Book review – Mitch Prinstein – “Popular” @ShinyNewBooks #amreading #20BooksOfSummer

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I received this book from the publisher via NetGalley and have reviewed it for the lovely book review newsletter, Shiny New Books – do pop over and have a look at some other reviews there, too! Here’s an extract from my review, and you can see the full thing over at the Shiny site – just click on the “read more” link at the bottom.

“Prinstein’s basic tenets in this book are that popularity as such only starts to become a big issue in adolescence; how popular you are in your adolescence can form the basis of how popular you’ll be in later life; and being Unpopular can put you at risk of all sorts of health issues and later-life problems, both mental and physical. So far, so depressing. I’m not sure, but I’d like to bet that those of us who were in the less popular segment at school are probably the more likely ones to be picking this book up. So does Prinstein doom us to a life of the same status we had at school (shudder!)?

Not exactly (thank you!). Because it turns out there is more than one kind of popularity, and the ones all those Homecoming Queens and jocks had isn’t always going to carry through into brilliant times for the rest of their lives. So that’s OK, then. And there are also ways in which you can “fake it till you make it,” i.e. mimic the behaviours of the truly likeable until you become more so yourself …”

[read more]

This was Book 2 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

Book review – Natasha Solomons – “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands” #20Booksofsummer #amreading


Pushing on after my reviewing slump, I’m having a catch-up so expect a few posts (though there’ll be a mid-week break while I catch up my business blog, currently in the middle of a series about dealing with spam, if you’re at all interested). I’m reading two fabulous books at the moment, so this horrendous sight is diminishing almost as I write this! Even better, they are Books 7 and 8 in my #20BooksOfSummer project, which means I’m keeping nicely up to date with it and won’t have a terrible scramble at the end of August. This one, Book 5, is from the lovely Luci again, at our LibraryThing mini-meet and book buy, back in November.

Natasha Solomons – “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands”

(19 November 2016, from Luci)

Set (or starting) in the 1960s, we follow the story of Juliet Montague, a woman both married and not married living in a conservative Jewish community which holds conforming in the highest regard. Her husband left here a few years ago, but having a husband who’s disappears brings with it an embarrassing and awkward half-status and Juliet feels half-alive as a consequence. Accidentally falling in with a group of artists, she forges her own way in life – daring to be different and even going on a road trip in the US. But can she ever really escape her origins? She remains slightly outside the riotous 60s life, allowing us to observe it from the outside and the inside, and her community, where she still returns to lay her head, sums her up thus: “She was polite but there was pertness in her gaze”.

This was a good read, but I felt that the author was maybe slightly too keen on her subject – unsurprisingly, if you look at the note about her inspiration for her book – she never really comes wholly alive for me, perhaps because she’s a representative cipher and nothing is really allowed to be negative about her. I also felt it suffered a bit in the latter stages from rushing to update us on all the characters. The different tracks of her children’s lives are interesting, as is her daughter’s rebellion in the only way she can find to shock her mother. And I do like the idea of all the portraits of this fairly ordinary woman lining her stairs. Another point in its favour is that it didn’t end as I started to fear it would.

This was Book 5 in my #20BooksOfSummer project.

So I’m loving both Francis Brett Young’s “Black Diamond” and “ReWilding”, which I started to leaf through then couldn’t put down. The latter is being reviewed for Shiny New Books but I’ll make sure I do a summary and a link here so you can all find it easily.

Book review – Barbara Taylor, “Eve and the New Jerusalem” #20booksofsummer #amreading


I’ll admit here that I’ve had a bit of a blogging slump – I haven’t posted since Monday, I think (did anyone notice, though?) and have got into that cycle one gets into of “Does anyone care what I read anyway,” etc. All very tedious. I’ve slipped behind with my blog reading, too – not because I don’t care but just I think because I’ve got out of the habit of keeping my life ordered and under control, with house chores slipping around all over the place etc., since I’ve tried to come back to full arrangements now my medical issues seem fully resolved. Anyway, here’s a book I finished a while ago, and I’ll annoyingly be scrambling to catch up again now as I’ve finished two more since then!

