in all sorts of ways if she’ll just let him. Spanning academic conference dinners, a never-ending indexing job and dusty archival corners, the setting is right up my street and Sibyl a charming if unreliable heroine.

For something that sounds character-led and looks a bit chick-litty, it’s literary and plot-driven, well-written, and also very fun, but warm. Highly recommended, and thank you, Ali, for foisting it onto me in the first place!

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 28/85 – 57 to go (possibly, let’s wait till I lay them out on the floor again on 1 January!)

Two exceedingly Christmassy reads to round off the season

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Even though I have read a lot of wintry and then Christmassy books this month, cutting a swathe through the TBR and its associated challenge, I had yet MORE Christmassyness arrive just before Christmas, opening “Christmas: A Very Peculiar History” in my BookCrossing Not So Secret Santa parcel and receiving the lovely short story / Christmas card “The Christmas Dinner” by Washington Irving from (I will admit as they’ll both read this) two lovely booky friends. What better reads to save for Christmas Day? (Actually, we were quite busy on Christmas Day, what with me going to parkrun in the morning, cooking a lovely lunch, going for a walk and doing a Zoom call with a dear friend, so not THAT much time for reading!). Only one will count towards actual books read, but both deserve a review.

Fiona MacDonald – “Christmas: A Very Peculiar History, With Lashings of Second Helpings

(16 December 2021 – from Sam via BookCrossing)

A little gifty book that packs a lot of information into its 191 pages of vintage-illustrated text (including a glossary and index). It has details on the history of all the things to do with Christmas, from its timing to the tree and Father Christmas himself, info on practices around the world, and fun facts galore. It’s a pretty little book but certainly has enough content to keep you reading for a good few hours. One tiny mention that all the scholars mentioned are men and even when there’s an illustration of a random scholar, it’s a man, with women and girls relegated to general illustrations, but I’m probably being extra picky there. A good gift and one to consider when putting together parcels for friends or relatives.

Washington Irving – “The Christmas Dinner”

This is one of the lovely Christmas card / pamphlets that Renard Press do in aid of “Three Peas“, a charity that supports people who have had to flee war and/or persecution in Europe. It’s such a lovely idea and I was very pleased to receive them this year again. This is a great story of a typical British Christmas dinner reported by an American writer in 1820 – so you get his footnotes explaining lots of traditions, as well as extra ones from the modern editors to explain things that might have got lost in the mists of history. Everything’s there from feasting to dressing up in costumes in this charming little read that gets you into the spirit of Christmas or keeps you there on a sleepy afternoon.

Two lovely gifts! Did you do a Christmassy read on Christmas afternoon?

Running round-up – December 2021

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The lovely Kim at Running on the Fly and Deborah at Confessions of a Mother Runner run a Weekly Run Down catch up for fitness bloggers. I used to take part until a certain pandemic hit, but then I was so sad about the running for half an hour on my own type restriction, not being able to run with friends, and the opprobrium that runners were attracting when we did venture out that I stopped doing it. I also started running out of space on this blog so deleted a lot of the posts and photos. I kept running, though, and reading everyone else’s blog posts, and then with friends when I could, and even schedule a race (see below: oh …) and I’ve decided that, while my running isn’t interesting enough to warrant a weekly post, I am going to update on the last Sunday of the month. So here’s an update for the last year or so … (don’t worry: in summary!).

First half and a bit of 2021

I had a lovely half-marathon run on my birthday with poor long-suffering Claire, upon whose day off it fell … we ambled around local sites, including this pretty church and village area in Northfield. After that I kept things up, running in the week with Claire and almost every Sunday with Trudie, I did some speed work and kept things turning over, upping the miles to over 25 a week, vaguely wondering why no other not-super-fit middle-aged women I knew ran that much … Club run came back, with a different start point to before lockdown after a difficult time with the local council, now resolved, but a little further away from home than before and it was good to reconnect with people again. All our parkruns came back on 31 July and I started volunteering at Oaklands again, running the five miles there, volunteering and running back while the weather was good and to avoid having to get public transport.

September to November 2021 – the wheels fall off the bus

In September, training for my October half-marathon I was doing with Claire and her Oakley (the only race she could find where an under-17 could take part), I started to get slower, less fit-feeling, struggling around club run, not finding it at all easy to run to and from parkrun … yes, I had overtrained, even little, slow me! Just shows anyone can do it. I cut right down, cut myself some slack, and managed to keep going.

