Book review Angela Thirkell – “Growing Up” @ViragoBooks #Bookconfessions


Three Thirkell novelsI’ve been continuing to work my way through Thirkell’s Second World War novels, which basically tell the story of the war as it’s going on, this one being published originally in 1943 and now republished by Virago, in a funny order but finishing off the series (I have two more to read before I get to “Peace Breaks Out”, the third one published this August, one of which I acquired in 2018 and the other in 2019, as they came out!). I’m finding I’m falling in love with her work all over again, as these books are detailed, careful and very poignant, with little of the snobbery, xenophobia and racism we can find in her novels. Just two book confessions after the review …

Angela Thirkell – “Growing Up”

(20 August 2020)

The young people we’ve been encountering in the novels are growing up and assuming responsibility for people, houses and their own ongoing lives in this installment. Even more poignant than the previous ones, as the war grinds on (it also opens with the death of a cat; however, I’m glad to say that his replacement flourishes), we’re at the Priory near Winter Overcotes with its fascinating two-level railway station, and Sir Harry and Lady Waring take in their niece Leslie after her health breaks down, plus Noel and Lydia Merton, Lydia so much more sensible than when she was Lydia Keith but still a jolly and attractive character who always tries to do her best for people. The Warings lost their son in 1918 so are old hands at grief and loss, but also know that the Priory will pass to Leslie’s brother, and both Lydia and Leslie have much-loved brothers overseas; the station master, Mr Beedle, has a son in a prisoner-of-war camp and everyone is trying to keep their spirits up but showing the strain. The feudal responsibility we saw in the last novel is strong here in Sir Harry:

What a weary business it all was, giving one’s best to a place where one’s widow wouldn’t even have the right to live. Still, one could keep the place going … and there were old men about the place who had known his father, and young men who looked to Sir Harry to get them out of trouble … One must keep going  for them. (p. 33)

As well as the interweaving stories of finding work and finding love, making friendships (that of Lydia and Leslie, both practical women, is particularly nicely done) and the amusing incidents of the convalescent troops from the big house at the kitchen door of the attractive housekeeper we have lovely set pieces, for example Mrs Morland’s attempt at a lecture to the troops (and I loved the passage about how difficult she’s finding it writing novels through the war when all her heroes and heroines have got separated), the young woman porters bringing new life to the railway station, the quick mentions or scenes with characters from previous novels (even Captain Barclay gets a mention, and Mrs Spender and Octavia put in an appearance) and the nods back to Trollope’s own Barsetshire novels.

A good and absorbing read.

Kitted OutOne book in from the publisher, The History Press, to review for Shiny New Books – they sent a PDF but then very kindly sent me a hard copy too, which is useful, because there are some lovely illustrations and I’ll be wanting to flick forwards and back to them as I read. “Kitted out: Style and Youth Culture in the Second World War” by Caroline Young looks at young people around the world taking part in the war, whether on the home front or the land or in active service, and how they perceived, adapted and wore the uniforms, official or unofficial, of their times. It looks fascinating and I will be reading it soon as it’s out already.

Then I spotted Neil Price’s “Children of Ash and Elm: A History of the Vikings” on NetGalley and even risked going under my 80% review rate to request it. I can’t resist a book on the Vikings and that’s all there is to say about that. This was published in August so another one I hope to get to soon.

I’m ahead of myself in terms of reading vs. reviews, so by the time this is published I may well be on to the next volume (“The Headmistress”). I’ve read my Paul Magrs for the month and review a very interesting book on the science of rewilding in a couple of days …

Book review Angela Thirkell – “Marling Hall” @ViragoBooks plus #bookconfessions


This book was part of my Christmas 2018 haul and I managed to realise I shouldn’t read it until the ones that came in between these four had been published – which is now. Read on for some acquisitions, too. Will I ever get down to one TBR shelf by the end of the year …?

