Book review – E. Nesbit – “The Lark” (Furrowed Middlebrow) #books #amreading


I was very fortunate to be sent this in hard copy by the lovely team at Dean Street Press – it’s one of their new Furrowed Middlebrow titles (Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow has blogged about the upcoming titles here). I also have e-books of a whole load of their Elizabeth Fair titles, which is super-exciting and I’ll be getting to those soon. Left is the lovely book accompanied by some new notebooks that also arrived when I was in Iceland – oops, looks like my book reviewing and stationery buying secrets are out! But aren’t these books pretty, with their frame of a house and subtle colours.

E. Nesbit – “The Lark”

(25 February 2017)

An incredibly charming and joyful read; it’s one of Nesbit’s adult novels but the two heroines are still young and naive and lively and you can imagine quite easily that they’re the children from one of her books for younger readers, just a bit more grown up.

Our heroines, Jane and Lucilla, cousins, are suddenly removed from the school where they’ve been languishing, waiting for their exciting lives to begin, by their mysterious guardian, who has lost their inheritance and left them with just a small house and a smaller amount of capital. But Jane, the more dominant and talkative of the two, is determined to see everything as a “lark”, and they are nothing if not resourceful. So, revelling in the new post-WWI freedoms afforded to young women (sometimes even travelling around London without a chaperone, meeting strange young men, but oh, so innocently), they have small but delightful adventures, setting themselves up as businesswomen, eschewing any attentions they might get from the young men who seem to suddenly surround them, and setting up a floristry business which somehow develops into a guest house with some rather odd guests and several difficulties with servants. I particularly liked all the detail here of exactly how they set things up, something I always appreciate in a novel.

There are disguises, revelations and yes, some love interest, mostly rebuffed, it has to be said, and very innocent. There’s also an excellent portrayal of female friendship – in all its up and downs – here, which is very well done, and reminds me of the well-drawn sibling relationships in her children’s novels. There’s also some charming metafiction: at the point where explanations are needed, the author interpolates to point out that she’s going to insert them, and there’s a discussion later in the book about whether real-life chaps are the “loverish” heroes that they have to be in books to give the books interest.

The book as a whole makes real the life-affirming statement that life’s a lark so long as you have enough to live on. Our heroines’ hard work is rewarded, as is the hard work of other characters, but it’s not preachy and is, indeed, charming. Thank you again, Dean Street Press, both for republishing this gem and for sending me a copy.

Book Review and blog tour – Eve Schaub – “Year of No Clutter” #books #amreading


Year of No Clutter book coverToday I’m excited to be participating in a blog tour – I don’t do these very often as I didn’t use to read many very modern books, but my NetGalley adventures have given me all sorts of up-to-date things to do and this is one of them. There’s a competition to win a copy of this book and a link to sign up for a decluttering week *if that’s your thing* but I’m posting these to say thank you to the publisher, Sourcebooks, for sending my review copy and there is no expectation from me at all that you’ll click the links!

Eve Schaub – “Year of No Clutter”

(20 January 2017 – From the publisher, Sourcebooks, via NetGalley)

Rather than a how-to or a you-must-do-this book, this is a what-I-did one (or what I like to classify as a Quest book), so a far more comfortable read and maybe more likely to inspire people. Schaub in fact has a collection of anti-clutter books herself, and I started to really like her when she disclosed that she’d mislaid her copy of THAT Marie Kondo book in the terribly messy and cluttered place in her house she calls the Hell Room!

While following her own and her family’s progress (watch out for how she gets her husband to sort through HIS stuff!) through a bit more than a year of sorting-out, she also looks at the psychology of hoarding, discussing various famous hoarders and one who is a friend of a friend; the differences between mess and clutter; and the particular mental tics needed to honestly think (and act on that thought) that it’s a good idea to keep every single tiny note someone has ever given to you.

Schaub is honest about her own problems and her family inheritance of hoarding, and how this tendency exhibits itself in her daughters, too. But there is hope: although she adds some large items she really should keep to her collection, she does get much better at discarding items and deciding that things should be used now or got rid of – no more keeping things in case they come in handy at some point in the future (we have a lot of that in this house).

