Book review – Jeanette Winterson “Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere” #20BooksOfSummer20 plus one more #BookConfession

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Can you see this book sitting tiny and neat above “Literary Landscapes” in the pile? A pretty purple, green, white and gold hardback from Canongate running to 72 pages, consisting of a printed lecture and a reprinted talk, this just about counts as a full book, right?

Jeanette Winterson – “Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere”

(25 December 2018, from Meg)

A lecture by the redoubtable Winterson (I loved “Oranges are not the Only Fruit” but have found I admire her as a person more than I love her other books) on the suffragettes, a great justification for violent action and a brisk run-down of the inequalities women still face today, turned into a readable and entertaining essay, along with a reprint of Emmeline Pankhurst’s “Freedom or Death” speech of 1913, introduced by Winterson.

I loved her witty asides and footnotes and her careful enunciation of the facts while celebrating those campaigners from the North and the working classes who she particularly admires. In her plea for boardroom equality she cuts through the statistics with the brilliantly argued claim that women can bring into the boardroom the traits that they have been raised to have of listening, caring, etc, (“I am not talking biological essentialism here” (p. 31). Very intelligent and a lovely morning read.

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

Book confession!

I was working on editing a brochure for an Eastern European client when I noticed the group of representative people in a graphic was somewhat monocultural. I started to write a note to please make it more multicultural, then thought I’d better look up said country and see what the ethnic mix actually was. Oh. And that reminded me that I don’t know much about the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic populations in Europe (I know a bit about France having been in the south and encountered people from former colonial North Africa there and having read about the Paris banlieus, and lived in South London when it welcomed a wave of Francophone African people, and I have encountered and read up on West African traders in the Canary Islands, but that’s about it) and I had Johny Pitts’ “Afropean: Notes from Black Europe” on my wishlist. So I ordered it from Hive and it arrived this week. And of course it doesn’t talk about Eastern Europe, but it still looks fascinating!

Book review – Ammon Shea – “The Phone Book” #20BooksOfSummer20 plus #BookConfessions

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On briskly to another book of my 20BooksOfSummer and this is the one that should have been Book 8 and starting July, were it not for the DNF on Book 7.

Ammon Shea – “The Phone Book”

(25 December 2018, from Gill)

I will admit that after having read this author’s “Reading the OED” (take a moment to view that review and marvel over the empty wastes on the front shelf of June 2013’s TBR!) I thought this was going to be more of the same and a book about reading the phone book. But even Ammon Shea stops short of that excess, although he does have an interesting time reading part of the white and yellow pages from his youth, reminiscing about the people and places of which he’s reminded. This is mainly a history of the (US) phone book and yellow pages, well done and informative but lightly written as usual. I liked the pieces about collectors and artists best.

A bit oddly arranged with some strange repetition or re-mentions, maybe because the book was re-ordered at the last minute or something. And I couldn’t work out why he went all coy when mentioning other people’s reading quests without mentioning his own OED read. But it was entertaining and I’m glad I was given it and read it.

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

Book confessions!

I had fun times spending a load of book tokens from lovely friends on the Foyle’s website (while I would have loved to buy some of these books from Black-owned independent bookstores online I could not find any that had stock and took book tokens at the time I wanted to spend them. You can find a great list of Black-owned independent bookshops in the UK here. It’s great that books around anti-racism and helping the world heal and grow are selling out at the moment; I do hope people are reading them.

I didn’t want this to be a performative post about my great anti-racist book-buying antics, because a) I’ve always bought a range of books b) there’s no need to virtue-signal, so I did order a decent wider range of titles, then I’ve been waiting and waiting for my other book on Iceland to arrive and I just gave up, photographed what I had so far and put it on the TBR. So imagine there are four books on Black history, race, class and Empire and dismantling racism, one on gender and TWO on Iceland …

Six books from Foyles, all titles and authors in the textI’m going to read “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo after I’ve read “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” which I bought a month or so ago, and then I’ll read Layla Saad’s “Me and White Supremacy” and work through the workbook questions. I might not read these one after another but that’s the order as I think it will help to work through any knots I get into with the workbook. We watched David Olusoga’s TV series “Black and British” and I can’t wait to read the much more detail there looks to be in this lovely large tome. Akala’s “Natives: Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire” has been recommended to me by several very different people, which is always a bonus.

