Competition and book acquisition news

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Laura Bates Girl Up Win year of no clutterI am so sorry that it took me so long to sort out my competitions to win a copy of Girl Up and Year of No Clutter, after being all excited about setting them up. I get frustrated if I go in for something and then never hear, and I’m sure those who put in for the competitions have done too – so, sorry.

Life got in the way, basically, as it tends to do – I haven’t been well and although that’s now pretty much resolved, energy had to be reserved for working, walking, recovering and a bit of blogging the millions of books that I’ve been reading!

Anyway, the winners (chosen using a random number generator online) are …

Girl Up – Cathy Turner

Year of No Clutter – Rebecca / Bookish Beck

I have dropped both of them an email for their address and will get the books in the post as soon as I’m able.

All that reading has made a huge dent in my TBR and Book Pile, so when a friend and I were swapping birthday presents (we got all out of sync so no wishing me a happy birthday as it was a little while ago), I managed to do a good bit of second-hand and special-offer ordering (plus a sneaky click on a Kindle book) to pick up some stuff I’ve heard about recently and things on my Wish List and have on the way …

Ruby Wax – “A Mindfulness Guide for the Frazzled” – I need to find a way to keep myself calm and sane apart from running and yoga, as when I can’t do those, for whatever reason, things can feel overwhelming quickly. I trust Ruby Wax to not be too “woo” and to give a sideways glance at stuff, and I know she’s been doing a lot of mental health awareness raising and advocacy, so this seems like a good bet.

Carole Matthews – “Paper Hearts and Summer Kisses” – because she writes very nicely done, light novels and because she’s superb on Facebook.

Angie Thomas – “The Hate U Give” – I keep seeing reviews and mentions of this, touted as the novel to read about BlackLivesMatter. I don’t know as much as I should about black lives in the US and I hope this lauded YA novel will teach me more.

Ben Fogle – “Offshore: An Island of my Own” – because I like islands and this has been on my wish list for ev er.

Amy Levy – The Romance of a Shop” (ebook) – out of copyright so a cheap e-edition, I can’t remember why this was on my wish list but she’s also a Persephone author.

Neil Taylor – “Document and Eyewitness: An Intimate History of Rough Trade” – because I do like a music book, especially one about indie music, and this has been on my wish list for aaaages, too.

I’ve also managed to acquire Bill Drummond’s “45” – he was one of the band, The KLF and my friend Sian got 60 pages in before giving up … a challenge!

Another electronic arrival is “Popular” by Mitch Prinstein – this is a non-fiction book about popularity and likeability in the status-obsessed world of social media, and was provided as some kind of pre-approved pre-link on NetGalley by the publisher! Whoo!

Some of these no doubt will appear on my 20 Books of Summer 2017 list – the only challenge I’m doing this year, because it’s just such fun taking part. A teaser post on 746Books’ blog can be found here.

Have you read any of these? Any recommendations or warnings? Are you doing any challenges this year and how are they going?

Book reviews – Arnaldur Indriðason – “Black Skies” and “Strange Shores” #amreading #books

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Well, I’ve actually made it to the end of this series, which I’ve been reading since September 2015. I’m not usually good at reading crime, because I’m basically a giant wuss and can’t cope with Horrible Things. Fortunately, in most of these the violence is off-stage and not too gory. Also, I seem to have a higher tolerance for Horrible Things in Icelandic fiction – I am fine with icky stuff in sagas and other works, e.g. by Laxness, which I would blench at in other nationalities’ books (I have surprised people with my enthusiasm for having stood on the VERY SPOT where Snorri Sturluson was hacked to death, for example). So, I have coped with these where I wouldn’t have coped with other Scandi noir, and I’m very sad that they’re now at an end.

Arnaldur Indriðason – “Black Skies” and “Strange Shores”

(August 2015)

Both of these books are on a simultaneous timeline to that of “Outrage” – while Elinborg is on her mysterious case, Sigurdur Oli is pursuing a case initially privately for a friend in “Black Skies”, although an odd man who has cropped up in “Outrage” and also knows the AWOL Erlendur (busy being AWOL for the events in “Strange Shores”) keeps pestering him with an incoherent and half-formed accusation about an older man.

