Book review – Caroline Criado Perez – “Invisible Women” @ShinyNewBooks

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Invisible WomenI read this one in April but my review is up on Shiny New Books today. This was a HARD book to review – so much in it (so much, SO MUCH) and also it seems to have been written and chatted about and reviewed everywhere (but mostly by women, hmmm …)

Here’s an excerpt from my review – do click over and read the whole thing because it took me aaaaages to put together and because Shiny New Books is a brilliant resource and we want it to keep going and sharing all these wonderful books, don’t we.

We all know the premise of this book by now, right? Because the world is designed for men, women end up in, variously, ill-fitting protective clothing, taking drugs that don’t work the same for them, running the risk of worse accidents because most crash-test dummies are male, and having heart attacks that no one notices because they’re not like men’s heart attacks. Oh, and there’s something about snow clearance in Scandinavia. In fact, a lot of the book is fascinatingly about urban planning and other more prosaic aspects, and all the more rich and meaningful for that. You’ll also be relieved to note that the author does offer suggestions for changes, and highlights where good work is at least being done, rather than just wailing into the abyss about the current situation. Read more.

Book reviews – Sarah Vaughan – “The Art of Baking Blind” and Debbie Macomber – “Rainy Day Kisses” plus books in #amreading #bookconfessions

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Lots of lovely work, lots of running, officiating and preparing to officiate and a bit of learning Spanish have cut into my reading time and also my reviewing time. Here are two books I read while I had a cold the weekend before last (I appear to have only been reading Iris Murdoch’s “The Sea, The Sea” since then!) and then some lovely new books in for review. Well, I say lovely, and they are, but where am I going to put them??

Sarah Vaughan – “The Art of Baking Blind”

(23 April 2019)

One of my most recent acquisitions, bought when I went to meet up with my friend Linda in Shirley and couldn’t leave the charity shops alone, this was an idea poorly read. It’s a well-done novel set during a competition to find the next Mrs Eaden, housewife and home baker extraordinaire (and just passed away, thus avoiding any Mary Berry comparisons!) run by the supermarket that still bears her (husband’s) name. Bake-Off gets a mention: it’s not a Bake-Off novel but lovers of the show are sure to like it.

Life has happened, away from a preheated oven and a greased baking tray. (p. 111)

We get the stories of the five contestants plus extracts from Mrs Eaden’s own life story and recipes/handy hints, which were well pastiched. Note that all human and family life is here, so there need to be trigger warnings for fertility issues and loss and also eating disorders (both well sign-posted but done in a bit of detail, although carefully handled and resolved). There’s also an amusing MAMIL (middle-aged man in lycra) in the form of one contestant’s very annoying marathon running husband – I loved the description of his daughter’s growing discomfort as she supports his marathon and his wife and daughter’s reactions to his self-obsessed silliness (while of course hoping I’m not the equivalent MAWIL!).  Nuclear options are faced up to, mothers and daughters might be reconciled, and it’s all done really nicely with some good set  pieces and characters, showing different types of bravery.

Debbie Macomber – “Rainy Day Kisses”

(14 July 2018)

Picked off the middle of the shelf for cold-day comfort, neither the title story nor the accompanying novella were unfortunately DM’s strongest work. I suspect that “Rainy Day Kisses” with its handy modern-day frame is a re-do of an older story (she does this quite a lot, and fair play, her books are a brand that are consumed in great numbers by many) and it’s a slightly annoying tale of an undomesticated woman and the man who saves her. Yes, she’s an ambitious businesswoman, but …  “The First Man You Kiss” is a silly but amusing tale of a lucky wedding dress: slight but fun. That’s all I have to say about those two!


Books in

I continue to receive lovely parcels for my attention at Shiny New Books – I’m very grateful to Harriet and Annabel for allowing me to be one of their reviewers and the publishers for sending me such lovely books to read.

The first to arrive were the other two I’d requested (any of) from Thames & Hudson’s superb catalogue. Michael J. Benton’s “The Dinosaurs Rediscovered” looks at the last couple of decades of dinosaur research and how things have come on both in the technology and the facts it reveals.