Moving on to gender and transgender, I picked up Juno Dawson’s “Gender Games” idly as it sat on the dining table after coming out of quarantine and before it got upstairs, and then could not put it down. It reads very accessibly and makes difficult topics clear with personal experience and input from experts.

Finally (for now), Tory Bilski’s “Wild Horses of the Summer Sun” is about Icelandic horses and the author’s relationship with them and her horse-loving friends. I have been fortunate enough to go riding on an Icelandic horse once, the fulfilment of a long-held dream, and yes, it felt like I was in a saga. So this looks very enticing.

Amazingly, with only one pile remaining on the back shelf, I have managed to fit all these and my other new acquisitions onto the TBR shelf, thanks to a lot of movement at the older end of things. You’ll be amazed at my photo of my TBR tomorrow (if you follow such things).


Have you read any of these books? How has your first month of 20BooksOfSummer/Winter gone?

Book review – Philip Marsden – “Rising Ground” plus some #BookConfessions #20BooksofSummer20

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The fourth book in my 20 Books of Summer challenge and I bought this in the Edge of the World Bookshop in Penzance (website here and a lovely shop it is, too) on our holiday to Penzance and the Isles of Scilly in October 2018 (here‘s the post I wrote about the books I bought there, now all read, hooray!) as a very appropriate local read set in the West Country from Somerset westwards. And appropriately enough, there will be some book confessions after the review!

Philip Marsden – “Rising Ground: A Search for the Spirit of Place”

(12 October 2018)

A wonderful book going West from Somerset via Glastonbury and Tingagel into Cornwall, with lots of time spent on Bodmin Moor and a trip on the King Harry Ferry, and then getting into well-known and beloved places like West Penwith and the Morrab Gardens and Library, then on to the Isles of Scilly themselves.

Interspersed with the restoration of his own dream house and his parents selling theirs and moving on, he walks, camps and trespasses, spending time alone, in present-day company and with literary figures (the chapters on these last, while interesting, were the least engaging for me, reminding me of my struggles through Iain Sinclair’s “Edge of the Orison” about John Clare, although they came more alive when meeting people now who knew of them). His walks along the Fal reminded me of a fellow-blogger Tredynas Days‘ nature walks in lockdown.

I found it fascinating when Marsden explained the new idea of the ‘sacred landscape’ that is coming into play in archaeology and pre-historical studies, tracking the changes from seeing ridges as ramparts to seeing them as places of ritual. The standing stones, figures and landscape alterations now lead to a

focusing on the monuments’ position, what would have been visible from them, how they relate to nearby rivers and ridges and prominent hills. (p. 33)

and he walks some of these sight-paths with notable outcomes and effects.

He treasures incursions, whether that’s of foliage inside his house, by humankind into their environment or himself when dropping down to rivers through china clay workings both operational and abandoned, and I love that about the book, which is tightly structured in one way, loosely wandering in another. His comments on West Penwith, having described the area through a few different people’s eyes with its agglomeration of ritual landscapes and mysterious stone circles, seem very apt to this outsider but lover of the area:

All the ages are rolled into one, a post-modernist bundle of residual beliefs, re-interpreted customs, hazy site-myths, ancient stones, recollections and folk tales. (p. 230)

How I wish I’d been able to read this book sitting on my favourite bench on Penzance prom, by the bandstand in the Morrab Gardens or in the cosy cottage we’ve stayed at a few times. But it was a lovely evocation of this land even read in the very middle of England.

This was Book 4 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.


I’m currently reading “Tolkien and the Critics” and “The Last Landlady” for 20Books, plus Camryn Garrett’s “Full Disclosure” from NetGalley because I was eating a pizza last night and needed a book I could read on Kindle and didn’t have to hold (true reason!). And I need to report on some books in, although this isn’t all of them!

