State of the TBR July 2021

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It’s State of the TBR time again and there’s a lot of reading to report, a few missed targets (oh no!) and a great big lovely pile of Incomings with more on their way.

First off, how is the TBR shelf looking (pre-Incomings)? Not bad, and certainly shorter on the front shelf than at the start of June, even though some have joined the end!

I finished 15 books in June, the same as in May (and I’ve reviewed 15, too, but one was a May read and one is coming up at the weekend. I managed to read and review five of my planned six 20BooksOfSummer reads and have started the sixth (“Black and British” which has over 600 pages and will work its way through quite a lot of July, I think). I read and reviewed four out of the six NetGalley books that I had that were published in June (I have a lot for July but will try to squeeze the last two June ones in) and of course I also managed my two Anne Tylers, a couple of lovely Dean Street Press review copies and a Maya Angelou for my and Ali’s relaxed readalong (that’s the review that’s still to come). As well as reviewing Richard Ovenden’s “Burning the Books” for this blog on the Wolfson Prize Blog Tour, I also reviewed it with a slightly different angle for Shiny New Books.

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Stephen Rutt’s wonderful nature writing in “The Eternal Season” which Elliott & Thompson kindly sent me to review, and David Olusoga’s “Black and British” which goes into far more detail than his TV series could about historical and sometimes surprising Black British figures. It’s a big book but an important one and I am finding it fascinating and of course very well-written so far.

Up next

I’m working further through my 20 Books of Summer hosted by Cathy from 246 Books with her sign-up post here, and I’ve added in EIGHT books for this month in my two months of “The One With All The Diversity”. Of course I usually read pretty diversely but this year, instead of just picking the first 20 books from my TBR shelf, I’ve gone through picking out a special pile. Fortunately, two of these are very small books so I should get them all read. Afua Hirsch’s “Brit(ish)” will give me the female experience to mirror the male on in Akala’s “Natives” read last month, and also Jeffrey Boakye’s “Black, Listed”, which again takes an insider look at Black British culture. Nadiya Hussain talks about overcoming anxiety and finding her place in the world in “Finding my Voice” and Stormzy takes his place in music and publishing in “Rise Up: The Merky Story so Far”. Damian Le Bas’ “The Stopping Places” will educate me about Travellers in Britain, and Sophie Williams’ “Anti Racist Ally” and Emma Dabiri’s “What White People Can Do Next” are two slim volumes which help me to do the work rather than asking others to explain it, but give valuable pointers (I’m hoping they include personal as well as corporate allyship that I can actually practise.

In NetGalley reads, this is the set I have published in July (How We Do Family is a June book that I accidentally missed):

So here we have Otegha Uwagba’s “We Need to Talk About Money” (money and its intersections with race, gender and class for young, particularly Black women); Anisha Bhatia’s “What are We Doing About Zoya” (a comedy of manners set in Mumbai); Sara Nisha Adams’ “The Reading List” (an anxious teenager and her lonely grandfather find joy in a reading list tucked in a library book); Natasha Lunn’s “Conversations on Love” (various authors including Philippa Perry write on love; Bella Osborne’s “The Promise of Summer” (romcom revolving around returning a lost engagement ring); Tyrstan Reese’s “How we Do Family” (LGBTQ family adoption pregnancy and parenthood); and Georgia Pritchett’s “My Mess is a Bit of a Life” (subtitled Adventures in Anxiety).

Books in (many, many books in)

I can share a charity shop buy and one from The Works in Shirley (I innocently went to the opticians and meandered into there so I wasn’t early for my appointment).

“Usain Bolt” was written by one of the writers I work with (acknowledged on the title page, hooray), sadly before I started working with him as I would obviously have loved to transcribe Mr Bolt’s words. Craig Revel Horwood’s “In Strictest Confidence” is the follow-up to “All Balls and Glitter” which I read in 2014 (I note I said that one brought us right up to date, that date being 2008, so not sure how much overlap there is but oh well!)

I’ve also received the rather glorious “A Room of Her Own: Inside the Homes and Lives of Creative Women” from Thames & Hudson to review for Shiny. Of course taking as its title Virginia Woolf’s assertion that women writers need a room of their own, it highlights young creative women from around the (admittedly Western) globe and their sumptuous interiors.

I can also share that this month I’ve won from NetGalley Bella Osborne’s “The Promise of Summer”, Otegha Uwagba’s “We Need to Talk About Money” and Anisha Bhatia’s “What are We Doing About Zoya?” described above as they’re published in July, Johnny and Becki Agar’s “The Impossible Mile” (Johnny, born with cerebral palsy, goes on to complete an Ironman triathlon), and Jessica Nordell’s “The End of Bias” (how the unconscious bias I need to read about in “Sway” can be worked against).

