State of the TBR – June 2023


The amount of my TBR has stayed pretty well the same as last month; I took three books off the TBR to read and acquired six plus a review book. I also took two books off the review books on top and removed the oldest book from the TBR to read so it’s all shifted along a bit.

I will admit to this photo being a bit incorrect as I took my pile of 20 Books of Summer from it then realised I hadn’t taken the photo of the whole lot so shoved them on the end. Bulk is correct, though.

I completed 14 books in May (four for Shiny New Books and reviews submitted there) and am part-way through two more (plus my new Reading With Emma Read). I took part in Daphne du Maurier week with Heaven-Alis and read one book for that. I also got through all of my NetGalley books published in May (I read two of them in advance and DNF’d one: I was really not the audience for Rachel E. Cargle’s “A Renaissance of our Own” which is likely to help young Black women carve out spaces for themselves; Cargle’s overriding life aims really didn’t mesh with mine but it’s not a bad book) and also a June NG books already plus one older one, and my percentage is still at 90%!


I’ve acquired print books in from various sources and for various reasons again this month:

As soon as I knew the new Year for Kaggsy and Simon’s Year Week project and Victoria had shared a list of suitable books, I bought Stella Gibbons’ “The Weather at Tregulla” from Dean Street Press. The indie publisher Little Toller shared about needing to sell more in their own indie bookshop on Twitter and I ordered two of their classic reprints (Richard Mabey’s “The Unofficial Countryside” and John Seymour’s “The Fat of the Land”) via The Heath Bookshop, so winning all round. I spotted a very good discount on the hardback of Vanessa Wakate’s “A Bigger Picture” and snapped it up (she’s the young Black woman who was cropped out of images of climate change activists and here shares how climate activism is going in Ghana and Africa in general). I spotted Sussie Anie’s “To Fill a Yellow House” on the Orion influencers email and requested it: young Kwasi gets involved with a seemingly magical second-hand shop and learns how community is built, and Paul from Halfman Halfbook kindly sent me his spare copy of Dara McAnulty’s “Diary of a Young Naturalist”. Finally, I FINALLY found a cheap enough copy of Richard Osman’s newest novel, “The Bullet that Missed”, in The Works so Matthew and I can read it together.

I won quite a few NetGalley books this month, some of which I’d requested a while ago, and also bought one for Kindle on Amazon:

“Everything is Not Enough” by Lola Akinmade Åkerström is the sequel to her “In Every Mirror She’s Black” so I need to get that read from my print TBR before I get to this, showing Black women’s lives in Sweden (published October). Namrata Patel’s “Scent of a Garden” (June) is a novel about a Californian-born woman of Indian heritage returning from her job as a perfumer in Paris when she loses her sense of smell. Michelle Quach’s “The Boy You Always Wanted” (August) and Daniel Tawse’s “All About Romance” (July) are both YA novels looking at expectations in East Asian American multigenerational families and life and romance as a non-binary teenager respectively. Julie Caplin has another novel of new starts with “The French Chateau Dream” (June) and Yomi Adegoke, who I knew from her non-fiction about young Black women has a satire on social media and influencers in “The List” (July). “None of the Above” by Travis Alabanza (July) is a work of “Reflections on life beyond the binary” and Denene Millner’s “One Blood” is a multi-generational story of Black women from the Great Migration to the early 2000s. Finally, I’ve been looking out for Travis Baldree’s “Legends and Lattes” in a decent-priced copy for ages (it’s American so dear here) and I suddenly spotted it in the Kindle sale. Yes, it’s fantasy, which isn’t usually my thing, but I can’t resist what is supposed to be a heartwarming tale of an orc hanging up her sword and opening a coffee shop! So many bloggers I follow have read this so I hope it’s as good as I expect!

So that was 14 read and 16 coming in in May (oops).

Currently reading

As well as Deborah Frances-White’s “The Guilty Feminist” which is my new book I’m reading with Emma, I’m still reading Isabella Tree and Charlie Burrell’s “The Book of Wilding” for Shiny New Books (but I’ll also review it here) which is amazing but needs both concentration and an ergonomic reading position as it’s quite a tome. I’m half way through the wonderful “Golem Girl” by Riva Lehrer which is a memoir by a woman who lives with physical disabilities and has a powerful art practice – I think I read about it on Bookish Beck’s blog, and if I did, thank you!