I went to visit my dear friend Ali (of the Heaven-Ali blog) the other weekend – it was so exciting to see her and our friend Meg, even though it was an 8.5 mile round trip of a walk for me and I caught the sun a little. I had taken a book gift over to Meg and was delighted to have these two thrust into my bag (from a safe distance, naturally). Francesca Wade’s “Square Haunting” about Meckelburgh Square and five overlapping residents is a hefty hardback that she was having trouble with, wanting to justify picking up an easier-to-handle Kindle copy, and she knew I was keen on reading it, and she’d somehow ended up with two copies of “My Husband Simon” by Mollie Panter-Downes in that very enticing new British Library Women Writers series which Simon/Stuck-in-a-Book is curating so kindly passed one to me (everyone seems to have been reading this one!).

Then Bloomsbury have been supplying us Shiny New Books reviewers with some temptations and the first of the three I’ve bagged arrived recently. Nick Hayes’ “The Book of Trespass” chimes nicely with the book I’ve just been reviewing, as it’s about the efforts folk have made to open up some of the 98% of the UK that is privately owned and not accessible to the general public. This looks like a lovely big satisfying read.

And THEN you might remember that the lovely Dean Street Press sent me a review copy of Ruth Adam’s “A House in the Country” which is one of the lovely set they’re bringing out in August, and that they had offered me “Miss Mole” which I had already read. Well they have very kindly sent me two more from this batch to read and review – Dorothy Evelyn Smith’s “Miss Plum and Miss Penny” and Celia Buckmaster’s “Village Story”. You can read about all these new ones on the Furrowed Middlebrow blog post about the August reprints.

Finally, I have had half of a lovely Foyles delivery, entirely paid for by book tokens I’d gathered over Christmas and birthday and a few Foyalty Points; however I was very careful about not being “performative” and only buying and sharing books with a Black Lives Matter theme and had made sure to buy some in that area, one on transgender matters and then two on Iceland. And of course I’m now waiting for the two on Iceland to arrive so I can share the whole lot with you!

How are your 20Books or other projects going? Have you bought anything recently?

Book review – Phillipa Ashley – “A Perfect Cornish Escape”

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Well, there’s a tale here … I won the second book in this three-book series on NetGalley and got hold of the first book so I could read them in order, which I duly did, and I reviewed them here back in November. Past Me must have got wind of this, the third installment, being due in June, so pre-ordered it. Then forgot. So I was surprised last week to get an email from Amazon to say my pre-order was on its way. I sort of realised what had happened at that point, but was surprised, as I usually only pre-order big expensive new books I’m longing for (“The Testaments” etc.) not a perfectly nice novel I can pick up anywhere late (esp as I was doing this before lockdown removed access to the charity shops and The Works). Imagine my surprise, then, when I got ANOTHER email saying the same; picking through the history, it seems that February Past Me also decided to pre-order this book! Fortunately I managed to cancel one copy and get a refund. But then I thought I should read the thing, given that I’d obviously been keen to get it the moment it came out (actually, I think it’s more a question of knowing I’d forget it was going to come out and never getting round to reading it).

Phillipa Ashley – “A Perfect Cornish Escape”

(12 June 2020)

A pair of cousins, one living a quiet life in a small Cornish town, bereaved after a boating accident seven years ago, one escaping from a poor choice and scandal in London and the loss of her high-flying career in journalism, meet two essentially decent but flawed men who always seek consent (as they should, and as is nice to see through all of these books), one escaping from his own demons and PTSD after an accident, one really not keen on journalists after being stitched up. But will they all be able to heal and work their way through to a brighter future? I did like the theme of healing taking a long time and being a process, and people getting things after hard work, not luck or attractiveness, and it’s a kind and generally positive book as this author’s reliably are. I liked the characters from the other two stories popping up in this one so we can see what they’re doing. The first series I read, the Cornish Cafe ones, followed the same characters through all three books, while the Little Cornish Isles ones concentrated on a different person each time, with the others popping up – this one is more separate but still does have those nice links, which I really like. A good sense of community, too, and of the community having each other’s backs and pulling together.

I did feel very sorry for the author in one respect. It’s a series, and there were dates in the other two, so this one has one section in the past and then it starts off being set in … April 2020 and running through to September. But of course it was written way before lockdown and none of the events could have happened in social isolation conditions. But what a massive shame. I’d have been tempted to change it to April 2019 and not worry about people being cross over the timeline going wonky but I’m sure they had their reasons for not doing that.