Sigurdur Oli gets too mixed up in his own case, which had seemed like a simple need for a visit but ends up with him implicated in all sorts of stuff and in trouble with a colleague (fortunately, he manages to get his own back on his over-zealous colleague, which is nice, as he’s always seemed a bit stiff and over-zealous himself). He’s also regretting his break-up with Bergthora and going over that in his mind, even trying to see her a few times.

The main case in “Black Skies” is an interesting one because it’s all tied up with the banking bubble that came just before the financial crisis, and explores the exploitation of Iceland’s banking system, which I hadn’t really understood from inside before. It was also nice to hear about Snaefellsness, a lovely ice-capped area to the north of Reykjavik which we’ve visited. There is a gruesome start to this book which is more about the potential for yuckiness than an actual event – this put me off for a bit, but probably because I was feeling a bit delicate, and once I’d steeled myself for it slightly, it was OK.

“Strange Shores”, as I’ve said, takes place at the same time again, and now we find out why Erlendur is missing (again), and needing to be asked after. He’s gone out East one last time, looking for signs of his lost younger brother, assumed perished in a snowstorm that nearly took Erlendur and his father. This story has arced through pretty well the whole series, so it’s good to dig deeper into it here. He also gets involved in an old mystery, about a woman who was lost in a storm in the 1940s. As he interrogates the very elderly witnesses and also talks to people about the loss of his brother, there’s a very strong sense of last chances, of a way of life which is being lost and a type of person that is going from Iceland.

Interspersed with Erlendur’s two plots are dreamlike sequences of extreme cold and a mysterious visitor which build beautifully towards the conclusion. A really good read, although some challenging parts, and a great end to a very good series.


I’ve read more since these, oh dear – two more finished, but luckily they were both a  bit disappointing so can be reviewed together. I’m part way through Greg Rutherford’s entertaining autobiography, but fear not – I have had a clicky-clicky session today to replenish all the gaps in the TBR, and more books will be arriving soon. How is your May reading? What’s the best series you’ve read?

Book reviews – Francis Brett Young – “White Ladies” and Virginia Woolf / Quentin Bell – “The Charleston Bulletin Supplements”

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I’m still reading up a storm as I’m finding quite a lot of bits of time to curl up with a book – although I have slowed down a little bit recently as am on two quite meaty ones at the moment. Today I’ve got two period pieces – a Francis Brett Young novel published in 1935 and a work by Virginia Woolf and Quentin Bell produced in 1923-27, the latter being quite a slight work with a short review (are you getting tired of all these reviews yet? I keep thinking I can slack off and then I finish ANOTHER book …).

Francis Brett Young – “White Ladies”

(04 October 2016 – Newlyn Books, Penzance)

This is the signed first edition I felt a bit guilty for buying in a town where I know there’s another FBY fan – turned out she knew it was there and happy for me to run off with it back to the Midlands. Phew. I have been interested in FBY since I worked with his archives in the University of Birmingham Special Collections, and have been lucky enough to find and read a few of his novels. The best editions are these lovely hardbacks.

This is the story of a love affair – between a magnificent woman in her prime and a beautiful late Tudor house buried in the wilds of the Midlands. It’s also the story of the Industrial Revolution and specifically the iron and then steel industry in the Midlands, from the mid-19th century until just after WW1. It’s populated, for all its didactic intent, with marvellous, slightly too impetuous, handsome women, who far outshine the men in their lives (who tend to being dictatorial or weak) and make strong, hard decisions quickly when they need to.

As usual with FBY’s novels, I loved the descriptions of the barely disguised Birmingham and Black Country towns and villages, the teeming industries and the layers of people rising and falling. He’s particularly interested in the decay of the old landed gentry and the robustness of the self-made industrialists, and the effects – genetic, social and psychological – that occur when the two groups come into contact.