Barbara Taylor – “Eve and the New Jerusalem”

(19 November 2016 – from Luci’s generous book bags at our London meetup)

As the subtitle is “Socialism and Feminism in the Nineteenth Century,” I thought it was going to be more about the late part of the century and the New Woman, but in fact it’s very specifically about Owenism in the 1830s to 1840s. This was a movemenbt which looked to create a new world order based in part (though more on the part of the followers than the founder) on sex equality and marriage reform, with a more standard emphasis on communal property and communities of believers (or should I say non-believers, as I understand it to be quite anti-established-religion?).

There were plenty of women providing voices and role models in the movement and more writing in to its newspaper, and the author works well with the primary sources – it’s a classic bit of 1980s feminist history work, which made me quite nostalgic for my university days just as Women’s Studies was fading out a bit. It’s great also great at setting the movement within its context, both in terms of the history of feminist and socialist writing extending from the 1790s and in terms of the anti-Jacobin suppression by organised religion of those movements and then also the suppression by “Victorian values” which quashed Owenism in the end, too.

There’s a good understanding of double or mixed standards and tensions within the movement and society, with working class families supporting the movement and an awareness that in fact women were tied not so much by marriage as by maternity. A careful and thorough work, even if it wasn’t quite what I expected.

This was Book 4 of my #20BooksOfSummer

I’m about to start “Rewilding” about getting back to nature, and “The Black Diamond” in case I don’t fancy returning to nature over the breakfast table, having read “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands” and “Something Wholesale”. And I’ll read your blog posts soon, if you’re someone I usually read!

Book review – Helen Mitsios – “Out of the Blue” #20booksofsummer #amreading


At last some progress on my #20BooksOfSummer project – I’ve read number 2 and submitted my review to Shiny New Books and will post here when that goes live, so you’ll just have to believe I’ve read that one (it was Mitch Prinstein’s “Popular”) and move on to Book 3. This was a swap for “Old Filth” which I’ve discovered I still just don’t want to read – fortunately, I had a few books waiting around I could swap, and this was the earliest published on my NetGalley list so got to hop into its place. Now, read on to marvel at a massive assumption I made about books by Icelandic authors …

Helen Mitsios – “Out of the Blue”

(E-book 8 June 2017)

Thanks to the publisher and to NetGalley for making this book available in return for an honest review.

This is a collection of Icelandic short fiction, I’m assuming fairly new pieces. I  was initially surprised to encounter Icelanders on summer holidays in Europe, on the beach and so forth! All the other Icelandic fiction I’ve read so far has only ventured as far as other Scandinavian countries, and so it was interesting to read about Icelandic folk in these places.

Some of the stories were a little bit gruesome or unpleasant – but I was expecting more of this and there certainly wasn’t any of the deeply bloody Scandi-noir you find in so many of the novels – an Unpleasantness or two, one for comic effect, and certainly not what I’d call gratuitous (there is a sad pet bit, in the Raven story, so you might want to avoid that one). Some  other stories were dreamy and a bit surreal, which I would expect.

I particularly liked the incursion of Icelandic texts into the stories, especially in “Afternoon by the Pacific Ocean” by Kristin Omarsdottir, which sees Marilyn Monroe and Greta Garbo curling up to read Egill’s Saga to one another! There are also surprising twists and funny or heart-wrenching endings and outcomes, and I particularly liked the clever very short piece, “A Pen Changes Hands” by Oskar Arni Oskarsson. As a whole, I think the collection gives a good overview of the range of Icelandic writing, and it’s also full of the ironic, deadpan style I’ve liked from the sagas through Laxness to modern novels.

This was Book 3 in my #2oBooksOfSummer project 2017.

I’ve read Book 4 and I’m currently on Book 5, Natasha Solomon’s “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands”, which is just starting to hot up. How are you getting on if you’re doing the challenge?

Book review – Dean Karnazes – “The Road to Sparta” and final book confessions (for now) #amreading #books #bookhaul


I think the final two books from my ordering frenzy have now appeared … Well, I typed that yesterday and then today I got the bus that I have to get off half way up the high street, and found myself in The Works … the only word I can say really is “Oops”. Photos below, but do read the review first as it was in interesting read.

Dean Karnazes – “The Road to Sparta”

(bought 16 June 2016 so I could join in the Runners’ Bookshelf June read)

Karnazes has already published a few books on ultra-running, which I haven’t yet read, so here we get a potted history of why he took up the sport and how he has progressed to being a bit of a celebrity in the field. This book is mainly about his embracing of his Greek heritage and attempt to run the incredibly gruelling Spartathlon (fortunately, this run that takes in the path of the first marathon runner has off-road bits, horrible hill climbing and really strict cut-offs, so not something I’d ever consider attempting). He also attempts to bring the story of Pheidippides, that original marathon runner, to life and explain just what his achievement really was, as he feels this has got lost in history written by people who don’t understand (ultra) running.

