Book review – D.E. Stevenson – “Vittoria Cottage” @DeanStPress #FurrowedMiddlebrow

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I was very lucky to have this and two other novels kindly sent to me by Dean Street Press from their Furrowed Middlebrow imprint for review. It’s part of the January issue from Dean Street Press – you can read about them all here. It’s published today! along with seven other titles, two of which I hope to review soon.

This is the first book in a trilogy (the other two are “Music in the Hills” and “Winter and Rough Weather”) and I can tell you right now that the other two are on my wishlist and will hopefully make their way to me very soon, because I can’t wait to read them.

Also see below the review for exciting Christmas Furrowed Middlebrow incomings.

D. E. Stevenson – “Vittoria Cottage”

(04 Nov 2019)

Vittoria Cottage is a medium sized house in a village where everyone knows each other’s business, which isn’t great if you’re having your engagement broken off, but is handy if you’re poorly and need some help. Caroline, a widow, lives there with her two daughters, Leda and Bobbie, yearning for her son, who is in Malaya doing post-war frightening things to do with bandits. She’s an integral part of the village and gets on very well with everyone except for her amusing arch-enemy. I love this quote, which sums up the lovely (but human) Caroline and so many of the quieter heroines in the books I love republished by Dean Street Press, Virago and Persephone:

It was important to Caroline to do things right, to do whatever she did to the best of her ability. She saw beauty in ordinary little things and took pleasure in it (and this was just as well because she had had very little pleasure in her life). She took pleasure in a well-made cake, a smoothly-ironed napkin, a pretty blouse, laundered and pressed; she liked to see the garden well dug, the rich soil brown and gravid; she loved her flowers.

Her daughters of course don’t think of her as a person, and she’s a role rather than a person in most of her activities, so it’s genuinely lovely for her when Robert Shepperton moves in at the pub and befriends her. He has a secret loss and is a decent person, too – shown by his attitude when he returns to an unsafe site in London that means a lot to him:

“You didn’t go in?” “No, I didn’t (not because I cared what happened to me but because I realised it would be a bother for the policeman; he seemed a nice young fellow).”

So of course we start to hope that they will bond and become more than friends, especially as Caroline really deserves some happiness after her misery with her very well-observed grump of a husband. Her sister Harriet, a successful actor, comes to stay after Caroline’s been to her first night in London, and as well as telling her nieces a few home truths, gets together some high jinks. There’s more to the novel than just fun and frivolity though. I found Rhoda’s claim for her art rather than love quite moving, and a scene with a young woman and her baby.

It’s a lovely satisfying book with characters to love and some twists and turns, and as I said above, I can’t wait to get hold of and read the two sequels!


And talking Furrowed Middlebrow as we are, I was in London at the weekend myself for a meetup and gift exchange with my best friend, Emma. I had requested any out of a long list of FM titles for my Christmas present, and she did me proud with the third and fourth Mrs Tim novels – hooray!

DE Stevenson Mrs Tim novels

Sedate lady running 30 Dec 2019 – 05 Jan 2020 #amrunning #running

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Well I’m really glad I record my runs on Strava and date my photos when I save them into my folder because I could not remember when I’d run where and with whom when I was thinking about this post! Happy New Year everyone!

What’s your running plan this year? I will be continuing RED January with at least 10,000 steps every day (each and every day, not rounded up for the week!) and will aim to raise some money for MIND, particularly in honour of my lovely friend Verity who is a fundraising star. Then I’ll be supporting the London Marathon and running round the no 11 bus route the weekend after, and running the Canal Canter Marathon in August. I want to try to run 2020 km this year but am aware I might not manage that! About what I ran this year will also do.

Monday

I went for a recovery run with Mary Ellen just around the local streets after my long run on Sunday. We saw such an odd thing that I had to ask Mary Ellen to take a photograph – quite a few of the hedges have blocks cut in to show the road name signs, but this one had several sticking-out sections – you can see one in the foreground. And no, I’m not in a wetsuit.One reason for this run was to round Mary Ellen’s annual total up to 750 miles! Considering she has a family and a teaching job, I think that’s pretty impressive. Here is a failed photo of her jumping with joy, but you get the idea!

