State of the TBR – May 2023


The amount of my TBR has stayed pretty well the same as last month; I took seven books off the TBR to read so even though I acquired a few, three of them were review books or loans, and it’s doing OK.

I completed 15 books in March (two left to review) and am part-way through four more (plus my Reading With Emma Read). I took part in Kaggsy and Simon’s 1940 Club and read three books for that, and I read a hardback bought relatively recently for that mini-project of mine to not let those languish. I also got through all six of my NetGalley books published in April (I DNF’d two: “Love on the Menu just never got going and wasn’t what I thought it was and sadly, the plot of “Happy Place” about exes pretending to be together just didn’t work for me) and also a couple of May NG books already plus two older ones, and my percentage is still at 90%!


I’ve had books in from different sources and for different reasons this month

I went to The Heath Bookshop to help Matthew to spend his book token from Gill and couldn’t resist “The Book of Birmingham”, edited by Kavita Bhanot, in the same series as the Reykjavik one I’ve read, which covered the remainder of his book token and a little more. I was in The Works looking for something else and (honestly) felt I wanted to encourage them to stock books by people from the Global Majority People community so bought Nisha Sharma’s “Dating Dr. Dil” and I haven’t read any of Beth O’Leary’s books so picked up “The Switch”. Emma suggested Catherine Mayer’s “Attack of the 50ft Women: How Gender Equality can Save the World” as a read-together book and I found a heavily discounted copy online so picked it up for our pile. Ali kindly passed me Ruth Ozeki’s “The Book of Form & Emptiness” (which I will read with Matthew at some point: edited to add after comments, I have read all her other books and loved “A Tale for the Time Being“, mentioned “All Over Creation” in my Best books of 2005 post and read “My Year of Meats” before the blog, but had seen varied reviews of this and hadn’t got round to getting a copy) and loaned me Daphne du Maurier’s “The Parasites” to read for her DDM week this month and Kaggsy of the Bookish Ramblings kindly sent me Virago’s new celebration book of short stories, “Furies”. And I have the beautiful but very substantial “The Book of Wilding” by Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell to review for Shiny New Books (thank you!).

I won quite a few NetGalley books this month (but I’ve already read two of them!):

I’ve already read Stephen Buoro’s “The Five Sorrowful Mysteries of Andy Africa”, an amazing novel about a 15 year old Nigerian boy (published in April, review here), and Rachel Barnett’s “A Summer on the Riviera” about high-faluting yacht life (published in May, review here). Ben Jacobi’s “The Orchid Outlaw”, non-fiction about the author’s attempt to see and save Britain’s orchids (published May 2023); Mariam Ansar’s “Good for Nothing” is a YA novel set in a small northern town with two British Asian and one British Black protagonists (published March, currently reading); I was invited by the publisher to read Elizabeth Acevedo’s “Family Lore” (Aug), a “deeply Dominican” book with a touch of magical realism (I have at least two of her earlier books to read!). “Everything’s Fine” by Cecilia Rabess (June) is a dual-heritage romance that asks questions of race and America; Lyn Liao’s “Crazy Bao You” (June) is a mistaken-identity love story with a Korean American heroine (though I’ve just spotted there’s a rescue dog in it so will be worrying now); I requested Caleb Azumah Nelson’s “Small Worlds” (May) because I was a bit ambivalent about his debut but said I’d read what he wrote next, and set between London and Ghana and about family, faith and friendship, this does look good. Rachel E. Cargle’s “A Renaissance of our Own” (June) offers essays on the power of reimagining yourself and of allowing Black women to be complex. Finally, I was offered “You were Always Mine” by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza (July) because I read and reviewed their previous novel, “We are Not Like Them” – this one explores race, class and ethics as a baby is abandoned and a baby is found.

So that was 15 read and 18 coming in in April (oops).

Currently reading

As well as Adam Nicolson’s “The Sea is Not Made of Water: Life Between the Tides” with Emma, I’m still reading “Shakespeare’s First Folio”, which is brilliant but takes some concentration and is in small print, I’m part way through Mariam Ansar’s YA novel “Good for Nothing” and Deesha Philyaw’s book of short stories, “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” (which I was supposed to read along with my friend Melanie but managed not to) and have made a start on Nova Reid’s important book, “The Good Ally”.

Coming up

It’s Daphne Du Maurier week 8-15 May over on Heaven-Ali’s blog (and I’ll be helping out by hosting the book review list page, coming soon) and she kindly loaned me “The Parasites”, an autobiographical novel about DDM’s childhood, so I could take part. Then I have these two review copies, “The Book of Wilding” and “Mother Tongue by Jenni Nuttall.

