Book review – Lizzie Damilola Blackburn – “Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?”


The seventh out of eleven books I had to read from NetGalley which are out this month (as of writing and publishing this review, I’m in the middle of two more so haven’t done quite as badly as I feared, although the two remaining ones are substantial works of non-fiction). This is another excellent debut novel; I’ve been so lucky to read a few really good ones recently, thanks to NetGalley.

Lizzie Damilola Blackburn – “Yinka, Where is Your Huzband?”

(18 October 2021)

I’ve never been a loquacious person, but once I start talking it’s hard to stop. It’s as though someone has reached into a bathtub and pulled out the plug, and now all the murky, dirty water is whirling beyond my control.

Yinka is 31 and, at the moment, she has a job in the operations department of an investment bank. She split up with her last boyfriend a good while ago but no one has come along in the meantime. When her cousin announces her engagement and her mum and aunties keep praying – out loud, in public – for her to find a husband (or, even more importantly, a “huzband”, one approved of by said mum and aunties and preferably put forward by one of them), she formulates a plan. Soon she’s busy eschewing chicken shops and pretending she can cook Nigerian food, casually “borrowing” her best friend’s clothes and, in short, pretending to be who she isn’t. When things start to go wrong, she’s still bluffing, this time to her friends as well as her family. What’s left to divert from her usual ways – oh, drinking and messing around on men’s sofas – because Yinka’s a Christian and she doesn’t believe in getting drunk and sex before marriage. Is it time for her friends – with her White workmates and her Black best friend joining up against her – to stage an intervention? Can she pull herself back from the brink?

I’ve seen some Nigerian and Nigerian British bloggers expressing disappointment with this book as showing a stereotyped view of Nigerian British people – especially the older generation, with its leagues of aunties demanding respect. I am of course in no way qualified to discuss this judgement, and it’s obviously a valid one if it’s made from inside the community this book describes. I would say that as a non-Nigerian British reader, I certainly didn’t think any less of the characters or of the Nigerian British community for real having read this book, which I think a load of negative stereotypes would risk doing. The aunties chimed with my reading of books by South Asian writers, also prone to them, and the characters felt really well-differentiated to me, with different motives and outcomes, so not a homogeneous whole, and you could see why they acted as they did. And I loved so much about this book …

I loved that Yinka’s Christianity was shown as a strong point and a good thing, not something to be chipped away at. A good lot of the characters volunteered at an outreach centre for the homeless and, while that was a plot device to have them interact, too, it felt authentic – and men took on caring roles there, too. I loved her friends and her sister, and the way they showed different ways to be and to be successful in career and family terms. I really loved that there was an aromantic character – and that they explained the difference from asexuality and were left space to be their own self. There was LGBTQI representation in the gay workmate and his stable relationship, too, just there, being happy, no trauma and drama. I loved how Yinka’s colleagues modelled how to be friends with her, listening to what she said and buying her gifts that carefully reflected her culture. I loved that it’s more than a rom-com, that her friends and friendships and cousins are more important than any man.

I especially loved that it was set around New Cross, Peckham and other bits of South London I know well (although now, when they’re a bit more fancy – Yinka is not wrong when she’s surprised to find a Costa full of hipsters on Peckham High Street). It also has a lovely description of the therapeutic relationship as Yinka struggles to tell her dark-skinned counsellor about the colourism she’s experienced. Blackburn almost pushes her behaviour too far, as well: we see her silencing a celebration and bemoaning that no one supports her, and she can be very unlikeable, but in my opinion, Blackburn pulls that back from the brink.

Now we’ve got to the nub about running round South London as a young Black woman and exploring therapy – is this another “Queenie”, then? No, it’s not – and is there not room for more than one novel about young Black women running around South London, just as we have lots of books about middle-class, artistic, White families or Irish millennials. Let’s celebrate and make room for more books about more kinds of people. Another excellent debut novel and I can’t wait to see what she writes next.

Thank you to Penguin for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Yinka, Where is Your Huzband” is published today, 31 March 2022.

Another Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment: this is the third novel in a row that has portrayed a (very positive) therapeutic relationship. I’m pretty sure not all the novels I read feature someone going to see a therapist or counsellor, but who knows!

