20 Books of Summer Round-up: did it! #20BooksOfSummer #books #reviews


20BooksofSummer logoAll summer, since 1 June, I’ve been taking part in Cathy at the 746 Books blog’s 20 Books of Summer challenge. The idea was to nominate and then read 20 books by the end of 5 September (Labor Day in the US and Back to School Day in most of England at least). I attempted this last year and managed 17, with two I didn’t finish (in fact gave up on) and one I didn’t start at all. But that year, I only found out about the challenge half-way through the year!

And this year, I did it! So here are some facts and stats.

I read 19 books in full. Book 20 is a book in Icelandic – a children’s book, admittedly, but there’s still a fair bit of text and while my Icelandic reading is much better than my production, it’s a funny old language with loads of extra letters that come at odd places in the alphabet, and words have a nasty habit of changing their spelling as the grammar changes, making it all super-hard to look up in the dictionary. So the aim there was not to finish the book, but to get into the habit of working on it, and that I have done. Also, one of the books, “Modernity Britain”, was actually two books in one volume, so it all balances out.

From the original 20, I made four swaps (two swaps were Icelandic books, though, as I found the ideal one to start my reading and “translating” project). That’s, then, two DNFs out of 19, both of which I replaced, and read and enjoyed the replacements.

In the time between 1 June and 5 September, I actually read 37 books! The additional ones turned out mainly to be easy books I fitted in when I needed a simple and/or comforting read, books for the #Woolfalong and Dorothy Richardson projects and a big slew of running books I read coming up to my marathon. I never thought I’d “only” read 20 books through the period, it was more nominating a jolly pile (which started off as the front of my TBR but was more spread out on the back shelf) and a pile that’s representative of my reading tastes.

I read 13 works of fiction, 6 works of non-fiction and one children’s book, and that’s fairly representative of my reading this year in general (I’m on 58 fiction and 27 non-fiction this year so far).

Nine books were by men and ten by women, but I don’t keep records on this, so not sure if that’s representative.

I read books on words, on sport, on bookshops, on Iceland, on adventurous travel and on social history; I read only one modern novel, a bit of mid-century fiction, some classics, some Viragoes and two crime novels.

I read books set in the UK (several), Ireland, Iceland (three), the Poles and mountains, America (some), India and Morocco, and that feels representative, too.

While this challenge was going on, I was also doing the Dorothy Richardson “Pilgrimage” readalong and #Woolfalong, which didn’t feature in this list, and All Virago / All Summer, which did.

And I enjoyed it. I “met” some new book bloggers and gained some new followers and commenters, which was great fun. Thank you, Cathy, for marvellous hosting!

Here’s what I read!

20 books of summer 2016

20 books of summer 2016

Charlie Hill – Books – read and reviewed as Book 1 in the project

Michael Rosen – Alphabetical – read and reviewed as Book 2 in the project

Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee – Swim, Bike, Run – read and reviewed as Book 3 in the project

Joanna Biggs – All Day Long – read and reviewed as Book 4 in the project

Arnaldur Indriðason – The Draining Lake  – read and reviewed as Book 5 in the project

Cathy Kelly – The Honey Queen – read and reviewed as Book 6 in the project

Ranulph Fiennes – Cold – read and reviewed as Book 7 in the project

Julia Strachey – Cheerful Weather for the Wedding – read and reviewed as Book 8 in the project

Nilanjan Choudhury – The Case of the Secretive Sister – read and reviewed as Book 9 in the project

George Eliot – The Mill on the Floss – read and reviewed as Book 10 in the project

Salman Rushdie – Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights swapped for Robertson Davies – A Mixture of Frailties – read and reviewed as Book 11 in the project

Ann Bridge – A Lighthearted Quest – read and reviewed as Book 12 in the project

Andrew Flintoff – Being Freddie – read and reviewed as Book 13 in the project

David Kynaston – Modernity Britain – read and reviewed as Book 14 in the project

Auður Ava Olafsdottir – Butterflies in November – read and reviewed as Book 15 in the project

Edith Wharton – The Reef – read and reviewed as Book 16 in the project

Jane Smiley – The Greenlandersswapped for Angela Thirkell – August Folly – read and reviewed as Book 17 in the project