And then because the TBR had gone down quite a lot, I decided it was time for my Book Token Splurge. I had Christmas and Birthday vouchers to spend (thank you, Meg, Ali, Sian, Matthew and Laura!) and as I usually get a lot of books around those two months, love spending them all in the middle of the year. Now Bookshop.org take book tokens I was able to spend them and send the profits to three indie bookshops, which felt good. Here’s what’s arrived so far …

In no particular order, in fiction I have Buchi Emecheta’s “Second-Class Citizen” which details the life of a Nigerian woman in 1960s London, oppressed by the city and her husband and Angie Thomas’ “On the Come Up”, a story about hip hop, prejudice and fighting for your dreams. In what I’d vaguely call nature and travel, Nick Hunt and Tim Mitchell’s “The Parakeeting of London” discusses just that (and is published by tiny indie press, Paradise Road), Richard King’s “The Lark Ascending” covers music and landscape in 20th century Britain, in “Wanderland” by Jini Reddy, a London woman with multicultural roots goes looking for the magical in the British landscape, Christiane Ritter describes Arctic life in “A Woman in the Polar Night”, republished by Pushkin Press, Joshua Abbott explores the modernism of London’s “Metroland” in another Unbound book I missed and A Kendra Greene explores “The Museum of Whales You Will Never See” and other peculiar Icelandic collections (I’m betting I’ve visited a few of these myself). Then in intersectional feminism, which I need to read more about, Mikki Kendall gives a searing picture of how that’s not yet worked in “Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women White Feminists Forgot”. And a running book: “Running in the Midpack” by Martin Yelling and Anji Andrews, a launch even for which I went to a while ago, finally talks about those of us who are practised runners and racers who still want to improve and protect ourselves against injury.

Quite a nice variety there, I think.

I’m still waiting for a few which I have pre-ordered or are on back order: Carola Oman’s “Somewhere in England” and “Nothing to Report” (on back order from Dean Street Press), “Your Voice Speaks Volumes” by Jane Setter (published 22 July), Paul Magrs’ “The Panda, The Cat and the Dreadful Teddy: A Parody” (published 30 Sept) and “Mixed/Other: Explorations of Multiraciality in Modern Britain” by Natalie Morris (published 14 Apr 2022 in paperback)

Of course I have my two Anne Tylers for the month: “Ladder of Years” and “A Patchwork Planet”. That makes something like 19 books on the TBR for July, but I do have a week off coming up …

What are your reading plans for June? Are you joining me for some Anne Tyler?

State of the TBR June 2021

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It’s State of the TBR time again and I know I’ve already thrilled you with one post today but I can’t possibly not post a State of the TBR on the first of the month, can I?

I managed to finish 15 books in May (not all reviewed yet: one to come tomorrow and one Shiny New Books review shared below), which I was very pleased with, including four from the physical standard TBR shelves pictured here, so that has shifted things along a bit and allowed me to fit in a couple of new ones.

Books in

I have had both physical and e-book incomings this month, since the last round-up. In e-books, first, I have “In Our Own Words: Queer Stories from Black, Indigenous, and People of Color Writers” which I have to admit I thought was more non-fiction than fiction; “Windswept” by Annabel Abbs which is about the effect of nature on various female writers, and Sara Nisha Adams’ “The Reading List” which is a feel-good novel about reading and community. All NetGalley and – oops – all published in June.

In physical books, I had a lovely trip to see my dear friend Ali the other week which resulted in her passing me “The Virago Book of Women Travellers” – a reprint of a book published in the 1990s I had managed not to read at the time, and a heavy hardback she fancied reading in a different format. And I got home to find one of my Unbound (subscription model publisher) books had come good – “Cut from the Same Cloth” edited by Sabeena Akhtar is a book of essays by British women who wear the hijab, and looks brilliant. Those two fitted on my shelves at the back, though I don’t think they’ll stay hidden for long!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Motherland” by Jo McMillan, which Kaggsy from The Ramblings kindly sent me last year – it’s a novel about the only Communists in Tamworth and what happens when they have a trip to East Germany. It’s really good, but a bit visceral for mealtime reading, so I’ve also already picked up one of my Dean Street Press reads for the month.

A challenging read for Shiny New Books

There are no easy solutions to the plight faced by farmers in the face of consumers demanding cheap food and Brexit removing subsidies (some are for and some against this). What we do have at the end is a section about the Covid crisis which mentions the parts of social behaviour which interacted with the farming industry – demand for products, small farms pivoting to provide food locally they would have sent to restaurants, etc. It was interesting seeing that from the other side, so to speak. It’s clear that the author’s intention is to explain what goes on on farms, and she does that, and to help people learn and understand, and perhaps regard farmers with more respect. I hope she achieves that aim, too.

Bella Bathurst’s “Field Work” is not an easy read but it is an important one. Read my full review here.

Up next

Thought I had a busy May? Now it’s time for 20 Books of Summer hosted as ever by Cathy from 246 Books with her sign-up post here, and these are my first six in what I’m calling “The One With All The Diversity”. Of course I usually read pretty diversely but this year, instead of just picking the first 20 books from my TBR shelf, I’ve gone through picking out a special pile. Some pretty meaty ones here, hence only expecting myself to read six.

“Over the Top” by Jonathan Van Ness is the stalwart hair and beauty guru of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy’s chance to tell his story. I do kind of wish I had the audio book which he narrates himself but I’m sure this will be great, too. Bryan Miller helps William Kamkwamba tell his story of “The Boy who Harnessed the Wind” and brought wind power to help his region of Africa. “Common People” edited by Kit de Waal is a collection of pieces by self-described working-class folk. Akala’s “Natives” tells of race and class and his own story in the UK, and David Olusoga’s “Black and British” tells Black British stories going right back to prehistory and accompanied the brilliant TV series. Juno Dawson writes compellingly about experiencing life as male and female in “The Gender Games”.