I was also disappointed in a more problematic sense that the diversity that I found and really enjoyed in her previous books was completely gone here, even in a character who appears here but had previously had a story around her ethnicity. Yes, we don’t need to bang on about things all the time, but it was odd to see that remain unacknowleged and to not have the inclusive characters we had before. I wonder why that is and hope it’s not some focus group business.


Has Past You ever presented you with books you’d forgotten about?

I’m over half-way through “The Vanishing Half” at the moment and pretty well unable to put it down, and very much enjoying the quieter charms of “Rising Ground”. Is your 20BooksofSummer list still going well?

Book review – Doris Langley Moore – “Not at Home” @DeanStPress #FurrowedMiddlebrow

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Not at Home Doris Langley MooreA lovely novel from by Dean Street Press from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint today, which I received in January from them, along with two others which I have already read and reviewed, Miss Read’s “Fresh From the Country” and D.E. Stevenson’s “Vittoria Cottage”. I was prompted to dig this one out of my Kindle after seeing the announcement about the new DSP titles coming in August (more of those later) and it was a nice complement to the non-fiction I’ve been reading for 20 Books of Summer. Let’s just look at that cover, too. I do love the house frame they use for all of this series and what a lovely, calm and pretty room which you would not want to be disturbed, would you!

Doris Langley Moore – “Not at Home”

(4 November 2019)

A charming novel of domestic upheaval showing the privations of the post-Second World War period, where Elinor MacFarren, having already sold her and her brother’s beautiful and rare herbals (she’s a botanical illustrator of great talent and she was devastated to lose them as well as her brother; this is certainly not all froth), must share her quiet, lovely house with a woman, recommended by her friend Harriet, who she hates at first sight.

Servant problems and all the petty details of lies and laziness add up, and the effect on her friendship with Harriet is beautifully drawn, but some kind of saving light comes in the form of the delightful, naughty and resourceful Maxine, a rising film star attached to her nephew Mory (who Elinor raised but who is now busy sowing wild oats all over London), from whom she at first recoils but who shows a good heart and loyalty under the brashness and shocking language. Maxine might even be a possible candidate for Mory, but he’s all caught up in a divorce involving someone he’s going off. So there’s drama, but it’s small drama, if you see what I mean.

I spent the whole book worrying about Elinor’s china cats when I should have been worrying about an unfortunate dog who the horrendous Mrs Bankes takes on for a friend then does not care for (animal lovers, there is a bad thing here but I was able to cope with it. Nothing gratuitous apart from the dog being put in to advance the plot as so often happens, but it’s signposted and dealable with).

I really enjoyed the growing friendship between Elinor and her rival collector of botanical prints, Professor Wilton, and her growing tolerance and flexibility and the movement of her moral code are delightful to read about. There’s also great value to be found in these quieter just-post-war novels (like “Peace, Perfect Peace“), which teach us about that interesting time in Britain, and there’s a late passage here full of a real understanding of the privations people have spent six years experiencing, particularly the loss of privacy and one’s own home and possessions.

A good read that has something to say about its own times but stands examination during these times.

Thank you to Rupert at Dean Street Press for sending me this book in return for an honest review.


More Dean Street Press Furrowed Middlebrow titles are coming in August and I’ve been fortunate enough to have been sent a copy of one of them, Ruth Adam’s “A House in the Country” (they sent me “Miss Mole”, too but I’ve already read that so I’m looking forward to a swapsie when they’ve finished formatting the other four they’re publishing then.