Angela Thirkell – “Marling Hall”

(25 December 2018)

It’s 1941 and the war presses on – this book was published in 1942 and there’s a fascinating update of the war so far at one point which I found quite moving – we’re at Marling Hall for this one, where the family have adapted the house to circumstances and reduced Help and are making the best of things. There are a lot of characters introduced early on which got me a bit confused, but they did separate out and become clear. There were also no Mixo-Lydians and just some weird sentiment about Russians which was more to reflect the characters’ confusion than anything else, no hunting, and only really the snobbery that comes with a hierarchical society – the inhabitants of the Hall accept Mrs Smith, who is renting her house out to two intellectuals, as a sort of member of the community where kindness is owed back and forth, even if she drives her tenants to distraction. There is unfortunately a ‘village idiot’ but he’s a valued and useful member of the small society who fixes things and makes friends.

We find another bumptious younger daughter in Lucy, and it seems Thirkell can’t do without these, but she’s fun and a nice contrast with her reserved sister Lettice, widowed at Dunkirk, who has a more traditional time with suitors coming from all directions to court her. There are lovely nods back to the Pallisers and a nod forward if you have the whole series, as Miss Bunting features strongly but has her own book later on. I loved the interplay of the various nurses, administrators and secretaries, admitting privately they couldn’t do each other’s jobs!

A few books in and some pre-ordered that we won’t talk about until they arrive, right?

First off, the ebooks – all NetGalley except the last one. I don’t think I’d mentioned Chris McMillan’s “The London Dream: Migration and the Mythology of the City” (published 30 August) which is about just that, or Laura E. Gomez’ “Inventing Latinos: A New Story of American Racism” (published 25 August) which looks at the position of Latinx people in American society, both won in late August and obviously to be read soon. “No Rules Rules: Netflix and the Culture of Reinvention” by Reed Hastings and Erin Meyer (published 08 September) fits in with my interest in books about new businesses and their cultures. I won all these by asking for them, but Phillipa Ashley’s “A Surprise Christmas Wedding” (19 October) and Emily Hougton’s “Before I Saw You” (04 February 2021) were both offered to me by their publishers, which was so lovely. I like Ashley’s Cornwall books and this is a Lake District one so should be fun, and “Before I Saw You” is about people who meet on a hospital ward but don’t see each other for ages, which sounds intriguing. Finally, Claire Huston’s pitch for me to read and review “Art and Soul” was so very well done (she’d obviously looked at my blog for one thing!!) that I couldn’t say no.

Moving into print, I don’t think I told you about Elliott & Thompson sending me Gareth E. Rees’ “Unofficial Britain” which is a work of pscyhogeography about liminal spaces like multi-storey car parks and motorway intersections. I though some of it might be a bit creepy or extreme for me when it arrived, but I’ve read it already and it was excellent. Review for Shiny New Books coming soon.

More psychogeography with Iain Sinclair’s “London Overground: A Day’s Walk Around the Ginger Line” – I forgot why I’d ordered this but I’d been discussing it with my best friend as another potential read together, and maybe one day we’ll get to walk it together ourselves (not in one day, though!).

With that one arrived “My First 1000 Spanish Words” which fills in a lot of nouns I wanted to learn and is also delightfully inclusive, with a multicultural range of faces in the illustrations and somebody who uses a wheelchair on every page. And today “Conversational Spanish Dialogues” arrived – 104 dialogues to read and listen to and learn from (I’ve felt we’ve missed out on joining up our Spanish with Duolingo’s concentration on individual phrases.

It’s fortunate maybe that we’ve entered an enhanced lockdown where I am again, although I wasn’t doing an awful lot of meeting up with people indoors or out anyway. But instead of expanding our social life we’ll be rewinding it – more time for reading!

Have you got or read any of these?

Book review – Nick Hayes – “The Book of Trespass” @shinynewbooks @BloomsburyBooks #bookbloggers


I recently read Nick Hayes’ “The Book of Trespass” which Bloomsbury Books kindly sent me in return for an honest review. It was a good read, full of information and fire and passion, with a bit of drug-taking past the usual fences thrown in. I received a review copy but was pleased to find the lovely woodcuts in the final version were there – see the link to Shiny below for a picture of one of them.

