State of the TBR June 2020 #20BooksOfSummer


I finished 13 books in May, one of which was 908 pages long, and also read parts of two more, plus have three on the go, so not a bad reading month. And after having a lot of the shelf piled up, most of the back and one pile in the front, I’m now down to one pile at the back, so pleased with that.

I’m currently reading “Don’t Touch My Hair” by Emma Dabiri, which is a fascinating book I won on NetGalley about the sociology and cultural importance of black and dual-heritage women’s hair written by a Black Irish woman. I’m over half way through and learning a lot. Because my 20BooksOfSummer list is quite monocultural, I’m trying to explore the experiences of people who are different to me in the gaps between project books.

I’m also working my way through Jacky Klein’s wonderful monograph on Grayson Perry, which is worth lingering over. This is for Shiny New Books but I might review it in full on here, too. It’s the last of my books from Thames & Hudson for that publication, and I’ll be sharing my first two reviews next week.

Coming up of course are the first swathe of my #20BooksofSummer (read about my Pile here and find links to all my reviews as I write them up here). So I have books about Tahiti, an Icelandic travelling woman, the sociology of birdwatching, West Penwith, a pub landlady, Tolkien and the last remaining parts of the British Empire to enjoy this month (it seems to make sense to split them up into a seven, a six and a seven) and I’m looking forward to them, having succeeded in removing a book about the Inklings (DNFed) and a Pamela Brown book from the 2018 books already.

At some point in proceedings I will be continuing with “Rewild Yourself” by Simon Barnes, which I’m reading alongside my best friend and which I really need to get on with, and Paul Magrs’ “Lost on Mars”, which is proper sci fi but I am sure I’m in safe hands with Paul.

Let #20BooksOfSummer commence, and let’s hope I continue reading at this rate! Are you doing any challenges this month? Have you read any of these?

Book reviews – Pamela Brown – “Golden Pavements”, “Blue Door Venture” and “Maddy Again” #amreading #20BooksofSummer


I took “Golden Pavements” off the TBR as I acquired it in 2018 (thank you, Verity), but I knew if I read it as part of my “Getting Rid of 2018” 20 Books of Summer project, I would immediately want to read the other book in the Blue Door Theatre series I had on the TBR from 2019 – and what if I couldn’t fit them both in! (I don’t quite know why I thought that, as I ended up reading “Maddy Again” in part of an afternoon in the garden!). I’m happy to say that this attempt at preparing the early part of my TBR to be whizzed through during 20Books was more successful than my attempt to not have two Tolkien books on there (well, that worked, in that I now don’t … ) even though I ended up having to buy “Blue Door Venture” from Hive (who are actually doing better than Amazon at getting in paperbacks at the moment) to fill in the gap I didn’t realise I had. So, three books by Pamela Brown to round off May.

Pamela Brown – “Golden Pavements”

(22 December 2018 – from Verity)

Third in the Blue Door Theatre series and everyone except Maddy has joined Nigel at stage school. There’s loads of exciting detail as they settle into London life and even naughtily get jobs during the term, as well as touring and working as Assistant Stage Managers in the holidays. They all want to go back home and re-establish a professional theatre in Fenchester … except Lyn feels odd about that and might want “more”. The path her career takes is again given in delicious technical detail as she encounters a powerful older female actor who is not keen on being even inadvertently outshone. Meanwhile, in Fenchester, the Bishop makes a happy re-appearance.

Pamela Brown – “Blue Door Venture”

(28 May 2020)

The Blue Doors are back in Fenchester running a rep theatre in their slightly upgraded and beloved Blue Door Theatre, hoping to be able to pay back the loan they’ve had from the council, but living out the dream they’ve had since their early teens. But when a stranger offers help during panto season, things might not be what they seem to be, and the rest of the book is a caper trying to catch a villain, which is nicely put together and includes some great work from Maddy and her young friends.