Book review – George T. Eggleston – “Tahiti” plus @ShinyNewBooks reviews, incomings and current reading #20BooksOfSummer @eandtbooks @ThamesandHudson @DeanStPress

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A bit of a gallimauphry of catching up with bits and bobs today. And when I went to dig out this photo from when I acquired the book I’m reviewing, I was cheered to note that I have actually read all the books on this pile (these are books that Cari gave me when she came to visit in August 2018 and two that I bought on my trip round Stratford with her (I can’t remember how many I ‘encouraged’ her to buy …)). So a quick review of the first of the #20BooksOfSummer I’ve read, recaps of two wonderful reads for Shiny New Books, one incoming from a lovely publisher and a note about what I’m reading now as I accidentally left it a bit late after the publisher kindly sent it to me …

George T. Eggleston – “Tahiti”

(23 August 2018, Blue Cross charity shop, Stratford-Upon-Avon)

For a book published in 1956 this is not toooooo colonialist or patronising, although it does need to be read through a careful and modern-day lens. We tour the Society Islands of French Polynesia (still part of France even now) with an enterprising couple who think nothing of popping over to Tahiti to find a yacht to crew / take them island-hopping. They note that French has not really taken hold as the language of the country (and do attempt to learn the local language and even include a vocab list in the back of the book) and also point out the “ravages of ‘civilization'” – and I hadn’t realised that Tahitians and others participated in World War I and II and that many lost their lives in France in those wars. However, George’s wife Hazel does have to do all the supplying and cooking and is only allowed to get a  bit comically cross when she’s castigated for having a rest while he and their captain do the washing up, even though she is marked out as a highly competent sailor elsewhere in the book.

There are nice little maps at the start of each chapter, and cheerful and respectful descriptions of the islands and the islanders, as well as some good sailing narratives. A sweetly outdated guide to how to repeat the journey is included in the back of the book. He’s no Harold Nicolson but this was a pleasant read. I also loved the list of authors on the back flap of the book. The Travel Book Club reprinted this book, but the list of authors is so lost to me now – Freya Stark and J. B. Priestley yes, and a vague memory of a Tschiffely horse book, but what about all the others? My social media friends were similarly baffled!

This was Book 1 in my #20BooksOfSummer


Other booky loveliness …

I read two fantastic books from Thames & Hudson in June to review for Shiny New Books. I’m so fortunate that they give me the run of their catalogues twice a year. I read one other which hasn’t been published yet and am in the middle of my fourth at the moment!

“Tracks: Walking the Ancient Landscapes of Britain” by Philip Hughes is the ideal art book for the nature, archaeology, history, geology and/or map enthusiast. I said, in part,

Being a Thames & Hudson book (the paperback edition of an initial hardback, and lacking the endpapers of the former edition), the quality is high, the reproductions lovely, and all the details there, author biographies, lists of his exhibitions and a decent index.

This is a fairly short review as it’s an easy book to read quickly, not much text, lots of images. However, it’s a book you will want to return to again and again. The spare images, with no fussy detail, are calming to view and the notes charming. Highly recommended.

Read the full review here.

Then I read the first of the two Grayson Perry books in the set (hooray Grayson), “Grayson Perry: The Pre-Therapy Years”, edited by Catrin Jones and Chris Stephens, which was a great introduction to the artist’s early life, inspirations and themes. I said,

I loved reading Perry’s dialogue with his earlier self and his earlier work. He admits in his essay that he hasn’t seen many of the works since they were sold decades ago, and had often not kept records of them – “it has been wonderful to be reacquainted with the outpourings of a different me”, and he notices that he is more forgiving of them and compassionate about himself than he was at the time … What a treat to read the artist’s reactions to his own former self, seeming now so distant.

Read the full review (and see some images from the book) here.

Then I was fortunate enough to receive Lev Parikian’s “Into the Tangled Bank” from the super publisher Elliott & Thompson. They published the wonderful “Seafarers” by Stephen Rutt, which I reviewed for Shiny last year and came out in paperback this week and were kind enough to offer me a couple of new reads to say thank you for me writing that and sharing about the paperback. This is about the relationship the British have with nature and looks fab, and I’ll be sending in my review to Shiny soon (it’s out in early July). What a clever cover, with the inevitable crisp packet woven into the image of nature at its finest.

And finally, although I’m still reading the big monograph on Grayson Perry, having just finished Book 2 of my 20Books as well and having seen the announcement about their new books coming soon (in August), I realised with horror that I’d never got to the third book that Dean Street Press kindly sent me in January from their selection they were publishing then (I reviewed and Miss Read’s “Fresh From the Country” and D.E. Stevenson’ “Vittoria Cottage” from that batch earlier in the year, the Miss Read having arrived in physical paperback form for my birthday from my best friend!). So I pulled Doris Langley Moore’s “Not At Home” (the cover is so super and I will need to be buying a paper copy!) up on the Kindle and have enjoyed starting this just-post-WWII novel of household battles.