Edith Wharton – Hudson River Bracketed – read and reviewed as Book 18 in the project

A.S. Byatt – Ragnarok – read and reviewed as Book 19 in the project

Sogur ur Biblikunniswapped for Af Hjervu Gjosa Fjoll?  then swapped for Blómin á þakinu – got on with nicely as Book 20 – the plan all along

Book reviews – Hudson River Bracketed and Ragnarok: The End of the Gods #20BooksofSummer


20 books of summer 2016

ORIGINAL 20 books of summer 2016

Well, I’ve gone and done it! The two books reviewed here are Books 18 and 19 in my #20BooksofSummer project. Book 20, “Blómin á þakinu”, has NOT been read in its entirety: I didn’t actually expect to do that. As it’s in Icelandic and is being used as a project to improve my Icelandic by laboriously translating it, and it takes an hour or so to work on each page, I was always going to end up with that one as a work in progress, having established a routine to work on it regularly and improve my language skills. So that’s a win in my book! Anyway, two great books to finish up with, and as these reviews are quite long, I’m going to do a 20Books round-up tomorrow, if Cathy doesn’t mind! … and No Confessions today, although my last two confessions are in the post and should arrive soon!

Edith Wharton – “Hudson River Bracketed”

(23 October 2015 – from Verity)

This was one of the set of five lovely big Viragoes my friend Verity kindly sent to me when she was having a clearout (I’m pretty sure I did a donation to Mind for them). It’s a bit of a chunkster, but being Wharton, that’s not a problem as it’s easy to read and just skips on by.

The central character is Vance Weston, a boy from the Mid-West who’s from a family that’s commercially and religiously minded but not providing him with the intellectual stimulation he needs – or rather that he doesn’t truly realise he needs until he encounters a distant cousin who’s grown up in entirely the opposite milieu in the house of another distant cousin which is full of books, poems and cultural references he has never before come across. His vague yearnings to create a new religion and to write poetry are now subsumed beneath a desire to acquire the knowledge he would have gained from a combination of being a man and having his cousin Halo’s education.

There are a few false steps, and he does end up spending some time back home trying to fit into a journalism role he’s not happy with, still yearning for the intellectual environment that’s been dangled before him. But also, it’s the emotional outpouring after witnessing his grandfather’s bad behaviour that gets him his first literary break, and it’s the world of the motions, from his impulsive marriage to a wife who seems to exist wholly in the world of emotions, the impulsive expression of needs that draws Halo towards him and the brief trend for his grandmother’s brand of emotional evangelism that prove to shape Vance’s life far more than intellect and the world of the brain.

Of course, Vance can never return home once he’s had a second taste of the literary life and the emotional blending of a marriage, however impetuous. He’s distanced himself through both intellect and emotion, and I think the author may be pointing out that you need a decent balance of both, as he teeters between the two ends of the spectrum. Wharton pays little attention to convention, and although the Afterword suggest otherwise, I think she draws a portrait of a man with insufficient early education in the subtleties and control of both the emotions and the intellect, bewildered and attracted by both. Society’s expectations are also denigrated in Wharton’s social commentary: Halo and others are effectively bought, and all kinds of society work on commercial exchange rather than love or honour.

I was put off by mention of this being inspired by the early life of a writer, as I don’t tend to like novelisations of real-life events, but her portrayal of 1920s literary life in New York and a flawed hero drew me in.

This was Book 18 in my #20BooksofSummer project

A.S. Byatt – “Ragnarok: The End of the Gods”

(25 December 2015 – from Jane at Beyond Eden Rock, Virago Not So Secret Santa gift)

As part of Canongate’s retelling of the great myths by various writers, Byatt cleverly frames her reworking of the Norse creation and end-of-world myths by using a small child (herself), evacuated during World War II and seeking comfort from a German book about the Norse myths and legends.

Comparison is made between the gentle Christianity she’s presented with in the parish church, the more violent and basic myths and the claims she rejects of a link between the two made by the German editor of her book. The writings of the myths are superb, with all the right stuff in muscular, absorbing, dense and rich prose which uses alliteration and repetition to echo the language of the originals (but not in a pastiche, with an inventiveness all its own). The description of Loki, student of chaos, and his demonic offspring, especially the snake, is just wonderful, and it’s a tour de force indeed, attractive, multi-layered and thoughtful.

