Book reviews – Light novels in heavy times

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It’s been a very weird week. I completely respect people’s right to mourn the Queen more than me and to mourn the Queen less than me. I’m certainly not a fan of the colonialism and legacies of Empire that endured through her reign; I am also not keen on sneering at the queue of people filing past her Lying in State. I’m bothered of course by the suppression of dissent and peaceful protest; and it certainly IS the time to think about whether we want a monarchy and what we want that monarchy to look like. But the fact remains for me that it’s the end of an era, that someone who has always been there since I first realised of her existence at the Silver Jubilee in 1977 (aged five, I confidently asserted that the Queen was named after me) is no longer there, and I respected the Queen’s commitment to public service and her quiet care for the nation and kind words to and for so many.

Add those feelings to the upheaval of a change of prime minister, and all the doings in the country and messaging and then seeing a lot of nastiness out on social media and I’ve been upset and unsettled. Reading is important as the constant in my life and I decided to deal with the little pile of books that’s lived on the front of the TBR shelf for forever and get them out of the TBR Challenge pile. There were two cosy mysteries that fitted into the category of “in a series and waiting for me to get the ones before them” and three light novels that I apparently bought in August last year in the hopes of a holiday, maybe; they should have been in the main sequence, not a funny pile, but they’d have been in the TBR project whatever.

After these, I’ve picked up Larry McMurtry’s “Terms of Endearment” for my McMurtry project, and on Monday, the National Day of Mourning, I’ve selected the first volume of David Lodge’s memoirs (not in the TBR project but needs to be read before the second volume, which is), as that covers a long period of the Queen’s life and her accession to the throne.

Earlene Fowler – “Delectable Mountains”

(25 December 2016 (!) – from Gill)

Gabe would want to strangle me when he found out I knew about the possible lead and didn’t tell him immediately. But, for not the first time, his job, and its promise to uphold the letter of the law, and my belief in what was the moral, not necessarily legal, thing to do, where in conflict. How many more incidents like this could our marriage endure? (p. 61)

We’re back with Benni Harper, who runs a folk art museum in California, and her husband Gabe, the town’s chief of police, and Fowler does a good job of reminding us who everyone is, given I haven’t read one of these novels since April 2016 and before that 2010 but still managed to pick up the (haha) threads.

In this one, there’s a death in the church where Benni and her grandma Dove are running a children’s play; the seemingly lovely handyman is there, hit on the head, and then other mysteries begin to unfold around the town. Did one of the children see what happened? In a way, this is more about family relationships and Benni and Gabe’s marriage than the mystery, which I liked, as it makes it more deep and satisfying than other cosies I’ve read.

Earlene Fowler – “Tumbling Blocks”

(July 2016 – Charity shop, Whitby)

After a bit of sleuthing round the blog, I established that I bought this in Whitby in July 2016 when we were on holiday in nearby Bridlington. I obviously then kept hold of it till I had the one before it! This one revolves around a posh group of women who have an exclusive club with only 49 members; when the president thinks her friend was murdered (but no one else does), suspicion falls upon three women keen to become members.

Added to this, Gabe’s difficult mum is in town for Christmas and Benni’s best friend is struggling with her pregnancy. Gabe doesn’t do well and patterns in their marriage resurface but there’s comic relief in the form of a corgi puppy Benni’s dog-sitting (weirdly, there’s a dog called Prince Charles in the previous novel and corgis here, so a nod to the royal events this last week even though I was very much looking to escape them!)

Sue McDonagh – “Escape to the Art Cafe”

(01 August 2021 – The Works)

Flora has the usual pattern of boyfriend messes up / job messes up / escape to the seaside / meets a hunky local with a sad bit in his life, but this is a nice, modern novel with a good cast of characters and the Welsh seaside for a change, and Flora certainly takes matters into her own hands and, like the author, is a biker, and Jake is involved with the lifeguards, like the author, so the book is full of rides out and authentic bike details, the sea and trips out on it, all of which I liked a lot. This is the third in a trilogy so probably best read with the others but I managed not to and still enjoyed it. Everything does wind up neatly quite quickly but the plot is plausible and the details were fun.

Now two off the pile but not actually read!

Katie Fforde – “A Secret Garden”

(01 August 2021 – The Works)

Title looked familiar, read a page, realised I’d read it before! Bye-bye!