Book review – Richard King – “The Lark Ascending”


I bought this book in my Christmas/Birthday Book Token Splurge of June 2021, reported in my State of the TBR July 2021 post. Of the ten books I bought then, this is the sixth I’ve read and reviewed, which isn’t too bad, is it? This was Richard King’s last book, before “Brittle with Relics” which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago: it’s a lovely read and I hope the new one sends a few people back to pick it up, as it covers some of the same areas. Again, I provided some administrative support on this one, but there’s a lot more narrative and fewer quotations so there were more new bits and surprises.

Richard King – “The Lark Ascending: People, Music and Landscape in Twentieth-Century Britain”

(24 June 2021)

From the song written to commemorate the mass trespass of Kinder Scout to the moment before the sound systems of the free festivals finally ran out of charge, music was the thread of this activity and flowed through the century with the authority of a river. (pp. vi-vii)

From Vaughan Williams and war poets through dodgily right-wing back-to-nature enthusiasts to hippie role models to rock stars getting away from it all to get their heads together in the country to the women protestors of Greenham Common to the ravers of the 90s in their free festival fields, here is the story of people’s relationship to the British countryside and the music woven in among it. As soon as we get within living memory, King’s in there, meeting and interviewing people, and he visits sites such as the decommissioned bunkers at Greenham, thinking of the women who danced on them in protest and iconic photos. As is common to King’s works, an aura of wistfulness drifts around the text, but it’s also practical and workmanlike, doing the difficult job of describing music and covering all forms from jazz to classical to folk song to dance music.

The book does intersect with “Brittle With Relics”, showcasing some of King’s abiding interests – the women of the Greenham Common Peace Camp have a different emphasis (and remain anonymous) and there’s a big section on John Seymour, whose “How-to” guides were the bibles of so many of the hippies who moved to West Wales in the 70s (two of whom rewired King’s parents’ own cottage). It’s such a wide-ranging book in terms of geography and special interests, that there’s something for everyone, and a worthy addition to the books we’ve had recently on nature and land ownership, both of which are touched on importantly here.

Edited to add (thanks, Bill): This book has a good chapter-by-chapter discography in the back, as well as a bibliography, so the discerning reader can create a soundtrack to their read.

This was my second review for Reading Wales 2022. I’ve bought a Kindle copy of Charlotte Williams’ magnificent-sounding “Sugar and Slate”; I won’t get to read and review it by the end of the month but I’m also not going to wait until next March to read it, so watch this space for my review!

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 12/53 – 41 to go.

Book review – Erika L. Sanchez – “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”


The sixth out of eleven books to read from NetGalley this month (and yes, I’m aware it’s the 27th and I’m not going to do it; I am part-way through both “Yinka …” and “An African in Greenland” at the moment so I think I’ve done OK). This is another excellent debut novel; I’ve been so lucky to read a few really good ones recently, thanks to NetGalley.

Erika L. Sanchez – “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter”

(6 Feb 2022)

“I’m from Chicago, I like books, pizza, and David Bowie. My favorite color is red. Your turn.”

“But where are you from from?”

“I’m from Chicago, I just told you.”

“No, what I I mean is … Forget it.” Connor looks embarrassed.

“You mean you want to know my ethnicity. What kind of brown I am.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Connor smiles apologetically.

“I’m Mexican. You could’ve just asked, you know?” I can’t help but smirk. “I prefer it when people are straightforward.”

“Yeah, I see your point. Sorry.”

“Don’t worry about it. It’s cool. What about you, though?” Where are you from? What are you into?”

“Umm … Evanston, burgers, and drums.”

“But where are you from from?”

Connor laughs. “I’m a typical American mutt – German, Irish, Italian and-“

“Wait, wait” Let me guess. Your great-grandmother was a Cherokee princess.”

“No, I was going to say Spanish.”

“Ah yes, our conquerors. And your favorite color?”

The book opens notably with our heroine, Julia, looking at the body of her sister, Olga, who was the perfect Mexican daughter, killed by a car in their hometown of Chicago, travelling from the community college back home, where she helped their mum cook and clean and also do her cleaning jobs outside the home.

