Book review – James Ward – “Adventures in Stationery”


Another 20 Books of Summer book (intro post here) and my sixth of the project; although this is the last one I’ll review this month, I’m reading my seventh at the moment, so on track for 20 in 3 months (though July is going to be a little challenging!)

This was my other Christmas present from Gill from 2020 (along with “Black, Listed”) and also finishes off my 2020 acquisitions in the main sequence that aren’t books I’m going to read along with Emma (all clear?!).

James Ward – “Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case”

(25 December 2020 – from Gill)

I’d never heard of the brand until I found an old box in a shop in Worcester Park. Why should I care about their history? But the more I thought about Velos [who made the first item he discusses], the more I thought about other companies. I thought about companies I’d never even heard of. If there was Velos, who else was out there? This, in its own small way, is part of our cultural heritage and names that were once well known have disappeared, barely leaving any sign that they existed in the first place. Which names, familiar to us today, will fade into obscurity tomorrow? But more than that, I thought about people. The people behind these objects that we take for granted. The names behind the brand names. Their lives, their histories. Who were they? What were their stories? I wanted to find out. (p. 21)

James Ward is co-founder of something called The Stationery Club in London and in this fun and very detailed book, he takes his knowledge of stationery, does even more research, and presents us with all he knows about a range of stationery topics. He starts off with a desk tidy he finds in his boyhood stationery shop, deciding to research it and other desktop items. We look at pens, pencils, erasers, staplers … and other more esoteric items such as those little tiny pens and pencils you get from Argos, betting shops and IKEA (to be fair, this is quite a short chapter). Filing cabinets are included, which don’t exactly fit into your pencil case, but we’ll forgive him that for his enthusiasm on the subject.

I learned lots from this book – for example, I hadn’t realised that the US and UK had different pencil-hardness describing systems, although once I saw a few quotations, I realised I had seen US authors talking about number 3 pencils rather than 2B, etc. It was good to see my city of Birmingham mentioned in the section on pen nibs, and there’s still a lovely Pen Museum you can visit here where you get to make your own nib! And did you know Thoreau’s role in the development of the pencil? What about the fact that there’s an ISO standard for the holes punched by a hole punch?

This is not a book for the casual reader – it goes into depth and down rabbit holes. It’s nicely done and there’s enough detail for anyone, I think. Good stuff!

This was book number 6 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 13/41 – 28 to go and a photo of a much smaller batch of books to be taken soon!

Book review – Elton John – “Me”


Look at me, whizzing down my 20 Books of Summer project is going well (intro post here)! This is my fifth book, I’ve finished the sixth, too (review hopefully tomorrow) and I’m reading my seventh, too, which means I’m actually on track with the project for the time being!

I don’t actually know when I acquired this one, as I neglected to write a note in it, but some time between Christmas 2020 and the next batch of buys in May 2021. So a mystery, but at least I’m getting towards only being a year behind myself, right?

Elton John – “Me”

(2021, gift)

That’s the thing about success. It gives you a licence to misbehave, a licence that doesn’t get revoked until your success dries up completely, or you man up and decide to hand it in yourself. And for the time being, there was no danger of either of those things happening to me. (p. 184)

So I keep going back [to Russia], and every time I do, I say something onstage about homophobia or gay rights. Sometimes a few people walk out, but the vast majority applaud, I owe it to the Russian people to keep doing that. I owe it to myself. (p. 172)

Acclaimed and excellent, it seems like everyone has read this one, but at least I ended up with the paperback with the additional chapter! There’s not much I can really say about this, I find. It’s the open, honest, warts-and-all, hugely funny but also moving autobiography you’d hope for from this much-loved entertainer, lauded song writer and good friend to both stars and ordinary people. He really doesn’t hold back at all, accepting his negative personality traits, bad behaviour when addicted and family difficulties. Ably steered by Alexis Petridis, we navigate through his life in an easy to grasp chronological order, and there’s a nice amount of detail about his friendships and especially his deep friendship and writing partnership with Bernie Taupin.