Samantha Young – “Much Ado About You”

(01 August 2021 – The Works)

I should have liked this novel about an American (freelance editor!) in England on a bookshop-running holiday but I just couldn’t engage with it, it didn’t seem consistent in what she’d know about England in advance, and I encountered the word “moron” three times in the first 30 pages and while it’s not a really top one it is still an ableist slur I don’t like reading. So I closed the book and put it in my BookCrossing pile.


Weird little pile of books: done!

These represented TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Books 15-19/28 – 9 to go by 5 October! Can I do it?

State of the TBR – September 2022

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

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

Shiny New Books

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

Incomings

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

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

I won just the five NetGalley books this month:

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

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

Currently reading

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

Coming up

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

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

My NetGalley TBR for September:

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

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


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

Book review – Edward Hancox – “Every Last Puffin” – Book 20 in my 20 Books of Summer!

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And I’ve done it! I’ve finished my 20 Books of Summer challenge (intro post here) and also knocked another book off my TBR project! I had an hour or so between work projects yesterday and popped out in the garden to sit in what feels like the end of the summer sun, with a Beanies Caramelised Biscuit coffee in my huge Sports Direct mug, making sure my bookmark from Ali got in the photo, and there I was, finishing my last book! I’m so chuffed I managed the challenge, as I left myself with quite a few books to read this month for it.

I must have had a weird moment with this one – I supported it via a Kickstarter campaign (101 people supported it and my name is in the back of the book but I apparently just put myself down as Liz – I know the only lone Liz is me!) and then I completely failed to record it arriving, photograph it, write about it, anything. From tracing things back, I believe it would have arrived at the end of August 2021, so I’m still only a year behind myself.

Edward Hancox – “Every Last Puffin”

(August 2021)

There’s a well-established link between nature and mental health, and I was only just beginning to feel the benefits. This book may have started with me trying to find the puffins before it’s too late, but it was becoming clear that they were helping me too. I could feel the stresses and strains of life starting to dissolve. The puffin pulled at another blade of grass, twisting his head sideways to consider me fully. (p. 133)

Hancox has always liked puffins and he decides to go on a tour of Britain to find their last outposts and see how they’re doing. He’s read about seabirds in decline and hopes it’s not a farewell tour – spoiler: he finds some places are in decline, some other populations are doing well, and people all around the country are doing a lot to help them, including important rat eradication programmes on islands.

Each chapter details a visit and takes us through the part of the year when puffins are found in Britain, from May to July. He didn’t do all the trips in one year so it’s not sequential, but he doesn’t claim to and it’s fine. Each short chapter is perfect to dip into or you can read a load in one go. And he manages to make them not samey, even though essentially each is a trip to an island or coastal region, sometimes involving a more or less unpleasant boat trip, usually an RSPB reserve and seeing similar sets of birds – puffins, of course, but also guillemots, petrels, gannets, skuas and the like, as well as wheatears, stonechats and others.

I was of course drawn to and cheered by the places I’ve been to myself – Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire and the Isles of Scilly, though I haven’t been to the island he visits – or know of – Adam Nicolson’s Shiants make a welcome appearance. There’s also mention of Joe Harkness’ excellent book, “Bird Therapy“. And my friend Meg will be pleased to note that the Icelandic word for elephant gets a mention (it’s easily confused with their word for fulmar). There’s something for everyone; every birder will have been to one of the reserves he mentions (if even I, a non-committed birder has) and he describes the places and their guardians beautifully.

Despite the cold, I was smiling like it was Christmas morning; each puffin was a new gift under the tree. (p. 155)

Such a very cheering book, even with its mentions of species loss and occasional sad individual bird, and a worthy finale to my 20 Books project.


This was book number 20 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 14/28 – 14 to go by 5 October! Can I do it?

Book review – Jokha Alharthi (trans. Marilyn Booth) – “Celestial Bodies”

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It’s Women in Translation month and I am notoriously bad at managing to fit a book in for it, but I have done this month! Ali kindly gave me this book for Christmas last year, and I have had it in mind to read for the project; then I really fancied reading a novel as I’ve been reading quite a lot of non-fiction, so here we are with an entry! (I realise this is going to mean more frequent reviews than normal for a few days to fit everything in – sorry!).