“Chromatopia” by David Coles is a lovely wallow through the history, attributes and mixing of colour – it has various sections but I was immediately attracted by the series of pages with a delicious illustration and then text about the colour, covering the whole palette:

You expect beautiful books from Thames & Hudson and this is no exception: stunning images and clear, fascinating text. And hooray, I’ve noted down all the publication dates and this is first up!

Then a couple of days ago, Stephen Rutt’s “The Seafarers: A Journey Among Birds” arrived, which details the author’s travels around the British coast examining the lives of the birds found there. What a treat!

It’s nearly time for #20BooksOfSummer again and I have to work out whether to put whatever I have left of these on June 03 onto my Pile or keep it just for the TBR itself. Hm.

Book review – Mark Boyle – “The Way Home” #amreading @NetGalley

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A NetGalley book I fancied the look of when they emailed me about which I didn’t seem to feel the same as other people.

The blurb:

No running water, no car, no electricity or any of the things it powers: the internet, phone, washing machine, radio or light bulb. Just a wooden cabin, on a smallholding, by the edge of a stand of spruce.

In this honest and lyrical account of a remarkable life without modern technology, Mark Boyle, author of THE MONEYLESS MAN, explores the hard won joys of building a home with his bare hands, learning to make fire, collecting water from the stream, foraging and fishing.

What he finds is an elemental life, one governed by the rhythms of the sun and seasons, where life and death dance in a primal landscape of blood, wood, muck, water, and fire – much the same life we have lived for most of our time on earth. Revisiting it brings a deep insight into what it means to be human at a time when the boundaries between man and machine are blurring.”

Mark Boyle – “The Way Home”

(12 March 2019, NetGalley)

I’ve shared the blurb because it is entirely accurate,  however I think Boyle must be a “marmite” writer and I didn’t take to him myself, which did colour my reading of it. He decides to give up all technology and live on a smallholding in rural Ireland. I hadn’t realised he’d previously given up money, and written about that, but quickly realised he does go all in on things. I’m not sure what else this book could have been, as you couldn’t survive the modern urban world without tech, whereas you can just about live on a smallholding.

The stories of his current adventure are interspersed with the tale of how he came to this point and details of a visit he makes to the Blasket Islands, a place in Ireland that has moved from being a self-sufficient community to being a tourist location (and he really doesn’t like tourists or tourism, admonishing the reader in the introduction for having a propensity to want to visit the places they’ve read about – this put my back up, even though I understand his intention). This breaks up the hard labour and deer-skinning but there’s always the presence of his, reading between the lines, girlfriend Kirsty, caught between making nettle tea and doing all the plain cooking (he does the exciting bits) and wanting to live the authentic life she wants to have lived, running off with some ponies.

There is lots to value and interest here. The detail is fascinating, not least his agonising over where to draw the line: he eschews time (yet manages to know what day and time to go to the traditional music evenings in the pub) and contemplates making his own mushroom paper and ink for a feather pen, although we don’t get told if that happens. I did like the bits about the oddness of writing with a pencil not a computer. There are plenty of yucky descriptions of respectfully slaughtering fish and eating them raw and dealing with a road-kill deer, so no one looking for the blood and muck of it will be disappointed: there is also information on farming and foraging. No pet that is mentioned meets a sticky end and the musing on the nature of dogs is nicely done. He does also check his privilege, both of birth and of being able to choose to live in this way, but I did find him irritating, I’m afraid. No other reviewer seems to have done that so maybe I’m just struggling with my need for technology and envy of his way of life (he doesn’t have a toilet. So no).

Thank you to NetGalley and Oneworld Publications for allowing me to read this book in return for an honest review.

 

Book review – Simon Armitage – “Gig” plus MORE confessions! #amreading #bookconfessions

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I’m a bit behind with my reviewing, as I was making myself work on my review of “Invisible Women” for Shiny New Books (what more can you say about this much-reviewed book? I will share what I’ve said when it’s out) before I did the books I’ve finished. I ended April with two books on the go, which I’d started on my travels to London last weekend, and I was a bit under the weather this weekend, hence picked some easy reads off the TBR. So be prepared for an influx.