Pamela Brown – “Maddy Again”

(16 December 2019 – from Meg)

Last one and we’re back with the ever-popular cheeky Maddy, in Juniors at the drama school and learning about making TV (Brown was a TV producer and I love all the technical details, something I’ve always loved about the whole series). Notable for the entirely positive introduction of a black character (who, nonetheless, highlights that they might not be welcome everywhere) into the cast, which up until now only had the rather stereotyped Indian, Ali, and a good fun read that sees a satisfactory reunion and life for the Blue Door Theatre Company by the end.

I’m so glad Pushkin Press decided to reissue this lovely series – I’ve got my original TV cover “Swish of the Curtain” (anyone remember that, with Sarah Greene as Sandra?) as it gave me a chance to re-read them and find them just as great as before.

20 Books of Summer 2020 is coming … #20BooksOfSummer20


Hooray – it’s almost 20 Books of Summer time, and this is one challenge I try to do every year. It’s hosted by Cathy over at 746 Books and here’s her launch page for this year.

I have a page on here for the challenge which lists all the books I’ve done for each year since I started joining in (here) and I will link to each review there as I publish it.

I also include All Virago/All August within this challenge, so this year my pile includes seven Virago (and friends) titles to read specifically in August.

My theme this year is Get Rid of 2018. I keep my TBR in order of acquisition, and have been reading books I bought a year ago for ages and ages. Since I started allowing myself to alternate between the oldest and newest books on my shelf, I have slipped way more than a year back with the oldest ones, and I am getting tired of seeing the same old books on the start of the shelf. So the non-Virago books will take us through 2018 and up to May 2019 (I can’t have bought much between my birthday and May that year!) and the Virago etc. ones take out the rest of the Christmas and birthday piles. The only ones that should remain that were acquired in 2018 are two Angela Thirkells (Christmas gifts) and those are waiting for the new editions from Virago that come before them in the sequence to come out, right at the end of August, so I haven’t included them.

Also not included in the pile are books in my current challenge (this is reading a Paul Magrs every month, whose books tend to be shorter than Irish Murdoch’s, who hampered my last two years!) and e-books, so a huge slew on Kindle from NetGalley and other sources. I like to make a physical pile and have one book per author, but rest assured, these will continue to be read, too (I’m reading more than 10 per month at the moment and the 20 Books project takes up 7, 6 and 7 book slots of each month).

I want to address one more thing right away. This pile is not very Diverse. Most writers on it appear to be white females (13) and males (7), some may be LGBTQ, I’m not sure right now.  Most of them (except travel ones, one biography and a US and an Australian novel) are set in the UK, even. This is weird, as I tend to read quite a diverse range of authors and about a range of places and people. In fact, the three books that come directly after this set of books on the shelf are the diary of an Indian man’s travels in Russia, a book about the role immigrants have to play in the life of my city and the autobiography of Tan France of Queer Eye, about being a gay Muslim! And I did think of making a Diverse Pile instead, but that seemed forced and a bit pi. So let me just reassure you that a) I must have just been going through a phase of buying in these particular areas, b) Virago and Persephone tend to sit there anyway, and c) I have plenty of books on all sorts of diverse topics by a lovely set of different kinds of people in my Kindle from NetGalley, etc., as well as in the rest of the TBR and coming up sooner if I clear these, and I will make the effort to read only books by diverse authors alongside this pile in June-September and seeking to learn about others’ experiences as usual.

The pile

Here it all is!

So June and July’s set is here:

George Eggleston – Tahiti – Man from the 1950s travels to Tahiti. Bought in a charity shop in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Nancy Marie Brown – The Far Traveller: Voygages of a Viking Woman – reconstructs the life and travels of the Icelander Gudrid and her context.

Alex Horne – Birdwatchingwatching – the comedian from Taskmaster and his dad spend a year doing competitive birdwatching with each other.

Philip Marsden – Rising Ground – a book about West Penwith, spirit of place and the historians who came before him, bought in Penzance.

Laura Thompson – The Last Landlady – the history of the British pub, through the lens of the author’s grandmother’s life as a pub landlady.

