Book review – Jo Brand – “Born Lippy” and really too many book acquisitions #amreading

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This was one of the books that I read on the way home from Cornwall last weekend: I finished “Unicorn” (reviewed yesterday, so I’m sort of catching up) and didn’t want to go for another Kindle book immediately, so had popped this one in my bag as a good read for a train journey. Of course, I then ended up trying not to laugh out loud on the train … oops.

More oops after the review. I appear to  have acquired even more books, and having put them on my TBR shelf, it’s all looking a bit perilous. I’d better get reading …

Jo Brand – “Born Lippy”

(29 September 2019, charity shop, Penzance)

Subtitled “How to do female”, this funny and useful book gives us a bit of memoir as well, which works well to protect Brand’s privacy (well, she lays a lot of stuff bare, but it’s not sold AS a memoir really) in addition to life advice aimed at, I think, teenagers and young women, covering family, relationships, drugs, health, friendship. There’s quite a lot on friendship, which is refreshing, including how not to behave to your friends when you get a partner, and how to keep friends.

She’s as no-nonsense and uncompromising as you’d hope and expect: for example, she has this to say in the clothes section:

My charming editor has suggested here that I talk about some of my favourite pieces of clothing. Hahahaha! I can barely remember the clothes I wore last week, so here are some weird clothes-related stories that stand out. (p. 41)

Also included are some great comebacks for when a sexist line is shouted at you, and good advice on work, family and relationship issues, all given in her exact voice: you can imagine her saying it all to you. A great travel read, too.


So as well as the journals I received in the week, I seem to have acquired even more books from shops and in the post!

On Wednesday I went into town to meet one of my lovely clients for a coffee, and when I arrived back on the high street, I realised my husband would be on his way to the dentist, so I stalked him and found him in The Works, where I spotted Simon Jenkins’ “Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations” with lots of nice details and pictures, so he bought it for me from Bank of Matthew, which is a fund added to at Christmas and birthday and used to buy nice things. I did suggest he kept it back for Christmas but that apparently didn’t work.

Then later on I went out with my friend Sian to trawl the charity shops specifically for her to buy books from a couple of people’s wishlists to take to this weekend’s BookCrossing Unconvention. That’s for HER to buy BOOKs to GIVE AWAY. Second shop we went into and I was buying a CD shelf unit to use as a bookshelf and we were dragging it back to my house (at least the shop was on my road).

Then we spotted two books from Sian’s wishlist so I snapped them up for her Christmas present, some more Birmingham authors’ books which I will use for the Librarything Virago Not So Secret Santa (and two of these I managed to buy with two full Oxfam Books stampy cards, one of which Sian gave to me originally … it does get complicated!).

I found a book I’d been keeping an eye out for a while, “The Nakano Thrift Shop” by Hiromi Kawakami, so bought that for myself. And a lovely pristine copy of Paul Magrs’ “Exchange”, which I will be using for a giveaway next year (hint, hint).

And then we went back to The Works in case one of the books for Sian’s friends could be found in there – it could! hooray! – and I found Annie Darling’s “A Winter Kiss”, which is Book 4 in her Rochester Mews series (I’ve read “The Little Bookshop of Lonely Hearts” and “True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop” (the latter from NetGalley) and I have now ordered “Crazy in Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop” which had been sitting in my “Saved for later” bit of my Amazon basket for a while, so I get the order right (of course!).

Then, I came home from a walk on Friday and discovered two parcels almost stopping me from opening the front door. I won Phillipa Ashley‘s “A Perfect Cornish Christmas” on NetGalley the other day and guessed it might be part of another trilogy (you will recall I read her “Cornish Cafe” series on holiday) and bought “A Perfect Cornish Summer” second-hand (annoyingly I’ve also spotted it new in The Works since) so I got the order right (of course).

Then I’d somewhat complicatedly paid the author direct and had a copy sent that was left over from the Iris Murdoch Society conference for Christopher Boddington’s “Iris Murdoch’s People A-Z” and there it was! It’s a substantial volume and far more rich and detailed than I’d expected – not just a concordance of names appearing in the novels, it goes right into places, real and fictional, books fictional characters have written, books they mention … how marvellous! I will use it for looking-up purposes but will probably actually want to read through it, perhaps in December at the end of my Iris Murdoch Readalong project.

