Book review – Tove Jansson – “The True Deceiver”


jan-2017-tbrNow I need to say first off that I am not a fan of the Moomins. I’ve always been a bit scared of them, to tell you the truth. But a good few of my friends have raved about Jansson’s books for adults, and I received “Sun City” from my Virago Secret Santa back in 2011 (read my review here) and was kindly sent this one by the lovely Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings last summer. Of the two read so far, I think I preferred this one, as the setting was more appealing to me. Read on for some lovely BRAND NEW book buys, too …

Tove Jansson – “The True Deceiver”

(13 July 2016, from Karen)

An atmospheric and somehow slightly chilling (even though nothing awful actually happens, and the dog lives on) novel that in its sparseness (in a great translation by Thomas Teal) pleasingly resembles an Icelandic work.

In a cut-off village in Sweden in the depths of winter, when the snow won’t stop and no one bothers to get up because there isn’t really a morning as such. we meet Katri, a mysterious, yellow-eyed woman who’s not from these parts and is into going on very long walks with her equally mysterious and nameless dog by her side. She’s ostracised by the village but then they also seek her mathematical brain and common-sense advice. There’s also her brother Mats, known to be “simple” and hanging around the boat-builders, and the elderly artist, Anna, who writes a book about rabbits covered in flowers every spring and is perhaps oppressed by the memory of her parents, who lived in the same house.

It’s Katri’s wish to move into Anna’s house and secure Mats’ future: the chorus of boat-builders, shop-keepers and village women of course have something to say about this. Who is cheating whom; is the dog with no name happy or sad; what will happen when spring comes this year?

There’s no clear resolution to this atmospheric and beautiful book – not that it requires one. Beautifully written and carefully translated: a small jewel of a novel.

I was lucky enough to have a book token for my birthday and had a Waterstones token hanging around, so I took myself off to the lovely (one remaining) big Waterstones in town to have a spend. I did pretty well – and oh, yes, I went to the BookCrossing meetup for about five minutes (the cafe we meet at having suddenly been flooded with vegans after an event: I have no problem with vegans, how could I, when I cheerfully eat their cakes, but it all got a bit full) and picked up a book there.


Stuart Maconie – “The Pie at Night” is about how the North of England takes its fun. Sian nearly gave this to me for my birthday, and I recalled Mr Liz asking me whether I had it … and now I do!

That’s the BookCrossing one. These two were Buy One, Get One Half Price:

Mo Farah – “Twin Ambitions” – his autobiography, updated to cover Rio 2016. Obviously this will have been ghostwritten, as most of such books are; he (OK, also the publisher) makes this clear on the title page, so I’m OK with that.

Matthew Syed – “Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice” – takes a look at what makes “talent” in sport (in particular) and whether it’s all down to nature vs. nurture.

… and I treated myself to this one, which was £5 off!

Bruce Springsteen – “Born to Run” – I obviously can’t get away from the running theme, can I! He DID write this himself apparently, and it looks great.

So the TBR shelves are now officially bursting and what am I reading at the moment? A Kindle book. Oops.


Lucky me – birthday books!


I can’t call this “book confessions” because it’s not confessing a terrible clicky-clicky naughtiness to celebrate having lovely friends who buy you super books. So, lucky me instead.


Look at them in all their glory! So, what do we have? Top to bottom …

Lynsey Hanley – “Class” – I read her “Estates” in 2015, which was a story of housing estates wound around her story of growing up on one in the Midlands, and this is her musings on class itself. An off-wishlist buy which is very welcome indeed.

Simon Armitage – “Walking Away” – I enjoyed his “Walking Home” recently; this is his one about walking around Cornwall, which I stupidly didn’t buy in Cornwall because it was ‘the wrong bit’ (he walks on the north coast and I was on the south at the time). Then I realised I REALLY wanted it.

Alexei Sayle – “Stalin Ate my Homework” and “Thatcher Stole my Trousers” – I love this left-wing comedian and his autobiographies are supposed to be classics, so I was really chuffed to open a parcel and find what I expected to be a loan as a gift.

Gladys Huntingdon – “Madame Solario” – a lovely big Persephone; this is the one set in Cadenabbia on Lake Como, a place where I and Mr Liz have actually stayed ourselves! I know from reading reviews that the characters do some sightseeing, so I’m very much looking forward to reading about the places I saw a hundred years later than the time of the book!

Edmund Gordon – “The Invention of Angela Carter” – this is quite a new publication and I hadn’t put it on the wishlist yet but was straining to acquire it as I know a few people who have read it. I can’t wait to read this, either.