My NetGalley TBR for May has seven books on it, however I’ve already read and reviewed “The Three of Us” and “A Summer on the Riviera” and am part-way through “Good for Nothing”.

With the ones I’m currently reading (including my readalong with Emma as should finish it this month), that’s five books to finish and eight to read, which seems doable. If I get those done, I would like to read some more older NetGalley books and some more from my TBR, although I have nearly succeeded in reading the hardbacks I bought recently before they come out in paperback …

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

State of the TBR – April 2023


The amount of my TBR has stayed essentially the same as last month, as I didn’t acquire too many non-review books and took the grand total of four print ones off the shelf (not from the beginning of it).

I completed 16 books in March (one left to review) and am part-way through three more (plus my Reading With Emma Read). I was a bit disappointed as we did have a five-day holiday during the month, however I chatted on the plane rather than reading, we did some long walks while on the trip and two of my print books were quite substantial. I did read two books for #Reading Ireland Month and two for #Reading Wales, which I was really pleased about. And I also got through all eight of my NetGalley books published in March, although DNF’d two (one had an unfortunate description of a character that put me off but the publisher has been brilliant about it, so I’ll leave it there; one was more about a horrible marriage than about being Ghanaian-British so lost its appeal) and actually one April NG book already, and my percentage is 90%!


I’ve had some super review books in this month as well as acquiring books from two trips. Here are the print incomings …

I was gutted to miss the Heath Bookshop’s event with Adam Nathanial Furman and Joshua Mardell with their beautiful book, “Queer Spaces” so made sure I bought a copy of the book from the bookshop before we went away. Matthew went to San Diego for work and explored the San Diego Public Library’s book sale on his free day and bought me the first two “Saddle Club” novels and took a punt on Alice Mattison’s “The Book Borrower” about a long friendship between two women based on a book passing between them early on. In Malaga, I was very excited to find two of the “Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators” books I collect, in Spanish, and snapped them up. British Library Publishing have very kindly sent me the next in their Women Writers series, “The Home” by Penelope Mortimer”, Little, Brown have sent me Jenni Nuttall’s book about women’s words, “Mother Tongue” (embargoed until late May) and Oxford University Press have sent a lovely copy of “Shakespeare’s First Folio” by Emma Smith, the last two for review for Shiny New Books.

I won four NetGalley books this month:

Tembe Denton-Hurst’s “Homebodies” (July 2023) is a novel about a woman who exposes the racism in her industry, gets fired and then goes viral; “Black Girl, No Magic” by Kimblerly McIntosh (June) is essays about being a Black woman today; Breanne McIvor’s “The God of Good Looks” (June) is liked by authors I like and shows us a young woman’s coming-of-age in Trinidad; and Emily Kerr’s “Her Fixer Upper” (May) is a light novel about doing up a house.

In addition to these e-books, I was sent one book to review on PDF and bought three in the Amazon spring sale (quite restrained, I felt):

“Broken” by Katie Treggiden was sent to me to review in Shiny by Ludion books; it’s about mending and repairing items to keep them going. Amusingly, I bought Repair Shop Jay Blades’ “Making It” in the Amazon sale and he wrote a Foreward to “Broken”. I also bought Elizabeth Nyamayaro’s memoir “I Am A Girl from Africa”, which was on my wishlist, and Olly Richards’ “Short Stories in Spanish” to help with my language learning.

So that was 16 read and 17 coming in in March (oops).

Currently reading

As well as Adam Nicolson’s “The Sea is Not Made of Water: Life Between the Tides” with Emma (which I’ve described as Hard Philosophy masquerading as mollusc talk” to her but is decently readable and very interesting), I’m still leafing through “Birmingham: the Brutiful Years” and my two most pressing review books, “Shakespeare’s First Folio” and “The Home”.

Coming up

It’s Simon Stuckinabook and Karen Kaggsysbookishramblings’ 1940 Club in the week of 10-16 April and, while I claim to do all challenges soley from the happenstance of what is on my TBR when the challenge is announced, I will admit that I added books published in 1940 specifically to my wish lists I gave to Ali and Emma at Christmas/birthday time. The result …

It’s a little bittersweet to be planning to read these after the tragic death of publisher, Rupert Heath: the books will still be available to buy as long as they remain in copyright and I’ve decided I will still run my Dean Street December challenge; but it will be sad not to have Rupert see and tweet about my reviews (his sister Victoria is doing superb work taking up the reins, though). I have Susan Scarlett’s (Noel Streatfeild) “Ten Way Street”, Margery Sharp’s “The Stone of Chastity” and D.E. Stevenson’s “The English Air” – three favourite DSP authors and the last two Heaven-Ali is also reading for the Week!