Our half-marathon came in October, Oakley did really well and finished strongly, I went and fell heavily 9.4 miles in, Claire stayed with me, even though I did apparently exhort her to carry on and finish! and strangers were very kind, looking after me as Claire ran round to find medics, etc. I ended up being taken to A&E at the local hospital (to us, not the race!) by Claire while her partner brought Matthew, my kindle and a hoody to the hospital from home (I won’t bring a pullover hoody to another race – not easy to get into when you have a suspected broken hand). After x-rays I was sent home with no breaks, however since then my little and ring finger on my right hand, which I fell onto, have been giving me trouble. And as a transcriber and editor by trade, obviously this scared the whatsits out of me and I lost a lot of confidence, even not running for a week.

Lovely Oaklands Park in the summer

Then we both got a cold and more time out! Yes, just a cold, we tested. But good news was, I’d taken on a Core Team role at parkrun as the Volunteer Coordinator. I work behind the scenes, collecting emails and messages from volunteers and slotting them into the roster in their preferred roles, sending out regular requests for volunteers and reminder emails on a Friday night, and posting on our Facebook page. I don’t do the bit where you assign marshal points etc. on the day as being face-blind makes it a bit hard to recognise everyone. But I’m glad to be able to help the Event Director by taking on this role, and really enjoy it.

And when I went to the running club awards night in November (the first and only time I’ve been to a Thing inside with quite a few people (all felt safe and was before Omicron arose), Dave Johnson and I were given parkrun pioneer awards for our work at Oaklands (Dave has helped keep it going and is a Run Director and volunteer) which was so lovely. So things started looking up.

December and onwards

I have managed to slowly regain my confidence – I’d had to stop volunteering at club runs as had started not going and then didn’t feel I could take a leadership role, but I’ve been in the dark a few times now and after a few wobbles early on feel OK now. Also slowly getting my fitness back.

I’ve been slowly upping my running, only adding 10% to my total for the week every week like a good runner, and I thoroughly enjoyed going down to Cannon Hill parkrun for the Christmas Day parkrun yesterday – I ran there, round (with my friend Hilary, and saw loads of other lovely running friends) and back for 7.2 miles and then enjoyed a hearty turkey lunch. Kim put this excellent mosaic together (thanks to Cari for getting my pic to her) and there I am, top right, in my Little Miss Christmas leggings! I received a running book as one of my Christmas presents and am hoping for more gentle running adventures in 2022. Happy Holidays to all!

One more Christmas book review – Stephen Moss – “The Twelve Birds of Christmas”

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Look! Look! Only two of my paper December TBR to read and I’ve got a whole week more to do that (I do have a sneaky extra line-up for Christmas Day reading, too). I know that really I could have read this between Christmas and Twelfth Night but it’s done now and here’s my review of another excellent Stephen Moss book (I’ve previously enjoyed “A Bird in the Bush” and this uses some of the same busy research and delving into the history of our relationship with birds as that book). Our friend Linda originally gave Matthew this book for Christmas a couple of years ago, but I snaffled it at some point to put on my TBR, probably for last Christmas, when I overegged my Christmas TBR pudding and didn’t get it read!

Stephen Moss – “The Twelve Birds of Christmas”

(borrowed from Matthew)

So, next time you stand in a church, school or on a doorstep, and begin to sing that famous opening line, ‘On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me …’, spare a thought for the grey partridge, turtle dove, chicken, blackbird, yellowhammer, goose, swan, nightjar, crane, black grouse, sandpiper and woodpecker – the twelve very special birds of Christmas … (p. 211)

In this jolly seasonal read, Moss takes the well-known Christmas carol and, where birds aren’t mentioned in the lines, slightly shoehorns other birds in, but in a charismatic and cheeky way so you don’t think he’s just trying to cash in on the season. Obviously partridges and French hens, swans and calling/colly birds make an appearance, but as soon as I saw nightjar down for Eight Maids a-Milking I knew it was for its nickname and old accusation of sucking goats’ milk. So they all have a connection, nicely made, and then we’re into the meat of the chapter.

Each chapter describes the appearance, biology and habits of the bird in question, then goes back into the history of its name and humans’ relationship with it and some bits and bobs of writing, both from naturalists and poets/novelists. There are also a couple of interesting illustrations for each – black-and-white woodcuts etc., with colour illustrations on the attractive cover. The only slight criticism I’d have is that there are no footnotes or references, so although he’s careful to, for example, give poets’ and poems’ names, it’s not hugely easy to track them down at once. But that’s a minor point.