Although lots of people have mixed history with “in the footsteps” books, they have usually been historians first, and some of the historical writing does feel a little bit clunky – but bravely done, with his heart and soul put into it, and he’s clear where he veers off into conjecture. He has a bit of a flowery writing style, too, which reads sometimes more like a talking style, but that’s easy enough to get into.

One thing I was surprised by was that he wasn’t as arrogant as I’d expected (I don’t know why I expected that, just from his exploits, I suppose, as every ultra-runner I’ve known or met has been very nice). He’s pretty self-effacing and humble, and he talks about being dyslexic, even “not that bright” and with not-great people skills: he manages to be very engaging in his book for all that (it’s worth mentioning here that I don’t feel his writing style is indicative of his dyslexia at all, but I wonder if he worked with recording his words first, hence the similarity to spoken language). He’s suitably grateful to the people who support races and respectful of his fellow runners, which is typical of most runners but lovely to read.

The book’s also funny – for example when he signs up (alone) for a 199 mile relay race in order to get the distance in, wondering whether the organisers will be confused by every member of the team having the same name. He runs a marathon in a toga, just to see what it’s like, and gets some interesting chafing. He also admits his errors, running on empty and not doing basic self-care routines during Spartathlon, but mentioning that this is hypocritical, as it’s something he tells newbie runners firmly not to do!

Exciting and engaging, the book winds up with a description of the end of the race (though has he run all the way himself?) which involves being given a wreath and touching a statue, so not your usual race finish! He has some true things to say about how even the marathon winkles out your weaknesses, and I will certainly be picking up his other books.


On to these last purchases. This one was down to some awful, wicked recommendation in a Runners’ Bookshelf group I belong to. It’s about the neuroscience of sport, looking at elites but also how you can apply some of the learning to the amateur athlete. Well, I can’t resist a running book, can I?

While we’re here, I appear to have developed some more NetGalley books (I’ve lost my 80% reviewed badge for the time being, because I have got a few TBR now and haven’t read enough to make myself stay in that 80% category if I add too many new ones).

“The Gender Agenda” by James Millar and Ros Ball is about the new gender issues that have become more visible recently. Danzy Senna wrote a novel called “From Caucasia with Love” which I adored years ago and has come up with a new novel, “New People”. Joshua Clark Davis has written “From Head Shops to Whole Foods” about the changing face of activist entrepreneurs, Marta McDowell’s “The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder” looks fascinating although I have to read it on my PC in a weird format (grr) and finally Debbie Macomber’s publishers got in touch with an automatically approved offer of her new one, “Any Dream will Do” (cue earworm). What’s a girl to do??

And this is a new one by the lovely Paul Magrs – if you enjoyed his Brenda and Effie series, you won’t want to miss this one, about a group of authors in 1930s Oxford (remind you of anyone in particular?) and their elusive servant, Brenda … I will NOT be able to control myself and will end up reading this before it reaches the top of the TBR, I just know it.

I then had the aforementioned issue in The Works and had one last fling with book buying for the foreseeable future. Well, a Debbie Macomber I hadn’t seen before, another Cornwall book (I’ve got two nights there and two long train journeys …) and one about a MOBILE LIBRARY … you see my problem.

Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings mentioned the other day that she’d love to see a photo of the TBR in its current, horrendous state, so here’s a special photo just for her. No one else can even SEE it, right?

And yes, it’s double-stacked, and the back row goes all the way behind the Pile. I don’t think this is the actual worst it’s ever been, but incomings have been much higher than outgoings just recently …

In final news, I’ve had a swap around already in my #20BooksOfSummer list. I just couldn’t face Jane Gardam’s “Old Filth” as I just don’t want to read about ageing and crumbling at a time when I’ve been doing just that! So I have swapped in an e-book I recently won on NetGalley called “Out of the Blue”, edited by Helen Mitsios, which is new short stories from Icelandic writers. Exciting (and I’ve had a lazy Sunday and have read it already – review tomorrow!).