This excerpt from my review perhaps is the bit that chimes most with my recent thoughts and themes and with current considerations:

The chapter on slave-owners and how their nefarious activities allowed them to claim, own and fence off large tracts of land is well-timed and makes this book even more up to date and timely. As well as information about the land in England, he goes into the divisions created between black and white slaves and indentured servants, the way the Establishment seek to divide and conquer (this comes up again in the section on migrants) and gives a shout-out to the Legacies of Britain’s Slave Ownership project. He’s scathing about one politician in particular, who claims to “ignore” the fact his wealth comes from slave-owning but still owns his family’s original sugar plantation in Barbados, and rightly so, of course, and also digs out statistics on the number of people from ethnic minorities who live in or visit the countryside. This is only one side of the many issues Hayes discusses, but perhaps one that will chime strongly with current readerships. I could write hundreds more words about all the points he goes into – the vilification of migrants, the shutting off of land that would feed people, the loss of the third space, the commons.

Read the full review here.

And in one bit that didn’t make the review cut (I really could have gone on for pages and had to be careful with my words!), I was very amused to read him describing wood pigeons saying “My toes hurt, Betty; my toes HURT, Betty” which is a running joke in my photo-a-day group and, one read, never able to be shaken. You’re welcome!

State of the TBR September 2020 and only a tiny #Bookconfession #20BooksOfSummer20 #paulmagrsathon


I’m very pleased with the state of my TBR at the moment – yes, there’s a Pile and some Loose Matter, but that’s not major and there were two Piles last time. As I reported in my round up of my 20 Books of Summer project (here), as well as completing my 20 Books of Summer reading with days to spare, I achieved my aim of getting a load of books acquired in 2018 off the shelf and read. Let’s not mention how many books I’ve acquired in lockdown – they might just fill the whole back shelf! In total I read 13 books in August (or finished, as one of them I’d been reading in sections since May) and nine of those were from the physical TBR.

September 01 2020 TBR

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Horse Crazy” by Sarah Maslin Nir, which the publisher kindly made available to me on NetGalley. It combines a social history of horse-lovers in the US with a memoir of the author’s own obsession with horses. Each chapter is named after a horse she’s loved so I hope it’s not too heart-rending!

I’m also going to be continuing with my reading of Angela Thirkell’s wartime novels, which she wrote and published as the war was going on – so there’s an immediacy there which will be fascinating. I want to have them all read by the end of the year, or earlier if I can, now that I finally have them all! I’ve already discovered the resolution to the cliffhanger from “Cheerfulness Breaks In” in “Northbridge Rectory” (review to come) – phew!

Coming up next …

I need to be reading Kevin Maxwell’s “Forced Out” soon, not least because my friend Gill has loaned it to me and needs to lend it to a police officer next! It’s about the experiences of a Black, gay man who had always wanted to be a police officer but ended up having terrible experiences of homophobia and racism. And my re-read of Paul Magrs’ “Exchange” will be my Magrsathon book for this month (did you read my interview with him yesterday?).

On top of “Horse Crazy,” I want to pick up some other NetGalley reads. I will then make a start on the beginning of the TBR and I’ll be starting “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race” by Reni Eddo-Lodge, which is the new book my best friend and I will be reading together over the next few weeks (watch out tomorrow for a review of the one we read in May-August).

Then, further in the future, apart from continuing with my reading of Angela Thirkell’s wartime novels, this is the start of my TBR – the oldest books on it. Not hugely diverse, I have to say, apart from “A Brown Man in Russia” and “The Good Immigrant” but that aspect should be covered in my NetGalley reading. I was quite clearly in a nature phase during this part of 2019!

Book confession!

I was delighted to receive a copy of Elizabeth von Armin’s “Father” in the post from the lovely folk at the British Library Women Writers publishers. It’s out on September 03 and I won’t have it read and reviewed by then but I will get to it asap! What a pretty copy, too!