In other influx news, on Friday and then unexpectedly early on Saturday, I have received two books from the publishers, one on a subscription model that I was more than happy to lend a helping hand to, one from the publisher from a selection I expressed interest in earlier in the year! See below for a pic of these absolute beauties that I am privileged to have in the house.

Simon Armitage – “Gig”

(10 April 2018, Oxfam Books)

I bought this on the day I started using my new hairdresser, so precious memories and all that!

A book of loosely connected anecdotes about his own poetry ‘gigs’, music gigs he’s been to and his forays into band membership, imagined and real, and fandom/subculture membership (it’s hard to be a punk in a northern village with a scathing dad, it turns out). Funny and poignant as usual, we get a lot about his mum and dad (I love the long piece about the family’s amateur dramatic tradition) and his wife and daughter. Good to see his Iceland trip referenced and there are some great comparisons, including this on Mark E. Smith, who he says is like

the owner of a family-run furniture manufacturer in provincial northern England, bullying his staff and mocking his customers.

There’s some birdwatching (he’s the one in the back of the car with the silly comments and biscuits) and family jokes (Alan Bennett mode is a corker!) and I laughed out loud at his list of band names and why they got rejected. A great read.


So a while ago I joined an Unbound campaign for a book about the mental health benefits of birdwatching (and being in nature in general). Unbound works like the old subscription model, or crowdfunding, where you pay in advance to help a book get published, and there are various levels (I chose to receive one hardback book of “Bird Therapy” and have my name in the list of supporters, which pleased me mightily when I spotted myself, but you could also have a special edition or various birdwatching treats for more of a pledge). A quote from the publisher’s page:

In this groundbreaking book filled with practical advice, Joe explains the impact that birdwatching had on his life, and invites the reader to discover these extraordinary effects for themselves.

You can buy it on Amazon from next month and I will try to review it very soon. I found Unbound easy to work with: one book I was supporting failed and I had a refund I could apply easily to anything else.

Bird Therapy and Futurekind books

“Futurekind” by Robert Phillips, kindly sent to me by Thames & Hudson and out next week, is a wonderful, beautifully illustrated book about community-led design projects. I’ll let the blurb do the talking:

Structured into eight areas of application, from healthcare to education, this book showcases over sixty projects – not the kind you see in glossy magazines or online, but the ones that have made a genuine difference to communities and lives around the world. Rather than being client-driven, as commercial design often is, each project here is the result of designers who reach out, communities who get involved and the technologies that helping people to realize ideas together. From a playground-powered water pump in South Africa to a DIY budget cellphone, each of these groundbreaking projects is presented through fascinating and life-affirming stories, diagrams that reveal the mechanisms and motivations behind each design approach, and photography that celebrates the humanity of the endeavour.

It looks absolutely fascinating and I can’t wait to get stuck in.

I’m currently reading “The Sea, The Sea” by Iris Murdoch, for what must be the fifth time at least, and I’m still drawn in, excited, by that first page. What are you reading that’s exciting you?

State of the TBR May 2019 (plus book confessions!)

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Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear – we appear to have reached Peak TBR. Two full shelves plus stacks and the Pile is not even pictured. This has not been helped by my only managing to read six books in April – two of them were substantial non-fiction works.

One reason for the absolute fullness of the shelves is that when I was in London to visit my best friend and to support friends in the London Marathon, I happened into a North London Oxfam Books and found these two lovelies:

Who doesn’t like a book on ancient and not-so-ancient Britain? and I’ll be running past at least the White Horse of Uffington (which I’m scared of, not really taken away by reading the book based on the TV series that made me scared of it) when I do my ultra marathon in July. So Paul Newman’s “Lost Gods of Albion: The Chalk Hill-Figures of Britain” weighed down my rucksack all day on Sunday. And then a Persephone book I don’t have for only a fiver? Nicholas Mosley’s “Julian Grenfell” is now mine, and it’s not as battered as it appears in the photo.

