Book review – Paula Byrne – “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym”


I’ve finished another of the books that took me into October (don’t look for me finishing those Icelandic sagas soon, to be honest!) and another of Ali’s books. I apparently borrowed this from her around a year ago when I was helping move her books around when she moved into her new flat! It’s also part of my TBR project, which I’m still recording while I finish it off. This biography of Barbara Pym, a favourite author of mine, had slightly mixed reviews, with some people finding it quite twee. I picked it up thinking I might think so, too (and it would be an easy DNF and win rather than a 600-pager to read) but I accepted the notes of quirkiness and appreciated its adherence to the sources and was soon sucked in to the detail and narrative. Ali’s own review is here, and Jacquiwine’s is here (first of a couple of linked posts); I’m sure other bloggers I follow have read and reviewed, so do share in the comments with a link if you have.

Paula Byrne – “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym”

(September 2021, a loan from Ali)

Pym … wanted her life to be told, and her archive to be held at one of the greatest libraries in the world: the Bodleian. In her journals, she make interventions to the ‘Gentle Reader of the Bodleian’ who might be writing her life. That she cut out pages of her journals and destroyed sensitive materials also suggest that she desired literary posterity, but was also afraid of some of the darker aspects of her history being revealed. (p. 609)

So there is a bit of tweeness or archness in Byrne’s use of “Pym” to refer to her subject and also in the chapter headings, which all start “In Which …” in the manner of an 18th century narrative. But the actual work is free from twee and sticks very closely to the sources – but all the sources, so it doesn’t miss out bits that aren’t quite so prim and proper or Excellent Woman-ish and doesn’t gloss over various things, as the previous works, Hazel Holt’s “A Lot to Ask” and the 1980s collection of diary entries and letters, “A Very Private Eye” of necessity and kindness did. “Barbara in the Bodleian“, which was published a bit later, did have some of the revelations here but concentrated more on reactions to the novels. So this hefty tome does bring a lot to the table and makes an excellent addition to the books on Barbara Pym.

I’m not sure how much I can add to the reviews that came out closer to the time of publication. We are taken carefully through Barbara’s life from her family background to her student days, her working life, life with her sister, the wilderness years and her republication and second go at her writing career through her diaries and letters. She comes across as more liberated than in previous books, I think, whirling around love affairs, although her sad propensity for unrequited love is still a strong thread, and it feels like some of the men definitely used and abused her a bit, making her think there was more to a relationship than there was. Byrne does reminds us how Hazel Holt and others downplayed certain aspects when writing of Barbara nearer to her lifetime, not criticising, just mentioning. The Nazi boyfriend is examined in great detail, as Barbara went to Germany several times and spent time with him at a time when she’d have been expected to know what was happening – in her defence, she expunged any German interest from the drafts of her novels and made a point of decrying what happened later.

Of course I enjoyed little details that linked to my own other interests – at one point she reads Auden and MacNeice’s “Letters from Iceland“, quite a niche book, and there are a few mentions of Iris Murdoch, including Barbara’s meeting with her and John Bayley with Paul Binding which Binding was kind enough to tell me about at the Barbara Pym Conference nearly a decade ago! And I had a Bookish Beck Book Serendipity moment (which probably wasn’t that surprising, reading biographies of two almost-contemporaries close together) of encountering descriptions of appearing on Roy Plomley’s Desert Island Discs. Another contemporary moment was provided when I read that Barbara attended the lying in state of King George VI in 1952.

After the necessary sad chapter of decline and death, Byrne sensibly talks about the writing of this book itself, and shares how she mined the archive and her intentions in writing it. As I said at the start, a great addition to the Pym biographical canon and it’s made me want to go back to the novels.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 23/28 – I’m in the middle of books 24, 25 and 26 and Book 28 is the Dave Grohl book itself.

TBR challenge update – time’s up!


Last year, I was set a challenge to read everything up to and including Dave Grohl’s “Storytelling” by the anniversary of it arriving (on my husband’s birthday), so 05 October 2022. I finished reading 23 (all reviewed but one) out of the remaining 28 during Q4, and started reading or had started reading already, three more, the final book is the Dave Grohl one itself, and so I only have one book I didn’t read anything of left from the challenge!.

So on 5 October 2022, the only books left in the challenge were:

The start of Q4 in July looked like this:

And the start of the whole thing back in October 2021 with its 85 books like this:

I mean, let’s not talk about what’s come IN in the past year but I did sort of do it!