In NetGalley reads published in June, I have two of the books outlined above, “Windswept” and “In Our Words” plus Natasha Brown’s “Assembly”, a short novel of a Black woman in a White space making a stand, Sara Jafari’s novel, “The Mismatch” tells stories of Iranian families in the UK, and Anita Sethi’s “I Belong Here” takes the author into the British countryside after a jarring experience of racism.

I then have two lovely Dean Street Press novels, Molly Clavering’s “Mrs Lorimer’s Quiet Summer” (which I’ve started already: large family gathers in the Scottish borders) and Ruby Ferguson’s “Apricot Sky”. Aaand of course I have my two Anne Tylers for the month: “Breathing Lessons” and “Saint Maybe”. So that makes 15 books again plus one to finish …

What are your reading plans for June? Are you joining me for some Anne Tyler?

State of the TBR May 2021

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It’s time to take a look at the state of my To Be Read shelf again!

So not that much movement on the physical TBR, although probably more than it looks – two have left the front shelf but only one from left-hand end, and I pulled one off the back shelf, which, along with moving one out I knew would be needed this month, meant I had room for a couple of new physical additions (see link below). Other than that one, I finished two I had already taken off the shelf and my co-read with my best friend, Emma, which I had had on my bedside table for a few months, read some e-books and read a couple that came in but were for a book challenge or a Shiny New Books review. One came off the Pile for Shiny, too. More on the review that’s already out in a bit …

Books in

I have already written about my Massive Influx (of mainly ebooks) earlier this week as there were so many they had to have a post of their own (here). The eagle-eyed will have noticed these beauties … my dear friend and fellow-book-blogger Heaven-Ali read and reviewed Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” recently, which a) reminded me I’d loved it years ago, too and b) inspired me to ask her if she was going to do the rest of the autobiographies. And that’s led, in that way that these things have a habit of doing, to us undertaking to read them all together, to a relatively free-form and undemanding schedule, fortunately!

Currently reading

On ebook I’m reading Jess Phoenix’ “Ms. Adventure” which I saw reviewed by Anjana from Superfluous Reading and requested successfully from NetGalley. It’s one of those you have to read on a special PDF system or NetGalley’s frankly annoying Shelf app which is a little frustrating (you can’t mark passages, only bookmark pages, for example) but it’s a good read about a career in vulcanology. Bella Bathurst’s “Field Work” I’m reviewing for Shiny New Books (hence the proliferation of post-it tabs!) – it’s a raw and sometimes hard read about modern farming in the UK, but necessary as well as a bit shocking. Finally, Iain Sinclair likes to shock, too, and his “London Overground” which is my new co-read with Emma, opens a bit ickily but we like his work and are persisting with it!

A great read for Shiny New Books

A short interlude here – although I read 13 books in April, not all of them have been reviewed here, as I have firstly got a slight reviewing lag with one to review still, and secondly read three books to review first in other places (one on Iris Murdoch for the IM review and, as well as this one, Mike Pitts’ “Digging Up Britain” which should appear soon in Shiny).

“Empireland” by Sathnam Sanghera is an excellent book that helps explain who we are as British people, how we came to be how we are in some respects, and why the country is as multicultural as it is. It’s a powerful and sometimes challenging read and as one person commented on my review, it would be good if it was read by “the sort of people who wouldn’t want to”.

An extract from my review:

The book opens with a half-serious exhortation to reintroduce Empire Day and ends with a serious exhortation to include the history of empire in our national curriculum, and in between takes a wide-ranging look at how Empire is defined (it isn’t, it can’t be and he devotes some time in the Acknowledgements to explaining what he’s not going to define), how it affected British life at the time (more mixed than you might imagine) and how it affects British life today (more mixed than you might imagine, with a lot of echoes he cleverly draws out, as well as the more well-known legacies of slave-owners’ money (more complicated than you might imagine)). and you can read the full review here.

Up next

I have a busy, busy May coming up! Before I can go anywhere near my physical TBR I have my two Anne Tylers for my project (“The Accidental Tourist” and “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant”, two classics of hers that I hope lots of people will join me in reading), then I have two lovely review copies from British Library Women Writers – Diana Tutton’s “Mamma” I want to read soon so I can enjoy all the blog tour entries, and “Tension” by E.M. Delafield I will be reviewing on the blog tour at the end of the month. And I am sure Ali will be itching to do the next Angelou so I need to catch up and stat “Gather Together in My Name”. AND it’s Ali’s Daphne du Maurier Week 10-16 May, and as she bought me this copy of “My Cousin Rachel” for Christmas, it would be rude not to, right?!

In NetGalley reads I have Dany Asaf’s memoir of being a Muslim Canadian, “Say Please and Thank You and Stand in Line” and Dr RIchard Pile’s “Fit For Purpose” which are both published in May so I’d ideally like to read them, too.

So that makes two books to finish and eleven books to read in May even before I get to anything else. Fortunately there are a few novels and bits of memoir in there which should go along nice and briskly … wish me luck!


What are your reading plans for May? Are you joining me for some Anne Tyler?