My NetGalley TBR for April has six books on it, all novels, half of them with diverse topics, and I’ve read the Christie Barlow already (reviewing later in the month if I can as it comes out at the end of the month). “Pineapple Street” asks if money can buy happiness, “Love on the Menu” is a romance set around a takeaway, “Small Joys” has a friendship between a gay Black man and a straight White man, also promising ornithology, “Arthur and Terry are Coming Out” has a grandfather and grandson blossoming into their sexuality and Emily Henry’s “Happy Place” is a romance that starts with a couple breaking up but still going to their holiday cottage … “Pineapple Street” is quite long but the others should be fairly quick reads.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong with Emma as we won’t finish it this month), that’s three books to finish and nine to read, which seems doable. I would like to read some more from my TBR (obviously the Dean Street Press books count there), and make some progress on reading hardbacks I bought recently before they come out in paperback …

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

Book review – Amrit Wilson – “Finding a Voice: Asian Women in Britain”


Well, I didn’t get as many books read for #ReadIndies Month as I had hoped – out of my image here I have read and reviewed three, started and rejected two and am part-way through one. But I did read two extras that came in during the month, and I don’t think I thought I’d get all of them read.

Here’s a great work of sociology, recently updated and republished by Daraja Press, a not-for-profit independent publisher based in Quebec, which “seeks to reclaim the past, contest the present and invent the future. Daraja is the KiSwahili word for ‘bridge’. As its name suggests, Daraja Press seeks to build bridges, especially bridges of solidarity between and amongst movements, intellectuals and those engaged in struggles for a just world.”

I first read this book in the 1990s and then spotted it in The Market Gardener Reader’s My Year in Nonfiction post in November 2021 and ordered myself a copy. Out of the eight print books I acquired that month, I have read and reviewed three – these are coming to the top of my print TBR now so should get to the others soon.

Amrit Wilson – “Finding a Voice: Asian Women in Britain. New and Expanded edition”

(18 November 2021)

The book is celebratory because it makes us realise how far we have come. The conservative views on mixed marriages that some Asian women express in the 1970s is no longer a dominant view in this country, and that is reflective of progress. However, institutionalised racism, the scraping away of social welfare programs that aid mothers, the gig economy that exploits and works against people of colour, have not made life easier for Asian women, and this book is a great reminder of how far we have to go in order to achieve equality and justice. (Foreword, p. vii)

This book was first published in 1978 and was a pioneer in studies of South Asian women (Muslim, Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Christian) in the UK, a magnificent work of oral history which was published as the Grundwick Strike was still happening. I came across it in the mid-90s, presumably from Lewisham library, in its original edition: this edition was published in 2018, on its 40th anniversary, and has lots of additional content.

The new foreword by Meena Kandasamy makes it clear how important it was at the time in understanding structural oppression and how so much in the book hasn’t changed in the intervening 40 years. After Wilson’s introduction, which interestingly documents her battles with the White feminists of Virago Press, her original publishers (when she protested against the printing of selected sections in the newspaper and resorted to threatening direct action, she found,

‘She’s running amok in the Observer office! Stop her’ The displeasure I incurred from Virago as a result of this event was long-lasting. I realised that the warmth and support that they had shown me when I was writing the book had been conditional on my accepting their white middle-class version of feminism. (p. xvii)

The original content takes a wide view of the history of South Asian immigration into the UK, mostly looking at larger waves in the 20th century, and pointing out that people came from both India/Pakistan/Bangladesh and East Africa when they were expelled from previous UK colonial territories. It’s interesting to have the book point out the beginning of the changes in policy which worked against people being able to come to the UK as the government decided whose labour it wished to exploit when.

Wilson looks at the village economy most people came from, but also the life of luxury some people from East Africa lost, and how disconcerting it was to have to map that life onto a poor, urban, exploited life in a capitalist Western country. We’re taken through chapters on themes such as isolation, family, work outside the home, school life and marriage, each blending together oral records which Wilson recorded herself then translated into English, then there’s a powerful chapter of only oral testimonies from various women, in “Sisters in Struggle”. Labouring under both their own patriarchy and the capitalist one of institutionalised racism in the UK is a double burden that some women are sinking under heart-breakingly.

After Wilson’s own reflections, there’s a super long section called “In conversation with Finding a Voice: 40 years on” which includes pieces by women reacting to the book and discussing the role it’s had in their own lives, activism and practices. This includes the very necessary discussion of where we might find Queer spaces in these women’s testimonies, never made explicit in the originals, giving an added dimension, and also a piece by Wilson’s daughter about the experience of living with the book, typewriter noises in the evenings after Wilson’s day job was done. Last, there’s a section of photographs of powerful women in mostly strike situations, black-and-white and grainy but still moving.