Book review – Stacey Dooley – “Women Who Fight Back”


I’ve finished one of the books I read over the change of month: in fact, I’ve finished the Pym biography, too, hooray, so two of them! This is another of the batch I bought in Oxfam last September: I have now read six of those and DNF’d one, with one left to read/finish. It’s also part of my TBR project, which I have almost but not quite achieved … (see the end of the post for the update there)

Stacey Dooley – “On the Frontline with the Women who Fight Back”

(08 September 2021, Oxfam Books, Kings Heath)

The girls were my number one priority. You need to be able to look at yourself in a mirror at the end of a day’s filming and feel totally happy with how you’ve treated those around you. You have to ask yourself, If I were in their situation, would I feel like I’ve been treated with respect? (p. 260)

I was dimly aware that Stacey Dooley made documentaries but really came across her on Strictly Come Dancing (though I don’t think we saw all that series) and her documentary series where she spends a weekend with an interesting family. This slightly older book takes us through her origin story (as an unaware, clothes-obsessed late teen, she was picked to take part in a documentary investigating sweatshops in India; she found the process of making TV fascinating and started to carve out a career doing hard-hitting documentary work) and a selection of the places she’s gone and themes she’s covered, alongside the growing respect for her work after people dismissed her as untrained, working-class and vapid. She’s really none of those things: she’s kind, relatable and pretty brave.

Covering places in developing countries, war zones and places you might not expect to find her (for example, Canada, where she goes to investigate the murders of Indigenous women and the racist treatment (or non-treatment) of their cases), Dooley goes into prisons, walks the streets with sex workers, ends up helping a young teen give birth and sees various horrific sights, and interviews murderers and paedophiles, asking the questions any ordinary person might ask. I love the way she freely admits when she changes her mind, and the bonds she builds with people and respect she has for them. She also freely admits when she hates people she has to talk to – paedophiles and murderers who basically think their victims deserve it – but also says “hate isn’t going to solve anything” and works to find out the whys and how to change things.

Her concentration is on women and children and her work is to be admired. She says she believes there is more good than bad in the world and that her job is to shine a spotlight on issues to make sure people are aware, and I think her everywoman persona really helps with that. The book is very readable, even when addressing hard topics, and definitely reads in her distinctive voice. I’m glad I picked this up.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 22/28 – 8 to go by today which was the deadline! However, I have also finished Book 23, I’m in the middle of books 24, 25 and 26 and Book 28 turns out to be the Dave Grohl book itself, so really I ended up with just one unread and am feeling good about that.

Book review – Tsitsi Dangarembga – “Nervous Conditions”


Now, let me address the elephant in the room. I used to say, and yes, I’m not proud of it, “Oh, I do not like African novels”. Yes, I was treating Africa as a country not a continent, although I did at least mean sub-Saharan Africa, being OK with North African works. What happened was I think that, like the thing where you could be excused for thinking that Icelandic and other Nordic writers only write about horrible, icy crimes, the African books that rose to the public consciousness for a while were often about war, with grisly and graphic detail that is not gratuitous, but that I just can’t deal with reading, psychologically (also: I will read a book set in Korea, but not in the Korean War; I can read happily about Germany but not Holocaust novels; I loved Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s “Americana” but can’t read “Purple Hibiscus” or “Half of a Yellow Sun”, and it’s all part of that one issue for me).

Anyway, of COURSE there are books written by people from African countries that don’t have graphic war detail. I’ve loved Abi Dare’s “Girl with the Louding Voice” and Buchi Emecheta’s “Second Class Citizen”, Alex Haley’s “Roots” of course and Tété-Michel Kpomassie’s “Michel the Giant”. And on my TBR I have Mariama Ba’s “Instead of a Letter”, Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani’s “I Do Not Come to You by Chance” and “It’s a Continent: Unravelling Africa’s History One Country at a Time” by Astrid Madimba and Chinny Ukata on my TBR.

What other books by African writers that don’t feature grim war scenes do I need to be catching up with?

Another of the batch I bought in Oxfam last September: I have now read five of them and DNF’d one, with two left to read/finish. Of the print TBR shown here, I’ve read or rejected eight, almost finished one more and won’t get all the others done, and it’s one of the few remaining books in my TBR project.

