Book review – James Ward – “Adventures in Stationery”


Another 20 Books of Summer book (intro post here) and my sixth of the project; although this is the last one I’ll review this month, I’m reading my seventh at the moment, so on track for 20 in 3 months (though July is going to be a little challenging!)

This was my other Christmas present from Gill from 2020 (along with “Black, Listed”) and also finishes off my 2020 acquisitions in the main sequence that aren’t books I’m going to read along with Emma (all clear?!).

James Ward – “Adventures in Stationery: A Journey Through Your Pencil Case”

(25 December 2020 – from Gill)

I’d never heard of the brand until I found an old box in a shop in Worcester Park. Why should I care about their history? But the more I thought about Velos [who made the first item he discusses], the more I thought about other companies. I thought about companies I’d never even heard of. If there was Velos, who else was out there? This, in its own small way, is part of our cultural heritage and names that were once well known have disappeared, barely leaving any sign that they existed in the first place. Which names, familiar to us today, will fade into obscurity tomorrow? But more than that, I thought about people. The people behind these objects that we take for granted. The names behind the brand names. Their lives, their histories. Who were they? What were their stories? I wanted to find out. (p. 21)

James Ward is co-founder of something called The Stationery Club in London and in this fun and very detailed book, he takes his knowledge of stationery, does even more research, and presents us with all he knows about a range of stationery topics. He starts off with a desk tidy he finds in his boyhood stationery shop, deciding to research it and other desktop items. We look at pens, pencils, erasers, staplers … and other more esoteric items such as those little tiny pens and pencils you get from Argos, betting shops and IKEA (to be fair, this is quite a short chapter). Filing cabinets are included, which don’t exactly fit into your pencil case, but we’ll forgive him that for his enthusiasm on the subject.

I learned lots from this book – for example, I hadn’t realised that the US and UK had different pencil-hardness describing systems, although once I saw a few quotations, I realised I had seen US authors talking about number 3 pencils rather than 2B, etc. It was good to see my city of Birmingham mentioned in the section on pen nibs, and there’s still a lovely Pen Museum you can visit here where you get to make your own nib! And did you know Thoreau’s role in the development of the pencil? What about the fact that there’s an ISO standard for the holes punched by a hole punch?

This is not a book for the casual reader – it goes into depth and down rabbit holes. It’s nicely done and there’s enough detail for anyone, I think. Good stuff!

This was book number 6 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 13/41 – 28 to go and a photo of a much smaller batch of books to be taken soon!

Book review – Elton John – “Me”


Look at me, whizzing down my 20 Books of Summer project is going well (intro post here)! This is my fifth book, I’ve finished the sixth, too (review hopefully tomorrow) and I’m reading my seventh, too, which means I’m actually on track with the project for the time being!

I don’t actually know when I acquired this one, as I neglected to write a note in it, but some time between Christmas 2020 and the next batch of buys in May 2021. So a mystery, but at least I’m getting towards only being a year behind myself, right?

Elton John – “Me”

(2021, gift)

That’s the thing about success. It gives you a licence to misbehave, a licence that doesn’t get revoked until your success dries up completely, or you man up and decide to hand it in yourself. And for the time being, there was no danger of either of those things happening to me. (p. 184)

So I keep going back [to Russia], and every time I do, I say something onstage about homophobia or gay rights. Sometimes a few people walk out, but the vast majority applaud, I owe it to the Russian people to keep doing that. I owe it to myself. (p. 172)

Acclaimed and excellent, it seems like everyone has read this one, but at least I ended up with the paperback with the additional chapter! There’s not much I can really say about this, I find. It’s the open, honest, warts-and-all, hugely funny but also moving autobiography you’d hope for from this much-loved entertainer, lauded song writer and good friend to both stars and ordinary people. He really doesn’t hold back at all, accepting his negative personality traits, bad behaviour when addicted and family difficulties. Ably steered by Alexis Petridis, we navigate through his life in an easy to grasp chronological order, and there’s a nice amount of detail about his friendships and especially his deep friendship and writing partnership with Bernie Taupin.

