Book review – Halliday Sutherland – “Lapland Journey” #amreading #books


feb-2017-tbrWhat a fantastic name this author has! In between doing things for my February Five challenge (I rowed 5k on a rowing machine at the gym today – great fun!) I have been really getting into the books I bought at Astley Book Farm in September. What a great trip that was – books and tea! As you’ll see below, one of them has proved a bit tricky, but this one was a fun and mostly interesting read, and I know someone I can pass it along to, too!

Halliday Sutherland – “Lapland Journey”

(3 September 2016, Astley Book Farm)

A 1938 book that is very much in the laconic and funny style of Eric Newby but, well, some people remain in print and some don’t, don’t they. And although I did enjoy this, I did get bogged down in some of the detail.

There was a lot to like. Best of all, rather than getting straight into the whole Lapland thing, the author spends the first 80 pages or so (once we’ve got past the medical examination of a saint’s relics, as one does – not for the fainthearted) devoting himself to gathering and sharing impressions of the lower part of Finland before travelling up to Lapland. That was very interesting, especially the points that were very much of their time, like talk of the looming war and discussion of the fact that there probably wouldn’t be 10% of the population who were Swedish-speaking for much longer (10% of the population of Finland is still Swedish-speaking. Ha!). There’s also much talk of the more recent to these times history of independence and civil war, which was good to read during Finland’s centennial this year.

The descriptions of the reindeer and reindeer trekking, and a rather uncomfortable fishing trip, were a hoot, although that detail did get a bit heavy and it would have been lightened by a few diagrams. But it’s a nice, well-meaning and positive book, with perhaps an expansiveness that would be lost were it to be published these days.

I’ve started Dave Haslam’s “Adventures on the Wheels of Steel” which is about the rise of the superstar DJ and promises to be interesting. However, whenever a club is mentioned, it SEEMS to be random as to whether it is inverted commas or not – Turnmills but ‘Gatecrasher’, The Hacienda but ‘Cream’. There’s no note and I can’t work it out; and not knowing but seeing it all the time is driving my editor’s brain a bit funny. ETA I’ve tweeted the author to ask. I would like to read it, so hope there IS a reason! ETA2 and there is. Inverted commas indicates a club night that can happen at any location; no inverted commas indicates a location. Fair play to Mr Haslam for getting straight back to me!

Book review – Deborah Devonshire – “Wait for me!” #books #amreading


feb-2017-tbrI’ve got well into the books I bought on my trip to Astley Book Farm back in September last year now, and this was a real treat, even though I’ve read quite a lot about the Mitford Sisters. Do you have any collections, any authors or families whose books you automatically buy? I have a Sitwell, Mitford, Woolf and Sackville-West / Nicolson “thing” (though I’m aware I have gaps in all of these) and will buy and read anything I can find around these groups of people. Good for justifying those purchases as being part of a Collection Development Policy, right?!

Deborah Devonshire – “Wait for Me!”

(3 September 2016 – Astley Book Farm)

The memoirs of the youngest Mitford Sister, and although I’ve read a great deal by and about them over the years, it’s always interesting to get a new and different perspective on the group. It’s charming and quite self-consciously down to earth, sometimes almost militantly so, going into non sequiturs about hens, etc. (which is fine), with much more detail than some of the other books about things like Unity’s troubled later years and the split between their parents. It’s also very honest about husband Andrew’s struggles with alcoholism – if only because he talked about this in his own memoirs (which I must get hold of).

I found the bits about various foreign trips and society figures less interesting than the details about their life inhabiting and revolutionising Chatsworth, and it was good to get this in one solid narrative rather than the more disjointed books of essays and articles I read fairly recently. Great photographs but of course the final chapters on the loss of one sister after another are quite unbearably poignant. A good and breezy read.

No confessions this time! I have finished reading Adam Alter’s “Irresistible” and am busy writing the review for Shiny New Books – I’ll share it when it’s published. I’ve just started reading a lovely 1938 book about Lapland that I picked up at Astley.