Shiny new books and a Shiny New Book @shinynewbooks @OUPAcademic #bookbloggers #bookconfessions


Oxford illustrated history of the bookEarlier this month I finished reading “The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book”, edited by James Raven, and what a smashing read it was. This is, I think, apart from the amazing illustrations (even in the PDF copy I got to read pre-publication), what I liked the best about it:

The book itself takes a thoroughly global perspective, with major chapters on South and East Asia, China, Japan and Korea and the Islamic world and one late one on the globalisation of the book trade, including a lot of detail on censorship and copyright, and areas such as South America are also included, especially in discussions of the oldest forms of books, which were suppressed by colonialists. Colonialists also sought later to drag countries that were happily using wood block (xylography) and other non-moveable-type technologies such as lithography, both of which suited their writing systems better, quite happily into what they considered their modern ways, and the interplay between the two streams is fascinating. Other tensions, such as the change from paganism to Christianity in the Western world being echoed by a transition from roll to codex, or the sacred nature of the Islamic manuscript and calligraphic arts and the lack of a need for print techniques in a Mughal Empire set up with a network of scribes are also brought out.

Read my full review here.

New books in

I had a bumper crop of books pop through the letterbox today!

Three Thirkell novelsFirst off, the latest three Angela Thirkells to be reprinted by Virago. I pre-ordered these about a million years ago but I had checked the date of publication recently as I was considering some 20BooksofSummer swapping, so I did know they were due. Weirdly, they had already republished the ones that come between these, so I already had those. Even more weirdly, they’ve suddenly decided to print these with dark green VMC-style spines, where all the other ones had wraparound spines with the images/colours of the fronts. And confusingly, I appear to have read a couple of the intervening ones out of sequence. So this is the order of the next few including what I have sitting on the TBR shelf now and what I’ve already read – I’m not going to re-read those, given the state of the TBR at the moment!

  • Cheerfulness Breaks In (1940) – just arrived
  • Northbridge Rectory (1941) – read in September 2019
  • Marling Hall (1942) – on the TBR
  • Growing Up (1943) – just arrived
  • The Headmistress (1944) – read in November 2017
  • Miss Bunting (1945) – on the TBR
  • Peace Breaks Out (1946) – just arrived

I am going to pick “Cheerfulness Breaks In” as my next #20BooksOfSummer read as the two Virago books I had selected for it were published in 1922 and 1923 and one is about women not toeing the line, and I’ve just finished “The Call”, published in 1924 about an unconventional woman, which seemed like too much of a good thing, frankly!

two BLM books

Following my sort of policy of buying some serious, hard-hitting books full of statistics and info and some lighter ones … I followed a bit of a rabbit hole from a post in a Facebook group I’m in and found “White Privilege: The Myth of a Post-Racial Society” by Kalwant Bhopal, which does actually look at systemic racism in the UK as well as the US. Published by Policy Press, so all the trappings of an academic work with the right referencing. Then I discovered Huda Fahmy’s cartoons about living as a hijabi woman in the US, “Yes, I’m Hot in This” through a fellow editor on Facebook, followed her page, loved her cartoons and found there was a book, so ordered that from Hive, too! Edited to add her Facebook page and Twitter.

I just want to note that I will be reading more of my BLM themed books soon – I was committed to doing my Virago and Persephone reading this month, which, after all, is reclaiming lost women writers, and with a couple of larger non-fiction reads for Shiny there hasn’t been a huge lot of room for reading outside those two areas. But as soon as I’ve finished Book 20 I’m going to start popping some diverse reading back in there and am looking forward to that. I think “The Good Immigrant” will be up next, and that reminds me that I need to see if the US version is out yet.

Have you had a Thirkell delivery, too? Any cartoonists you can recommend (I know about XKCD and Nathan Pyle already)?

Book review – Jacky Klein – “Grayson Perry” and #bookconfessions @shinynewbooks @thamesandhudson


Last month I finished the sumptuous and beautiful “Grayson Perry” by Jacky Klein which the lovely folk at Thames & Hudson sent me to review for Shiny New Books. I could literally look at a page of this book every day for the rest of my life and never tire of it, always finding something new.

Coming right up to date in the final chapter with Perry’s Brexit and identity politics pieces, and his pair of prints, “Sponsored by You” and “Selfie with Political Causes” which take two views of humanity, basically, this is a wonderful, generous and colourful journey through Perry’s life and art which can be enjoyed on a detailed or surface level. Naturally, it’s a beautifully produced large-format paperback with French flaps, notes, a chronology, a list of public collections holding Perry’s work, his exhibitions, including the ones he’s curated, a bibliography and an index. A great gift that would be appreciated by anyone with more than a passing interest in Perry and his work.