Coming up

It’s 20 Books of Summer time – hooray – so as well as the review books mentioned above and my ebook TBR, I am taking eight books off my physical TBR to read or start this month. You can read all about my pile here and I am recording my reviews on my ongoing 20 Books of Summer page here (this is my ninth year of doing it: no, I haven’t “succeeded” every year).

So the first books on my TBR that I bought from The Heath Bookshop (for that is my theme this year!) are Eniola Aluko – “They Don’t Teach This”, Robert Twigger – “Walking the Great North Line”, Sally Xerri Brooks – “Four Movements”, Jess Phillips – “The Life of an MP”, Kit de Waal – “My Name is Leon”, Brian Bilston – “Days Like These” (I’m gong to read a month of these 365 poems every week), Lenny Henry – “Who Am I, Again?” and Yaa Gyasi – “Homegoing”.

My NetGalley TBR for June has seven books on it, however I’ve already read and reviewed “Crazy Bao You”.

You’ve already heard about the Caplin and Patel above. “Everything’s Fine” by Ceclia Rabess is a state-of-the-nation novel about a multi-heritage relationship; Catherine Joy White’s “This Thread of Gold” celebrates Black women through thistory, Kimberly McIntosh shared essays on living while Black in “Black Girl, No Magic” and Breanne McIvor’s “The God of Good Looks” is a novel set in Trinidad looking at power and class. A lot of these are published towards the end of the month so I might get some of the paper books in first.

With the ones I’m currently reading, that’s two books to finish and fourteen to read, which seems doable, right?

How was your May reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection? Are you doing 20 Books of Summer (from the blog titles in my Feedly reader, I bet you are!).

20 Books of Summer 2023


Every year, Cathy from 746 Books runs a 20 Books of Summer (Winter for the Southern Hemisphere) challenge and every year I participate using books from my physical, print TBR. This year it runs from 1 June until 1 September. You can see the book lists and results from all my previous attempts here.

I usually choose books from the beginning of my TBR, the oldest books on the shelf, but I’ve decided to do something a bit different this year (and I had fun with a teaser picture of the books at an angle, with some excellent suggestions on Facebook on how I’d chosen them).

The pile …

So from the top, the oldest one …

Eniola Aluko – “They Don’t Teach This” – her life in football as a Black woman

Robert Twigger – “Walking the Great North Line” – a journey through Britain

– Matthew bought me these two from The Heath Bookshop in September 2022.

Sally Xerri Brooks – “Four Movements” – short stories

– I actually know Sally but wasn’t able to attend her bookshop event, also in September, so my friend Claire bought me this signed copy.

Jess Phillips – “The Life of an MP” – how it all works, with her customary wit and spark

– Jess did an event at the bookshop in October and I bought her new book and got it signed.

Kit de Waal – “My Name is Leon” – a novel about adoption and trauma

– when I attended Kit’s talk at the bookshop in early October, I bought this one alongside her autobiography, which I have already read, not able to resist it.

Brian Bilston – “Days Like These” – his newest book of poetry (I might read this a month a week over the summer)

– His reading at a local school in November 2022, hosted by The Heath Bookshop, was hilarious and moving and I had a lovely chat with him when I got it signed.

Lenny Henry – “Who Am I, Again?” – the first volume of his autobiography

– the Bookshop had a special event where you chose a book from the table and drew a discount from a pot – I got 10% off, having predicted that, but I didn’t mind!

Yaa Gyasi – “Homegoing” – a powerful novel

James Baldwin – “Go Tell it on the Mountain” – ditto, but a classic, as I’d never read Baldwin

Charles Mongomerie – “Happy City” – urban planning

Helena Lee – “East Side Voices” – stories from British Chinese writers

Kacen Callendar – “Lark & Kasim Start a Revolution” – YA multicultural fun with a heart

Kerri Andrews – “Wanderers” – tales of women walkers and explorers

– I bought all of these in an early January book token and The Heath Bookshop token splurge at the Bookshop.

Imogen Binnie – “Nevada” – trans road trip cult classic

– This was the book group read at the Bookshop earlier in the year, I don’t do book groups but I did want to read the book.

Dean Karnazes – “A Runner’s High” – about running sustainably as you age

– The Heath Bookshop sold Dean’s books with him at the National Running show, which I didn’t attend, but I heard they’d brought some signed copies back for the shop so nipped around to pick one up.

