State of the TBR – December 2022


Looking at last month’s picture, I have done quite well again! Incomings have come in but books have come off the TBR, too. Even though I’ve added five books to the little pile at the end, it’s not as big as last month.

I completed 23 books in November (thanks to my week’s holiday and doing Novellas in November), and am part-way through three more (one my Emma Read and one reading along with Matthew), plus the long-term ongoing Tolkien and Sagas books. I read all my ebook TBR books for November (my picture was wrong last month; I have yet to review two of them), and also got my September ones and all but one of my October ones read or (one) started. I read eight out of the fifteen novellas I put out to choose from and two others (one in from a publisher then read right away, one from the TBR), making a total of ten, and I read three books for AusReading Month (one left to review) and twelve for NonFiction November.


Incoming print books. I had some lovely books in this month.

“Mary & Mr Eliot” by Mary Trevelyan and Erica Wagner is an author copy from the publisher – it’s based on Mary Trevelyan’s manuscript about her friendship with T.S. Eliot which I copy-typed a few years ago to start off the process for Erica to edit and provide commentary on it. Lovely publisher Michael Walmer kindly sent me a review copy of his reprint of Howard Sturgis’ “On the Pottlecomble Cornice” which I promptly reviewed for Novellas in November and the British Library Publishing folk kindly sent me “Stories for Christmas and the Festive Season” which of course I have saved to read this month. We had a tea party at Ali’s the other weekend and Meg gave me her copy of Claire Keegan’s “Small Things Like These” while Ali passed me her copy of Elisa Shua Dusapin’s “The Pachinko Parlour”. I went to a Brian Bilston poetry reading run by The Heath Bookshop last week and bought a copy of his latest book, “Days Like These” (a poem for every day of the year!), and finally I received a copy of Nigel Green and Robin Wilson’s “Brutalist Paris” which I had helped crowd-fund. What a lovely variety of ways to receive books!

I won five NetGalley books this month:

“The Silence of the Stands” by Daniel Gray (published November) is about football’s lost season in the lockdowns – whose blog did I see this on?? Alexis Keir writes about returning to St Lucia and tracing his family’s journeys to the UK and New Zealand in “Windward Family” (Feb 2023) and in “Black Girl from Pyongyang” by Monica Macias (Mar 2023) we’ll learn about how the author was transplanted from West Africa to North Korea to be raised, and how she searched for her identity once she’d grown up (that’s going to be a good one for the Stranger than Fiction segment of NonFicNov next year!). “Happy Place” (April 2023) looks like another good novel from Emily Henry, a break-up novel with a big lie to all the friend group and Shauna Robinson’s “Must Love Books” (Feb 2023) pits a young Black woman against the world of publishing.

And I bought three e-books from Amazon in their Black Friday sale:

I always think I have Trevor Noah‘s memoir, “Born a Crime” but I didn’t, until now. John Cooper Clarke is one of the few poets I like and I couldn’t resist his autobiography, “I Wanna Be Yours”, for 99p. And Patrick King’s “Stand Up For Yourself, Set Boundaries and Stop Pleasing Others” might stop me making myself labour over these massive posts (right?!).

So that was 23 read and 15 coming in in November – back in the right direction!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Settlers: Journeys through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London” by Jimi Famurewa, which is a NetGalley book published in October and is marvellous so far, Jini Reddy’s “Wanderland” is my readalong with Emma and most entertaining so far, and I’ve finally got to reading Dave Grohl’s “The Storyteller” with Matthew, so he does a bit of the audio book (with Dave narrating and a musical background) on his walk and I catch up with the book (no Dave’s voice or music) at home.

Coming up

This month, I’m taking part in two challenges: my own Dean Street Press December, of course (see my main post here) and I’ve laid out all the DSP books I have in paperback plus one more modern one on Kindle. I’m looking forward to seeing what I and everyone else can read in the month from this lovely publisher.

And I’ve also decided to do #DiverseDecember to maintain the diversity of my reading, though I don’t have a main post to link to for that. So upcoming are Nova Reid’s “The Good Ally”, Riva Lehrer’s memoir of her life and art living with a disability, “Golem Girl” and Rabina Khan’s essays, “My Hair is Pink Under this Veil”. I have my lovely Christmas stories from the British Library, too, and my great big Larry McMurtry, “The Evening Star”. This isn’t the end of Larry McMurtry Rereading, though, as I only have “Cadillac Jack” left so am going to read that in January.

My NetGalley TBR for December has just two books, but of course I have September to November ones, too:

“Beyond Measure” and “Femina” are older ones I need to get read, “The Racial Code” and “The Christmas Castle in Scotland” are two from October I need to polish off (the latter saved on purpose of course) and Meron Hadero’s “A Down Home Meal for Difficult Times” and Eris Young’s “Ace Voices” are published in December.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s one book to finish and 21 to read (ten of them paperback novels and I have a week off over Christmas …), but I’m looking forward to it all!

How was your November reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection? Are you doing Dean Street December with me?

