Christmas acquisitions, state of the TBR January 2019 AND books of the year 2018


Sorry, not sorry, you were either going to get two posts close together or one ginormous one … so here’s the ginormous one. We need to cover Christmas acquisitions, the current state of the TBR caused by these, and my books of the year or I’ll never get them done. Ready?

First of all, I want to share the brilliant state my TBR got into before the influx. Look at it! That’s what having a cold does for your reading …

At least this meant the acquisitions could fit in …

And here they are. Arriving on 20 December were three lovely books from my BookCrossing Birmingham Not so Secret Santa (Lorraine):

David Leboff and Tim Dermuth – “No Need to Ask!” about London Underground maps before the famous one.

Simon Winchester – “Outposts” – about the last pieces of the British Empire.

Stella Gibbons – “Conference at Cold Comfort Farm” – a sequel to “Cold Comfort Farm”!

Then from the lovely Cate for my LibraryThing Virago Group not so Secret Santa (along with a great Virago mug):

Angela Thirkell – “Miss Bunting”, “Northbridge Rectory”, “Marling Hall” and “Before Lunch” – all lovely Virago reissues.

From lovely friends:

Pamela Brown – “Golden Pavements” in the lovely Blue Door Theatre Company reissues.

Diana Wynne Jones – “Howl’s Moving Castle”

Sheila Wilkinson – “Too Many Ponies” – novel set at a horse rescue

Annon Shea – “The Phone Book” – I do love a ‘quest’ book and here he reads and discusses, yes, you guessed it …

Jeannette Winterson – “Courage Calls to Courage Everywhere” – her and original suffragette essays

Tony Wilson – “24 Hour Party People” because there has to be a music book in there somewhere

John Sutherland (ed.) – “Literary Landscapes” – about the landscapes novels and novelists inhabit

Dorothy Whipple – “Young Anne” (Persephone) – how did I not have this already?

Lucky me!!

And after they went onto the TBR shelf …

Uh-oh. So a double-stacked shelf NEARLY to the end on both stacks, plus a million Iris Murdochs and the Pile relegated to the lower shelf (large fancy Tolkien book just seen, too). Ulp.

My next two books to read are Tirzah Garwood’s “Long Live Great Bardfield” (the Persephone) and to be fair on me that’s my last Christmas 2017 book to be read, and Iris Murdoch’s “The Black Prince” which I will get read and reviewed earlier than the 26th of January, after December’s failings …

Then I do have some books on the Kindle to read, including one more lovely Dean Street Press book (I have read Elizabeth Eliot’s fabulous “Alice” now as my last book of the year: watch out for the review tomorrow.

Coming up after / amongst those, here’s the beginning of the TBR shelf, so I have a book about swimming (Ian Thorpe’s “This is Me”), a book about kayaking (and nature and personal life changes: Alys Fowler – “Hidden Nature” which was a birthday book), a book about the Riot Grrrl movement in music (Sara Marcus’ “Girls to the Front”), a book about a charlady in New York (Paul Gallico – “Mrs Harris Goes to New York”), a retelling of a Shakespeare play (Anne Tyler’s “Vinegar Girl”) and a book about Greenland (Gretel Erlich’s “This Cold Heaven”) so a representative range of my reading tastes (maybe).

Moving on to …

Reading stats and BEST BOOKS of 2018

Are you still with me? Sorry about this …

OK, so in 2018 I read 115 books, down from 141 in 2017 (however, I wasn’t laid up for a month after an operation this year). I read 59 non-fiction books and 56 fiction, which is the first time I’ve read more non-fiction than fiction for years and years (I wonder if it’s down to my non-fic reviewing for Shiny New Books). I read 39 books by men, 75 books by women and one by one of each and this is slightly more balanced than last year, where I read twice as many books by women as by men.

So here’s my TOP 10 this year, with two highly commended reads and one reader I will be reading more of. I’m not sure why there are more books by men than women here, or why the novels are all by women. Maybe I just read more (good) non-fiction by men. Here they are, in the order in which I read them. No re-reads on there and The Works of Iris Murdoch are a category in themselves of course!