Jokha Alharthi (trans. Marilyn Booth) – “Celestial Bodies”

(25 December 2021, from Ali)

I’m not sure I’ve read a book by an Omani author or set in Oman before. I didn’t really get much of a sense of the history of this place from this impressionistic book (which did give me a lot in terms of relationships, culture and atmosphere, I hasten to add) so feel I need to brush up on the basic side of things another time.

Alternating between an omniscient narrator who swoops us into the lives and thoughts of various men and women of three generations, the middle generation being three sisters who have followed different paths in their personalities and marriages and first-person sections by Abdallah, husband of the oldest sister, travelling by plane from Oman to Germany, we dip back and forth through time, examining people through other people’s eyes, seeing there might be jinns and there might be magic or there might be women who carry out rituals of different kinds, and that what we wish for might come true but in a disappointing way.

The three sisters are the most vivid for me, one quiet, one bookish and vivacious, but keen to conform to her family’s wishes and one beautiful and stubborn, waiting for someone she then wishes she hadn’t got. There are love scenes in the desert, descriptions of slaving missions going back into the early 20th century, hints of progress and then dialling back on progress (especially in terms of women’s education). Abdallah also seems vivid and knowable, then his last section hints at terrible events, or does it? The narrative moves in a winding way through the three sisters’ weddings and married lives, darting back and forth.

The novel is very smoothly translated, as it doesn’t feel translated, if you see what I mean. Outbursts and cries in Arabic remain in Arabic but are understandable. A bit more fragmented of a read than I usually enjoy, but a powerful impression of a strong culture and ties that go back decades.

Book review – Lucy Delap – “Feminisms: A Global History”

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I think I might actually completely my 20 Books of Summer (mainly because I’ve had a low NetGalley TBR this month) as this is Book 19 out of the pile (intro post here) and is also again part of my TBR project. I was pleased to note that I acquired this on 26 August 2021 when I started reading it on 26 August 2022, literally a year behind now! I bought it with a Christmas book token my friend Sian gave me, and recorded it in my State of the TBR post from 1 September (I’ve now read all of the print books recorded as incoming in that post). I’ve taken Book 20 off the shelf to start later today.

Lucy Delap – “Feminisms: A Global History”

(26 August 2021)

By no means are all the figures discussed in this book – many would not have heard of this word and some would angrily repudiate it. But they can nonetheless be placed within a critical feminist history, one that helps us understand feminisms’ tensions and possibilities across a broad canvas. (p. 339)

In this book, one of the attractive new Pelican series, Lucy Delap, a historian of modern Britain at the University of Cambridge, sets out to write a history of feminisms and allied causes around the world, from about the mid 1700s until fairly recently. She does have a global coverage, bringing in work done in various African countries, including Nigeria and South Africa, Asian countries like South Korea and Indonesia, Australasia, various European countries, including Eastern European, Chile and Peru in South America, as well as the US and UK.

After an introduction in which she sets out her stall, of course, and talks about what constitutes feminism and its history, countering the claim it started in the West by looking at, for example, the Egyptian Rasheed WOmen’s Conference in 1799 or rights claimed by indigenous Sierre Leone women in 1972, Delap takes various over-arching themes and looks at them across time and place, whether that’s dreams and utopias from the earliest work until now, spaces for publishing, meeting and organising, items like badges or dress. This feels like a slightly odd way of arranging things but allows her to draw threads together, show influence and dialogue between different strands and show the contrasts in the way people have done things. For example, in the clothing chapter she moves between the “rational dress” of the bicycle-riding New Woman through the politicised use of the hijab to the pink pussy hats of the anti-Trump demonstrations.

There’s a lot of intersectionality, necessarily (including a discussion of where the term came from and other terms that have been used for the double or triple burden of being, for example, a Black woman living with a disability. Intersections with class and race are brought out a lot, highlighting how White middle-class feminism and its concerns has often pushed aside other equally important issues (interestingly, it turns out to be not only African Womanism which looks at the fight as a class one, with men fighting on the same side, but this is also a feature of a lot of South American campaigning. An important thread that is emphasised here is the continued oppression of native and indigenous peoples of various countries, who have remained side-lined, patronised and/or ignored.

The book includes some great images, although it’s a small-format paperback and they’re printed direct on the page so some detail is lost. There’s a marvellous picture of a group of Maori women in rational dress from the early 1900s, for example.