Julia is very different. She’s a writer, and she’s keen to break away and go to a big college in New York or another city. While her best friend Lorena seems happy with her life obsessed with boys and not wanting to move away, Julia wants more, although Lorena’s path is equally validated, reminding me of the three boys in “Good Intentions“. When she realises there might have been something they didn’t know to Olga’s seemingly quiet life, she tries to work out what was going on; her geographical world also starts to shift slightly as she meets her first boyfriend, Connor and starts hanging out in his more middle-class neighbourhood.

When a crisis hits and is sent home to her grandmother in Mexico, she learns more about the mum she clashes with, once a rebellious teenager herself, and her dad’s secret artistic leanings. She also learns more about just how their journey across the border played out. But will that change her need to escape from her family life in Chicago, or will her time out of school affect her college chances?

The book is subtly done; in the mental health outpatients’ unit, Julia learns about different ways to cope and has a role model in the form of her counsellor; while Connor offers to help her hack into Olga’s laptop, she manages it on her own; Julia’s poverty and their inequity is shown nicely when she can’t afford lunch on a trip out while he plans on wasting money on amusing thrift-store purchases; and not all secrets are told, while characters do come to understand one another better.

There’s a list of mental health resources, an interview with the author and readers’ group questions in the back of the book, and America Ferrera is making it into a Netflix series, so plenty of extras; I think it would do well as a book group read and extends beyond the YA audience.

Thank you to Oneworld Publications for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter” was published on 3 March 2022.

A couple of Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moments centred around this novel. In this book and the previous one I read, “Duane’s Depressed” we get details of the therapeutic relationship with a psychotherapist. More surprisingly and notably, this one, “Duane” and my next read, Richard King’s “The Lark Ascending” all have mentions of Thoreau, perhaps more surprising here where he pops up as someone the heroine has read about. Last one, which I might as well include – Richard King talks about both Margaret Atwood and her environmentalism in general and her championing of Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and I’ve just read Atwood’s chapter on that very book in her new collection of essays.

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Duane’s Depressed”


As no one else appears to be reading along with my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project at the moment (which is fine, of course, it’s my project; lots of people do seem to be planning to read “Lonesome Dove” at some point in the year and I’m not sure I’ll get to it so please do just go ahead!) so I’m not beating myself up for having this review out after my planned date of “on the 20th of every month”. I really enjoyed it, and that’s the main thing! Why did I buy this one two days after “Texasville”, that’s the big question. Was I in the US at the time (this seems like a US copy)? I reviewed this last in November 2012 and mentioned then that I’d read it once before but didn’t have a review anywhere. Once again, I only remembered one salient point about this novel, though it was a big plot point.

Larry McMurtry – “Duane’s Depressed”

(11 April 2000)

The process of change that began when he had locked his pickup and put the keys in the old chipped coffee cup was more serious than he had supposed. He hadn’t just been walking for amusement: he had been walking away from his life. (p. 89)

While on paper this should be a depressing book (and Matthew remembers finding it so when he read it with me last time around), revolving, as it does, a man having an existential crisis and then experiencing bereavement, while most of the characters from the previous novels in the series are dead or die within the novel. But somehow it manages to be funny, engaging and fascinating.

Duane Moore is 62 in this one, so we’ve hopped forward a few years. He’s still in his long marriage to Karla, and prey to her Looks and suspicions, the house is even more full of children and grandchildren, Jacy Farrow is dead and Sonny is in a decline. At the very start of the book, Duane suddenly, for no reason that he or we ever fathom, decides he’s had enough of life in a pick-up truck, where most of his life has been carried out up to then, and makes a choice to walk everywhere. Soon he’s moving into a little shack on the edge of his property, 6 miles from his house; then he’s only shopping at a weird hardware shop on the cross-roads, not even daring to go into Thalia. If he does get back into the orbit of his family, he risks getting sucked in, yet he hasn’t left Karla and doesn’t want a divorce.

Can a therapist help him? The description of the process of therapy is what makes this book: his authentic reactions and emotions are moving and funny at the same time. He even has a classic case of transference, not that he realises that. Meanwhile, those affected by his change of heart and lifestyle have their own changes in their own lives; Ruth Popper finally retires and his children all seem to embrace actual jobs and marriages, for once. Did they need the king-pin of their lives, the stoical hard worker and general good role model to vanish to come good themselves?