Lucy Mangan – Bookworm – childhood reading experiences that almost matched mine in terms of the books read – magical

Bruce Springsteen – Born to Run – amazing autobiography, open, honest, funny and detailed

Angie Thomas – The Hate U Give – astoundingly good YA fiction on such an important topic

Neil Taylor – Document and Eyewitness – the story of Rough Trade Records, beautifully put together

Dan Hancox – Inner City Pressure – excellent work on the story of grime music

Benjamin Zephaniah – The Life and Rhymes Of – wonderful autobiography

Peter Ginna (ed.) – What Editors Do – essays that were so absorbing and wonderful

Thomas Williams – Viking Britain – undoes all the prejudices, absorbing and fun to read

Barbara Kingsolver – Unsheltered – she’s always in my top 10 and this zeitgeisty novel was brilliant

Kevin Crossley-Holland (and Jeffrey Alan Love) – Norse Myths – because how can a book on this topic, written like that and illustrated like that not be there?

Highly commended:

Katherine Findlay – The Icelandic Adventures of Pike Ward – commended for an amazing job of editing and putting together an excellent book

Ben Smith – 401 – commended for being a brilliant bloke who did a marvellous thing, is lovely, and mentions my running club and has a photo in the book that includes one of my friends

Will read more:

Robert MacFarlane – I read The Old Ways this year and loved it, then was discombobulated by him being younger than me. Why, I don’t know. But I am going to seek out his other works because they’re just magical

So there we go. I read a million running books and none of them makes it into the Top 10 – but then almost all the books I read this year were good, so do go back and have a poke around through the archives!



State of the TBR January 2018 and Best Books of 2017 PLUS my First Book of the Year


Welcome and Happy New Year! It’s a busy post today so let’s get on with it …

Best books of the year 2017 and reading round-up

I read 141 books in 2017 (up from 126 in 2016). 78 (77) were fiction and 63 (49) non-fiction and I didn’t finish 1 (6). 86 (84) were by women and 54 (42) by men, with 1 by both.  I didn’t record the locations this time round. So more reading, which was probably bumped up by my down-time in May, and possibly more non-fiction by men.

Here are my top ten reads from 2017 (in order of reading, not merit):

Anna Kessel – “Eat, Sweat, Play” – brilliant book about women and sport

E. Nesbit – “The Lark” – glorious, delightful novel about two sisters trying to set up home and business together

Kory Stamper – “Word by Word” – essays from a dictionary-maker

Jess Phillips – “Everywoman” – the wonderful Labour MP’s life story and life lessons for us all

Francis Brett Young – “White Ladies” – man falls in love with house

Nick Baker – “Rewild” – helps us reconnect with nature (link leads to a short review linked to my Shiny New Books review)

Amber Reeves – “A Lady and her Husband” – I loved this story of a woman’s re-animation at the advanced age of [my age] when she has a Project

Simon Armitage – “Walking Away” – in which he walks in Somerset, Devon and Cornwall

Elois Jarvis McGraw – “Greensleeves” – how I loved this re-printed coming of age tale!

Bill McKibben – “Radio Free Vermont” – unputdownable satirical tale with a big heart and a positive message

Did you read any of these and love them as much as I did? Five fiction, five non-fiction; the non-fiction modern, the fiction mid-20th-century, with a Persephone and a Furrowed Middlebrow reprint among them – sounds about right!

State of the TBR January 2018

You will have hopefully already seen my TBR snapshots from 2017. And the Christmas Acquisitions. Here’s the full horror (the Pile has moved down to Mr Liz’s section of the shelves; it remains the same as always):

Just to be clear, the Rough Trade one used to be the end of the front shelf, so everything right of that used to be on the back shelf and has moved forward to join the front to fit the Christmas Haul in. Oops.

I’ve just finished “Happiness for Humans” by P.J. Reizin, a NetGalley read published this week which was a wonderfully fun and exciting tale of AI beings messing with human beings’ lives, a real page-turner.

I’m currently reading Matthew Syed’s “Bounce”, which is about the role of practice rather than talent in a whole range of achievements, with a lot about sport, and David Goldblatt’s “The Games” which is a rather large history of the Olympics, and very readable and interesting.