In non-reading news, I’ve been taking part in a February Five challenge organised in aid of the charity, Mind, by my friend Verity – you have to pick some kind of physical activity around the number five (other participants are doing, for example, five 5k walks in areas they haven’t visited before; going up five mountains; taking in five parks in one route), and I’ve chosen to do five things I don’t usually do. So far I’ve gone to a Spin class (great, will go again), a running club coaching session (ditto), a Boxfit class (not what I was expecting; not for me) and a coaching session on the running track (wouldn’t have gone if it wasn’t for the challenge; will definitely do this more than the once a year I currently manage). Last on the list will be doing some work on the rowing machine in the gym, something I haven’t done for about four years. All fun stuff and in a great cause.

Book review – Joanna Cannan – “High Table” #amreading #books


feb-2017-tbrI know this is an author that several mid-century-writer-lovers enjoy, but I personally found this delicate study a little bit dated somehow; maybe it’s  not considered one of her best, although my edition is an Oxford 20th Century Classics one. I’d be interested to know what others thought of it. I didn’t dislike it, but was just a bit meh. I found the portrayal of the ‘lower’ classes a bit patronising, too, although they were seen mainly through the eyes of the main character – but not always.

Joanna Cannan – “High Table”

(3 September 2016 – Astley Book Farm)

Theodore is a bookish, shy and somewhat severe mini-scholar, only child of unloving and unyielding parents, who is forced into (fake) companionship with the local gentry and hates it, so is drawn into friendship with the quiet daughter of the local innkeeper. Once mistake later and he’s buried himself deep into the life of an Oxford college, eschewing matters of the heart and most personal interaction for academic ambition (although he only produces one slim volume).

Slowly, though, his carapace is chipped away, first by disappointment, then by the infiltration of some ordinary, cheerful people into his life. As the First World War draws near and wears on, he searches his soul for his place, and that of Oxford, in the world of bravery and war in which he finds himself – as ever, at a remove. Will he find that place and/or happiness and family, or will it all be snatched away?

A slightly uneven book – with a fairly realistic trenches section I had to skim – but very delicate in its portrayal of the influence of upbringing on people’s later lives, and on a shy and damaged man who just cannot deal with robust life in all its uncertainty. He breaks out twice with some degree of violence or show, but apart from that is submerged beneath his self-created agonies. Written in 1931 and republished with a glowing introduction in 1987, it does seem of its time and is probably a little quiet for many tastes now, but without the detail and humanity of other quiet books I’ve read.

I’m currently alternating Deborah Devonshire’s charming memoirs, “Wait for Me” (another Astley find) with “Irresistable”, the somewhat irresistable book about behavioural addiction to online pursuits.

Book review – Emily Esfahani Smith – “The Power of Meaning”


feb-2017-tbrI’ve got a NetGalley review here, and one that should  have been done for 12 January. How do you keep track of when you’re meant to submit reviews when there are embargoes in place? I’d love to know! Anyway, like many non-fiction advice or self-help books, this one gives a list of the main points early on, then goes on to explain the background and give examples. Nothing wrong with that, of course! In this case, reading the e-book was a bit odd, as the actual book only went up to about 69%, then it was all the notes. I’ve realised that I usually check this proportion in a “real” book so I know where I’m reading up to, and this one took me by surprise! Anyway, thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for supplying this for an honest review.

Emily Esfahani Smith – “The Power of Meaning”

(e-book, 12 January 2017)

Subtitled “Crafting a Life that Matters”, this new book takes a look at studies of meaningfulness – as opposed to happiness, which is an altogether different thing – and how the “pillars” for one’s life that they identify can be applied in our lives in a world where the erosion of religion and family/community/social structures but a rise in thoughtfulness and meaningfulness-seeking means this is something people are actively looking for.

Meaningfulness, according to the research (Smith moves from a portrait of her Sufi community to good, evidence-based academic research which, of course, backs up what the Sufis have been doing all along), rests on people feeling their lives are significant as part of something bigger, their lives make sense and they have a sense of purpose. She bases the remainder of the book, once she’s covered the history and theory of happiness and meaningfulness studies, on the areas of belonging, purpose, storytelling, transcendence and growth, and explores how different groups of people, including, but not limited to, mediaeval re-enacters, older people and people who have survived horrific experiences have used the various pillars to a greater or larger extent to promote meaningfulness in their own lives. This can range from the mediaevalists’ sense of community to people who take part in huge storytelling initiatives, to older people having a plant to look after in their care homes.

