Book review – Joanna Cannan – “Princes in the Land” #20BooksOfSummer #Amreading @PersephoneBooks

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My last Persephone read in August (I note there is a Persephone Reading Week in October so might be able to slot “Long Live Great Bardfield” in then. I enjoyed the other Joanna Cannan I’ve read, “High Table“, though found it a little dated: although this is set in interwar England, the sentiments and experiences are fresh and relevant today.

Joanna Cannan – “Princes in the Land”

(25 December 2017 – from Ali, who reviewed it here)

A quietly desperate book which is beautifully done but raises the question very forcefully about how valid it is to pour all your love and care and concern and friendship into raising children when they will apparently throw it all off at seemingly the first opportunity. And we’re not talking a smothering mother here but a fair, friendly and liberal one who offers opportunities for free and frank discussion and growth. Or thinks she does. Kind of the opposite of the mother in “Guard Your Daughters”.

In this smallish book told in episodes that jump forward a few years to a decade or so in time (very clearly delineated), we first meet Patricia and Angela and their controlling, anxious mother Blanche on their way to (have to) live with their paternal grandfather after their father’s death. The forbidding old man takes a liking to fiery, unfeminine Patricia, who rides unsuitable horses and hunts (sorry, not one for the non-lovers of hunting, although there are no actual Unpleasant Scenes, just mentions), while bored by compliant Angela and Blanche, who never forgets they are there on sufferance and keeps a tight-lipped, passive-aggressive lid on herself. Living honestly is the key here.

Patricia meets a spiky working class man as she rushes around impulsively making friends on trains (the very idea!) and then we watch them transform – and I’m struggling to think of another book I’ve read recently that portrays so well how the cocoon of marriage and parenthood transforms lively young things into, here, a watchful, resourceful and domesticated mother and a complacent Oxford don, consoled by the fact that everything that happens has happened before in history.

The narrative is quite unconventional and experimental in parts, sometimes mentioning Patricia in the present tense, as though the narrator/author is a friend of hers, and memorably including a paragraph detailing the thoughts of the family horse. But it’s not so experimental that it’s tiring to read, if you know what I mean, just a little quirky.

One by one, Patricia’s children betray her and her careful raising of them, submitting to the cheaper lure of suburbia, getting embarrassingly religious or proving to shockingly NOT be horsy, and as she ages (to my exact age – oh no! She is missing some teeth but not as decrepit as the heroine of “A Lady and Her Husband“) she despairs. Will anything jolt Patricia out of her malaise?

A devastating, quiet portrait of the change that family life brings to especially women (husband Hugh’s family and catalyst appears to be the university, although he claims to have deep feelings about the family). Poor Patricia is blind to both the interior, independent lives of her children and the disdain her academic neighbours have for her old-money, upper-class ways, but she tries so hard and we long for a resurgence of her old life and vigour.

This was Book 19 in my #20BooksOfSummer project and the last book in All Virago and Persephone / All August.

 

State of the TBR – September 2018 #amreading

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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?

 

“The Time of the Angels” roundup and “The Nice and the Good” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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I’m so sorry this is a day late – I was basically working or doing yoga or getting laundry on the line all day yesterday and there was no time to put this together. I hope I’m forgiven. At least I got outside, unlike good old Carel …

So today we round up discussions on “The Time of the Angels” so far and then look ahead to “The Nice and the Good”. I’m really excited about this month’s read – this is what I consider a ‘classic’ Murdoch with its group of disparate characters all clustered around one couple and all linked through loves and relationships old and new. We might even need to draw a diagram!

“The Time of the Angels”

We had a really good discussion over on the review for this novel, looking at the writer of the introduction’s assertion that it would have been different if Carel had got out more and examining how frightening it is. I have to say I’m not quite as alarmed by it as when I first read it as a mid-teen, but it’s still very unsettling.

Jo has submitted an excellent, full review on Goodreads and the discussion on my review also gave her some food for thought. I will share links to any more Goodreads and other blog post reviews here in time.

In cover-sharing, David Mahon contributed this US first edition from Viking Press (1966) which came with a library card in it.

Peter Rivenberg’s 1975 Penguin cover is as disturbing as it should be

Buried in Print contributed a very subdued Penguin version

and Maria Peacock has the Vintage Classic before mine, complete with angel (the detail on the front is from Annunciatory Angel by Fra Angelico) and Maria mentioned that IM might have something to say about the hair!

