Book reviews – Sarah Vaughan – “The Art of Baking Blind” and Debbie Macomber – “Rainy Day Kisses” plus books in #amreading #bookconfessions

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Lots of lovely work, lots of running, officiating and preparing to officiate and a bit of learning Spanish have cut into my reading time and also my reviewing time. Here are two books I read while I had a cold the weekend before last (I appear to have only been reading Iris Murdoch’s “The Sea, The Sea” since then!) and then some lovely new books in for review. Well, I say lovely, and they are, but where am I going to put them??

Sarah Vaughan – “The Art of Baking Blind”

(23 April 2019)

One of my most recent acquisitions, bought when I went to meet up with my friend Linda in Shirley and couldn’t leave the charity shops alone, this was an idea poorly read. It’s a well-done novel set during a competition to find the next Mrs Eaden, housewife and home baker extraordinaire (and just passed away, thus avoiding any Mary Berry comparisons!) run by the supermarket that still bears her (husband’s) name. Bake-Off gets a mention: it’s not a Bake-Off novel but lovers of the show are sure to like it.

Life has happened, away from a preheated oven and a greased baking tray. (p. 111)

We get the stories of the five contestants plus extracts from Mrs Eaden’s own life story and recipes/handy hints, which were well pastiched. Note that all human and family life is here, so there need to be trigger warnings for fertility issues and loss and also eating disorders (both well sign-posted but done in a bit of detail, although carefully handled and resolved). There’s also an amusing MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) in the form of one contestant’s very annoying marathon running husband – I loved the description of his daughter’s growing discomfort as she supports his marathon and his wife and daughter’s reactions to his self-obsessed silliness (while of course hoping I’m not the equivalent MAWIL!).  Nuclear options are faced up to, mothers and daughters might be reconciled, and it’s all done really nicely with some good set  pieces and characters, showing different types of bravery.

Debbie Macomber – “Rainy Day Kisses”

(14 July 2018)

Picked off the middle of the shelf for cold-day comfort, neither the title story nor the accompanying novella were unfortunately DM’s strongest work. I suspect that “Rainy Day Kisses” with its handy modern-day frame is a re-do of an older story (she does this quite a lot, and fair play, her books are a brand that are consumed in great numbers by many) and it’s a slightly annoying tale of an undomesticated woman and the man who saves her. Yes, she’s an ambitious businesswoman, but …  “The First Man You Kiss” is a silly but amusing tale of a lucky wedding dress: slight but fun. That’s all I have to say about those two!


Books in

I continue to receive lovely parcels for my attention at Shiny New Books – I’m very grateful to Harriet and Annabel for allowing me to be one of their reviewers and the publishers for sending me such lovely books to read.

The first to arrive were the other two I’d requested (any of) from Thames & Hudson’s superb catalogue. Michael J. Benton’s “The Dinosaurs Rediscovered” looks at the last couple of decades of dinosaur research and how things have come on both in the technology and the facts it reveals.

“Chromatopia” by David Coles is a lovely wallow through the history, attributes and mixing of colour – it has various sections but I was immediately attracted by the series of pages with a delicious illustration and then text about the colour, covering the whole palette:

You expect beautiful books from Thames & Hudson and this is no exception: stunning images and clear, fascinating text. And hooray, I’ve noted down all the publication dates and this is first up!

Then a couple of days ago, Stephen Rutt’s “The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds” arrived, which details the author’s travels around the British coast examining the lives of the birds found there. What a treat!

It’s nearly time for #20BooksOfSummer again and I have to work out whether to put whatever I have left of these on June 03 onto my Pile or keep it just for the TBR itself. Hm.

Book review – Simon Armitage – “Gig” plus MORE confessions! #amreading #bookconfessions

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I’m a bit behind with my reviewing, as I was making myself work on my review of “Invisible Women” for Shiny New Books (what more can you say about this much-reviewed book? I will share what I’ve said when it’s out) before I did the books I’ve finished. I ended April with two books on the go, which I’d started on my travels to London last weekend, and I was a bit under the weather this weekend, hence picked some easy reads off the TBR. So be prepared for an influx.

In other influx news, on Friday and then unexpectedly early on Saturday, I have received two books from the publishers, one on a subscription model that I was more than happy to lend a helping hand to, one from the publisher from a selection I expressed interest in earlier in the year! See below for a pic of these absolute beauties that I am privileged to have in the house.