This book is a call to collective action and sisterhood, a memorial and an instruction to keep going. In her Reflections, Wilson points out White feminists need to let Asian women work on their own problems while standing in support, not intrude and try to sort their issues out for them, and the valuable material she gathers in this book is indeed because she was part of the communities she was studying, speaking to the women in their kitchens in their own languages. I was so pleased to be able to revisit this wonderful work.

This is Book 6 of my contribution to #ReadIndies month!

State of the TBR – March 2023


Well, in good news, the bulk of books on my TBR has stayed essentially the same as last month, the bad news being that I still have almost an extra shelf of it!

I completed 20 books in February (one left to review) and am part-way through four more (one my new Reading With Emma Read). Sadly I didn’t read quite what I intended to, as I was struck down by an unpleasant virus that seems to be doing the rounds and only able to read a series of (nine!) very light and enjoyable novels on my kindle for about a week in the middle of it. I read three of the #ReadIndies books I’d laid out for myself, with one still on the go and therefore should still Count, and added two that came in through the month handily from indie publishers. So six ReadIndies challenge books in total, plus two of the ones I laid out for myself I really didn’t like at all and put to one side, at least thus removing five from the print TBR. I finished one of my other print review books (review to be done for Shiny) and am part-way through another (see below). And I DID read all five of my NetGalley books published in March, hooray, plus three more NetGalley books by Christie Barlow that were waiting for me to read the first six (I did). So eight books off the NetGalley TBR and my percentage is 88%!


Not quite so many incomings this month (mainly because I couldn’t see very well or leave the house much this month, I suspect). The kindness of friends and publishers kept me supplied, though!

Ada Leverson’s “Bird of Paradise” was a kind gift from the publisher, Michael Walmer, and I have read and reviewed it already (here). Bookish Beck sent me Jeremiah Moss’ “Feral City” which is about New York and the pandemic (I’m aware I need to send this on to Laura Tisdall so will try to promote it up the TBR!). I spotted Bob Mortimer’s autobiography, “And Away” in The Works when milling around on the High Street and couldn’t resist it. Charlie Hill dropped a copy of his historical novel “The Pirate Queen” round (read and reviewed here) and my lovely friend Jenny dropped Deesha Philyaw’s “The Secret Lives of Church Ladies” (racy stories!) and Cyndia Lauper’s memoir round on the same day. I bought Hunter Davies’ “The Heath” for Emma as she lives near Hampstead Heath and we decided to make it one of our Read Together Books – even though we have one on the go and another two in hand, I decided I had to have this one, too, so ordered it from the (Heath!) Bookshop. Michael Hann’s “Denim and Leather” is the story of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal: I did a very small amount of transcribing for it (and he added me to the acknowledgements!) and decided to pre-order the paperback LAST Feb so thank you, Past Me. And Vertebrate Publishing sent an enticing email about review copies and I chose “The Outdoors Fix” by Liv Bolton which has essays by a lovely diverse group of people and how the British countryside has helped them in various ways (look out for that review soon as it’s out on 9 March).

I won four NetGalley books this month and didn’t buy any other ebooks:

Ryan Love’s “Arthur and Teddy Are Coming Out” (published April) is a feel-good novel where a grandfather and his grandson both want to come out as gay but one finds it easier than the other. Paul Morgan-Bentley’s “The Equal Parent” (March) looks at research from around the world about why parenting gets gendered and how to combat it – so much so that as a man married to a man, he gets called MummyDaddy by their local chemist. Christie Barlow has another one out but this time I’m caught up so can read it at the right time – “A Summer Surprise at the Little Blue Boathouse” (April) returns us to Heartcross and more warmth and community. Finally Catherine Joy White’s “A Thread of Gold” (June) brings Black women out of history to celebrate them as they should be.

So that was 20 read and 13 coming in in February, two of which I’ve already read – a win!

Currently reading

As well as Adam Nicolson’s “The Sea is Not Made of Water: Life Between the Tides” with Emma, I’m reading Lauren Fleshman’s “Good for a Girl”, about her own life in athletics and women’s experience in general, for Shiny New Books, and Liv Bolton’s “The Outdoor Fix” as described above.

Coming up

This month, I’ll also be reading for both Bookjotter’s Reading Wales (Richard Llewellyn’s “How Green was my Valley” and Charlotte Williams’ “Sugar and Slate” (which was the main read for it last year but I was balking at buying the ebook until I just had to) and Cathy at 746 Books’ Reading Ireland (Kate O’Brien‘s nun-based novel “The Land of Spices” and the novella “Small Things Like These” by Claire Keegan which I know everyone has read except me) for once (I usually manage one or the other).