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Some Can Whistle”


The fifth (loosely) of the Houston Series (this one is partly set there) which forms the last section of my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project. In this one, we find that McMurtry cannot leave Danny Deck, last seen or heard of drowning his second novel, and possibly himself, alone, for here he is again.

I acquired this copy in October 2004 via BookCrossing (I swapped it with someone in Georgia for a Barbara Kingsolver) and sent it to Canada for a journey before it came home again. Amusingly, it was away while I moved to my current house, as I mentioned I had saved a space for it on my new bookshelves. No review on here but I do have my review from my BookCrossing journal entry: “

This was brilliant – classic, vintage McMurtry. I particularly liked the way that they went into Thalia a few times, Cadillac Jack and Duane from the Last Picture Show trilogy popped up in the story incidentally, and Emma Horton was mentioned too – makes it all seem more real!”

Larry McMurtry – “Some Can Whistle”

(15 October 2004, BookCrossing)

But my daughter, an evidently healthy young woman who had two small children and worked at a Mr. Burger, might well not see it that way. To her I might just seem like an aging freak, slopping around my house in caftans, not leaving my hill for months on end, watching horrible European policier videos half the night, and talking on the phone hour after hour to a kind of aural harem of beautiful women scattered all over the world, most of whom i only saw for maybe an hour or two a year. (p. 32)

This one lacked the preface others have had and I missed getting McMurtry’s thoughts on it. However, he obviously couldn’t leave Danny Deck along and here he is with a whole book of his own. It opens strongly with a woman calling Deck at his California designer adobe residence, shared with the fairly disgusting old English professor, Godwin, and his housekeeper, Gladys and asking if he’s her father. And there T.R. is, 22, with two small children, bursting into his life with a crowd of extras and turning it upside-down. Previously, Deck had lived a quiet life with only a series of phone calls and voice mails with several women friends to keep him occupied. He’s made his fortune writing a wildly popular sitcom, and indeed one of his women friends starred in it: after deciding he didn’t want to drown himself in the Rio Grande, he worked his way into the TV industry, although he’s always looking for the perfect first line for another novel.

T.R. is enchanting and frustrating and roars through the novel. But the father of her oldest child is a constant background threat, and although Deck hires a bodyguard for her, you get the feeling her fate might come for her. But surely not to such a whirlwind of power and fearlessness? Times around the pool with a set of family and chosen family remind us of the Duane novels, and indeed Duane makes a short appearance, as does Cadillac Jack from his eponymous novel (I feel like I’m not finished with McMurtry and might polish off some standalones early next year), which is lovely. Less lovely is hearing about Jill Peel’s sad fate, Joe having died at the end of the last novel, and what happened to her after that. This does set the stage for McMurtry making you care about his characters and then turning the screw at the end (this has happened in a couple of reads recently, also notably Jonathan Coe’s very different novel, “Bournville”.

The novel also has a lot to say about the fate of women in the TV and film industry as they age, with incisive commentaries from the narrator, Deck, about the career trajectories of his friends. His harem of women friends remind me of Charles Arrowby in “The Sea, The Sea,” and indeed there is a mention of Iris Murdoch appearing at the end of Deck’s graduate studies in English (this book was published a decade after “The Sea, The Sea” and I really must research IM’s influence on LM!

The lives of happy people ar dense with their own doings – crowded, active, thick – urban, I would almost say.

But the sorrowing are nomads, on a plain with few landmarks and no boundaries; sorrow’s horizons are vague and its demands few. Jeanie and I had not become strangers; it was just that she lived in the city and I lived on the plains. (p. 368)

Funny but ultimately touching and a meditation on sorrow and grief, the work of a master hidden in the covers of a potboiler!

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

State of the TBR – November 2022


Looking at last month’s picture, I have done shockingly badly! Not only have the Three Investigators pile moved back to in front of the books; there’s now a vertical pile of the most recent incomings there, too!

I completed 13 books in October, and am part-way through four more. I read none of my ebook TBR books for October, but did get three of my September ones read and I’m going to make a real effort to keep going and clear them properly. I read some of my print TBR books, including two of my three review books from publishers, I gave up on “The View from the Corner Shop” because it was just too detailed.


I talked about my 22 incoming print books in a separate post this month and have managed not to acquire any more since!

I won six NetGalley books this month:

Jonathan Coe’s “Bournville” (published Nov) is a family saga set in the suburb a few miles from me. Alba Donati’s “Diary of a Tuscan Bookshop” (Nov) is the tale of a bookshop founded in a tiny town in lockdown. “The Racial Code: Tales of Resistance and Survival” by Nicola Rollock (Oct) investigates race and racism in Britain today. Meron Hadero’s “A Down Home Meal for these Difficult Times” (Dec) is a set of short stories set around immigrants and immigration which I imagine I saw on someone else’s blog, but where? Ore Agbaje-Williams’ “The Three of Us” (May 2023) is a novel taking place in one day as a marriage and a best friendship collapse. Colin Grant’s “I’m Black so you don’t Have to Be” (Jan 2023) is a memoir told through a range of intergenerational stories.