Ian Francis – “This Way to the Revolution” – 1960s Birmingham with images of places I remember from the 80s

– I kept looking at this one on the Big Shelf of Temptation in the bookshop; I thought someone might buy me a copy for my birthday so when they didn’t, I snapped it up!

Ross Barnett – “The Missing Lynx” – introducing predators and mammals in rewilding

– I had a book token that I’d printed out and wouldn’t work in bookshops that I wanted to spend in my January splurge, so I ordered it from The Heath Bookshop’s page on, therefore making sure they got a cut.

Adam Nathanial Furman and Joshua Mardell – “Queer Spaces” – a guide to LGBTQIA spaces around the world

– I was away on holiday when the authors came to the Hare and Hounds to do an event hosted by the Bookshop so I made sure I snapped up a copy before I went away.

Kavita Bhanot – “The Book of Birmingham” – stories about my city by local authors

– Matthew put a couple of remaining pounds on his Christmas book token in the Bookshop towards this

Richard Mabey – “The Unofficial Countryside” – cult classic about liminal spaces

– I asked Claire and Catherine at the Bookshop to order this in for me from Little Toller (publisher and bookshop) who had tweeted their worries about their own bookshop sales, so buying it via our indie bookshop seemed a win-win.

So have you guessed the theme yet? Yes, there’s a lovely orange / green / turquoise / white colourway going on, but also these are all books I have bought from The Heath Bookshop in the just over six months they’ve been open!

Book review – Daphne du Maurier – “The Parasites”


I’ve finally got my book for Daphne du Maurier Reading Week read and reviewed. You can read Heaven-Ali’s introductory post here. and I’m curating the list of reviews on this page (I did a post to explain it all here). I’m fortunate in being a friend of Ali’s and living quite near to her, so while she’s given me DDM books in the past, I borrowed this one from her so I could take part in the challenge this year. She said I’d enjoy it and she was correct!

Daphne du Maurier – “The Parasites”

(April 2023, loan from Ali)

Her right hand, with Niall’s ring upon the third finger, dropped in weary fashion over the side of the sofa, the fingertips touching the floor. Charles must have seen it from where he sat, in his deep armchair, opposite the sofa; and although he had seen and known the ring for as long as he had known Maria, accepting it in the first place as he would have done any personal belonging of hers dating possibly from childhood days, like a comb, a bracelet, worn from routine without sentiment; yet the sight of it now, the pale aquamarine stone, clinging tightly to the third finger, so valueless and paltry compared to the sapphire engagement ring that he himself had given her, and the wedding ring too, both of which she was always leaving about on the wash-basin and forgetting, may have served as further fuel to his smouldering anger. (p. 10)

The thing about du Maurier is that her writing is somehow always laden with meaning and portent, and so you can’t stop reading on and on – in both thrillers like “Rebecca” and more family-based narratives where nothing particularly dark happens like this one. We meet the three Delaneys, Maria, Niall and Celia, their father (or the father of two of them) a singer and their mother (or the mother of two of them) a flamboyant dancer. It’s important that two of them aren’t actually related by blood (even though they grew up together as siblings, though they knew their parenthood, so it’s still more than a little uncomfortable) as two of them become extremely close in adolescence and adulthood, something that’s hinted at strongly but not shown as such.

The narration takes a bit of getting used to, as there’s a sort of omniscient narrator who refers to the three as “we” and then we zoom into the head of Maria, Niall or Celia, quite often seeing the same scene or relationship from all three of their perspectives in turn, and it’s sometimes almost dizzying – like a Cubist painting – but you do get the hang of it quite soon. It’s also notable for most of the main action taking place over one afternoon, at Maria and her husband Charles’ house in the country, where everyone is most weekends and three of them are accused of being parasites. As Charles stomps off for a wet walk, the three siblings discuss various points in their lives in order, zipping back to the present at points. Then there’s a fundamental scene and we see what happens next to each character in turn.

So an unusual narrative voice and a fairly unusual structure make this interesting book more so. All three main characters are fairly unsympathetic, Maria inheriting her mother’s actressy flair and dislike for the job of being a mother, Niall being fit only for writing light songs, and Celia getting stuck with the caring role, foregoing her own talent as a writer and artist (I feel like she is the DDM character as this book is know to be semi-autobiographical, but DDM did of course go on to write many, many books). They’re not so unpleasant as to be unreadable though and the narrative zipping backwards and forwards gives a strong impetus to the novel.