There’s a wealth of photographs in three sections of plates, as well as inside and outside the front and back covers, and information about the making of the albums as well as scurrilous gossip about other musicians, the royal family, etc. The two quotations I share at the start of this review kind of sum up the book – he sees his faults with a clear eye and accepts his mistakes; he’s committed to helping and supporting others. Long may he continue.

This was book number 5 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 12/41 – 29 to go.

Book review – Jeffrey Boakye – “Black, Listed”


My 20 Books of Summer project is going well (intro post here), and I’m now reading my fifth and sixth books from the pile. This one, my fourth, was a Christmas gift from Gill, who always picks something interesting from my wish list (James Ward’s “Adventures in Stationery” was from her, too) and it’s an interesting pre-George Floyd publication, timing which I think might have affected some aspects of the book.

And there’s a bonus review at the end! It’s a book of photos I can’t really count as something I’ve “read” as such, but very enjoyable.

Jeffrey Boakye – “Black, Listed”

(25 December 2020, from Gill)

I used to think that being black was all about balance, or lack of, or compensation for, but it’s not. If you hadn’t worked it out yet, this whole book is about distance. Ideological distance, physical distance, the distances that create difference, and the paradoxes whereby you can be intimately linked to an identity that is out of reach. My proximity to Ghana is precisely that: a paradox. It’s an inherent part of my black identity but culturally distant, leaving me, a black British Ghanaian, hovering in some kind of identity limbo. (p. 74)

Based cleverly on a list of descriptors that are used of Black people, this book entertains and educates, is provocative in its way and has some interesting points to finish with. The descriptors are arranged into topic areas such as official descriptions (Black British, POC, BAME), personal descriptors (white-sounding forename, nationality), then historical and derogatory terms (I’m going to stop listing them now, for fear of the wrong people finding this post, although those wrong people would benefit from reading this book!), loaded terms applied by White people, internal descriptors, terms of endearment and internal insults, all applied by Black people other Black people, outlaw accolades which have positives and negatives, and finally political words (conscious, marginalized, woke). Each section is a mini-essay with personal reactions, historical information and examples drawn from popular culture.

As a Black British man of African heritage who grew up in Brixton and went on to achieve in White spaces, often the only Black person in the room, worried about appearing to be a sell-out, this acts as a sort of fractured memoir for Boakye, as he mulls over the uncoolness of being African in a culture that celebrated the Caribbean and America more, and his move into White spaces, including a description of his living room. There’s a lot about class here, laid out very clearly: Black people are expected to be working class, “If we take this as a euphemism for disadvantaged” for example, and are really concentrated in cities, especially London, while being a much smaller minority than that in America.

Boakye interacts with books that were out there when he was writing this in presumably 2018 (it was published in 2019) such as Akala’s “Natives” and Reni Eddo-Lodges “Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race” as well as works like Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s “Americanah“. He talks about women’s experiences as well as men’s, although with some trepidation:

I’m scared of writing this one (“Bitch”) because I really, really don’t want to get it wrong. It’s like taking an engine apart and trying not to get your hands dirty; I don’t want to get any misogyny on me. (p. 347)

and makes sure that he quotes women and research by women, and he also covers gay men’s experience (but not gay women’s or trans people’s), again, quoting gay men and research. He reaches the nascent #BlackLivesMatter movement in the Conclusion, praising how it had woken people up to structural racism and prejudice and talks about how the uptick in publishing and advertising featuring Black writers and families might be to do with economics but is still positive. In this section he mentions his copy-editor’s views on Generation Z, which was refreshing to see!

But it’s only at the very end that he says one tiny thing that he thinks “might make some readers bristle” (basically the idea that White liberals and leftists seek to “prove [their] understanding of blackness” (p. 393) but that “liberalism itself still exists within a paradigm of white dominance” (ibid.) and then at the very end describes how he’s tried to take a light touch in the book but all these descriptors “could have exploded at any moment” (p. 394) and how he’s gone from tour guide to war journalist, “and now I’m realising I’m a civilian under attack, and we’re all in the firing line” (ibid.). I wonder if in a post-George-Floyd world he’d have been more open about this and more provocative – I’ll have to have a look at what he’s been doing more recently (I basically need to get and read his “I Heard What You Said,” about education, soon).