Well done, Mary Ellen!

3 miles, 12:00 mins per mile. 10,500 steps

Tuesday – New Year’s Eve. Matthew bought a spiraliser and hasn’t cut his finger yet. I must have done a long shopping walk or something as made my miles, but can’t remember what I was doing!

10,421 steps

Wednesday – New Year’s Day, didn’t get to a parkrun this time but instead did 6 miles, starting off meeting Jenny and doing our normal route, then I met up with Sara and Mary Ellen who were just starting out for a slightly later run.

Sara, Liz and Mary Ellen. Thank you Sara for the photo.

I was wearing my Christmas leggings and buff and my RED January tshirt and buff. Ignore the fluffy hair (what AM I going to do to it??). I am doing 10,000 steps every day (not making them up with a long day every now and again) for RED January, rather than Running Every Day, and I’ve set up a fundraising page to raise some money for Mind.

Just after I left the other two, I decided to run around the labyrinth in the town square where we’re standing in the picture.

This is a copy of the design in the middle of the labyrinth (man, I need to get my new trainers relaced and ready to go!)

And this is a good motto for the year ahead (the labyrinth has loads of images and quotes set into it).

6 miles, 13:13 mins per mile. 15,488 steps

Thursday – Having thought I’d made up the final six miles in my TwelveDayMarathon I’ve been doing raising money for local charities to Bernice’s lovely friend Carly, I realised I was 0.1 miles off it. Argh! So I did 4.5 + 0.1 with Mary Ellen. It was REALLY windy. We did the shortest canal route possible – the path was still flooded so we had to detour again. Very sadly we encountered some racist graffiti on our way round and Mary Ellen got it reported to the police and council when we got home, but that really upset me. If I’d had a pen with me I’d have obliterated it there and then. I didn’t take any photos because of that. But we’re decent people and did our bit.

4.6 miles, 12:30 mins per mile. 11,017 miles

Friday – Went to yoga and arranged shopping trips over three separate occasions so I could get my steps in! I found yoga quite hard but am struggling a little with fatigue and headaches caused by coming off some medication I’ve been on for a while (doing that sensibly, don’t worry), however it was good to be there.

10,548 steps

Saturday – Went down to London for the day to meet up with my best friend, Emma, and exchange Christmas presents. Eating and walking with one of her children, Grace, then walked to the other, Sam’s, workplace for a drink and catch-up. Didn’t do as many steps as usual but got them finished with the journey home from the train station. And brought home some lovely gifts!

10,617 steps

Sunday – Fortunately, given the fatigue, this was an “easy” week so I just had 8 miles to do. Met up with Trudie, Ruth and Mary Ellen and we set off, picking up Sonya on the way. The idea was to see some Christmas trees before they’re all taken down, as we hadn’t done Club’s Christmas Tree Route this year – unfortunately this involved some killer hills and we gave up before the third one. Still lovely to be out in the fresh air with lovely ladies.

Kings Norton Green. Two Christmas trees, one person in focus!

Bournville – impossible to capture both me and the star on top of the tree.

We did a bit of touristing around Bournville Green – here are me and Sonya looking in at the Community Hub bookshop. Such a pretty area, it was founded by the Cadbury Family around their chocolate factory, and all the houses and shops are in a similar style.

Sonya, Liz and the bookshop. By Mary Ellen.

Back to Kings Heath and I nearly gave up on the long hill back home – but what was I going to do, really? Got the 8 miles in with some wiggles and pleased with an 11:30 final mile (I needed to get home quickly to use the loo!). Really appreciate my lovely running pals!

8 miles, 13:54 mins per mile. 17,647 steps (as of 18:30)

weekly-run-down-final-300x300Weekly total 21.6 miles. Total this year 18.6 miles (I did 1,056.1 in total last year, beating 2018’s 1,039!) Total weekly steps 86,238.

The Weekly Run Down is run by two wonderful running women and joined by lots of other inspirational women. Kim’s weekly wrap is here and Deborah’s is here.

 

Book review- Paul Magrs – “Aisles” plus new books in for the challenge and a giveaway #magrsathon #bookgiveaway @paulmagrs

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The first book read this year, and indeed this was the photo I sent into the first book of the year blog. I chose this reread as my first book because Iris Murdoch, whose 26 novels I’ve just finished rereading, is a character in the book!