My NetGalley TBR for March has eight books on it and an equal mix of fiction and non-fiction:

Jacqueline Crooks’ “Fire Rush” is set in reggae clubs in London and Bristol and takes our heroine through gangs and to Jamaica. Monica Macias tells of her life as a West African growing up in North Korea in “Black Girl from Pyongyang”. Nikesh Shukla’s YA novel “Stand Up” has teenager Madhu caught between helping her family and wanting to be a stand-up comedian. We’ve seen “The Equal Parent” above, and Katherine May’s “Enchantment” looks at how to help your mental health through finding wonder in life. Julie Shackwell returns to Scotland with “A Scottish Country Escape” – another reliably good light novelist. “Rootless” by Krystle Zara Appiah is a poignant novel about a British-Ghanaian marriage in crisis. Finally, Elizabeth Day explores her own friendships and broader discussions of friendship in “Friendaholic”.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong with Emma as we won’t finish it this month), that’s three books to finish and twelve to read, which feels OK, though I would like to continue progress on reading hardbacks I bought recently before they come out in paperback …

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

Book review – Ada Leverson – “Bird of Paradise”


I very much enjoyed Ada Leverson’s “Little Ottleys” trilogy (which, coincidentally, I also read at the same time as Heaven-Ali) and so I jumped at the chance to read this standalone novel when Michael from Michael Walmer publishing got in touch with me about his reissue. Leverson is known for being a close friend of Oscar Wilde, and she certainly has his sparkling wit and facility with one-liners, making her books very fun to read. This one has an unexpected turn, though, I felt …

This is another read for #ReadIndies Month, as it’s published by Michael Walmer. You can find more info about the book itself here.

Ada Leverson – “Bird of Paradise”

(03 February 2023, from the publisher)

A woman’s jealousy of another women is always sufficiently dreadful, but when the object of jealousy is hers by legal right, wen the sense of personal property is added to it, then it is one of the most terrible and unreasonable things in nature. (p. 162)

Three or four people were dotted about the room, but no one had ventured onto the [floor] cushions. There was one young lady whose hair was done in the early Victorian style, parted in the middle, with bunches of curls each side. As far as her chest she appeared to be strictly a Victorian – very English, about 1850 – but from that point she suddenly became Oriental, and for the rest was dressed principally in what looked like bead curtains. (p. 258)

A decade ago, Nigel Hillier was very much in love with the now-Bertha Kellynch. He had proposed, but then family pressure meant he unproposed and married an heiress, Mary. Of course, he then came into the money he needed, meaning he feels he has unfinished business with Bertha. Bertha, on the other hand, having been heartbroken, has come to a clear view of Nigel and his insufficiencies, and is blissfully happily married to Percy, a kind of nice but dim character, who she is determined will stay in love with her.

But Bertha is kind-hearted, and when she sees an opportunity to get the ever-faithful Nigel to help her help her young friend Madeline to attract the (dreadful) Rupert Denison, and tempt him away from his current “arty” friend, she unashamedly uses him and he manages to encourage himself to feel that he can become indispensible to her.

This is all very frothy, but poor Mary, Nigel’s wife, has been driven into a horrible, clingy paranoia by him making it obvious she was a poor (or rather rich) second choice, and she spends her time sitting by the window, looking out for him, rather ignoring their two children. In fact, she has riches untold there, too, as it becomes clear that the only thing lacking in Bertha and Percy’s marriage is a child.

So the scene is set for intrigue and anonymous letters and the like, but there is a massive current of morality to proceedings, as Bertha is clearly and only committed to her Percy and her marriage. Thus it could be a painful story, but it’s enlivened by the marvellous supporting characters, from the truly dreadful, prissy, lecturing Rupert to Percy’s peculiar mother and his rather astounding younger brother, Clifford, who produces half a play, some awful poems and a huge crush on his schoolfriend’s very unsuitable mother.

One-liners abound, but also wonderful set-pieces: Rupert and Madeline’s assignation in a tea shop where she gets herself into a terrible twist (contrasted with her rival’s coarse over-riding of Rupert, clearly satirising a particular type of “arty” girl who is actually very commonplace) and Lady Kellynch’s tea party into which Clifford’s crush is almost-disastrously introduced. There’s also a fun satire of an artistic salon, so a lot to enjoy outside the main story and its twists and turns, of course satisfactorily tied up.

The dual nature of the really quite sad at times main story and the social observation can be seen, I think, in the two quotations I include above, giving something for every reader, dare I say?

This is Book 5 of my contribution to #ReadIndies month!