But an entertaining and educative book that will make you think and will teach you some new things, even though other books have gone over similar ground in some respects since. The arrangement of the pieces is genius and really helps this one stand out. Highly recommended.

This was number 4 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 11/41 – 30 to go (and I must remember to photograph the pile at the start of next month!).

Bonus Extra Book

Matthew Pinner – “Dorset in Photographs”

(12 June 2022, gift)

Paul from HalfManHalfBook very kindly sent me this one, as he’s a resident of Dorset and it’s my ancestral home. It’s a lovely collection of photographs, arranged by season, with the same subjects (Corfe Castle, Swanage, etc.) cropping up several times with different light and weather conditions. It’s a super book but I don’t think I can count it in my “Books read” totals as there is literally no text apart from a paragraph at the start and the captions. I did enjoy it very much and it took me back to a few places as well as introducing me to some I don’t know.

Book review – Stella Gibbons – “The Bachelor”


Ooh, I’m well away, aren’t I – book 3 in my 20 Books of Summer (intro post here), and I’m now reading my fourth and fifth ones. As with “The Half-Crown House”, Heaven-Ali gave me this one as part of my LibraryThing Virago Group Not So Secret Santa gift for Christmas 2020; the two I’m reading now were both from that Christmas, I can’t remember when Elton John arrived but he wasn’t a Christmas present, and then we somehow hop to May 2021 in the TBR, which is quite exciting.

As well as getting one of my TBR challenge books done and dusted, this one fits into the LibraryThing Virago Group’s monthly challenge: a book by a Virago author not published by Virago (it’s a Vintage edition). Win-win-win!

Stella Gibbons – “The Bachelor”

(25 December 2020, from Ali)

Miss Fielding enjoyed arguing, though she had a habit of suddenly ending the battle at its height by remembering the Good Principle and saying with a smile, ‘But of course, Truth is a jewel with a million facets, as the Jains say, so why dim those facets by arguing?’ and leaving her opponent maddened but helpless. (p. 66)

Published in 1944 and set at about the same time, the war is lingering on but at Sunglades, a newish house in the Home Counties, it’s not having too much of an effect – Miss Fielding is so anti-war she refuses to believe in it, they’ve got rid of their evacuees and plan to fill the house with nice foreigners so as to avoid having any more, some servant or other will do the queuing for shops and Mr Fielding continues to work as a solicitor and tend his garden, bullied into acquiescence by Miss Fielding. She is like their mother without having the kindness and work ethic, everyone fears he’s like their father. They’re in their fifties, living with a slightly older cousin, Miss Burton, and nothing is set to change.

Then into the household burst, variously, Vartouhi, a pert and steely young refugee, come as a general help but with strong views on how to run a household, Betty, a widow for years who once broke Kenneth Fielding’s heart, and her son Richard, delicate in the lung but strong in mind and principles. As the story goes along, local girl Alice, who is secretly sick of racketing about but doesn’t know how to stop, the Fieldings’ father, a rather rackety chap himself, and a man from an unknown country for whose letters Miss Fielding lives and who she secretly must surely love.

As the men and women meet and interact, loves and love triangles set themselves up. This is all fun and fine, and the setting is great; the thing I had a problem with is that Vartouhi is from an invented country that seems oh, too much like the blasted Mixo-Lydia of Angela Thirkell’s novels – so a vehicle for a rather nasty xenophobia and opportunity to laugh at funny foreigners and their funny ways. We have scenes set in “Bairamia” which exhibit exoticism, orientalism and just plain laughing-at-funny-foreigners, Vartouhi has rather irritating artless broken English and it just seems unnecessary; she could have been from somewhere real or just an English girl of a different class. Gibbons has written unreadable satire elsewhere (“Conference at Cold Comfort Farm“, I’m looking at you) but also lovely cheery multiple character studies (“A Pink Front Door“) and while I can see she’s satirising peace makers in a comfortable position who wage war in their own houses, the xenophobia seems just that. So I’m a bit ambivalent about this one, although I did enjoy seeing the couples match up and lovely Kenneth get out from under the thumb a bit.