Paul Magrs – “Aisles”

(26 September 2019)

We’re introduced to an Internet chatroom in Norwich, where middle aged lecturers can pose as cheeky monkeys, and Robin spends much time in the spare room doing just that, and the women who surround him could be just anybody, too, including people he might know through six degrees of separation – and suddenly someone calling herself Iris Murdoch is dialling in from a boat on the North Sea full of other dead writers…

The focus pulls out: there’s a car crash (a bit detailed but not too much) which involves most of the characters in one way or another, from a young straight man smitten (sometimes) with his gay best friend to a 77 year old mature student with two secrets. Parents and children, lovers and flirters, the spotlight shines on each, but in a natural way, not like a writing exercise (I’m thinking of other books that do this kind of thing that I haven’t liked so much: it’s more like “The Lido” than “If Nobody Speaks of Remarkbable Things”, and that’s a Good Thing in my book!

Warm and wry, celebrating ordinary and different people with a dash of magical realism … and who’s that on the tills at the end …?

New books in!

These books have arrived for me to read later in the year. I will admit to being a tiny bit nervous about these, as I’m not a big reader of other-planetary sci fi, however I’m going to trust Paul and give the “Mars Trilogy” (“Lost on Mars”, “The Martian Girl” and “The Heart of Mars”) a good go.

Giveaway time!

Paul Magrs’ “Exchange” is s lovely novel, which I first read a good while ago. It’s the story of a boy and a bookshop and about growing up, and, most excitingly, has a mention of Bookcrossing, a hobby I still engage in today. That fact compelled me to write only my third ever fan letter to an author!

To win this second hand but pretty pristine copy of “Exchange”, comment below saying you’d like to go in the draw, and have a go at guessing who my other fan letters were to (your answer won’t affect the draw, but might be fun!).


Are you joining me in the Magrsathon? Some of the books are sadly out of print but second hand copies can be got hold of and the Mars trilogy in particular is available new.

 

State of the TBR January 2020 and reading stats / best books of 2019

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Oh, goodness me. Oops, even. So I acquired a beautiful stack of books for Christmas (see them all here) as well as a book token and the exciting promise of a trip up the high street for charity shop book shopping and a cuppa after my birthday, and even with all the reading I did in December, there was NO WAY all those books were fitting on the shelf. So here’s the top shelf, double-stacked, with two pony book reprints and four Jane Linfoots, the Christmas volumes of which I didn’t get to this year, with the previous incomings and my BookCrossing secret santa books tucked in on the back shelf. Colonising one of Matthew’s shelves are my Christmas books in a pile (left) and my upcoming Paul Magrs books plus a trilogy I haven’t got round to and some random books in series where I need to either get the missing books in the series or basically get over myself. Ah well. Worse problems to have, etc.

I other people’s challenges (while I’m here). I have happily found that I have an Irish book (“Too Many Ponies”) for Reading Ireland Month in May and “The Three Miss Kings” for Australia Reading Month in November, plus two Du Mauriers for Ali’s week, enough Viragoes and Persephones for more than All August, and will be doing Non-Fiction November and 20 Books of Summer again.

My first book of the year was Paul Magrs’ “Aisles” and I took a somewhat alarming photo of myself with it for the First Book of the Year blog – it didn’t make it onto there, probably because I committed some terrible transgression, but here you go:

That’s “Aisles” in the middle, with the four Phoenix Court books which are the next four months’ reads, around me. See more on my Paul Magrsathon here.

Up next on the physical TBR are these lovelies. We’re going back to May 2018 here so I’m going to make a concerted effort to get some of these read and get the Christmas books fitted on before I revert back to my one from the oldest, one from the youngest, one on Kindle routine.

So “Footnotes” by Vybar Cregan-Reid (why we run), Dave Heeley’s “From Light to Dark” (his story as a blind runner), Harold Nicolson’s travel memoir “Journey to Java”, Sarah Henshaw’s self-explanatory, “The Bookshop that Floated Away”, Simon Garfield’s “On the Map”, Carter and Barker’s “ABC for Book Collectors”, George Eggleston’s mysterious “Tahiti” and Thor Gotaas’ history of “Running” – I’m hoping to read all of these this month.

