State of the TBR – September 2019 #20BooksOfSummer #WITmonth


Much like August’s shelf, we’re chock-full, with one space for a single paperback or thin hardback. However, I did actually manage to read 12 books this month (although only five came off this physical bookshelf) so the turnover is going up.  If you haven’t counted twelve reviews, one is for Shiny New Books and I will share my review there when it’s published.

A few new acquisitions. I popped into our local Acorns shop to look for bookshelves (one day the perfect narrow tall Billy will come in and I can replace the small shelf by the bathroom door with a taller one) and then looked ON their bookshelves and the paperbacks were 50p each and I’ve been doing a fair bit of comfort reading recently so it would have been rude not to bring these home.

“Power of Three” is one of Diana Wynne Jones’ standalones, and looks like a good read in one of her believable worlds – I left her dog one there as I’m not really up for heartstring-tugging at the moment. Then Joanna Trollope, always a reliable read, seems to have published a few since the last time I looked, and “City of Friends” takes the always-interesting theme of a set of friends made at university and how they’ve changed over time (amusingly, there’s a much more highbrow version of this theme coming up and I might just have to read them next to each other.

Then I’ve got into what turns out to be a silly habit of spotting books I like on book websites and leaving them in my shopping cart, and that led to me ordering some cat litter and accidentally placing an order for “Iris Murdoch: a Centenary Celebration” edited by Miles Leeson (you can buy this in person from the amazing Second Shelf bookshop as well as the standard outlets – I’m not going to get to Second Shelf any time soon so did it the clicky way.

This is full of reminiscences from people who knew Iris Murdoch and there appear to be quite a few photographs I haven’t seen before, so it’s well worth having.

I’m going to slot it in after my final read in my Iris Murdoch readalong, “Jackson’s Dilemma” in December – that’s a short book and a sad one, so hopefully this will be a cheering read to go for after that. I have already shared about this picture on my latest Murdoch update but it seemed good to share it now, too.

I’m currently reading Angela Thirkell’s “Before Lunch” which is a nice bit of frivolity published in 1939. It’s weirdly reminding me of lap counting for a long-distance race at the moment – all the characters have been set in motion and we’ll watch them all unwind, some of them lap others, and then they’ll all come good at the end and everything will be tidy. I sort of know what’s going to happen already but not how they get there, and that’s all fine! Her massive snobbery is on show here with her portrayals of the maid classes, but no funny foreigners as yet.

I have quite a few Thirkells which arrived around last Christmas and I’m reading them all in order, even though I’ve got some gaps still in the ones I have read – then I have a load I haven’t got hold of at all yet (see the bottom of my Wish List for details).

Even though this is a Virago, it doesn’t come into All Virago / All August as I had barely started it yesterday. I did do a few books for that among the ten books I ended up reading for x Books of Summer – although I have probably read 20 books during the time period it seemed a bit wrong to do a retrospective swap-out, so I left it at 10 for this year and I’ll try for 20 again if it runs next summer. Here’s my final list.

And what’s up next? Well, as Ali has said today in her August round-up post,  reading has felt a little constrained in the last month or so, with all these challenges (she also did several for Women in Translation Month and a Robertson Davis; I did one Woman In Translation) so apart from the next two known reads, I’m letting myself have the run of my bookshelf. I think some more easy reads will be coming along.

First off I have my Iris Murdoch for September, “The Book and the Brotherhood”. This has always been a real favourite of mine, and I hope it still is. It’s a big one, too, so I hope to get it started early in the month. Then Robert Philips’ “Futurekind” is a lovely glossy and heartfelt book about real design for the people, by the people. It’s a review book for Shiny New Books and the last one I have left. Then … who knows!

What are you reading in September? Are you doing any juicy challenges?



Book review – Mary Webb – “Seven for a Secret” and some Book Confessions @ViragoBooks #amreading #20BooksOfSummer


Another great Virago read which covers both All Virago/All August and my 20BooksOfSummer project. Ali from the Heavenali blog kindly loaned me this one as she knows I like a Mary Webb and she read it almost a year ago: you can read her review here. After my review, read on for some juicy book confessions – I went to the dentist today for a check up, and we all know by now that the dentist is opposite The Works and, important today, is two doors away from the Oxfam Books …

Mary Webb – “Seven for a Secret”

(borrowed from Ali)

That rare thing, a not completely doomy Webb (this is made clear on the back and in the introduction) although things aren’t great for everyone and there’s an uncanny place full of portents waiting for something to inevitably happen. I loved, as usual, the great nature descriptions, especially finding lots of bird behaviour and also some good horses and cats (nothing bad happens to either). There’s rural worker comedy worthy of Hardy, to whom, in fact, Webb dedicates this book, “happily” which was lovely to find.