A section on cultures of meaning rounds the book off, reminding us that cultures can use meaningfulness to bring people together for evil purposes (e.g. so-called Islamic State) or good purposes (new and inclusive workplace cultures, etc.). The book is particularly interesting to me on resilience and differences in how we tell our stories affecting our mental and physical health outcomes and feelings of meaningfulness – the ways in which we tell those stories being open to change if we are.

I’m currently reading another review copy, “Irresistable” which is – ha-ha – proving quite compulsive reading, and Deborah Devonshire’s autobiography by way of a change. Have you read this book? What did you think of it. How DO you organise your NetGalley reads and read and review them in the correct order?

State of the TBR February 2017


feb-2017-tbrWell, here it is in all its glory. Pretty well Maximum TBR. Oops. The orange Diana Wynne Jones marks the end of the front row, with too small a gap to allow the Pile to fit in. First there was Christmas, then there was my birthday, then there was the Spending of the Tokens, so it’s not surprising, really, is it? And there are worse things to be addicted to than buying and getting hold of books (OK, and running stuff), right?

feb-2017-currentI read eight books in January, at which rate it’s going to take me a while to get through all these, but then again, quite a few on the shelf are quite light reads which shouldn’t take me too long. As long as I can stay away from NetGalley – for, sure enough, one of the ones I’m currently reading is a review copy of the interesting “The Power of Meaning” by Emily Esfahani Smith, on the Kindle. The other current read is Joanna Cannan’s “High Table”, which is quite an old-fashioned novel that probably wouldn’t be published nowadays; I should be reviewing that in a couple of days. Coming up next is Adam Alter’s “Irresistable” which is about why we can’t stop checking Facebook and click-clicking and looking at our phones: I’m reviewing that for Shiny New Books and it does look intriguing.

feb-2017-coming-upOn the plus side of the Mammoth TBR, the Cannan and the chunk of books at the beginning of the shelf all date from my trip to the Astley Book Barn in September, so for once, I’m only about four months behind. On the other had, goodness me, I’ve acquired a lot of books in four months. I think I’ll stick with the former sentiment. Some lovely looking ones coming up there, anyway, although I note I do have some NetGalley books to read, too – “Year of No Clutter” by Eve Schaub, “The Perils of Privilege” by Phoebe Maltz Bovy and “Once in a Blue Moon Lodge” by Lorna Landvik. I’ll have to check the dates on those as you’re often asked to hold off reviewing until close to publication. Here’s hoping I have some time to fit them in!

So, which of these lovelies have you read and should I get excited about reading? How is YOUR TBR?

Book review – Tove Jansson – “The True Deceiver”


jan-2017-tbrNow I need to say first off that I am not a fan of the Moomins. I’ve always been a bit scared of them, to tell you the truth. But a good few of my friends have raved about Jansson’s books for adults, and I received “Sun City” from my Virago Secret Santa back in 2011 (read my review here) and was kindly sent this one by the lovely Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings last summer. Of the two read so far, I think I preferred this one, as the setting was more appealing to me. Read on for some lovely BRAND NEW book buys, too …

Tove Jansson – “The True Deceiver”

(13 July 2016, from Karen)

An atmospheric and somehow slightly chilling (even though nothing awful actually happens, and the dog lives on) novel that in its sparseness (in a great translation by Thomas Teal) pleasingly resembles an Icelandic work.

In a cut-off village in Sweden in the depths of winter, when the snow won’t stop and no one bothers to get up because there isn’t really a morning as such. we meet Katri, a mysterious, yellow-eyed woman who’s not from these parts and is into going on very long walks with her equally mysterious and nameless dog by her side. She’s ostracised by the village but then they also seek her mathematical brain and common-sense advice. There’s also her brother Mats, known to be “simple” and hanging around the boat-builders, and the elderly artist, Anna, who writes a book about rabbits covered in flowers every spring and is perhaps oppressed by the memory of her parents, who lived in the same house.

It’s Katri’s wish to move into Anna’s house and secure Mats’ future: the chorus of boat-builders, shop-keepers and village women of course have something to say about this. Who is cheating whom; is the dog with no name happy or sad; what will happen when spring comes this year?

There’s no clear resolution to this atmospheric and beautiful book – not that it requires one. Beautifully written and carefully translated: a small jewel of a novel.