It’s a historical novel written in the 1930s (why do I not mind these? Because they’re closer in time to their subject?) and so yes, women to an extent have to protect and better themselves through marriage – but men get trapped in this process, too, and interesting contrasts are drawn between the several unmarried women and the mothers in the book, giving a wide range rather than a stereotyped view. When it comes down to it, I gulped down almost 700 pages in a few days, and that’s the recommendation you need. Do pick up FBY if you chance on him in a second-hand shop!

Virginia Woolf and Quentin Bell – “The Charleston Bulletin Supplements”

(22 October 2016 – kindly sent to me by Simon from Stuckinabook)

A British Library reproduction with transcriptions and an extensive introduction to these supplements to the Bell family newspaper, produced and illustrated by Quentin Bell and his aunt Virginia. Amusing but sometimes very obscure even to a devoted Bloomsbury fan (there are copious footnotes and there’s a list of people at the back) – it’s a lovely little read and I know someone who would enjoy this as much as I did …

I’m currently wading through the somewhat sleazy memoirs of Jools Holland (there are some really interesting bits but he comes over as rather a rum chap) and a book called “My Bookstore” which has lots and lots and LOTS of short essays by authors (most of whom I haven’t heard of) and which might need to be interspersed with another few books so as not to get too samey. I have finished the Reykjavik Murder Mysteries series and those reviews will be next up, probably tomorrow. Because I wrote this up on Wednesday and I bet I’ve finished another one by the time my next review slot comes around … sigh.

Book review – Sandhya Menon – “When Dimple Met Rishi” #books #amreading

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when dimple met rishiThank you to the publisher Hodder & Stoughton for making this available via NetGalley, and to NetGalley for choosing me to review it. I like books about people from one culture growing up in another, and have read quite a lot of Young Adult stuff in the past (although I don’t enjoy vampires and violence, so have had that limited a bit recently!), so this one ticked all the boxes and promised to be a nice light read when I wanted one. I was attracted by the setting of a coding summer school and the description of a couple with different attitudes to their South Asian heritage coming together and clashing or …

This one comes out in June according to Amazon (July according to NetGalley) so not long to wait.

Sandhya Menon – “When Dimple Met Rishi”

(eBook, NetGalley, 28 April 2017)

High school graduate Dimple is overjoyed when her parents actually encourage her to attend a coding summer school in San Francisco before taking up her place at Stanford. Maybe they’re finally abandoning their stifling and traditional ways and maybe her mum will stop pestering her to grow her hair, wear contacts and give up her dreams of creating the perfect app … or maybe they’ve sniffed out an opportunity for her to meet an Ideal Indian Husband. Oh-oh.

Rishi is a lot more traditional himself, having to play the good son and please his parents, going to a coding convention he’s not that interested in to show himself more willing than his sports-obsessed younger brother to do their bidding. when the two meet, will it be on purpose or by accident, and will sparks of romance fly or will the similarities in their upbringing be outweighed by the differences in their outlooks?

Given a taste of freedom for perhaps the first time, a group of American late teens show many of the characteristics of the high school cliques: is it now possible for the divisions to be broken and the geeks to stand up for the jocks? Does who your father is and who your mother wants to you be matter more than who you are yourself and your deepest dreams? While Dimple and Rishi manage to stay true to themselves, finding support in their friendship, others get caught up and pulled into an unpleasant situation.

There’s a lot to like here: Dimple’s love of coding and refusal to change herself (she might borrow some clothes from her roommate but she only straightens her hair when she wants to resemble a favourite old cartoon character) and Rishi’s essential kindness and love of art. Also impressive is the casual introduction of a character who just happens to be hearing-impaired, just placed in there, not as a plot device. There’s no real violence, and the characters are shown reflecting and reflecting on their culture, career choices and friends in a realistic not forced or preachy way. I would read more by this author.

Book reviews – Jane Smiley – “Champion Horse” and “Star Horse” #amreading #books

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Two in one today as these two books are the final two in a five-part series and follow on from one another without a gap. By the way, this pile is looking pretttttty good now: all that’s left are the Sagas, the Earlene Fowlers and one Indriðason. So the TBR shelf has receded a little, but the Pile is practically gone!