State of the TBR – April 2021 plus a few #bookconfessions

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I finished or read 14 books in March, a total I’m very pleased with, and it’s shown up in my TBR, as well (some books came from the front shelf and some from the back shelf, which is why the front shelf seems to have shortened from both ends compared to at the beginning of March). A couple of these were review books for other sites, one is up now on Shiny and linked below.

I did also read some e-books but I’m pleased the pile tottering on top of the books is now at least to the side (and two of the books in he pile are the same book, an ARC and a finished copy.

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “Expiation” by Elizabeth von Arnim, which is a real page-turner of a story about a woman who’s disinherited for being Bad – our sympathies lie very much with her and my heart is in my mouth at the moment wondering what’s going to happen to her. My other current read is “The Rise of the Ultra Runners” by Adharanand Finn: I’m enjoying his discomfort as he moves from the safety of road running to the excitement of off-road stuff (knowing I’ll never have to do that myself again!). These were both books I was given for my birthday in 2020 and I’m relieved to say I’ve read all my 2019 books at last!

Up next

I have three lovely review books to finish and review for Shiny New Books: Sathnam Sanghera’s “Empireland” is an investigation of how Britain’s imperialism has shaped the country itself, “Field Work” by Bella Bathurst is about farming and working on the land and its effects on people and the land, and Mike Pitts’ “Digging Up Britain”, about new developments in archaeology, has had its publication date moved back a couple of times but is aiming for this month now.

Then I have my two Anne Tylers for the month, “Earthly Possessions” and “Morgan’s Passing” – again, I don’t recall much about these but I’m sure I’ll enjoy them.

Coming up

These are the next books at the front of the TBR, and as I’m trying to get as up to date as possible, I will be concentrating on these.

Stella Martin Curry’s “One Woman’s Year” completes my longest-outstanding Persephones, I may skip Sathnam Sanghera’s novel given I’m reviewing him this month, then we have some round the world travel, discussion of East Germany, invention in Africa and a book I can’t believe I’ve waited this long to read on the Internet’s influence on language.

I realise I should have read the ebook “Between Worlds: A Queer Boy from the Valleys” by Jeffrey Weeks last month for Dewithon – it’s published today so I will get to it soon, and one of my most recent NetGalley wins is out this month, too, so those will hopefully be in the mix as well.

Incoming

I have been quite careful this month and not too many books have come in. A couple of recent NetGalley wins (OK, a few) – I was offered Phillipa Ashley’s “An Endless Cornish Summer” by the publisher and have read it, ready for review at the weekend, and I have Greg McKeown’s “Effortless” which is about sorting your life out and doing the most important things, and Natasha Brown’s “Assembly” (a novel in which a young Black woman gets sick of it all and tells it how it is – this is described as shocking and might be out of my comfort zone but it does look important).

Past me also pre-ordered Debbie Macomber’s “Welcome back to Cedar Cove” which is an ebook of stories from the fictional town she wrote a whole series about (will I remember who’s who) and I got too excited about Emma Dabiri’s (of “Don’t Touch My Hair” fame) new book, “What White People Can Do Next: From Allyship to Coalition” to wait. I’ve also got Anne Tyler’s “Redhead at the Side of the Road” arriving in paperback to complete my collection.

Shiny Fun!

Last but of course not least, I have reviewed two books for Shiny New Books recently.

The “Grayson Perry’s Art Club” exhibition catalogue was a lovely memento of the first series of the televised art club, with all the interviews and pieces by the celebs and other guests, and images and stories from the members of the public who exhibited, too. Of course the exhibition never opened (or hasn’t yet) so this is a lovely thing to have and helps the gallery, too.

Read my review here.

And “Hyphens & Hashtags*” by Claire Cock-Starkey was an excellent read about the history of symbols and glyphs, mostly found on the keyboard, some not, with a good theme pulled out of how these settled in the first place and have changed since.

Read my review here.

So that’s it, March in review and April to come. What was your best read of March and what are you looking forward to reading in April?

State of the TBR March 2021 plus many book confessions #ReadIndies #Dewithon21 @atilatstokbroka

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In February I read 13 books, a great total for me, out of which five were published by independent publishers for Kaggsy and Lizzy Siddall’s #ReadIndies month. The date for submitting reviews has been extended to 6 March (read more here) which makes me glad as I do have one (and one non-indie) book left to review that I read in February!

I realise with horror that the TBR starts with the same book it started with in February – however, I read books from all through the front shelf for #ReadIndies and so it definitely has a few extra on the right-hand side of the front shelf and has lost the mini-pile on the back row caused by there not being enough room for everything. So, all good. Honest. I did read a couple of Kindle books, too.

Coming up I have quite the reading roster! As well as the three review books in the right-hand pile to get finished and reviewed, I have Attila the Stockbroker’s new Collected Poems, “Heart on my Sleeve” which is launching on March 06 – I purchased it direct from his Bandcamp page although you can pre-order from all the usual outlets. Then I have my two Anne Tylers for the month, “Celestial Navigation” and “Searching for Caleb” (I have a new copy of the latter on its way as this one is really tatty and has an inscription from someone who is no longer in my life!).