I also bought three e-books from Amazon:

Dayo Forster’s “Reading the Ceiling” was another one I think I saw on a blog. It’s a first novel set in Africa and the UK which looks at three directions a young woman’s life could go on. Dipo Faloyin’s “Africa is not a Country” looks at stereotypes and how to break them, and Jane Linfoot’s “A Winter Warmer at the Little Cornish Kitchen” is a bit of fun in a series I’ve read from before to read in December.

So that was 13 read and 31 coming in in October – still going very much in the wrong direction!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Black Victorians” which is a NetGalley book from September and Jessie M.E. Saxby’s “Rock Bound”. Jini Reddy’s “Wanderland” is Emma and my next readalong after finishing “Square Haunting” (review to come soon). I’m also inching my way through that big Tolkien book.

Coming up

As well as the Larry McMurtry for this month, I’m taking part in three challenges: NonFiction November, Novellas in November and AusReading Month. I have set aside books for NovNov and AusReading Month and most of the former and all of the latter are nonfiction books, so the reading for NonFicNov will look after itself and I’ll be bombarding you with Monday posts for the themed discussions.

For AusReading Month, hosted by Brona of This Reading Life (introduction and master post here), I’ll be looking at social justice, with four books looking at colonialism and the current and recent experiences of Aboriginal people (an acceptable term to use at the moment, thanks to resources from Brona last AusReading Month). Anita Heiss edited “Growing up Aboriginal in Australia”, collecting people’s experiences, Doris Pilkington / Nugi Garmara’s “Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence” is the true story behind the film of an epic journey made by children (this is also under 200 pages so will fulfil all three of my challenges). Chelsea Watego’s “Another Day in the Colony” looks at the effects of colonialism, as does Claire G. Coleman’s “Lies, Damned Lies,” which is a personal exploration of this.

For Novellas in November, hosted by Cathy 746 Books and Bookish Beck (intro post here), I have laid out 15 books (like last year!) which I don’t expect to get through; 14 of them are non-fiction and all but two are by Global Majority People authors, too, so I’d like to read as many as possible. I won’t list them all here so you won’t get disappointed when I don’t read your favourite!

My NetGalley TBR for November has just four books, but of course I have the September and October ones, too, including the one I won in October, published then. Two you have seen about above, then “Refugee Wales” is a project looking at Syrian people who have settled in Wales, and Hakim Adi (ed.) “Black Voices on Britain” takes original sources into account, although by then I’ll have read about lots of Victorians and Georgians so I wonder if there’s going to be a lot of overlap.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and a big choice to read, but I only really have to read my Australian ones and I’ll cover all my challenges, so only a minimum of eight!

How was your October reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Somebody’s Darling”


The fourth (loosely) of the Houston Series (not set there this time) which forms the last section of my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project. In this one, we follow the fortunes of screen writer Joe Percy, who we met first in “Moving On” and Jill Peel, Danny Deck’s ex-wife, with bits of news of Danny, his old tutor, Godwin, and also of Patsy from “Moving On”.

I acquired this copy in September 2004 via BookCrossing then sent it on a “Book Ring” to Alabama, New Mexico and New South Wales before putting it in my permanent collection. I must have read it some time in 2005: I fear I haven’t indexed the first half of that year’s reading journal before I started my blog in August 2005. The only record of my thoughts on it then are on my BookCrossing entry: “It wasn’t classic McMurtry (he admits in the preface that he was never that happy with it) but still worth it for completeness sake, especially as he takes characters from Moving On (STILL need that book!) and All My Friends are Going to be Strangers.”

Larry McMurtry – “Somebody’s Darling”

(20 September 2004, BookCrossing)

In the end I did grow up: as she was dying. Up until then it had been unnecessary, maybe even undesirable. I remained her roaring boy, lover, wayward son, whatever. (p. 30)

An ageing man looks back on past conquests and life in the entertainment industry. He sees the importance of Attention. He mulls over his dead wife. He drinks too much. He drives a Morgan. His much younger friend, over whose life he has always had an influence, lives in a chaotic mess. The author, a realist who has a tendency to produce baggy monsters of novels and is used to describing the intimate and minute stages of falling in love, states they are influenced by Dostoyevksy and George Eliot. I have said before that McMurtry and Iris Murdoch have been twin joys in my reading life, and have seen the comparison grow stronger: it really struck me in this one.

There’s a Preface in this one in which McMurtry admits that he’d gone off the boil about Jill Peel by the time he came to write it, having been very enthusiastic about her after writing “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers” in which she and Danny Deck featured. He was also a bit experimental in this one, writing in the first person in three sections, narrated by Joe Percy, Jill and, in the middle, Jill’s lover Owen Oarson, which McMurtry himself admits should have been in the third person, and is indeed not as successful, but putting it in a different viewpoint would have caused different problems.

The book is set in Hollywood: Jill has just had a success directing a film and is brought into to trouble-shoot another and shoot yet another. Joe, her friend and mentor, first supports her, then drifts away, then is brought back for a chaotic road-trip. Owen is trying to overcome a non-starry background to get into the movies in some way; he’s always able to get distracted by another woman, and he’s swift with his fists, which gives some nasty scenes of violence with Jill that I didn’t like reading (they’re narrated in his section and there’s no sense of approval from McMurtry, just of setting down that this is what this guy is like).