Next up have to be these two, once Iris Murdoch’s “The Sandcastle” (see below and my preview post) as they are to be reviewed for Shiny New Books. I am looking forward to getting into Gordon Brown’s autobiography and finding out more about virtual reality.

After all those, I hope I’ll get to this little section of non-fiction fun and important fiction, from Springsteen’s bio through Sue Perkins’ to living Danishly and unfrazzledly (that’s a word, right), finding out about islands and going into the history of the iconic Rough Trade record label and shop. I really hope I’ll get through a few of these as they’ve been taunting me from the shelf for a while now.

I only have seven books on my NetGalley TBR at the moment, and none due out soon – six from last year and one publishing in April this year. So I think I can concentrate on print books, although I did download some other things onto the Kindle …

First book of the year

Sheila over at Book Journey does a fun post at the start of each year where she has people send in pics of themselves with their first book of the year (I’m taking this as the first book I’ll be starting). Can you spot me in her post?

What are you reading first this year? Did you come to a nice stop at the end of a book and the end of the year? I failed mightily in that one!

Top books of 2014 (plus state of the TBR and 2015 reading plans)


Jan 2015 TBRA busy post this time, but we’ll get there. Thanks for bearing with my massive book review posting session this last few days as I read and read and read … although I think this post got missed by a few people in all the late-night confusion. Here to the left is the current state of my TBR – not too bad at all, given that 10 books joined it over the Christmas period! But, as I’ve said, I did a lot of reading over the Festive Season, in fact managing to finish 12 books in December, which is something of a record for this rather lacking reading year! Read on for my Top 10 reads of 2014 and reading plans for 2015 …

Top 10 books of 2014

First, some terrible statistics. I only read 104 books in 2014 (50 fiction and 54 non-fiction). Oddly, I read almost the same number of non-fiction books as last year; it’s fiction that was much lower. I was basically down over 40 books on last year. I don’t know why: I’ve been about as busy as ever with my business, didn’t think I’d been exercising more or doing more other things, but there we go. I’m going to try to devote more time to reading in 2015. I’ve only done a top 10 as that’s just under 10% of my books read, so here we go – some real crackers in here, I have to say. They’re in order of reading …

Winifred Holtby – “The Crowded Street” – read in a lovely Persephone edition, a Christmas 2013 present, this classic novel of the early stages of the modern women’s movement is an absorbing story as well as a novel of ideas.

E. Arnot Robertson – “Ordinary Families” – one of those eccentric families you find in Virago books, and full of sailing and birdwatching – a real joy to read.

George Eliot – “Adam Bede” – I continued my gentle meander through those of Eliot’s works that are NOT “Middlemarch” (I love “Middlemarch”, but it was the only Eliot I read for years and years, even though I read that particular one several times during those years and years) with this Hardyesque tale of village life: you can’t help but fall in love with Mr Bede.

Halldor Laxness – “Independent People” – a great slab of a book about the bitterness of life in Iceland before mod cons came to the island, but my goodness it was a good read and held my attention. It’s comparable to the great sagas in its language and themes, and it helped my understanding of the place when I got there.

Guy Deutscher – “Through the Language Glass” – an accessible and fascinating book looking at whether the language you grow up speaking influences your experience of the world, or vice versa.

Ruth Adam – “A Woman’s Place 1910-1975” – an excellent Persephone detailing in social history terms the experience of women through much of the 20th century, wearing its learning and research lightly and very readable.

Bob Harris – “The International Bank of Bob” – worthwhile but never worthy, the author starts off doing a few Kiva loans and ends up travelling the world meeting people he has helped to support – a brilliant read and a nice companion to my own (lower-key) Kiva lending activities.

Frances White – “Becoming Iris Murdoch” – a book about my favourite author, by someone I’m lucky enough to call a friend, and mentioning my own research in passing, so how could it not make the top 10 – plus it happens to be a moving, intelligent and highly readable account of a period in Murdoch’s life which has not been so well studied.

Michael Swan – “Learner English” – a book all about the effects that people’s native language have on their production of English – utterly fascinating, hugely detailed and highly useful for a large portion of my work. What’s not to like!

Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche – “Americanah” – fabulous novel about the experience of a Nigerian woman in the US and back in Nigeria; this explains why I don’t do this top 10 post until 1 January every year, as I only finished reading it on Christmas Day!

