Book review – David Lodge – “Quite a Good Time to be Born”


My reading has gone to pot a bit this month – this represents only the sixth book I’ve finished so far (although I appear to be part-way through three more). It was on my print TBR at least – the second volume of Lodge’s memoirs is in my TBR project and Gill kindly gave me this, the first volume, last Christmas. I chose it to read on Monday as it felt appropriate, covering a large chunk of the Queen’s early life and her coronation up to almost her Silver Jubilee (although it turns out she’s not mentioned at all!).

David Lodge – “Quite a Good Time to be Born: A Memoir 1935-1975”

(23 January 2022, from Gill for Christmas)

Lodge planned to do his memoirs in two chunks, covering half his life each, and indeed did, so this takes him from birth to forty, taking in his family history as well. He kept diaries apparently, and he has letters and, from the age of about 17, Mary, later his wife, to remember stuff.

It was a good time to be born, with free education and the experience of a huge sociological shift in British life – he’s slightly too old to take part in 1960s counterculture etc but by that time is working in universities, so sees it happening with his students.

Excitingly, while I knew he was born in Brockley, South London, I didn’t realise his address was 8 minutes’ walk from where I lived in Brockley in the 1990s, and then obviously I knew he’d taught at Birmingham and lived there, but I had no idea he’d lived for a while in one of the “jerry-built”, poky and badly insulated 1930s semis on Reservoir Road, Selly Oak – where I lived in the earlier 1990s! So it all came alive for me in a very nice way.

Once his childhood is over, and trips to see his auntie in Germany, we get the development of his twin careers as novelist and academic – the academic side of things including writing books on literary theory that I’m afraid I haven’t read, while I have read all of his early novels, some of them a couple of times. There is satisfying detail on the novels and their writing, editing and publishing, and also on the academic administration side of things, interesting for being at the very university department I attended later (Lodge was an honorary professor by the time I got there: I attended a talk he did on adapting one of his novels for TV, and I have met him a couple of times since, and have even introduced Matthew to him).

He is a bit old-fashioned in some attitudes, finding women of his acquaintance becoming more interesting to him with the dawn of second-wave feminism and offering a few terms we wouldn’t really use now (this was written in c. 2014, we need to remember). He talks movingly but “of the times” about the birth and childhood of his son Christopher, who lives with Down Syndrome, using the terms that were used around the time but making sure we know of the full, rich life his son lives.

As we progress through the book, Lodge encounters people I knew myself – John Sinclair, who founded the COBUILD corpus linguistics-based dictionary project I worked on in the 1990s; Mr Shapiro, who used to come into Special Collections at the library when I worked there, and there’s always that thrill of actual recognition, isn’t there.

An entertaining and substantial book which I heartily enjoyed. I appreciated Lodge’s honesty about the anxiety he experienced at times, the worries over his novels and encounters with the publishing industry and the pull between family, writing and academia. Once I’ve finished some of the other books I’m reading, I’m looking forward to the second volume.

Book reviews – Light novels in heavy times


It’s been a very weird week. I completely respect people’s right to mourn the Queen more than me and to mourn the Queen less than me. I’m certainly not a fan of the colonialism and legacies of Empire that endured through her reign; I am also not keen on sneering at the queue of people filing past her Lying in State. I’m bothered of course by the suppression of dissent and peaceful protest; and it certainly IS the time to think about whether we want a monarchy and what we want that monarchy to look like. But the fact remains for me that it’s the end of an era, that someone who has always been there since I first realised of her existence at the Silver Jubilee in 1977 (aged five, I confidently asserted that the Queen was named after me) is no longer there, and I respected the Queen’s commitment to public service and her quiet care for the nation and kind words to and for so many.

Add those feelings to the upheaval of a change of prime minister, and all the doings in the country and messaging and then seeing a lot of nastiness out on social media and I’ve been upset and unsettled. Reading is important as the constant in my life and I decided to deal with the little pile of books that’s lived on the front of the TBR shelf for forever and get them out of the TBR Challenge pile. There were two cosy mysteries that fitted into the category of “in a series and waiting for me to get the ones before them” and three light novels that I apparently bought in August last year in the hopes of a holiday, maybe; they should have been in the main sequence, not a funny pile, but they’d have been in the TBR project whatever.