There’s a wealth of photographs in three sections of plates, as well as inside and outside the front and back covers, and information about the making of the albums as well as scurrilous gossip about other musicians, the royal family, etc. The two quotations I share at the start of this review kind of sum up the book – he sees his faults with a clear eye and accepts his mistakes; he’s committed to helping and supporting others. Long may he continue.

This was book number 5 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 12/41 – 29 to go.

Book review – Jeffrey Boakye – “Black, Listed”


My 20 Books of Summer project is going well (intro post here), and I’m now reading my fifth and sixth books from the pile. This one, my fourth, was a Christmas gift from Gill, who always picks something interesting from my wish list (James Ward’s “Adventures in Stationery” was from her, too) and it’s an interesting pre-George Floyd publication, timing which I think might have affected some aspects of the book.

And there’s a bonus review at the end! It’s a book of photos I can’t really count as something I’ve “read” as such, but very enjoyable.

Jeffrey Boakye – “Black, Listed”

(25 December 2020, from Gill)

I used to think that being black was all about balance, or lack of, or compensation for, but it’s not. If you hadn’t worked it out yet, this whole book is about distance. Ideological distance, physical distance, the distances that create difference, and the paradoxes whereby you can be intimately linked to an identity that is out of reach. My proximity to Ghana is precisely that: a paradox. It’s an inherent part of my black identity but culturally distant, leaving me, a black British Ghanaian, hovering in some kind of identity limbo. (p. 74)

Based cleverly on a list of descriptors that are used of Black people, this book entertains and educates, is provocative in its way and has some interesting points to finish with. The descriptors are arranged into topic areas such as official descriptions (Black British, POC, BAME), personal descriptors (white-sounding forename, nationality), then historical and derogatory terms (I’m going to stop listing them now, for fear of the wrong people finding this post, although those wrong people would benefit from reading this book!), loaded terms applied by White people, internal descriptors, terms of endearment and internal insults, all applied by Black people other Black people, outlaw accolades which have positives and negatives, and finally political words (conscious, marginalized, woke). Each section is a mini-essay with personal reactions, historical information and examples drawn from popular culture.

As a Black British man of African heritage who grew up in Brixton and went on to achieve in White spaces, often the only Black person in the room, worried about appearing to be a sell-out, this acts as a sort of fractured memoir for Boakye, as he mulls over the uncoolness of being African in a culture that celebrated the Caribbean and America more, and his move into White spaces, including a description of his living room. There’s a lot about class here, laid out very clearly: Black people are expected to be working class, “If we take this as a euphemism for disadvantaged” for example, and are really concentrated in cities, especially London, while being a much smaller minority than that in America.

Boakye interacts with books that were out there when he was writing this in presumably 2018 (it was published in 2019) such as Akala’s “Natives” and Reni Eddo-Lodges “Why I’m no Longer Talking to White People About Race” as well as works like Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s “Americanah“. He talks about women’s experiences as well as men’s, although with some trepidation:

I’m scared of writing this one (“Bitch”) because I really, really don’t want to get it wrong. It’s like taking an engine apart and trying not to get your hands dirty; I don’t want to get any misogyny on me. (p. 347)

and makes sure that he quotes women and research by women, and he also covers gay men’s experience (but not gay women’s or trans people’s), again, quoting gay men and research. He reaches the nascent #BlackLivesMatter movement in the Conclusion, praising how it had woken people up to structural racism and prejudice and talks about how the uptick in publishing and advertising featuring Black writers and families might be to do with economics but is still positive. In this section he mentions his copy-editor’s views on Generation Z, which was refreshing to see!

But it’s only at the very end that he says one tiny thing that he thinks “might make some readers bristle” (basically the idea that White liberals and leftists seek to “prove [their] understanding of blackness” (p. 393) but that “liberalism itself still exists within a paradigm of white dominance” (ibid.) and then at the very end describes how he’s tried to take a light touch in the book but all these descriptors “could have exploded at any moment” (p. 394) and how he’s gone from tour guide to war journalist, “and now I’m realising I’m a civilian under attack, and we’re all in the firing line” (ibid.). I wonder if in a post-George-Floyd world he’d have been more open about this and more provocative – I’ll have to have a look at what he’s been doing more recently (I basically need to get and read his “I Heard What You Said,” about education, soon).