This was number 3 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 10/41 – 31 to go.

Book review – Helen Ashton – “The Half-Crown House”


Next book in my 20 Books of Summer (intro post here), and I’m now reading my third and fourth (and working down the pile nicely in order, too!). Heaven-Ali gave me this one as part of my LibraryThing Virago Group Not So Secret Santa gift for Christmas 2020 (along with its prequel, “Yeoman’s Hospital“).

Helen Ashton – “The Half-Crown House”

(25 December 2020, from Ali)

Set over 24 hours, as “Yeoman’s Hospital” was, the half-crown house is the crumbling manor house inhabited by the Hornbeam family a sort of sad and crumbling remnant itself, as we have Henrietta, whose twin brother was killed in the Second World War, living there with her grandmother, bedridden but holding the strings of the house still, her cousin Charles and various old retainers. Into this comes Victor, Henry’s son and thus the heir, but a young boy, dropped off by his mother and stepfather to live in the world of the Hornbeams. And why the title? Because they let visitors into the house and gardens for half a crown to try to keep things going.

We meander through the day, there are visitors to the house and gardens and an American who’s keen on Henrietta comes to view a painting he wants to buy with his art dealer. One set of paying visitors stays for tea and the post-war social situation is shown up, with crumbling aristocrats and new money, and some doctors left who aren’t on the NHS. We inhabit the viewpoints and minds of various characters of different types through the day. It will take some kind of shocking event to happen to make something work out for, perhaps, the best. Does one? I wouldn’t like to give anything away; I will say that the kitchen cat comes through it all fine.

The racial politics is a bit startling in this book. I noticed a few slightly dodgy comments about the West Indian heiress who married into the family a couple of centuries back and about living in Kenya, then noticed these were all put in the mouths of characters we’re obviously supposed to find unattractive. The same with the one anti-Semitic moment, and the person discussed there is very much not a stereotype. While it’s inconceivable in the book that the gentleman who visits from the Caribbean and tries to claim his heritage could do so, the family is proud of its “black children”, seen in a painting, from whom Cousin Charles is proudly descended, and he would have liked to have seen the chap end up with the house. So that’s interesting for a book published in 1956, I felt.

A poignant moment was provided by a discussion of Queen Elizabeth, only just crowned then but predicted by a small, grubby boy to be the last monarch, with all to be gone by the time young Victor comes of age – little did Ashton know I’d be reading this book just after the Diamond Jubilee! But a poignant book all told, and covering a desperate time for the lovely old homes of England (still struggling and taking in paying visitors, of course, by the time of “Murder Before Evensong“!

This was number 2 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 9/41 – 32 to go.

Book review – Ruth Pavey – “A Wood of One’s Own”


Well at last I’ve got going with my 20 Books of Summer (intro post here), and in fact I’m part-way into Helen Ashton’s “The Half-Crown House”, too, so feel like I’ve made a proper start. The lovely Bookish Beck sent me this one in her 2020 December parcel, something of a tradition now; this had been better edited than some in that parcel (I think this is actually the last one from it) and there are fewer pencilled corrections!

Ruth Pavey – “A Wood of One’s Own”

(24 December 2020, from Bookish Beck)

What pleasure there is in learning another landscape, and the stories that have grown from it. (p. 12)

In this charming book, Ruth Pavey decides she wants to buy a piece of woodland to look after and cherish and in which to plant trees, after she realises this is what she wants to do but finds other places, like allotments, too temporary to do so. She returns to the land of her ancestors, Somerset, the bit near Bridgwater, to do so, and we read about her purchase of, settling into and work on the wood, as well as her relationships with her neighbours and various working people of the countryside.