After these, I’ve picked up Larry McMurtry’s “Terms of Endearment” for my McMurtry project, and on Monday, the National Day of Mourning, I’ve selected the first volume of David Lodge’s memoirs (not in the TBR project but needs to be read before the second volume, which is), as that covers a long period of the Queen’s life and her accession to the throne.

Earlene Fowler – “Delectable Mountains”

(25 December 2016 (!) – from Gill)

Gabe would want to strangle me when he found out I knew about the possible lead and didn’t tell him immediately. But, for not the first time, his job, and its promise to uphold the letter of the law, and my belief in what was the moral, not necessarily legal, thing to do, where in conflict. How many more incidents like this could our marriage endure? (p. 61)

We’re back with Benni Harper, who runs a folk art museum in California, and her husband Gabe, the town’s chief of police, and Fowler does a good job of reminding us who everyone is, given I haven’t read one of these novels since April 2016 and before that 2010 but still managed to pick up the (haha) threads.

In this one, there’s a death in the church where Benni and her grandma Dove are running a children’s play; the seemingly lovely handyman is there, hit on the head, and then other mysteries begin to unfold around the town. Did one of the children see what happened? In a way, this is more about family relationships and Benni and Gabe’s marriage than the mystery, which I liked, as it makes it more deep and satisfying than other cosies I’ve read.

Earlene Fowler – “Tumbling Blocks”

(July 2016 – Charity shop, Whitby)

After a bit of sleuthing round the blog, I established that I bought this in Whitby in July 2016 when we were on holiday in nearby Bridlington. I obviously then kept hold of it till I had the one before it! This one revolves around a posh group of women who have an exclusive club with only 49 members; when the president thinks her friend was murdered (but no one else does), suspicion falls upon three women keen to become members.

Added to this, Gabe’s difficult mum is in town for Christmas and Benni’s best friend is struggling with her pregnancy. Gabe doesn’t do well and patterns in their marriage resurface but there’s comic relief in the form of a corgi puppy Benni’s dog-sitting (weirdly, there’s a dog called Prince Charles in the previous novel and corgis here, so a nod to the royal events this last week even though I was very much looking to escape them!)

Sue McDonagh – “Escape to the Art Cafe”

(01 August 2021 – The Works)

Flora has the usual pattern of boyfriend messes up / job messes up / escape to the seaside / meets a hunky local with a sad bit in his life, but this is a nice, modern novel with a good cast of characters and the Welsh seaside for a change, and Flora certainly takes matters into her own hands and, like the author, is a biker, and Jake is involved with the lifeguards, like the author, so the book is full of rides out and authentic bike details, the sea and trips out on it, all of which I liked a lot. This is the third in a trilogy so probably best read with the others but I managed not to and still enjoyed it. Everything does wind up neatly quite quickly but the plot is plausible and the details were fun.

Now two off the pile but not actually read!

Katie Fforde – “A Secret Garden”

(01 August 2021 – The Works)

Title looked familiar, read a page, realised I’d read it before! Bye-bye!

Samantha Young – “Much Ado About You”

(01 August 2021 – The Works)

I should have liked this novel about an American (freelance editor!) in England on a bookshop-running holiday but I just couldn’t engage with it, it didn’t seem consistent in what she’d know about England in advance, and I encountered the word “moron” three times in the first 30 pages and while it’s not a really top one it is still an ableist slur I don’t like reading. So I closed the book and put it in my BookCrossing pile.

Weird little pile of books: done!

These represented TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Books 15-19/28 – 9 to go by 5 October! Can I do it?

A new bookshop in Kings Heath – The Heath Bookshop – and indie businesses in Kings Court


I found out there was going to be a new bookshop in Kings Heath, my suburb of Birmingham, some time last year when I filled in their first questionnaire. Catherine and Claire have since put in a lot of hard work, and they opened officially last weekend, with a plethora of author events. It was such a joyful time and it was also lovely to run into so may people I knew at the events. Kings Court itself is a real find, and somewhere I wouldn’t have ventured without going to the bookshop – see below for some photos of the area and its indie businesses.