Simon Armitage – “Gig”

(10 April 2018, Oxfam Books)

I bought this on the day I started using my new hairdresser, so precious memories and all that!

A book of loosely connected anecdotes about his own poetry ‘gigs’, music gigs he’s been to and his forays into band membership, imagined and real, and fandom/subculture membership (it’s hard to be a punk in a northern village with a scathing dad, it turns out). Funny and poignant as usual, we get a lot about his mum and dad (I love the long piece about the family’s amateur dramatic tradition) and his wife and daughter. Good to see his Iceland trip referenced and there are some great comparisons, including this on Mark E. Smith, who he says is like

the owner of a family-run furniture manufacturer in provincial northern England, bullying his staff and mocking his customers.

There’s some birdwatching (he’s the one in the back of the car with the silly comments and biscuits) and family jokes (Alan Bennett mode is a corker!) and I laughed out loud at his list of band names and why they got rejected. A great read.


So a while ago I joined an Unbound campaign for a book about the mental health benefits of birdwatching (and being in nature in general). Unbound works like the old subscription model, or crowdfunding, where you pay in advance to help a book get published, and there are various levels (I chose to receive one hardback book of “Bird Therapy” and have my name in the list of supporters, which pleased me mightily when I spotted myself, but you could also have a special edition or various birdwatching treats for more of a pledge). A quote from the publisher’s page:

In this groundbreaking book filled with practical advice, Joe explains the impact that birdwatching had on his life, and invites the reader to discover these extraordinary effects for themselves.

You can buy it on Amazon from next month and I will try to review it very soon. I found Unbound easy to work with: one book I was supporting failed and I had a refund I could apply easily to anything else.

Bird Therapy and Futurekind books

“Futurekind” by Robert Phillips, kindly sent to me by Thames & Hudson and out next week, is a wonderful, beautifully illustrated book about community-led design projects. I’ll let the blurb do the talking:

Structured into eight areas of application, from healthcare to education, this book showcases over sixty projects – not the kind you see in glossy magazines or online, but the ones that have made a genuine difference to communities and lives around the world. Rather than being client-driven, as commercial design often is, each project here is the result of designers who reach out, communities who get involved and the technologies that helping people to realize ideas together. From a playground-powered water pump in South Africa to a DIY budget cellphone, each of these groundbreaking projects is presented through fascinating and life-affirming stories, diagrams that reveal the mechanisms and motivations behind each design approach, and photography that celebrates the humanity of the endeavour.

It looks absolutely fascinating and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

I’m currently reading “The Sea, The Sea” by Iris Murdoch, for what must be the fifth time at least, and I’m still drawn in, excited, by that first page. What are you reading that’s exciting you?

State of the TBR May 2019 (plus book confessions!)

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Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear – we appear to have reached Peak TBR. Two full shelves plus stacks and the Pile is not even pictured. This has not been helped by my only managing to read six books in April – two of them were substantial non-fiction works.

One reason for the absolute fullness of the shelves is that when I was in London to visit my best friend and to support friends in the London Marathon, I happened into a North London Oxfam Books and found these two lovelies:

Who doesn’t like a book on ancient and not-so-ancient Britain? and I’ll be running past at least the White Horse of Uffington (which I’m scared of, not really taken away by reading the book based on the TV series that made me scared of it) when I do my ultra marathon in July. So Paul Newman’s “Lost Gods of Albion: The Chalk Hill-Figures of Britain” weighed down my rucksack all day on Sunday. And then a Persephone book I don’t have for only a fiver? Nicholas Mosley’s “Julian Grenfell” is now mine, and it’s not as battered as it appears in the photo.

I’ve also won on NetGalley “Brave, Not Perfect” by Reshma Saujani (about encouraging women and girls to be one but not just strive for the other), Joe Berridge’s “Perfect City” (totally Cari’s fault, that one: a book about urban planning and how the world’s cities are coping or not coping) and “Don’t Touch my Hair” by Emma Dabiri which is a cultural history of black hairstyling culture as a key in to black oppression and liberation.

Now, I did start both of these on my journey down to London and have nearly finished Simon Armitage’s “Gig” which is a loose collection of pieces and poems about being on the road and doing various ‘gigs’ either with musicians or as a jobbing poet. Mark Doyle’s “The Way Home” is about doing without technology – I’ve not unfortunately taken to the author very much but it is interesting in it’s way so I’m pressing on. That’s from NetGalley, hence the odd cover image on PC screen/real book pairing.