Our heroine, Gillian Lovekin, has ideas above her station, which is never a good thing to have in early 20th century rural fiction, and she’s drawn to an attractive incomer with a strange household (of course) rather than the dependable local who loves her (to be fair, her father isn’t keen on him, either. He’s a great amusing character with his outburst of “HA!” which make most people doubt themselves and get into a state). She craves even small town life, but when she gets to live with her aunt for a while, uses her powers the wrong way, and she basically has to learn patience and to help others (there is some bobbins about women’s role being to love and men’s to do which we have to skim over as a product of the time and place).

The main plot resolves by using a device that is perhaps a little convenient – but then again both “The Secret Garden” and “Jane Eyre” use the same device, so I can’t really complain. The book is saved from po-faced melodrama and “Cold Comfort Farm” style something in the woodshed doom (and I do rate Webb for herself and love her books, but reading a few bits out they do come out a little over-the-top) by the author’s wry self-knowledge, especially in the last chapter:

Things did happen almost as they should in a well-regulated novel. (p. 284)

A good read I was glad to have got to.

This was Book 10 in my 20 Books of Summer project, and as I have a Women In Translation month book to review next, am only part way through a very substantial Iris Murdoch and have two review books and countless NetGalley books on the Kindle, I’m going to call it a day here with both #20books and All Virago/All August. It’s been great fun, though!

Book confession time!

So as I mentioned, I had the dentist today and came back via Oxfam books. And these lovelies kind of fell into my arms. Well, OK, I searched through the whole shop, as you can see from the variety of books and topics, from fiction to “literature” via travel and social history.

Clara Parkes – “Knitlandia” – she travels the world meeting knitters in Iceland and the like. I am no knitter (I am the anti-knitter: I just cannot learn to do it however hard people try) but I like a travel book and I know who I will be giving this to.

Debbie Macomber – “Cottage by the Sea” – a Macomber I don’t recall reading before about a woman taking refuge in a … well, yes, you get the idea.

Stephen Moss – “A Bird in the Bush” is sub-titled “A Social History of Birdwatching” and seems to have a historical aspect as well as a current-day one. I must check where the cover photo was taken as it reminds me of a scene I saw myself on the Isles of Scilly.

Mark Cocker – “Birders: Tales of a Tribe” so what’s the chances of two books on birdwatching popping up – presumably a birdwatcher doing some deaccessioning. This one is about the author’s life among birdwatchers, so more of an ethnography, perhaps. I’m hoping Matthew will enjoy these, too (we already have another two books on birdwatching on my TBR so I’m going to have to space them out a  bit!).

Catherine Carswell – “The Camomile” is a Virago I hadn’t come across before. Seems to be about a New Woman in Edinburgh. KaggysBookishRamblings Middle Child reviewed this here a few years ago and I’ll have to pop back to read that when I’ve read this. Looks great, though.

Edward Platt – “Leadville” – this is a history of the Westway road in London, from the White City to the Hangar Lane Gyratory – I have a much-loved copy and have read it at least twice, and love the mix of social history, architecture and town planning. I’ve not read it that recently as it’s not on here but I couldn’t resist picking up a second copy to press onto someone and Best Friend Emma fancied it when I waved an image of it in her direction – hooray!

Read any of these? Think I’m terrible for giving up on 20 Books of Summer with 14 days to go??

Book review – Henry Handel Richardson – “The Getting of Wisdom” plus Stephen Rutt – “The Seafarers” @ShinyNewBooks #20BooksOfSummer @ViragoBooks #AllViragoAllAugust


It’s book review central here as I carve out more reading time and get to grips with my 20 books of summer and review books. How lucky I am to have such a wide variety to read!