Setting up the bookshop

You can read about the journey the bookshop idea has taken on their Facebook page here. I first visited the premises in Kings Court back in July and met Catherine (who, it turns out, was a student of my friend Gill; when I met Claire, she immediately recognised me as a KH Running Club member; that’s One Degree of South Birmingham for you!).

Fast-forward a couple of months and a few interstitial visits and I popped in last Thursday to find books on the shelves!

They were soft-opening and, as I’d promised, I took a book token in to give them a go at processing one of those (their first book token transaction; they’ll also be selling book tokens). I chose Bernadine Evaristo’s memoir, “Manifesto” and also picked up two small books of short stories, “Stories” by various authors and “Walking Backwards” by Charlie Hill, whose books I’ve reviewed on here a few times.

Launch Weekend

On 9-11 September there was a lovely launch weekend, like a mini book festival, with various authors taking part. There will be pics up on their Facebook and Instagram. I attended Osman Yousefzada’s talk on Saturday afternoon.

I bought his book, “The Go-Between: A Portrait of Growing up Between Different Worlds”: he grew up in Balsall Heath, just down the road from Kings Heath, and this looks fascinating (I did win it on NetGalley but wanted to get a proper copy).

Then on Saturday, I met Gill as normal but instead of going to a coffee shop (well, I did go to a coffee shop, see below), we went to an author talk. Niall Griffiths, Wales resident, Liverpool born, friend of the bookshop, was a hoot.

His novels are more on the thriller side of things but he read some poems and I liked their concrete nature (as in they’re about things, rather than being those ones that are in funny shapes on the page), reminiscent of Attila the Stockbroker, so bought those (in fact, bought the copy he’d done the reading from!).

The hitherto unknown Kings Court

Kings Court is a little court running off the high street; I think it used to house a greasy spoon and a furniture shop but is now a lovely little indie destination. I am sure I’ve missed some places out, but the offerings include Levain & Cherry, an artisan bakers, The Milkcake Man, a dessert shop with a difference, Borough & Fox, an indie greengrocer, and Pause Cafe, a lovely find of a speciality coffee shop with an amazing array of cakes (I had a super coffee there on Sunday and a chat with a fellow customer, and will be back to try out the vegan cakes).

Pause Cafe
View into Kings Court

Well worth a visit, and definitely worth a look around when you’re popping to the bookshop!

About The Heath Bookshop

Facebook page here including opening hours and author events

Instagram here

They’re on so if you’re not local and want to support them, you can order your books through their page and send them their portion of sale price.

Book review – Derek A. Bardowell – “Giving Back”


I’m still reading pretty slowly, and to be fair I think this was quite a substantial book (checking the print version, it’s over 400 pages) but I’m a bit disappointed I’m only reviewing my second book on the 8th of the month. Hopefully I’ll get some more reading time over the weekend. The combination of some plumbing work that took up a chunk of the weekend, then helping deal with the plumber who had to come out has cut it down a bit! I do know I’m fortunate to have time to read and I get to read more than many people, I just like getting my books read and sharing them!

Derek A. Bardowell – “Giving Back: How to do Good Better”

(21 June 2022, NetGalley)

With this book, I am calling on you to embrace a new way of contributing to a better world. I am not calling for you to stop donating to your favourite charities. Philanthropy should be personal, it should be about the heart, and for many, the element of self-interest or instant gratification will always be a factor. This book is not about whether we are generous or not; we are. It is more of a call to rethink the nature of our giving, to question who controls how we give, and to understand how changing the way we contribute can help us have a greater voice in our society.

Bardowell is a respected figure in philanthropy, who has worked both in direct front-line charity services and for funding providers, and in this book he shares his own journey and learning, including the mistakes he can see he made in not calling out or in bad behaviour by funders and taking a patriarchal view of funding and charities, and a history of how philanthropy has worked in mainly the UK but also the US. He calls for a radical new way to distribute philanthropic resources, whether that’s the money from big foundations or the time and money ordinary people can “give” (or give back, reparatively, as he and many others would have it, and rightly so).