Messages about women’s roles in war and peace and about ecology are not too laboured, the Afterword reveals Byatt’s own childhood engagement with the topic, and the bibliography shows that she read the translation of the Edda done by my own Old Norse tutor, which pleased me. An amazing book.

This was Book 19 in my #20BooksofSummer project

I’m currently reading Stuart Maconie’s “The People’s Songs” which is as excellent as I hoped it would be, and about to start my next Dorothy Richardson. How are you doing with your challenges?


Book reviews – Modernity Britain 1957-1962 and Butterflies in November #books #20booksofsummer #WIT


20 books of summer 2016

20 books of summer 2016

Two books ticked off my #20BooksofSummer list in this post – that’s numbers 14 and 15. I’m still reading 16 and 20 and the challenge runs until 5 September, so it looks like I have a chance of getting there. Of course, the Kynaston is the one I’ve been reading for aaaaages, and it’s actually two books in one, but as you can see from the picture, it is a massive tome – and it was very enjoyable. There’s no link between the books apart from them being in this slightly wonky pile you can see to the left, but maybe they show important aspects of my reading – novels / non-fiction, sociology, travel, Iceland … The novel also fits into Women in Translation Month or #WIT – I didn’t do that on purpose as had quite enough on the TBR, but was pleased to find one that fitted into the challenge.

David Kynaston – “Modernity Britain”

(6 August 2015 bought on a trip to London with birthday and Christmas book tokens)

This tome is made up of “Opening the Box” and “A Shake of the Dice”; it’s a custom now for me to wait for the two individual volumes to come out then pick up the lovely hardback omnibus that follows – this is the third such volume, with many more to come as he works his way all the way to 1979.

These fine volumes tackle British social, economic and political history through the years, using materials from Mass Observation diaries, biographies and memoirs, letters, newspapers and some official histories. As usual, there are long passages detailing the often weirdly clashing events and opinions, the mundane and world-important mixing in one paragraph, as well as context and longer pieces on topics such as how town planning is going in various cities (one of these surprised me by being in a different layout than usual and some of the lists seemed a little rushed; however, in the acknowledgements, the author makes it clear that he was suffering from a severe health issue while putting together these books, so this is very much forgiven).

People are disenchanted with politics, Labour has split almost irrevocably, there’s a rise in racism and a constant threat of violence and riot in the streets and politicians are starting to deal with having to be on the media more and handling that with the appropriate spin … so not that different from modern times in many ways. But also the nationalised industries are doing well (maybe peaking), the Empire is being dismantled and the rise of consumerism is evident.

I missed an introduction which explains the sources, as I’m sure I found in the first volume – the diarists are introduced as such with an assumption you know what he’s talking about which might seem odd for a reader new to the series and not familiar with MO etc. But I’ll forgive him anything for actually thanking his transcriber by name (and how I would love to be that transcriber!).

This book was Book 14 in my #20BooksofSummer project.

Auður Ava Olafsdottir – “Butterflies in November”

(25 December 2015 – Not So Secret Santa gift from Jane)

A mid-30s woman goes on a rather random road trip with a small Deaf child in a car which accumulates or kills various animals (the mention of killing animals got me nervous and I did a little skimming ahead – basically a goose at the beginning and some goldfish, although several other animals make an appearance), after seeing her marriage disintegrate, apparently because she’s not very organised or well-groomed.

Will our narrator be able to take charge of another human being when she can’t seem to look after herself or her marriage? Does speaking multiple languages really have any use when trying to communicate with someone with apparently little language? The darkest month of the year and the people of Iceland’s new and older cultures will test her to the limits in this whimsical and very Icelandic novel.

This book was Book 15 in my #20BooksofSummer project and was also read for #WIT month.

I’ve scheduled this post in to catch up with reviewing, so I’m not sure what I’m reading at the moment you read this – Edith Wharton’s “The Reef” is on the go as I write this, and I’ve just finished Jo Pavey’s excellent autobiography. How’s your August reading going?