2019 stats

For the first time, I’ve kept breakdowns of various book stats. So here they are with little to compare them with apart from the totals and genders!

I have got 2018 (in parentheses) figures for this first bit. So in 2019 I read 116 (115) books, of which 62 (56) were fiction and 54 (59) non-fiction. 79 (75) were by women, 35 (39) by men, 1 (1) by both (multiple authors) and 1 by a non-gender binary person (a new category this year, as it was for a few people whose blogs I read).

Where did my books come from:

gift 20
netgalley 17
bookshop online 16
publisher 14
bookshop physical 14
charity shop 10
bookcrossing 7
bookshop online second hand 7
own 3
bought from publisher 2
bookshop second hand 1
passed on 1
bought from author 1
loan 1
unbound subscription copy 1
author 1

How lovely that so many of my books were gifts!

Most books by far were set in the UK (74) with the US second (17) and then 14 other countries plus one set in a fantasy world.

I read books by 53 different publishers, the most common being Vintage (12) (Iris Murdochs in the main), Penguin (9), Virago (9), Avon (8), HarperCollins (6) and Thames & Hudson (5).

I read most books published in 2019 (30), which surprised me, although I reviewed a lot of books for Shiny and NetGalley. Eight of my top ten years were in the 2010s with only 1941 represented there from a much older decade. However, I did read books from 39 different years, from 1910 to 2020, although no books from the 1930s.

Onto diversity of authors and themes. 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). The UK is apparently 87% / 13% so I’m  not far off that, but I want to increase the diversity. I might record nationality next year as well. Out of the 116 books I read, I assigned a diversity theme to 39 of them (feels like this should be higher), so 12 books specifically talking about women’s issues, 8 about race (plus one about indigenous peoples’ experience which I counted separately and one about women of colour), 6 LGBTQI+ issues, 4 mental health, 2 about gender in general, 1 about disability, 1 about class, 1 about race and class, 1 about non-neurotypical people and 1 about people with prosopagnosia. This doesn’t meant such themes didn’t come up in other books, just that they weren’t the main theme. It’s good to keep an eye on my intersectional reading and I’ll see if this changes with some of the books I bought towards the end of the year.

Top 11 books of 2019

And finally, my top eleven! Well, that represents just under 10% of my reading, so I think that’s OK. Links to reviews. 7 women and 4 men (about right), 7 non-fiction and 4 fiction (I did read a lot of nice light series set in Cornwall). Not mentioned as they’re somehow a given: the 12 works by Iris Murdoch I re-read this year.

Tirzah Garwood – “Long Live Great Bardfield” (my first book of the year!)

Jennifer Niven – “Holding up the Universe

Stephen Rutt – “The Seafarers

Harriet Harman – “A Woman’s Work

Margaret Atwood – “The Testaments” (because it was such an event and because I HAD wanted a sequel)

Richard Grant – “Dispatches from Pluto

Bernadine Evaristo – “Girl, Woman, Other” (this was probably my book of the year)

Clair Wills – “Lovers and Strangers

Tayari Jones – “An American Marriage” tied with Kiley Reid – “Such a Fun Age” – both important books about modern black lives in America (so OK that’s 12 then)

Joe Harkness – “Bird Therapy

Mark Mason – “Walk the Lines” (see, I was right not to compile this list until today)

Have you read and rated any of these? Are you taking part in any reading challenges? Are you joining me in the Paul Magrsathon (there might be a giveaway tomorrow …)?

 

“Jackson’s Dilemma” and project round-up #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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Well, it’s the last day of my 26-month Iris Murdoch Readalong and time to summarise our discussion of Jackson’s Dilemma and indeed the whole re-read. Which feels impossible right now.

We had a good discussion of Jackson and his dilemma over on my review of the book, and I think it’s so lovely that Peter, Jo and Maria were there to talk about the book, as they have for EVERY SINGLE ONE all the way through. Jo was even reading them for the first time, and that’s amazing, to do the whole lot like that, isn’t it? Even I didn’t read all the ones that were available immediately upon discovering IM!