First off, I need to report on one extra book I read in July – Stephen Rutt’s “The Seafarers”, which I’ve reviewed for Shiny New Books. This was a wonderful book about the (oddly hard to define) seabirds of Britain, taking in locations from the Shetlands in the North to the Scillies in the South, with beautiful, artistically written descriptions of land, sea and bird life. Although this has been talked about as being about the help nature can give to mental health, this isn’t a huge part of the story – while I know some readers like a lot of memoir in their nature writing, I like a book to be about the nature and the person’s reaction to that.

I also liked the respect the author paid to previous nature writers who have gone before him, bringing back memories of those older volumes sitting in bird hides and the hotels you stay in on birding trips. Altogether a lovely book and highly recommended. You can read my full review here and I know the lovely editors at Shiny will appreciate you popping over and having a read (you can follow their Facebook and Twitter accounts, too).

Now for #20 books of summer, another slimmer volume in the All Virago (and Persephone) All August part of the project.  Kaggsy from the Ramblings sent me this one in November via Heaven-Ali, just like “The Eye of Love” (except I’m afraid I’ll probably be putting “Maurice Guest” to one side as it looks a bit turgid and Germaine Greer thinks it’s not as good as this one. Do I do everything Greer says? No: for a start, I am still fully underclothed at all times, however much I read “The Female Eunuch” as a teenager. Anyway, this was an interesting read, especially for its Australian setting.

Henry Handel Richardson – “The Getting of Wisdom”

30 November 2018 – from Kaggsy

The getting of wisdom is of course nothing to do with the rote-learning at the boarding school where this book is set: it’s all about how to get on with people, something our heroine never quite grasps. Like “The Eye of Love” this is another book about convention: however, here, convention stifles and squashes Laura Rambotham’s spirit and natural ebulliance, making her by turns over shy but over confident, mendacious, smarmy and over religious as she works her way unsuccessfully through a couple of years of boarding school. Her mother classifies her as disobedient and self-willed and she heart-breakingly never works out how to get on with people, missing the point generally all the way along, although a hint of her future near the end suggests that she might get what she wants eventually, unlike her friends.

We feel for Laura’s poor mother, keen on needlework but mocked for her garish designs, and having to support herself and her family, eschewing stays but trying to keep everyone on the straight and narrow. There’s a great feeling for a veneer of imposed and strict ‘culture’ over the chaos of life in Australia, and the backdrop means Laura gets to rest from school by the thundering ocean, not something that features much in British school stories except as a source of danger for rescues!

There are some good, sharp comments about how to write, and how writing allows to lie as if something was true, much easier than keeping things straight in life. There’s not a huge amount of plot but as Greer says in the introduction, it’s about someone who is “ordinary, and therefore deeply important”.

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

Still reading “Spam Tomorrow” (not Jam, which I claimed yesterday!) by Verily Anderson; still enjoying it very much. How are your 20 books going??

Book review – Margery Sharp – “The Eye of Love” #20BooksOfSummer @ViragoBooks #AllViragoAllAugust


Well I’m onto the All Virago (and Persephone) All August part of my 20 Books of Summer project now, and starting off with a modern reprint which the ever-lovely Kaggsy from the Ramblings sent me in November via Heaven-Ali. It’s not quite that I was picking off the slim volumes first, honestly, but this was a quick read and an easy win. And charming: just charming!

Margery Sharp – “The Eye of Love”

30 November 2018 – from Kaggsy

A funny peculiar story about an odd woman, not in her first flush of youth and in a perilous financial position, her stolid yet hugely artistic niece and her lost love, forced to marry someone else for the sake of his business. Infinitely mockable (and indeed mocked by people in the book) yet infinitely touching, Miss Diver and her Harry are seen to be a sweet couple who should not have been parted, and there’s something very bittersweet about these people who are middle-aged at best but romantic and poor like a young couple in a garret. And Martha is just a delight, with her artist’s eye and her collection of odd friends.

Martha and Miss Diver are uncompromisingly themselves, and it’s only when Miss Diver changes that she is in danger. In a world that favours convention, they do as they wish to a large extent, and we hope that Martha will never change. I loved the detailed descriptions of her art, too. And who can argue with her as she finds a lodger for Miss Diver?

‘What’s the weekly rate?’