There’s no call for action, because this is a historical work; however, there is clearly a need to reclaim these different activists and thinkers/doers and to consider all in our feminism today. A really interesting book in a good modern series.


This was book number 19 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 13/28 – 15 to go (and I’m reading Book 14!)

Book review – Sue Anstiss – “Game On”

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Galloping through the end of my 20 Books of Summer now and wondering if I will actually do it: this is Book 18 of the pile (intro post here) and is also once again part of my TBR project to get everything up to Dave Grohl’s book read by 05 October. This is also an Unbound book which I subscribed to and which arrived on 18 August 2021 (so I’m now “only” a year behind on my reading!) and I recorded it in my State of the TBR post from 1 September (out of the print books recorded as incoming in that post I have now read all but one and I’m currently reading that one!). I’ve started Book 19, “Feminisms” by Lucy Delap (the Pelican Classic near the bottom of the pile in the picture) so who knows, I might just do it (will I get them all reviewed, though?).

I’m a bit ashamed I didn’t read and review this excellent book when it arrived, however I’m working towards being able to do that sort of thing again and hopefully it will still pique some interest.

Sue Anstiss – “Game On: The Unstoppable Rise of Women’s Sport”

(18 August 2021)

My goal for this book was to celebrate the huge progress we have seen for women in sport, while also highlighting the inequalities that still exist today. I wanted it to be a joyful book, acknowledging all that has been accomplished, as well as being a rallying cry to action for the future. (p. 312)

Well, in my opinion, this book succeeds on all those fronts. Anstiss has been active both in working in sport behind the scenes and participating in sport; now middle-aged, she’s had a long career in both and she freely admits that initially she didn’t see the inequalities, coming up through a family that gave her the same sporting opportunities as her brothers and only slowly noticing the playing down of women’s abilities and strength, the homophobia in women’s sport and the whiteness of the main teams that did well in Britain. But she acknowledges all that and is now here with an intersectional perspective and a lot of research to show us where we came from, what we’ve been through, the state of play now (well, in 2020/21) and what we can do moving forward. To do this, she’s both done secondary research and conducted interviews with a lot of influential women (how I wish I’d been the transcriber on this project!). It’s enraging and inspiring in equal parts and she leaves us with a good game plan.

Anstiss takes us around the world, into lots of different sports, and also looks at sports writers and broadcasters, coaches and officials, board members and managers, as well as players. She’s really good at making connections and drawing points together (for example, the Title IX legistlation in the US that gave all women equal opportunities for federally funded activities, giving equal sports participation and scholarships to women and men, the proportion of women coaches dropped as men grabbed the now-more-lucrative contracts …). She’s containedly scathing about misguided attempts to tempt girls into sport by offering vapid dolls or pink outfits and committed to working at grassroots level to make things better.

There’s not too much of Anstiss’ own story woven through the book: she’s professional and astute and presents a lot of facts, figures and pertinent quotes in an interesting and useful way, but she does include her experiences in sport, for example taking up triathlon in her mid-40s just when menopause started to hit and realising her experience wasn’t going to be quite as she expected. Fair play to her for raising this issue, and that of periods and motherhood, of course, as well.

Starting with twelve game-changing moments in women’s sport (now, the Lionesses’ victory in the European Cup for football would be one of them), the chapters then take themes of either types of participants (coaches, participants) or wider themes such as sexuality and race (there’s not a chapter on disability, which is a shame, although some para-athletes and disability activists are quoted through the book). There’s a chapter on male allies (yes, Andy Murray’s there, but others as well, with some cheering quotes) and one on mass participation sports to balance the tales of elites. There are some truly shocking stories and some inspiring ones, too: I think she gets the balance just right. We get the usual ones about one’s womb dropping out if you run a marathon (I’ve done four and an ultra and appear to be intact in that regard) and also a lot of more modern guff about femininity and heteronomativity. The stats on pay and prize money are the most shocking: if you think women’s sport isn’t as technically advanced as men’s, consider all the women who are working full-time as well as playing for their nation and earning 10% of what the men earn, with less access to coaching, physio, etc. There’s an interesting chapter at the end about sport for development, a movement to use sport as a catalyst for improving women’s lives around issues like FGM and forced marriage, and an acknowledgement of the complexity of the issues there, and she ends with a great bullet-pointed list of what exactly we can do to advance the cause of women’s sport in the world.