It’s OK not to be perfect (of course it is: we all know that already, right?) and that’s a big lesson for both Schaub and her readers. It’s better to clear enough space to have a go at having an art room than it is to stay paralysed by the enormousness of the task in front of you.

You won’t learn exactly HOW to pare things back from this book, but you will learn what it feels like to do so, and I think that’s a very valid benefit of the book.

And here are those links I promised you could click if you wanted to …

Sign up to receive a daily e-newsletter with tips, advice and videos from Eve Schaub on how to start conquering clutter this spring during the Week of No Clutter, March 7-14. Sign up now!

… and here’s a Rafflecopter giveaway (I’m afraid this is for US and Canada readers only – sorry!)


Book review – Diana Wynne Jones – Dark Lord of Derkholm #amreading #books


TBR shelf March 2017The fantasy writer I will always read, Diana Wynne Jones’ books are consistently well-written, funny but not stupidly so, gender-balanced and unputdownable. She’s the author who I always push at people (recommend to people?) who have liked Harry Potter – her Chrestomanci series has a similar Boy Wizard idea but is just as good, if not better. The reason this one isn’t in the photo above is that I took it to Iceland to read on the plane home, but didn’t get very far due to spending most of the flight asleep. I did, however, push aside my Friday Housecleaning to sit on my bottom and finish the last 100 pages.

Diana Wynne Jones – “Dark Lord of Derkholm”

(19 November 2016 – from Luci)

I acquired this one from my London book-buying trip in November – the lovely Luci always brings along a big bag of books and this one immediately appealed.

The somewhat slimy Mr Chesney has been running Pilgrim Parties from the next-door universe for 40 years. His sinister accountant minions and sets of instruction booklets lay out the experiences his tourists are to have – and as these involve the usual fantasy novel tropes of setting out as a brave band of explorers, encountering wizards and dwarves, being ambushes, having battles with mythical creatures and slaying a Dark Lord, Wynne Jones can have great fun with how it all works behind the scenes.

The mild-mannered wizard Derk is chosen to be this year’s Dark Lord, with not many expectations of doing a good job. he’s not a great wizard and certainly no good at raising demons, being more interested in creating new and peculiar creatures, including some mistakes (the carnivorous sheep are certainly a mistake and the winged horses create perhaps rather too much interest). He’s even got a family of offspring made up of a mix of people and griffins (and one of the female griffins is a whizz at technology and inventing, which is lovely).

This standalone novel is full of excellent characters, set pieces and Easter Eggs – who can resist an author who names two of her (male) dwarves Galadriel and Dworkin?

This one fills in the latest gap in my Century of Books, 1998.

I’ve just finished “The Year of No Clutter”, which is handy, because I’m taking part in a Blog Tour for it tomorrow! Watch this space for the chance to enter a competition to win a copy (run by the publisher, not me) and a link to more info on a decluttering programme (but only if you’re interested; I get nothing out of you clicking or not clicking). I’m also enjoying E. Nesbit’s “The Lark” very much indeed.

Book review – Dave Haslam – “Adventures on the Wheels of Steel” #amreading #books


feb-2017-tbrI’m a bit of a sucker for a music book, and as I do a lot of transcription for music journalists, I can always claim that they’re research, too … I started this one before my recent holiday in Iceland but couldn’t get it finished, which was troubling me as I like my reading to be tidy. So I wanted to polish it off first, before finishing the other two I’m reading.

Dave Haslam – “Adventures on the Wheels of Steel”

(3 September 2016, Astley Book Farm)

I’ll say first of all that I’m not an expert in club culture or modern(ish) dance music. I don’t look down on it at all, it has just never been my main thing (if I tell you that I got my 45-year-old self all happy and excited hearing The Cure playing over the speakers in Sainsburys yesterday, you’ll get where I come from). So I had to not worry about not catching all the distinctions between types of dance music, and not being able to hear all the songs mentioned in my head. The author, however, is a DJ himself, playing at the last night of the Hacienda club (and the recreated version, as we shall see) and he guides the reader through the book with his knowledge and good writing.