It’s all very practical though with some romantic notions (she develops the idea of a mediaeval owner of Sugg’s Orchard before discovering what zuggy actually means, and has notions of keeping ancient apples going that are floored when no one can decide what varieties they are). She is resourceful and relatively fearless, installing herself for a number of years in a little wheeled workers’ wagon before moving to spend nights in a cottage. She bonds with various brothers and cousins, which is lovely to read about, especially exciting when some Overds are mentioned, as I’m descended from Somerset Overds myself! I also loved how all sorts of people gave her trees they’d grown when they found out she had a wood. There are only a couple of “Nature red in tooth and claw” moments and one page of unpleasantness – not bad for a modern nature book!

While she’s unable to explain to a friend what all this is “for”, she obviously gets huge pleasure from the wood and her efforts in it. She makes improvements and leaves all the various animals and insects alone in it, though she does feel that they melt away when she’s there and return when she goes. The long-term nature of it is highlighted and the impossibility of finishing it:

And, or so I try to comfort myself, it is not in the nature of this project to yield instant results. (p. 169)

This was number 1 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 8/41 – 33 to go.

State of the TBR – June 2022


Well, looking at last month’s picture, the TBR is about the same but with fewer review copies balanced on top, so that’s a win, right? I’ve left my stash of Three Investigators novels in the pic although they don’t count in the “official” TBR somehow. Sorry for the slightly wonky picture.

I only managed to finish fifteen books in May, that’s still one every two days or so but I’d hoped to read more. I don’t have any read in May to review fully here but there are two reviews for Shiny New Books that I haven’t mentioned on here yet. I read or am still reading all of the print TBR I said I MUST read. I read and reviewed seven out of the nine NetGalley books I had TBR for May, DNF’d one and have one still to read (“The New Doctor at Peony Practice”; I need to read the first six in the series, I’ve got the NEXT one now too, but the publicist at the publisher is fine about the delay). I read and loved “The Scapegoat” for Ali’s Daphne du Maurier reading week.

I picked two books off the TBR out of my new quarter of TBR challenge books but haven’t finished them yet, so still have 36 left to go.

Shiny New Books

I reviewed Jude Rogers’ “The Sound of Being Human” for Shiny New Books – a wonderful memoir of her life in and with music and exploration of how music shapes our lives.


I was actually quite restrained with print books in this last month.

I’m reading and reviewing Nicholas Orme’s “Going to Church in Medieval England” for the Wolfson History Prize book tour, something I’ve been taking part in for several years now. It looks fascinating and approachable and I’ll be reviewing it on 15 June. I saw mention of “Iceland: People, Sagas, Landscapes” by Hans Swik on Paul’s Half Man Half Book blog and had to track down a copy for myself (I had a lucky catch of a copy on Abe Books); a super book of photos and essays. “Haramacy” edited by Zahed Sultan is my latest Unbound subscription copy to arrive: it’s essays from the Middle East, South Asia and diaspora. And Hayley from Rather Too Fond of Books highlighted Patrick Hutchinson’s “Everyone Versus Racism: A Letter to Change the World” by the guy who carried a White counter-protestor to safety out of a Black Lives Matter protest last year and I had to pick up a copy.

I bought NO e-books for Kindle this month.

I won a few NetGalley books this month again:

I haven’t actually read Ibram X. Kendi’s well-respected earlier books but was intrigued by his “How to Raise an Antiracist” (published July), which concentrates on bringing up children to be actively antiracist. I was offered Emily Kerr’s “Take a Chance on Greece” (July) by the publisher and it looks like a fun holiday read with a setting somewhere I’ve only been once myself. “Refugee Wales: Syrian Voices” edited by Angham Abdullah, Beth Thomas and Chris Weedon (November) continues my strand of reading about Wales and its diverse populations. I was offered “100 Queer Poems” (June), selected by poets Mary Jean Chan and Andrew McMillan by the publisher on the strength of my review of “Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head”; it collects past and contemporary poets together. And the Reverend Richard Coles’ “Murder Before Evensong” (June) was a must-request when I was reminded by Hayley that I wanted to read it: I assume we’re in Richard Osman territory but it should be fun, too.

