Book review – Vassos Alexander – “Don’t Stop Me Now” #amreading @RunBookshelfFB @VassosA


Don't Stop me Now Vassos Alexander

Proof of RTTS breakfast reading

My lovely friend Cari sent me this in a parcel of books very recently – we’ve been reading friends for well over a decade and since she’s started running, running/reading friends, and there has always been a flow of books between us. Even though I have reading plans and challenges to do, given the circumstances of doing my first ultramarathon this past weekend, I pulled it from the shelves to take with me for that essential very-early-morning pep-talk read. And it worked well! So thank you, Vassos, for a great book which helped me through that morning and was fun recovery reading, too.

Vassos Alexander – “Don’t Stop me Now: 26.2 Tales of a Runner’s Obsession”

(05 July 2019: BookCrossing)

Based around the 26.2 miles of the marathon at the end of his first Ironman triathlon, one chapter per mile, and the frankly hideous time he had, explained by various errors he made, this also covers his journey into running and also pieces by different runners and their own stories, from Olympic medallists to a random man he collided with on a bridge and his own children. As a sports journalist he’s had access to some greats, and it’s lovely to see favourites there.

I hadn’t realised when I picked it up to take with me that he actually did Race to the Stones as his own first ultra, but when I did realise, I quickly leafed through to that section and gained some last minute inspiration, how lovely and appropriate was that? Talk about reading books in the place they’re set!

I really liked the honesty of both Alexander and his interviewees – from Donovan Bailey, the sprinter’s, new respect for endurance runners in the midst of hurt after a long run to Alexander’s own desperate toilet break (if there’s one thing runners love it’s a toilet story). I also liked his use of the well-known term “hangry” (crossly hungry) and the previously unknown “runpy” (lack of a run grumpy), the latter of which I am indeed right now myself.

An entertaining book, there are always new tricks of the trade to pick up or mistakes to avoid, and I liked the context of his work reporting on sports allowing him to run in all sorts of different places.


Book review – Angela Thirkell – “The Brandons” plus book confessions #20BooksOfSummer #amreading #ViragoBooks


I’ve continued my reading for 20BooksOfSummer with Angela Thirkell’s “The Brandons”, which also counts for both All Virago / All August and the LibraryThing Virago Group’s author for this month. Go me! I’ve swapped out that great big Tirzah Garwood’s “Long Live Great Bardfield” (the largest of those three Persephones) for Stella Gibbons’ “Starlight” – although my copy isn’t a Virago, Gibbons is a Virago author thanks to “Nightingale Wood” so, as I’d started it after “Summer Half” by mistake, I’m finishing that and leaving the Garwood for a more leisurely read in the next few months.

In book confessions news, I’ve had an old friend newly actually met visiting: she brought me several books and then we managed to buy some more, pics and details below the review …

Angela Thirkell – “The Brandons”

(25 December 2017 from Verity’s marvellous parcel)

I’ve read “Pomfret Towers” a while ago, which seems to come between this one and “Summer Half” so I’m all out of order and will need to do a proper re-read when I’ve collected the set. But this was great fun and near enough to my read of “Summer Half” that it was a joy to come across some of the same characters.

This is the story of the Brandon family: fragrant widow Lavinia, on whom everybody inevitably gets a crush, tall, handsome son Francis and daughter the deliciously bloodthirsty girl with a heart of gold, Delia, and their cousin (ish), Hilary Grant and his hilariously dreadful mother. The plot hinges around the decline, death and legacy for the monstrous aunt-by-marriage, Miss Brandon, and the Vicar and Miss Brandon’s companion, Miss Morris, who turn out (of course they do) to be sworn enemies, play important roles, too.

The Keiths from “Summer Half” and Laura and Tony Moreland (an older, wiser and more attractive and self-aware character again) also make notable appearances: Lydia Keith has been to Paris but it doesn’t seem to have taken the edge off, and we can admire her marvellousness as much as ever. Will she end up with Tony or Noel, I wonder? And of course, there being a Vicar, there’s a summer fete, leading up to and at which much of the action takes place.