But an entertaining and educative book that will make you think and will teach you some new things, even though other books have gone over similar ground in some respects since. The arrangement of the pieces is genius and really helps this one stand out. Highly recommended.

This was number 4 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 11/41 – 30 to go (and I must remember to photograph the pile at the start of next month!).

Bonus Extra Book

Matthew Pinner – “Dorset in Photographs”

(12 June 2022, gift)

Paul from HalfManHalfBook very kindly sent me this one, as he’s a resident of Dorset and it’s my ancestral home. It’s a lovely collection of photographs, arranged by season, with the same subjects (Corfe Castle, Swanage, etc.) cropping up several times with different light and weather conditions. It’s a super book but I don’t think I can count it in my “Books read” totals as there is literally no text apart from a paragraph at the start and the captions. I did enjoy it very much and it took me back to a few places as well as introducing me to some I don’t know.

Book review – Stella Gibbons – “The Bachelor”


Ooh, I’m well away, aren’t I – book 3 in my 20 Books of Summer (intro post here), and I’m now reading my fourth and fifth ones. As with “The Half-Crown House”, Heaven-Ali gave me this one as part of my LibraryThing Virago Group Not So Secret Santa gift for Christmas 2020; the two I’m reading now were both from that Christmas, I can’t remember when Elton John arrived but he wasn’t a Christmas present, and then we somehow hop to May 2021 in the TBR, which is quite exciting.

As well as getting one of my TBR challenge books done and dusted, this one fits into the LibraryThing Virago Group’s monthly challenge: a book by a Virago author not published by Virago (it’s a Vintage edition). Win-win-win!

Stella Gibbons – “The Bachelor”

(25 December 2020, from Ali)

Miss Fielding enjoyed arguing, though she had a habit of suddenly ending the battle at its height by remembering the Good Principle and saying with a smile, ‘But of course, Truth is a jewel with a million facets, as the Jains say, so why dim those facets by arguing?’ and leaving her opponent maddened but helpless. (p. 66)

Published in 1944 and set at about the same time, the war is lingering on but at Sunglades, a newish house in the Home Counties, it’s not having too much of an effect – Miss Fielding is so anti-war she refuses to believe in it, they’ve got rid of their evacuees and plan to fill the house with nice foreigners so as to avoid having any more, some servant or other will do the queuing for shops and Mr Fielding continues to work as a solicitor and tend his garden, bullied into acquiescence by Miss Fielding. She is like their mother without having the kindness and work ethic, everyone fears he’s like their father. They’re in their fifties, living with a slightly older cousin, Miss Burton, and nothing is set to change.

Then into the household burst, variously, Vartouhi, a pert and steely young refugee, come as a general help but with strong views on how to run a household, Betty, a widow for years who once broke Kenneth Fielding’s heart, and her son Richard, delicate in the lung but strong in mind and principles. As the story goes along, local girl Alice, who is secretly sick of racketing about but doesn’t know how to stop, the Fieldings’ father, a rather rackety chap himself, and a man from an unknown country for whose letters Miss Fielding lives and who she secretly must surely love.

As the men and women meet and interact, loves and love triangles set themselves up. This is all fun and fine, and the setting is great; the thing I had a problem with is that Vartouhi is from an invented country that seems oh, too much like the blasted Mixo-Lydia of Angela Thirkell’s novels – so a vehicle for a rather nasty xenophobia and opportunity to laugh at funny foreigners and their funny ways. We have scenes set in “Bairamia” which exhibit exoticism, orientalism and just plain laughing-at-funny-foreigners, Vartouhi has rather irritating artless broken English and it just seems unnecessary; she could have been from somewhere real or just an English girl of a different class. Gibbons has written unreadable satire elsewhere (“Conference at Cold Comfort Farm“, I’m looking at you) but also lovely cheery multiple character studies (“A Pink Front Door“) and while I can see she’s satirising peace makers in a comfortable position who wage war in their own houses, the xenophobia seems just that. So I’m a bit ambivalent about this one, although I did enjoy seeing the couples match up and lovely Kenneth get out from under the thumb a bit.

This was number 3 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 10/41 – 31 to go.

