Christmas acquisitions, state of the TBR January 2019 AND books of the year 2018


Sorry, not sorry, you were either going to get two posts close together or one ginormous one … so here’s the ginormous one. We need to cover Christmas acquisitions, the current state of the TBR caused by these, and my books of the year or I’ll never get them done. Ready?

First of all, I want to share the brilliant state my TBR got into before the influx. Look at it! That’s what having a cold does for your reading …

At least this meant the acquisitions could fit in …

And here they are. Arriving on 20 December were three lovely books from my BookCrossing Birmingham Not so Secret Santa (Lorraine):

David Leboff and Tim Dermuth – “No Need to Ask!” about London Underground maps before the famous one.

Simon Winchester – “Outposts” – about the last pieces of the British Empire.

Stella Gibbons – “Conference at Cold Comfort Farm” – a sequel to “Cold Comfort Farm”!

Then from the lovely Cate for my LibraryThing Virago Group not so Secret Santa (along with a great Virago mug):

Angela Thirkell – “Miss Bunting”, “Northbridge Rectory”, “Marling Hall” and “Before Lunch” – all lovely Virago reissues.

From lovely friends:

Pamela Brown – “Golden Pavements” in the lovely Blue Door Theatre Company reissues.

Diana Wynne Jones – “Howl’s Moving Castle”

Sheila Wilkinson – “Too Many Ponies” – novel set at a horse rescue

Annon Shea – “The Phone Book” – I do love a ‘quest’ book and here he reads and discusses, yes, you guessed it …

Jeannette Winterson – “Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere” – her and original suffragette essays

Tony Wilson – “24 Hour Party People” because there has to be a music book in there somewhere

John Sutherland (ed.) – “Literary Landscapes” – about the landscapes novels and novelists inhabit

Dorothy Whipple – “Young Anne” (Persephone) – how did I not have this already?

Lucky me!!

And after they went onto the TBR shelf …

Uh-oh. So a double-stacked shelf NEARLY to the end on both stacks, plus a million Iris Murdochs and the Pile relegated to the lower shelf (large fancy Tolkien book just seen, too). Ulp.

My next two books to read are Tirzah Garwood’s “Long Live Great Bardfield” (the Persephone) and to be fair on me that’s my last Christmas 2017 book to be read, and Iris Murdoch’s “The Black Prince” which I will get read and reviewed earlier than the 26th of January, after December’s failings …

Then I do have some books on the Kindle to read, including one more lovely Dean Street Press book (I have read Elizabeth Eliot’s fabulous “Alice” now as my last book of the year: watch out for the review tomorrow.

Coming up after / amongst those, here’s the beginning of the TBR shelf, so I have a book about swimming (Ian Thorpe’s “This is Me”), a book about kayaking (and nature and personal life changes: Alys Fowler – “Hidden Nature” which was a birthday book), a book about the Riot Grrrl movement in music (Sara Marcus’ “Girls to the Front”), a book about a charlady in New York (Paul Gallico – “Mrs Harris Goes to New York”), a retelling of a Shakespeare play (Anne Tyler’s “Vinegar Girl”) and a book about Greenland (Gretel Erlich’s “This Cold Heaven”) so a representative range of my reading tastes (maybe).

Moving on to …

Reading stats and BEST BOOKS of 2018

Are you still with me? Sorry about this …

OK, so in 2018 I read 115 books, down from 141 in 2017 (however, I wasn’t laid up for a month after an operation this year). I read 59 non-fiction books and 56 fiction, which is the first time I’ve read more non-fiction than fiction for years and years (I wonder if it’s down to my non-fic reviewing for Shiny New Books). I read 39 books by men, 75 books by women and one by one of each and this is slightly more balanced than last year, where I read twice as many books by women as by men.

So here’s my TOP 10 this year, with two highly commended reads and one reader I will be reading more of. I’m not sure why there are more books by men than women here, or why the novels are all by women. Maybe I just read more (good) non-fiction by men. Here they are, in the order in which I read them. No re-reads on there and The Works of Iris Murdoch are a category in themselves of course!

Lucy Mangan – Bookworm – childhood reading experiences that almost matched mine in terms of the books read – magical

Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run – amazing autobiography, open, honest, funny and detailed

Angie Thomas – The Hate U Give – astoundingly good YA fiction on such an important topic

Neil Taylor – Document and Eyewitness – the story of Rough Trade Records, beautifully put together

Dan Hancox – Inner City Pressure – excellent work on the story of grime music

Benjamin Zephaniah – The Life and Rhymes Of – wonderful autobiography

Peter Ginna (ed.) – What Editors Do – essays that were so absorbing and wonderful

Thomas Williams – Viking Britain – undoes all the prejudices, absorbing and fun to read

Barbara Kingsolver – Unsheltered – she’s always in my top 10 and this zeitgeisty novel was brilliant

Kevin Crossley-Holland (and Jeffrey Alan Love) – Norse Myths – because how can a book on this topic, written like that and illustrated like that not be there?