There’s some patronising of the lower classes but thankfully no Eastern Europeans and Hilary’s Italy-obsessed mother is a type that is very amusing indeed. Nurse and Rose, doyennes of the Brandon household, are celebrated for their mastery over all who come into their orbit.

Mrs Brandon’s little mischievous moments and attempts to introduce drama into the proceedings are seen through by her son and her old friend Sir Edmund, although she still manages to invite confusions and confidences, and there’s a very funny scene where Sir Edmund feels moved to protect her from the Vicar.

I love Miss Morris’ dream, the dream of many characters in the gentle but sharp novels I love to sink into, Thirkell, Pym et al:

A parish, every detail of which was under her hand and eye. (p. 272)

Will her dream be fulfilled? I love how it’s respected, even if being gently smiled at, but pretension, controlling and calf love are pricked and deflated.

This was Book 16 in my 20BooksOfSummer project.

My friend Cari has been visiting – I’ve known her for years and years through BookCrossing and, later, running, having been cheering her on from across the ocean as she’s learned to run and learned to love running. When she was coming to London for a week, it was possible to arrange for her to come to see us, so she has had a whistle-stop tour of Birmingham (yesterday) and Stratford-upon-Avon (today). Being a BookCrosser, she brought me some books; being us, we then bought some more in Stratford (even though we didn’t comb through all the charity and second-hand bookshops).

Top two from Stratford, the rest from New York!

Sarah Henshaw – “The Bookshop that Floated Away” – the story of the famous British Book Barge

George Eggleston – “Tahiti” – a 1950s travel book with lovely hand-drawn maps

Lisa Tamati – “Running Hot” – female ultra runner takes on the Badwater Ultra

Craig Childs – “Finders Keepers” – investigating the ethics of where archaeological artefacts get to be kept

Bart Yasso – “My Life on the Run” – famous road runner shares wisdom and insights

Sarah Reinertsen with Alan Goldsher – “In a Single Bound” – para-athlete and triathlete’s life story

Cy A. Adler – “Walking the Hudson” – guide to walking the Hudson River

Book review – Arnaldur Indridason – “Outrage” #books #amreading


TBR shelf March 2017So here I am, persisting with just about the only crime series I’ll read. I started them because they’re set in Reykjavik and not too gruesome, but they are good in their own right, too. Before we start, did you see my COMPETITION to win a copy of Laura Bates’ “Girl Up”? It’s a proper giveaway just by me, not a funny thing to (not) click through to, so give it a go if you’re in or related to the target audience. Oh, and some Book Confessions below …

Arnaldur Indriðason – “Outrage”

(August 2015 or thereabouts)

I’m slowly working my way through my pile of Reykjavik Murder Mysteries, and I have to say that this was a real return to form after I didn’t think so much of “Hypothermia” back in December.

This one is centred around Detective Elinborg, so we learn more about her home and family life as she investigates the grisly murder of a possible rapist. Things are never easy in detectives’ lives, are they – even I know that – but it’s well done and sets her work against a happy marriage but difficulties with two of her children, one of whom has taken to blogging about them all.

I really liked the way that Elinborg’s love of cooking (before this one, I think about the only personal detail we knew about her was that she’d published a cookery book) was brought in to help her to solve the mystery, as her sense of smell and knowledge of the cooking supplies shops locally help her to unravel clues. I also enjoyed the Reykjavik location, mainly set in the network of streets between the lake and the church, but also featuring a visit to a small town and a look at what it’s like to live in a more isolated area.

Sigurdur Oli is a minor character in this one, messing things up for Elinborg, in fact, and Erlendur, the central character in the previous novels is off looking into his past, only being mentioned in passing. There’s a mystery there for the next book. A good read.

Some confessions now. But the first ones since my lovely glut of review copies …

In fact, I’ve already read and reviewed “Girl Up” of course, as I wanted to get it read and out there. The Debbie Macombers are all set in, you’ve guessed it, Alaska, and are only just out. I’m saving these up for when I need some comfort reads, but I’ve checked and it is a new series – she’s quite good at publishing books under different titles in the US and UK, or republishing old ones, both of which are OK of course, but you do have to check.