A well-researched, impeccably written, passionate, angry where it should be and celebratory book that I will be recommending to many.


This was book number 18 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 12/28 – 16 to go (and I’m reading Book 13!)

Book review – Rob Deering – “Running Tracks”

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Well, I’ve reached Book 17 of my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and is also part of my TBR project. This is an Unbound book which I subscribed to and which is recorded in my my State of the TBR post from 1 August (I have now read and reviewed all of the print books recorded as incoming in that post!). As I’m already a good way through Book 18 and with over a week to go, I feel like I might manage my 20 Books of Summer after all.

Rob Deering – “Running Tracks: The Playlist and Places that Made me a Runner”

(23 July 2021)

Looking at it like this, I now realise that this run is absolutely riddled with memory – running and otherwise. It’s a living, walk-in map of my day-to-day life, my running history and all the great moments of my life with my wife and my family. (p. 151)

This is a book about running and music. Deering loves both, though he’s always loved music and he came to running a bit later. And I will say now that I, too, love running and music. My best running-and-music memory is when I was quite a new runner, plodding round local streets, trying to do a few more minutes on my run, when the Sex Pistols’ version of My Way came on my MP3 player and with a doof-doof-doof-doof at the drop, there I went, speeding down the road! However, I have to say I don’t really run with music now, for safety reasons, as I like to keep aware of what (who) is around me, hear what catcallers are shouting in case it’s a proper safety issue, etc. Doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the book, though, and I’m truly glad Deering has had all these lovely experiences where the right song comes in at the appropriate point in a run, and has the ability and, through Unbound, the wherewithal to write about it.

I didn’t start with this well, I have to admit, as early on he has a rant about not being allowed to wear headphones in races, and asserts that he’d rather wear them and have a row than be without his music. I do understand how important it is, but he rather wearingly says that nothing has ever happened in a race due to people wearing headphones (it has) and that he can hear around him perfectly well (many can’t). I’ve experienced, as a runner, trying to yell at the people in front of me to watch out for the motorbike and leader of the half-marathon that started after the marathon we were doing coming up behind as they blocked the whole road, earphones in, and I’ve experienced, as a marshal/official, trying to direct people who can’t hear. He might like to know that bone-conducting headphones are permitted at many races. I’ve only mentioned this in case other readers get the idea it’s OK to run with headphones and have a row: not really fair on the often volunteers staffing your races. There was also a moment where he seemed to imply that a 4:30 marathoner was the slowest one you might get, but fair enough, as he runs at the sharp end and might not know many back-of-the-pack types.

The rest of the book is excellent. Split into 26.2 chapters, we get some of his running story, a particular run he enjoyed (or didn’t) and the song that came up when he did it. At the end of each chapter are suggestions for other songs and other runs that might be similar: a nice touch. Interwoven through it (but not too much or cloyingly) is the story of his dad who lived with Parkinson’s for many years, and the fundraising that Deering has done, as well as a few tales from his stand-up touring life. This makes for an enjoyable book and an easy read.

It was nice to see Birmingham mentioned the once, in fact a canal section that I run on, although that was the only time. There are plenty of relatable moments: I, for one, have also banged on, in my case a pub door, to ask the cleaner if I can use the facilities … And parkrun features quite a lot; it’s always nice to see a positive mention. The quote I’ve used above really chimed with me, too – I’ve started to think about doing a personal Google Map of all the little memories around the routes I have been running for the past 17 years or so! He has a lovely bit about how the first step on the Couch to 5k programme is the hardest in your running career, and once you’ve got that done, you’re away.

A lovely personal yet relatable book and an unusual concept that really works. I hope he has many more happy runs with perfect tunes. May I just mention here one more running/music memory of my own: running the Reykjavik Marathon, my first, through a suburb with people banging saucepans to encourage the runners, and there’s a little band on a corner – a common thing in big city runs, we often get dhol drummers or brass bands or just a sound system. No, a four-piece band playing Joy Division’s Love Will Tear Us Apart …


This was book number 17 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 11/28 – 17 to go (and I’m reading Book 12!)