I’m very happy to be able to take part in Dewithon21, otherwise known as Welsh Reading Month, in March (I can only seem to do one out of this and Read Ireland every March). More info here from BookJotter. Mike Parker’s “On the Red Hill”, about two gay couples who inhabit a house in the Welsh hills, I bought a good while ago when it came to my attention, and I purchased Will Hayward’s “Lockdown Wales” from indie publisher Seren Books earlier this month because I’ve been working on a book project about Wales and the Lockdown came up a lot, so I thought it would be a good memento – I’m not buying many lockdown books but this seemed very apt.

I’ll also be reading “Unspoken” by Guvna B, from NetGalley. Subtitled “Toxic Masculinity and How I Faced the Man Within the Man”, it’s the story of his upbringing on a London council estate and his engagement with the masculinities found there, and looks to be a profound and interesting book.

I’m not sure what else I will be reading apart from these nine books!! But I will definitely try to read some from my print TBR and some from my electronic one, both of which have grown, one a little more than the other …

Incomings

I had a lovely book post day on Friday when my Attila book arrived, and so did two books from lovely Kaggsy of the Bookishramblings (thank you!)

“Life in Translation” by Anthony Ferner is a novel about a translator which Heaven-Ali originally read and sent to Kaggsy, but I’d also put my name in the hat for it and so here it is! And Charlie Hill’s “I Don’t Want to go to the Taj Mahal” is a memoir of his upbringing in Moseley, the next-door suburb of Birmingham to mine (he’s also a friend of a friend) is one that Ali and I both want to read … Actually I must remember that at least one of those will work for Novellas in November when that rolls around …

Then I have won another NetGalley book, even though I’m trying to be careful with how many I request, having got my reviewing percentage safely above 80%. Anita Sethi’s “I Belong Here: A Journey Along the Backbone of Britain”, published in June, details her recovery from a racially motivated attack when she was walking in Northern England via keeping on getting out there and walking the Pennine Way, as a reassertion of her right as a brown woman to live in the UK and tread its open spaces. What a lovely cover and I’m very much looking forward to this, as I don’t feel I’ve explored much nature writing by Global Majority People.

And then, even though I very rarely use Amazon for print books, those 99p Kindle sales do appear to have got me rather, recently. Just this month, this has happened.

All but one of them are memoirs; I do have a thing for memoirs. “Boy Out of Time” by Hari Ziyad is a memoir of growing up Black and queer in Cleveland Ohio; Louise Wener’s “Just for One Day: Adventures in Britpop” and Bruce Dickinson’s “What Does This Button Do” offer very different music memoirs, the first about being in the band Sleeper (this was previously published as “Different for Girls”) and the second about being the front man of heavy metal band Iron Maiden as well as a pilot and radio presenter). Uzma Jalaluddin’s “Ayesha at Last” is a “Pride and Prejudice” retelling based in the Toronto Muslim community, Lee Mack’s “Mack the Life” is the comedian’s memoir and Pete Paphides’ “Broken Greek” tells of a life in music journalism that starts off in a chip shop a couple of miles from where I live. Fairly varied, then!

How was your February reading? Are you taking part in Dewithon or Reading Ireland Month, or any other Months?

 

State of the TBR February 2021 and Book Confessions #AnneTyler2021 #ReadIndies

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I completed ten books in January, not too bad, as I certainly had a lot of work to do (I mean, hooray, Brexit hasn’t scuppered my business, but I’m hoping I can rein the hours in a little bit this coming month). Two of those I haven’t reviewed yes, so watch for notes on those this coming week. I also managed to continue my trend of running just over 100 miles in the month, something I was really pleased with given the snow and ice we had in the second half of the month. And I had a lovely birthday.

I have had some incomings (see later) so the TBR is looking like this at the moment, no real proper piles but a small one on the back shelf of the newest books. Some have come off the pile that was in the oldest part of the TBR last month so all good progress I feel, and my NetGalley review percentage is back over 80% again.

I do have a slight issue in that a few books at the start of the TBR aren’t really suitable for reading over meals, so I’m darting around in the order a bit. Also, it’s all a bit monocultural at the front end so I’m hopping between the older and newer ones on the front shelf (and into the Kindle) to maintain some diversity. I’m currently reading “Girl” by Kenya Hunt, which is a set of very interesting essays by a Black woman who has lived in both the US and the UK, on the Kindle.

Next up

Next up I have these lovelies.

I’m already reading Isabella Tree’s “Wilding” a chapter a week with my best friend. Some of the chapters are proving quite “chewy” and full of theory and biology, but others are simpler to get through and we’re certainly enjoying and learning. Two review books: “Digging up Britain” by Mike Pitts is an examination of British archaeology through the lens of new techniques and theories, and I’m reading it for Shiny New Books, and I’ve been asked to read Peter Whitfield’s “Iris Murdoch: A Guide to the Novels” for the Iris Murdoch Society Review as it’s a book about her novels by someone just outside academia, as I am and was when I wrote my book about Irish Murdoch and the Common Reader.

Then, I have my next Anne Tyler 2021 project read, “A Slipping Down Life” – and I do actually remember reading this one first time round! If you’re interested in joining in with my Anne Tyler (re) reading project, do have a look at the project page and join in when/where you can – no pressure but I’m loving chatting about her novels and seeing what other people think of them! And the next book from the shelf is Danny MacAskill’s “At the Edge”, which is the story of his life as a trials cyclist and adventure / trick cyclist extraordinaire.