Phil Hewitt’s “Keep on Running”, which is about his multiple marathons as a “normal” runner (rather than an elite), was recommended to me by the lovely Cari, a friend originally from BookCrossing, but now also on Facebook. She and I used to join each other’s bookrings like mad, liking the same reading. I recently noted she’d started running (hooray!) and now we can recommend running books to each other, too!

Have you got any authors you stockpile for gloomy, sad or unwell days?

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.


Book reviews – Swan Song and Years of Hope


July 2015 TBRCatching up hurriedly with my book reviews after my flurry of seaside reading (well, mainly reading on the lovely long train journey there and back – roll on the 5.5 hour journey to Cornwall later in the year!). In other news, I’ve set up a page for my #20BooksOfSummer challenge now, because I was confusing myself when I was trying to check where I was up to. Visit it here – and it will be updated with links and the last little list when it’s time to post that.

John Galsworthy – “Swan Song”


The sixth book in the Forsyte Saga finds the horrible situation that was brewing in the last book and especially its interlude coming back to bite Soames Forsyte, still the central character, still going strong. Poor old Michael Mount, devoted husband to Fleur, finds the political system he’s previously espoused untenable and is looking around for a new cause, having been told that you have to have a noticeable “cause” to get on in politics – and he’s finding that people are only interested in politics when it directly affects them (funny that – I sense a theme). Then his wife Fleur finds out that her first love, Jon Forsyte, although devotedly married himself, is back in London, and she can’t help scheming to see him (and more, something which I think I missed in my first reading of the books in my teens!). Meanwhile, Soames is worrying about inheritance, trying to work out a successor to his faithful old retainer at the firm that still handles a few family trusts, and gets a new interest in tracking down the family ancestors, even taking a trip down to the ancestral lands to trace the graves of the original Forsytes.

Things must come to a head, of course, and there’s a genuinely moving scene at the end (how had I forgotten it? I suppose I’ve read a few books since I last read this one in 2008 (my wisp of a review is here)) when Soames casts aside the prudence and carefulness of a life of habits and inflexibility just at the right moment … but is it too late?

This is a cracking read; I think my co-readers of this series agree that it’s better than the previous volume in this trilogy. Ali’s review is here and Bridget’s is here. I’m taking a short break now, and will start the last three books in September.

This book will suit … I will say that really you have to have read the other books in the series to get the full value out of this one and understand all the references and minor characters. The series as a whole will suit anyone interested in the 20th century, its history and politics.

Tony Benn – “Years of Hope”

(29 November 2014, charity shop)

One of a small haul I bought perilously close to Christmas, on the grounds that no one was likely to buy me the first volume of Tony Benn’s letters and papers as a Yuletide treat. And I was correct.

It did take me a while to get through this one, as there was a lot to it, and in small print, too! It covers the years 1940-1962, so there are interesting (and sad) details of his wartime life and then his entry into politics, and it finishes with the horrible situation when his father dies, he inherits his peerage and then has to be barred from sitting in the House of Commons – then a long battle to change the law to allow people to rescind their inherited peerage, which got VERY detailed, although the points where he actually engaged physically with The System and represented himself in court were excellent.

It is a good read on the whole, with an engaging and caring author. It was a bit uncomfortable to read about my hero, Nye Bevan, from the point of view of a sometime opponent of his, and I did get a little bogged down as I’m not that familiar with the history and politics of the late 50s and early 60s. What made the book for me, although a little bittersweetly, was the air of plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose about so much of the content. The Labour Party is in disarray and split along left / centre lines. Young people are sick of the parties and demanding an alternative choice to vote for. The Labour Party must remain the party of the working class and not split from the unions. How interesting that we are still hearing all of this 60 years later (or depressing, of course).