N.D. Isaacs and Rose Zimbardo – Tolkien and the critics – critical essays on Tolkien from 1970

Simon Winchester – Outposts – in 1985 he travelled to the outposts of the British Empire and this is a 2003 new edition with some additional material.

Ammon Shea – The Phone Book – known for doing a quest or two (like reading the dictionary) here he turns his attention to the history of the phone book.

Jeanette Winterson/Emmeline Pankhurst – Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere – Winterson’s call to arms from 100 years after women partially won the right to vote, plus Pankhurst’s landmark speech, Freedom or Death.

John Sutherland – Literary Landscapes – familiar literary worlds with illustrations, maps and archive material.

Anne George – Murder Runs in the Family – fun cosy mystery set in Birmingham, Alabama

Kim Gordon – Girl in a Band – autobiography covering her time in the band Sonic Youth

Tim Parks – Where I’m reading From – essays about books and reading

… and then the All Virago / All August section – I’m including Persephone and Dean Street Press as also publishing lost women’s fiction and because I don’t have seven Viragoes on the TBR if you don’t include the Thirkells I can’t read yet.

Dorothy Whipple – Young Anne – the last of her books Persephone has published and her coming of age novel

Edith Ayrton Zangwill – The Call – a scientist becomes steadily more involved with the suffragette movement

Elizabeth Eliot – Henry – the narrator’s unreliable brother joins the circus and does other shocking things

Catherine Carswell – The Camomile – portrait of a woman living in Scotland at the turn of the 19th/20th century

Ada Cambridge – The Three Miss Kings – three sisters in 1880s Melbourne. I was going to use this for AusLitMonth in November but I have so few Viragoes!

Margaret Kennedy – The Ladies of Lyndon – set around a great house in Edwardian times

Joan Aiken – The Serial Garden: The Complete Armitage Family Stories – wonderful stories all republished together and a lovely treat to finish up with.

What do you think of my Pile? Have you read any of these books? Are you doing 20 Books of Summer this year? I feel it’s a nice little bit of normality in These Circumstances.

State of the TBR – September 2019 #20BooksOfSummer #WITmonth


Much like August’s shelf, we’re chock-full, with one space for a single paperback or thin hardback. However, I did actually manage to read 12 books this month (although only five came off this physical bookshelf) so the turnover is going up.  If you haven’t counted twelve reviews, one is for Shiny New Books and I will share my review there when it’s published.

A few new acquisitions. I popped into our local Acorns shop to look for bookshelves (one day the perfect narrow tall Billy will come in and I can replace the small shelf by the bathroom door with a taller one) and then looked ON their bookshelves and the paperbacks were 50p each and I’ve been doing a fair bit of comfort reading recently so it would have been rude not to bring these home.

“Power of Three” is one of Diana Wynne Jones’ standalones, and looks like a good read in one of her believable worlds – I left her dog one there as I’m not really up for heartstring-tugging at the moment. Then Joanna Trollope, always a reliable read, seems to have published a few since the last time I looked, and “City of Friends” takes the always-interesting theme of a set of friends made at university and how they’ve changed over time (amusingly, there’s a much more highbrow version of this theme coming up and I might just have to read them next to each other.

Then I’ve got into what turns out to be a silly habit of spotting books I like on book websites and leaving them in my shopping cart, and that led to me ordering some cat litter and accidentally placing an order for “Iris Murdoch: a Centenary Celebration” edited by Miles Leeson (you can buy this in person from the amazing Second Shelf bookshop as well as the standard outlets – I’m not going to get to Second Shelf any time soon so did it the clicky way.

This is full of reminiscences from people who knew Iris Murdoch and there appear to be quite a few photographs I haven’t seen before, so it’s well worth having.

I’m going to slot it in after my final read in my Iris Murdoch readalong, “Jackson’s Dilemma” in December – that’s a short book and a sad one, so hopefully this will be a cheering read to go for after that. I have already shared about this picture on my latest Murdoch update but it seemed good to share it now, too.