Highly commended:

Katherine Findlay – The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward – commended for an amazing job of editing and putting together an excellent book

Ben Smith – 401 – commended for being a brilliant bloke who did a marvellous thing, is lovely, and mentions my running club and has a photo in the book that includes one of my friends

Will read more:

Robert MacFarlane – I read The Old Ways this year and loved it, then was discombobulated by him being younger than me. Why, I don’t know. But I am going to seek out his other works because they’re just magical

So there we go. I read a million running books and none of them makes it into the Top 10 – but then almost all the books I read this year were good, so do go back and have a poke around through the archives!



State of the TBR – December 2018 (and a small confession)


Well I’d been doing very well with my reading, having read all my paper books for review that were previously reclining on top of the TBR shelf and eight books in total (and took one off that I didn’t want to read). And actually the problem I  have of more TBR is a lovely problem, because dear Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings has just sent me a Lovely Parcel (see below).

So here’s the current state of the TBR.

I mean, I’ve still got room for the pile, right, so it can’t be that bad.

This is the reason for it all moving around a bit:

So we have Margery Sharp’s “The Eye of Love,” Ellen Wilkinson’s (her of the Jarrow March) “Clash”, and two Henry Handel Richardsons: “Maurice Guest” and “The Getting of Wisdom”. All lovely Viragoes, too!

Reading at the moment and coming up shortly, I’m very much enjoying Samantha Ellis’ “How to be a Heroine” and would have finished it already were it not for my strange hobby of standing in muddy fields pointing the way or writing down numbers. Next up is “The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward,” edited by the lovely Katherine Findlay, and then it will be the next Iris Murdoch Readalong read, “An Accidental Man” (14th out of 26 of her books, so I feel we’re already sliding towards the end!).

I’m aware I haven’t addressed the horrendousness of the Kindle TBR recently and I know there are some books on there I won from NetGalley and need to work on. I’m also behind on reading everyone’s blog posts (sorreeee!) and as I’ve got heaps and heaps of work on at the moment, I think I’m just going to have to give up on watching TV in December or something to get everything read!

Then the next books on the shelf, which still include some from Christmas last year, include “The Little Bookshop of Big Stone Gap”, “The book for Forgotten Authors” and “Long Live Great Bardfield (the great big Persephone) as well as Stella Gibbons; “Westwood”, kindly sent to me by Verity. Then we have two I picked up between Christmas and my birthday before we start on the birthday books.

What are you reading this month? Do you have any special December reading rituals?

State of the TBR – October 2018 #amreading


Apologies for posting twice in one day – I know it’s all feast or famine with me at the moment. I got behind with my Iris Murdoch post but I don’t like this one not to be on the first of the month! I’ll not keep you long …

Well, I don’t think the TBR is that bad at the moment, although I’m not sure how that’s happened (OK, I moved two Paul Magrs novels to the Pile so I have the set together) as I only read SIX BOOKS last month. Shocking! I have almost finished another two, and one of those and one of the six was quite a hefty non-fiction read, but still. I will have to remedy that.

I’m currently reading Dean Karnazes’ “Run” (I will just say here that he is the complete polar opposite of me as a runner in every way there can be – not a bad thing, but sometimes an uncomfortable reading experience, however … I might be becoming more similar to him in one way quite soon (no that doesn’t involve running with few clothes on!), watch this space for my next Book Confessions. The other read is Charles Thomas’ excellent and learned book on the archaeology and history of the Isles of Scilly, homework for our trip later this year, and I’m almost finished with that one, too. Very good, with some interesting annotations, too!

Up next we have a couple of November purchases (I’m slightly pushing back against “Run Fast” as that’s not my schtick, but maybe there are some hints for running strong, which I do like to do) and then Christmas books, with some lovely and surprising not so secret Santa books and the last one from dear Verity’s parcel. Plus, early on, “Bruno’s Dream” as I felt terrible reviewing my last Iris Murdoch so late!

How was your September reading? What have you got planned for October? Have you somehow booked yourself to run an ultramarathon next summer? No, only me and Bernice …?