I also intend to read some books by independent publishers to join in with Kaggsysbookishramblings and LizzySiddal’s “Read Indies month“. So many of my books AREN’T by independent publishers, but just on the front shelf, I have one from Lonely Planet, a reprint from Jane Badger Books, three Persephones, a Dean Street Press, a British Library Publishing book and an Unbound book, plus a self-published one that came in recently, so hopefully I’ll be able to get to a few of those. Are you taking part in this challenge?

New books in

These four books rather bizarrely arrived on the same day! I have mentioned the Iris Murdoch one already. “Grayson’s Art Club” is Manchester Art Gallery’s catalogue of the Grayson Perry’s Art Club exhibition which was put together in association with his TV programme during Lockdown 1 – unfortunately I don’t think it ever went live but this lovely book details the pieces there and reproduces the conversations he had with various artists and arty celebrities during the show and is a lovely memento.

Paul Magrs has a new novel out, “Hunky Dory” about a cafe in Manchester and the diverse folk who haunt it and I cannot wait to read it, and lovely Ali gave me Dorothy Whipple’s “Random Commentary” from Persephone Books, which is a slim volume suitable for those who have read all her novels and need more – it took its time arriving but was very much appreciated.


Did you have a good start to your reading year? Doing any fun challenges?

State of the TBR January 2021 and reading stats / best books of 2020 #AnneTyler2021

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It’s finally time! I never do my Books of the Year until the first day of the new year, just in case I read something a-maz-ing in the bit between Christmas and the New Year. I’m aware you’ve already had a book review to read today – I meant to write that yesterday after finishing the book but we were having our boiler replaced and I was sitting in my study with two cats and reading on a chair rather than typing on a swiss ball. So one review for 2020 came out in 2021 which is untidy but unavoidable. More horror to come when you see how  many books carried over into this year when I claim I like to finish a book with the end of the year …

So here is my TBR as it stood at the end of December. Actually not too bad, although in one of a run of slight disappointments (I mean, having no hot water or central heating for a week over Christmas makes light of reading issues but still) I had not achieved one-shelf-TBR status or even “I have read all the books I received for Christmas last year” status as I had hoped. But I was down to one and a half shelves and no piles.

This is after I added all my lovely acquisitions from Christmas (they go on the back shelf and everything else shuffles round). So it all still fits, right??? I have added “Digging up Britain” to the pile to read first – this is a lovely review book I’ve received and probably not mentioned. Anyway, there it is, State of the TBR.

Even worse than all this excess is the fact that I’ve found myself reading THREE books over the turn of the year. Three.

“Homesick: Why I Live in a Shed” by Catriona Davies, bought at the Edge of the World Bookshop in Penzance in October 2019, is a great read but a bit raw for dinner time, hence starting a NetGalley book published today, Ryan La Sala’s “Be Dazzled”, set in the fascinating world of cosplay crafting. “Wilding” by Isabella Tree is my latest readalong with best friend Emma; we started it on New Year’s Eve and it will take us through a few months I would expect.

Up next is of course my first Anne Tyler of my (re) reading project for this year! The project page is here and I will add links to people’s reviews to the page as we go and enjoy the chat in the comments, too.  I’ll be reading two of the novels a month, in order of publication, adding in the final two at the end of the year (once I’ve got “Redhead at the Side of the Road” in paperback to match the others!

This is a deeply odd copy of “If Morning Ever Comes” which I bought in April 2000 – what’s with all the Edwardian ladies. Anyway, I’m very much looking forward to re-reading this one which I must have read a few months after acquisition. I hope a few of my readers will be joining me in one or two if not all of them!

2020 stats

For the second time, I’ve kept breakdowns of various book stats. I will try to compare them with 2019 as I go.

In 2020 I read 159 (116 in 2019) books, of which 83 (62) were fiction and 76 (59) non-fiction. So just a bit more fiction, unsurprisingly as I hid in some when times got tough! 94 (79) were by women, 56 (35) by men, 8 (1) by both (multiple authors) and 1 (1) by a non-gender-binary person.

Where did my books come from? Lots more from bookshops online this year, which was down to the pandemic with the new ones I read, I would imagine (not just Amazon, but Hive and Bookshop.org). Lots of gifts still.

bookshop online 31
gift 26
netgalley 21
charity shop 18
publisher 17
from publisher 11
bookshop physical 8
bookshop online secondhand 8
bought from publisher 5
Bookcrossing 4
bookshop secondhand physical 3
lent 2
book signing event 1
author 1
from shelves 1
won 1
bought from author 1

Most books by far were set in the UK 99 (74) with the US second 24 (17) and then 12 other countries plus  fantasy worlds and the whole world.

I read books by 76 (53) different publishers, the most common being Virago (13, down to Angela Thirkells) and Dean Street Press (10 – review copies (thank you!) and gifts) .

I read most books published in 2020 (39), which is down to Shiny and NetGalley. I read books from many different years, recent ones a lot but a little bump from 2009 and 2010. All decades from the 1890s were represented.