It’s also very funny – the description of what awful country house weekend guests the siblings are, getting the wrong train, lying in bed all morning and wearing the wrong clothes is one I remember with a smile. It’s so psychologically perceptive, as usual with DDM, seeing how Maria hardly ever slips out of playing a character, how Celia gets lost in routine, how Niall sees his own vapidity but can’t climb out of the shallows. A really good read I’m glad I was able to get to.

I have a Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment here, as the action all taking place over one afternoon was reminiscent of “The Three of Us“, read pretty recently and therefore counting – also, that book had a marriage made up of two married people and, well, a parasite, like this one.

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?

Book review – Margery Sharp – “The Stone of Chastity”


As you’ll know by now, the lovely bloggers Kaggsysbookishramblings and Stuck-in-a-book run “year weeks” two times a year, and this week, 10-16 April we’re reading books published in 1940. I’m working my way through the books Ali and Emma gave me for my birthday (from my very tightly controlled wishlists made up mainly of books published in 1940!) and have so far read and reviewed D. E. Stevenson’s wartime spy/family novel, “The English Air” and Susan Scarlett’s escapist (but realist vision of children) “Ten Way Street”. All three of these have the distinction of being published by the lovely Dean Street Press.

Margery Sharp – “The Stone of Chastity”

(21 January 2023, from Ali)

Everything was propitious. The University term had just ended, the Long Vacation stretched gloriously ahead. The idea of actual field-work, after years spent on texts, was positively intoxicating. The freshness of the evidence (only a hundred and thirty years old) filled him with hope. He did not quite imagine – delightful dream – that the ceremony of the Stone was still alive, that in the year 1938 suspected trollops, stockinged by Woolworth, were set up to prove their virtue on a relic of Norse legend; but he did expect hearsay evidence. If the Blodgett (or Blodger) line still existed, the girl’s great-grandchild might be yet alive … (p. 5)

Professor Pounce, his sister-in-law, her son Nicholas and a seemingly random voluptuous assistant, Miss Carmen Smith, all descend upon the manor house of a muddy and charmless village in 1938, lured there by the promise of an old folk tale about a stone which throws the unchaste into the river when they step on it. Professor Pounce got busy on a weekend house party, poking around in the attics and finding a manuscript of a journal dated 1803 (hence the dating above) which mentioned this stone, and did not hesitate in stealing it for his research and putative monograph.

Culture clashes galore ensue, between the incomers and the villagers, but also splitting the village along a fault line that’s to do – of course it is – with who runs the WI/village, the vicar’s wife, the wife of the main farmer or the wife of the publican. Nicholas falls in love at least three times during the course of the book, but he needs some let up from having to cycle around giving out questionnaires and asking about people’s grandmothers’ morals; he also encounters, allowing Sharp to satirise, a very “Bloomsberry” young woman who’s taken (of course she has) an isolated cottage on the outskirts of the village. Will the Professor’s questionnaires be filled in or will the Scouts round them up? Will anyone turn up to have their chastity tested, and just why IS Miss Smith there?

A charming and hilarious, unputdownable novel which would have been another lovely escapist read in 1940!

Although they’re sadly not now republishing any more new books, all of Dean Street Press’s books are very much available while they still have the copyrights – so you can buy this book here – maybe pick up a copy to read and discuss in Dean Street December, which I will be running again this year. And Scott at Furrowed Middlebrow reviewed the book here in 2020, just before it was republished. This was my third read for #1940Club, which I think is the best I’ve ever done for any of these Weeks!

Book review, Susan Scarlett – “Ten Way Street”


We’re so fortunate that bloggers Kaggsysbookishramblings and Stuck-in-a-book run “year weeks” two times a year, where they pick a year and the challenge is to read books published in that year and review them within that week. This time, the week is 10-16 April and the year 1940. Knowing that a certain favourite publisher of mine was likely to have a few possibilities, I didn’t leave it to chance that I’d have suitable books on my TBR when the week came around, but rather disingenuously stuck them on the birthday lists I gave Ali and Emma, and three duly appeared on the day! Two from my birthday pile have now been read, and hpefully a third will be added!