Read my full review here.

Books in

I have been buying many fewer books on Amazon recently, however I happened to notice that Stormzy’s book (co-written with Jude Yawson), “Rise Up”, which is the story of his company Merky, was on sale for £2. I already had “Slay in Your Lane: The Black Girl Bible” by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené in my shopping trolley, as I have just won “Loud Black Girls”, which builds on its foundations, through NetGalley: it felt important to read these narratives of successful Black women’s lives first, so I will.

I’ve been enjoying interspersing my on-going reading with the books on other people’s lives than my own demographic’s (although a discussion of “The Girl with the Louding Voice” reminded me that I have indeed been reading such books all my reading life). I hope I get as many views and comments as I do on my other books; I was a bit disappointed to see so little engagement with my review of “Our City” although maybe people thought it was one of those “Old Birmingham in Pictures” type books rather than the excellent work of social history and 21st century discussion on immigration that it actually was. I’m not reading such books to be worthy or performative; I picked a load off my wishlist so I could read them at the same time as others and discuss them, starting with books detailing people’s lived experiences and going on to those approaching racism and activism, so I hope my blog readers will come along with me in this project, too, as I know you have all sorts of interests and experiences to bring to the table yourselves, and I’m sure you’ve seen a good scattering of such books here in the past so you know it’s not some sort of bandwagon-jumping!

State of the TBR August 2020 plus one more #Bookconfession #20BooksOfSummer20


Although some might say that this TBR shelf has gone a bit extreme again, with its not just one but TWO piles of horizontally stacked books to fit them all in, I’m actually really chuffed with this.

TBR shelf August

What I’m chuffed with is the beginning of it. And yes, I’ve acquired a lot (see all posts with book confessions here), but thanks to my 20BooksOfSummer project, I have finally shifted a load of the books that were sitting at the beginning/oldest point of the shelf.

This was my June TBR right at the start of the project, and books from 2018 stretch to pretty well half-way along the shelf. Those have pretty well all gone, just the Angela Thirkells waiting for the reissue of the books that come before and between them, and a good chunk of early 2019 also gone.

June TBR

But also, those books at the start had been stuck there for aaaaages! This was April 2020:

and this was January 2020, with that Tahiti book still prominent quite near the beginning and not much leaving the shelf between Jan and March.

So on the whole I’m very pleased, I’ve acquired some smashing books and I’m reading more than I have for months, so should be able to maintain the momentum.

I read (or should say finished, as one of them was the Grayson Perry book I’ve been reading for ages) 17 books in July (18 if you count the Spanish children’s book with about 100 words), nine of which were from the physical TBR (the others were review books that sit separately so I get to them in time or e-books).

Currently reading

Oxford illustrated history of the bookI’m currently reading “The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book”, edited by James Raven, which is as sumptuous as you can imagine. Although I’ve got a pdf review copy (I’m reading it to review for Shiny New Books), the illustrations have come out beautifully in that and it’s still a good reading experience. I’ve just finished reading about the first iterations of books across the world and am about to dive into Byzantium, and I will spend quite a lot of this weekend on it as I have three review books to read by the middle of the month. How lucky I am – and how diverse they are (one on trespass and one a republished woman writer, see below …)

Coming up next …

Three books coming up, described in textSo coming up very soon will be Nick Hayes’ “The Book of Trespass” which is the story of trespass in the UK and how that was instrumental in setting up and maintaining rights of way, plus information about land ownership. That’s a review copy from Bloomsbury (thanks, again!) and then I also have “Dangerous Ages” by Rose Macaulay, which is one of the new British Library Women Writers publications.

My Paul Magrs for the month I THINK is going to be “Exchange”, a lovely re-read, however I need to check that Bill in Australia, who won the copy in my competition at the start of the year, is able to access his copy to read! Otherwise I’ll be sharing a great interview I’ve done with Paul, and I’m considering which of his books on writing to pick up for a later month.