Book review – Helen Ashton – “The Half-Crown House”


Next book in my 20 Books of Summer (intro post here), and I’m now reading my third and fourth (and working down the pile nicely in order, too!). Heaven-Ali gave me this one as part of my LibraryThing Virago Group Not So Secret Santa gift for Christmas 2020 (along with its prequel, “Yeoman’s Hospital“).

Helen Ashton – “The Half-Crown House”

(25 December 2020, from Ali)

Set over 24 hours, as “Yeoman’s Hospital” was, the half-crown house is the crumbling manor house inhabited by the Hornbeam family a sort of sad and crumbling remnant itself, as we have Henrietta, whose twin brother was killed in the Second World War, living there with her grandmother, bedridden but holding the strings of the house still, her cousin Charles and various old retainers. Into this comes Victor, Henry’s son and thus the heir, but a young boy, dropped off by his mother and stepfather to live in the world of the Hornbeams. And why the title? Because they let visitors into the house and gardens for half a crown to try to keep things going.

We meander through the day, there are visitors to the house and gardens and an American who’s keen on Henrietta comes to view a painting he wants to buy with his art dealer. One set of paying visitors stays for tea and the post-war social situation is shown up, with crumbling aristocrats and new money, and some doctors left who aren’t on the NHS. We inhabit the viewpoints and minds of various characters of different types through the day. It will take some kind of shocking event to happen to make something work out for, perhaps, the best. Does one? I wouldn’t like to give anything away; I will say that the kitchen cat comes through it all fine.

The racial politics is a bit startling in this book. I noticed a few slightly dodgy comments about the West Indian heiress who married into the family a couple of centuries back and about living in Kenya, then noticed these were all put in the mouths of characters we’re obviously supposed to find unattractive. The same with the one anti-Semitic moment, and the person discussed there is very much not a stereotype. While it’s inconceivable in the book that the gentleman who visits from the Caribbean and tries to claim his heritage could do so, the family is proud of its “black children”, seen in a painting, from whom Cousin Charles is proudly descended, and he would have liked to have seen the chap end up with the house. So that’s interesting for a book published in 1956, I felt.

A poignant moment was provided by a discussion of Queen Elizabeth, only just crowned then but predicted by a small, grubby boy to be the last monarch, with all to be gone by the time young Victor comes of age – little did Ashton know I’d be reading this book just after the Diamond Jubilee! But a poignant book all told, and covering a desperate time for the lovely old homes of England (still struggling and taking in paying visitors, of course, by the time of “Murder Before Evensong“!

This was number 2 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 9/41 – 32 to go.

Book review – Ruth Pavey – “A Wood of One’s Own”


Well at last I’ve got going with my 20 Books of Summer (intro post here), and in fact I’m part-way into Helen Ashton’s “The Half-Crown House”, too, so feel like I’ve made a proper start. The lovely Bookish Beck sent me this one in her 2020 December parcel, something of a tradition now; this had been better edited than some in that parcel (I think this is actually the last one from it) and there are fewer pencilled corrections!

Ruth Pavey – “A Wood of One’s Own”

(24 December 2020, from Bookish Beck)

What pleasure there is in learning another landscape, and the stories that have grown from it. (p. 12)

In this charming book, Ruth Pavey decides she wants to buy a piece of woodland to look after and cherish and in which to plant trees, after she realises this is what she wants to do but finds other places, like allotments, too temporary to do so. She returns to the land of her ancestors, Somerset, the bit near Bridgwater, to do so, and we read about her purchase of, settling into and work on the wood, as well as her relationships with her neighbours and various working people of the countryside.

It’s all very practical though with some romantic notions (she develops the idea of a mediaeval owner of Sugg’s Orchard before discovering what zuggy actually means, and has notions of keeping ancient apples going that are floored when no one can decide what varieties they are). She is resourceful and relatively fearless, installing herself for a number of years in a little wheeled workers’ wagon before moving to spend nights in a cottage. She bonds with various brothers and cousins, which is lovely to read about, especially exciting when some Overds are mentioned, as I’m descended from Somerset Overds myself! I also loved how all sorts of people gave her trees they’d grown when they found out she had a wood. There are only a couple of “Nature red in tooth and claw” moments and one page of unpleasantness – not bad for a modern nature book!