It’s also worth saying that this is much more than just being about the rise of the superstar DJs, as the subtitle suggests. It offers a comprehensive history of DJing, from the very first record-only parties through various genres or tribes like Northern Soul and disco to house music and the rise of those big-name guest DJs from the 1980s onwards (amusingly, the author relates this to the rise of stand-ups and celebrity chefs in that period).

Published in 2001, it is of necessity dated, with a fair bit about Jimmy Savile and stopping before the rise of the current EDM DJs/producers, but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value. It’s great on both the workmanlike, well-referenced history and the actual feel of being in a club, behind the decks, watching the crowd, following both the big stars and the doyens of smaller nights, even a Smiths night. The presence and influence of different drugs in the different eras of club culture is just that: it’s not ignored, celebrated or castigated, just presented and recorded.

The history follows the haters as well as the lovers, with the interesting point made that people hated disco because it was an arena for black people, gay people and working class women. The movement of exclusive club culture and its subcultures and specialness into general popular culture is explored and the loss of that exclusivity of club-only tracks mourned. There is some lovely description of club nights and some great imagery, for example comparing the swapping of the decks from DJ to DJ at all-nighter to the way the spirit of the music has been passed from venue to venue.

The book ends with the author’s horror at having to DJ at a disco (the mobile disco DJ and club DJ do not mix or cross paths very often) and his joy at taking part in the recreation of the Hacienda for the film about its scene, “24 Hour Party People”. Humanity is kept alive in the varied people who request tickets for the filming and in the DJs still running their own clubs, even as the superclubs become more soulless and the pirate radio stations go commercial.

A good and interesting read.

Oh, and for anyone reading the book and worried, names in inverted commas are club nights / brands (which might move around) and those not in inverted commas are static venues. I couldn’t work it out and tweeted the author, so I know from the source!

State of the TBR March 2017


TBR shelf March 2017Well, here are the shelves in their current state of play, with Greg Rutherford representing the end of the front shelf (this means that until I buy any new books and the back shelf shuffles forward, I will see his face on the back cover, staring at me as I walk into the room …) To be fair on me (maybe), I haven’t acquired any books by BUYING them since my little book token spree at the end of January (however, see below for acquisitions from publishers)

march-2017-currently-readingI’ve just finished “Adventures on the Wheels of Steel” and will be reviewing that next (tomorrow, if I get my act together). These, then, are the two books I’m reading currently. I started reading “Year of No Clutter” by Eve Schaub, which is another NetGalley book with a blog party thing happening on Monday, and much better than I expected, concentrating on her experiences of hoarding and clearing rather than lecturing her readers, on holiday, and the Diana Wynne Jones, “Dark Lord of Derkholm” on the plane – they are both excellent and enjoyable reads so I’m sort of alternating them at the moment.

march-2017-coming-up-in-printComing up, I have these lovely, mainly non-fiction, books mainly bought during my trips to Astley Book Farm and Cornwall. “The Innocents at Home” is a 1950s travel book about America, “The Modern Writer and His World” has a bit about Iris Murdoch, “Mrs Tim” is a light novel, “The Moon Stallion” is the frankly terrifying novelisation of a TV series that scared me witless as a child (so: hooray, although I’m informed the actual book is quite dull – I do hope so) and “Mail Obsession” is about one man’s journey to visit all the postcodes in the UK (just my sort of book!). Then we will make use of an entire tree by carving it into spoons, etc., run with the Kenyans, find out how exactly rock stars stone Mark Ellen’s life and dip into the world of classic school stories. I finished seven books in February, and given the items below, wonder how many of these will be featuring in my April State of the TBR post!

feb-2017I also have the lovely acquisition of a print copy of E. Nesbit’s “The Lark”, which has been kindly sent to me by the folks at Dean Street Press as one of their new Furrowed Middlebrow imprint titles for the spring (Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow has blogged about the upcoming titles here). Also pictured are two lovely, 198-page Rhodia A6 notebooks which just happened to fall into my Bureau Direct shopping basket (you know how it is. But do go and look at their delicious website). These arrived while I was in Iceland, unfortunately alerting Mr Liz to evidence (more evidence) of my rather terrible stationery habit.