The story rambles and doesn’t really have an arc, apart from that of a tight friendship loosening and then drawing close again – and that’s of course fine; it’s great to read a novel about a friendship. Older men and younger women feature, as they do in McMurtry, and everyone ends up bobbing around in the mucky sea of the film industry, no one coming off particularly well. Contingency features (another Murdochian trope) in some shocking events that punctuate the book, and we hear enticing small details of Danny (DID he die in the Rio Grande?) and Patsy (several husbands on now). It ends on an elegiac note from Joe, recorded by Jill:

Life ought to be like a good script. The incidents ought to add up, and the characters ought to complement one another, and the story line ought to be clear, and after you’ve had the climax it ought to leave you with the feeling that it has all been worth it. But look at my case, just to take one. I passed the climax without even noticing it, and I’ve forgotten half the characters already. There was never a clear story line and most of the incidents were just incidents. (p. 399)

Not the most successful Larry McMurtry book but entertaining and weaving in to make the whole.

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

State of the TBR – October 2022


Looking at last month’s picture, I haven’t done too badly or too well – it’s slightly fuller than it was last month but a few more have disappeared from the oldest part, top left and there is now NO PILE in front of the shelves! My Three Investigators Mysteries pile is still tucked in, albeit turned around.

I completed 11 books in September, and am part-way through three more. I finished NONE of my ebook TBR books for September, although I did DNS one as I couldn’t get the file to work. I read or abandoned eight of my print TBR books and am in the middle of my ninth. Those were all also mainly from my TBR challenge – I now have 3 whole books and several to finish to go on that from now until 05 October, the good news being that Matthew won’t be ready to start the Dave Grohl book that initiated the challenge until a few days after that. I am now still on books that came in in September 2021 but should be “just” a year behind again soon.


I was NOT restrained with print books in this last month. This is probably down to my lack of self control as the new bookshop opened in Kings Heath, where I live – I reported on the opening weekend and the books I bought there here.

As well as those on the top row that came then, Meg passed me Ali’s copy of “Sankofa” by Chibundu Onuzo, about family secrets and a return to Africa to read, I bought Rob Beckett’s memoir / consideration of British class systems “Class Act” very cheap in The Works, I introduced Matthew to the Heath Bookshop and how wonderful to just browse and not just have to search for books on my wishlist, so I went for Eniola Aluko’s “They Don’t Teach This” about her career in British football, and Robert Twigger’s “Walking the Great North Line” about a walk through the middle of Britain. Claire kindly picked up our mutual friend Sally Brooks’ novel “Four Movements” (50 years, four people, one piano) for me at her book signing. Two review books arrived, from the British Library in their Women Writers series, “War Among Ladies” by Eleanor Scott (about teachers at a girls’ school!) and “Chase of the Wild Goose” by Mary Gordon is a novelisation of the Ladies of Llangollen from new publisher Lurid Editions (not out till Feb so reading in November). Finally, my pre-order of Damian Hall’s important book about the carbon/climate effect of running, “We Can’t Run Away from This”, popped through the letterbox.

I won just the four NetGalley books this month:

I went looking for “Pineapple Street” by Jenny Jackson after seeing it mentioned by another blogger (who?) – it’s a saga about monied folk in Brooklyn Heights (pub April 2023). Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogos’ “This is What It Sounds Like” (Oct 2022) is about why we like the music we like. “The Things That We Lost” by Jyoti Patel (Jan 2023), winner of the 2021 #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize is about the secrets that lie in family histories, and Jessica George’s “Maame” (Jan 2023) is a debut following a young woman’s journey to independence.

So that was 11 read and 17 coming in in September – even if I have read the two short story collections, going very much in the wrong direction!

Currently reading

As well as my readalong with Emma, “Square Haunting”, I’m still reading “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym” and picking away at those Icelandic sagas (Matthew has granted me that I’m reading them so they are off the TBR challenge even if not finished) and Stacey Dooley’s “Women Who Fight Back”, a very engaging but often shocking read about some of the subjects of her documentaries.

Coming up

As well as the Larry McMurtry for this month, these books take me up to and through Dave Grohl’s “The Storyteller” while covering the three review books I must get to in print.

My NetGalley TBR for October covers Africans in London, why we like the music we like, a Christmas novel I might read later, a book about healing through nature and edited primary sources on Black people in Britain:

All very achievable if I didn’t have the EIGHT books from NetGalley published in September that I have yet to read! And I think there’s a Kaggsy and Stuck in a Book Year read coming up, too, for which I have an e-book languishing somewhere.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and 21 to read, minimum. Can I do that? Hm: no!

How was your September reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Terms of Endearment”


The third of the Houston Series which forms the last section of my hugely enjoyable Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, and I’m realising that you need to read the series as one whole work, weaving in and out of the time sequence, as this one takes us back to before Emma and Flap Horton have their two sons, then forward a decade and more.