It’s interesting that we look at birds in decline (turtle doves in particular) and those that are flourishing (blackbirds, with their ability to adapt to garden life, and mute swans, which are spreading north and even encountering whooper swans in the Shetlands, who are spreading south). Changes in agricultural methods and global warming are discussed as negatively affecting bird populations; individual campaigners, rewilding projects and reintroduction projects as having positive effects, and it’s important to get a balance in a gifty sort of book like this.

My favourite anecdote is this, about the sandpiper, in a discussion about the folk names it has:

The redoubtable William MacGillivray, an eccentric Scotsman who attempted – and spectacularly failed – to persuade his fellow Victorians that they should standardise the English names of birds, proposed renaming this species ‘the White-breasted Weet-weet’, which certainly does what it says on the tin. (p. 183)

A very nice read, seasonal but also readable at other times, full of interesting facts and details.


This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 27/85 – 58 to go (possibly: as I said on my last post, I’m not particularly sure I have this right any more and will check at the end of the month!)

Two Christmas paperbacks – Sophie Pembroke – “The Wedding on Mistletoe Island” and Jenny Colgan – “An Island Christmas”

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Well, I certainly haven’t yet read all of my paperbacks planned for December (I have, though, finished all my ebooks!), but I have read a good few of them, am in the middle of one and plan to read the last two between Christmas and New Year. After my diverse Christmas e-books yesterday, here are two of those volumes you commonly see in The Works or a garden centre. In fact I bought them both from The Works in October 2020; I think I’ve read the other two I bought alongside them. And both are properly Christmassy reads, and good ones at that but also quite chock-full of events and traumas, so a couple of trigger warnings on them.

Sophie Pembroke – “The Wedding on Mistletoe Island”

(October 2020)

Neal smiled, and mouthed, ‘Just like old times’.

Fliss’s smile slipped. Yes, it was. And she’d been looking forward to exactly that for so long … but now it was here, she wasn’t completely sure if that was a good thing any more. (pp. 40-41}

An ensemble cast gather in this tale of university friends who are never quite able to escape the roles that were set for them at 18 – from the “Mum and Dad” of the group, now pulling in separate directions, to Miss Fliss, the “good” one who’s spent her life being nice but might just have a secret. We open with them set to spend a summer week at Fliss’ parents’ cottage on a remote Scottish island, then skip forward ten years when almost all of the original seven, plus Ruth, a wife who’s joined the group by proxy, have reassembled for Fliss’ wedding. While they settle into the cottage again, old rivalries and friendships run high, and Harry, the “shallow” one of the group and Ruth see things more from the outside. Will Fliss snap as The Mothers organise her perfect wedding away from her? Will various secrets come out and will two of the group resolve the old hurt from a decade ago?

This read almost like an emotional thriller, swapping narrators chapter by chapter and winding up the tension about who knows what about whom, and who’s going to tell. There is light relief, of course, and slower sections looking at Ruth and Alec’s marriage after baby loss (trigger warning there as it’s quite detailed on the emotional and physical side). It’s a good, long, satisfying read and with a properly Christmas setting as the wedding is to be on Christmas Eve eve …

Jenny Colgan – “An Island Christmas”

(October 2020)

It was, in fact, very difficult to have a private conversation on an inhospitable island with a small amount of people on it, all of whom know you and are also unbelievably nosy. (p. 129)

While the Sophie Pembroke was a standalone novel, this one’s fourth in a series about an island community, again in a remote part of Scotland, an invented island called Mure, and I will probably pick up the others in the series, as it certainly was an engaging (and diverse, unlike the whiter-than-white, straighter-than-straight Pembroke) read, if putting the reader a little through the wringer.

Again, an ensemble cast gives us Flora, running a cafe and accidentally pregnant, unable to tell the father; Saif, a Syrian refugee raising two boys alone while acting as the island’s doctor, trying to find out if his wife is still alive while drawn to the teacher at the only school; and one guy who is dying, his husband protecting him, his brother suddenly arriving from overseas with all the drama that entails. There’s a lovely cast of supporting folk, including an ancient dog (who makes it to the end of the book) and some very amusing children, lots of detail about how a small island community works, psychologically and logistically, and thoughtfulness over how people’s situations might affect them in different contexts – how will Saif feel when his sons have starring roles in the school nativity, but dressed in the “traditional” tea-towel headdresses of a British play, for example?

Triggers for a delicate pregnancy that hangs in the balance and a slow death from cancer, but a really well-done book and I will definitely be looking out for more by this author – just now trying to work out which of her many books are in this series and what order they come in!