There’s a very funny moment late on in the book which will chime with other McMurtry readers: this happens when he’s struggling through Proust, as you do:

‘Duane, I can’t believe you’re doing this,’ she would have been sure to say. ‘You can’t read a book that long. The only long book you ever read was Lonesome Dove, and if the miniseries had been on first, you wouldn’t have read that one either.’ (p. 429)

A long book in itself, but I gulped it down. The story of healing it contains, whether from an existential crisis or a loss, and the story of hope, is beguiling. I’m very much looking forward to reading the next two instalments in the series.

Book review – Charlotte Mendelson – “The Exhibitionist”


Here we are, working through those NetGalley books doggedly, this being the fifth of eleven so I am betting I’m not going to make it through all of them this month. I’ve read almost all of Charlotte Mendelson’s novels, “Daughters of Jerusalem” in 2005, “When We Were Bad” in 2011 and “Almost English” in 2014 and so fell upon this one when it popped up on NetGalley. The subject-matter, a male artist and his possibly-more-successful female artist wife, sounded enticing and almost, dare I say it, Iris Murdochian, and so it was.

Charlotte Mendelson – “The Exhibitionist”

(8 Feb 2022, NetGalley)

Lucia is a talented artist, creating huge installation pieces, with a pushy French agent who keeps finding amazing opportunities for her, but she’s married to Ray, a once-feted painter who has declined and been lazy, and now sits in their decaying house like a spider in a web, throwing fits of petulance if she dares work at her art, let alone be successful or written about. He’s driven Lucia’s son Patrick into perilous mental health, a self-harming habit and a dodgy caravan in the garden, his one daughter Jess into dull safety with the amazingly dull Martyn, and Leah, the daughter who stayed at home to be nurse/secretary/muse to her darling father.

As guests gather for a big party and new exhibition, will everyone be able to keep Ray’s ego stoked or will various family secrets burst forth? Will Lucia find the strength to bite back, even as she has to welcome the deliciously horrendous woman Ray had an affair with as well as his perfect sister-in-law to the house. Will Jess realise she might be better off alone than settling? Will poor Patrick escape?

I read a review which said your immersion in the book hinges on whether you believe in the monster of Ray or not. Having been raised on Iris Murdoch’s monsters, selfish, but also created by those in thrall to them, yes, I did. And the book WAS Murdochian, from the filthy kitchen and chaotic house to the redemption by water experienced by two characters, some comic set-pieces and the journeys taken by a few right at the end, out of the frame of the book; even a whiff of incest. Mendelson is certainly another great domestic realist, forensic detailer of marriages and love.

The book is pretty visceral. I was amazed at Mendelson’s ability to maintain the high level of drama at all turns even without that, but I would say that I would hesitate to recommend this to someone who is or has someone close to them going through breast cancer treatment: a realist is, well, realistic, and there are some harrowing scenes, although they’re in no way gratuitous. There is a cat but he survives intact!

Thank you to Pan Macmillan for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “The Exhibitionist” was published on 17 March 2022.

Book review – Richard King – “Brittle with Relics: A History of Wales 1962-1997” #Dewithon22


It’s taken me a while to read and review this special and important book: I didn’t want to rush it, wanted to give it my full attention and respect, and I found it incredibly moving in parts, too. Although I didn’t come into existence until 10 years through its timeline, and didn’t come into political consciousness until the mid-80s, I remember the miners’ strike very well, and the Greenham Common protests, both covered in depth here.

Even though I provided administrative support on this book and have known about its existence, concepts and contributors for a long time now, it still surpassed my expectations when I held and read the finished item.

Richard King – “Brittle with Relics: A History of Wales 1962-1997”

(1 February 2022, from the publisher)

“This is a history of a nation determined to survive during crisis, while maintaining the enduring hope that Wales will one day thrive on its own terms”. (p. 8)

King takes the immediate and up-to-date voices of around a hundred Welsh people who have been active in various forms of culture and politics over the last third of the twentieth century and beyond, and weaves them into a seamless narrative that brings us from the 1960s gathering of momentum in the Welsh language movement, agitating for equality between Welsh and English in the country and taking part in specifically non-violent protests (although there were also the holiday cottage burnings, also not causing harm to life and still never clearly resolved), to the referendum on and vote for a new Welsh Assembly (the Senedd). He intersperses extracts of the participants’ words from long and detailed interviews with historical interpolations, making the context and ramifications clear while leaving the stage free for the individual voices. Making it an oral history is a masterstroke, and the way he has taken sections on each theme and put the voices into dialogue with each other gives a stunning immediacy and authority to the book as a whole.