This has the same blurb as my red-spined one.

If you have comments to make or links to blog posts or Goodreads reviews to post, you can put them here or (better still) on the review.

“The Nice and the Good”

And now we move on to an early favourite of mine (sorry about the terrible photograph, but my first edition is covered in a thin plastic that will not stop picking up lights). Again, I felt terribly sophisticated reading it in my mid-teens: it’s got a thriller aspect, a group of intellectuals and misfits in a sort of commune, a cat and a dog, an exciting scene of peril …

Here’s the blurb from my first edition:

I really like the reference to Midsummer Night’s Dream and mention of the duality of locations and think this sums the book up very well.

My Penguin is the 1986 edition, bought presumably in my first flush of IM discovery, and has this to say:

“No one in the book is good” – hm. One to discuss later. It IS a feast, however – well done, The Guardian.

And my Vintage Classic, well, I don’t think it has much to say about the book, actually, although it does spell out Octavian and John’s relationship.

But a quote from John Betjeman – that was a surprise.

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Nice and the Good” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up)? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite?


You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along.

Book review – Enid Bagnold – “The Loved and Envied” (Virago) #20BooksOfSummer #amreading

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I’m fairly galloping through my 20 Books of Summer now and I really think I’m going to do it, as I’ve almost finished “Princes in the Land” and then I only have one to go by the end of Monday! I have enjoyed my reading and seeing what other people have been doing, although it’s always bittersweet to know that the end of summer is coming along with the end of the challenge (having said that, it’s been very autumnal here for the past week, so that’s not particularly surprising).

Enid Bagnold – “The Loved and Envied”

(22 May 2018 – from Claire)

I feel a bit sad because my lovely friend Claire passed this to me when we met up with her in Birmingham, and I didn’t massively enjoy it. I think Bagnold is quite an odd writer: there’s “National Velvet” which you read as a child and it’s fine, but it’s actually pretty peculiar and very overwrought, then there’s “The Squire“, which is all milky and full of babies, then there’s this roman a clef which uses people from Bagnold’s own circles but adapted.

I have to admit here and now that I’m not keen on novelisations of real events and people. It’s fine, in my book, to put portraits of people you know in books, but a whole book based around the life (but not EXACTLY) of a real person just doesn’t appeal. I noted from the back of the book that this was based on Lady Diana Cooper, but then I couldn’t see how the heroine, Lady Ruby Maclean as she becomes, was English, and her husband certainly didn’t seem to be a diplomat. Isabel Colegate does point out in the introduction that it’s “best seen as a tribute, rather than a serious character study” (p. viii), which is useful. But then Bagnold uses her friend Count Albrecht Bernstorff as the Duca Alberti, and I wasn’t clear whether he and Lady Diana knew each other. In fact, these two affectionate portraits produce what I feel is the emotional heart of the book, a long and loving friendship, even though I think the theme is meant to be one’s relationship with one’s beauty, or mothers and daughters.

I was left confused and, I’m afraid, cold. The narrative skips about in time and place, with Ruby’s daughter making an unsuitable marriage and going off to Jamaica and then we start back with Ruby’s childhood. I lost track of who everyone is, and a sub-plot of Rose, eternal mistress, served to confuse even more. The warmest portraits and relationships seemed to be of and with dogs. There were flashes of insight over how the famous beauty wasn’t a very feminine woman and her daughter’s relationship with her mother’s beauty, and it’s interesting when Ruby finds it hard to identify herself with her own face. Miranda just wants looking after and nearly makes two bad mistakes, but you can’t really warm to her.

This just didn’t work for me and I’m not sure I would rush to another Bagnold novel.

This was Book #18 in my 20BooksofSummer project and another in my All Virago / All August project.


So nearly done with “Princes in the Land” – which I’m finding quietly devastating – and that should be done for review tomorrow. Apologies in advance for doubling-up which may happen: I have my Iris Murdoch round-up to post tomorrow, my State of the TBR on Saturday and my running update on Sunday, plus two reviews to post by the end of Monday, so something will have to be over-stuffed.

How are you doing with your reading projects? Did you do 20 Books of Summer and how’s it going?

Sedate lady running 20-26 August 2018 #amrunning #running

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A good solid running week this week and I actually got round to doing some of the strength training I have been given. Plus, bonus meetup with a friend I’ve known for over a decade but hadn’t actually met until Wednesday (who is also a running blogger who does the Weekly Wrap!).