Jane Smiley is famous for writing each book in a different genre, and she’s worked her way through the campus novel (“Moo”), the unreadable Icelandic saga (“The Greenlanders”), romance, Shakespeare re-workings, all sorts. She did one about racehorses which I really liked, then started on YA pony books – and of course, being YA pony books, you can’t just have one, you have to have a series, so she did one. As I’ll explain, the blurbs don’t really fit the books, but they’re good reads for the more serious pony book fan.

Jane Smiley – “Champion Horse”, “Star Horse”

(7 April 2017)

The final two of her Abby books and a nice read, although the puffs on the front and back covers would likely leave more excitable readers a little disappointed. On the first, we’re asked whether Abby can tame this feisty horse, and on the second, told that she is offered opportunities away from the family farm, which isn’t the whole story by any means. The horses on the covers are also surrounded by stars and sparkles, whereas a nice thing about Abby is that she’s resolutely ungirly and not bothered about all the high school fuss. Anyway.

The books are written in the somewhat flat, plain tone of the other novels – which is fine, as Abby is a plain thinker herself, and this works as she negotiates High School and its changed priorities (suddenly you have to select a special hairstyle in which to present yourself, for example), as well as her horsy responsibilities and her religious family (this last is presented sympathetically although with pity, as the world slips from easy distinctions and rules).

In “Champion Horse”, she has trouble getting her own horse, True Blue, to jump, but does well with friend Sophia’s Pie in the Sky. But why is Sophia not riding her horses herself? The eating disorder theme in this book is treated wisely, with the effects on the person’s friendship group and family looked at and a tentative but not fairytale solution shown in the margins of the story.

In “Star Horse”, Gee-Whiz, an ex-racehorse, comes to the ranch and Abby uses some of the techniques she’s learned with Blue (and rejects others even though they’re presented by an expert, with support from her friends) to teach him to jump. She also has to face saying goodbye to Jack, the surprise foal of an earlier book, when it’s time for him to start his racing training.

There’s a lot of detail about training horses here, including descriptions of lessons and practice sessions, which I found interesting but would probably bore a non-horse person. Especially in the last book, the modern world – pop records! Vietnam! – start to intrude into the family’s world. And then … it just stops. But good reads.


I’ve read two more books since these so be prepared for more reviews. Two cracking ones up next! What are you reading? How ARE you?

Book reviews – Mark Ellen “Rock Stars Stole my Life!” and D. E. Stevenson “Mrs Tim of the Regiment” plus … #amreading #books

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Two more books from my massive reading stint today and a funny pair but one that ended up at the front end of the TBR shelf. Both offered a good, dense amount of text that took me a little longer to get through, so perhaps these offered more reading “value” than the crop of novels from yesterday’s reviews, although I needed that lighter stuff, too.

Mark Ellen – “Rock Stars Stole My Life!”

(03 October 2016 – Penzance)

The music journalist and magazine editor (and fan, and bass guitarist) writes his autobiography. Although full of rock’n’roll excess and excitement and almost as indiscreet as promised on the cover (he certainly writes openly of his feelings about the management of publishing companies; I suspect that the part of my job that makes me a transcriber for music journalists interviewing various musicians has inoculated me against indiscretion in that area), it’s fundamentally a story of a an essentially kind, decent and loyal person who appreciates the path he’s gone along. He’s generous in his praise of his colleagues and I loved reading about the ins and outs of magazine life – especially the gone but not forgotten Word magazine. A good example of the rock write biography (OK, there are only two I can think of and both have been good) and very enjoyable.

D.E. Stevenson – “Mrs Tim of the Regiment”

(03 September 2016 – from Astley Book Farm, the last remaining read from that trip!)