Book review – Charlie Hill – “The Pirate Queen”


I’ve read all of Charlie Hill’s books, from “The Space Between Things”, which I loved, and pick whenever I see it to give it to people, but inexplicably never reviewed, through “Books” (also unreviewed – what am I doing?), his fragmentary autobiography “I Don’t Want to go to the Taj Mahal” and two sets of more recent stories, written or edited by him. We also have mutual friends and have probably been in the same room at the same time – however, I still haven’t met him, as after he got in touch and kindly offered me a review copy of “The Pirate Queen”, I was too unwell to come to the door, so Matthew met him! Anyway, as it’s published by an independent publisher and I try to read review copies quickly, I have hoovered it up over the past few days, and entertaining and thought-provoking it certainly was.

This is another read for #ReadIndies Month, as it’s published by Stairwell Books.

Charlie Hill – “The Pirate Queen: An Almost-True Story about Grace O’Malley

(11 February 2023, from the author)

Where lately she would have responded to the threat with the snarl and goring of the cornered boar, now she sought a less bloody path. No more would she allow her hand to be forced, no more would she merely react to situations that were as elemental as the wind or rain – instead she would look further ahead, to the events of her past. As a young girl she had excelled at seeing the rocks beneath the sea and in manoeuvring around them with a steady nerve and it was this experience she would draw on in her quest to consolidate her power. (p. 33)

For once, it might benefit one to read the Author’s Note at the end before reading the novel – not something that is always recommended. Hill found out about the Irish pirate Grace O’Malley and immediately developed a burning need to tell her story, finding she’d been pretty well written out of history. This clever, metafictional book is the result – a historical novel featuring real characters and invented ones, and with the insertions of an invented play detailing the (invented) meeting between Queen Elizabeth I and Grace O’Malley, another kind of queen.

Not really knowing anything about Irish history in the 16th and 17th centuries apart from a dim awareness of a colonial project which destroyed people and communities just as much as the wider world project, I was a bit confused at first, but you can settle in quite easily (looking stuff up afterwards, of course) to the narrative of Catherine, tutor to Maude in 1650 telling her the stories of her great-grandmother, the pirate Grace O’Malley which she has heard from her friend in the castle, Patrick, at first out of interest but then to try to bolster young Maude against her rebellion against her arranged marriage.

Interleaving the older story with that of Catherine and Maude, as they are moved like chess pieces to a family castle to await Maude’s fate, with bits of the play popping up as well, the book interrogates the nature of story, looks at who tells stories and what that telling says about the teller, and asks whether a story can actually help someone.

We get caught up in Catherine and Maude’s story, which seems to end horribly abruptly: fortunately an epilogue solves some of the mysteries.

As I mentioned above, Hill’s Author’s Note, telling eloquently of his project to reclaim Grace from the mists of time and erasure, is useful in putting this otherwise slightly odd excursion into historical fiction into its context. Well worth reading – this would do for Reading Ireland, of course, or Novellas in November, as well as for its excellent self.

This is Book 4 of my contribution to #ReadIndies month!

Book review – Ed Hodge – “Make Mine a Double”


It’s my second lockdown football book, rather bizarrely: as we probably know by now, I don’t read a lot of books about football, and I don’t really like reading about the lockdowns/pandemic, as it’s all too recent. Of course, I really enjoyed “The Silence of the Stands” back in December, and I actually worked on this book in July 2021, and the author kindly sent me a signed copy with my name appearing in the acknowledgements, so even though it turned out I’d seen quite a lot of the text already on my monitor in front of me, I wanted to give him the courtesy of reading it (I also always love reading what comes out of my transcriptions, whatever the topic). And when I was doing the work, I got very fond of the players and manager and their lovely supportive closeness. So here’s a book on a Scottish football club that did the impossible and won the double.

In the spirit of Simon Stuck in a Book’s reports, I can tell you that of the nine print books that came in in October 2021, reported in my November State of the TBR post, I have now read and reviewed seven. And this is another read for #ReadIndies Month, as it’s published by Birlinn Ltd, a proud Scottish independent publisher.

Ed Hodge – “Make Mine a Double: The Lockdown Legends St Johnstone FC 2020/21”

(19 October 2021, from the author)

I think the more people you’re familiar with and you get on with, it can only be beneficial, and St Johnstone has been a club that has been good with that throughout the whole time since I was a young boy here. Through the years, they have always kept people who have done well, and I think it speaks volumes if you all know the club inside out, the values, what it takes to play here and work hard for everyone. (Stevie May, p. 10)

Having only ever won the Scottish Cup Final once before in 2014, the Saints, one of the smaller Scottish clubs, and against very high odds, won the Scottish League Cup and the Scottish Cup in one season – and that season a really difficult one with a new manager in and then Covid preventing them from having anyone in the stands to watch them (and sometimes preventing players from playing). Manager Callum Davidson had been assistant manager at the club before going away and returning, and he gelled a group of older and younger players together: you can see their mutual respect and care running through the book.