“How it Works: The Cat” / “The Ladybird Book of the Zombie Apocalypse” – two of those amusing re-uses of the classic Ladybird illustrations. The cat one includes the wonderful fact that cats read through their bottoms and that’s why they always sit on our books and paperwork.

David Goldblatt – “The Games” – another off-list one that I was very thrilled to open; it’s a history of the Olympic Games, which I love watching.

Alan Powers – “Living with Books” – wonderful photos of glorious bookshelves in a book I’ve had on the wishlist for AGES.

What treats these all are. Have you read any of them? I even have an Amazon voucher, a full Oxfam Books stampy card and a book token to buy yet more. I feel very lucky to have found these treasures among my lovely birthday parcels.

Book review – Anna Kessel – “Eat, Sweat, Play”


jan-2017-tbrOops, it’s been a while, after my flood of posts around the New Year, hasn’t it. Problem is, I’ve been reading one Big Book (Iris Murdoch’s letters, very good, almost done now) and got in a frenzy about getting my book for Margery Sharp Day in on time this year (after a slight fail last year) so read that early on then am saving the review for the 25th. But here I am with a really good book about women and exercise. And I’ve only developed one new NetGalley review copy so far …

Anna Kessel – “Eat, Sweat, Play”

(2 July 2017)

I remember the joy of buying this along with those Iris Murdoch letters and Sylvia Patterson’s “I’m Not With the Band” when I had a book token to spend in Foyles. I’m also pleased I’m only 6 months behind on the TBR dates at the moment.

This is a book about sport and women’s lives, inspiring and frustrating by turns, written with authenticity (to a high degree – see my comments further down) and trying to show the authenticity of women’s sporting lives, whether as participants at all levels, fans or commentators. We meet people from new mums sparring in an old-school boxing gym to Jessica Ennis, from fans who decide they don’t have to know everything about the rules of football to the first woman to commentate on TV (men’s) football.

The book opens looking at teaching of PE and societal attitudes to women and sport, highlighting the fact that women are encouraged to exercise to look good (although being “allowed” to sweat these days) but not to look “unfeminine” or “undignified” or feel competitive or proud of themselves while engaging in sport (it does make the point that men are increasingly facing the issue of exercise and appearance now, but don’t have the same criticism of their looks when competing). Although this is changing, Kessel then looks at women’s sport and exercise as related to menstruation, pregnancy, motherhood and menopause, bringing out some horrific detail about how women’s bodies have been treated in research as an extension of men’s, with almost no research on the effect of periods (or birth control) on women’s performance, likelihood of injury, etc.

On the topic of horrific detail, there is a grim description of a miscarriage which the easily triggered might wish to skip – it is signposted but only very soon before the detail starts. Fair play to the author for breaking the boundaries by including this, although I couldn’t decide whether this fed into the “women are personal, men are impersonal” narrative and whether this will make it more easily dismissed by those who should be taking notice of the very important points raised in the book. I do hope not, as it’s a brave thing to talk about stuff that is just not talked about in public.

We move on to fandom and sports journalism, and here, as throughout the book, Kessel uses her own experiences but broadens them out through networks of women (and men) she speaks to. She’s great on the camaraderie of sport, using her contrasting experiences of running with supportive women and competitive, pushing men (I have to say here that I’ve not had that kind of divided experience myself; I know a lot of kind and supportive male runners, luckily, as well as my fab group of mainly female Sedate Ladies). The groundbreaking images of This Girl Can campaign are highlighted, although she does point out that this campaign is not aimed at the older women and there should be something for them (us?), too.

Inspiring reading, with a good mix of research (nicely referenced) and anecdote: lots to think about here.

On a slight whim, and because in light of Brexit, the Trump presidency and various stuff going on locally I have been thinking about how to do good and community, I responded to a NetGalley email and bagged myself a copy of The Power of Meaning by Emily Esfahani Smith, which apparently “explores how we can begin to build a culture of meaning into our families, our workplaces and our communities”. It was published yesterday so would be next on the list were I not supposed to be reading another NetGalley book published on the same day.

I’m actually reading Barbara Kingsolver’s “The Poisonwood Bible” which I was unsure of, being as I am not usually keen on books about Africa (they so often seem to concentrate on bloody conflict: if you know of books on the continent which don’t, or non-conflict, non blasted Magic Realism South American books, do let me know!) but love her writing. So far, I can’t put it down!