mar-2017-kindleBut alas, the STATE OF THE KINDLE is a bit horrend, and I feel I will be clutching this more than a paper book for a good portion of the month. Why, oh why, did I not read these NetGalley books as they came in and schedule reviews? I have another one but I couldn’t make them come onto the same page – The Perils of “Privilege” by Phoebe Maltz Bovy. The non-NetGalley ones on here are the Collected Works of Frances Hodgson Burnett (tell me, please, how could I resist that collection??) and the Elizabeth Fair ebooks, which have all also come from the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint of Dean Street Press. I have explained to them that I’ll be reading these interspersed with other books, so don’t fear that I’ll be flooding you with them!

So what’s your TBR looking like and what will you be reading this month?

Book review – Katie Fforde – “A Secret Garden”


img_20170224_113229302One of my NetGalley books, read in the flat in Reykjavik and finished in the Harpa Concert Hall on one of the lovely sofas arranged up the large staircase (pictured). This was a good, light read, ideal for travelling when you might not want something too taxing – thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for making it available.



Katie Fforde – “A Secret Garden”

(E-book, 14 February 2017)

A light novel but obviously born out of a love of gardening and cooking and some decent research. It centers around early 20s Philly, a plantswoman who has taken over a wreck of a building with her grandfather and set up a nursery, the interesting young baker who runs a stall across from theirs at the market, her customer, the garden restorer Lorna, in her 50s, Lorna’s old friend Peter, who she’s having to accept will never fall for her, and a new interesting stonemason, Peter’s aristocratic mother and the lady who Peter has fallen for, who has big plans to make him spend more money on his country estate.

It bubbles along very nicely and competently, with the female characters adept, resourceful and able, even though this is a fairly traditional romance story; they wield chainsaws, drive vans and save the day, which is refreshing, and certainly don’t need to be saved by a man. A good, gentle read which is well-done and satisfying.

Book review – Marian Keyes – Making it up as I go Along”


Reykjavik sun voyagerI’m on holiday in Reykjavik at the moment (I can tell the world this because Mr Liz is safely at home) and of course as usual I took two print books and my Kindle – one print book for each flight and the Kindle to cover those million NetGalley titles, and then didn’t finish the first print book until a few days in. Oh well. I’ve also lost touch with the other blogs I read, although aiming to resolve that now – oh, the unpacking of tech from its cases I had to do at the airport … What is your arrangement for holiday books? I do prefer print books for the plane in case you  have to stow them quickly, etc., and lean towards light novels, travel writing and essays.

The photo is of the Sun Voyager sculpture, by the way. Last time I was this close to it, I was running the Reykjavik Marathon! I have done one bit of running here – in snow and high winds – but today it’s too snowy on the pavements to risk it. Lots of walking has been done, though!

Marian Keyes –  “Making it up as I go Along”

(acquired ?November 2016? It was left unregistered on the BookCrossing shelf in the cafe)

Following on from her previous two collections, this is a newer book of her magazine and blog pieces and some unpublished work, covering the usual themes of shopping, makeup, shoes and family stuff with some more serious mentions of mental health issues and various ways of resolving them. There was also a big section of travel writing.

Amusing enough in small doses, as indeed these were written but at 440 pages and with a lot about her I’m sure great but pretty standard family, perhaps one to dip into or for the MK completist. I would however be churlish if I wasn’t glad to see her doing well and with a big collection published by Penguin.

I’m currently reading NetGalley book “A Secret Garden” by Katie Fforde, which is a light fiction read and competent and well done if not completely earth-shattering (I never sleep well the first couple of nights away, so this is a Good Thing). I have received some enticing Elizabeth Fair titles and have E. Nesbit’s “The Lark” on its way from the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint of Dean Street Press (Scott from Furrowed Middlebrow has blogged about the upcoming titles here) so they will be something exciting to get my teeth into when I get back! How are you all doing?

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