While she’s unable to explain to a friend what all this is “for”, she obviously gets huge pleasure from the wood and her efforts in it. She makes improvements and leaves all the various animals and insects alone in it, though she does feel that they melt away when she’s there and return when she goes. The long-term nature of it is highlighted and the impossibility of finishing it:

And, or so I try to comfort myself, it is not in the nature of this project to yield instant results. (p. 169)

This was number 1 in my 20 Books of Summer 2022!

This was also TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 8/41 – 33 to go.

Book review – Helen Ashton – “Yeoman’s Hospital”


I took this one off the print TBR shelves to try to make a dent in them before starting 20 Books of Summer, and as I finished it on 2 June, I’m happy with that choice (I have one of its sequels in the 20 Books pile, “The Half-Crown House”). Another gift from Ali, this time when she drew me in the LibraryThing Virago Group Not So Secret Santa in 2020 (I’m glad to say this is one of my last books dating from 2020!).

Helen Ashton – “Yeoman’s Hospital

(25 December 2020, from Ali)

Stretching in time over 24 hours in 1943, this book gives a vivid impression of a hospital just pre the launch of the NHS, so run and paid for by charity and subscription not national insurance, with various staff thinking well or poorly of the rumours of the new system to come (in this it reminded me of one of Francis Brett Young’s novels, although not one I think I’ve reviewed on here). Published in 1944, it has that slight pathos and tug of a book written when the outcome of the war wasn’t known, which always gets me.

Even though we only have a full day and night at the hospital, we get very engaged with all the characters. Wilchester, the town we’re in, is beautifully drawn and realistic, and the back stories of the main characters are of course drawn in so there’s depth behind the bones of the story. We encounter senior and junior staff, from elderly surgeons to a brand new trainee nurse, and patients from boys with injuries to maternity cases to an elderly shepherd and his fretting wife, all beautifully done, too. There’s politics in the running of the hospital and between those pushing for promotion, and a couple of romances, gossip, personality clashes and, beneath it all, the suet pudding for the nurses and lack of nutrition for the townspeople and the general worn-outness of being several years into a war.

The effect of the war is felt on the infrastructure of the town, too – the description of what has happened to the old Duke’s house is a paragraph that summarises what happened to so many other great estates, the lake drained so as not to show up to aircraft, the corridors full of stored museum pieces and the son of the house lost and his widow already remarried – very poignantly done in only a couple of hundred words.

A lot is so different – patients wondering how to pay for treatment, a hospital almoner sorting it all out – them some things are so familiar – a laparotomoy being done because “That’s what they calls it when they don’t know what they’ll find and won’t say what they’re looking for” (p. 49) – change that to a laparoscopy and it’s not much different today! It’s probably the same for a new nurse now as it was then, and we sympathise with Joan as she’s batted around her new ward but calmed by the competent and motherly Sister Abbott.

A lovely book, some gruesome bits, but a totally absorbing world. I have one more Wilchester book to read and will certainly look out for copies of the others, or hope that Dean Street Press might reissue them!

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 7/41 – 34 to go.

Book review – Mary Morris (ed.) – “The Virago Book of Women Travellers”


I’ve been reading this hefty tome for a little while now, starting it last month to fit in with the LibraryThing Virago Group’s themed read on “Life Stories” as all the pieces in the book are excerpts from the real lives of intrepid women travellers. This is actually a reprint of a volume published in 1993 which I dimly recall having and reading – it’s been updated in that death dates and places have been added to the short biographies of the women that precede each excerpt. This was a gift from Ali, who was sent it by the publishers; it’s a big hardback that’s a bit hard to manipulate.

Mary Morris (ed.) – The Virago Book of Women Travellers”

(20 May 2021, from Ali)

We find 300 years of travelling women here, from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (born 1689) to Leila Philip (born 1962) and they travel across all the continents and regions of the world (apart from the Poles). In the introduction Morris explains their main criteria behind selecting pieces was the quality of writing and the vision behind the writing; she states that she “regret[s] the absence of more multi-cultural voices. It is our hope that in the future both the gender and racial gaps will be bridged, but for now the voices we present are those we found” (p. xxiii) and it would indeed be good to have a new collection that covered a wider variety.