Book review – Dorothy Whipple – “Every Good Deed and Other Stories” (Persephone) plus what happened in Oxfam on Saturday #books #amreading #bookconfessions #20booksofsummer


I’ve started off my #20BooksOfSummer challenge in style … by immediately seizing on a book I was supposed to be saving for All Virago (and Persephone) / All August because I had to read it RIGHT NOW. Oops. But it was good. And I had another oops moment on Saturday. I’d been and volunteered at parkrun, had a cuppa in the cafe and wandered back home. I wasn’t in a huge hurry as a big job I’d been booked for had failed to materialise (this is upsetting but has given me a nice lot of reading and sorting out time) and I popped into the local Oxfam Books to see if they had a particular book I wanted to give to a friend. They didn’t, but … Well, let’s do the review first.

Dorothy Whipple – “Every Good Deed and Other Stories”

(5 November 2016 – from Verity)

My lovely Verity sent me this as an UnBirthday/UnChristmas present, which is the lovely idea of sending you something just because, rather than on the date in question. As I said above, I intended to save this until August. But I couldn’t.

There’s one novella and then some classic length short stories in this very nice volume from Persephone Books. The novella comes first, and “Every Good Deed” examines whether “Every good deed brings its own evil return” or “Cast your bread upon the waters and it shall return to thee after many days” should be assumed to prevail in life. The good Miss Tophams are quiet and unworldly, and easily fooled and taken advantage of, but isn’t it better to trust people and do good than to be suspicious and miss the opportunity to help someone? They certainly see badness and vulgarity for what it is eventually in the person of Gwen, a girl they take in who turns against them, as we expect her to. But this Elizabeth Taylor-like story with its conmen and blowsy women asks whether nurture or nature sill come out on top, and we silently cheer nurture on, however dry and silly the poor sisters first appear to be.

“Miss Pratt Disappears” is the longest of the remaining short stories, in which a lady forced to live with her brothers in turn ends up making a marvellous bid for freedom and is very satisfying. The rest of the stories are often bittersweet pieces about the gap between impression and reality which all work extremely well at capturing the ebbs and flows of life and relationships. “One Dark Night” gives a very claustrophobic and frightening picture of a journey in the blackout which, although returning to the Whipple world of shops and sisters, is unusual in its panicky atmosphere.

A lovely collection, and none of these are found in the “Persephone Book of Short Stories” which makes it good value.

This is Book #1 in my 20BooksOfSummer!

And thus to the horror that came back out from Oxfam with me … Some of them DON’T COUNT, honest!

Helen Cross – Spilt Milk, Black Coffee – this is an excellent novel by a local author – I already have a copy but I picked this one up because I like to send out local authors in the LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa.

Pamela Brown – The Swish of the Curtain – I already have an original TV adaptation copy of this but this is the pretty reissue of this childhood favourite so will also be used as a gift.

Charlie Hill – The Space Between Things – an excellent novel set in local Moseley in the 1990s, when my best friend Emma lived there – it’s out of print and I’ve been looking for a copy to give her for so long that I forgot whether I’d already done so!

These therefore DO NOT COUNT, as they are gifts.

Barbara Kingsolver – Animal, Vegetable, Miracle – I have read all of hers and M many of them (apart from The Lacuna, which neither  of us fancy) so I pounced on this non-fiction about a year living off seasonal foods etc.

Cathy Kelly – Between Sisters – a reliable cosy read and I am a tiny bit low on light novels in the TBR at the moment

Samantha Tonge – Breakfast under a Cornish Sun – I’m going down to Cornwall for the photograph project I do’s summer party and this will be perfect for the journey down and even features bunting on the cover (the group loves bunting).

Halldor Laxness – The Fish Can Sing – yup, another weird one and I know I didn’t love the last one of his I read, but I can’t pass him by.

Georgette Heyer – Sylvester and April Lady – Sylvester DOESN’T COUNT as I already have it in an omnibus I acquired via BookCrossing, and I’m trying to collect all the books in that so I can pass along the omnibus. I didn’t have April Lady so that’s on the TBR now.

Katarina Bivald – The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend – a Swedish woman moves to small-town America and opens a bookshop – a novel but it sounds very fun.

Have you read any of these? Am I beyond redemption?