State of the TBR December 2016 (and a small confession)


dec-2016-tbrDecember should be a time of clearing the decks and making sure I’ve got room on the bookshelf for lots of lovely books that usually appear for Christmas and then my birthday in January. Hm. Well, all those trips to bookshops and booky towns are going to take their toll, aren’t they. And I didn’t even stop today – I was busily trawling the local charity shops for goodies for Not So Secret Santas and presents for friends and managed to buy one for myself … Anyway, here’s the resulting TBR, not toooo bad, I think, and look at the lovely gap in the Pile now!

dec-2016-currentI’m currently reading some rather monochrome books … Yes, still reading “Yeah Yeah Yeah” – it’s REALLY good, but I need some proper long sit-down time with it, not just bits at mealtimes. Mollie Panter-Downes’ “London War Notes” came up on the TBR and seemed to work well as a bed read, though I hope it doesn’t get too graphic. It’s interesting at the moment to read the view of an outsider reporting back to the US. And of course it’s the start of a new month, so for the 13th – yes, the THIRTEENTH – month in a row, I’m going to be reading a volume of Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” series. The last one. I basically have 105 pages to go. Watch out for a fun (maybe) competition to WIN the whole set of four when I’m done with them …

dec-2016-coming-upNot pictured is Virginia Woolf’s “The Waves” which I have got all prepared on the bedside table but forgot to photograph. That will fill in the last round of the excellent #Woolfalong. Maybe not one to read too close to the Richardson, though.

Coming up after those is the next set on the TBR – though I fear the first two will have to wait until one of the chunky ones is finished with. At least with everything from the Tove Jansson onwards, I’m up to the books bought at Astley Book Barn, which takes us up to September buys (amazingly – what was I doing between Christmas last year and then??). There are some good and varied ones here, anyway.

dec-2016-confessionAnd my confession. Well, as I mentioned above, I was trawling around the charity shops today, I spotted this one. It’s not on my Wish List, so not too much danger of someone already having bought it for me, and it falls under my Collection Development Policy, see? Language, publishing, books, AND by a descendent of Vita Sackville-West. I’ve read a lot of Nicolson’s works and in fact have his “Atlantic” there on the front of the TBR, so all good, honest!

What are you up to reading-wise in December? Are you expecting a lot of book-shaped parcels under the Christmas tree? And are you planning your book challenges for next year? I know Ali has eschewed them and, apart from 20 Books of Summer, I think I’m going to the same. I want to do Mrs Oliphant in 2018 so I think I’ll just try to get through some more lovely Trollope and that will be it. Freedom!

London book confessions


nov-2016-1I went down to London yesterday with booky friend Ali to meet up with some other ladies from the LibraryThing Virago Group, one of whom is also a book blogger. After having trips to Cornwall and Buxton where I was ‘allowed’ to buy books and didn’t really buy an awful lot, now it’s Christmas and (for me, at least) birthday season and I’m supposed to NOT buy books, I went a bit over the top and came home with … um … ELEVEN BOOKS.

Here I am looking a bit startled, with Claire, Lucy, Ali and Karen, outside the Persephone Bookshop. But you want to know about the books, right?

nov-2016-2First of all, Luci is known for the very generous bags of books which she drags up to meetups and then lays gently on the table in front of us. I’ve done very well from this habit of hers before, and yesterday was no exception.

Barbara Taylor – “Eve and the New Jerusalem” – a history of 19th century feminism and socialism which is interesting in its own right and might give me some background to my reading about New Women and even the Dorothy Richardsons.

Jane Gardam – “Old Filth” – Gardam is one of my favourite authors ever and I love her books set on the East Coast and her quirky way of writing. I’ve never read these ones, though, put off a bit by the male main character. But there it was, so …

Natasha Solomons – “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands”  – I’ve apparently never read anything by her but this seemed intriguing – a novel about a woman regaining confidence in herself and breaking free in the 1960s.

Diana Wynne Jones – “Dark Lord of Derkholm” – I adore Wynne Jones and rate her novels above the Harry Potter ones, in fact press them upon people. This is both a satire on high fantasy and a highly readable work of high fantasy, apparently, and I bet it is!

nov-2016-3We then popped up the Charing Cross Road (from Gaby’s, somewhere I’d inexplicably never been and which is now a firm favourite) to Any Amount of Books, which is perhaps my favourite of the (dwindling number of) bookshops on that road. It has “£1 each, 5 for £4” trays outside (and a bookcase just outside the front door) where I’m pretty well guaranteed to find something. And indeed I did. Sorry this picture is blurry – I’ve put them all away now!

Joan Aiken – “Black Hearts in Battersea” – well, I didn’t put this away because I started it on the bus home from the train station. I loved these in my youth and they still stand up. I can’t wait to get her short stories soon.

Francis Brett Young – “The Black Diamond” – a book in the same Shropshire Pear edition as the one I bought in Penzance, although not signed. This is set in Africa, not a favourite setting of mine (sorry, entire continent south of the Sahara) but it’s bound to be a good read.