I was lucky enough to have a book token for my birthday and had a Waterstones token hanging around, so I took myself off to the lovely (one remaining) big Waterstones in town to have a spend. I did pretty well – and oh, yes, I went to the BookCrossing meetup for about five minutes (the cafe we meet at having suddenly been flooded with vegans after an event: I have no problem with vegans, how could I, when I cheerfully eat their cakes, but it all got a bit full) and picked up a book there.


Stuart Maconie – “The Pie at Night” is about how the North of England takes its fun. Sian nearly gave this to me for my birthday, and I recalled Mr Liz asking me whether I had it … and now I do!

That’s the BookCrossing one. These two were Buy One, Get One Half Price:

Mo Farah – “Twin Ambitions” – his autobiography, updated to cover Rio 2016. Obviously this will have been ghostwritten, as most of such books are; he (OK, also the publisher) makes this clear on the title page, so I’m OK with that.

Matthew Syed – “Bounce: The Myth of Talent and the Power of Practice” – takes a look at what makes “talent” in sport (in particular) and whether it’s all down to nature vs. nurture.

… and I treated myself to this one, which was £5 off!

Bruce Springsteen – “Born to Run” – I obviously can’t get away from the running theme, can I! He DID write this himself apparently, and it looks great.

So the TBR shelves are now officially bursting and what am I reading at the moment? A Kindle book. Oops.


Book review – Sylvia Patterson – “I’m Not With the Band”


jan-2017-tbrI bought this book brand new and in hardback in a book-tokened splurge back last summer (the Iris Murdoch letters and “Eat, Sweat Play” were bought at the same time). Although I’d been aware of its publication, I was inspired to buy it by transcribing an interview with the author done by one of my music journalist clients. As this is the autobiography of a music journalist, you’ll see why I was interested in it, and I did have more of an insider’s interest, always keen to know what goes on around the taped conversations I get sent to type up.

Sylvia Patterson – “I’m Not With the Band: A Writer’s Life Lost in Music”

(2 July 2016)

A fascinating insight into the life of a music journalist – not, in fact, one I’ve worked with – over three decades from local Scottish publications to a staff job on Smash Hits through life at the NME and a precarious freelance life. It’s very interesting to read how the music business has changed over that time, as well as the magazine publishing industry, with journalists now unlikely to be able (or asked) to ask the rather odd but hilarious questions that Smash Hits thrived on in what were indeed clearly more innocent times. While people like Prince and Beyoncé have been very guarded throughout their careers, all musicians on all levels now seem to be protected and censored themselves, and those who write about them forced to follow a line they might not even agree with (when Patterson has to do this, she works very hard against it, and given the financial peril she appears to have been in quite often, this is extremely commendable).

I loved the chapters on her repeated interviews through various musicians’ careers, from Kylie who never gives much away to Eminem threatening violence and worse for no good reason, and the excerpts from transcriptions are excellent, with Paterson often gamely trying to drag the conversation back to where she needs it to go. All the little details are fascinating, and she’s a warts-and-all storyteller, unselfconsciously talking of mistakes, bad judgements, alcohol and tears, which is refreshingly different to the overcontrolled, ghostwritten memoirs that can appear from the people she’s writing about here (this is no judgement on the wonderful ghostwriters I work with, of course: I understand that the parameters given to them by stars and PRs are often very strict and confining). As someone who’s on the other side of all this and just gets the taped conversation and not much of the context, all the details were really engaging.

Patterson’s personal story is also covered, again bravely and openly, with its share of tragedy and poverty but also strong and abiding friendship, something which I’m not sure is written about or celebrated enough, so good on her for talking of those gangs of 20-something flatmates, still friends a few decades on. I did find some of the text a bit hard to read – she uses a Smash Hits style with lots of in-jokes, ‘inverted commas’ and banter, which is really entertaining and well done but can wear slightly over numerous pages. But it’s serious where it needs to be and well-judged on the whole – and it is a long time since I last read ‘ver Hits’ so maybe I’m just out of the habit …

Recommended to those who grew up in the 80s and 90s and love music and music writing. It’ll be interesting to compare Mark Ellen’s book, which is sitting a few along on the TBR.

I’ve just finished Tove Jansson’s “The True Deceiver” – a bit of a contrast there – and I’m working my way through that NetGalley book on living a meaningful life, which is quite interesting. What are you up to with your reading? Enjoying working on a challenge … or NOT working on a challenge? Do tell!

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