I have also finished “Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado Perez and that’s the sixth book for April if anyone’s counting. I’m reviewing that one for Shiny New Books, so I’ll link to my review when it’s written and published there. I’ve just heard I’ve got a possible three more coming from a publisher for Shiny reviews so I’d better get my reading skates on!

My next read after I’ve finished these two (or probably one of them) will be Iris Murdoch’s “The Sea, The Sea” for my Iris Murdoch Readalong project. You can see the cover images and read the blurbs on my introductory post from yesterday if you like. I really can’t wait to read this, one of my favourites of hers, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read it more than the two or three times I’ve read all of the others. I’ll be reading the one on the end but I do like the three covers I have so thought I’d share them all with you.

I’ll also be reading either one of my new NetGalley books or one of the ones that are sadly languishing on the Kindle.

Here are the start and finish of my TBR and I have a horrible feeling the start is almost the same as last month, while the finish has changed dramatically.

The start …

… the finish

The ones at the start will be read in order but I will probably leave “Julian Grenfell” for All August / All Virago (and Persephone) and skip to “Hidden Figures” and “The House on Willow Street” as I want to lend those to a friend. “Albion” will need to be read before mid-July. I am hopeful of more reading time this month as I have my marathon at the end of the month, so there’s some serious resting, tapering and travelling / recovering to be done during May!

How is your TBR? Have you read any of these?

Book review – May Mackie – “Cobwebs and Cream Teas” plus comp winners and lovely incomings #amreading #BookConfessions

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Sometimes you need a palate-cleanser of an easy book amidst a sequence of more challenging ones, and dotted through my TBR you can find just those. This was an easy win, as it was one of my most recent acquisitions, spotted on my wishlist by Gill and appearing for my birthday. Only a short review as it’s a little book, but then I will share the new books that have come in this last week or so. Oops!

First an update on my Anja Snellman “Continents” competition. I put the names in alphabetical order and without them knowing that, asked the publisher to give me three random numbers (yes, they are giving away THREE print copies). Well done to Jillybeans, Kaggsy and Tredynas Days. The generous publisher has also offered e-copies to all participants, so you will have had an email from me with details of how to claim your prize by now.

Mary Mackie – “Cobwebs and Cream Teas”

(21 January 2019)

A slight volume, just the thing among heavier books, devoured and enjoyed quickly. Mary’s husband gets a job as houseman (general handyman and maintenance/cleaning coordinator, also deputising for the administrator) at a National Trust property, and they move into the flat that goes with it. We’re taken through a year in their lives, explaining the cleaning, preparing, displaying and closing routines with the addition of funny, stressful and occasionally sublime incidents. The author is a writer which allows her to get drawn into helping in the house but also means it’s well-written with some nice descriptive passages and the ability to set a scene. Chris is endlessly inventive, even inventing a new way to dust decorative plaster ceilings (only allowed once checked by the NT). Attractive drawings add to this edition.

Books in

When we were at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery on Friday, Matthew noticed this on their display. A joint production of Birmingham University’s Cadbury Research Library and the BMAG, “The Birmingham Qur’an Manuscript” tells the story of the uncovering of a page of script from the Qur’an which PhD researcher Alba Fedeli matched with other leaves scattered in libraries across the world. There was something of a fuss about the dating of the page, whereas what was more interesting was the artefact as a palimpsest, with varied readings included and over-written. I have been lucky enough to work with Alba in my job, helping polish articles and documents (she speaks approximately 1 million languages) and so I had to snap it up. There are lovely reproductions of the actual pages, plus input from various people including a librarian and conservator I know! Really a pamphlet more than a book, but it had to be purchased!

My clever and practical friend Sian found these two books from my wishlist around birthday time and kept them in reserve in case the book she wanted to give me didn’t arrive. She had Matthew take them off my wishlist just in case, and now she’s read them herself, she’s passed them to me, anyway – hooray! (When I met her for a coffee, I gave her “Girls to the Front” which she’d given me for Christmas but I knew she’d enjoy.

Tim Parks’ “Where I’m Reading From” is according to the back “lively and provocative” – it’s pieces about what readers want from books and apparently how to look at literature in a new light. Kim Gordon’s memoir, “Girl in a Band” covers her time as a founding member of Sonic Youth and a lot more and has had a lot of positive talk.