I bought this copy in April 2000 and read it in July of that year, along with “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers” which I’d previously read in 1997 from the library; I can only assume that as I bought them together, I realised the link and read them together which makes sense, although there’s more linkage between this one and “Moving On“.

Larry McMurtry – “Terms of Endearment”

(09 April 2000)

Rosie tried to smile but wanted to cry. Seeing Emma sitting there, so trusting and goodhearted, such a happy-looking young woman, filled her with memory suddenly, until she felt too full. She had come to the Greenway house two months before Emma was born, and it was all so strange, the way life went on and seemed the same even tough it was always changing. It never quite slowed down so you could catch it, except by thinking back, and it left some people more important than others as it changed. (pp. 186-187)

In some ways this is an oddly uneven book, in its structure, anyway, as it has one very long section set in 1962 and then a forty-page section bringing us up to date (and breaking our hearts) in 1971-76. In the Preface, McMurtry writes that this is his most “European” book to date, as he wrote it in Europe and had been reading a lot of the European realist classics by Balzac, Tolstoy and Eliot (cementing my realisation of why I love him AND Iris Murdoch when they seem on the face of it to be so different). He compares Emma to Harmony from “The Desert Rose” to Emma’s benefit, but developed a “cool distaste for my own writing” after finishing this, which he saw as the third of a trilogy (now six books) that didn’t subside until Harmony came into his mind.

I have enjoyed these prefaces but of course the text and our reaction to it is the main thing, right (according to my espousal of Reception Theory), so let’s get into the web of relationships spun around Emma’s mother, Aurora Greenaway.

Here I must pause. When I re-read all of Iris Murdoch a few years ago, I was shocked to discover that many of the “older” characters in her novels were my age or slightly younger. Here, although I know Aurora is an old woman in “The Evening Star” at the end of the series, and in her 60s at the end of this book, she is just about to turn FIFTY in most of this one, which is my age!

So Aurora has a suite of suitors, all of them lacking in some way, all of them past their best (or never having reached it); the General, a sailor who drops in twice a year, a sad Hispanic guy with a more jolly son, and we add Vernon, who I love, a man who lives in his car but is an oil millionaire. She’s very glamorous but lives her life in a bed of cushions, tended by her maid, Rosie, who has her own problems with her roving-eyed husband, Royce. Emma and Flap are negotiating the early years of their marriage and first pregnancy, and the novel revolves around the relationship between Aurora and Emma, two very different women who can’t seem to find their way to one another.

Is there a plot? There’s life, really, in its meanderings, encounters and daily routines, with a sketched-in arc that becomes clearer but also speeded up in Part 2. But it’s full of marvellous set-pieces – when Royce drives his truck into a dance hall being a memorable one – and characters, and the minutiae of a marriage, explored in true realist detail. I loved all the intertextuality with the other novels – Patsy is present throughout, loving her dear friend and coming into conflict with her mother, Danny Deck appears again with a pivotal moment in his and Emma’s friendship finally given in detail, Joe Percy the screen writer pops up, and at a party, we see Cybill Shepherd, who had appeared in the film of “The Last Picture Show” a few years before this was published. The descriptions of Houston, really a character in these novels itself, are beautiful – especially a long scene describing Vernon’s view from the top floor of his multistorey car park, sometimes with the mists below him, sometimes above.

It’s a melancholy book in some ways, but with the flashes of humour and ridiculousness that McMurtry is so good at. I’ve never seen the film, but it certainly has a visual quality and drama. And yes, I cried at the end, even though I’ve read it at least once before and knew what the end involved!

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

State of the TBR – September 2022


Looking at last month’s picture, I’m pleased at how things are going. My little pile of Three Investigators Mysteries is safely tucked into the shelf now, and things have definitely moved on in the oldest part of the TBR (top left). Hooray!

I completed 16 books in August, and am part-way through two more. I finished two of my ebook TBR books and am part-way through a third, with one unread as yet. I read ten out of eleven of my print TBR books, not managing the Michael Walmer, which I’d warned him might happen. I completed my 20 Books Of Summer challenge! Those are all also from my TBR challenge – I now have 14 books to go on that from now until 05 October, which isn’t going to happen, see below.

Shiny New Books

Shiny has been having its August break so no books reviewed there.


I was again restrained with print books in this last month.

Kaggsy of the Bookish Ramblings sent me “Country of Origin” by Dalia Azim, a novel about Egyptians in New York. I was reminded of the existence of “Life Among the Qallunaat” by Mini Aodla Freeman (an Inuit woman’s memoir of living among the non-Indigenous settlers) by The Australian Legend’s review and managed to find an OK-priced ex-library copy, and publishers Elliott & Thompson kindly sent me Aliya Whiteley’s “The Secret Life of Fungi” which I will review here on Fungus Day in October and also for Shiny.