The detail on how funding bodies and charities work is fascinating, the feedback on how people from Global Majority groups have felt and been interacted with by big organisations (not good, not well) and there’s great information on a range of game-changing people and organisations around the word, including Immy Kaur from Civic Square here in Birmingham, who I have the pleasure of knowing (through running). This is really positive and life-affirming and Bardowell makes a conscious effort to include as many initiatives as possible that are breaking moulds and working on real, systemic change. He does also list ways in which individuals could best divert their funds and energies, encouraging us to think less about giving to large organisations (he includes some excellent questions on social justice policies to ask larger organisations) and worrying about hierarchies and more about giving (back) to smaller, on-the-ground initiatives, run by the people they’re for.

There is a lot of extra material, a history of the Black Panthers and lots of history of reggae and hip hop music which, while interesting, and definitely in the case of dancehall music with a real tie-in to the social justice movements he talks about, but I feel this does dilute the central message a bit and might be a bit off-putting to those looking for direct suggestions they can put into action. Maybe there could have been a companion piece or website with this information, as it is interesting and relevant to an extent. I just wonder if it will mean some of the audience doesn’t read through right to the end.

So a useful, bold and provocative book which could have been a smaller or two books and perhaps had a stronger effect. I do encourage people to look out for it, though, especially if you’re having a think about where your hard-won cash and time might best go.

Thank you to Dialogue Books for selecting me to read this book via NetGalley in return for an honest review.

Book review – Jane Rule – “Desert of the Heart”


I’m not entirely sure what I’ve been doing since the beginning of the month – a fair bit of work and some emergency plumbing, I fear, but this is the first book I’ve finished in September! I borrowed it from Ali in October last year after she reviewed it in July here, and I’m not sure if it was down to the fragmented way I read it but I don’t think I loved it as much as she did. However, it was very interesting, and the excellent introduction by Jackie Kay set it very well in its context.

I pulled this from slightly later in my TBR to read for All Virago / All August and the LibraryThing Virago Group’s August theme read of journeys (the central character has travelled from California to Reno to get a divorce and she also has a journey through her own sexuality). Of course, finishing in September, I’ve failed at both of those attempts, but never mind, eh?

Jane Rule – “Desert of the Heart”

(9 October 2021, loan from Ali)

Ann stood, awkward and defenseless. If Evelyn had been either indiscreet or distant, she would have known what to do. But decorum was a climate in which Evelyn lived. Within it she could move with a kind of candor Ann could neither imitate nor reject. And she had no attitude of her own. She did not know what to feel. (p. 136)

We meet Evelyn, fleeing an unsuccessful marriage where she feels she is the culprit in it going wrong, her husband lost in a miasma of depression. She comes to stay in Frances’ boarding house to accomplish getting a divorce, as that and gambling are the two mainstay industries of Reno. Ann, related in a complicated way to Frances, and Walter, Frances’ son, are the only other two regular residents, the rooms filled with a shifting population of women who stay for six weeks, have a court hearing and leave.

When Evelyn and Ann slowly fall for one another (or fall for one another and slowly admit it), we’re all convinced Evelyn will leave at the end of the six weeks, maybe even returning to heterosexuality. But she’s reminded of a wartime liaison and is gradually convinced this is natural. Also natural, however, is her reserve and reticence, which are difficult for Ann, used to the more obvious charms of her casino friends and her on-off lover, the statuesque Silver, to cope with.

There’s a lot of internal rumination, contrasted with the detailed and fascinating life inside the casino. Paragraphs like the one I quote seem simple then fold in on themselves (who is the “she” in the last two sentences, when you think about it?). There’s a bit of plot around Ann’s jealous ex, Bill, easily settled by the composed Evelyn, and a feeling of worry about what’s going to happen when these six weeks are up, but it’s mainly a character study of shifting feelings and emotions. Of course, what Jackie Kay picks out rather brilliantly is that this is a lesbian novel that came before the women’s movement of the late 60s and 70s, showing normal, rounded people who don’t end up dead or damaged – something that doesn’t actually often happen in LGBTQIA+ themed novels now, let alone then.

I also found interest in reading a woman’s view of the desert and casinos, after my reading of Larry McMurtry’s Vegas novels. It’s an absorbing read and the context of a novel which changed many women’s lives and led many of them to write to the author is also fascinating.

State of the TBR – September 2022


Looking at last month’s picture, I’m pleased at how things are going. My little pile of Three Investigators Mysteries is safely tucked into the shelf now, and things have definitely moved on in the oldest part of the TBR (top left). Hooray!