I’m currently reading Angela Thirkell’s “Before Lunch” which is a nice bit of frivolity published in 1939. It’s weirdly reminding me of lap counting for a long-distance race at the moment – all the characters have been set in motion and we’ll watch them all unwind, some of them lap others, and then they’ll all come good at the end and everything will be tidy. I sort of know what’s going to happen already but not how they get there, and that’s all fine! Her massive snobbery is on show here with her portrayals of the maid classes, but no funny foreigners as yet.

I have quite a few Thirkells which arrived around last Christmas and I’m reading them all in order, even though I’ve got some gaps still in the ones I have read – then I have a load I haven’t got hold of at all yet (see the bottom of my Wish List for details).

Even though this is a Virago, it doesn’t come into All Virago / All August as I had barely started it yesterday. I did do a few books for that among the ten books I ended up reading for x Books of Summer – although I have probably read 20 books during the time period it seemed a bit wrong to do a retrospective swap-out, so I left it at 10 for this year and I’ll try for 20 again if it runs next summer. Here’s my final list.

And what’s up next? Well, as Ali has said today in her August round-up post,  reading has felt a little constrained in the last month or so, with all these challenges (she also did several for Women in Translation Month and a Robertson Davis; I did one Woman In Translation) so apart from the next two known reads, I’m letting myself have the run of my bookshelf. I think some more easy reads will be coming along.

First off I have my Iris Murdoch for September, “The Book and the Brotherhood”. This has always been a real favourite of mine, and I hope it still is. It’s a big one, too, so I hope to get it started early in the month. Then Robert Philips’ “Futurekind” is a lovely glossy and heartfelt book about real design for the people, by the people. It’s a review book for Shiny New Books and the last one I have left. Then … who knows!

What are you reading in September? Are you doing any juicy challenges?



Book review – Mary Webb – “Seven for a Secret” and some Book Confessions @ViragoBooks #amreading #20BooksOfSummer


Another great Virago read which covers both All Virago/All August and my 20BooksOfSummer project. Ali from the Heavenali blog kindly loaned me this one as she knows I like a Mary Webb and she read it almost a year ago: you can read her review here. After my review, read on for some juicy book confessions – I went to the dentist today for a check up, and we all know by now that the dentist is opposite The Works and, important today, is two doors away from the Oxfam Books …

Mary Webb – “Seven for a Secret”

(borrowed from Ali)

That rare thing, a not completely doomy Webb (this is made clear on the back and in the introduction) although things aren’t great for everyone and there’s an uncanny place full of portents waiting for something to inevitably happen. I loved, as usual, the great nature descriptions, especially finding lots of bird behaviour and also some good horses and cats (nothing bad happens to either). There’s rural worker comedy worthy of Hardy, to whom, in fact, Webb dedicates this book, “happily” which was lovely to find.

Our heroine, Gillian Lovekin, has ideas above her station, which is never a good thing to have in early 20th century rural fiction, and she’s drawn to an attractive incomer with a strange household (of course) rather than the dependable local who loves her (to be fair, her father isn’t keen on him, either. He’s a great amusing character with his outburst of “HA!” which make most people doubt themselves and get into a state). She craves even small town life, but when she gets to live with her aunt for a while, uses her powers the wrong way, and she basically has to learn patience and to help others (there is some bobbins about women’s role being to love and men’s to do which we have to skim over as a product of the time and place).

The main plot resolves by using a device that is perhaps a little convenient – but then again both “The Secret Garden” and “Jane Eyre” use the same device, so I can’t really complain. The book is saved from po-faced melodrama and “Cold Comfort Farm” style something in the woodshed doom (and I do rate Webb for herself and love her books, but reading a few bits out they do come out a little over-the-top) by the author’s wry self-knowledge, especially in the last chapter:

Things did happen almost as they should in a well-regulated novel. (p. 284)

A good read I was glad to have got to.