Honourable mentions

These books were excellent and highly enjoyable reads that were just outside the Top 10 …

Edward Hancox – “Iceland Defrosted” – I read a few books about Iceland before our visit in June, fiction and non-fiction, but this one was by far the most helpful and inspiring, explaining the nation and its people and sharing the author’s love for the place. Recommended reading for anyone planning to visit Iceland.

Katharine d’Souza – “Deeds not Words” – a book set in “a” Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery and other familiar locations, with a great story and satisfying characters.

Charlie Hill – “The Space Between Us” – and I have to make space to mention a book set in the Moseley of my own student days, the first novel about road protestors, and a thumping good read (I have a review in my notebook but not on here – how?)

Reading plans for 2015

Jan 2015 coming upThese are the books that are coming up next on my TBR pile, and very good they look, too. I’m not doing my Month of Re-Reading until February this year, because coming after Christmas and in my Birthday Month, having a month where I don’t hook anything off the TBR shelf isn’t the best and most relaxing thing I can do.

Apart from reading books from the TBR, I am planning to do the following two reading challenges …

Re-read “The Forsyte Saga” – I’m doing this alongside Heaven-Ali and Kaggsysbookishramblings: we are going to read the three trilogies plus extras over the year. Watch out for linked reviews as we go.

Read some Trollope – this is my own adventure – I’ve never read any Anthony Trollope but I think I’d like him, so I’ve downloaded all of his Barsetshire and Palliser novels onto my Kindle and I’m going to read through them as it takes my fancy.

Continue Reading the Century – I announced my plan to do this “naturally” (i.e. not forcing it and not reading a book just because it fell under a particular year) this time last year, and I’m doing quite well with my list: I’ve now read books for 36 of the years, and I have another 13 coming up on my TBR (or in my Kindle) and will include one Galsworthy in the list. I have a massive gap around the 1950s and 60s – I’m sure I can fit in an Iris Murdoch, but I’d love recommendations for books from those years I might enjoy, as it’s an obvious gap!

So, there we go. Have you got any big reading plans (or small reading plans) for 2015? Did you read and enjoy any of my top 10? Happy New Year!

Top books from 2013 and reading plans for 2014


I never do these lists until the end of the year, and this is very justified this year, with two December books making the cut.  I read 147 books in 2013 (with 3 Did Not Finishes), 89 fiction and 58 non-fiction. Here, in no particular order, are my Top 10 Fiction Reads of 2013 and my Top Five Non-Fiction Reads of 2013, and after those, some reading plans for the year …

Top 10 Fiction Reads

Patrick Hamilton – “The Slaves of Solitude” – I love his “Twenty Thousand Streets Under the Sky”; this is vintage Hamilton but through the lens of a Virago or Persephone book!

Chad Harbach – “The Art of Fielding” – an excellent first novel and you do NOT have to like baseball to enjoy it.

Thomas Hardy – “Tess of the D’Urbervilles” – still don’t understand how I’d never read this book before. Yes, bad things happen, but it’s amazing.

George Eliot – “Daniel Deronda” – the first book I finished in 2013 and I knew it would be in the top 10 even then!

Barbara Pym – “Excellent Women” – hard to choose just one but this is a classic and a favourite and introduces many recurring characters. I’ve loved reading all of Pym in 2013.

John Lanchester – “Capital” – so glad that Sian bought this for my birthday as I was holding off on it and it was brilliant.

Jo Walton – “Among Others” – a gift from Emma, the pink cover worried me but it was a brilliant story about reading and books and science fiction. [where is my review of this? Don’t know, will have to search further]

Anthony Powell – “Dance to the Music of Time” – yes, there are 12 of them, and I counted them as separate reads, but you can’t separate them out in terms of a work. A worthwhile re-read and fun readalong with Matthew and Linda.

Susan Glaspell – “Fidelity” – marvellous Persephone that captured small-town America so well with an excellent story with characters you could really care about.

Victoria Eveleigh – Joe series (“Joe and the Hidden Horseshoe” and “Joe and the Lightning Pony“) for helping to rescue the pony story and writing classics that will last (thanks to Jane Smiley for that, too, but she has a bit more publicity …)

Top 5 Non-Fiction Reads

Adam Nicolson – “Sea Room” – I re-read his “Perch Hill” and read “The Gentry” this year, too, but this is the one I really loved re-reading, about his experiences owning his own Scottish island.