These women are intrepid, brave, cheeky and defiant. Some of them dress as men to get where they need to go, some of them go alone, some accompanied. Dear Dervla Murphy, who just died recently, took a teenager on a huge long jungle walk; other women completed feats of travel under their own steam or were conveyed somewhere and stopped and observed it. Several sing the praises of a good, stout skirt. Cities and country, rivers and deserts are all covered and described by these indomitable women.

Although most of the pieces are straight travel, some are more thought-pieces and anthropologist extraordinaire Margaret Mead’s excerpt on training fieldworkers as she returns to ground she’s covered over decades, carefully considering the changes she’s seen and how these should be recorded.

An entertaining volume with something for everyone.

This was TBR Challenge 2021-22 Quarter 3 Book 6/41 – 35 to go.

State of the TBR – June 2022


Well, looking at last month’s picture, the TBR is about the same but with fewer review copies balanced on top, so that’s a win, right? I’ve left my stash of Three Investigators novels in the pic although they don’t count in the “official” TBR somehow. Sorry for the slightly wonky picture.

I only managed to finish fifteen books in May, that’s still one every two days or so but I’d hoped to read more. I don’t have any read in May to review fully here but there are two reviews for Shiny New Books that I haven’t mentioned on here yet. I read or am still reading all of the print TBR I said I MUST read. I read and reviewed seven out of the nine NetGalley books I had TBR for May, DNF’d one and have one still to read (“The New Doctor at Peony Practice”; I need to read the first six in the series, I’ve got the NEXT one now too, but the publicist at the publisher is fine about the delay). I read and loved “The Scapegoat” for Ali’s Daphne du Maurier reading week.

I picked two books off the TBR out of my new quarter of TBR challenge books but haven’t finished them yet, so still have 36 left to go.

Shiny New Books

I reviewed Jude Rogers’ “The Sound of Being Human” for Shiny New Books – a wonderful memoir of her life in and with music and exploration of how music shapes our lives.


I was actually quite restrained with print books in this last month.

I’m reading and reviewing Nicholas Orme’s “Going to Church in Medieval England” for the Wolfson History Prize book tour, something I’ve been taking part in for several years now. It looks fascinating and approachable and I’ll be reviewing it on 15 June. I saw mention of “Iceland: People, Sagas, Landscapes” by Hans Swik on Paul’s Half Man Half Book blog and had to track down a copy for myself (I had a lucky catch of a copy on Abe Books); a super book of photos and essays. “Haramacy” edited by Zahed Sultan is my latest Unbound subscription copy to arrive: it’s essays from the Middle East, South Asia and diaspora. And Hayley from Rather Too Fond of Books highlighted Patrick Hutchinson’s “Everyone Versus Racism: A Letter to Change the World” by the guy who carried a White counter-protestor to safety out of a Black Lives Matter protest last year and I had to pick up a copy.

I bought NO e-books for Kindle this month.

I won a few NetGalley books this month again:

I haven’t actually read Ibram X. Kendi’s well-respected earlier books but was intrigued by his “How to Raise an Antiracist” (published July), which concentrates on bringing up children to be actively antiracist. I was offered Emily Kerr’s “Take a Chance on Greece” (July) by the publisher and it looks like a fun holiday read with a setting somewhere I’ve only been once myself. “Refugee Wales: Syrian Voices” edited by Angham Abdullah, Beth Thomas and Chris Weedon (November) continues my strand of reading about Wales and its diverse populations. I was offered “100 Queer Poems” (June), selected by poets Mary Jean Chan and Andrew McMillan by the publisher on the strength of my review of “Bless the Daughter Raised by a Voice in Her Head”; it collects past and contemporary poets together. And the Reverend Richard Coles’ “Murder Before Evensong” (June) was a must-request when I was reminded by Hayley that I wanted to read it: I assume we’re in Richard Osman territory but it should be fun, too.

“The Wilderness Cure” by Mo Wilde (August) looks like it came from an email where the first 100 to request get the book: it’s the author’s description of living off free and foraged food for a year. Emiko Jean’s “Mika in Real Life” (September) is a novel about a woman trying to create a relationship with the teenage daughter she gave up for adoption when she was a teenager herself. Tasneem Abdur-Rasheed’s “Finding Mr Perfectly Fine” (July) is a novel about a Muslim girl in London trying to find Mr Right before her mum finds him for her. And Christie Barlow’s “New Beginnings at the Old Bakehouse” (July) is the one I mentioned in the Love Heart Lane series that is waiting on me reading the first six, with the PR’s blessing.