“The Wilderness Cure” by Mo Wilde (August) looks like it came from an email where the first 100 to request get the book: it’s the author’s description of living off free and foraged food for a year. Emiko Jean’s “Mika in Real Life” (September) is a novel about a woman trying to create a relationship with the teenage daughter she gave up for adoption when she was a teenager herself. Tasneem Abdur-Rasheed’s “Finding Mr Perfectly Fine” (July) is a novel about a Muslim girl in London trying to find Mr Right before her mum finds him for her. And Christie Barlow’s “New Beginnings at the Old Bakehouse” (July) is the one I mentioned in the Love Heart Lane series that is waiting on me reading the first six, with the PR’s blessing.

So that was 15 read and 13 coming in in May – not too bad!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “The Virago Book of Women Travellers” edited by Mary Morris, which Ali kindly passed to me as it’s a massive, heavy hardback; it fitted in with the LibraryThing Virago Group’s life stories theme for May and it’s full of wonderful tales (I have skipped those that are in the Travellers books I bought recently so I get the full effect when I read them). I’m loving Sheila Gear’s “Foula” about life on a remote Shetland island, and I’m also loving Helen Ashton’s “Yeoman’s Hospital” which is a novel set over 24 hours in a wartime regional hospital and fascinating. I’m still reading “Cut From the Same Cloth?” with Emma, too: these essays from British women who wear the hijab are so interesting.

Coming up next, the start of my print TBR …

Obviously I’m prioritising “Going to Church in Medieval England” and then I have my Larry McMurtry, “The Late Child”, sequel to “The Desert Rose” which I loved in May. Then it’s also the start of my 20 Books of Summer project (see my introductory post here), so Ruth Pavey’s “A Wood of One’s Own”, Helen Ashton’s next Wilchester novel (they’re hard to find so it’s not the next one after “Yeoman’s Hospital”), “The Half-Crown House”, Stella Gibbons’ “The Bachelor” and Jeffrey Boakye’s “Black, Listed”. Hopefully I’ll get through more than those and the three books I’m currently reading.

My NetGalley TBR for June is nice and small which should help with the above.

From the incomings above I have “100 Queer Poems” and “Murder Before Evensong”, then “These Impossible Things” by Salma El-Wardany (three British Muslim women against the world, then something happens to divide them), “Dele Weds Destiny” by Tomi Obaro (three Nigerian women against the world, then one of them marries a White man and moves to the US, we see their friendship over 30 years), and Mya-Rose Craig’s “Birdgirl” (story of a young environmental activist).

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and 11 books I plan to read this month, plus more off the 20 Books of Summer and a couple of Love Heart Lane e-books if I can. Seems doable, right?

How was your May reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?

Big Reveal: My 20 Books of Summer Pile


Every year, the lovely Cathy at 746Books runs the 20 Books of Summer challenge, and I’ve taken part every year since 2015, though I certainly haven’t completed the challenge every year (my master 20Books page is here). The challenge starter page is here and there are over 85 people taking part at the moment, which is astounding and lovely, including lots of bloggers I read already.

I usually create my pile out of my print TBR, taking the earliest books on it although also adding some Viragoes and the like in at the end for All Virago / All August. This year, I’m being even more strict, and only the two Dean Street Press books I have coming up are slotting into August, although maybe I’ll be able to fit more in if I finish early.

What’s NOT included in my 20 Books pile?

  • Ebooks whether NetGalley or downloaded from Amazon
  • Review books sent by the publisher or author specifically for review on Shiny New Books or my blog
  • Books for other challenges I might do along the way (I don’t think I have anything falling into that category this time)
  • Books I am reading along with my best friend, Emma
  • Books I’m part-way through at the turn of the month

What IS included in my 20 Books pile?

  • The oldest 20 books on my print TBR that don’t fall into the above categories.


And here they are!