Book review – Carola Oman – “Somewhere in England”

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I’m on Book 16 of my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and this again is also part of my TBR project. This is one of the Dean Street Press Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books I bought in my book token splurge last summer, which is recorded in my my State of the TBR post from 1 August (I have now read and reviewed all but one of the books from that splurge, with that one up next in my 20 Books and being read by the time this review comes out!). You can read all about this one on its page on the DSP site here and my review of its prequel, “Nothing to Report” is here.

Carola Oman – “Somewhere in England”

(07 July 2021)

Having ended the last book in Midsummer 1940, we hop forward to 2 March 1942 for the start of this one, also published during World War Two with no knowledge of the outcome. Rather oddly, this one is in two parts, the first from the perspective of Philippa-Dawn (Pippa) Johnson, a young nurse going to work in the hospital at Woodside, then the second through Mary Morrison’s eyes, the central character in “Nothing to Report”. This makes it feel a bit like two books bolted together, but it does allow us to see the characters, including Mary, afresh, and it does work on the whole.

Pippa meets many of the characters from the earlier book. There’s more war action, with evacuees present and bombs dropping. Mary has moved back into her old stately home to run the hospital, and has rented out her cottages; she’s back in ownership of Woodside though I can’t say why without spoiling the plot. Dowager Lady Merle and her many children and grandchildren are still in full flow, and there are some nice dogs who all do OK. The patients and nurses of the hospital are portrayed in a lively manner (which reminds us a bit of “Yeoman’s Hospital“) and it’s confirmed pleasingly that we are indeed in Barsetshire, only guessed at in the first volume.

There are tragedies, sometimes having happened in the gap between the books, sometimes just off stage. There are also some lovely set-pieces: a fete in aid of the forces and the arrival of a carriage and horses, and views over the countryside that could be from any age from the Georgian onwards. There’s humour and the pathos of the situation, given that Oman, publishing in 1943, couldn’t have known the outcome. I wish she’d written more about these lovely characters!

There’s an introduction by Sir Roy Strong in both of these novels; he was a relative by marriage and still writes using Oman’s own desk, which is a lovely touch. A good read, and a lovely pair of reads, indeed.


This was book number 16 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 10/28 – 18 to go (and I’m reading Book 11! Am I going to make it by 5 October?)

Book review – Carola Oman – “Nothing to Report”

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On to books 15 and 16 (tomorrow) in my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) and also part of my TBR project. This is one of the Dean Street Press Furrowed Middlebrow imprint books I bought in my book token splurge last summer, which is recorded in my my State of the TBR post from 1 August (I have now read all but one of the books from that splurge, with that one up next in my 20 Books!). You can read all about this one on its page on the DSP site here.

Carola Oman – “Nothing to Report”

(07 July 2021)

‘Is it the German Fleet – Zeppelins?’ asked Doris.

Mary looked and saw, rising in the furthest distance, amongst the particularly fine arrangement of billowing cloud and evening blue, a string of large silver tadpole-shaped objects. They were unquestionably air-borne, and moving slowly towards her. For a second, she honestly believed that her last hour had come. A moment later, she heard her own voice saying in rousing accents –

‘Do you know what that is, Doris? It’s the Outer Defences of London – Things going up to protect us.’ (p. 194)

Starting in February 1939, we spend the very beginning of the war years in the company of Mary Morrison (or “Button” to her friends), slightly distressed gentlewoman, living in a cottage made of two 17th century cottages in a village near to her old stately home. She has many friends in the village and an annoying sister-in-law and niece who keep threatening to come to stay. Woven into village life are Lady Merle and her various children and grandchildren, mostly old friends of Mary. Although it starts like a standard “mid-century village” novel with Mary’s old friend coming to live in the area with her husband and somewhat varied offspring, the war is everywhere, too. Being 43 at the start of the book, Mary went through the First World War and is now worried at the prospect of another; an aerodrome is being built and various sons and daughters of the village signing up for service and as usual with books published during the wars (this one in 1940), there’s a poignancy to the writing as of course Oman didn’t know what was actually going to happen.

The countryside/village setting is a delight, and the whole book was reminiscent of, yes, The Provincial Lady, as noted on the blurb, but also Angela Thirkell – so I was delighted to find in the sequel that it is indeed set in Barsetshire (that’s A.T. without the hunting, so much snobbery and funny foreigners; what foreign visitors there are are looked after, and kept apart in the case of the Czech refugee and the German of unknown provenance). There are some incredibly poignant moments, like the one quoted, as the war draws closer, and there’s an epilogue set in Midsummer 1940 which updates on the characters’ progress and almost brings to a close an intriguing relationship Mary has developed with Kit Hungerford, one of those Merle grandchildren, leading the reader to yearn for the sequel, thankfully also republished by DSP and bought by me at the same time!