Very like the Madness book, “Before We Was We” or the Welsh history, “Brittle with Relics“, Hodge does a brilliant job of weaving together the individual interviews into a whole, picking out the bits about each campaign, match or player and putting them together, stitching it all into a whole with comments in italics between what is effectively an oral history. It’s a lovely way to make a book and also a great way to make your transcriber proud, as all my typing work is there in great unaltered chunks!

There are lovely stories throughout of friendships made, neighbours looking after the young footballers, the club looking out for its people, and there’s a super section from fans at the back which shows how they managed to keep up with things online, supporting their club and the whole community coming together. While I appreciate not everyone who reads this blog will want to read a football book, it’s interesting reading and would appeal to those who have enjoyed the Welcome to Wrexham series on the TV.

This is Book 3 of my contribution to #ReadIndies month!

Book review – Rabina Khan – “My Hair is Pink Under This Veil”


I picked this book from early on my TBR to read for #ReadIndies Month, which is going on all through this month. This is from Biteback Publishing, which my research leads me to understand is an independent publisher, if quite a big one (I hope I’m correct!). I bought it in October 2021 and reported on its acquisition at the start of November 2021: of the three books in its ‘cell’ on that image that arrived near each other, I’ve now read two; of the nine books in the whole image, I’ve read seven (one still to review). Not toooo bad.

Rabina Khan – “My Hair is Pink Under This Veil”

(13 October 2021)

As I look to the future, with my children and my siblings’ children growing up and moving on, it is crucial for our generation to challenge stereotypes surrounding race, culture and religion. We must move the focus away from people’s obsession with Muslim women’s clothing and what it means, and instead recognise the immense fortitude they have shown in rising above Islamophobia and discrimination to lead fulfilling and successful lives. (p. 288)

Rabina Khan is a Liberal Democrat councillor in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and ran for Mayor there, too, coming a close second. She was born in Bangladesh and raised in Rochester (it was exciting for me to read about my home county, Kent, and from someone born in the same year as me, even though Rochester is the other side of the county from where I grew up; she does have a similar experience of the monoculture of the county in the 1970s and 80s). In a series of chronological essays, we read about Khan’s life (sort of: there are bits missing which I’d have loved to read about, for example, why she moved out of Kent and how she decided to become a local councillor and the process she went through) and preoccupations around diversity and acceptance.

We hear about her growing up Bangladeshi in a White neighbourhood and the prejudice and ignorance her family were exposed to; I found her quite shockingly tolerant of this time, several times repeating that what we would call microaggressions came out of kindness or misguided attempts at showing tolerance; the racial slurs her father endured being part of a milieu that gave nicknames to Irish people or those with red hair. It’s interesting that she becomes a Liberal Democrat by politics, as this does fit a liberal and also utilitarian politics. She does also detail instances of intersectional racism and sexism, of her ideas being taken and not attributed to her when she’s a local councillor, and models how majority populations might more usefully interact with minority ones by taking some allies as models for us, movingly an older lady standing up for her and her siblings in the library, who then becomes a family friend.

Like Alison Mariella Désir in “Running While Black“, Khan is good at taking personal experiences and relating them to the wider sociopolitical environment, relating her father’s migration for better prospects to the money migrants contribute to the UK through taxes, for example, and David Cameron’s criticism of immigrants being unable to speak English or unwilling to integrate and causing disruption being related to his policy to cut the funding of classes in basic English to immigrants claiming just a couple of benefits. Being a book published in the pandemic, there’s quite a lot of thinking about how people wearing face coverings have swung from Muslim hijabi women being criticised for covering up to all British people being exhorted to wear face masks.

I think Khan has been in the news recently and criticised for saying no woman who wears the veil has been forced to: she’s very, very clear in this book that not every woman who wears any kind of veil has chosen to do that and that some are compelled to by family in the UK or repressive regimes around the world; she does however make the good point that coercive control is not limited to Muslim families and marriages, and that there are a lot of women here and around the world whose families and/or partners choose how they dress. She is also keen to explain how mosques have been changing and developing, opening up into community hubs (I have certainly felt welcomed in local ones here at various events) and sup[porting women to become trustees and committee members for their mosques.

The book is a little repetitive at times, but I wonder if it started life as a series of articles or blog posts that have been woven together. This is a minor point and it’s a really interesting and valuable contribution to the literature on multicultural life in Britain from the late 20th century until today.

This is Book 2 of my contribution to #ReadIndies month!

State of the TBR – February 2023


Oh-oh. That’s all I can say. Yes, that’s almost a whole shelf-in-front-of-a-shelf of books on the bottom level. But also: hooray! This month I’ve had my birthday (pile here) and I have also spent Christmas 2021 / Birthday 2022 book tokens in a few goes (Book Token Splurge part 1 here, Part 2 to follow in a few days). Incomings have come in and looking at my stats, two hardbacks came off the bottom shelf. Hopefully this will change this month as I have an Exciting Book Challenge to take part in!