This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Books 25-26/85 – 59 to go (I think – who knows! I might get them out and count/photograph them again for my 1 January post!). And I’ve finally got all my Christmas books read!

Two diverse Christmas reads – Lisa Moreau – “The Christmas Proposal” and Louise Lennox – “Merry Kiss Me”

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Two e-books today, one from NetGalley, one from Amazon via a recommendation, and both a bit diverse, with one LGBTQ-themed and one about the Black inhabitants of three islands off the coast of South Carolina. I’m on my fourth Christmas read proper now, with one paper book read and one to go – so I’m definitely doing quite well this year, better than last!

Lisa Moreau – “The Christmas Proposal”

(1 December 2021, NetGalley)

Grace walked out on her job and the boss, her girlfriend Christina, a year ago. During that time, she’s read self-help books and tried to heal – but she still can’t bring herself to go back to Mistletoe Mountain, the cute Christmas-themed resort where her family live, after a tragedy a decade ago. So when Christina’s new personal assistant, Bridget, a coder at heart who doesn’t really get personal relationships, is tasked with arranging Christina’s proposal of marriage to the woman she was cheating on Grace with, and goes to – who else – Grace, who works at a proposal-arranging company, and reveals Christina wants to do the deed at – where else – Mistletoe Mountain, the stage is set for awkwardness, memories and a horrendous time.

But Mistletoe Mountain and Grace’s lovely family weave their magic, and when Bridget and Grace get trapped there, Bridget’s heart might just begin to melt and they might both just start to share their stories. Is there more of a new start here than just that? A really sweet book, the Christmas town and time setting is really nicely done, the villain of the piece is a vicious gossip who can’t understand why Grace’s sister plans to have a baby on her own and has made a rubbish website, but that’s as bad as that gets, and it’s all wrapped up in kindness and supportiveness. There are funny moments and I’d look for more of this author’s books.

Thank you Bold Strokes Books for accepting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “The Christmas Proposal” was published on 14 December 2021.

Louise Lennox – “Merry Kiss Me”

(07 December 2021 – Kindle sale)

I saw mention of this book on Life of a Female Bibliophile’s blog post with holiday romance recommendations and, while I liked the look of some of the bakery-themed books she mentioned, this was the one I could get hold of in the Kindle sale. She did note it was spicy, and spicy it was, but a mix of a bit rude for me and some lovely social conscience and community engagement!

We meet Symone and Rhue as young people running off to the marshes on a lowland island off South Carolina (I’ve read a couple of novels set in a similar place so the location wasn’t that unfamiliar and I always like reading about island communities), lovers and best friends, saving Symone from the horror of yet another drunken rant from her mother. Ten years on, Symone is living a life in New York she thinks she wants, but everything starts to unravel when she realises the big, manly fiance is a controlling person who will never let her flourish. Meanwhile, Rhue has made it big as a property developer … and he’s about to buy a location that has huge meaning to Symone. However, he’s also a property developer with a heart, making sure the Black communities of the islands get a fair deal and aren’t ripped off by non-island and White developers, and makes sure every development he creates gives something back. When they reconnect, sparks fly in all sorts of ways; meanwhile, we meet Symone’s other friends (there are four books in the Kiawah Kisses series, each covering a different couple) and see their stories starting. There’s also a concentration on making things right and healing family issues.

I did enjoy this short novel but it was a bit raunchy for me (though I did appreciate that women’s pleasure was given as much emphasis as men’s, and the note about the author explains, “In her novels sparks always fly; the sex amazes; and the characters always leave the world better than they found it through their love”.

Book review – John D. Burns – “Wild Winter” plus interim books incoming report

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I bought this book back in May this year direct from the lovely indie publisher, Vertebrate Publishing, after buying another book from them and getting on their enticing email list (do check them out, they have some fascinating books and great discounts). I pulled it off the TBR shelf for the themed reading you might have noticed I’ve been doing this month, and it was certainly a lovely wintry read (though also with pandemic stuff, not too major, but drawing his project to a halt).