I won just the five NetGalley books this month:

The nice folks at Faber offered me “Avalon” by Nell Zink (published January 2023), a novel about utopias and finding yourself, and then when we were discussing their non-fiction list, approved me for history of measurement, “Beyond Measure” by James Vincent (June 2022). I was also offered Julie Caplin’s “The Christmas Castle in Scotland” (October 2022) by its publisher, having enjoyed one of her novels before. “Fire Rush” by Jacqueline Crooks (March 2023) is a coming-of-age novel set in 1970s London and Crooks was named best debut Black female novelist by Bernardine Evaristo in the Guardian, which is enough for me to request it from the tempting email, and Jimi Famurewa’s “Settlers: Journeys Through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London” (October 2022) looks very interesting and also pairs nicely with the novels I’ve read recently about British Nigerian Londoners.

So that was 16 read and 8 coming in in August – very much in the right direction!

Currently reading

Slightly oddly, I’m currently reading two books loaned to me by Heaven-Ali – “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym” by Paula Byrne, the biography of our beloved writer, and “Desert of the Heart” by Jane Rule, a 1960s lesbian classic about a woman staying in Reno to accomplish her divorce (I was attempting to include this in All August / All Virago and the Virago Groups’s travel theme for August but didn’t get it finished). Actually, I think this is Ali’s hard copy of Francesca Wade’s “Square Haunting” too – Emma and I started this as our readalong this month and are thoroughly enjoying it, as predicted. On the Kindle is Derek A Bardowell’s “Giving Back: How to Do Good, Better” which is an excellent and powerful book on the social sector and how we can all make our money and work go further and to the right people.

Coming up

Coming up next in print books, well, this isn’t going to happen. This is all the books that will get my TBR project finished, plus two review books, and doesn’t include my Larry McMurtry as I’d taken the picture and shelved the books before I thought about it. It also includes the first volume of David Lodge’s memoirs, as I have the second volume in the TBR project but need to read that first. Argh!

I’m not going to list them because it’s ridiculous, but basically I’m going to concentrate on the review books, of course, “Rock-Bound” and “The Secret Life of Fungi” and then try to eliminate those ‘extras’ that have been hanging around on the shelves, so the top row of light women’s novels and two Earlene Fowler quilting cosy mysteries and that massive Tolkien catalogue. Any others will be a bonus. Sensible, right?

My NetGalley TBR for September:

Well, there is a bit of diversity in the print TBR but I seem to be giving myself more of a course in Black British history and diverse people’s lives in America. Alternative history of the Middle Ages, “Femina” by Janina Ramirez, is still on there, and I’ve added “Beyond Measure” so it doesn’t get forgotten. Then I’ll be covering Black British Georgians (“Black England” by Gretchen Gerzina), Black British Victorians (“Black Victorians” by Keshia N. Abraham, John Woolf) and Black Britons in the whole of history (“African and Caribbean People in Britain” by Hakim Adi). Then Diya Abdo’s “American Refuge” covers stories of the refugee experience in the US and “Mika in Real Life” by Emiko Jean is the story of a Japanese woman in America. Kamila Shamsie’s “Best of Friends” travels from Pakistan to London, and “Inside Qatar” promises to show the real history of the place hosting the men’s football World Cup (people have had trouble downloading this one, so fingers crossed). So this time it’s mainly serious non-fiction on the Kindle and light fiction in print books!

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and 17 to read, minimum. Can I do that? Hm, possibly not!

How was your August reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers”


As part of my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, I’m now tackling the Houston series of six books: this is the second. I bought it in 2000; it was the first McMurtry I read and recorded in my reading journal (in September 1997) and I read this copy in July 2000 (again in written reading journal form and before I started blogging).

The whole of this book was born out of one paragraph about its hero, Danny Deck, in “Moving On” and in the “new preface” by McMurtry he says he started writing this immediately after finishing that one: he says he felt he could carry on and get a whole new novel out before he succumbed to the fatigue of writing that long previous novel.

Larry McMurtry – “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers”

(09 April 2000)

It was always a borderland I had lived on, it seemed to me, a thin little strip between the country of the normal and the country of the strange. Perhaps my true country was the borderland, anyway. (p. 285)

McMurtry says in the Preface that this is a book about the questions, given that most writers are going to be minor ones, “Is the sacrifice of common happiness worth it if one is only going to be minor?” and “Is Danny correct in his judgment that it is art that’s distancing him from happiness?” (p. 4). I think that’s a fair assessment, though Danny’s choices of women to pursue seem to distance him from happiness, too. In this picaresque novel, which sometimes, especially in the latter stages, reads a bit like a fever dream, we meet Danny, married to the sulky Sally, who he met very recently at a student party (he attends Rice alongside Flap Horton from “Moving On”), find out how he acquired his unsuitable wife, then follow them out of Texas and to California, where they are just too late to meet the Beat poets and he meets the love of his life, Jill Peel. Will he end up with either woman? With Emma Horton?