This was Book 10 in my 20 Books of Summer project, and as I have a Women In Translation month book to review next, am only part way through a very substantial Iris Murdoch and have two review books and countless NetGalley books on the Kindle, I’m going to call it a day here with both #20books and All Virago/All August. It’s been great fun, though!

Book confession time!

So as I mentioned, I had the dentist today and came back via Oxfam books. And these lovelies kind of fell into my arms. Well, OK, I searched through the whole shop, as you can see from the variety of books and topics, from fiction to “literature” via travel and social history.

Clara Parkes – “Knitlandia” – she travels the world meeting knitters in Iceland and the like. I am no knitter (I am the anti-knitter: I just cannot learn to do it however hard people try) but I like a travel book and I know who I will be giving this to.

Debbie Macomber – “Cottage by the Sea” – a Macomber I don’t recall reading before about a woman taking refuge in a … well, yes, you get the idea.

Stephen Moss – “A Bird in the Bush” is sub-titled “A Social History of Birdwatching” and seems to have a historical aspect as well as a current-day one. I must check where the cover photo was taken as it reminds me of a scene I saw myself on the Isles of Scilly.

Mark Cocker – “Birders: Tales of a Tribe” so what’s the chances of two books on birdwatching popping up – presumably a birdwatcher doing some deaccessioning. This one is about the author’s life among birdwatchers, so more of an ethnography, perhaps. I’m hoping Matthew will enjoy these, too (we already have another two books on birdwatching on my TBR so I’m going to have to space them out a  bit!).

Catherine Carswell – “The Camomile” is a Virago I hadn’t come across before. Seems to be about a New Woman in Edinburgh. KaggysBookishRamblings Middle Child reviewed this here a few years ago and I’ll have to pop back to read that when I’ve read this. Looks great, though.

Edward Platt – “Leadville” – this is a history of the Westway road in London, from the White City to the Hangar Lane Gyratory – I have a much-loved copy and have read it at least twice, and love the mix of social history, architecture and town planning. I’ve not read it that recently as it’s not on here but I couldn’t resist picking up a second copy to press onto someone and Best Friend Emma fancied it when I waved an image of it in her direction – hooray!

Read any of these? Think I’m terrible for giving up on 20 Books of Summer with 14 days to go??

Book review – Henry Handel Richardson – “The Getting of Wisdom” plus Stephen Rutt – “The Seafarers” @ShinyNewBooks #20BooksOfSummer @ViragoBooks #AllViragoAllAugust


It’s book review central here as I carve out more reading time and get to grips with my 20 books of summer and review books. How lucky I am to have such a wide variety to read!

First off, I need to report on one extra book I read in July – Stephen Rutt’s “The Seafarers”, which I’ve reviewed for Shiny New Books. This was a wonderful book about the (oddly hard to define) seabirds of Britain, taking in locations from the Shetlands in the North to the Scillies in the South, with beautiful, artistically written descriptions of land, sea and bird life. Although this has been talked about as being about the help nature can give to mental health, this isn’t a huge part of the story – while I know some readers like a lot of memoir in their nature writing, I like a book to be about the nature and the person’s reaction to that.

I also liked the respect the author paid to previous nature writers who have gone before him, bringing back memories of those older volumes sitting in bird hides and the hotels you stay in on birding trips. Altogether a lovely book and highly recommended. You can read my full review here and I know the lovely editors at Shiny will appreciate you popping over and having a read (you can follow their Facebook and Twitter accounts, too).

Now for #20 books of summer, another slimmer volume in the All Virago (and Persephone) All August part of the project.  Kaggsy from the Ramblings sent me this one in November via Heaven-Ali, just like “The Eye of Love” (except I’m afraid I’ll probably be putting “Maurice Guest” to one side as it looks a bit turgid and Germaine Greer thinks it’s not as good as this one. Do I do everything Greer says? No: for a start, I am still fully underclothed at all times, however much I read “The Female Eunuch” as a teenager. Anyway, this was an interesting read, especially for its Australian setting.