State of the TBR – September 2018 #amreading


Oops. Well, I have read nine books from the standing-up books and one from the Murdoch pile but I’ve also had quite a few book confessions this month. Oh well, my new plan of trying not to work at the weekends is going well, so I do have more reading time, and I can’t wait to get stuck into lots of these. Actually, it’s not as bad as it has been, as I note I can fit the whole Pile in at the side in its normal order, not with the shorter books carefully at the bottom and the bigger ones overhanging!

What’s up next? Gurjinder Basran’s “Everything was Good-Bye” is literally waiting on the kitchen table for me to start. It’s the final book in my #20BooksOfSummer project (see the list and all the reviews here) and it seems fitting that I did manage to fill August with Viragoes and Persephones (and one Iris Murdoch) as I’d planned, for All Virago (and Persephone) / All August, and am starting this final read in time to (hopefully) finish it by the end of Monday, when the challenge ends.

Then, although I’ve got lots of lovely books coming up (and some to review, see below), I can’t help but think that I’ll be diving into Murdoch’s “The Nice and the Good”, one that I adore and am really looking forward to re-reading again. Whatever happens, it will be read and reviewed early in the month.

I’m not sure whether I’ve shared these three brilliant review books with you. Kindly sent by the publishers to review on Shiny New Books, they all look like the kind of read I’m going to have a personal, emotional connection to, so I’ve arranged to do a full review on here and then a more serious and literary review for Shiny (thank you, lovely Editors, for allowing me to do that). Thomas Williams’ “Viking Britain” deals with the history of the Vikings in Britain (oddly enough) and looks fascinating and readable. Cathy Newman’s “Bloody Brilliant Women” deals with unsung heroines of the 20th century, and Joni Seager’s “The Women’s Atlas” (which I know I haven’t told you about, as it arrived yesterday) looks at various reproductive, safety and health statistics for women worldwide and presents them in an accessible infographic form – it will be of course both depressing and uplifting, but it’s certainly an important book and looks to have been done excellently.

I have also got a few NetGalley books that are coming out soon; notably, Ingrid Fetell Lee’s “Joyful” (about being more … joyful, taking joy from small things etc.), Roxane Gay (ed.) “Not that Bad” (a book of essays about rape and sexual assault, again, necessary if uncomfortable and dispiriting), Nancy Campbell’s “The Library of Ice” (travel in the ice of the Far North, I saw this reviewed on Bookjotter’s blog and she kindly gave me a link when I couldn’t find it myself!) and “Life Honestly” which is a collection of essays and writings from the writers at The Pool (I love their honest articles so this looked great). These are all not out yet; I do have a shameful backlog of books published a while ago now.

Coming up apart from all these review copies, this is the beginning of my actual TBR – running, memoir, light reading, mid-century reading, a book on E Nesbit (ee!) and two books that got a lot of blogspace when they first came out but I’ve come to later in their lives. And yes, anyone with an eagle eye or the patience to search or an eidetic memory will note that in this picture I get up to CHRISTMAS 2017! So there’s an achievement of sorts.

As I’m usually in a few Not-so-secret Santas which start building up in September/October, this is traditionally a time of reading and not buying, but I’m not going to limit myself in that way as we all know what that leads to.

Anything catch your eye here? Anything you’ve read and can’t wait for me to read?


State of the TBR – August 2018 #amreading


Well, due to only somehow reading eight books last month, even though I had a week off work (although to be fair, the Henry II one, the editing one and “The Old Ways” were all pretty substantial), five of which came off the physical TBR, and having made some acquisitions, the TBR shelf is not looking all that tiny and delicate at the moment.

Oops! Still, as you can see, I can still fit the Pile on the shelf, with a bit of room to spare (the last book on the front row is the red one with a band of black across it), and Christmas 2017 is now almost all on the front, which is exciting.

I haven’t been doing brilliantly with #20BooksOfSummer – you can see the full list and progress here, but basically it runs 1 June – 3 Sept and the book pictured here is Book number 11. I wanted to have finished Book 12 by now and be ready to go into All Virago (and Persephone) / All August. Anyway, this is a fab read that I’m half-way through already: Becky Wade graduated from university and got a travel scholarship to go around the world visiting different running cultures and she’s in Switzerland at the moment, having visited the UK and Ireland, and it’s as much about the club and competition structure as it is about running styles, so really interesting.