More than “Moving On”, this is partly a love letter to Houston, a city Danny leaves but pines for:

Houston was my companion on the walk. She had been my mistress, but after a thousand nights together, just the two of us, we were calling it off. It was a warm, moist, mushy, smelly night, the way her best nights were. The things most people hated about her were the things I loved: her heat, her dampness, her sumpy smells. She wasn’t beautiful, but neither was I. I liked her heat and her looseness and her smells. These things were her substance, and if she had been cool and dry and odorless I wouldn’t have cared to live with her three years. We were calling it off, but I could still love her. She still reached me, when I went walking with her. (pp. 62-3)

The most bizarre passages are when he visits his Uncle Laredo on his flight from California. Uncle L lives next to a weird gothic mansion, farms camels and rides one, and terrorises his Mexican ranch hands. He’s scathing about Danny and represents the last relic of the Old West, which in the Afterword, Raymond L. Neinstein claims is being left behind by McMurtry himself in this last of his “early” novels (here it’s a bit weird not reading all the novels in order of publication, though that would also be confusing because they’re grouped into series!).

Danny meanders through a few months of his life, gradually abandoning women, possessions, his car, even, and in the inconclusive ending he decides his second novel is no good, certainly not as good as the first, which has sold and given him what should be some stability but has ended up not really helping. McMurtry has something to say about his fate in the Preface, that people ask him what happened and he says Danny is still out there somewhere …

An absorbing, uneven and winding novel which you only start to connect up as you near the end; doubled visits, friends, and plenty of water and near-drownings show up in a pattern. I am not sure what about this one made me grasp for any more of McMurtry’s works I could get my hands on, as it’s an odd work to some extent; but it clearly did, and thanks to Lewisham Library, which introduced me to so many still-loved authors!

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

State of the TBR – August 2022


Having a look at last month’s picture, I still feel like I’m doing OK – the top shelf has shifted along again and there’s still a little space at the end. It is a bit shocking however that I’m onto books acquired in June and July 2021, which means that all these books have arrived in the last year (the vertical ones). Oops.

I completed 15 books in July, with two more on the go. I read seven of my ten ebook TBR books, DNF’d two and didn’t start one, but did read an extra one I won during July, too. I didn’t read all of my print TBR, reading four, including my huge Larry McMurtry, “Moving On”, the 800-pager that took up most of my week off. I’m currently on book 11 of my 20 Books Of Summer, which are all also from my TBR challenge – I now have 24 books to go on that from now until 05 October and none of that is strictly ideal – I don’t think I’ll get either challenge finished (obviously, there are worse things to worry about and at least I am getting through my books and keeping more up to date).

Shiny New Books

My review of “Going to Church in Medieval England” by Nicholas Orme, which I read and reviewed here for the Wolfson History Prize, came out on Shiny New Books – do pop over and have a look.


I was actually quite restrained with print books in this last month.

I saw “It’s a Continent: Unravelling Africa’s History One Country at a Time” by Astrid Madimba and Chinny Ukata mentioned on another blog and had to snap a copy up. Then I was thinking about world Englishes, as you do, and found Edgar W. Schneider’s “English Around the World”. Claire Coleman’s “Lies, Damn Lies” I bought after seeing The Australian Legend’s review and will fit in with Brona’s Aus Reading Month in November. I went to the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham in my week off and spotted “A Brief History of Black British Art” by Rianna Jade Parker, which felt relevant after watching Lenny Henry’s “Caribbean Britain” TV series, and for the same reason ordered a copy of “Life Between Islands”, on Caribbean art, the catalogue of an exhibition at the Tate Gallery I didn’t manage to get to. Michael Walmer kindly sent me his new novel re-print, Jessie M. E. Saxby’s “Rock-Bound: A Story of the Shetland Isles”, part of his Northus Shetland Classics imprint, and Kaggsy of the Bookish Ramblings sent me (and Ali) Reshma Ruia’s British Asian novel, “Still Lives”.

I won just the six NetGalley books this month:

“Black Voices on Britain”, ed. Hakim Adi (published Sept) is a collection of African, Caribbean, American and British voices from the 18th to early 20th centuries. “Black England” by Gretchen Gerzina (Sept) is about Georgian England and “Black Victorians: Hidden in History” by Keshia Abraham and John Woolf (also Sept) does the same for the Victorian era. Diya Abdo’s “American Refuge” (Sept again) collects stories of the refugee experience, Eris Young’s “Ace Voices” (Dec) collects what it means to be asexual, aromantic, demi and grey-ace, and Kamila Shamsie’s “Best of Friends” (Sept again!) is a novel about friendship spanning thirty years.

So that was 15 read and 13 coming in in July – still tilted vaguely in the right direction!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Angie Thomas’ “On the Come Up”, the excellent follow-up to “The Hate U Give” (the characters aren’t connected but the location is as it’s set just after) and Elizabeth Fair’s “The Marble Staircase”, which is one of the Dean Street Press Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books they kindly sent me for review (out today, review coming soon). I’ve also taken “Square Haunting” by Francesca Wade off the shelf as it’s my and Emma’s next read and we’re starting it this week.