I’ve also won on NetGalley “Brave, Not Perfect” by Reshma Saujani (about encouraging women and girls to be one but not just strive for the other), Joe Berridge’s “Perfect City” (totally Cari’s fault, that one: a book about urban planning and how the world’s cities are coping or not coping) and “Don’t Touch my Hair” by Emma Dabiri which is a cultural history of black hairstyling culture as a key in to black oppression and liberation.

Now, I did start both of these on my journey down to London and have nearly finished Simon Armitage’s “Gig” which is a loose collection of pieces and poems about being on the road and doing various ‘gigs’ either with musicians or as a jobbing poet. Mark Doyle’s “The Way Home” is about doing without technology – I’ve not unfortunately taken to the author very much but it is interesting in it’s way so I’m pressing on. That’s from NetGalley, hence the odd cover image on PC screen/real book pairing.

I have also finished “Invisible Women” by Caroline Criado Perez and that’s the sixth book for April if anyone’s counting. I’m reviewing that one for Shiny New Books, so I’ll link to my review when it’s written and published there. I’ve just heard I’ve got a possible three more coming from a publisher for Shiny reviews so I’d better get my reading skates on!

My next read after I’ve finished these two (or probably one of them) will be Iris Murdoch’s “The Sea, The Sea” for my Iris Murdoch Readalong project. You can see the cover images and read the blurbs on my introductory post from yesterday if you like. I really can’t wait to read this, one of my favourites of hers, and I’m pretty sure I’ve read it more than the two or three times I’ve read all of the others. I’ll be reading the one on the end but I do like the three covers I have so thought I’d share them all with you.

I’ll also be reading either one of my new NetGalley books or one of the ones that are sadly languishing on the Kindle.

Here are the start and finish of my TBR and I have a horrible feeling the start is almost the same as last month, while the finish has changed dramatically.

The start …

… the finish

The ones at the start will be read in order but I will probably leave “Julian Grenfell” for All August / All Virago (and Persephone) and skip to “Hidden Figures” and “The House on Willow Street” as I want to lend those to a friend. “Albion” will need to be read before mid-July. I am hopeful of more reading time this month as I have my marathon at the end of the month, so there’s some serious resting, tapering and travelling / recovering to be done during May!

How is your TBR? Have you read any of these?

“Henry and Cato” round-up and “The Sea, The Sea” preview #IMReadalong @IrisMurdoch

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I was pleased to have read and reviewed “Henry and Cato” on time again, mid-month, and we’ve had a nice lively discussion with some dissent as to whether we liked it more, less or just the same than other readings of this book and other books in the oeuvre. I love all the different aspects that people pick out.

Jo has done her usual careful and thoughtful Goodreads review – I think she’s the only person reading all the books through but for the first time, and it’s fascinating to read her progress. Do pop your comments on the review post even if you’re coming to this a bit late – I’d love this project to live on and be something people decide to undertake in the future!

Peter Rivenberg has a hardback Viking American first edition with a mysterious mythological scene, presumably of Persephone going into the underworld (is that Colette’s fate?):

The Sea, The Sea

On to “The Sea, The Sea” and a real treat: I suspect I have read this one more than three times already and, as the Booker winner, it’s one I recommend to IM newbies. My husband read and really enjoyed it.

I have the requisite three copies (not long and I will only have two of some of them!), a Chatto and Windus first edition, a Triad Granada paperback reprinted in 1987 (making me 15, about when I did read it first) and the new Vintage classic:

I do love the first edition cover and look at the back cover!

On to the blurbs, and the first edition gets it right:

then the Triad Granada reworks this, including removing some commas …

(I love the quotes from the Spectator, the New Statesman and … Vogue!)

and the Vintage one gives up a bit:

By the way, in my opinion this book has one of the best final paragraphs in literature.

Are you going to be reading or re-reading “The Sea, The Sea” along with me? Are you catching up with the others or have you given up? What’s your favourite so far? Your least favourite? Do you have a photo to share of you reading one of the books, or where you read it?


You will find a page listing all of these blog posts here, updated as I go along.