Vriagoes and PersephonesAfter/among these will be the last 7 books in my 20BooksofSummer project. I’ve been doing so well, got up to Book 13 yesterday (a low viewing and commenting rate on that review, though, so far, really not sure why!) so on track. This section has changed slightly in that “The Three Miss Kings” is going to wait for AusLitMonth in November, and I’ve swapped in “There’s a Good Girl” by Marianne Grabrucker (which is a lot shorter, and also covers Women In Translation month!). You can see one Dean Street Press book on there and once I’ve read this pile for 20Books and All Virago (etc.) / All August, I will be picking off some more of those (I also have one more ebook of their new set to read and review) plus some Virago Angela Thirkell reprints to round off that challenge.

On the Red HillAnd one book confession to round things off, and sorry it’s a picture of me (with my long lockdown locks, which I quite like and am keeping, even though my hairdresser is being terribly safe and careful), but I had shelved the book behind that right-hand pile before I realised I didn’t have a flat pic of it) – my friend Liz shared that she was reading this book about two gay couples who live sequentially in a house in Wales, and how moved she was by it, and I had to get a copy!

Shiny loveliness and new acquisitions @ShinyNewBooks #BookConfessions @eandtbooks #BLwomenwriters


Time to round up some Shiny New Books reviews I’ve had published recently and also highlight the new additions that have come into my life.

I was very lucky to be sent “Into the Tangled Bank” by Lev Parikian by the lovely folk at Elliot & Thompson after I’d retweeted my Shiny review of their “The Seafarers” when it came out in paperback.

Lev Parikian is a conductor and, more recently, a birdwatcher, and you might have seen or read his book on birds, Why do Birds Suddenly Disappear? which was published on Unbound, so it’s nice to see he’s found a traditional publisher for this one. This is a very pretty and enticing book with a lovely cover which includes birds, butterflies, insects, plants and a … crisp packet, because it’s essentially a book about British people’s relationship with nature.

Read my full review here.

I was also asked to revisit my review of Candice Carty-Williams’ “Queenie” to celebrate its paperback edition, so I rewrote it to be a bit less personal and a bit more universal.

This Sunday Times bestseller, which was shortlisted for the Costa First Novel Award and Longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction, has been touted as being “The Black Bridget Jones”. While it might also be the iconic book that defines a generation of women of a particular time, I think it goes much further than Helen Fielding’s novel, and is more shocking and perhaps more valuable for that. Certainly it’s a must-read for the person staring at a Black Lives Matter reading list (and let’s face it, lots of us have been poring over those) and offers a great complement to the theoretical books helping us thing differently. Here, we’re right in the action, right in someone’s life, finding out what the Black London community thinks of mental health issues, or about just how diverse that diverse, welcoming workplace really might be. And if you want to understand what a micro-aggression is, go directly to this novel.

Read my full review here.

Carty-Williams became the first Black author to win book of the year at the British Book Awards.

Right, a varied set of incomings now.

First of all, a while ago I spent the book tokens I’d accumulated on a lovely pile of books from Foyles’ website and six of them arrived while the last one didn’t (and I had to eventually buy it from Amazon, because they were the only people who I could it from, and I needed it). Anyway, this all meant that part of one of my book tokens and some Foyalty points were refunded to me, so I had BOOK MONEY hanging around. Reading the gal-dem book the other day gave me some ideas for some books I wanted to read (the Windrush one and a different trans history one) so I went a clicking and only had to spend £15 of my own money by using the refund and the rest of the Foyalty points I’d accumulated …

In my usual way I tried to leaven the more ‘worthy’ thought-provoking books with a lighter one, but of course Nadiya Hussain is known for her frank discussions of mental health issues so her book “Finding my Voice,” is not necessary going to be that fly-away and non-profound. “Trans Britain: Our Journey from the Shadows” ed. Christine Burns is a collection of essays by trans people about their own experiences and their relation to the slow changes in society which have afforded some more positive visibility and freedoms, but have also allowed a lot of phobia and bigotry to remain. While I am committed to supporting trans rights, I felt I didn’t know enough of the history, so this should be ideal.