After a note on translations being well-nigh impossible to create directly and a list of the voices with notes on who they are (local councillors to Lord Kinnock and Leanne Wood; Michael Sheen and Rhys Ifans; men who were down the mines and women who protested at Greenham Common; folk musicians and the peerless wonder that is the late David R. Edwards, founder of Datblygu to widely known pop musicians; couples, parents and children), noting the spaces left by people no longer with us or those whose reliability of memory was self-describedly failing, King opens the book with his own Easter journey to tend family graves in the Amman Valley, looking out over the chapel and down a traditional mining valley, considering the industrial disasters and the neat terraces, concentrating in on the miners’ institute and what those organisations meant to the communities they were in. He fills us in on the background to the events in the book, starting with Saunders Lewis’ radio speech, ‘Tynged yr Iaith’ (The Fate of the Language), warning that Cymraeg faced extinction, along with the way of life and culture it represented. He explains the twin threads of the Welsh Language Movement and the crisis across Britain, but seen especially in Wales, of traditional industries and employment patterns. On the former, he’s careful to state his position:

“The history of the relationship between Cymru and Cymraeg, between Wales and its language, has most usually been told in the mother tongue. To present the history of the Welsh language during the period covered in this book in English is an act of faith: it is one not entered into lightly.” (p. 8)

We’re then on a roughly chronological journey through the period, although some themed sections such as that on the Women’s March to Greenham common and subsequent protesting take a longer section of history and overlap in the time line. It took me quite a long time to read the book as it was often a very emotional read, the participants’ individual voices interacting, backing each other up, arguing, talking about someone then having their own words pop up. There are heart-breaking sections and there are amusing parts – veteran campaigner Ffred Ffransis buying a clapped-out car that wouldn’t go up the hills out of Aberystwyth in order to park it to protest against tax discs being in English only, only to find the police ignored it for a month.

The long section on the miners’ strike was brilliantly done, with so many voices and making sure the women who were politicised and supported the miners and their families were fully represented (this section also pleasingly has the events that were described in the lovely film, Pride, mentioned). Putting Arfon Evans’ highly emotionally charged description of the return to the pit at Maerdy right at the end of that chapter, after the other returns had been discussed, was a rightful twist that had me weeping. Cleverly, King lightens the mood a little in the next chapter looking at the Welsh language music movement (and others who did not sing in Welsh, and those who pushed against traditionally seen Welsh values) with a mention of John Peel’s influence on spreading Welsh music across Britain including a packed gig all the way over in Harlow, curated by Attila the Stockbroker, that cheered.

The contrast between the two independence referendums was very interesting (one resounding no, one just yes, politicians doing their usual thing, leaflets mysteriously never manifesting, etc.) and there’s another book to be written on the contrasts between Scotland and Welsh independence movements and campaigning, only touched on lightly here, for reasons of space, I’m sure. The last word is given to Michael Sheen, eloquent and poetic, looking back at Wales and into the future in a powerful paragraph.

The epilogue explains how the Senedd continued being developed, its values and the phenomenon that people still didn’t really see what it did – until the pandemic came along and

That Wales could operate independently of Westminster was noted both by its own population and a London government animated by patriotism and the attendant manufacturing of divisive grievances. (p. 501)

And the book ends, after the Acknowledgements, within which I’m desperately proud to appear, with an in memoriam to folk lost during the writing of it.

An absolutely vital resource, something that hasn’t been written before, certainly not in this breadth and depth. It’s lively and never stodgy, thanks to the way it’s put together, and I highly recommend it if you’re looking for a good, solid read on community, politics with a small and large p, industrial and social history and the history of the proud and distinct country of Wales.

I was sent a copy of the book by the author, via his publisher, in thanks for having contributed to its production and to review. All opinions are my own.

This was my first review for Reading Wales 2022.