Book reviews – Being Freddie and Your Pace or Mine? #books #20BooksOfSummer


Aug 2016 TBR

Two sporty books today, one from the TBR and a #20BooksOfSummer read, the other an impulse buy after a recommendation from a running club friend, which I have since recommended on to many others. It’s a little ironic that I have probably read more than 20 books since starting the summer challenge, however it is nice to make a pile of books and keep to it, and I am working my way nicely through that pile.

Andrew Flintoff – “Being Freddie”

(6 October 2015 – from a box of books donated to BookCrossing by a running club friend)

I picked this out of the box because I do like a sporting biography and also like cricket. This did show me that I’ve lost touch with the younger generation of cricketers, but was still enjoyable.

This autobiography (ghost-written but acknowledged as such) takes us up to winning the Ashes in 2005. Thanking his publisher for getting the book out so soon after the Ashes, a lot of the final chapters are devoted to a blow-by-blow account, so it’s in a way more of a memento for that series than it is a book to keep for the illuminating life story. There are the requisite cricketing stats in the back, so it is one for the real fan of the sport.

It does take us through his career, injuries, exercise plans and friends/ colleagues, but the massive gap and the elephant in the room once you know about it is that he does not mention the eating disorder which undermined his life and health during his professional career. He talked about this five-odd years later, and it does make the book come out a bit odd, half a story.

Well-written, though, and full of funny anecdotes as well as play-by-play cricket.

This was Book 13 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

Lisa Jackson – “Your Pace or Mine?”

(25 July 2016)

One of Jackson’s blog posts for Runner’s World was shared on Facebook by a running club friend and the next thing I knew, I was clicking on the buying link. A perfectly timed read for me, this lovely book chronicles the ups and downs and learning points of Jackson’s marathon and ultra experiences. It’s not a how-to book and there’s little about her training, nutrition, etc., but that’s not what this book is for (she’s written a how to run book, too, which covers all that).

What it is is a joyful celebration of being a SLOW runner and enjoying herself far more (right) at the back than she would further forward (her worst marathon experience was when she got her 4:38 PB and couldn’t talk to anyone). She shares what she’s learned in themed sections, not forgetting about adversity and the death of her close running pals and relatives – the book does literally make you laugh and cry.

She also shares other people’s stories, both family members, people she’s met during races and more elite athletes who even share why they do it in the first place (not, mainly, for the medals or glory). There’s even a place to record your own favourite runs at the back.

I loved this book. It’s so inspiring and one to press onto people and read again and again. The production values are high in a nice-looking and well-made book, the editing is excellent, and it’s a must-read for the slower or novice runner.

I’m a bit behind in my reviewing, so look out for a review of #20BooksofSummer books 14 and 15, coming soon (the Kynaston is finished! and I read a great Icelandic novel, too). I’m now into Edith Wharton’s “The Reef”, as well as about to finish Jo Pavey’s inspiring autobiography. The Wharton is a 20Books book, leaving me with thre and a bit to finish by 5 September – I think I can do it!

Book reviews – The Lighthearted Quest and Moon Country #20booksofsummer #books


TBR July 2016Oh dear, one book left over from July and, even more horrifically, one book that I read in May, mentioned reading in May in another review, and NEVER REVIEWED! Not in my paper reading journal, not on here. I was only alerted to this fact when I was telling someone about my Reading a Century of Books project, was scanning down the list, noticed the title, thought “I’m sure I’ve read this”, looked for the review to link to it, and there was no review. So a little scrapheap for you here, and two books that are totally unrelated apart from the fact that they’re both set in different countries from the UK.

Ann Bridge – “The Lighthearted Quest”

(11 September 2015 from the lovely Jane at Beyond Eden Rock)

I met up with Jane when we were on holiday; we’d sent each other photos of books we had going spare, and I profited greatly from her passing me the Julia Strachey volume and this one. It’s a lovely elderly hardback with the dust cover just hanging on, and that does add to the reading enjoyment, doesn’t it.

This was a lovely, light (in the main) and fun novel which i have since found out is only the first in a series of eight Julia Probyn novels which I will now have to look out for! The estimable and pretty unflappable Julia (who still manages to be a very attractive and sympathetic character) takes on the task of finding her cousin Colin, who’s needed to take over the family estate in Scotland. Using her dumb-blonde exterior as a disguise, and making full and unashamed use of her many admirers and contacts, she’s soon skipping around Morocco with an assortment of bankers, bar owners, whiskery Belgian archaeologists and elderly ladies with mysterious nephews.