Susan Scarlett – “Ten Way Street”

(21 January 2023, from Emma)

“I’m a weak-spirited, gutless creature, but oh, dear, I’d love to give in my notice. You can’t think what it’s like, Sarah. Everything in the house revolves around Mrs Cardew. Nothing else seems to matter. And somehow it’s all so soulless, everything frightfully grand, masses of servants and nobody caring twopence about real things. I believe that Mrs Cardew would rather any of them won a beauty competition than showed signs of growing up into nice people.” Sarah set her shoulders and looked severe. “What’s the matter with you, Beverly Shaw? This seems to me the exact job for you. You said to me on the very night when you got the letter telling you to go and see Mrs Cardew, ‘I hope i get a job somewhere where I’m really needed.’ My goodness, where could you be more needed? If nobody else is going to bring the children up, what a chance for you.” (p. 41)

Here we have of course another novel by Noel Streatfeild under the pen-name she used to publish twelve “romances”. I have already loved “Clothes-Pegs” (a career novel masquerading as a romance) and have “Babbacombe’s” (presumably that wonderful thing, a shop novel, masquerading as a romance) on my TBR and this is a governess novel masquerading as a romance. Because it’s so much more than “just” a love story, with another fully realised family and a villain to hiss at.

Beverly Shaw was raised in an orphanage and sent by them to train as a very superior kind of governess. Looking for her first job, she knows she must get a decent one to pay them back, so she takes, with reservations, a position with the horrible Margot Cardew, an actress, to look after her three precocious children, prone to bilious attacks caused by nerves and too much chocolate at cocktail parties. Here the author uses her knowledge of the stage, described to such effect in her “Shoes” novels, to portray a good actor but a bad mother, and children used to scurrying around backstage.

Beverly brings a good dose of the everyday to her charges, aided by the loyal and marvellous Annie, and she catches the eye of Margot’s unwilling beau, Peter, who is much keener on someone with sense and kindness. As Margot becomes more hysterical and demanding and her personal maid Marcelle more conniving, Beverly must gather her support around her – including her college friend Sarah, working for a very different kind of family – and withstand confrontation and untruths billowing all around her, and, did she but know it, the downtrodden secretary, Winkle, revealed to have a past of her own.

What a lovely, engaging novel, with not a whisper of war about it, which must have been such a comforting, escapist read in 1940!

Although they’re sadly not now republishing any more new books, Dean Street Press are keeping their current offering available while they still have the copyrights – so you can buy this book here – maybe pick up a copy to read and discuss in Dean Street December, which I will be running again this year. And Scott at Furrowed Middlebrow reviewed the book here after he announced the exciting republication of this lovely set of novels. This was my second read for #1940Club and I hope to get one more in before the end of the week!

Book review, D. E. Stevenson – “The English Air”


The bloggers Kaggsysbookishramblings and Stuck-in-a-book run “year weeks” twice a year, where they pick a year and we all read books published in that year and review them within that week. This time around the week is 10-16 April and the year is 1940. Usually, I only do reading challenges with books I already have on my TBR, however, knowing that a certain favourite publisher of mine was likely to have a few possibilities, I rather disingenuously stuck them on the birthday lists I gave Ali and Emma, and three duly appeared on the day! Unsurprisingly, I have only read this one and a Susan Scarlett from my birthday pile, but I’ll get there.

D.E. Stevenson – “The English Air”

(21 January 2023, from Ali)

Franz sighed. It was so difficult. What were these people really like inside? They made fun of everything, they insulted each other … and laughed; they reviled their superior officers and crticised their Government and its administration. To Franz they were like people from another planet, and the more he saw of them the more incompetent he was to understand them. (p. 46)

This is an unusual book for DES, written during the war so with that poignancy we expect from such a publication date (especially when the events of the war feature so heavily – the other book I’ve read for this Week so far is set pre-war and is pure escapism), and also features a young Germany, son of a Nazi, and a spying and resistance theme! However, it’s still a recognisably DES novel, with a charming but vague mother and a more with-it daughter welcoming a stranger into their home, a village setting and a community of the young people of the village.

Franz, the son of Sophie Braithwaite’s beloved, sister-like cousin, comes to stay before the war starts, sent by his father to see what English people think of the Germans / politics / their own Government / war. Confused by their apparent flippant behaviour, shocked by their open criticism of the establishment and lost in their jokes, he nevertheless becomes deeply fond of them – and of one relation in particular. Meanwhile, Sophie’s half-brother-in-law Dane, who lives with them in an annex and is prone to sudden long disappearances, keeps an eye on Franz and his letters.