Book review – Margaret Atwood – “Burning Questions”


I’m trying not to fret about my progress through my book pile – I have finished the large hardback I was working my way through, have made decent inroads into my Maya Angelou poems and with this one am reviewing my fourth NetGalley read and am over half-way through the Charlotte Mendelson. Plus work has calmed down a bit so I have some reading time back. All good! One small issue with this one was that the version I sent to Kindle was full of formatting errors and unreadable, so I had to resort to the NetGalley Shelf app on my tablet, which doesn’t allow one (me, at any rate) to mark passages to quote later, just bookmark pages. So I hope I can remember what I was marking when I did so!

Margaret Atwood – “Burning Questions”

(13 March 2022)

I write books about possibly unpleasant futures in the hope that we will not allow these futures into reality. Under the circumstances, we’re doing moderately well […] Under what circumstances do we wish to live? Perhaps this is the real question we should be asking ourselves. It’s dark inside the wolf, yes; but it’s light outside the wolf. So, how do we get there?

I think I have Atwood’s first book of essays and pieces somewhere, and didn’t read her second: this is her third collection and gives us pieces, speeches, reviews and introductions from the last twenty years or so. Of course not every piece in a fifty-item book is going to be equally appealing to everyone; the horror theme she enjoys left me passing over articles on zombies, in particular, but also there’s something for everyone, and I learned about some new writers to me.

Somewhat naturally, the pieces that appealed most to me were those about her writing and the adaptations of it and about her life; the nature pieces were also good. There was little repetition apart from a general appreciation for her free and unconstrained childhood and the urgent need to address issues of climate change. I particularly liked “Polonia” which looked at her growing need to help people, unasked, as she ages, very funny and wry; her piece on Marilla as the character who experiences true growth in “Anne of Green Gables”; her obituary of Doris Lessing and her piece on how scared she was of Simone de Beauvoir; and “Buttons and Bows” about clothes in her life and in writing. As mentioned above she covers nature and its protection, birds, climate change and the wrongs done to Canadian First Nations writers [as she styles them]. It comes bang up to date with the pandemic and the devastating loss of her partner, Graeme Gibson.

I think my favourite piece was “A Writing Life”, in which she details a week of trying to write (this reminded me a bit of Dorothy Whipple’s “Random Commentary“) with a twist in the tale about one item that was easy to write. Funny and realistic, clear and practical: Atwood at her non-fiction best. I liked her mention of not wanting to look at the writer’s life when reading Kafka et al. as that linked with my reception theory interest, however much it might be rooted in not wanting to read a lot as a student …

An excellent collection I felt privileged to read, and especially good if you’re a fan of “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “The Testaments”, although she treats others of her modern books, too.

Thank you to Vintage Books for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Burning Questions” was published on 1 March 2022.

Book review – Damian Hall – “In it For the Long Run”


The last book I’m able to fit in to review for Kaggsy’s and Lizzy’s ReadIndies challenge which has been extended till today: this is my seventh read for it, although the other one I’ve been working on, Richard King’s marvellous “Brittle With Relics”, published by Faber, won’t be reviewed in time. It’s also one more down on my TBR Challenge. This is published by the lovely indie publisher, Vertebrate Publishing, whose “Wild Winter” I’ve also read and reviewed. I bought it at the same time as I bought “Pandemic Solidarity” (another ReadIndies/TBR challenge read!) after having read about Damian in Adharanand Finn’s “The Rise of the Ultra Runners“ (unsurprisingly, I’ve read all the print and none of the ebooks I talked about in that haul post!).

Damian Hall – “In it For The Long Run: Breaking Records and Getting FKT”

(13 April 2021, bought from publisher)

When reading this book, you have to remember that when Hall says he’s a below-average or moderate runner, he’s comparing himself to the elite fell and off-road runners who form his tribe. So the “just 8-minute miles” and the “not particularly impressive marathon PB of 2:36” are in that context, where people run immense distances at frightening speeds. Having got the running bug in his 30s, Hall goes on to work really hard to make his way up the ultra-running ranks, meeting and being beaten by all the contemporary greats as he goes, then gradually chipping away. He then goes in for Fastest Known Times on routes and rounds where the thing is to do it yourself (with someone around to help you prove it, so the South-West Coast Path in days (rather than the months of “The Salt Path”) or the Pennine Way in a record time.