Ruth Pavey – A Wood of One’s Own – all about owning a bit of woodland and I think rewilding

Helen Ashton – The Half-Crown House – mid-20th century novel

Stella Gibbons – The Bachelor – another mid-20th century novel

Jeffrey Boakye – Black, Listed – the experience of Black men in the UK

Elton John – Me – the autobiography

James Ward – Adventures in Stationery – something we probably all like, right?

Anna McNuff – The Pants of Perspective – solo running the length of New Zealand

Alex Hutchinson – Endure: Mind, Body and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance – what it says on the tin

Martin Yelling and Anji Andrews – Running in the Midpack – running and improving when you’re not a new runner and you’re not an elite (might get promoted up the pile as reading with Wendy)

Mikki Kendall – Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women White Feminism Forgot – required reading for White feminists

Angie Thomas – On the Come Up – novel set in America by the author of The Hate U Give

Candice Braithwaite – I Am Not Your Baby Mother – Black women’s experience of maternity

Anna Aslanyan – Dancing on Ropes – translation and why it’s important

Nicholas Royle – White Spines: Confessions of a Book Collector – he collects a particular imprint

Rob Deering – Running Tracks: The Places and Playlists that Made me a Runner – running and music in this Unbound book I subscribed to

Sue Anstiss – Game On: The Unstoppable Rise of Women’s Sport – finally we’re seeing more coverage, and this is another Unbound book I subscribed to

Lucy Delap – Feminisms – a history that aims to cover worldwide, not just White developed nations feminism

Edward Hancox – Every Last Puffin – he visits puffin sites in this book I took part in a crowdfunder for

Carola Oman – Nothing to Report / Somewhere in England – two Dean Street Press reprints of WW2 novels.

So, four mid-20th century novels, two nature books, three running books, two general sports books, two books on feminism, three books on Black people’s experiences, two books on music, book on books and words and one on stationery. Five fiction and fifteen non-fiction (a bit unbalanced but I will read other fiction during the summer). Twelve by women, seven by men and one by a man and a woman, sounds about the usual ratio. Will I do it? I really don’t know. But I’ll enjoy trying.

Are you doing 20 Books of Summer this year?

Book review – Angela Thirkell – “Peace Breaks Out” and 20 Books of Summer round-up


And I’ve reached the end of my 20 Books of Summer project!

I bought this book in August 2020 when it was published, to complete my set of Thirkells up to the end of the Second World War.

And in general I’ve very much enjoyed doing my 20 books of summer. During the June-August period I’ve actually read 43 books, but I have got 20 books off my TBR, which is always the plan with this project. This year, I went a bit different and, instead of just picking the 20 oldest books on my TBR, selected two months of diverse reading then one of Viragoes and the like. This worked well, although I did give myself a lot of non-fiction to read in the first two months and ended up swapping out two of those books for Virago novels Don’t fear – I will get those read and reviewed soon! Click on the link to find links to all my reviews for 20 Books of Summer and thank you to Cathy at 746 Books for hosting as always!

How have you got on if you’re doing 10/15/20 Books of Summer/Winter?

Angela Thirkell – “Peace Breaks Out”

(20 August 2020)

It did not pay, the Admiral said, to ask people politely if you wanted anything done. The Adamses gave their orders and took it for granted that they would be obeyed; just as he, the Admiral, had done in his flagship. Why had the leadership passed from the Admiral and his like? (p. 179)

Even more than the last one, this book is full of tired people and bad cakes, powdered milk and restrictions and rumours. The old guard is being threatened even more by newcomers, never more than when the post-war election happens and two familiar characters are pitted against one another.

We start off with the book centring around Mr Scatcherd the artist with a capital A and his neighbours, the Hallidays, George and Sylvia being the young people of the house, both on leave from their wartime jobs. Soon, with much pleasure, we re-acquaint ourselves with Anne Fielding, who we met in the last book, and her introduction to Sylvia and then the glamorous (or bitchy, ageing and balding playboy) David Leslie and the charming Leslie family, Miss Bunting’s favourite pupil but souring a little as he ages. Martin Leslie and his sister are enjoying farming and many of the young women in the book are aiming for non-traditional careers, which is nice to see. Will Anne have her head turned or will her solid friendship with Robin Dale sustain her?