Jo has done her usual excellent Goodreads review and as ever, if you are coming to this outside the original project in 2017-2019, please do add comments or links to your reviews, I always love seeing them!

Peter has been amazing at sharing cover images of his copies of the book – mainly US first editions but also some excellent paperbacks. Here’s his first edition of Jackson, very like my paperback but with a nice filigree effect on the background to the title.

Project round-up

What have I learned this time around – which was at least my fourth read of each novel apart from Jackson’s Dilemma, which was my third?

There is more feminism than I ever thought was in there

I am now older than most of the main characters in the book. As I’ve read them again and again, I’ve become more understanding of the older characters, more impatient with the younger ones

Some books have slightly dropped in my estimation – I was rather horrified at the violence in “A Word Child”, for example. I was more reconciled than ever to “An Unofficial Rose”, which I have always thought one of my less favourites, and got a lot more out of “The Message to the Planet” than on other occasions, so that I won’t actively dread reading it another time.

I think that “The Philosopher’s Pupil”, “A Severed Head”, “The Book and The Brotherhood” and “The Green Knight” remain my favourites. The others have evened out more, though. Jenkin Riderhood is probably still my favourite character, along with N from “Philosopher’s Pupil” (still).

Having read them all the way through in my 20s, 30s and 40s, I can’t wait to read them all again in my next decade – so in 2022 at the earliest. IM is still my favourite author and I will still press her upon people – and now I have this great wellspring of discussion to point people towards.

I have loved doing the project “live” on my blog this time around and thank everyone who has contributed in whatever way, but especially my three stalwarts. If you have found this blog via IM, I hope you stay around to talk about other books here.

What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite? Do you have a photo to share of you reading one of the books, or where you read it?


You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here.

Book reviews – Mark Mason – “Walk the Lines” and Simon Jenkins – “Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations” #amreading @WalkTheLinesLDN

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Two final reads of the year done and dusted today (and forgive me, I have one last Iris Murdoch Readalong post to put up in a minute, too!). I pulled the first one off the shelf because I received it for my birthday this year and was a bit horrified I hadn’t read any of those books yet (or the Christmas ones, which I thought that was until I looked properly), and the second one because it is large and protruded from the back of the shelf through to the front row, either creating a gap or dangerously displacing a book on that part of the shelf. You’ve seen my new acquisitions and tomorrow I will share whatever I get this TBR looking like once they’re on.

Mark Mason – “Walk the Lines: The London Underground, OVERGROUND”

(21 January 2019 – from Meg)

In which he walks overground all the Tube lines (unfortunately not the East London Line, my old line, as that had already gone by the time he did his project). Full of fun facts about the lines, their stations and surroundings – I particularly enjoyed finding out about the ‘long eggs’ that go inside meat pies and were made in the Oxo Tower building and the fact that the corner of the Royal Geographical Society that has statues of Livingstone and Shackleton is known by cabbies as “Hot and Cold Corner”.

Now, a question. Mason admits that he didn’t realise the Jubilee Line is named after the Queen’s Silver Jubilee and that’s why the line is silver in colour. I was surprised by this admission, as I was aware of this, but then Matthew said he hadn’t known, either. So is this common knowledge or not?

Anyway, I enjoyed his accompanied walks, particularly the Circle Line pub crawl (which led me to recommend Iris Murdoch’s “A Word Child” to the author) and his miles with Bill Drummond talking about map-based conceptual art. Really, there’s something for everyone in this book!

I loved the idea of one’s personal Tube line, linking places of import to one’s own self in London. My one would go from New Cross Gate to Covent Garden via Brixton and London Bridge, through Camden and Angel and up to Highgate and High Barnet. And yours?

Simon Jenkins – “Britain’s 100 Best Railway Stations”

(09 October 2019 – from Matthew, was supposed to be for Christmas but he presented it to me there and then)

His own favourites, given stars from 1-5 but all good in general, including some that are now part of preserved heritage lines and some underground stations. There’s a history of their architects and styles at the beginning, then lovely photographs give you a proper feel for the stations, arranged by region. The variety is stunning and it’s nice to see new ones and ones I know well.