In a Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment, this and “Small Miracles” (read only a book or so apart) both feature a Miss Taylor who needs an operation.


This was book number 15 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 9/28 – 19 to go (and I’ve read book 10!)

Book review – Nicholas Royle – “White Spines”

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Another book from my 20 Books of Summer books list (intro post here) recorded in my State of the TBR on 01 August (I have three of the print acquisitions recorded there left to read and all are on my 20 Books pile) and this time it arrived from Paul Half Man Half Book (his review here), who’d somehow come into possession of two copies (Royle would call one of them a shadow copy).

This is the fourteenth book I’ve completed from my 20 Books project (and I’m currently reading Book 15) and also comes off my TBR 2021-2022 total. I feel like I’m making some progress now, although for every slender novel there’s a hefty work of non-fiction to come …

Nicholas Royle – “White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector”

(22 July 2021 – from Paul Half Man Half Book)

If I could just acquire a few more Picadors to edge out those Sceptres and Paladins and King Penguins on the bottom shelf, I’d have a bookcase, a white bookcase no less, full of white-spined Picadors. It would be a think of beauty. It would be a small masterpiece and it would be easier to achieve than the masterpieces I was trying to create at my desk in the attic. (p. 46)

Royle is what you’d call an inveterate collector, of many things beside Picador books – including, pleasingly, Virago Modern Classics, which I also sort of collect. I don’t collect anything in the way he does, but I can see why he does and I can see the attraction of collecting these elegant white spines (see two in the top pic). In fact I started to go through his list of Picadors owned to see how many I also owned, but felt that might be tipping over into Too Much. Paul and Kaggsy both loved this book; I’ve seen one person I follow say it was a bit boring. It might be boring to some people, but reading about various charity and second-hand bookshops and which books he found, then including a potted history of the imprint and notes from various people who’ve been involved in it, going chapter by chapter into other people’s books and their notes of ownership, things found in books, favourite bookshops, pairs of authors with the same name … what’s not to like? There were various serendipitous moments and also mentions of bookshops I actually know, which I will try not to be too boring about below!

A list of things I found fascinating in this book or particularly enjoyed …

  • When you’re a bus or train number collector, you can access a little book you underline the numbers you’ve got in it – I had always wondered how this was done, but had never got round to finding out.
  • The most common Picador books he fines are Last Orders by Graham Swift and Andrea Ashworth’s A House on Fire and now I’m going to be compelled to check for those in each charity shop I go into.
  • He’s completely right on how, when you’re doing a charity shop crawl, the same person will appear by the records or somewhere else, in the same outfit, but already in each shop as you reach it.
  • He’s wrong that the Kings Heath branch of Oxfam Books has more exciting stock than the Moseley one (in my opinion) but it’s very, very exciting to see my two locals mentioned (almost as good as hearing the words “Kings Heath” on the telly twice in three days last week (once during the Commonwealth Games closing ceremony, once during that Joe Lycett programme about the RA Summer Exhibition).
  • He’s also wrong that those weird photographic covers on Penguin Iris Murdoch novels are the best ones (in my opinion).
  • I was chuffed that he stood up for Virago Modern Classics when someone said only 5% of them really were classics.
  • He mentions in his Anomalies chapter the “Olivers Sacks” spine error on A Leg to Stand On – see the picture above, I have that one AND Seeing Voices. However, neither appears in his list of Anomalies he owns, even though he includes the one in his Anomalies chapter (rechecking, he doesn’t claim to have it, just to know about it); he does list both in the books he owns so I don’t feel I have to get in touch to offer him my weird ones. Probably.
  • He mentions High Street Books in New Mills and even one of the owners, Adam. That’s a shop I know and people I know and was very exciting to read (though, sorry, not as exciting as seeing Kings Heath or hearing it on the telly).

What an excellent book. I hope my tribute to it is taken in the affectionate way it’s meant, if Royle ever reads this. Thank you to Paul for sending it to me and everyone who recommended it!


This was book number 14 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 8/28 – 20 to go (and I’m currently reading books 9 and 10!)

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