Afrua Hirsch’s “Brit(ish)” is another seminal BLM book that went out of stock and has only just come back in, though it’s been on my wishlist for a good while. This memoir unpacks systemic racism, prejudice and disadvantage and how the impact of historical issues plays out on lives today. “Mother Country: Real Stories of the Windrush Children” edited by Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff tells 22 real-life stories of people who came to Britain on the Windrush ship, their children and grandchildren. So four lots of direct voices telling their lived experience in this batch.

Here’s a funny thing I noticed when I was shelving these – they’re all lovely and bright in purples, yellows and red, and the spines the same …

… yet when I went to shelve them (and yes, they DO fit on my TBR shelves!) (just), I noticed that the whole front row is grey, green, blue and white. How odd! I know I do have a load of Persephones and Viragoes waiting to be read next month but that’s by no means all of them!

On to the next one, and the people at the British Library Women Writers series have kindly sent me a lovely paperback to review of “Dangerous Ages” by Rose Macaulay, which looks at three women of varying ‘dangerous ages’ and what life throws at them. This is a gorgeous object of a book, with a lovely patterned and textured cover, a silhouette of the author and French flaps. It’s out next month in their new batch and I hope to have it reviewed on publication date. Thank you to the lovely British Library Publishing folks for sending it to me!

And finally, we’ve obviously been in lockdown here in the UK and all non-essential shops were shut, which was a Good Thing. Then they’ve been gradually opening up, but I’ve been feeling very timid and risk-averse and sticking to my usual two-supermarkets-plus-savers routine. Then I was running with a friend on Sunday who mentioned that the local charity shops are being very good, controlling entrance to the shop, having someone on the door with hand sanitiser, and generally feeling OK. So as I had to go to Holland & Barrett (also safe and well-organised; you scan your own items and the staff are behind plastic screens), I girded my loins and went across the road to Oxfam Books (I was thinking that there are only books there, so less backing into racks of clothing, etc.). It was absolutely fine, there was hand sanitiser at the door and a note of how many people could be in the shop at any one time, everyone who came in after me used the sanitiser as did I. I was careful not to pick up and put down books, although this meant I took one down to browse, couldn’t work out how to put it back (do I tell the staff I’ve touched it? there’s no trolley to put them on as apparently Waterstone’s has) and bought it anyway, although I do think I did really want it! I paid by card using contactless and the volunteer was behind a screen. I did quarantine the bag of books in the spare room for 72 hours, so feel pretty safe.

So what did I pick up?

A lovely hardback of Armistead Maupin’s “Logical Family: A Memoir” – I’ve had this on my radar for a while and can’t wait to get to it. Damian Le Bas published “The Stopping Places: A Journey Through Gypsy Britain” a while back and it has been on the back burner of my wish list. I did think that if I’m doing all this reading around Black and Asian British lives I should devote some time to the very criticised and abused Traveller and Gypsy communities so it’s good I found this. Tristan Gooley’s “How to Read Water” is about the patterns in water from a puddle right up to the sea, and looks fascinating – I think this will also appeal to the wild swimmers I know.

What a lovely haul, and exactly the kinds of finds I was envisaging when thinking of all those lockdown clearouts and donations that have been going on. I can’t say I’ll be trawling the charity shops all in one go like I used to, but this felt like a new return to something normal.

Have you read any of my new acquisitions?

Book review – John Sutherland (ed.) – “Literary Landscapes” #20BooksOfSummer20 + #bookconfessions


A step back into 2018 for the last time until the Viragoes and Persephones – I was reading this at the same time as “Murder Runs in the Family” but this was a larger format hardback book so stayed upstairs or on the sofa. I’m very pleased to be at 20 Books of Summer book 10 with this one, so half-way through around half-way through the month (I’ve had a reviewing lag so I actually finished this one a good few days ago now).

See below for some exciting incomings, too!

John Sutherland (ed.) – “Literary Landscapes”

(25 December 2018 – from Ali)

When Ali read this back in October 2018, I alighted on it with excitement (and may have become a little bratty and demanding in the comments to her post), and it duly arrived for Christmas that year!