Coming up

Coming up next in print books, I have my Larry McMurtry for this month, “All My Friends are Going to be Strangers”, the lovely book from Michael Walmer and the remaining nine and a half books on my 20 Books of Summer list (books 11-20; see their descriptions here):

My NetGalley TBR for August is a lot calmer than it has been:

“Femina” by Janina Ramirez, which I had left over from July but am committed to getting read, is an alternative history of the Middle Ages, told through the women of history who have largely been forgotten. Anne Booth’s “Small Miracles” is a heartwarming novel about three nuns whose convent is slated for closure. “Giving Back” by Derek A. Bardowell promises to redefine the role of charity and reimagine philanthropy through a reparative lens, and Mohsin Hamid’s “The Last White Man” is a satirical science fiction (I think you’d call it?) novel about what happens when White people’s skin starts to turn dark overnight. Then of course I have my two Dean Street Press novels to finish, including Susan Scarlett’s (aka Noel Streatfeild) “Clothes Pegs”.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 2 books to finish and 16 to read. Can I do that? Hm, possibly not!

How was your July reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?

Book review – Larry McMurtry – “Moving On”


For the second half of my Larry McMurtry 2022 Re-reading Project, I’m tackling the Houston series, six books set in the Texas city. I bought this one in November 2004 and read it some time between January and August 2005, as it appears in my “Best Books of 2005” post but I started my (original LiveJournal) blog in the August. I find I have a gap in my reading journal record between 2003 and 2011, so it’s not covered in that at the moment, either (must dig out my paper journals for those years and finish that project!). So I can’t easily check what I thought of it, apart from it was one of my top ten reads for that year.

Another small issue is that I found on reading this one and remembering others in the series that the order they were written and published in is not necessarily the internal chronological order, so someone is mentioned in this one in the past who features strongly in one of the other ones. I’ve told myself, since I’ve read this 800-pager now, that I’m experiencing the series as someone would have who read them all as they came out.

Larry McMurtry – “Moving On”

(26 November 2004)

The fact that most women didn’t much like Patsy was a profound shock to me. I liked her a lot – enough to devote much of an eight-hundred-page novel to her – and I fully expected women to like her as much as I did. (Preface, p. 5)

A long, in-depth study of a few years in the lives of Jim and Patsy Carpenter, in the preface, McMurtry wonders why he decided to pin it around the twin themes of rodeos and graduate school, but the two areas make for a wide portrayal of the people of Texas and I think it works. We start off with Jim having taken up an interest in photography and deciding to photograph rodeos – another of his dilettante interests (he and Patsy are both independently wealthy, him more so, but he likes to pretend to be poor and hops from interest to interest like an Anne Tyler hero) and meet various characters from the rodeo, notably the sweet clown, Pete, and his fiancée, Boots, Sonny, charismatic rodeo hero, and PeeWee, failed kid at the bottom of the heap. Then when Jim decides to do a literature PhD, we meet a host of doctoral students and tutors; this bit reminded me of hanging out with the postgrads in 1992, when I was just graduated, and the mid-2000s when Matthew worked in a pyschology lab at the university, and not much really changes in terms of the types.

There are other family characters, too – rackety aunts, naughty sisters and a rancher uncle who offers Patsy a different way of being. The action moves around Texas (including Thalia) and briefly to California, and as usual McMurtry’s sense of place is always there in the background. There isn’t a huge amount of plot, some affairs, a marriage unravelling, friends supporting each other, a baby or three, but what there is is detail.

It was when reading all this detail that it struck me why I often quote Iris Murdoch (mentioned here the once, as I described in my review of “Girls They Write Songs About“) and Larry McMurtry as two favourite authors (George Eliot and Thomas Hardy fit in here, too) even though superficially they seem very different. Both have a web of interlinked characters who happen upon each other in different combinations; more importantly, both are realist writers, who will set down every thought and sensation of their characters as they fall in and out of love and go about their day. Here are Patsy and young son Davey, walking home after Davey has grasped a temporarily unused basketball and hugged it, thinking he was playing with the big boys, only to have it summarily removed for play by those boys, ignoring him:

Patsy carried Davey as far as the sidewalk and then set him down and offered him a finger, thinking they might walk along together. But Davey had not forgotten the humiliation of the the basketball court. He was not pleased with his mother and didn’t want to walk with her. He slapped at her finger and looked petulant. Then he sat down. He did not intend to walk at all, and especially not with Patsy. He seemed to feel that what had happened on the basketball court was entirely her fault. He was not about to forgive her for the fact that he was small. His look showed clearly enough that he considered her responsible for the whole business. (p. 791)

It did take me a long time to read, but it was so absorbing and almost like reportage in its realism. Patsy’s every thought is shown and it’s a fascinating portrait, and seems to me like McMurtry has created another character, like Harmony in the Las Vegas novels, who is realistic and believable, even if, as he mentions in the preface, she’s living just before feminism hit and spends much of the novel in tears. And did I dislike her, as McMurtry says in his preface most women did? No, I liked her. I liked Joe Percy, Emma Horton and Pete the clown just as much, though, the side characters making the novel, as often happens.

Are you doing the project with me? Are you planning to read this one / this series? If you’re doing “Lonesome Dove” or any of the others, how are you getting along?

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