I’ve also decided to share some interim books received, as otherwise my 1 January 2022 post is going to become unwieldy, so books opened on Christmas Day there (I know I have at least a couple) and BookCrossing Secret Santa books and other random buys here. But first …

John D. Burns – “Wild Winter”

(04 May 2021 – bought from the publisher)

I know this place well. In my imagination I take an eagle’s ride over the sweeping ridges, across the dark lochs and down the wide glen to where the lights of houses twinkle at the roadside. The journey is filled with memories of days spent wandering in the rain, days on sunlit rock climbs, days on snow-crusted hills – some with friends and others alone with the landscape. These valleys and hills keep drawing me back. (p. 2)

Burns is an ex-mountaineer and keen bothy-bagger, visiting bothies (simple stone shelters for walkers, many originally shepherds’ huts) in the Highlands of Scotland both to simply enjoy them and to write in. He has a couple of interesting friends who he takes with him sometimes, not least Martin, who likes to keep things as they were in 1976, including woolly suits and an ice-axe that gets him into trouble on the public transport he loves to take. Burns decides to up his knowledge of the flora and fauna of his adopted homeland, especially after he fails spectacularly at a bird identification game on a boat trip with “proper” birders, and plans a project over the winter of 2019-2020 (yeah, you can see where this is heading) to see the big mammals of the north (wildcat, otter, stags rutting, etc.) as well as get in some trips.

The fairly slim volume starts with a walk in the dark to watch the sun rise and the stags gather to rut, Burns considering a long life in the outdoors in the mountains and hills he knows so well. He writes very nicely, lyrically but also practically, so we can really imagine the scenes he’s seeing and the places he inhabits temporarily. There’s also persuasive and passionate language as he describes the desecration of the Highlands by the big estates for their grouse-shooting – and then joy as he finds some estates which are encouraging re-wilding and holding back on the dead moors. I didn’t really know about this in detail so it was fascinating to read – and fits in with the rewilding strand there’s been to my reading for a while now.

Of course, given the timing, the pandemic encroaches on his plans. He never sees beavers (though he sees their evidence) or wildcats, and pine martens only at a feeding station a contact has set up. As lockdown starts, he’s confined to his flat in Inverness, staring at the top of a tree where small birds congregate, and he’s lost at first, then finds some solace in exploring his local environment in his mandated exercise half-hours. He ends the book saying that the readers will know what has happened next (though of course we don’t really, yet) and wondering what will happen to the bothies, but there is a hopeful note in this well-done book about the rewilding and rethinking going on in the Highlands.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Book 24/85 – 61 to go and I’m well ahead of my schedule of 7 per month so far, with a couple more read or in progress to finish by the end of the month.

Incomings

Here’s Barclay Price’s “The Chinese in Britain: A History of Visitors and Settlers” which I knew was on its way when I posted my last Book Confession but hadn’t actually arrived yet. It goes up to 2019 and back as far as history tells us, and is the only book I’ve found so far that treats this topic comprehensively, so I’ll be interested in mining its bibliography and notes, too.

Last Thursday, we had the opening ceremony (on Zoom, again) of the Birmingham BookCrossers’ Not So Secret Santa (not secret because we register the books on BookCrossing so once the recipient has put in the number inside the book, they know who it was from). As well as some lovely chocolate and a Christmas decoration cracker, the lovely Sam gave me three crackers of books (ha ha) – Fiona MacDonald’s “Christmas: A Very Peculiar History” which is a timely little volume, with a note to look at p. 92, which has a list of odd things Icelanders do on New Year’s Eve. I hope to read this on Christmas Day. Then Brit Bennett’s “The Mothers”, a novel in which a teen pregnancy and love triangle lead everyone to wonder ‘What if?’ and Mariama Ba’s “So Long A Letter“, a novel in the Heinemann African Writers series which details the reminiscences of a Senegalese schoolteacher (both a novella and a Women in Translation book, this will come in handy for a challenge or two next year) – these were both from my wishlist and I am very excited about reading them.

After reading the story of a young Inuk man in “One Arctic Night“, I said to myself and in my review that I wanted to find some Own Voices narratives of life in the Inuit lands and particularly the Canadian territory of Nunavut, where that novel was set. Frustratingly, just as I have found with books on Aboriginal Peoples in Australia, books on Inuit life and culture are difficult to obtain here in the UK, with even e-books being ferociously expensive, print books even more so. And I do understand that publishers with short runs need to price to survive, but I also doing have an infinite budget and many aren’t available at all. So I found Paul Okalik’s “Let’s Move On” for a budget price on Amazon and snapped it up, and it rather improbably arrived in a day or so and here it is. Okalik was the first Premier of Nunavuk and grew up there, and while he has a co-writer who is not an Own Voice, they did live in the territory for a good decade themselves and have also written with other politicians. So I’ll see how I get on with that – I bet none of my readers have read that one!


Hopefully reviewing two light e-books tomorrow and another two novels soon to wrap up the Christmas reading before I shoehorn in another couple of winter ones. What are you reading in the run-up to the Festive Period?

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