Tsitsi Dangarembga – “Nervous Conditions”

(08 September 2021, Oxfam Books, Kings Heath)

Today there are fewer white people on the mission. They are called expatriates, not missionaries, and can be seen living in unpainted brick houses. But they are deified in the same way as the missionaries were because they were white so that their coming is still an honour. I am told that whether you are called an expatriate or a missionary depends on how and by whom you were recruited. Although the distinction was told to me by a reliable source, it does not stick in my mind since I have not observed it myself in my dealings with these people. I often ask myself why they come, giving up the comforts and security of their more advanced homes. Which brings us back to matters of brotherly love, contribution and lightening of diverse darknesses. (p. 105)

Famously the first book by a woman written in English published by a Zimbabwean author, this is a glorious coming-of-age novel, a foremother to “The Girl with the Louding Voice” I’m sure and a captivating read. Tambu only gets to go to school full-time because her brother has died: before that, she did some years but then had to pause her education when only one of them could be sent. Now her uncle takes her up and moves her to a mission where he’s accepted and feted and can have something of his own power – power which has gone to his head somewhat and brings him into conflict with his own daughter. Tambu perpetuates the cliché of the “good African”, remaining quiet and passive and trying to learn as much as possible.

The beauty and power of this book lies in the author’s technical ability to show us Tambu looking back on her younger self from a position of much more knowledge, letting lose some savage sarcasm about the White saviours who come to the mission, integrate or not, give the children born there or not African names, and leave them in the mission school or whisk them away to private school. She also gives her aunt and uncle and cousins her own story: they go off to England for a few years for the parents to study, leaving her cousins trapped between two cultures, fitting in neither.

Tambu is resilient and strong from the start, selling maize with her teacher to pay for her own school fees (and encountering some very confusing White Saviours of a different kind as she does: the book is full of ironies and ambiguities) and making sure that the school keeps the money so her wastrel father doesn’t get hold of it and fritter it away. We have a nuanced view of her relationship with her mother, stuck in a collapsing house with pregnancy after pregnancy to deal with and little support even from her own sister, who when she does offer help, asks too much of her. Similarly, the mutual support between Tambu and her cousin Nyasha is nuanced, conflicted and competitive, with Tambu looking down on her cousin but then seeing her pay a hard price for her rebellion.

A wonderful book with a distinctive and bright heroine; hard to put down and I’ll definitely be getting hold of Dangarembga’s essays, just out (I’ve not heard the best of the other two volumes in this trilogy, although do change my mind if you can, and I kind of want to leave her there).

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 21/28 – 9 to go by 5 October! I am currently reading book 22 as well as being half-way through a couple of the others …

State of the TBR – October 2022


Looking at last month’s picture, I haven’t done too badly or too well – it’s slightly fuller than it was last month but a few more have disappeared from the oldest part, top left and there is now NO PILE in front of the shelves! My Three Investigators Mysteries pile is still tucked in, albeit turned around.

I completed 11 books in September, and am part-way through three more. I finished NONE of my ebook TBR books for September, although I did DNS one as I couldn’t get the file to work. I read or abandoned eight of my print TBR books and am in the middle of my ninth. Those were all also mainly from my TBR challenge – I now have 3 whole books and several to finish to go on that from now until 05 October, the good news being that Matthew won’t be ready to start the Dave Grohl book that initiated the challenge until a few days after that. I am now still on books that came in in September 2021 but should be “just” a year behind again soon.


I was NOT restrained with print books in this last month. This is probably down to my lack of self control as the new bookshop opened in Kings Heath, where I live – I reported on the opening weekend and the books I bought there here.

As well as those on the top row that came then, Meg passed me Ali’s copy of “Sankofa” by Chibundu Onuzo, about family secrets and a return to Africa to read, I bought Rob Beckett’s memoir / consideration of British class systems “Class Act” very cheap in The Works, I introduced Matthew to the Heath Bookshop and how wonderful to just browse and not just have to search for books on my wishlist, so I went for Eniola Aluko’s “They Don’t Teach This” about her career in British football, and Robert Twigger’s “Walking the Great North Line” about a walk through the middle of Britain. Claire kindly picked up our mutual friend Sally Brooks’ novel “Four Movements” (50 years, four people, one piano) for me at her book signing. Two review books arrived, from the British Library in their Women Writers series, “War Among Ladies” by Eleanor Scott (about teachers at a girls’ school!) and “Chase of the Wild Goose” by Mary Gordon is a novelisation of the Ladies of Llangollen from new publisher Lurid Editions (not out till Feb so reading in November). Finally, my pre-order of Damian Hall’s important book about the carbon/climate effect of running, “We Can’t Run Away from This”, popped through the letterbox.