Book review – May Mackie – “Cobwebs and Cream Teas” plus comp winners and lovely incomings #amreading #BookConfessions

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Sometimes you need a palate-cleanser of an easy book amidst a sequence of more challenging ones, and dotted through my TBR you can find just those. This was an easy win, as it was one of my most recent acquisitions, spotted on my wishlist by Gill and appearing for my birthday. Only a short review as it’s a little book, but then I will share the new books that have come in this last week or so. Oops!

First an update on my Anja Snellman “Continents” competition. I put the names in alphabetical order and without them knowing that, asked the publisher to give me three random numbers (yes, they are giving away THREE print copies). Well done to Jillybeans, Kaggsy and Tredynas Days. The generous publisher has also offered e-copies to all participants, so you will have had an email from me with details of how to claim your prize by now.

Mary Mackie – “Cobwebs and Cream Teas”

(21 January 2019)

A slight volume, just the thing among heavier books, devoured and enjoyed quickly. Mary’s husband gets a job as houseman (general handyman and maintenance/cleaning coordinator, also deputising for the administrator) at a National Trust property, and they move into the flat that goes with it. We’re taken through a year in their lives, explaining the cleaning, preparing, displaying and closing routines with the addition of funny, stressful and occasionally sublime incidents. The author is a writer which allows her to get drawn into helping in the house but also means it’s well-written with some nice descriptive passages and the ability to set a scene. Chris is endlessly inventive, even inventing a new way to dust decorative plaster ceilings (only allowed once checked by the NT). Attractive drawings add to this edition.

Books in

When we were at the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery on Friday, Matthew noticed this on their display. A joint production of Birmingham University’s Cadbury Research Library and the BMAG, “The Birmingham Qur’an Manuscript” tells the story of the uncovering of a page of script from the Qur’an which PhD researcher Alba Fedeli matched with other leaves scattered in libraries across the world. There was something of a fuss about the dating of the page, whereas what was more interesting was the artefact as a palimpsest, with varied readings included and over-written. I have been lucky enough to work with Alba in my job, helping polish articles and documents (she speaks approximately 1 million languages) and so I had to snap it up. There are lovely reproductions of the actual pages, plus input from various people including a librarian and conservator I know! Really a pamphlet more than a book, but it had to be purchased!

My clever and practical friend Sian found these two books from my wishlist around birthday time and kept them in reserve in case the book she wanted to give me didn’t arrive. She had Matthew take them off my wishlist just in case, and now she’s read them herself, she’s passed them to me, anyway – hooray! (When I met her for a coffee, I gave her “Girls to the Front” which she’d given me for Christmas but I knew she’d enjoy.

Tim Parks’ “Where I’m Reading From” is according to the back “lively and provocative” – it’s pieces about what readers want from books and apparently how to look at literature in a new light. Kim Gordon’s memoir, “Girl in a Band” covers her time as a founding member of Sonic Youth and a lot more and has had a lot of positive talk.

Then I went to Shirley to meet my friend Linda for a coffee, I was a bit early and I popped into the charity shops. Sarah Vaughan’s “The Art of Baking Blind” is set in a baking competition – I enjoyed the Strictly novel I read years ago and this looks to be the Bake-Off equivalent. One of those light palate-cleansers I mentioned above; Linda’s already read and enjoyed it. Margot Lee Shetterley’s “Hidden Figures” was a good find – we watched the film about black woman “computers” at NASA in the first days of space flight at the weekend, talked about reading the book, and there it was! And Cathy Kelly’s “The House on Willow Street”, although from 2012, is one I haven’t spotted before: I like her reliably well-written stories of, usually, three or four women and their lives and issues. This one’s set by the sea instead of Dublin and looks fun.


Has anyone read any of these? I’m looking forward to getting to some of them reasonably soon, as I continue to read my TBR in my new way (oldest, newest, Kindle book). I’m currently reading “Invisible Women” for Shiny New Books and hope to have that reviewed for them soon, and will then start another NetGalley on the Kindle as I’m travelling to London to support the marathon this coming weekend.

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