Looking at all this, the “Salt Path” way of doing things is more relatable for me. He’s a bloke and it’s a bloke-who-runs-fast book, but it is more than that. He’s pretty self-deprecating and clear-eyed about both his abilities and the effect his hobby has on his family and friendships. Even better, he really does talk a lot about the women in the ultra world, very much admiring them, noting that it’s the men who cry and have to be persuaded not to give up, etc. He treats them as people, though, not as goddesses of running on pedestals, detailing both men and women’s relationships with their support teams or as his support team really honestly. He has something to say, too, about the dangers of extreme weight reduction in the pursuit of excellence, slamming a coach who encourages him near to an eating disorder. This is not usually discussed in running books.

Then, one better, he has quite a lot of environmental things to talk about. He’s uncomfortable about the carbon footprint of the flights he takes to races so he turns down invitations and reduces his flights. He worries about the impacts of farming and goes plant-based, including sourcing fuel for ultras that are vegan and plastic free, and generously listing the companies he gets them from (he lists sponsors in the back and not all of the ones he talks about in the text are sponsors). He tells us about Extinction Rebellion and carries a flag his children have made for him. That’s all unusual and refreshing.

Back to the running bits, reading about the camaraderie and community is always lovely. At least twice, strangers run up to a random gate to leave a snack for him to find! He really celebrates his support crews when he has them and even shares his thank you email to them for his big attempt. And he introduces us to the concept of Type 3 Fun (Type 1 Fun is fun; Type 2 Fun is not fun at the time, but is afterwards …).

A good read, not relatable as such for a slow woman runner who did her one ultra then retired from that format, but an entertaining one with some stuff to think about.

ReadIndies publisher note: This one is from Vertebrate Publishing, who say about themselves, “At Vertebrate Publishing we publish books to inspire adventure. It’s our rule that the only books we publish are those that we’d want to read or use ourselves. We endeavour to bring you beautiful books that stand the test of time and that you’ll be proud to have on your bookshelf for years to come.”

This was officially my seventh ReadIndies read.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 2 Book 11/53 – 42 to go.

Book review – Kasim Ali – “Good Intentions”


The third book from my NetGalley TBR read and reviewed; I’m aware that I’ve fallen behind somewhat, an unfortunately combination of lots of work in and a chap doing work on our radiators this week has held me back a bit. I will get there and I’m enjoying what I’m reading, which is of course the main thing. Here’s an interesting first novel looking at what it is to be a good British Muslim son.

Kasim Ali – “Good Intentions”

(15 November 2021, NetGalley)

Nur and Yasmina are happily in love, living together, even – but there’s one problem. That’ll be Nur. He’s convinced his family (mainly his parents, his dad born in Pakistan, his mum born in the UK as a second-generation immigrant with Pakistani parents) won’t accept Yasmina because she’s Black. We hop around during the four years they’re together, back and forth from when they meet to various scenes in their relationship, always returning to early 2019, when Nur finally tells his parents. We see his brother and sister, the family’s reaction to his wanting to leave home for university, his grandma’s perspective, and then his friends, the rather terrifying ex Saara, the friend from home, Rahat, and the newer friend from university, Imran, and Yasmina’s family.

Although this was a little bit in the “millennials and their painful love” genre (I seem to have read a lot of books in this area: “Open Water”, etc.), there was more to it than that. One aspect was the examination of different ways to be a good British Muslim son. Nur is always straining towards independence, but his brother Khalil chooses a university close to home; Rahat chooses a traditional option he’s scared Nur will decry; and Imran comes out as gay but courageously follows his heart and doesn’t choose the half-way option his parents present him with.

We also see an examination of mental ill health and toxic masculinity at play. Nur has at times overwhelming anxiety and depression. He doesn’t let people in or talk about it, although he really seems to help one character with her mental health issues at one point. Rahat is the only person who can really read and calm him – so is this actually fair on Yasmina, either.

The author does not let Nur off the hook. The ending is completely fair, looking at the different paths things might have taken: this is realistic and means Nur must face up to his actions. All the dotting around to different time frames before that builds a nuanced and realistic portrayed of a young man too convinced of his own perceptions to countenance anyone else’s: will he learn from these experiences?

A good read and I will look out for more by this author for sure. And it’s nice that some of it is set in Birmingham, too.

Thank you to Fourth Estate for selecting me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Good Intentions” was published on 03 March 2022.