Although there’s fun in the relationship between Franz and the other young people, there’s also almost unbearable poignancy: for example, when he panics that the police have come to take Wynne away, whereas in truth they’re giving her a heavy nudge of a warning about her parking. But he has seen much worse happen in Germany, of course.

Gradually, Franz realises the British are made of stern stuff; the village is full of First World War heroes who won’t speak of the matter, and everyone is busy doing their duty running society voluntarily. But he still believes in his great lead until the invasion of Prague, when the scales fall from his eyes and we see him turn completely, though at first lost for what to do. More unbearable scenes as he goes back to Germany but to take a different path, learning secrets from his beloved aunt before going off into the world. What will happen to Franz – and Wynne and Sophie?

Classic for DES, there’s a charming moment where Sophie explains the kind of novel she likes reading, of course echoing what we have here in our hands (although it is of course very good indeed!):

“Is it very interesting?” Frank enquired.

“Yes … no,” said Sophie in a doubtful tone. “I mean, you wouldn’t like it, dear. It isn’t very good, I’m afraid, but it’s the sort of book I like. it’s about nice people and it ends properly – she married the right man and they live happily ever after.”

“Have you looked at the end?”

“Of course not, but Elaine Elkington’s books are all like that. You can trust her to ene it all happily – such a comfort! Some of the books nowadays begin quite nicely and cheerfully and then, half-way through, they go all wrong and make you miserable.” (pp. 78-79)

Lovely scenes of comedy (a wedding with a panicking personal servant in particular) and some very nice descriptions of the countryside and coast are reliable features of DES’ books, and while some of the discussions of German life, especially the youth groups, stray into propaganda territory, it feels natural and not written to be blatantly patriotic, and must have been a comfort to read, indeed, in 1940.

Although they’re sadly not now republishing any more new books, Dean Street Press are keeping their current offering available while they still have the copyrights – so you can buy this book here – maybe pick up a copy to read and discuss in Dean Street December, which I will be running again this year.

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 – Kate O’Brien – “The Land of Spices”


My second read for Reading Ireland Month, and like “How Green was my Valley”, I took it on holiday, though it was my plane home read and I finished it at home. 

I bought this one in Stratford last October when I met Scott and Andy from America. The books I bought then I shared in this blog post and I haven’t read and reviewed any others of them yet.

Kate O’Brien – “The Land of Spices”

(18 October 2022, Oxfam Books, Stratford-upon-Avon)

From the beginning, chilled more than she knew by the shock which drove her to the purest form of life that could be found, and hardened in all her defences against herself by the sympathetic bleakness of Sainte Fontaine, she grew into that kind of nun who will never have to trouble about the vow of poverty, because poverty is attractive to her fastidiousness; who has looked chastity in the eyes with exaggerated searching, and finding it in the perverse seduction she needed at a moment of flight from life, accepted it one and for all with proud relief; but who sill have to wrestle with obedience. Not that she does not understand its place in the ideal, or that specific acts of submission trouble her. But because it is a persistently intellectual sacrifice, it is always an idea. (p. 19)

Like “Small Things Like These”, this book centres around a convent in Ireland, however this is a positive story with no laundries, just a school and a community of nuns, their mother convent based in Belgium and Mother Mary Helen, an English woman raised on the Continent who is mistrusted and somewhat feared by the mostly Irish nuns and school girls and the priests who are associated with the school.

The book follows both a linear narrative and a non-linear one, as we follow Anna Murphy’s progress through the school (starting very young, the youngest girl in the school) and dot back and forth through Mary Helen’s life so we only discover mid-way through the book what compelled her to rush into a vocation aged 18. Both women experience tragic losses and both experience spiritual development in this very subtle book, which has no sentimentality or melodrama, but a close and careful look at the petty jealousies and bad behaviour of nuns, school girls and old girls and the ways in which they can console themselves.

There are lovely, touching moments of friendship and fierce defences of what is right: I don’t know much about Kate O’Brien but Clare Boylan in her introduction names her an unsentimental feminist, and there is a strong thread supporting women’s education and right to have their own freedom running through the book. Different kinds of moralities are presented, with Anna’s brother giving his opinion on the nature of their father’s alcoholism and Mary Helen’s father presenting an atheistic view of the world, which makes for interesting contrasts but no lectures or over-philosophising. Another thread is the loss of innocence, again shadowed by the two main characters.