The threads of the story all come together beautifully: some you can guess, some people more accustomed to mysteries would have guessed before me, and some probably can’t be guessed, although it all works out logically. There are some charming characters, too. The only slight issue is there’s a LOT about the socio-political issues of French colonialism, which is interesting given the 1950s time of writing, which is perhaps a little heavy and over-emphasised (however, there is a frighteningly prescient comment about “elites [using] nationalist sentiments to use Islam as a lever to rouse the ignorant multitudes and try to create an independent African Moslem Empire”).

On balance, a charming book, well written and amusing, and I would read more in the series.

This was Book 12 in my #20BooksofSummer project.

Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell – “Moon Country” (May read)

(14 April 2015)

I bought this book second hand online after having been alerted to its existence by Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings, who seems to be a prime enabler at the moment (to be far, she’s only really compelled me to buy two books in over a year …). It follows Auden and MacNieces’s seminal “Letters from Iceland” (which I re-read in August 2012) with these two poets making their own way around the country, like their predecessors, including reportage, poetry, funny Icelandic soubriquets and playscripts in the work they produce. A lot of the Reykjavik and other western areas were familiar to me after having visited the country twice myself (trips 3 and 4 are currently being planned), and it was more jolly and readable than the earlier work.

This book covered 1996 in my Century of Reading project.

There we go, all neat and tidy now. I’ve since read book 13 in #2obooks (“Being Freddie” by Andrew Flintoff) and am making good progress with the Kynaston which might just be book 14. I’m half-way through the month’s Dorothy Richardson volume, and a half-loving it, half frustrated by it; I’ve also read a book about running marathons slowly. How are you all doing?

State of the TBR – August 2016 (yes, I know) #books #20booksofsummer


Aug 2016 TBRYes, I know it’s not quite 1 August yet, but the TBR situation isn’t going to change in the meantime, and I’ve got a lovely book that’s on sale from tomorrow that I want to review tomorrow … so here we are with the State of the TBR.  It doesn’t feel tooo bad to me (there is another one on the left that you can’t quite see, see photo of upcoming books below) although a bit messy, as I photographed it after having a 90 minute ‘nap’ (is that a nap or a sleep?) and forgot to remove my book in Icelandic, notebook and dictionary.

I hadn’t been taking much off the TBR, reading some review books and Kindle books, but then I had a lovely long read yesterday of a fab Ann Bridge book I’ll be reviewing later in the week, and I’ve taken Freddie Flintoff to start this evening.

Aug 2016 currently

So, coming up soon / currently reading alongside David Kynaston’s “Modernity Britain” (nearly done!), we have these lovelies (refer to my previous post for a fuller image of the two blue ones), two of which arrived this week and didn’t actually make it onto the TBR. I’m running a marathon in August (my first – and my LAST long training run, completed this morning, was the reason for the ‘nap’) so I wanted to read the inspiring “Your Pace or Mine?” which is about another more ‘sedate’ runner who has completed lots of exciting runs, and Jo Pavey is about to appear in the Olympics IN HER 40s so her book had to be bought, too. Freddy Flintoff rounds off a set of sporting reads: I fished him out of a box of books a running club friend donated to BookCrossing and I think he’ll make a light, fun read before I settle into the joys of All Virago / All August (some … in some of …)

Aug 2016 coming upAnd after those, this is what’s on the front of the TBR, and handily a load of Viragoes I’ve acquired from various people have bobbed to the top of the TBR, although only two of these (the two Whartons) are on my #20BooksOfSummer list, and the rest of those are on the back row, so we’ll see how I do with those and some other Viragoes. I’ll also be re-reading Orlando for #Woolfalong in August, probably on my trip to Iceland for the marathon, as it’s a re-read, a comfort read and a slim volume.

What are you all up to in August? Read any of these?