Henry Handel Richardson – “The Getting of Wisdom”

30 November 2018 – from Kaggsy

The getting of wisdom is of course nothing to do with the rote-learning at the boarding school where this book is set: it’s all about how to get on with people, something our heroine never quite grasps. Like “The Eye of Love” this is another book about convention: however, here, convention stifles and squashes Laura Rambotham’s spirit and natural ebulliance, making her by turns over shy but over confident, mendacious, smarmy and over religious as she works her way unsuccessfully through a couple of years of boarding school. Her mother classifies her as disobedient and self-willed and she heart-breakingly never works out how to get on with people, missing the point generally all the way along, although a hint of her future near the end suggests that she might get what she wants eventually, unlike her friends.

We feel for Laura’s poor mother, keen on needlework but mocked for her garish designs, and having to support herself and her family, eschewing stays but trying to keep everyone on the straight and narrow. There’s a great feeling for a veneer of imposed and strict ‘culture’ over the chaos of life in Australia, and the backdrop means Laura gets to rest from school by the thundering ocean, not something that features much in British school stories except as a source of danger for rescues!

There are some good, sharp comments about how to write, and how writing allows to lie as if something was true, much easier than keeping things straight in life. There’s not a huge amount of plot but as Greer says in the introduction, it’s about someone who is “ordinary, and therefore deeply important”.

This was Book 9 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

Still reading “Spam Tomorrow” (not Jam, which I claimed yesterday!) by Verily Anderson; still enjoying it very much. How are your 20 books going??

Book review – Margery Sharp – “The Eye of Love” #20BooksOfSummer @ViragoBooks #AllViragoAllAugust


Well I’m onto the All Virago (and Persephone) All August part of my 20 Books of Summer project now, and starting off with a modern reprint which the ever-lovely Kaggsy from the Ramblings sent me in November via Heaven-Ali. It’s not quite that I was picking off the slim volumes first, honestly, but this was a quick read and an easy win. And charming: just charming!

Margery Sharp – “The Eye of Love”

30 November 2018 – from Kaggsy

A funny peculiar story about an odd woman, not in her first flush of youth and in a perilous financial position, her stolid yet hugely artistic niece and her lost love, forced to marry someone else for the sake of his business. Infinitely mockable (and indeed mocked by people in the book) yet infinitely touching, Miss Diver and her Harry are seen to be a sweet couple who should not have been parted, and there’s something very bittersweet about these people who are middle-aged at best but romantic and poor like a young couple in a garret. And Martha is just a delight, with her artist’s eye and her collection of odd friends.

Martha and Miss Diver are uncompromisingly themselves, and it’s only when Miss Diver changes that she is in danger. In a world that favours convention, they do as they wish to a large extent, and we hope that Martha will never change. I loved the detailed descriptions of her art, too. And who can argue with her as she finds a lodger for Miss Diver?

‘What’s the weekly rate?’

‘I don’t know. I’m only a child,’ pointed out Martha severely. (p. 63)

Mr Joyce is a great character and I love how he links bits of the story together, his daughter too manipulative to be pitied, although Sharp has something to say about the plight of the unmarried woman. The novel is somehow merciless but with a heart (unless I’ve read it wrong and it’s really a political satire or something) and I believe there’s a sequel, which I will have to look out for.

This was Book 8 in my 20 Books of Summer project.

I’ve read another Virago by the time of reviewing (review up tomorrow) and am currently reading “Jam Tomorrow” by Verily Anderson, which is one of the new Furrowed Middlebrow titles from Dean Street Press. It’s very good and I suspect I will have a review for you on Friday of that one!

And in booky post, I received this lovely tote bag in the post from Round Table Books today. This is an independent, inclusive children’s bookshop in Brixton, South London – they appear to be pretty active on Twitter, so do have a look and a follow. They started off as a pop-up and I supported a crowdfunder to get them their own premises, and it’s all very exciting!

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