John-Paul Flintoff – “Sew Your Own” – a quest book in which he looks into life, the universe and everything via learning to make his own clothes.

Veronica Stallwood – “Oxford Mourning” – I enjoyed her “Oxford Exit” and have been looking out for others by her – this is the only book that was remotely on my wishlist and is quite a battered copy so I don’t mind if another turns up at some stage! “A crime novel!” cried Mr Liz, but a literary, Oxford-based one!

Eric Newby – “Something Wholesale” – I adore Newby’s books but I didn’t have this one about his early life in the rag trade.

nov-2016-4Those were all from outside, and then I spotted these two final lovelies on the New Books shelf inside.

Richard King – “Original Rockers” – the story of a small independent record shop in Bristol. I worked on transcriptions for this book a while back, so it was exciting to see it in print, although I have sort of read it before.

Jon Kalman Stefansson – “The Heart of Man” – a novel set in the north of Iceland, by an Icelandic author, about loving two women at the same time (rather than chopping people up, etc.). Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that this is the last in a trilogy. But never mind, it’s gone on the Pile (which includes Books Where I Have To Wait To Read Earlier Books In The Series First) and I’ve put the earlier two on my wishlist.

I did at least read a whole book on the journey to and from London – “The Year of Reading Dangerously”, which was excellent, so that’s one off the pile.

We did also go to the Persephone Shop. Some of the books bought there will end up on my TBR in December and January, but the only ones I bought there myself were two for Ali for Christmas.

So there we go – what a lovely day and, I think, a good haul that hasn’t damaged any possible buying by other people.

Have you read any of these? Which would YOU fancy reading?


Book review – Dimple Hill (Virago)


Dorothy Richardson - PilgrimageWell, it’s time for another review of another volume of Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” series. I’ve been reading these for almost a year now, and although we’ve all ended up reading different volumes at the same time, it’s been a real pleasure to read these alongside my fellow book bloggers and Virago fans as we’ve gone along (it would be lovely if everyone could comment with where they’re up to and a link to their most recent review). I can’t believe I’ve only got 105 pages to go now!

Dorothy Richardson – “Dimple Hill”

(28 March 2015)

With one book to go in the series, why do I think this is like my experience of the film “Magnolia”, where I was sure everything was going to tie up together at the end … and then it didn’t?

We open on holiday with Florence and Grace in a cathedral town as part of our heroine Miriam’s six-month rest cure – but who are Florence and Grace? I really cannot recall if we’ve met them before. Maybe that little book I bought in Buxton will explain all. There’s some griping about holidaying with friends and not all wanting to do the same thing, and a changed experience in a church, where Miriam describes that she, “felt nothing of her old desire to smash their complacency”, perhaps a sign that she’s maturing (this is handy, as she’s going to be spending quite a while in places of worship quite soon).

Having caught up with Amabel and Michael’s budding romance via a packet of letters that’s been around pillar and post trying to catch up with her (this almost normal novelistic device stood out for me as the rest of the work is so decidedly and carefully against narrative conventions), Miriam goes off to stay with the Roscorlas, a Quaker family, farming in Sussex, who rent out a room. She falls for their simple ways, although she does seem to spend her time at Meeting looking at men and at people’s hats, and while there are some lovely descriptions of the house and the nature surrounding it, she seems to get into one of her interminable misunderstandings over men, upsetting someone’s girl and somehow simultaneously humble-bragging as not presenting as a standard simpering female and fancying (?) herself romantically linked to the man of the house.

It’s all very confusing and seems to end in upset and a hurrying moving on, as ever. Meanwhile, Amabel the fearless fighter for women’s rights has basically got herself in a position where she needs one man (Michael) to rescue her from oppression by another (her brother), which doesn’t seem that ideal.

Bitchy about other young women and their accents, mean about a mother who’s protective of her son, always getting into emotional tangles and being obsessed with men and switching between the first and third person – yes, I know the last point is a feature of the writer, not the character, but they are so closely identified and unfortunately, while I certainly do not have to like and admire every character in a book to enjoy the book, it’s pretty heavy-going when the central character is fundamentally unlikeable and unattractive, as far as I’m concerned. Maybe that’s the point, though. Who knows?

Well, that one’s done and just the last, very short, volume and then the small book about Richardson that I picked up and hope to be the Key To All Mysteries to go.

I’m currently reading “Yeah Yeah Yeah”, which is Bob Stanley’s excellent history of pop music from the advent of the vinyl pop single to its demise. Very, very good so far. And I might have bought Greg Rutherford’s autobiography For No Reason. Just because I clicked.