Tuesday – Club run night and I covered Beginners for my friend Jenny as she’s poorly. I thought I was late so ran up to the park in a 10:35 pace frenzy, then covered 2.2 miles run/walking with a lovely lady who is returning to running with club and a lady who’d recently had her second baby and was getting back into it. We had another five who were up to continuous running after a few sessions, so they kept together and did another mile. Lots of nice stretching then I ran home with Trudie and Dave.

3.3 mi various paces

Wednesday – Managed to get all my work done and then get to Dave yoga, I couldn’t get into a shoulder stand but I don’t let that bother me now. Collected Cari from the train station and did a walk around Birmingham, then went for a curry with Matthew, two BookCrossing friends and two running friends.

Thursday – A run with Cari – how exciting! I’ve loved watching her journey to becoming a runner over the past 18 months or so. I took her on one of Jenny and my morning runs at 6am so she saw the suburban streets of Kings Heath and Moseley (Matthew kindly took a photo of us but I’d not set my camera up properly):

 

Cari and Liz on our street!

We did 4.4 miles taking in all the main sights, including a sweet little one-person bench that’s been put half-way up a hard hill (run to the bench! is our cry when toiling up it). Here we are a the end. Couldn’t believe it was dull enough at 6am to need to wear my flouro top!

Liz and Cari, run done

We then got showered and changed and went off to Stratford-upon-Avon for the day, then I saw Cari off from Stratford and came home. How lovely to meet her, and we got on really well. Here’s to next time!

4.4 mil, 12:52 mm

Friday – Did my first Paul strength training session before yoga:

Dumb-bell forward raises / Dumb-bell side raises 2 sets 8 reps each (3lb)

Dumb-bell lunges / Dumb-bell squats 2 sets 8 reps each (5lb)

Medicine ball twists 2 sets 10 reps (3lb weight held in both hands)

Farmer walks with Dumb-bells some tiptoeing forward and backward (5lb) – this is off Lee’s slightly more complicated sets of exercises: I’m working my way in gently.

Then went to Claire yoga which I found quite hard but there was a lot of quite difficult long holds and I think it WAS hard, it wasn’t just me.

Saturday – I knew I had double volunteering and an errand to get the bus into town for today then a visit across town to the in-laws Sunday, so decided to split my long run over the two days.

So Saturday I ran to the PO Depot to pick up a parcel (of Torq gel singles, rather ironically), back to the house and down to the park for parkrun. As it’s downhill, I challenged myself to do negative splits for the three miles and then did (11:23 / 11:04 / 10:46 with that GAP thing showing that even relative to the downhill I was faster on mile 3 than mile 2). I then volunteered at parkrun: here I’m at the first turn on the course to see them off along the first lap, before moving to the bottom of the slope to cheer the second lap on and then encourage people up the slope:

parkrun volunteer

It was a lovely day if a little chilly – I took my new rucksack with my London Marathon Top of Failure (the one they send you when you don’t get in) and popped that on to volunteer in. The park municipal planting was looking tip-top.

Then it was time for Run and Talk, the England Athletics / Mind-sponsored run, walk or talk and chat run by volunteers from Kings Heath Running Club and Bournville Harriers. We welcomed the new Mental Health Champion from the Swifts club to see what it was all about, too. I ended up running round with Jo, who’s training for a marathon, so we had a chat about training etc., I popped to the loo in the MAC cafe, and then ran home slightly the long way. I’d forgotten to turn my watch on for the first almost half a mile of that run, so under-estimated how long I’d gone and ended up doing over 7.5 miles on a normal breakfast very early and no extra drinks, etc., so was a bit tired when I got home.

3 mi / 4.66 mi, 11:05 mm / 11:55 mm

Sunday – Woke at 6am for my breakfast and it was RAINING! I actually put on long leggings and a top and then a light hoody (I was dressed entirely by cheap brand Primark, apart from bra, socks and trainers).

Before

I met up with Trudie and Mary Ellen and we set off on a really standard five-mile route of mine (I am getting sick of all my routes though and need some new ones – what do you do if that happens?). We were all quite bright so Trudie grabbed a photo of our cool legs:

Trudie’s photo, me in stripes, Mary Ellen in pink compression socks, Trudie in rainbow tiger stripes

And we had to have a pic at that chair on Salisbury Road, for Cari!