An absolutely charming book and I’m raring to read the three sequels (although I sadly find they are v expensive second hand and not reprinted (yet?) – I will keep a firm look-out for them). A little like the Provincial Lady in that it’s in the form of a diary of a nice lady with children and servant problems, but Mrs Tim is an Army Wife, used to moving at the drop of a hat and also taking a pastoral role with the wives of the lower ranks while dealing with the angels and horrors at her level and above.

Mrs Tim has admirers but professes not to realise this – she comes across as sweet rather than annoying in this, luckily. There’s a move and all the horrors that entails, social calls that are almost unbearable but lovely neighbours, and a delightful interlude in Scotland when she gets to take a little holiday with one of these neighbours (plus the woman’s lovelorn son and completely batty relative).

Not much actually happens in the novel: some love is found and lost, yearnings happen, ghosts might be seen and there are episodes with the children; it’s a little uneven, too, mainly episodic and veering at times between farce that’s more farcical than the Provincial Lady and lyricism that’s more lyrical, but it’s a lovely, engaging and attractive read and fabulous as a whole.


One addition to the TBR shelves has come in the form of Jess Phillips’ memoir / polemic / call to action, which my friend Meg very kindly got for me (and got signed for me) at her book launch. I had to start it almost straight away and I think it’s brilliant – straight-talking and honest and explains how she got to be how she is and where she is (MP for a local constituency and loved/hated in equal measure).

State of the TBR May 2017 and a small confession

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I’ve had a good reading month in April (1o read in total, not all reviewed yet) but I have to confess that I’ve lagged in my competition admin – everyone waiting for the “Girl Up” draw, I promise I’ll do that soon. Events have been conspiring to send me all the fabulous reading, work and running opportunities recently and something has to give.

So, I think the TBR’s looking rather good – the front shelf only goes up to “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands” and is looking much better. I have some real crackers on there, too, that I’m very much looking forward to reading.

However, I haven’t shared a picture of The Pile recently (I’m not sharing the Kindle: that’s a step too far) so here it is in all its glory. The pile is meant for books that a) I’m reading bit by bit (the Sagas of Icelanders), b) books in series that I want to keep in order (the rest of them – nearly done with the Indriðasons!) and c) books in series where I haven’t read the ones that come before them but after the last one I read (I have given up on this with the Earlene Fowlers and am going to read these soon, otherwise they languish for EVER).

Of course, review books hover around on here or on top of the shelf: do you have separate areas of your TBR or is it one great big mass of joy?

“Whiteladies” by Francis Brett Young, in this rather delicious Worcester Pear edition, is what I’m reading at the moment. I’ve only just started but it looks to be a sweep of a saga set just outside the Black Country as industrialisation and capitalism hit the Midlands. I love this writer, and yes, this is a signed first edition, but it’s unlikely I’m going to stumble upon a “reading copy” of it so I’m reading my first edition. I don’t like to be too precious about such things and it’s not in perfect condition to start off with. I know I have a few FBY fans among my blog readers; if you haven’t tried him, he does lovely big, meaty books full of great characters and if you know the Midlands well, a lot of them are set here, which is marvellous. If you use the Search function you will find my earlier reviews; I haven’t read one for a while and I’m really looking forward to settling into this one.

These are the next books to read: I’ll be taking the D.E. Stevenson and Mark Ellen on a short trip this week where paperbacks are easier to deal with than a big 1930s hardback, and then more music, Woolf-ness, microlending, light fiction and that tempting book on bookshops bought on my trip to Buxton (I forgot that when I mentioned the London trip in the last blog post: of course I went to Buxton with the lovely Laura and did the bookshops there, too!). Jools might need to shuffle down a bit, actually, however much I usually read books in acquisition order, because I don’t like to read two similar books next to one another (do you? probably not, I imagine). Anything take your fancy there?

Naturally, I’ll also be reading from my Kindle, as I have two NetGalley books and four Elizabeth Fair novels still to read (and the rest!).

And a final April confession, picked up in the naughtily tempting The Works and books I would have bought anyway, honest. But they’re on the TBR and it’s not too big, so …

How was your April reading and what’s May looking like for you?

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