So, art, more art, mid-century women and travel – not a bad representation of my usual reading. And while we all try to get to grips with how we can approach Black Lives Matter awareness-raising and support in a meaningful way, I am thrilled to say that I’m chatting with a couple of friends about having them guest-post on here about the books by and about People of Colour that they’ve been getting hold of and reading. This is particularly useful when I can’t add to my collection due to the popular books going out of stock all over the place (which is a Good Thing).

 

Book reviews – Pamela Brown – “Golden Pavements”, “Blue Door Venture” and “Maddy Again” #amreading #20BooksofSummer

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I took “Golden Pavements” off the TBR as I acquired it in 2018 (thank you, Verity), but I knew if I read it as part of my “Getting Rid of 2018” 20 Books of Summer project, I would immediately want to read the other book in the Blue Door Theatre series I had on the TBR from 2019 – and what if I couldn’t fit them both in! (I don’t quite know why I thought that, as I ended up reading “Maddy Again” in part of an afternoon in the garden!). I’m happy to say that this attempt at preparing the early part of my TBR to be whizzed through during 20Books was more successful than my attempt to not have two Tolkien books on there (well, that worked, in that I now don’t … ) even though I ended up having to buy “Blue Door Venture” from Hive (who are actually doing better than Amazon at getting in paperbacks at the moment) to fill in the gap I didn’t realise I had. So, three books by Pamela Brown to round off May.

Pamela Brown – “Golden Pavements”

(22 December 2018 – from Verity)

Third in the Blue Door Theatre series and everyone except Maddy has joined Nigel at stage school. There’s loads of exciting detail as they settle into London life and even naughtily get jobs during the term, as well as touring and working as Assistant Stage Managers in the holidays. They all want to go back home and re-establish a professional theatre in Fenchester … except Lyn feels odd about that and might want “more”. The path her career takes is again given in delicious technical detail as she encounters a powerful older female actor who is not keen on being even inadvertently outshone. Meanwhile, in Fenchester, the Bishop makes a happy re-appearance.

Pamela Brown – “Blue Door Venture”

(28 May 2020)

The Blue Doors are back in Fenchester running a rep theatre in their slightly upgraded and beloved Blue Door Theatre, hoping to be able to pay back the loan they’ve had from the council, but living out the dream they’ve had since their early teens. But when a stranger offers help during panto season, things might not be what they seem to be, and the rest of the book is a caper trying to catch a villain, which is nicely put together and includes some great work from Maddy and her young friends.

Pamela Brown – “Maddy Again”

(16 December 2019 – from Meg)

Last one and we’re back with the ever-popular cheeky Maddy, in Juniors at the drama school and learning about making TV (Brown was a TV producer and I love all the technical details, something I’ve always loved about the whole series). Notable for the entirely positive introduction of a black character (who, nonetheless, highlights that they might not be welcome everywhere) into the cast, which up until now only had the rather stereotyped Indian, Ali, and a good fun read that sees a satisfactory reunion and life for the Blue Door Theatre Company by the end.


I’m so glad Pushkin Press decided to reissue this lovely series – I’ve got my original TV cover “Swish of the Curtain” (anyone remember that, with Sarah Greene as Sandra?) as it gave me a chance to re-read them and find them just as great as before.

Book review – Delia Owens – “Where the Crawdads Sing” #amreading

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There was a point at which I seemed to see nothing but talk about and reviews of this book, and I was intrigued, particularly by its setting in the swamps of North Carolina. But I also saw there was a murder mystery element, which worried me, so I persuaded Matthew to read it first. He read it on audiobook (more on that in the review) and was raving about it, and shall we say “strongly encouraged” me to get a copy. So I did, and there came a space and I read it. And I think I loved it slightly less than he did, but we had a good discussion on it.

I saved a few reviews of it to read but if you reviewed it, do put a link in the comments. The reviewers I follow were quite mixed on it!