Then I went to Shirley to meet my friend Linda for a coffee, I was a bit early and I popped into the charity shops. Sarah Vaughan’s “The Art of Baking Blind” is set in a baking competition – I enjoyed the Strictly novel I read years ago and this looks to be the Bake-Off equivalent. One of those light palate-cleansers I mentioned above; Linda’s already read and enjoyed it. Margot Lee Shetterley’s “Hidden Figures” was a good find – we watched the film about black woman “computers” at NASA in the first days of space flight at the weekend, talked about reading the book, and there it was! And Cathy Kelly’s “The House on Willow Street”, although from 2012, is one I haven’t spotted before: I like her reliably well-written stories of, usually, three or four women and their lives and issues. This one’s set by the sea instead of Dublin and looks fun.


Has anyone read any of these? I’m looking forward to getting to some of them reasonably soon, as I continue to read my TBR in my new way (oldest, newest, Kindle book). I’m currently reading “Invisible Women” for Shiny New Books and hope to have that reviewed for them soon, and will then start another NetGalley on the Kindle as I’m travelling to London to support the marathon this coming weekend.

Lovely incomings #bookconfessions #reviewcopies

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I’ve been lucky enough to receive these lovely books from the publishers to review – thank you to all. The three larger ones are to review for Shiny New Books: I feel privileged to review non-fiction for them. The smallest one came from the publisher for me to review, and to offer as a competition prize (once I’ve reviewed it, you’ll get details of the comp).  So, clockwise from top left …

Caroline Criado Perez – “Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in A World Designed for Men” – lots of people have been talking about this although I’ve not seen many reviews on people’s blogs. I’ve read quite a lot about this one and am itching to get into it.

Lara Prior-Palmer – “Rough Magic” – Yes, she’s Lucinda’s niece (this will make sense to horsey folk) and this is her story of riding the Mongol Derby in the hoofsteps of Genghis Khan, aged 19. It sounds so exciting but will be the last to be read as it’s out in June.

Elizabeth Emens – “The Art of Life Admin: How to Do Less, Do it Better, and Live More” – well, a book about life admin I need to find time to review (ha ha), and so far I’m at the descriptions of what life admin is, about to plunge into its gendered nature.

Anja Snellman – “Continents: A Love Story” – a Nordic bestseller that’s not a grim crime novel, tracing Oona and Alex’s love story across the continents. Look out for my review and giveaway!

I’ve also won these from NetGalley recently:

Paul Jarvis – “Company of One” – talks about the benefits of staying small rather than scaling up as a business – exactly what I’ve done, having had to make some conscious decisions after my work grew to fill my time, so it’ll be interesting to read about this now being a Thing.

Ayisha Malik – “This Green and Pleasant Land” – Bilal and his wife Mariam live a not-particularly-Muslim life in a sleepy English village, but what happens when “Bill’s” mum’s dying wish is for him to build a mosque there? When aunty comes to visit from Birmingham, chains of events are triggered. I’ve read this novel and will be reviewing it tomorrow and it’s charming and funny and has a lot to say about division and unity in England.

Mark Boyle – “The Way Home” – Apparently this chap has already written a book called “The Moneyless Man” and here he does without technology. Gulp.


Have you read any of these? Do any of them take your fancy? What’s new on your shelves – real or virtual?

Book reviews – Ziauddin Yousafzai – “Let Her Fly” and Paul Gallico – “Mrs Harris Goes to New York” plus terrible episodes of wickedness @ShinyNewBooks #amreading

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Well I’ve got a lot to tell you about today, having not blogged since the weekend, so here’s some Shiny Linkiness, a sweet book that wasn’t my Iris Murdoch and some purchases!

First of all, as we know, I read Malala Yousafzai’s wonderful autobiography fairly recently, and that was because I’d won a copy of her father, Ziauddin Yousafzai’s book, “Let Her Fly” from NetGalley (thank you to NetGalley and publisher Penguin Random House for the opportunity to read it). I loved “Let Her Fly” and here’s an excerpt from my review:

Now, we can argue about nature and nurture, can’t we, but what is clear is that the extraordinary Malala would not have got as far as she has without this background and this amazing man pushing her onwards and opening the gates of education for her. They form a great team, and still work together on the Malala Foundation. But he doesn’t idolise her and put her on a pedestal, and he’s very honest on the family dynamic and especially his relationship with his own sons.

(read the whole review here)

Paul Gallico – “Mrs Harris Goes to New York”

(31 January 2018 – The Newlyn Bookshop)

I bought this on a trip to Penzance from the lovely second-hand bookshop on Chapel Street, a dear old Penguin from 1960.