I completed 16 books in August, and am part-way through two more. I finished two of my ebook TBR books and am part-way through a third, with one unread as yet. I read ten out of eleven of my print TBR books, not managing the Michael Walmer, which I’d warned him might happen. I completed my 20 Books Of Summer challenge! Those are all also from my TBR challenge – I now have 14 books to go on that from now until 05 October, which isn’t going to happen, see below.

Shiny New Books

Shiny has been having its August break so no books reviewed there.


I was again restrained with print books in this last month.

Kaggsy of the Bookish Ramblings sent me “Country of Origin” by Dalia Azim, a novel about Egyptians in New York. I was reminded of the existence of “Life Among the Qallunaat” by Mini Aodla Freeman (an Inuit woman’s memoir of living among the non-Indigenous settlers) by The Australian Legend’s review and managed to find an OK-priced ex-library copy, and publishers Elliott & Thompson kindly sent me Aliya Whiteley’s “The Secret Life of Fungi” which I will review here on Fungus Day in October and also for Shiny.

I won just the five NetGalley books this month:

The nice folks at Faber offered me “Avalon” by Nell Zink (published January 2023), a novel about utopias and finding yourself, and then when we were discussing their non-fiction list, approved me for history of measurement, “Beyond Measure” by James Vincent (June 2022). I was also offered Julie Caplin’s “The Christmas Castle in Scotland” (October 2022) by its publisher, having enjoyed one of her novels before. “Fire Rush” by Jacqueline Crooks (March 2023) is a coming-of-age novel set in 1970s London and Crooks was named best debut Black female novelist by Bernardine Evaristo in the Guardian, which is enough for me to request it from the tempting email, and Jimi Famurewa’s “Settlers: Journeys Through the Food, Faith and Culture of Black African London” (October 2022) looks very interesting and also pairs nicely with the novels I’ve read recently about British Nigerian Londoners.

So that was 16 read and 8 coming in in August – very much in the right direction!

Currently reading

Slightly oddly, I’m currently reading two books loaned to me by Heaven-Ali – “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym” by Paula Byrne, the biography of our beloved writer, and “Desert of the Heart” by Jane Rule, a 1960s lesbian classic about a woman staying in Reno to accomplish her divorce (I was attempting to include this in All August / All Virago and the Virago Groups’s travel theme for August but didn’t get it finished). Actually, I think this is Ali’s hard copy of Francesca Wade’s “Square Haunting” too – Emma and I started this as our readalong this month and are thoroughly enjoying it, as predicted. On the Kindle is Derek A Bardowell’s “Giving Back: How to Do Good, Better” which is an excellent and powerful book on the social sector and how we can all make our money and work go further and to the right people.

Coming up

Coming up next in print books, well, this isn’t going to happen. This is all the books that will get my TBR project finished, plus two review books, and doesn’t include my Larry McMurtry as I’d taken the picture and shelved the books before I thought about it. It also includes the first volume of David Lodge’s memoirs, as I have the second volume in the TBR project but need to read that first. Argh!

I’m not going to list them because it’s ridiculous, but basically I’m going to concentrate on the review books, of course, “Rock-Bound” and “The Secret Life of Fungi” and then try to eliminate those ‘extras’ that have been hanging around on the shelves, so the top row of light women’s novels and two Earlene Fowler quilting cosy mysteries and that massive Tolkien catalogue. Any others will be a bonus. Sensible, right?

My NetGalley TBR for September:

Well, there is a bit of diversity in the print TBR but I seem to be giving myself more of a course in Black British history and diverse people’s lives in America. Alternative history of the Middle Ages, “Femina” by Janina Ramirez, is still on there, and I’ve added “Beyond Measure” so it doesn’t get forgotten. Then I’ll be covering Black British Georgians (“Black England” by Gretchen Gerzina), Black British Victorians (“Black Victorians” by Keshia N. Abraham, John Woolf) and Black Britons in the whole of history (“African and Caribbean People in Britain” by Hakim Adi). Then Diya Abdo’s “American Refuge” covers stories of the refugee experience in the US and “Mika in Real Life” by Emiko Jean is the story of a Japanese woman in America. Kamila Shamsie’s “Best of Friends” travels from Pakistan to London, and “Inside Qatar” promises to show the real history of the place hosting the men’s football World Cup (people have had trouble downloading this one, so fingers crossed). So this time it’s mainly serious non-fiction on the Kindle and light fiction in print books!