Book reviews – A Mixture of Frailties and No Run Intended plus a small confession #20BooksOfSummer


TBR July 2016Well, I’ve finished and reviewed both of my books for Shiny New Books and will link to them when they come out, and I’m reading away at my other books now. Although, looking at the picture to the left, I don’t seem to have chipped away at much of the actual TBR. How can this be? One of these books was from a pile on my bedside table (‘current reading’, which is a misnomer and a half, as I’ve been reading this Robertson Davies trilogy for ages!) and my Kindle, and the other book I’ve just finished (read all about that one on Monday) was on the Kindle, too. Anyway, here we go – one full review of a great book and one quick review of a not quite as wonderful one.

Robertson Davies – “A Mixture of Frailties”

(25 September 2014)

The last in the Salterton Trilogy and a great read. Solly’s dreadful mother has finally died, but she’s left a truly hateful will which has the effect of souring Solly’s genial and light-hearted nature and turning everything around it grim. It holds up everything, Solly’s inheritance, Miss Puss’s acquisition of the best tea service, the cathedral’s bequest, until Solly produces a male heir with the new young wife who his mother loathed. In the meantime, the interest from the capital must be used to provide an education to a young woman in the arts, and a sermon must be produced annually. The will must be processed within a year or the lawyer will lose the lucrative running of the trust to his bitter rival. Of course, this has the desired effect of panicking everyone and starting loads of nasty gossip.

Aspiring singer Monica is duly found and packed off to England, where we follow her for much of the book. She has all sorts of adventures and meets all sorts of eccentric musicians (this part reminded me of some of my beloved mid-century women authors, as well as good old Trollope), including Giles and his circle of misfit Bohemians. Her practical Canadian nature and naive artistic yearnings conspire to put her into a very rum position indeed, and it becomes unclear as to whether she will return home in disgrace or triumph. It’s also unclear how things will go with her family, who belong to a weird cult and cut themselves off from the rest of society.

It’s a delightful book with some dark happenings which aren’t dwelt on but do have an effect on the characters and story. Trollopian again and just a really good read. I wish more people read Davies, as he’s just so good at characters, plots, setting up the atmosphere of a small town or community and keeping it funny but not too funny.

This was Book Number 11 in my #20BooksOfSummer project

This book would suit … Those who love a big, involving, gossipy, small community novel that has an old-fashioned realist tendency and a biting wit at times. ANYONE!

Hannah Phillips – “No Run Intended”

(Ebook, bought 17 July 2016)

This was recommended in general chat by a running friend; it’s the warts-and-all story of how one lady started running and overcame a few disasters along the way. It’s a memoir rather than a how-to book, which is fine, and it is light-hearted and funny, but I had a few issues with it, unfortunately. First off, the gears change quite dramatically in the middle when family heartbreak comes along. This is of course awful and you feel for the author, but it makes for an uneasy mix, although I’m not sure how this could have been overcome. Secondly, she talks about personal disasters that she has (bodily fluids are involved) but in the main she doesn’t look at or explain how they happened. If I was a new runner learning that this could happen, I’d like to know how to prevent it! Lastly, and I try not to grumble about this sort of thing, there were lots of unfortunate typos (there was one in the book description, so I should have been warned). Some are really bizarre, and I’m not sure what’s happened there, as the author thanks an editor in the acknowledgements. *Edited to add: with horrible inevitability, I managed to spell the author’s name incorrectly in this review. I sincerely apologise and here’s a link to see all the lovely 5-star reviews on Amazon and buy the book.

So, she used an editor and cover designer, it’s funny and encouraging and lets people know about Run Mummy Run, which is a group a few of my friends belong to, and anything that helps people not fear starting to run has to be good. But perhaps not the right book for me right now.

This book will suit … new or would-be runners with a sense of humour who don’t mind the odd bodily fluid splashing around.

Running booksI’m still plodding on with the Kynaston, and hope to devote some time to it over the weekend, and I have picked Ann Bridge’s “A Lighthearted Quest” off the shelf to read as my next novel read, although I have some running books I need to read soon, too. Here they are, actually – I was recommended the Lisa Jackson one by someone in my running club who shared an article by the author, then the Jo Pavey one seemed to fall into my shopping basket … One good aspect of my marathon training is that I’m going up to bed earlier and spending more time reading; and both of these need to be read before the mara, really. Or before the Olympics start, in the case of the Jo Pavey one!

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