Book reviews – A Spool of Blue Thread and The Novel Cure #amreading #books


nov-2016-tbrWell, a novel and a book about novels – I’m already feeling twitchy enough about leaving my last October book hanging around until this far into November. And what have I been doing to have only finished one book by now this month? Hm. Anyway, here we go, and at LAST I can read the reviews of the Anne Tyler that I’ve been hoarding in my Feedly blog reader for months and months …

Anne Tyler – “A Spool of Blue Thread”

(29 December 2015)

This, along with “The Year of Reading Dangerously” and “Lingo” (up for reading soon!) was part of a three-for-two offer of lovely, fresh new books bought with a book token just after Christmas. I do hoard book tokens a bit, so I’m betting this wasn’t a 2015 gift.

I was also hoarding this Anne Tyler, then my lovely long train journeys to and from Buxton the other weekend gave me the opportunity to have that amazing luxury of reading a whole book in just one day (with a bit read at home to finish it off). I knew it was her last “proper” novel (I know she’s done a Shakespeare re-write, which I will read, but that’s not the same) and I’ve read every one of her others and loved most of them, so I wanted to make sure I had time to savour it.

I felt that this was a return to form for Tyler after some slightly disappointing books; a good, solid book and I think her best since “Digging to America“. We have one of her multi-generational families, full of contrasted siblings and cousins, spreading backwards and forwards through what is basically a fairly ordinary, working- to middle-class family, and told in the order of jumbled family memories rather than in a strictly linear way (if you’ve not read this yet, don’t worry: it’s not too jumbled and we always know who everyone is). It’s moving to see the main characters at different stages of their lives.

The usual Tyler family issues and characters, surprises, secrets held by certain family members, prodigal sons, lost sheep, uncertain parentages and even wandering mums are covered. But there are new twists, too – I don’t remember a character like the mum, Abby, before, trying to be the warm centre of a family and forever welcoming in waifs and strays but deeply, deeply embarrassing to her family (I am minded to curb my liberal, over-inclusive tendencies by her portrayal, especially the one where I instinctively shout out any word I know in someone’s language when I find they are Not From Here: cringe! Sorry, physio!).

Sibling, marital and owner-dog relationships are expertly portrayed (yes, animals are lost, but it’s copeable-with) and the book tugs at the heartstrings, surprises, makes you think and has beautifully discreet and subtle echoes through the years of family life. At the heart of the book is the house, built and longed-for by the first generation, inhabited in a much more informal way by the fourth, beautiful and perfected, then slightly starting to “go”.

I saw no waning of Tyler’s powers; no feeling that she was writing by numbers. If this is her last novel, it’s a fine one to go out on (but I hope it’s not). I really want to revisit her other novels now, and that’s not something I’ve thought with her last couple.

Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin – “The Novel Cure”

(25 December 2015 – from Laura)

An intriguing tome, put together by two women who run a bibliotheraphy service, where they prescribe novels for various ills. And that’s what this book does: it offers suggestions of novels to read to help with a variety of ailments, both mental and physical, from tonsillitis and hangovers to death; from zestlessness to the state of having ageing parents.

It’s clever, with potted summaries of many novels, classics, recent prize-winners and 2oth century greats (Iris Murdoch is only in there once, whereas I’d prescribe her for a range of ills myself). Some entries are written in the style of the novel itself, although it’s not clear why this is the case for only some of them (this reads a little like a blog-turned-into-a-book so I wonder if they started off doing this or something). I felt that the book fell between the amusing and truly helpful at times, so that its lightness removed depth from some of the very serious topics, but I might have been – ha, ha – reading too much into it.

The cross-referencing works (yep, I checked; couldn’t help it, and that’s why I read it straight through rather than dipping), and there are some nice lists and of course indexes. It would be fun to dip into as well as read in one go, and I picked up some interesting recommendations, as well as enjoying recognising some old friends being used to cure various maladies.

So, what books would you prescribe people?

A couple of confessions – my dear friend Verity has sent me the new Persephone book of Dorothy Whipple short stories, “Every Good Deed and Other Stories” as an un-Birthday and un-Christmas gift (a vg idea), and I picked up Marian Keyes’ new book of essays, “Making it up as I go Along”, only published last month, but appearing on the local BookCrossing shelf unregistered, so nabbed to (read and) register and return.

I’m currently reading Grayson Perry’s excellent “The Descent of Man”, which was from NetGalley and I’ve had a reminder to review it, even though I only received it recently, so I’ll have to move away from my customary confusion at the first chapter of my new Dorothy Richardson volume to get that finished. What are you reading?


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