The author played a major role in getting many stations saved and restored, and his passion for them shines through. He says he considers them among the most enjoyable buildings in the land, and I both agree and will look at the ones I encounter more carefully in the future.


Well, that’s it, 116 books read and 114 of them reviewed here (I have one Shiny Review to submit and share later and one NetGalley book I had to hold a review back for until the end of Jan 2020). Books of the year to come tomorrow …

Christmas acquisitions and beforehand incomings I don’t think I mentioned … #bookconfessions

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So I said I was going to share my incomings on 1 Jan, but I’ve already got a load of stats, planned books and books of the year to share then, and I have two books on the go at the moment I MIGHT finish and review tomorrow, so why not have a poke around in my acquisitions now, I thought!

Pre-Christmas, these made it into the house and have been sitting around on my desk waiting … for what, I’m not sure.

Well, I know that I should NOT have bought Ada Cambridge’s “The Three Miss Kings” dangerously close to the Christmas’n’birthday season in case someone had already purchased it for me, but it’s a beautifully pristine Virago Green and I could NOT leave it in Oxfam books when I was rooting around looking for gifts for my BookCrossing not so secret Santee. Also, handily, it will work for Australia Reading Month in 2020. Kaggsy from The Ramblings very kindly sent me Joe Moran’s “On Roads” which was on my wishlist but I kept back for similar reasons (I know my friend Caroline will be eying this one for after me). The band Madness’ “Before We Was We: Madness by Madness” and Danny MacAskill’s “At The Edge” were both sent to me by clients for whom I worked as an assistant on the books – I’m very excited to read how they came out (have a look at McAskill’s cycling videos on YouTube – amazing stuff!).

Now on to Christmas. Here’s the whole pile, in approximate order of arrival:

Going from the top, Rebecca Front’s “Curious” is her sort-of memoir and Pamela Brown’s “Maddy Again” is one more of the Blue Door Theatre Adventures reprints, both given to me (along with chocolates and a lovely notebook) by Meg, who was my BookCrossing secret santa, received on 16 December. I’ve popped “The Twelve Birds of Christmas” by Stephen Moss, which takes twelve birds that might have been in the song and tells us about them, into the pile because although our friend Linda gave it to Matthew, I know I’ll be reading it, too. Then Gill did her usual trawl through the books that have been on my wishlist the longest and found me Robert Inman’s “Captain Saturday”, a novel set in the Deep South – I enjoyed his “Dairy Queen Days” very much a long time ago – and “The Kindness of Strangers”, a Lonely Planet title edited by Don George which features stories of kindness when travelling and should be a lovely positive read.  Meg did brilliantly again,  not only buying me a copy of Jess Phillips MP’S “Truth to Power”, which includes ways to challenge power and stories of people who have, but getting Jess to sign it to me (she’s Meg’s MP in the next-door constituency).

Ali very kindly gave me two lovely Persephones – Elisabeth de Waal’s “Milton Place”, a previously unpublished novel set in a big house in the 1950s, and “The Second Persephone Book of Short Stories” which I’m sure will be as wonderful as the first one (reviewed here). Then my LibraryThing Virago Group secret santa gift, as well as including local soap and chocolate and the lovely Milton postcard pictured with a run-down of why she chose the books for me, had Daphne du Maurier’s “Jamaica Inn” (in the same edition as the copy of “Rebecca” I won from Ali during her Du Maurier reading week last week and allowing me to take part even more fully in 2020 than I was going to, and because I said I liked books from where the sender is from, and it was from Cornishgirl!), a copy of Willa Cather’s “My Antonia” which I’ve read but wished I owned, Rosamond Lehmann’s classic novel, “The Ballad and the Source” which I read YEARS ago and don’t own, and Margaret Kennedy’s “The Ladies of Lyndon”, the last in pre-loved Virago Green form and how I love adding my name to the names already written on the flyleaves.

I think the postcard’s message, “Solitude sometimes is best society” might have to be my 2020 motto if I’m not going to have TBR shelf overhand throughout the next year. But what a lovely pile and a lovely problem to have!

I’ve probably seen everyone else’s new book piles by now. Have you read any of these? Any bets as to when I’ll get to them?!

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