Liz, Mary Ellen, Trudie and a tiny bench

I kept shouting “I’m not hot yet!” as I’d thought I would be whipping off my hoody at some point. It is quite breezy with mesh sides – or it’s very efficient at getting heat away – so no I did not. Pleased with it, though. And was quite damp but really happy when I got home:

After!

What a lovely, refreshing run, such a change!

5.5 mi, 13:01 mm (I forgot to pause my watch at the chair – d’oh!) Last half-mile 11:06 others between 12:13 and 12:46 with one 13:36

I then came home and did another Paul’s strength training session, the same as Friday but with no lunges or farmer’s walks as I was in my (wet) socks by then. Readers, I confess I did that because I knew I’d be writing this up today!

Miles this week: 20.9

Progress towards 1,000 miles in the year: 676 miles (10 miles past the target for the end of this month!)

Weekly wrapWendy’s weekly wrap is here and Holly’s is here. I’ve really loved being a part of this for the last few months: long may it continue!

Book review – Stella Gibbons – “Starlight” #20BooksofSummer #amreading

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This is the book I started reading accidentally a week or so ago, mistaking it for a Virago somehow. But hooray – Virago published Stella Gibbons’ “Nightingale Wood” so she counts as a Virago author and I’m counting her therefore in my All Virago / All August total. I am saving the Persephone “Long Live Great Bardfield” for the time after #20BooksOfSummer when I’m just working my way through my TBR again.

So the picture to the left does not represent this book but is the pile of books I put together initially for my 20BooksOfSummer. I haven’t done one of these where I haven’t swipped and swapped, so it’s all good! And I’m excited that I only have three books to finish by 3 September, they’re all reasonably short, and I’ve even started Book 18 already!

Stella Gibbons – “Starlight”

(25 December 2017 – from Verity)

Well, I have to say this is a Very Strange Book, and I’m not entirely sure how it got published. The heroines are a pair of elderly and dotty sisters, Gladys and Annie, who live a precarious existence in a falling-down “cottage” in Highgate, London, with an elderly even-more-eccentric upstairs and a family downstairs … until the building is sold to what they identify as “the rackman”, Mr Pearson (after the notorious slum landlord), and he installs his beautiful, ailing wife there. Meanwhile, their daughter Peggy is a sort of assistant to a wealthy woman and her dogs, while her son sniffs around, trying to grab a squeeze and a kiss. A pair of clergymen in a fairly desolate vicarage, an odd German teenager who has been somehow sprung from an itinerant life by Mr Pearson, and a parishioner and friend of Gladys who is tempted by esoteric religion and wants her fortune told by Mrs Pearson and her accompanying spirit, make up the rest of the curiously unattractive cast.

It is an interesting read, as Gladys and Annie become more worried about Mrs Pearson and her odd “fits” and Peggy sits and waits for her life to begin, instigates it beginning and is slapped back down. Some kind and honest characters get a good fate, others really don’t, and it builds very slowly then suddenly all the cards fall and there’s a pretty melodramatic ending, including an exorcism, before suburban and rural life grab hold again and everything sort of smooths out.

The descriptions of Hampstead Heath are lovely and reminded me a bit of passages in “Old Baggage”. The perilous life of the unconnected poor and the attempt to subsume Erika the German girl into English life are shown in detail and convincingly. Details are beautifully done – when the Vicar, Mr Geddes, is being thoroughly frightened by the decidedly un-English Mr Pearson about his wife’s possible possession,

… as he spoke, he was very aware of the stout old cupboard that contained the choir surplices. Its glossy bulk was comforting. (p. 243)

and his mother’s arrival and adoption of the vicarage cat as well as the relationship between Mrs Corbett and her dogs and son are very nicely done, too.

But it’s an odd book, and I can’t deny that.

This was Book 17 in my #20BooksOfSummer project and also falls into All Virago / All August. Read Ali’s review here.


I’m currently reading Enid Bagnold’s “The Loved and Envied” and getting mixed up and confused by all the French and Scottish characters, but I’m sure it will come good.

One small confession: I ordered myself a second-hand copy of Charles Thomas’ “Exploration of a Drowned Landscape: The Archaeology and History of the Isles of Scilly” as we’ll be going there in the autumn and I wanted to read up on the Iron Age etc. sites. My friend Liz recommended this one by a friend of hers, I picked it up at an OK price from Abe Books (I don’t want everyone rushing to look on Amazon and seeing how much it goes for there!) and it looks amazing. I did like the stamps on the package, too, the Brownie and Guide one dating from 1982!