Delia Owens – “Where the Crawdads Sing”

(24 March 2020)

An accomplished first novel set in the marshlands of North Carolina (not even a small-town coming-of-age novel, more a tiny-town-coming-of-age novel!) where in one of the two converging timelines, young Kya sees all her family gradually leave and basically raises herself, her only friends Tate, a local boy who loves the marsh as much as she does, and Jumpin’, the older African American man who runs a small general store and, along with his wife, provides quiet background support (this sums up the novel’s approaches in favour of nature and integration). Kya comes into some contact with her local peers, mostly to her disadvantage, including Chase Andrews who, following the outsider versus star quarterback trope, shows some interest in her, so our suspicions are immediately raised when in the present day of the novel (1969), he’s found dead in the marsh. While Kya’s been educating herself and becoming an accomplished naturalist, all the town sees is the outcast ‘Marsh Girl’ – will she have enough allies when she needs them?

I found the book a bit clumsily written, needing some colons or semi colons where a new sentence started awkwardly. And the dialect is sometimes written out and sometimes left to the reader to imagine – I personally don’t mind dialect written semi-phonetically, although some people do. Interestingly, neither of these main issues for me were, of course, issues for Matthew, whose audiobook narrator smoothed them away! There’s also some fairly trite poetry that I skimmed over by a local poet – although its quality does get called out as weak by Tate, which I liked. There is some other poetry, Masefield and Dickinson, when Kya is learning about the power of the written world, and that little bit was enough, even though I realise the other was there for a reason.

I liked the sense of place a lot, and the history of the settlement of the marsh and how exactly Kya works to claim her patch legally. I also liked that she earns most of the improvements to her life herself, from bartering for food to keep alive in the early days to making improvements to her cabin (however, I did wonder how she knew to want various particular things if she’d never experienced them – had she read about bathtubs?). I also loved the careful observations of the marsh and its creatures and then the comparisons of the people of the town with the ways of the wildlife, remembering that nature has no good or evil, only actions to observe.

So nicely done and a good first novel, a good and engaging read but not the best book in the world ever. I can think of at least two authors who could have done this better, but then they’re Larry McMurtry and Barbara Kingsolver, so that’s not panning it by any means!


I’ve been making my Pile for 20 Books of Summer 2020 and will be sharing that at the weekend. How exciting! And I don’t think I shared these two new incomings (I’ve managed not to buy anything for over a week now, although had a session supporting books on Unbound (that doesn’t count, right?)

These two beauties are by Ayisha Malik, who wrote “This Green and Pleasant Land” which I read through NetGalley and loved last year. “Sofia Khan is Not Obliged” is a romantic comedy about a woman who’s given up dating until her boss asks her to write about the world of Muslim dating, and in “The Other Half of Happiness” Sofia appears to be married (spoiler! but we still get to find out how!) and dealing with the situation there. I am really looking forward to reading these!

Lovely Incomings to review @ThamesandHudson @WolfsonHistory @ShinyNewBooks

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As I am saving the book I most recently read to review on Monday as part of Ali’s DuMaurier Week, I thought I’d share with you some lovely books that have come in for review, thanks to the fab folk at Thames & Hudson and the Wolfson History Prize.

Thames & Hudson gave me the run of their catalogue again and sent me Alex Wiltshire’s “Home Computers: 100 Icons that Defined a Digital Generation” with all the first computers from my generation; Philip Hughes’ “Tracks: Walking the Ancient Landscapes of Britain” which is full of stunning pictures like the one on the front and mesmerising text about places I know and places I don’t know; Jacky Klein’s stunning and bang up to date huge book on Grayson Perry (who we’re all loving in his Art Club on a Monday night here in the UK, aren’t we?!) and Catrin Jones and Chris Stephens’ “Grayson Perry: The Pre Therapy Years” which looks at his early work (I may review these together as companion pieces). These will all be reviewed for Shiny New Books, but will be featured here, too, of course.