Onto diversity of authors and themes. 79.25% (88%) of the authors I read were white (as far as I could tell), with 12% People of Colour (I put everyone who was non-white in this category after a lot of fretting) and 1.26% a mix of White and POC authors. The UK is apparently 87% / 13% so I was pleased to increase my diversity count this year. 121 authors were British and 26 American, the others from 9 other countries or a mix. Out of the 159 books I read, I assigned a diversity theme to 43 of them (39/116 last year but I changed what I recorded, not counting Women’s Issues), so 21 (8) about race, 8 (6) LGBTQI+ issues and 10 covering both, 3 disability and 1 LGBTQI+ and disability, none about class. This doesn’t meant such themes didn’t come up in other books, just that they weren’t the main theme. As I wished last year, my intersectional reading has gone up.

Top 16 books of 2020

And finally, my top sixteen! Well, that represents just over 10% of my reading, so I think that’s OK. Links to reviews. 12 women and 4 men (about right), 10 non-fiction and 6 fiction (although I read a lot of fiction this year and it was all good, a lot of it was light escapist reads). These are in order of reading in fiction then non-fiction, not of rating!

Abi Daré – “The Girl with the Louding Voice” – astounding, poignant and optimistic portrait of a young girl creating herself

Bernadine Evaristo – “Mr Loverman” – what a memorable character, but his wife gets her own story, too

Candice Carty-Williams – “Queenie” – you love her, you fear for her, you grow with her

Brit Bennett – “The Vanishing Half” – updating “Passing” for the 21st century, an astounding work

Dorothy Evelyn Smith – “Miss Plum and Miss Penny” – the dark undertones beneath staid village life

Paul Magrs – “Christmassy Tales” – I’ve so enjoyed my Magrsathon this year, but this was an outstanding collection of stories I absolutely loved

Lennie Goodings – “A Bite of the Apple” – her story and the story of Virago Press

Helen Lewis – “Difficult Women” – a great work of synthesis and reclamation of women’s stories

Margot Lee Shetterly – “Hidden Figures” – so much more than the film, but complementing it beautifully

Emma Dabiri – “Don’t Touch my Hair” – the personal and the historical come together: I learnt so much from this book

Philip Marsden – “Rising Ground” – love of landscape and fascinating information

Jacky Klein (with Grayson Perry) – “Grayson Perry” – the definitive massive book of his career, with input from the artist

Jon Bloomfield – “Our City” – and my city, too, a magnificent work on the immigrant populations of Birmingham

Stephen Rutt – “Wintering” – made me think of geese in a new way

Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené – “Slay in your Lane” – such an important survey of young Black women’s lives and experiences, done so well

Reni Eddo-Lodge – “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” – a readalong with Emma that benefitted from a slower read – uncomfortable in places; vital

Honourable mention to the lovely publishers Dean Street Press for their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint (one represented here; many more read and enjoyed) and British Library Publishing for their Women Writers series – both are reliably excellent and I’m also grateful for the review copies as well as the gifts from friends, it’s been a year with big stand-outs but there’s a joy in knowing you can go for an imprint and know you will have a good time. Thank you for that.


So there we go. I know you’ve already published your books of the year if you’re a book blogger and I promise I’ll look at them soon! Happy new year!

State of the TBR November 2020 plus incomings and the schedule for All Of Anne Tyler next year #AnneTyler2021 @DeanStPress @BL_Publishing #BLWomenWriters

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Well, the standard TBR has actually gone down, although not as much as I would have wished. An actual gap, right? “Motherland” is still at the end of the front row.

I completed 13 books in October, even though I had a week off at the beginning of the month, which was a little disappointing, especially as only four of them were from this physical standard TBR (the rest being made up of Kindle, usually NetGalley, books and review books that came in, plus two off the pile of Books Where I Have Another One In The Series). I did also DNF two books from this shelf, which is why the gap is so substantial. Anyway, 13 books is not nothing and I read some great ones of course!

New in!

I’ve been very lucky in terms of review books coming in this week (mostly on one day, actually!). British Library Publishing have kindly sent me two more of their beautifully patterned and tactile Women Writers series. Mary Essex’ “Tea is So Intoxicating” has a village divided when a man suddenly decides to open up a tea-garden, and in “O, The Brave Music” by Dorothy Evelyn Smith, we have a coming of age story set just before World War One. Both of these have the usual marvellous introductions and afterwords as well as being lovely objects in themselves.

I was also offered a look through the British Library’s publishing catalogue and chose Polly Russell and Margaretta Jolly (eds.) “Unfinished Business: The Fight for Women’s Rights” which is a truly glorious book published to accompany the exhibition but a marvellous object and record in its own right:

From personal diaries, banners and protest fashion to subversive literature, film, music and art, no topic is too taboo: Unfinished Business presents how women and their allies have fought for equality with passion, imagination, humour and tenacity.

The exhibition is on at the British Library until 21 Feb if you can possibly get there (info here, lockdown will alter this of course).

Thank you so much to British Library Publishing for sending me these – “Unfinished Business” is destined for a Shiny New Books review and I will share about it here, too.

The lovely folks at Dean Street Press are publishing a lovely new tranche of books in their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint in January, concentrating on the works of Margery Sharp and Stella Gibbons, and while I was busy adding them all to my wishlist, I’ve received e-book copies of Gibbons’ “A Pink Front Door”, about a woman who can’t say no to a series of misfits who need her help, and Sharp’s first novel, eye-wateringly rare to get hold of before this publication, with a highbrow family dealing with a decidedly middlebrow sister. You can read about all the new novels on the Furrowed Middlebrow blog here and I cannot WAIT to read these!