Ann Chisholm – “Frances Partridge” – a wonderful biography – I said at the time that she’s as good as Michael Holroyd in my estimation – and that’s big praise from me!

Jane Badger – “Heroines on Horseback” – what the world needed in 2013: a clear, complete and fascinating history of the pony book. So absorbing and well done, I could have read it twice in a row straight off!

Jude Rogers & Matt Haynes – “From the Slopes of Olympus to the Banks of the Lea” – I loved this book about East London / London around the time of the Olympics.

Andrew Martin – “Underground Overground” – fascinating, enthusiastic and well researched history of the Tube.

Reading plans for 2014

Sadly, we’ll be coming to the end of Ali’s Hardy reading project this year. I’ve read all of the books, sometimes a bit behind, and we just have “Jude the Obscure” for Jan-Feb then I think a couple of volumes of short stories. I’ve really enjoyed doing this and read some books I wouldn’t have got round to for years. There’s a First World War readalong going on in the LibraryThing Virago Group and on Ali’s blog, but I am not hugely keen on war books, so I’m limiting my honouring of 100 years since the beginning of World War I by re-reading Vera Brittain’s “Testament of Youth” this month.

What I have fancied is doing one of those Twentieth Century challenges where you read a book from each year of the century. But I’m not going to push myself to do it in a year or two years, even; I’m going to see what I get and then fill in the gaps. I know plenty of people, like Stuck-in-a-Book and Fleur In Her World who have done it and can be mined for lists.  However, I do have some questions about the dating …

  • Is it the date on the book you have in your hand, or the original date of publication that matters?
  • What if there’s a new introduction in your copy, what happens then? That date or the original?
  • If it’s the original date, does it matter if it’s not on your book and you have to look it up, e.g. I have a reprint of Winifred Holtby’s “Virgina Woolf” that is clearly older than the edition I have, but the only date in the book is that of the reprint.
  • I’m presumably OK to have more than one book by one author as it’s my project and I can do what I like, right?!

I hope someone will come and answer those. I’ve put up a list of years on a new page, and I know I have 15 individual years in the current TBR (I have a LOT of books published in 2010 – am I just 4 years behind the times at all times, I wonder?)

I’ll be doing my usual Month of Re-Reading in January this month, and will be posting about that and the state of my TBR tomorrow. This was the wonderful state of my TBR after a good December’s reading and before adding my Christmas reads …

Jan 2014 aHope all my lovely readers have a good 2014 of reading themselves!

Books of the year!!!

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Books read this year: 227 (last year 228)
Fiction : 121 (last year 133)
Non-fiction: 106 (last year 95)
Did Not Finish: 4

Top 10s in order of reading (* = top ten of year fic and non-fic)

Top 10 fiction:
J & G Dryansky – Fatima’s Good Fortune
Lorna Landvik – Tall Pine Polka
*Dorothy Whipple – The Priory
*Catherine O’Flynn – What Was Lost
Ernest Callenbach – Ecotopia
Sinclair Lewis – Main Street
*John Galsworthy – The Forsyte Saga
*Gautam Makani – Londonstani
*Margaret Mitchell – Gone With The Wind
Jon Hassler – Rookery Blues
Honorable mention: Linda Gillard’s House of Shadows (read in MSS, 1st chapter available on her website)

Top 10 non-fiction:
*Mary S Lovell – The Mitford Girls
Michael Young – Family and Kinship in East London
*Bruce Feilden – Learning to Bow
Jenna Bailey – Can Any Mother Help Me?
*Hugo Vickers – Cecil Beaton
John Bingham – No Need for Speed
Isabella Dusi – Vanilla Beans and Brodo
*Stuart Maconie – Pies and Prejudice
Andrew Collins – That’s Me In the Corner
*Andrew Marr – A History of Modern Britain
Honorable mention: Michael Holroyd’s Basil Street Blues and Mosaic, but they couldn’t both go in and I couldn’t choose between them

Top read of 2008 – Andrew Marr – A History of Modern Britain