Even though a Very Bad Word appears in the book (though used positively, hm …) the value again lies in the portrayal of a tired and battered populace almost regretfully accepting the changes of peacetime, trying to keep certain family rituals going, finding cars and petrol to get to visit their friends, doing OK if they live in the country and grow vegetables. Certain almost feudal systems are still going, and there’s still a distinction between Barchester and The County, but incursions are coming, women are wearing trousers and, in a rather wonderful long passage, we see that housewives are very worn down indeed.

A good end to the series for me, although Thirkell kept writing books in the series, and I’m glad it finished off my 20 Books of Summer 2021.

This was Book 20 in my 20 Books of Summer project and Book 7 in AV/AA.

Book review – Angela Thirkell – “Miss Bunting”


Ploughing on through my 20 Books of Summer project now, and getting through towards the end of the war in my Thirkells. Of course this then also comes under All Virago/All August territory so I feel like I’m doing terribly well! I’m part-way through “Peace Breaks Out” alongside my delicious pile of review books for Shiny New Books and am fairly sure I will finish my 20, read and reviewed and tidy, by the end of the month.

I received this book as part of my LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa group gift from Cate in 2018 and have been saving it since then to read it in the right order (my Pile of such books will be disappearing soon!).

How are you getting on if you’re doing 10/15/20 Books of Summer/Winter?

Angela Thirkell – “Miss Bunting”

(25 December 2018 – from Cate)

It did not pay, the Admiral said, to ask people politely if you wanted anything done. The Adamses gave their orders and took it for granted that they would be obeyed; just as he, the Admiral, had done in his flagship. Why had the leadership passed from the Admiral and his like? (p. 179)

This was quite an elegaic book in a way, the war is winding on, people are tired, the cakes are getting worse and everyone’s managing with too few servants. There’s also woven throughout this novel the clash between the old values of The County, the old guard, a sort of benevolent feudalism and definite care for the proprieties, and the new world of industry and commerce, represented by factory owner Sam Adam and his slightl-less-gauche-now daughter, Heather (we met them in the last book). Sam has the old guard on his board of directors but then has got onto the magistrate’s bench and pops up in the Archaeological Society and other local organisations, determined to work his way into The County but not sure of the niceties. I don’t think Thirkell is completely against his kind, though, as she shows Sam and Heather being softened by their encounters with her more favoured characters, and Sam does acts of genuine kindness.

The other main characters are Robin Dale, son of the elderly rector, invalided out of the war and running a boys’ school locally while his old boss at the big school wants him back, Jane Gresham, living with her father and her delightful if slightly Tony Morland-ish son, Frank, unclear as to whether her husband Francis, lost in the Far East, is alive or dead and not knowing how she feels about either, and Anne Fielding, recovering invalid, who is in the village to pick up her education with the renowned Miss Bunting, who has appeared here and there before, Bunny’s last project, and a satisfying one at that, before she lapses into happy retirement.

So there’s a sadness through the book – Robin’s lost a foot and feels lost himself, Jane doesn’t know how she feels but has a weight pressing on her constantly and Miss Bunting looks back at so many pupils in so many theatres of war, and her dream of laying down her life to protect theirs is incredibly poignant. There’s plenty of comedy and set-pieces from the side-characters and of course a Mixo-Lydian refugee for the author to sneer at (although this one holds her own and is accomplished and resilient) but that’s the over-riding feel of the book, with some gentle romance woven in.

There are the usual references back to Trollope and side-references keeping us up to date with characters from other books – I was sad to only have tiny glimpses of the Beltons from the last book, though. And although Mr Middleton and Mr Tebben’s one-upmanship in boringness at the Archaeological is a bit more tedious than it should be, a random mention of the former’s trip to Iceland and his “great walk over the country of Njal and Gunnar of Lithend” (p. 243) [there’s now a petrol station at Hliðarendi and I’ve had a slice of pizza there] was cheering.

This was Book 19 in my 20 Books of Summer project and Book 6 in AV/AA

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