And THEN (oh, it’s some kind of disease, isn’t it), I was shopping for a good friend’s birthday gifts and I spotted Simon Barnes’ “Rewild Yourself” which is about getting back in touch with nature. It was on a very special offer, and although I’ve not yet read his book on returning a bit of Norfolk to its natural state, as I only bought that on holiday (see top image), it felt like the right thing to do to buy it. So I did.

As I said, the TBR shelf is now really at over-capacity. I just have to finish “The Message to the Planet” (which is proving more enjoyable than I’d expected, as my less-favourite Iris Murdoch) and read and review a lovely book on photography and I’ll have to get a good move on. Fat books or thinner quick wins: which will it be?

Incomings and West Penwith highlights @Edgybooks @SharonMcSwiney

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I’ve just come back from a lovely week in West Penwith, staying in Penzance and roaming a little around the coast and across to St Ives. As I read 8.5 books in 8 days (this included two 7 hour train journeys!) I had to replace them obviously, so there’s a book pile later, and I also wanted to draw people’s attention to a lovely bookshop and a super maker.

Edge of the World Bookshop Penzance, external view

The Edge of the World Bookshop

The Edge of the World Bookshop is a wonderful independent bookshop on the main shopping street of Penzance. You can find them online here, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. They do loads of author events and signings and have a brilliant stock that’s both deep and wide. I always buy a few books here when I’m in Penzance, and I’ve never been disappointed. I was really chuffed this time to manage to pop in during Bookshop Day – something I don’t usually do as it’s always the day we’re travelling down or back – and picked up a lovely book bargain.

I took a trip to St Ives mid-week and my best friend Emma had given me a mission to find Sharon McSwiney’s shop. Sharon used to share a workshop in the Jewellery Quarter with Emma’s and my mutual friend Esther (who is also now based in Cornwall, making jewellery and automata, website here). So I found the Drill Hall, just up the hill from the sea front, and there was the charming shop and Sharon’s very nice husband, who runs the shop while Sharon makes and teaches.

Sharon McSwiney’s shop

There are so many beautiful objects in the shop – I particularly loved the autumn leaves, and there is both jewellery and larger metalwork items.  Even better, Sharon runs courses, and I bet my local friends would be interested in those. I picked up a couple of leaflets and promised to share them!

You can do full or half-day courses and all info is on Sharon’s lovely website.

I always love finding quirky and interesting shops and artists when I’m away, or returning to favourite places, and I think it’s only fair to share the loveliness – no one asked me to share these details and I’m getting nothing from this apart from the joy of sharing some lovely places and things. Do let me know if you pop to the websites or find something fun to do or buy, though!

And those books?

I always do a trawl of the charity shops when I’m somewhere different and was surprised to find only two books this time. Jo Brand’s “Born Lippy” is a book of advice that also acts as something of a memoir: it’s hilarious of course but with good advice, too. As I’d finished all the books I took with me, I read half of this on the train home. Bernadine Evaristo’s “Mr Loverman” is a novel telling the story of an elderly man, born in Antigua and living in the UK since the 60s, a husband, father and grandfather, who has secretly been in a relationship with his (male) best friend almost his whole life. I got these two from the charity shop opposite the Davy statue, the charity of which I’ve shamefully forgotten.

“On the Marsh” by Simon Barnes tells of buying and living in a slice of Norfolk including some marshland which he then rewilds, giving his son, who is living with Down’s syndrome, a place of quiet and calm in the meantime. Bought at The Works when I went in for some post-it tabs.

Then in Edge of the World I spent my book token from my friend Laura on “Homesick” by Catrina Davies – this is the book about the woman who lives in a shed on her parents’ land near St Ives after she realises she can’t afford to get on the property ladder. A very appropriate book to buy in West Penwith, and I had saved it to buy in the shop. Jonathan Gornall’s “How to Build a Boat”, which is about him learning to build a boat when his daughter is born, to sail in with her, was bought with a cheeky ‘book token’ from my friend Sian, and Isabella Tree’s “Rewilding” was in the bookshop’s Bookshop Day special offer – their favourite books for £5 each – which they are running all this week.

Have you read any of these? I know at least one person who’s just read “Homesick”. And if you have a small independent business that’s a favourite and you want to tell me about, pop a link in the comments!

Shiny Linkiness and incomings @shinynewbooks @thamesandhudson #amreading

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The lovely folk at Thames & Hudson have been keeping me topped up with super books to review for Shiny New Books magazine, and I’m sharing one from their Spring 2019 catalogue and one from their autumn one, plus I did some online ordering and have some lovely – and very worthwhile but not po-faced and worthy – buys to share, too.