Currently reading and coming up

When I got to the end of my last NetGalley book and got into a sort of state of being totally unable to make a decision (review book from the physical pile? NetGalley book? Angela Thirkell, oldes book, newest book?), I decide to pick off two lovely Dean Street Press books, “Mrs Tim Gets a Job and Mrs Tim Flies Home” – I finished the first earlier today and the second is the current read, along with the very interesting “Work” from Bloomsbury, which is a lovely hardback and not suitable for lounging over a pizza with. Watch this space for notification of my Shiny review of that one.

Coming up, I am taking part in two challenges this month. Australia Reading Month, run by Brona, is what it says, and I’ve been saving up Ada Cambridge’s “The Three Miss Kings”, published by Virago, for AGES so I could join in.

I doubt that’s the only novel I’ll be reading this month (see above!) but I will also be concentrating on nonfiction for NonFiction November, which I so enjoyed doing last year. I have prepared my initial post for tomorrow and laid out some books I will definitely be reading – “The Good Immigrant” UK and US editions, edited by Nikesh Shukla, with Chimene Suley for the US one, which are collected essays on the immigrant experience in the two countries, continuing my reading of direct lived immigrant experiences; “The Secret Teacher” which opens the lid of a school and a young teacher; “On the Marsh” by Simon Barnes, which follows his owning and care for some marshland with an element of rewilding; and “Homesick” by Catrina Davies, which mixes sociology and nature, exploring why she ended up living in a shed on her parents’ land in Cornwall. Some good themes there, I thought, and there will be more nonfiction, too.

All of Anne Tyler in 2021

I’ve been talking about this for ages, but I’ve finally got round to setting out a project page to support my re-reading (and some new reading) of all of Anne Tyler’s novels in order next year. Exciting! I’m going to read two per month and people are totally free to join in with as few or as many as they want to do. I need to wait for “Redhead by the Side of the Road” to come out in paperback then I’ll do a new picture. Meanwhile, see the page here for the schedule and do let me know if you’re joining in / my instructions are clear.


Whew, a busy post and a busy upcoming month. What are you getting up to in November reading-wise? Any more challenges?

State of the TBR October 2020

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We have no piles! I finished eighteen books (EIGHTEEN BOOKS!) in September (one was one I’d been reading for months with my best friend and one was a cartoon book, but still) and even though only five of those were from the physical shelf (five were ebooks, three review books that came in during the month, four were off the piles on top and one was from my main shelves) and I took one off that I just did not fancy reading (“Julian Grenfell” by Nicolas Moseley, a Persephone I bough in Oxfam, which I will gift onwards) it was enough to shift things around so that everything can stand up.

In fact, can you see, at the end … there’s a GAP! I can’t remember when I last had a space for one book on the TBR without creating Piles! And there aren’t many balanced on the top now, either, just three WW2 Angela Thirkell novels left to go!

I’m just finishing off the wonderful “Kitted Out” which I am reviewing for Shiny New Books, that will be done by the end of the day, and I’m currently reading “Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey” by Madeleine Bunting, which is a wonderful book taking its time on each of about 20 islands, with history and reportage and nature, and Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” is my current readalong with best friend Emma. We’ve covered the first chapter so far – I did know a fair bit of the history it covers, much thanks to David Olusoga et al’s excellent Alt HIstory strand “Black British History We’re Not Taught in Schools“, but not all of it by any means, so I learned a lot about Black support organisations and fascinating individuals and I’m looking forward to reading more tonight.

Next up I need to read “Slay in Your Lane” by by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené, which shared stories of successful Black British women and offers advice to Black women wishing to follow their paths, because I won their follow-up book, “Loud Black Girls”, where 20 writers ask what’s next on NetGalley and that’s published today. Then my Paul Magrsathon carries on with “666 Charing Cross Road” which I’ve selected because Bookish Beck can get hold of a copy and it fits into her plan for spooky October reading. Also recently published in Arvin Ahmadi’s “How it All Blew Up”, another NetGalley win, which is described thus: “A nuanced take on growing up brown, Muslim and gay in today’s America, HOW IT ALL BLEW UP is the story of one boy’s struggle to come out to his family, and how that painful process exists right alongside his silly, sexy romp through Italy. “

And after that, as I’m now beautifully almost only a year behind myself, and as the books on the start of my TBR, with one notable exception, are a bit samey – monocultural to an extent, and mainly about nature! – whereas the newest ones are a bit more diverse in all ways, I think I might start alternating again, especially now I can get to the back shelf without moving Piles. I do of course still have a million books on Kindle too, so those will feature as well, and I know of at least two review books winging their way to me. Fun times!

I have a week off work next week so hope for a good batch of reading then. Not going anywhere as I’m in the middle of the Midlands extra lockdown region and very near some big hotspots, so no day trips or meeting up with friends in their houses or gardens, let alone holidays, but some clearing out and, yes, lots of reading …

Have you read any of these featured books? What are your October reading plans? Any challenges?

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

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

September 01 2020 TBR

Currently reading

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

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

Coming up next …

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

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

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

Book confession!

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

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