It’s a gently paced book with some remarkable scenes and I very much enjoyed it: I might not have picked it off the charity shop shelves without this challenge to read it for, and I’m glad I did.

I read this book for Reading Ireland Month, hosted by Cathy746Books and it was the second of the two I had hoped to read for the challenge, and completes my Reading Wales / Reading Ireland double challenge with two books for each. It also fills in a year of my Reading the Century project, which hardly ever happens these days!

In another Bookish Beck Serendipity moment, this and “How Green Was My Valley” were published within 3 years of each other (1942 and 1939 respectively) and were set around the turn of the 19th/20th centuries, not a gap I encounter frequently – I also note I chose to share a quote from p. 19 of each book!

Book review – Richard Llewellyn – “How Green was my Valley”


It’s Reading Wales 2023 and this is my second read for the Month, read on holiday in Southern Spain, somewhat oddly, although we were staying in quite a working-class area. I bought this especially for the challenge as I’d agreed with Mallika from Literary Potpourri that we would do a buddy read of it (we both read it at the same time and are sharing each other’s reviews but didn’t discuss it separately to these, mainly for reasons of my holiday!). A classic of working-class literature, it reminded me in parts of “The Ragged-Trousered Philanthropists” and, while distressing quite a lot of the time, is very well worth reading. Here is Mallika from Literary Potpourri’s review, do go and visit it, too! Do also visit Brona’s interesting piece about the controversies around Llewellyn’s claimed heritage and knowledge/experience (I’m still counting this for Dewithon as it’s set in Wales …).

Richard Llewellyn – “How Green was my Valley”

(13 January 2023, The Heath Bookshop)

In the evening after we had finished tea we all sat on the grass on horse cloths and sang hymns and songs, and we had prizes for the best. Indeed if I was not chosen again for the best voice among the small boys. There is pleased my father was. I will never forget the way he looked when Mr Prosser, St. Bedwas, gave me the sweets.

Singing was in my father as sight is in the eye. Always after that he called me the family soloist. That night he held my hand tight all the way home, with my mother on his other side, and my sisters behind us. (p. 19)

We meet Huw Morgan as a small boy, the youngest in his family, his brothers and sisters settling (or not) into their roles, and we follow him into his late teens; however, his story is being written from much later life, with the horror of a pit slag heap that’s slipped pressing and pressing onto the little house where he was raised and lives now. That gives a feeling of only barely repressed menace throughout the whole book, not particularly needed when everyone is going down badly maintained pits, struggling against the mine owners or struggling at school against bullies and anti-Welsh sentiment.

Huw has a temper on him and inflicts some damage on people, but that’s seen, I think, to not in the end help, as he’s still stuck where he started out, alone and looking back at the green grass of his youth, now obscured by slag heaps (this book was published in 1939, long before the horror of Aberfan; now the Valleys have been greened again by various initiatives, whether or not that will help the social and economic deprivation they have experienced).

There is a feeling of progressive doom about the whole book, as Huw’s siblings push against their constraints and end up leaving, his sister makes a choice of husband that may not be the best and Huw’s chance to escape may not be taken up. There are also some absolutely brutal scenes, especially when the community seeks justice for the assault and death of a child, and the passages where a long strike brings starvation to the people. Huw’s father is the centre of his life, even though he fundamentally disagrees with the actions of his own sons towards unionising, and, appropriate for a review published on Mother’s Day, you can only feel sorry for his poor mother, though she has her own flashes of temper and giddiness, as she is forced to watch her children leave, not able to understand the map of their travels she’s shown.

gbThere are flashes of positivity and possibility, with the local clergyman providing education in books, morals and carpentry, and humour, especially with the bad boys, Dai and Cyfartha, who wreak havoc and revenge wherever they go (but are revealed to be devoted and loving friends (a couple?) as the story goes on). And there are of course beautiful descriptions and all done in a Welsh way of speaking which is done beautifully and not clumsily, feels authentic and was probably quite surprising at the time. As it winds to its conclusion, it feels both inevitable and gutting: a book you have to sit with for a while after finishing it.

Both a classic story of coming of age and an impassioned appeal against capitalism, it’s an absorbing read that I am happy to highly recommend

This was Book 2 read for Reading Wales 2023.

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