I won just the four NetGalley books this month:

I went looking for “Pineapple Street” by Jenny Jackson after seeing it mentioned by another blogger (who?) – it’s a saga about monied folk in Brooklyn Heights (pub April 2023). Susan Rogers and Ogi Ogos’ “This is What It Sounds Like” (Oct 2022) is about why we like the music we like. “The Things That We Lost” by Jyoti Patel (Jan 2023), winner of the 2021 #Merky Books New Writers’ Prize is about the secrets that lie in family histories, and Jessica George’s “Maame” (Jan 2023) is a debut following a young woman’s journey to independence.

So that was 11 read and 17 coming in in September – even if I have read the two short story collections, going very much in the wrong direction!

Currently reading

As well as my readalong with Emma, “Square Haunting”, I’m still reading “The Adventures of Miss Barbara Pym” and picking away at those Icelandic sagas (Matthew has granted me that I’m reading them so they are off the TBR challenge even if not finished) and Stacey Dooley’s “Women Who Fight Back”, a very engaging but often shocking read about some of the subjects of her documentaries.

Coming up

As well as the Larry McMurtry for this month, these books take me up to and through Dave Grohl’s “The Storyteller” while covering the three review books I must get to in print.

My NetGalley TBR for October covers Africans in London, why we like the music we like, a Christmas novel I might read later, a book about healing through nature and edited primary sources on Black people in Britain:

All very achievable if I didn’t have the EIGHT books from NetGalley published in September that I have yet to read! And I think there’s a Kaggsy and Stuck in a Book Year read coming up, too, for which I have an e-book languishing somewhere.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and 21 to read, minimum. Can I do that? Hm: no!

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

Book review – David Lodge – “Writer’s Luck”


I’ve managed to drag back my reading habits in the last week so am maintaining my usual rate now, thank goodness. Not sure what happened there apart from just not getting enough time to read. And going down and up on the coach to spectate the London Marathon at the weekend will give me some nice chunks of reading time. I am still a year behind in my reading, month-wise at very least; I have a few bought in the same session to read now. Of that batch I have now read four and DNF’d one, with three left to read/finish. Of the print TBR shown here, I’ve read or rejected seven, almost finished one more and won’t get all the others done!

After finishing “Quite a Good Time to be Born” last week, would have been rude not to have got to this one relatively quickly, especially as it’s one of the few remaining books in my TBR project. I did prefer the first one but the two together make an interesting read.

David Lodge – “Writer’s Luck: A Memoir 1976-1991”

(08 September 2021, Oxfam Books, Kings Heath)

Although Lodge said in his first volume that he was going to split his memoirs into two covering 40 years each, this one ended up covering only 15, as he explains, because he had a lot more archive material he could use to construct it. Beginning as he is still an academic and writer, we see the writing of the rest of his campus novels plus a couple of others, plus more academic works, his foray into writing for the stage, the development of the academic conference circuit and different strands of literary theory, and his family growing up.

It’s not quite as fun as the first volume, just like the stadium years of a band turn out not to as fun in retrospect as those years stuffed into a van doing pub toilet gigs. He is aware of his luck, naming his book after it and mentioning it throughout, but there is a lot of academic travel and there are lots of personal holidays, the buying of a pied-a-terre flat in London, which are not as engaging perhaps as their earlier struggles. He’s also a bit “of his time” in discussions of some women, including his wife, though not as much as in the earlier one. It’s just a bit disconcerting to read about saunas and research trips to see blue movies and topless bars. But he does set out to be honest, and he is!

I think I liked the info about the writing of his novels best. I hadn’t grasped that “Small World” is based on the Grail legend, for example. For reader Peter, there is not too much on his deafness: a footnote explains it’s covered fully in the novel “Deaf Sentence” and there are only a couple of scenes where his condition features and troubles him. I was less interested in the machinations of getting his plays put on, though the detail on the TV series of “Nice Work” was interesting as this went out just as I was going to Birmingham University and I remember being excited about the campus and Selly Oak locations shown! Unfortunately there’s not very much about department figures I remember, even though he only left the department the year before I arrived. There’s quite a lot about the business of poststructuralism and other critical theories (as there should be) but he also reminds us that

Every reading and re-reading of a novel is unique, produced in the silent theatre of the individual reader’s mind. (p. 264)

which matches nicely my espousal of reception theory, which I’ve undone rather by talking here about how I liked reading about the background to the writing of his novels!

An interesting read, the two books making one good narrative and I would of course read a third volume.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 4 Book 20/28 – 8 to go by 5 October! Can I do it? I do have a bit of a let, in that Matthew hasn’t finished the book he’s reading before the Dave Grohl one the challenge is based around and I’ve almost finished “Nervous Conditions”, too …

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?

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 – 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!)

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