The Wolfson History Prize shortlist has recently been announced, and I’ve been asked to submit a review to their blog tour early next month, as I did last year with the amazing “Birds in the Ancient World“. The book I’ll be reading is “The Boundless Sea: A Human History of the Oceans” by David Abulafia, which takes us from the Polynesian raft explorers to the mysteries of modern shipping, via the Vikings and pirates.

I may have bought a couple more books for myself, but they can wait for another time. In the meantime, thank you to the publishers and PRs for these lovely books to review, and I will enjoy every moment of reading them.

State of the TBR May 2020 and Shiny fun @ShinyNewBooks

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I read 11 books in April, which I was very happy about, as I was working very much full time and did not have a week’s holiday and flights like I did in March. I had a few acquisitions, one of which you’ve not yet seen but will in a moment, and everything has miraculously just fit onto the TBR shelf!

and things have moved around a little bit, at least. Honest!

One new book just in is Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” which I bought with a token for the rather lovely Topping and Company Books which my friend Helen from my photo-a-day group gave me (we have a “thing” for pay it forward acts of kindness in the group at the moment; I sent another friend some hot cross bun flavoured chocolate!). It was a slight challenge to use the token remotely but we got there in the end and the book popped through the post this week (shown with the other arrival, my RED January 2020 medal, as I did a bit of fundraising for Mind as part of RED January again this year). It looks like I will need to swallow my “But I’m not like that” reaction and pay attention to what the author’s lived experience is, and I’m looking forward to the challenge of reading it.

I really enjoyed doing a few readalongs last month and thank you to those who suggested books for me to read. I haven’t added enough books to make the TBR different enough again, but I will certainly consider doing that again in the future. I’ve kept “Rewild Yourself” out of sequence while I wait for my best friend to finish “Difficult Women”.


Talking “Difficult Women”, my review of that marvellous book was published on Shiny New Books yesterday. I did review it here, too, with a more personal reaction, whereas my more book review-y reaction makes a slightly different statement.

There is a powerful call to action at the end of the book:

 Ultimately … the cure for feminist ennui is feminist campaigning.

The patriarchy is outlined as the main culprit, pressing men as well as women into repressive and uncomfortable roles. She uses a series of demands sets out at the Women’s Liberation Conferences in the NINETEEN-SEVENTIES (for goodness’ sakes) to show that there’s still a lot of work to get our teeth into, some partially achieved, some where we need to look at the intersection of gender, race and class, some that are still so far away. The description of a Difficult Woman at the very end is a masterpiece and I wish I could quote the whole thing: I encourage you to go and get a copy and read it! [read the full review here]

I also had my review of David Crystal’s “Let’s Talk” published last week.

In a series of main chapters and shorter vignettes, we learn about what conversation is, and isn’t, about discussions on conversation that have been going on for millennia, about taking turns, not taking turns, what we talk about and how we talk about it. The shorter pieces include fascinating notes about topics from battle rapping to conversation cards shared in Victorian times and break up the text nicely – although it’s never heavy-going or overly academic: Crystal is sublimely good at making things readable and understandable. [read the full review here]


What’s up next? Well, excitingly, it’s my dear friend Heaven-Ali’s Daphne Du Maurier Reading Week coming up this month. I won a copy of “Rebecca” in her giveaway last time she did this (she swears it wasn’t a fix!) and then Cornishgirl from the LibraryThing Virago Group sent me “Jamaica Inn” for my Not So Secret Santa gift last Christmas and even though I promised Mr Liz I would read “Where the Crawdads Sing” soon, I do want to try to get both of these read in the first part of the month. I also have my next Paul Magrs, “Fancy Man”, his lost novel, unpublished until Lethe Press did their reprints in 2016 – how exciting!

I have to admit also to a very long queue of NetGalley books waiting to be addressed. Here’s the full stack and I know it’s not too many but it’s also not none! I did really well chipping away at the older books on our holiday, but I need to keep going with the up to date ones while working at the older ones. Any strong recommendations here? I know I have a few reviews saved for “The Authenticity Project” …

Work should (please!) be a little less frantic this month, so hopefully I’ll both get some physical books moved off the TBR and some electronic ones consumed (this of course is by no means all that is on my Kindle!

Are you doing any reading challenges this month? Any NetGalley books there I should immediately grab and make a start on?

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