Book review – Symeon Brown – “Get Rich or Lie Trying”


Well, I’m not doing too badly with my humungous NetGalley TBR, having read two and a half of the books in this image at the time of writing up this review. This one about the new economy of influencers caught my eye back in December and was an interesting read, if at times shocking almost to the point of distress. I do wish I’d read it before I had a job transcribing an interview with the author but we can’t all be perfectly prepared at all times, can we?!

Symeon Brown – “Get Rich or Lie Trying”

(9 December 2021, NetGalley)

I met streamers, marketers, tech entrepreneurs, sex workers, dropshippers and fraudsters. I saw how easily ambition transforms itself into deceit online and how social media has emerged as the most exploitative frontier of late-stage capitalism. I heard extraordinary tales of exploitation, delusion, dishonesty and chutzpah. And the more people I encountered, the more I started to see how much this brave new world had in common with the one we all know so well.

Rather than being yet another skate over why we have no attention any more, Internet addiction, the cult of celebrity, etc., this book takes a deep dive into the new culture of the “influencer” (loosely described as someone who uses their online presence and makes income by getting other people to engage with or buy something), allying it with a critique of (modern) capitalism, with the work of a huge mass of labour enriching the owners of the systems within which they exist, whether that be investment organisations with no real staff, the big social media platforms, so-called empowering hubs which host people effectively selling their bodies (well, everyone in this book is doing that) or retail empires preying on the desperate in both manufacture and sales.

There was so much I didn’t know about here, having assumed it would be mainly about people selling products and their own bodies, especially the people who livestream their lives and those of others, often with horrible results. First we meet young women who are basically encouraged to buy cheap, mass-produced clothes (made by exploited female workers, often undocumented, in illegal sweatshops; it struck me though it wasn’t made explicit that daughters could be selling clothes their mothers made), make “haul” videos to promote them, thus giving the clothing retailer free publicity, in the aim of getting more cheap clothes at no cost which will help them give the illusion of wealth and luxury which millennials and Generation Y people have been told they should have.

But it gets worse. Conforming to a new standard of beauty which involves an appearance of having a multiple heritage (which might in fact be performative Blackness, performed by a White woman) and a body shape never found in nature which replies on breast and buttock implants, desperate women resort to dodgy plastic surgery, often by undocumented surgeons, with no redress if (when) it goes wrong, and, if they’re “lucky” various bits paid for by the surgery companies … which then market to other women via them. It shocked me here that the companies don’t go after very popular women, but women with a small following of women like them who they will be able to sell to.

The financial scammers were hard to understand logically because I’m not highly numerate, but involve pyramid schemes, as do most things. The livestreamers were harder to understand morally, as they seem to involve bros doing pranks and saying revolting racist and sexist things to get tips online and make money, often from humiliating people. This lead into a heartbreaking portrait of a man who basically has a better life allowing people to insult him with racial slurs than before, when he was homeless, as he can make his rent now. In another section, we are asking whether it’s safer for women to perform sex work online (can’t be physically attacked, etc., but are never off-duty and pay a high price in terms of emotional labour …). What world IS this???

Brown does a really good job at explaining all the pyramid schemes and the likes, relating it to capitalism, the neoliberalism around markets, the cult of celebrity and luxury and a sort of identity politics which has people faking their race to “pass” the other way from how we’d normally imagine it. I can’t really work out which parts are more shocking: there’s a whole scenario where people claim to be activists or to be empowering people but are really selling – no, hawking – half-baked theories and crap books. Where there’s a way of making money or a movement, there’s a scam, I suppose, but it was pretty grim reading, and there’s only worse to come, apparently. He brings it right up to date with the boom in opportunities to “work from home” spread on Facebook etc., which are still nothing but pyramid schemes, breeding out of control during lockdown.

It did make me think about my own Internet personas, which I think are fairly realistic (I remember being infuriated on something like Second Life when I couldn’t make an avatar to represent my true self). I profit from my online presence only to the extent that I get quite a lot of free books in return for honest reviews, and recently received a small hamper of cheese. I believe I still have my feet on the ground, but for digital natives younger than me, this is a scary world with seemingly no end.

Thank you to Atlantic Books for choosing me to read this book in return for an honest review. “Get Rich or Lie Trying” was published on 3 March 2022.

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