‘I don’t know. I’m only a child,’ pointed out Martha severely. (p. 63)

Mr Joyce is a great character and I love how he links bits of the story together, his daughter too manipulative to be pitied, although Sharp has something to say about the plight of the unmarried woman. The novel is somehow merciless but with a heart (unless I’ve read it wrong and it’s really a political satire or something) and I believe there’s a sequel, which I will have to look out for.

This was Book 8 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

I’ve read another Virago by the time of reviewing (review up tomorrow) and am currently reading “Jam Tomorrow” by Verily Anderson, which is one of the new Furrowed Middlebrow titles from Dean Street Press. It’s very good and I suspect I will have a review for you on Friday of that one!

And in booky post, I received this lovely tote bag in the post from Round Table Books today. This is an independent, inclusive children’s bookshop in Brixton, South London – they appear to be pretty active on Twitter, so do have a look and a follow. They started off as a pop-up and I supported a crowdfunder to get them their own premises, and it’s all very exciting!

Book review – Harriet Harman – “A Woman’s Work” #amreading #20BooksOfSummer


I’m using my July TBR picture as this book was in that one. Pressing on with my 20 Books of Summer, this represents book number 7, so I’m probably not going to complete the challenge this year but I’m going to have a nice booky time trying! I bought this book during my May 2018 book token rounding up bonanza – see the whole pile here and it’s interesting that I obviously do NOT read my books in acquisition order as I claim, as I read the Zephaniah almost immediately (OK, reviewing it for Shiny New Books) and took “The Sparsholt Affair” on holiday in March. Ah well!

Harriet Harman – “A Woman’s Work”

(22 May 2018)

An excellent autobiography, very inclusive and team-orientated, with great insights into her beliefs and how she got where she got and did what she did. Harman explains in the Acknowledgements that she’d denounced men’s political memoirs as vanity projects and claimed she was never going to write one, but then she realised that none of those described the changes in women’s lives over the last 30 years, or mentioned the women who were instrumental in legislating for many of these changes. This is the result, putting that right.

And she certainly does, taking pains to give massive credit to her staff, friends, family, political peers and forebears and colleagues and constituents for her triumphs and wins, but remaining clear-headed about her own mistakes, for example not standing up for herself when she wasn’t made Deputy Prime Minister when she became Deputy Leader of the party, or being unprepared for government and basically messing things up and getting sacked.

From the introduction, which draws parallels between her and others’ experiences of sexual harrassment in their early working lives and the issues women face now, the discussion of the women’s movement’s different strands and where she fits in to them and her stories of her life as an MP, Harman shows herself to have remained resolutely woman-centric and concerned with pushing women’s rights and opportunities, working on massive reports in government and opposition. She even has a woman-centric attitude when Ed and David Milliband are fighting for the leadership: “What would happen to the one who won? And to the one who lost? And what must their mother be feeling about it?” (p. 327)

I hadn’t quite realised how ground-breaking she was, being the first woman to be pregnant in Parliament, at a time when there were more MPs called John than there were women MPs, at that! She admits she made mistakes about which conventions to obey and which to flout but it’s also fascinating to read about how she pushed forward relationships with women journalists in the press lobby and even mentored new Tory women MPs in this century – while never losing her Labour and feminist principles, of course. I loved the story of how she shielded her new baby from Margaret Thatcher’s gaze (while not taking him through the voting lobby as she was accused of doing).

A lot of this book is sadly relevant today – the 1980s divisions in Labour that they took such pains to heal and the feelings of the people that Labour wasn’t to be trusted to govern then. She lays out principles for moving forward near to the end of the book (in I think a new section added for the paperback) and bemoans missed opportunities, saying quite rightly that getting the full Equalities Act (the final act of the last Labour Government) through would have helped mitigate working-class people’s resentment of the Labour as well as Tory political elite.

A generous, warm and clear-headed account of an extraordinary life in politics of the woman who was briefly my MP (and a good friend and ally of my later MP, Joan Ruddock).

This was Book 7 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

I’ve moved on to Margery Sharp’s excellent-so-far “The Eye of Love” as my first Virago of All August / All Virago and Book 8 although I hope to fill in the other three non-Viragoes at some point!


State of the TBR August 2019 #WITmonth #20BooksofSummer @PersephoneBooks @ViragoBooks @ShinyNewBooks


OK so although the TBR is about the same size as it was last month, it has been worse within the month, as I had to turn the end of the front shelf into a pile to fit it all in.