A charming sequel to “Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris” in which Mrs H, South London daily, plus her doomy friend Violet, ends up in New York and also in possession of a small boy she has liberated from next door. While the introduction of some trendy late-50s culture misses the boat a bit, the return of an old friend and the addition of some super new ones is lovely, and the whole, if slight, is warm and a joy. Partly told in letters, which makes for a very sweet read.

Naughties

So do we remember when I bought some books cheap at The Works because they were Christmas books and it was January? Well of course they were all in series, weren’t they, and not the first in each, and they were about Cornwall and I found second-hand copies cheap and although I left one alone, I now have this.

Oops, not oops.

And then on the Prosopagnosia group (read about proso or face-blindness and me on my business blog here), there was mention of a YA novel with a whole  prosopagnosic hero and so that had to be got, didn’t it?

Yes, it seems it did

So there we go. Currently reading Janet McNeill’s “The Maiden Dinosaur” which is brilliant, then it’s on with the Murdoch, I promise. It’s not as wonderful as I remembered it being, but one’s bound to dip down after all the promotions up the favourites list.

Have you been naughty recently? What do you do if you accidentally buy the middle book in a series? They don’t count, right?

State of the TBR February 2019 plus birthday book bonanza (and one more confession)

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First off, sorry if you’ve commented on my running or books posts this week; I’ve got myself all behind like a cow’s tail, but I have a weekend off this weekend and am going to spend at least some of it doing blog admin – also including reading the blogs I’ve fallen behind with.

I’m going to tell you about my birthday book bonanza first. Lucky me (I also have book tokens, honey, ear warmers and Lush vouchers and my lovely husband has paid for various items of deeply attractive and flattering officiating wear). Here’s the pile, then I’ll reveal whether I burst the TBR shelf …

From the top, I have …

Angela Thirkell – “Grown Up” – one of the ones Virago haven’t reprinted, in a lovely ex-Library edition

Robert Arthur et al. – “The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot”, “The Mystery of the Talking Skull”, “The Mystery of the Green Ghost” – three of the Three Investigators Mysteries I was missing – all lovely early ones

Anne George – “Murder Runs in the Family” – one of the Southern Sisters cosy mysteries, set in Birmingham, Alabama!

Mary Mackie – “Cobwebs and Cream Teas” – the year in the life of a National Trust property

Edith Ayrton Zangwill – “The Call” – A suffragette novel published by Persephone

Mark Mason – “Walk the Lines” – walking the London Underground lines above ground (ooh!)

Elizabeth Eliot – “Henry”, “Mrs Martell” – two more quirky novels; I loved her “Alice” – all republished by Dean Street Press

And another confession -all those books in and I popped into the newish Acorns charity shop to look again for the bookcase I know will eventually appear there that fits in THAT space just perfectly (next to the bathroom door, left-hand side) and they have their book stock in there and here’s a history of the Brixton Academy music venue, where I’ve seen Green Day, Eels, Foo Fighters and Lamb (Simon Parkes’ “Live at the Brixton Academy”), so I couldn’t leave that there, could I? Right?

Did these books all fit on my TBR shelf? Well, with some fiddling. I finally finished and reviewed my Iris Murdoch of the month (must do better and start the next one at the weekend) and could take a new book to read off the start of the TBR. Then I took Malala Yousafzai’s “I am Malala” off the middle of the TBR because I’ve won her dad’s book on NetGalley and hadn’t yet read this one, so grabbed a BookCrossing copy Gill was waving around. And the Three Investigators Mysteries went on the separate Three Investigators Pile on the shelves, and then I put the books on the shelf (the Thirkell with the Christmas Thirkells as it comes in the middle of them) and this happened …

So along with the associated piles (books in series where I’m waiting to get the next one; big Icelandic sagas book on the back row, those Christmas Cornwall books waiting for Cornwall or Christmas …) I have exactly the right number and size of books to double stack my TBR shelf exactly. Which is some kind of achievement in itself, of course. I’m sure.

Currently reading and up next: I’m enjoying Ian Thorpe’s “This is Me” – a bargain in Foyle’s last January from the front of the TBR. Then up next is Iris Murdoch’s “The Sacred and Profane Love Machine” which is February’s IM Readalong book, and “I am Malala” so I can have a sort of February Malala Fest.

How’s your TBR looking? As robust, at least, as mine, I hope!

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