 

Book review – Angela Thirkell – “The Brandons” plus book confessions #20BooksOfSummer #amreading #ViragoBooks

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I’ve continued my reading for 20BooksOfSummer with Angela Thirkell’s “The Brandons”, which also counts for both All Virago / All August and the LibraryThing Virago Group’s author for this month. Go me! I’ve swapped out that great big Tirzah Garwood’s “Long Live Great Bardfield” (the largest of those three Persephones) for Stella Gibbons’ “Starlight” – although my copy isn’t a Virago, Gibbons is a Virago author thanks to “Nightingale Wood” so, as I’d started it after “Summer Half” by mistake, I’m finishing that and leaving the Garwood for a more leisurely read in the next few months.

In book confessions news, I’ve had an old friend newly actually met visiting: she brought me several books and then we managed to buy some more, pics and details below the review …

Angela Thirkell – “The Brandons”

(25 December 2017 from Verity’s marvellous parcel)

I’ve read “Pomfret Towers” a while ago, which seems to come between this one and “Summer Half” so I’m all out of order and will need to do a proper re-read when I’ve collected the set. But this was great fun and near enough to my read of “Summer Half” that it was a joy to come across some of the same characters.

This is the story of the Brandon family: fragrant widow Lavinia, on whom everybody inevitably gets a crush, tall, handsome son Francis and daughter the deliciously bloodthirsty girl with a heart of gold, Delia, and their cousin (ish), Hilary Grant and his hilariously dreadful mother. The plot hinges around the decline, death and legacy for the monstrous aunt-by-marriage, Miss Brandon, and the Vicar and Miss Brandon’s companion, Miss Morris, who turn out (of course they do) to be sworn enemies, play important roles, too.

The Keiths from “Summer Half” and Laura and Tony Moreland (an older, wiser and more attractive and self-aware character again) also make notable appearances: Lydia Keith has been to Paris but it doesn’t seem to have taken the edge off, and we can admire her marvellousness as much as ever. Will she end up with Tony or Noel, I wonder? And of course, there being a Vicar, there’s a summer fete, leading up to and at which much of the action takes place.

There’s some patronising of the lower classes but thankfully no Eastern Europeans and Hilary’s Italy-obsessed mother is a type that is very amusing indeed. Nurse and Rose, doyennes of the Brandon household, are celebrated for their mastery over all who come into their orbit.

Mrs Brandon’s little mischievous moments and attempts to introduce drama into the proceedings are seen through by her son and her old friend Sir Edmund, although she still manages to invite confusions and confidences, and there’s a very funny scene where Sir Edmund feels moved to protect her from the Vicar.

I love Miss Morris’ dream, the dream of many characters in the gentle but sharp novels I love to sink into, Thirkell, Pym et al:

A parish, every detail of which was under her hand and eye. (p. 272)

Will her dream be fulfilled? I love how it’s respected, even if being gently smiled at, but pretension, controlling and calf love are pricked and deflated.

This was Book 16 in my 20BooksOfSummer project.


My friend Cari has been visiting – I’ve known her for years and years through BookCrossing and, later, running, having been cheering her on from across the ocean as she’s learned to run and learned to love running. When she was coming to London for a week, it was possible to arrange for her to come to see us, so she has had a whistle-stop tour of Birmingham (yesterday) and Stratford-upon-Avon (today). Being a BookCrosser, she brought me some books; being us, we then bought some more in Stratford (even though we didn’t comb through all the charity and second-hand bookshops).

Top two from Stratford, the rest from New York!

Sarah Henshaw – “The Bookshop that Floated Away” – the story of the famous British Book Barge

George Eggleston – “Tahiti” – a 1950s travel book with lovely hand-drawn maps

Lisa Tamati – “Running Hot” – female ultra runner takes on the Badwater Ultra

Craig Childs – “Finders Keepers” – investigating the ethics of where archaeological artefacts get to be kept

Bart Yasso – “My Life on the Run” – famous road runner shares wisdom and insights

Sarah Reinertsen with Alan Goldsher – “In a Single Bound” – para-athlete and triathlete’s life story

Cy A. Adler – “Walking the Hudson” – guide to walking the Hudson River

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