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and 17 to read, minimum. Can I do that? Hm, possibly not!

How was your August reading? What are you reading this month? Have you read or picked up any of my selection?

Book review – Edward Hancox – “Every Last Puffin” – Book 20 in my 20 Books of Summer!


And I’ve done it! I’ve finished my 20 Books of Summer challenge (intro post here) and also knocked another book off my TBR project! I had an hour or so between work projects yesterday and popped out in the garden to sit in what feels like the end of the summer sun, with a Beanies Caramelised Biscuit coffee in my huge Sports Direct mug, making sure my bookmark from Ali got in the photo, and there I was, finishing my last book! I’m so chuffed I managed the challenge, as I left myself with quite a few books to read this month for it.

I must have had a weird moment with this one – I supported it via a Kickstarter campaign (101 people supported it and my name is in the back of the book but I apparently just put myself down as Liz – I know the only lone Liz is me!) and then I completely failed to record it arriving, photograph it, write about it, anything. From tracing things back, I believe it would have arrived at the end of August 2021, so I’m still only a year behind myself.

Edward Hancox – “Every Last Puffin”

(August 2021)

There’s a well-established link between nature and mental health, and I was only just beginning to feel the benefits. This book may have started with me trying to find the puffins before it’s too late, but it was becoming clear that they were helping me too. I could feel the stresses and strains of life starting to dissolve. The puffin pulled at another blade of grass, twisting his head sideways to consider me fully. (p. 133)

Hancox has always liked puffins and he decides to go on a tour of Britain to find their last outposts and see how they’re doing. He’s read about seabirds in decline and hopes it’s not a farewell tour – spoiler: he finds some places are in decline, some other populations are doing well, and people all around the country are doing a lot to help them, including important rat eradication programmes on islands.

Each chapter details a visit and takes us through the part of the year when puffins are found in Britain, from May to July. He didn’t do all the trips in one year so it’s not sequential, but he doesn’t claim to and it’s fine. Each short chapter is perfect to dip into or you can read a load in one go. And he manages to make them not samey, even though essentially each is a trip to an island or coastal region, sometimes involving a more or less unpleasant boat trip, usually an RSPB reserve and seeing similar sets of birds – puffins, of course, but also guillemots, petrels, gannets, skuas and the like, as well as wheatears, stonechats and others.

I was of course drawn to and cheered by the places I’ve been to myself – Bempton Cliffs in Yorkshire and the Isles of Scilly, though I haven’t been to the island he visits – or know of – Adam Nicolson’s Shiants make a welcome appearance. There’s also mention of Joe Harkness’ excellent book, “Bird Therapy“. And my friend Meg will be pleased to note that the Icelandic word for elephant gets a mention (it’s easily confused with their word for fulmar). There’s something for everyone; every birder will have been to one of the reserves he mentions (if even I, a non-committed birder has) and he describes the places and their guardians beautifully.

Despite the cold, I was smiling like it was Christmas morning; each puffin was a new gift under the tree. (p. 155)

Such a very cheering book, even with its mentions of species loss and occasional sad individual bird, and a worthy finale to my 20 Books project.

This was book number 20 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 14/28 – 14 to go by 5 October! Can I do it?

Book review – Jokha Alharthi (trans. Marilyn Booth) – “Celestial Bodies”


It’s Women in Translation month and I am notoriously bad at managing to fit a book in for it, but I have done this month! Ali kindly gave me this book for Christmas last year, and I have had it in mind to read for the project; then I really fancied reading a novel as I’ve been reading quite a lot of non-fiction, so here we are with an entry! (I realise this is going to mean more frequent reviews than normal for a few days to fit everything in – sorry!).

Jokha Alharthi (trans. Marilyn Booth) – “Celestial Bodies”

(25 December 2021, from Ali)

I’m not sure I’ve read a book by an Omani author or set in Oman before. I didn’t really get much of a sense of the history of this place from this impressionistic book (which did give me a lot in terms of relationships, culture and atmosphere, I hasten to add) so feel I need to brush up on the basic side of things another time.