I will admit to having become a little confused, as I thought this book included created maps for each of the books it describes. That’s not quite the case, although maps are certainly features: instead this lavishly illustrated hardback “charting the real-life settings of the world’s favourite fiction”, as the subtitle lays out, takes contemporary illustrations and sometimes maps for the areas in which very location-specific books are set. The choice of books is global, with lots and lots of authors I’d not even heard of (which is fine and often intriguing, of course). It runs from Jane Austen’s “Persuasion” to Miguel Bonnefoy’s “Black Sugar” and for each book you get a little bit about the author (with a picture, except in the case of Elena Ferrante!) and the book, including its translator and date of first publication in English if it was translated. Then for example we see an illustration from Punch showing cholera in all its evils in the article for Charles Dickens’ “Bleak House”.

It’s careful to be fair and even-minded: Laura Ingalls Wilder’s troublesome division into us and them as regards Native Americans (although she is somewhat sympathetic to them at times) is addressed in the piece on “Little House on the Prairie” and the resder is directed to the article on Louise Erdrich’s series of novels with their switched perspective on the same timeframe.

I learned a lot about world writers as well as discovering lots of little juicy facts, for example about Daphne du Maurier only being able to afford to live in Menabilly thanks to the success of the book and film of “Rebecca”! Written by many contributors (they’re not attributed in each article but there’s a list of potted biographies at the end including which articles they wrote) but manages to have a pretty consistent tone. A good read and I’m glad I finally got to it!

This was Book 10 in my 20 Books Of Summer project.

I’m currently reading Book 11 in the project, “Girl in a Band”, having finished a light NetGalley read, and I’m not entirely sure what’s next (exciting!).

New acquisitions …

Remember that lovely big order I did from Foyles which arrived the other week? I had ordered “Sagaland” by Richard Fidler and Kari Gislason as part of that order, but they eventually admitted it was out of print and they couldn’t get it. I reluctantly went to Amazon (I am trying not to these days) and they DID have it and now I have it. It’s a lovely fat tome which re-tells some of the Icelandic sagas, and then they also travel to saga sites (this is not something that is offered on commercial tours in Iceland at the moment, which makes me sad – I have been to Egil’s grave on one trip that gave some highlights, and also had a pizza at a petrol station/shop at Hliðarendi, location of Gunnar’s house in Njal’s Saga, but only by accident) and there is a connection between Gislason’s family and one of the sagas, too. I bet this doesn’t live for too long on my shelf before being consumed. Anyway, imagine it with the others, leavening out the (of course very) worthwhile modern reads on race and gender with a good dollop of Iceland stuff.

It’s Spanish Lit Month and I noticed this on Ali’s blog, too – this reading month is run by blogger Winston’s Dad and you can find the post about it here. As I’ve been learning Spanish on an app for the past 470-odd days, and not being up to their special past historic tense used in chapter books onwards (plus stsill slightly reeling from that time I attempted to read a Mr Men book in Icelandic), I decided to keep my horizons limited to what I knew I could do and searched for a children’s book in Spanish. “Amo a mis mamas” (by Elias Zapple, translated by Camila Ayala Teran) “I Love My Mums” is actually a tiny bit more basic than I was looking for, but I’m going to work my way through it (there are some words I need to look up still) and see if that counts. It looks lovely and sweet, anyway.

In Shiny New Books news (and I’m very aware I need to share with you my latest two reviews on there, coming soon!), I have received a digital copy of James Raven (ed.) “The Oxford Illustrated History of the Book” – an absolute perfect fit for me, of course, and featuring wonderful looking essays by many experts in the field. This one is out on 13 August so I will be fitting it into my reading schedule very soon (on my tablet, so I can see the colour illustrations properly) and reviewing it in Shiny and sharing that.

And finally, in NetGalley news, hot off the press (or not even off the press yet) is “Loud Black Girls” ed. Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, which is an anthology of pieces by twenty Black British writers, exploring what it means to live in these current turbulent times and what comes next. This is published on 01 October but I am so looking forward to reading it (although these authors also wrote “Slay in Your Lane” and I’m thinking I should get hold of that first …

Any new incomings for you? Read or about to read any of these?


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


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!

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