I sprang at “Futurekind: Design by and of the People” by Robert Phillips because in my previous London incarnation, I worked in a New Deal for Communities project in South London, and one of our remits was doing community-led initiatives, which included designing a new medical centre with the community. There was talk of all sorts like WiFi in the tower blocks which was a bit ahead of its time, but it would have greatly profited from some of the great projects here, like the Community Fridge. Design ideas from around the world are shared, with information on their beginnings, design and implementation stages and lessons learned. Some are just so simple – like a pack supporting recovery from diarrhoea which was originally shipped in Coke boxes or the one-piece water filter that screws onto a plastic bottle, and there are local UK ones as well as international projects. Great pictures in a lovely book; really inspiring.

Read my full review here.

The Pursuit of Art” by Martin Gayford (which is the most beautiful object, mouth-watering to look at with cheeky little details on the dust jacket and end-papers) is international, too: we follow the well-travelled art critic around the world, learning what goes on behind those glossy images from press jaunts to artists’ studios. He goes from Japan to the American South-West, seeing art installed where it was made or where it’s been brought, from cave paintings to the most modern pieces (and yes, for the sharp-eyed among you, including one of Yayoi Kusama’s amazing pumpkins. He doesn’t spare us the horrors and frustrations of travel, including describing the horror of chasing down a set of wonderful pieces in situ, only to find they’ve been loaned elsewhere … He’s a friendly and avuncular companion, not fancy or pretentious at all and a great companion as we find out just how going to where an object or painting just IS and standing in front of it can have a profound effect.

Read my full review here.

Thank you to Thames & Hudson for these great books for review, the ones that have come and been reviewed and the ones I have still to finish reading!


And some more treats, just because I don’t have QUITE enough books already … I’ve not had the best month or so and watching Queer Eye has been a lovely escape: who that watches the show wouldn’t want to grab Karamo’s book, especially on special offer? “Karamo: My Story of Embracing Purpose, Healing and Hope” (and crediting his ghost writer on the title page: well done!) looks just lovely. I’ll be buying Jonathan Van Ness’s book when that comes out, too, as he’s made the brave step of disclosing his HIV+ status.

“I Will not Be Erased” edited by the redoubtable gal-dem collective (they did a takeover of the Guardian Weekend magazine a few months ago) shares stories women and non-binary people of colour tell of their past lives, giving advice to their younger selves from a position of knowledge and strength. “The Good Immigrant” edited by Nikesh Shukla also shares stories of growing up Black Asian or of another minority ethnicity in Britain. Both promise to be powerful: I’ve been resting on my privileged laurels for long enough, claiming to be a socialist feminist anti-racist, but not actually doing enough to embrace intersectionality and learning about my brothers’ and sisters’ different experiences growing up, and my record of my reading this year has been way too white-orientated, so it’s time to branch out and do some learning.


Have you read any of these? I know a few of the bloggers I follow have read “The Good Immigrant” and I’ll be picking up the US one when it’s in paperback. What are you reading RIGHT NOW? Me? Oh, a very light novel about a Cornish beach cafe. We can’t be doing design, art, intersectionality and powerful stuff all the time now, can we?!

Book review – Cy. A. Adler – “Walking the Hudson” plus lovely incomings for @ShinyNewBooks review from @ThamesandHudson

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When I met up with my lovely friend Carianne last August, it was inevitable that we would swap some books – although we’re book-and-running-and-running-book friends now, we started off as BookCrossing friends wayyyyyy back. So she very kindly brought me over some books and I gave her some and may have caused her to buy some I recommended from the charity shops of Stratford Upon Avon. She’s an inveterate New Yorker, and has actually participated in this guy’s walks, so it was a great one to have and I’ll keep it for when I eventually do go there. Lovely incomings for Shiny below!

Cy A. Adler – “Walking the Hudson: From the Battery to Bear Mountain”

(23 August 2018 – BookCrossing)

An interesting guidebook covering the first reaches of a proposed longer walk up the Hudson River through a series of “greenways” which will run alongside it to it source, from New York (or vice versa, of course). As well as the usual guidebook stuff of maps, explanations, points of interest and a thorough coverage of toilet stop opportunities, it includes background information on how it was formalised so far, Adler’s letters to the papers, etc. I got much more of an impression of New York around the river than I formerly had.