Alternating between an omniscient narrator who swoops us into the lives and thoughts of various men and women of three generations, the middle generation being three sisters who have followed different paths in their personalities and marriages and first-person sections by Abdallah, husband of the oldest sister, travelling by plane from Oman to Germany, we dip back and forth through time, examining people through other people’s eyes, seeing there might be jinns and there might be magic or there might be women who carry out rituals of different kinds, and that what we wish for might come true but in a disappointing way.

The three sisters are the most vivid for me, one quiet, one bookish and vivacious, but keen to conform to her family’s wishes and one beautiful and stubborn, waiting for someone she then wishes she hadn’t got. There are love scenes in the desert, descriptions of slaving missions going back into the early 20th century, hints of progress and then dialling back on progress (especially in terms of women’s education). Abdallah also seems vivid and knowable, then his last section hints at terrible events, or does it? The narrative moves in a winding way through the three sisters’ weddings and married lives, darting back and forth.

The novel is very smoothly translated, as it doesn’t feel translated, if you see what I mean. Outbursts and cries in Arabic remain in Arabic but are understandable. A bit more fragmented of a read than I usually enjoy, but a powerful impression of a strong culture and ties that go back decades.

Book review – Lucy Delap – “Feminisms: A Global History”


I think I might actually completely my 20 Books of Summer (mainly because I’ve had a low NetGalley TBR this month) as this is Book 19 out of the pile (intro post here) and is also again part of my TBR project. I was pleased to note that I acquired this on 26 August 2021 when I started reading it on 26 August 2022, literally a year behind now! I bought it with a Christmas book token my friend Sian gave me, and recorded it in my State of the TBR post from 1 September (I’ve now read all of the print books recorded as incoming in that post). I’ve taken Book 20 off the shelf to start later today.

Lucy Delap – “Feminisms: A Global History”

(26 August 2021)

By no means are all the figures discussed in this book – many would not have heard of this word and some would angrily repudiate it. But they can nonetheless be placed within a critical feminist history, one that helps us understand feminisms’ tensions and possibilities across a broad canvas. (p. 339)

In this book, one of the attractive new Pelican series, Lucy Delap, a historian of modern Britain at the University of Cambridge, sets out to write a history of feminisms and allied causes around the world, from about the mid 1700s until fairly recently. She does have a global coverage, bringing in work done in various African countries, including Nigeria and South Africa, Asian countries like South Korea and Indonesia, Australasia, various European countries, including Eastern European, Chile and Peru in South America, as well as the US and UK.

After an introduction in which she sets out her stall, of course, and talks about what constitutes feminism and its history, countering the claim it started in the West by looking at, for example, the Egyptian Rasheed WOmen’s Conference in 1799 or rights claimed by indigenous Sierre Leone women in 1972, Delap takes various over-arching themes and looks at them across time and place, whether that’s dreams and utopias from the earliest work until now, spaces for publishing, meeting and organising, items like badges or dress. This feels like a slightly odd way of arranging things but allows her to draw threads together, show influence and dialogue between different strands and show the contrasts in the way people have done things. For example, in the clothing chapter she moves between the “rational dress” of the bicycle-riding New Woman through the politicised use of the hijab to the pink pussy hats of the anti-Trump demonstrations.

There’s a lot of intersectionality, necessarily (including a discussion of where the term came from and other terms that have been used for the double or triple burden of being, for example, a Black woman living with a disability. Intersections with class and race are brought out a lot, highlighting how White middle-class feminism and its concerns has often pushed aside other equally important issues (interestingly, it turns out to be not only African Womanism which looks at the fight as a class one, with men fighting on the same side, but this is also a feature of a lot of South American campaigning. An important thread that is emphasised here is the continued oppression of native and indigenous peoples of various countries, who have remained side-lined, patronised and/or ignored.

The book includes some great images, although it’s a small-format paperback and they’re printed direct on the page so some detail is lost. There’s a marvellous picture of a group of Maori women in rational dress from the early 1900s, for example.

There’s no call for action, because this is a historical work; however, there is clearly a need to reclaim these different activists and thinkers/doers and to consider all in our feminism today. A really interesting book in a good modern series.

This was book number 19 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 13/28 – 15 to go (and I’m reading Book 14!)