There are lovely flashes of humour, too – for example a description of the way to get two teas at a Buckingham Palace garden party (nip in at the start when everyone’s looking at the Royal Family arriving, and do the same at the end), and it’s nice to see people like Flanders and Swann pop in. I also loved the support he drew from his wife. So an interesting if challenging read. I’m not sure whether I’m going to read all of them (certainly the final volume is meant to be quite distressing, as he realised this would indeed be the final volume).

This was Book 6 in my #20BooksOfSummer project

This book will suit … people interested in mid-century politics and history; people interested in the Labour Party and the Left in general.

Currently reading – funnily enough, given that I was reading it yesterday, I’m still reading “Our Hearts were Young and Gay” by Cornelia Otis Skinner. If I get these reviews written up speedily enough, I might just finish it before Mr Liz gets home. I’m not sure what’s next – I really should make a start on the scary Iser book on reader response theory, which will help towards my poor languishing research project, too … but I opened it the other day and know I need to sit down with a notebook and a set of post-it tabs to read it properly. Hm.

Book reviews – The Delegates’ Choice and Going Into a Dark House


July 2015 TBRWell, I’m not sure that these books have very much in common, apart from the fact that they were both registered on BookCrossing (although one was acquired a while ago and the other more recently), and they were slimmish paperbacks. And both of these reasons meant that I took them to read on our recent long weekend jaunt to the seaside, as they packed well, and I could leave them behind and make more room in the suitcase.

Ian Sansom – “The Delegates’ Choice”

(acquired via BookCrossing 01 February 2015)

The third in the amusing Mobile Library series, and I’ve either become more tolerant or they’ve got better, as the few issues I’d had with the previous volumes (follow the links for reviews of Book 1 and Book 2) were resolved and it was just an entertaining and fun read. Israel Armstrong, north London Jewish librarian marooned in Northern Ireland running a mobile library van is trying to resign from his job, yet again, but then there comes the opportunity to attend a mobile library conference in England, aka a free ticket back home!

First he has to persuade his partner-in-library-van, Ted, to go, too, and only then can he look forward to the chance to see his mum and his girlfriend, Gloria. But his mum’s moving on with her own life, and gets on better with Ted than with her own son (in some hilarious scenes) and then Gloria seems strangely unobtainable and distant. To make matters worse, the library van then goes missing, and there’s a madcap search across several counties, peppered with interesting and weird characters and situations, with a side visit to an uncle of Ted’s who is not quite as he seemed back home.

It’s funny with a melancholy undertone, and there are some places where it’s a bit un-PC (but those who are less modern in their thinking are criticised for it). I’m looking forward to reading the next instalment.

This book would suit … someone with a slightly silly sense of humour and a love of puns, possibly someone who’s liked Jasper Fforde although the world is not so involved and is rooted in the real world.

Jane Gardam – “Going into a Dark House”

(acquired via BookCrossing 17 July 2015)

I love Gardam, but I think I prefer her novels on the whole, as there’s more to get into. These are very well done stories, however, and excellent character studies, with the slightly odd situations and characters that I love in this author’s work – some nuns taking a colleague to the hospice see a strange wild cat; an elderly woman thinks of the ghosts of her young children when sitting on a bench in a wood, etc. The story “Bevis” is more characteristic of her novels that I like (I haven’t read the recent ones, but love “Bilgewater” and “God on the Rocks”), a bit longer and with a blundering teenager trying to be sophisticated and getting things wrong.

Some of the stories are a little creepy, but not as much as her other volume of short stories, which has a description that puts me off on the back!

This book would suit … a Gardam fan or a fan of short stories in general – not my personal favourite form.

Currently reading – I’m currently loving “Our Hearts were Young and Gay” by Cornelia Otis Skinner, recommended by Simon from Stuck-in-a-book and loaned to me by Heaven-Ali. Two more reviews to come soon, as I’ve finished my sixth John Galsworthy and have also finally finished Tony Benn’s “Years of Hope” (which is on my #20BooksOfSummer list, as is the Otis Skinner).

Oh, and here’s a photo from our seaside holiday …

Photo of Liz and Matthew Dexter on a boat