Coming up soon will be my IMReadalong project book for this month, the deliciously weird and creepy “The Time of the Angels” (failed priest runs deconsecrated church in foggy London: scared me silly the first time I read it in my teens). This is Book 10 in my Iris Murdoch readalong and I’m SO enjoying it and am really glad I’ve done it again. There’s plenty of time to join in; I’ve made a collection of all my reviews and roundups on this page and I really don’t mind when people read the books as long as they read them! I think I’ll try to get to this fairly soon, as I do like to leave a nice lot of room for debate and discussion.

After that (or around that), we have this lovely lot for All Virago (etc.) / All August. I did panic a bit when I reviewed their size, but actually all except one (OK, the heftiest tome) are novels, and two of them are Angela Thirkells, for goodness’ sakes! I think I can do it, do you? Then there will be one slim novel left to do right at the beginning of September as the 20th Book of Summer. Hm.

Did you have a good reading month in July? What are you getting up to in August? I know a fair few other people are dipping into AV / AA even if they’re not doing it totally, and lots of people are doing Women in Translation month, while I appear to have precisely no Women in Translation on my TBR shelf!

Happy reading!


State of the TBR June 2018 and #20BooksOfSummer TBR


Hooray, it’s that time of year when we all put our 20BooksOfSummer TBR piles together – I like to know where I am before I start taking the front of my TBR into it, so always save it up until the last minute to plan. First of all, though, here’s the current state of the TBR.

Of course, its magnificence is due to my book token spending spree the other week, and is absolutely FINE.

I’m currently reading Paul Theroux’s “Deep South”. After not enjoying many of the essays in his later book, I was approaching this with concern, but you know what? It’s BRILLIANT. It’s so good. He goes back to places, something he’s not really done before (OK, he did his “Ghost Train to the Eastern Star” trip, which retraced “Riding the Iron Rooster”, but this time it’s over the course of a year) and is humane, concerned and warm. It’s the only book I’m reading at the moment, but coming up next will be Iris Murdoch’s “The Italian Girl” for my #IMReadalong and the first book in my 20BooksOf Summer. Here’s the traditional start of my TBR, what’s coming next pic. Oh, and this is important, see how absolutely TINY the next Iris Murdoch is.

20 Books of Summer 2018

Run by the lovely Cathy at 746 Books every year (here‘s her introductory post), 20BooksOfSummer sees a whole load of us reading, well, 20 books from 1 June to 3 September every year. I’ve been taking part since 2015 (not always successfully) and you can see my master page, where I pull together my reviews and round-up here.

I’m being really quite ambitious this year. My PILE is drawn solely from my TBR and doesn’t include Kindle books (I know I have at least three or four to read for NetGalley) or the three Iris Murdoch books I’ll read for #IMreadalong. I am including eight books for August which will also participate in All Virago (and Persephone) / All August, which I do with the LibraryThing Virago Group every year. And I reckon I can do it, especially as I’m trying hard to address my work/life balance, so HAVING to read is a good thing.

So, here’s the pile, I’ll be reading it from bottom up, so it’s lucky it lives sensibly on my shelves, not lounging around on the duvet, as here …

William Sitwell – “Eggs or Anarchy” – The story of how Lord Woolton, Minister for Food, fed Britain during WWII

Amit Katwala – “The Athletic Brain” – About how neuroscience is revolutionising sports science and can apparently even help amateur sportspeople at all levels.

Vikas Swarup – “The Accidental Apprentice” – His more famous novel is Q&A, filmed as Slumdog Millionaire. In this one, an ordinary sales assistant is swept up to become a CEO by a billionaire, but why and will she pass his seven tests?

George Eliot – “Scenes of Clerical Life” – One of the few Eliots I haven’t read now, her earliest stories of religion, power and love.

David Weir – “Weirwolf” – The autobiography of the amazing athlete who’s won everything from the London marathon multiple times to Paralympics medals at different distances.

Robert McFarlane – “The Old Ways” – I think everyone in the world except for me has read this, where he follows the old tracks, hollow ways, drovers’ paths etc. of Britain.

Clare Balding – “Walking Home” – Not a second volume of autobiography but more walking, this time around modern Britain, meeting people. This will either go really well with / contrast with the McFarlane or I’ll get heartily sick of all the walking and have to swap the order!

Gillian Tindall – “The Tunnel Through Time” – Looks at the archaeological and sociological evidence uncovered by the building of Crossrail in London as well as historical sources to show who walked those routes and when.

Christopher McDougall – “Born to Run” – I think all runners who read have probably read this seminal text on barefoot and ultrarunning (and barefoot ultrarunning), something I really don’t want to do but find fascinating.