20 Books of Summer Round-up: did it! #20BooksOfSummer #books #reviews


20BooksofSummer logoAll summer, since 1 June, I’ve been taking part in Cathy at the 746 Books blog’s 20 Books of Summer challenge. The idea was to nominate and then read 20 books by the end of 5 September (Labor Day in the US and Back to School Day in most of England at least). I attempted this last year and managed 17, with two I didn’t finish (in fact gave up on) and one I didn’t start at all. But that year, I only found out about the challenge half-way through the year!

And this year, I did it! So here are some facts and stats.

I read 19 books in full. Book 20 is a book in Icelandic – a children’s book, admittedly, but there’s still a fair bit of text and while my Icelandic reading is much better than my production, it’s a funny old language with loads of extra letters that come at odd places in the alphabet, and words have a nasty habit of changing their spelling as the grammar changes, making it all super-hard to look up in the dictionary. So the aim there was not to finish the book, but to get into the habit of working on it, and that I have done. Also, one of the books, “Modernity Britain”, was actually two books in one volume, so it all balances out.

From the original 20, I made four swaps (two swaps were Icelandic books, though, as I found the ideal one to start my reading and “translating” project). That’s, then, two DNFs out of 19, both of which I replaced, and read and enjoyed the replacements.

In the time between 1 June and 5 September, I actually read 37 books! The additional ones turned out mainly to be easy books I fitted in when I needed a simple and/or comforting read, books for the #Woolfalong and Dorothy Richardson projects and a big slew of running books I read coming up to my marathon. I never thought I’d “only” read 20 books through the period, it was more nominating a jolly pile (which started off as the front of my TBR but was more spread out on the back shelf) and a pile that’s representative of my reading tastes.

I read 13 works of fiction, 6 works of non-fiction and one children’s book, and that’s fairly representative of my reading this year in general (I’m on 58 fiction and 27 non-fiction this year so far).

Nine books were by men and ten by women, but I don’t keep records on this, so not sure if that’s representative.

I read books on words, on sport, on bookshops, on Iceland, on adventurous travel and on social history; I read only one modern novel, a bit of mid-century fiction, some classics, some Viragoes and two crime novels.

I read books set in the UK (several), Ireland, Iceland (three), the Poles and mountains, America (some), India and Morocco, and that feels representative, too.

While this challenge was going on, I was also doing the Dorothy Richardson “Pilgrimage” readalong and #Woolfalong, which didn’t feature in this list, and All Virago / All Summer, which did.

And I enjoyed it. I “met” some new book bloggers and gained some new followers and commenters, which was great fun. Thank you, Cathy, for marvellous hosting!

Here’s what I read!

20 books of summer 2016

20 books of summer 2016

Charlie Hill – Books – read and reviewed as Book 1 in the project

Michael Rosen – Alphabetical – read and reviewed as Book 2 in the project

Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee – Swim, Bike, Run – read and reviewed as Book 3 in the project

Joanna Biggs – All Day Long – read and reviewed as Book 4 in the project

Arnaldur Indriðason – The Draining Lake  – read and reviewed as Book 5 in the project

Cathy Kelly – The Honey Queen – read and reviewed as Book 6 in the project

Ranulph Fiennes – Cold – read and reviewed as Book 7 in the project

Julia Strachey – Cheerful Weather for the Wedding – read and reviewed as Book 8 in the project

Nilanjan Choudhury – The Case of the Secretive Sister – read and reviewed as Book 9 in the project

George Eliot – The Mill on the Floss – read and reviewed as Book 10 in the project

Salman Rushdie – Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights swapped for Robertson Davies – A Mixture of Frailties – read and reviewed as Book 11 in the project

Ann Bridge – A Lighthearted Quest – read and reviewed as Book 12 in the project

Andrew Flintoff – Being Freddie – read and reviewed as Book 13 in the project

David Kynaston – Modernity Britain – read and reviewed as Book 14 in the project

Auður Ava Olafsdottir – Butterflies in November – read and reviewed as Book 15 in the project

Edith Wharton – The Reef – read and reviewed as Book 16 in the project

Jane Smiley – The Greenlandersswapped for Angela Thirkell – August Folly – read and reviewed as Book 17 in the project

Edith Wharton – Hudson River Bracketed – read and reviewed as Book 18 in the project

A.S. Byatt – Ragnarok – read and reviewed as Book 19 in the project

Sogur ur Biblikunniswapped for Af Hjervu Gjosa Fjoll?  then swapped for Blómin á þakinu – got on with nicely as Book 20 – the plan all along

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