Lovely Thames and Hudson generously allowed me to pick some books from their autumn catalogue to review for Shiny New Books. Even though I do have piles of books at hand sometimes, I love my privileged spot as one of Shiny’s non-fiction reviewers, and these are great.

“The Pursuit of Art” by Martin Gayford (and isn’t that a gorgeous cover, and yes, those amazing pumpkins are featured) is essays about his travels to and encounters with both works of art and artists. I’ve read this already and it’s a great, unpretentious read, intelligent but without the pomposity and jargon that can accompany writing on art.

Simon Armstrong’s “Street Art” is in their fab “Art Essentials” series and looks marvellous, a good study of the topic with plenty of pictures and an expert to link themes together.

“How to Read a Photograph” is a lovely hefty tome which takes a long journey through all those photographers you’ve heard of, from the very earliest to the ones operating now, and shows you how their photographs are good and why. I’ll be wrestling Matthew for possession of this one!

What lovely incomings this week, and fun reading once I’ve finished my Murdoch. Now to write 800-1000 words on the first one …

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

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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

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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 – Michael J. Benton – “The Dinosaurs Rediscovered” @thamesandhudson plus new confessions AGAIN!

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I’ve seen various posts on social media around the theme of how it’s sad that as an adult, you don’t get to have a favourite dinosaur any more. What’s that all about? I certainly still have a favourite dinosaur (and I’ve been gratified to find out that it’s not one of those ones that have been taken away from the roster), do you? (Mine’s at the bottom of this review …)

So, like many people, I was dinosaur-mad as a child, I have a collection of plastic dinosaurs bought at the Natural History Museum, and I rushed to see Dippy the diplodocus when she came near me on tour. This book, then, is a shoe-in for me, because as with many people again, my knowledge about dinosaurs came to a halt as I aged, and I didn’t really keep up with the latest developments. I’ve been fascinated, as a result, to read about all the amazing science that’s unlocking more of their secrets, although, as we’ll see, not all of the mysteries have been explained.

Michael J. Benton is Professor of Vertebrate Palaeontology and head of the Palaeontology Research Group at the University of Bristol, so you can be sure he knows his stuff; he takes us through various aspects of dinosaur science, always accessible and always explaining things really clearly, even when they’re quite complicated.

The book opens with the exciting discovery of the colours that make up dinosaur feathers – yes, colours and feathers, things I never realised they would be able to work out. We then look at their history, extinction, bodily make-up (warm-blooded or cool-blooded, size, egg size) and even behaviour, with many arguments being set out and a healthy understanding that some of it is unknown and some still contentious. I learned so much – both deep scientific stuff and great facts such as the Crystal Palace dinosaurs beloved in my youth (and featuring in an E. Nesbit novel) actually being the first serious reconstruction ever of dinosaurs.

Benton is a lovely guide, sharing his own story as a cheeky undergraduate and research associate and his knowledge of any of the big experts whose careers have intersected with his. This ties it into real people without being the kind of book that hooks onto a tortured life experience and links everything to it – much better in my eyes.

A must-read for anyone who, like me, loved dinosaurs as a child and still hankers after them, anyone interested in the history and progress of science, and anyone wanting a good, clear guide to a still-fascinating subject.

I’ve written more extensively about this book for the Shiny New Books review site, and I will add my review link to this post when it’s up: as this is such a beloved topic of mine, I wanted to share my more emotional reaction to it here.

Thank you to Thames & Hudson for sending this book for an honest review.

My favourite dinosaurs? Triceratops and apatosaurus. And yours?


And another confession …

I had my hair cut on Tuesday and the Oxfam Books is on the way home. I was really just scanning for Persephones but I wandered into the travel writing section and found these beauties. I couldn’t turn them down, could I, and they go together cover-wise in a funny way, I think. July 2019 2

Madeleine Bunting’s “Love of Country” is a lyrical exploration of the Hebrides, and popping right down to the other end of the country, Gavin Knight has written about the actual West Penwith area, my favourite part of Cornwall which we visit every year, and I’ve seen surnames I’ve heard mentioned by my West Penwith friends in the acknowledgements and am now wondering if anyone I know will crop up in it. “The Swordfish and the Star” is in good condition, a lovely hardback, and I can’t wait to read it (although I might have to!). Read either of these? Agree I couldn’t have left the shop without them?

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