Peter Ginna (ed.) – “What Editors Do” – Includes a chapter by my friend Katharine O’Moore-Klopf and loads of detail about the work of the editor.

Prajwal Parajuly – “Land Where I Flee” – Phew, another bit of fiction at last! Three expats fly back to Sikkim for their grandmother’s birthday. Will they gain her blessing and retain their sanity and escape again?

Becky Wade – “Run the World” – Reports on running cultures from around the world, some of which I’ve already read about, some of which will be new to me. I see that I skipped over another expat fiction work in the TBR to read yet another running book …

And the Viragoes and Persephones for August. First some Viragoes:

Ellen Glasgow – “Barren Ground” – A 1925 novel detailing the life of a Virginia woman who survives an early disappointment to build her own life.

Ann Bridge – “Peking Picnic” – Her first novel, a diplomat’s wife realises the contrast between China and England, along with a cast of fellow English people. She’s such a witty writer and conveys place so well.

Angela Thirkell – “Summer Half” – New teacher Colin Keith encounters the terrifying Tony Morland and comedy in the school and village ensues.

Angela Thirkell – “The Brandons” – More Barsetshire comedy, with widow Lavinia Brandon batting away suitors while trying to matchmake for the vicar.

Then three Persephones

Tirzah Garwood – “Long Live Great Bardfield” – Wood engraver Garwood wrote this in 1942 as German planes circled overhead, telling of her art and her marriage to Eric Ravilious and the circle of artists around them. I hope this is good because it’s really thick! I’ve just realised this might just fill another year in my poor old Century of Books!

Joanna Cannan – “Princes in the Land” – The mother of the Pullein-Thompson pony-book sisters on a woman whose life is centred around her children, who gradually move away from her. Ali reviewed this back in 2016 and was very enthusiastic.

Diana Tutton – “Guard Your Daughters” – The One Simon from Stuck-in-a-Book is always pressing onto people (rather successfully!) so I had to get it when Persephone published it. A young girl in a family of sisters narrates their odd life – hard to resist anyway!

Enid Bagnold – “The Loved and Envied” – Set in France, Lady MacLean is a fading beauty, still with her courtiers. A slim Virago, received just the other week.

What do you think of my choices? Do you think I’ll get through them all? Are you doing 20BooksOfSummer, too?

State of the TBR May 2018


Well, I read 14 books in April (OK, one was a children’s book, one was a Georgette Heyer and one was a Debbie Macomber, which helped, and I also had marathon taper time and a cold and marathon recovery time to do Reading). So the TBR isn’t looking too shoddy (the red and white book on a slant represents the end of the front shelf.

I would say I’m currently reading both of these, but in fact I finished the second story in the Debbie Macomber over lunch today, after I’d done my TBR photographing. I still have one from April to review, too (Yusra Mardini’s “Butterfly”, about her journey from Syria as a refugee determined to continue her swimming training). Halldor Laxness’ “The Fish Can Sing” is a bit of an odd one, about a boy growing up in a weird boarding house in pre-development Reykjavik, but it has lovely echoes of the sagas in it so I’m persisting with it.

Up next are these four, well, I’ve started “Oh, my God, What a Complete Aisling” on the Kindle already as it’s out on Thursday. Marian Keyes apparently loves it and it’s a country mouse turns city girl transformation story and amusing so far. I added Beverley Nichols’ “The Tree that Sat Down” to my somewhat ill-fated Dewey’s Readathon pile and didn’t get to it; it’s one of the replacement copies I have recently treated myself to after finding the anti-cat pee treatment didn’t QUITE work in the 1990s and it’s tempting me. The next Iris Murdoch is the marvellous “The Unicorn”, one I remember loving each time I’ve read it (for more, see my preview post here). and I have “Islamic Civilization in Thirty Lives” by Chase F. Robinson, which I was trying to save until I’d finished a job in a similar subject area, but is out this month and being reviewed for Shiny New Books.  A nice varied set of books, though, right?

Coming up after those and two more out-in-May NetGalley books (Paul Theroux’ “Figures in a Landscape” and Dan Hancox’ “Inner City Pressure”, so a book of travel pieces and a history of UK grime music respectively) I have these lovelies (yes, indeed, you wait for a Paul Theroux for years and then two come along). So, classics (Jane Austen’s Juvenalia is the first one), travel, social history (cooking in WWII), sport, novel set in India, classic (Eliot’s “Scenes from Clerical Life”) and sport.

No challenges in May that I recall, just my own Iris Murdoch Readalong, which I am still loving.

What are you reading now? And next? Any challenges?




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