I completed eight books in July and one of them is yet to be reviewed here, as I read the rather marvellous “The Seafarers” to review for Shiny New Books – I’ll share some thoughts on the book and my review when it’s up.

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Harriet Harman’s autobiography, “Woman’s Work” which I’m greatly enjoying (as you can see from the forest of post-it notes sticking out of the side of the book!

I love that, just like when she went for Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, she basically wrote this book because she saw all the men writing their self-aggrandising memoirs and wanted to explain the way women’s issues had been tackled and promoted during her time in politics.

It’s very engagingly written and really cooperative, taking time to mention people who’ve helped her along her way – an excellent read.

Next up

Next up it’s time for not one, not two, not three but FOUR reading projects! Oo-er.

I’ll be reading Iris Murdoch’s “The Good Apprentice” for my re-reading project, the Great Iris Murdoch Readalong, book 22 which means there’s not long to go until the end.

Then it’s All Virago / All August month this month, run by the lovely Virago Readers on LibraryThing. I have a mix of Viragos and Persephones (also allowed) to use for this, the pile of which you can see on my piece about my 20 Books of Summer project in my State of the TBR June post, as I’m, as usual, combining the two. First up is my longest-standing Virago on my shelf, Margery Sharp’s “The Eye of Love”. I’m not doing hugely well with my 20 Books, so we’ll see how it goes.

Finally, I’m very much hoping to read Sayaka Murata’s “Convenience Store Woman” for Women in Translation Month. I’ve never managed to take part in this before, as I’m always as careful as I can be with Reading Months etc to only read books already on the TBR. And I’m obviously not great at reading women in translation (none of my Viragoes or Persephones count, for example). You can read more about the Month here and there’s a hashtag on Twitter and it’s all very exciting. It’s a small book with quite big print and wide spacing, so hope I can make it!

I also have two more review books to read for Shiny New Books, both looking lovely and tempting, so they will be joining the roster.

What are you up to?

So what are you reading in August? Taking part in any of these challenges/projects/Months? Think I can read 13.25 Books of Summer in one month and three days??


Book review – Steve Haywood – “Narrowboat Dreams” #20BooksofSummer #amreading


Another book ticked off my 20 Books of Summer list! I didn’t have an awful lot of work on this week, plus it was really hot, so I spent quite a lot of time reading in the shade in the garden or in the cool sitting room, and have made better progress with my list.  This one was from the back shelf, as it was one of the more recent acquisitions (of course, I’ve acquired even more books since I made my list, so they’re coming out of the section about 3/4 of the way along, argh!). I’m reading the next one now, although also reading another Shiny review book.

Steve Haywood – “Narrowboat Dreams”

(BookCrossing, from Gill, 20 May 2019)

Subtitled “A Journey North by England’s Waterways”, he takes advantage of the re-opened canals around Huddersfield and other bits of the North (although they have some teething troubles, he carefully states at the end that he’s been through a few times since and they’re fine now). He’s written a few other books about boating and does seem to hanker after the old days before there was so much red tape and pleasure cruising, bemoaning all the heritage signs now springing up, and I felt this was a shame as the canals are now, for example, a lovely resource in Birmingham for runners, walkers and cyclists, giving relatively well-maintained and safe green corridors to explore. He likes a manky city canal and I can’t fault him there, and there are good descriptions of other boaters and people around the canals, told with humanity and respect.

He says early on that the journey will push him to his limits and change his life – I actually discussed this with Gill, who read it before me, today and we were a little nonplussed by this. He does hurt his ankle badly and has to rely on the kindness of strangers, and is also moved when the canal community finds out about his mother being unwell and checks he’s OK, but there’s no real statement of how that’s changed his life (nor does there need to be, of course; the canal stuff was fine on its own, but if you say your life was changed …).

I was pleased to learn that winding holes are wind as in the thing that blows, not as in what you do to wool or a bobbin, as boaters let the wind help their boats turn (but is this true??) and I also enjoyed his defence of writing about a smaller journey and how that kind of adventure is just as important as the big, worldwide ones.

This book was number 6 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

I’m currently reading Harriet Harman’s excellent autobiography, “A Woman’s Work”, and am just starting “The Seafarers” by Stephen Rutt, a beautiful book for review for Shiny about seabirds. Good times!

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