Book review – Sue Anstiss – “Game On”


Galloping through the end of my 20 Books of Summer now and wondering if I will actually do it: this is Book 18 of the pile (intro post here) and is also once again part of my TBR project to get everything up to Dave Grohl’s book read by 05 October. This is also an Unbound book which I subscribed to and which arrived on 18 August 2021 (so I’m now “only” a year behind on my reading!) and I recorded it in my State of the TBR post from 1 September (out of the print books recorded as incoming in that post I have now read all but one and I’m currently reading that one!). I’ve started Book 19, “Feminisms” by Lucy Delap (the Pelican Classic near the bottom of the pile in the picture) so who knows, I might just do it (will I get them all reviewed, though?).

I’m a bit ashamed I didn’t read and review this excellent book when it arrived, however I’m working towards being able to do that sort of thing again and hopefully it will still pique some interest.

Sue Anstiss – “Game On: The Unstoppable Rise of Women’s Sport”

(18 August 2021)

My goal for this book was to celebrate the huge progress we have seen for women in sport, while also highlighting the inequalities that still exist today. I wanted it to be a joyful book, acknowledging all that has been accomplished, as well as being a rallying cry to action for the future. (p. 312)

Well, in my opinion, this book succeeds on all those fronts. Anstiss has been active both in working in sport behind the scenes and participating in sport; now middle-aged, she’s had a long career in both and she freely admits that initially she didn’t see the inequalities, coming up through a family that gave her the same sporting opportunities as her brothers and only slowly noticing the playing down of women’s abilities and strength, the homophobia in women’s sport and the whiteness of the main teams that did well in Britain. But she acknowledges all that and is now here with an intersectional perspective and a lot of research to show us where we came from, what we’ve been through, the state of play now (well, in 2020/21) and what we can do moving forward. To do this, she’s both done secondary research and conducted interviews with a lot of influential women (how I wish I’d been the transcriber on this project!). It’s enraging and inspiring in equal parts and she leaves us with a good game plan.

Anstiss takes us around the world, into lots of different sports, and also looks at sports writers and broadcasters, coaches and officials, board members and managers, as well as players. She’s really good at making connections and drawing points together (for example, the Title IX legistlation in the US that gave all women equal opportunities for federally funded activities, giving equal sports participation and scholarships to women and men, the proportion of women coaches dropped as men grabbed the now-more-lucrative contracts …). She’s containedly scathing about misguided attempts to tempt girls into sport by offering vapid dolls or pink outfits and committed to working at grassroots level to make things better.

There’s not too much of Anstiss’ own story woven through the book: she’s professional and astute and presents a lot of facts, figures and pertinent quotes in an interesting and useful way, but she does include her experiences in sport, for example taking up triathlon in her mid-40s just when menopause started to hit and realising her experience wasn’t going to be quite as she expected. Fair play to her for raising this issue, and that of periods and motherhood, of course, as well.

Starting with twelve game-changing moments in women’s sport (now, the Lionesses’ victory in the European Cup for football would be one of them), the chapters then take themes of either types of participants (coaches, participants) or wider themes such as sexuality and race (there’s not a chapter on disability, which is a shame, although some para-athletes and disability activists are quoted through the book). There’s a chapter on male allies (yes, Andy Murray’s there, but others as well, with some cheering quotes) and one on mass participation sports to balance the tales of elites. There are some truly shocking stories and some inspiring ones, too: I think she gets the balance just right. We get the usual ones about one’s womb dropping out if you run a marathon (I’ve done four and an ultra and appear to be intact in that regard) and also a lot of more modern guff about femininity and heteronomativity. The stats on pay and prize money are the most shocking: if you think women’s sport isn’t as technically advanced as men’s, consider all the women who are working full-time as well as playing for their nation and earning 10% of what the men earn, with less access to coaching, physio, etc. There’s an interesting chapter at the end about sport for development, a movement to use sport as a catalyst for improving women’s lives around issues like FGM and forced marriage, and an acknowledgement of the complexity of the issues there, and she ends with a great bullet-pointed list of what exactly we can do to advance the cause of women’s sport in the world.

A well-researched, impeccably written, passionate, angry where it should be and celebratory book that I will be recommending to many.

This was book number 18 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 12/28 – 16 to go (and I’m reading Book 13!)

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