I completed 14 books in January (one left to review tomorrow) and am part-way through two more (one my new Reading With Emma Read; we finished and reviewed our last one this month). I finished my two remaining December NetGalley reads, plus one older one and the three from my January ebook TBR so have now caught up there. I read my Larry McMurtry for December as planned, and my review copy from Lurid Books of “Chase of the Wild Goose”; I have pretty much given up on my sagas volume (sorry Annabel, didn’t manage to do it for Nordic FINDS!). I started my plan to read newly acquired hardbacks before the paperback came out, reading Bernardine Evaristo and Osman Yousefzada’s memoirs.


Brace yourselves! This is the full pile of print incomings for this month! I will say in my defence that I haven’t paid for many of them, as there’s the birthday pile in there, the Persephone (“The Waters Cover the Earth” by John Moore) is a Christmas gift from Ali that the supplier took a while to send to the Bookshop and several lots of book token spends (I’ll go through the most recent of those on Friday; you’ve seen the earlier ones here).

I won 5 NetGalley books this month and bought 3 ebooks from Amazon (I also bought a copy of Riva Lehrer’s disability/art memoir “Golem Girl” but that was because I can’t comfortably read the small print of the paperback so in my mind doesn’t count):

So we have Christie Barlow’s “The Hidden Secrets of Bumblebee Cottage” (published December 2022), another in her long series I keep having to save up while I read the earlier ones; Mimi Deb’s “Love on the Menu” (April 2023), a romcom set around an Indian takeaway (this has split NetGalley reviewers so let’s see!). “Small Joys” by Elvin James Mensah (April) is set in mid-noughties Kent with a Black queer man befriending a straight White birdwatcher and discusses male friendship and mental health; Katherine May’s “Enchantment” (March), the only non-fiction NetGalley book I won, looks at how to help your mental health through finding wonder in life; and Nikesh Shukla’s YA novel “Stand Up” (March) has teenager Madhu caught between helping her family and wanting to be a stand-up comedian. From Amazon, Libby Page’s “The Island Home” is another community novel, Joya Goffney’s “Excuse me While I Ugly Cry” I thought I had TBR already but didn’t, and I was reminded of it reading an interview with the author on The Black Book Blog; and “Dream Big, Do Bigger” by Hanna Olivas and Adriana Luna Carlos is a business inspiration book that features my friend Annabelle, so had to be purchased!

So that was 14 read and 31 coming in in December – half and half, right?!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Adam Nicolson’s “The Sea is Not Made of Water: Life Between the Tides” with Emma, a beautifully written exploration of the seashore that is going to be a real treat, and Alison Mariella Désir’s “Running While Black: Finding Freedom in a Sport that Wasn’t Built for Us” which is a fascinating and powerful story of how she founded a Black running club in New York and built a world of social activism around it: I would love to find the equivalent British book if anyone knows of one.

Coming up

This month, I’ll also be reading for Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings‘ and Lizzy’s Literary Life‘s #ReadIndies challenge – to read books by independent publishers. I found I had LOADS on the shelf (carefully checking for non-independence: hope I’ve got it right!) and picked out these as possibles. I won’t go through them now but you’ll hopefully see reviews popping up (and my first review of the month, out tomorrow, is by an indie, too!)

I also have these two review books from publishers to read:

Lauren Fleshman’s “Good for a Girl” looks at women’s place in the running world and came out from Virago in January, and Carl Abbott’s “Suburbs: A Very Short Introduction” is one of those great small Oxford volumes. Watch out for alerts on my reviews on Shiny New Books.

My NetGalley TBR for February has five books on it (why did I get to win this Libby Page but not the Island one I bought above?)

Jessica George’s “Maame” is a coming of age novel about a woman standing up for herself and making choices; Anika Hussain’s “This is How You Fall in Love” is a YA romcom set in a diverse friendship group; Alexis Keir’s “Windward Family” studies the author’s family that spread out from the Caribbean island of Saint Vincent across the UK, US and New Zealand over several generations; Shauna Robinson’s “Must Love Books” has a Black woman working in publishing (but hopefully isn’t as odd as “The Other Black Girl”!) and Libby Page’s “The Vintage Shop of Second Chances” is a community novel set around a second-hand clothes shop. Mainly novels here, mainly non-fiction in the indies: will I maintain my 50:50 balance??

With the ones I’m currently reading (including my readalong with Emma), that’s two books to finish and at least eight to read in full, though I would like to read more indies than one, and I’d also like to get to Barbara Kingsolver’s “Demon Copperhead”.

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