So that was 15 read and 13 coming in in May – not too bad!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading “The Virago Book of Women Travellers” edited by Mary Morris, which Ali kindly passed to me as it’s a massive, heavy hardback; it fitted in with the LibraryThing Virago Group’s life stories theme for May and it’s full of wonderful tales (I have skipped those that are in the Travellers books I bought recently so I get the full effect when I read them). I’m loving Sheila Gear’s “Foula” about life on a remote Shetland island, and I’m also loving Helen Ashton’s “Yeoman’s Hospital” which is a novel set over 24 hours in a wartime regional hospital and fascinating. I’m still reading “Cut From the Same Cloth?” with Emma, too: these essays from British women who wear the hijab are so interesting.

Coming up next, the start of my print TBR …

Obviously I’m prioritising “Going to Church in Medieval England” and then I have my Larry McMurtry, “The Late Child”, sequel to “The Desert Rose” which I loved in May. Then it’s also the start of my 20 Books of Summer project (see my introductory post here), so Ruth Pavey’s “A Wood of One’s Own”, Helen Ashton’s next Wilchester novel (they’re hard to find so it’s not the next one after “Yeoman’s Hospital”), “The Half-Crown House”, Stella Gibbons’ “The Bachelor” and Jeffrey Boakye’s “Black, Listed”. Hopefully I’ll get through more than those and the three books I’m currently reading.

My NetGalley TBR for June is nice and small which should help with the above.

From the incomings above I have “100 Queer Poems” and “Murder Before Evensong”, then “These Impossible Things” by Salma El-Wardany (three British Muslim women against the world, then something happens to divide them), “Dele Weds Destiny” by Tomi Obaro (three Nigerian women against the world, then one of them marries a White man and moves to the US, we see their friendship over 30 years), and Mya-Rose Craig’s “Birdgirl” (story of a young environmental activist).

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 3 books to finish and 11 books I plan to read this month, plus more off the 20 Books of Summer and a couple of Love Heart Lane e-books if I can. Seems doable, right?

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

State of the TBR – May 2022


Oh, the shame of my TBR shelf! For there is … a PILE! How could there be? But there is. It’s down to the amazing haul of books I scored from the Oxfam Bookshop Moseley in the month (see here for details). And I have (at least) managed to get it into the run of books, albeit sideways and in a pile, because I have taken several off the shelves since last month (I’ve realised I’ve included my big stash of Three Investigators novels in the pic – I normally move them aside and they play no part in my stats (OK?!)).

I managed to finish a grand total of TWENTY books in April, which I was really pleased with (helped by being near the end of a couple at the turnover of the month and finishing one of my readalongs with Emma). I managed to finish and review eight out of the nine e-books I intended to read, including the two non-fiction books published in March that I’d not got to that month, and only missing “The Go-Between” (not that one), which was published in January and adding in one more that I’m half-way through “True Biz”. (“The Love Songs of W.E.B. Dubois” is resisting me but I will get to it.). I have two books finished in April whose reviews are written but will be published next week).

I started my new quarter of TBR challenge books and managed to complete five of them, so not brilliant but not hopeless, with 36 left to go.

Shiny New Books

I reviewed “This Woman’s Work: Essays on Music” edited by Sinéad Gleeson and Kim Gordon for Shiny New Books – an excellent and diverse collection of essays on women in music by women, which really had something for everyone.


In print books, it looks like I was quite restrained until we remember the nine books from earlier in the month.

The publisher Michael Walmer offered me a choice of backlist books after I reviewed “Letters on Shetland” and I chose “Foula: Island West of the Sun”, a memoir by Sheila Gear about farming on a tiny remote island. Natalie Morris’ “Mixed/Other” was a book that Past Me had pre-ordered in paperback; it’s a book about multiraciality in Britain today. And I popped up to Oxfam Books to pick up two more Virago Travellers for Kaggsy and it’s therefore entirely her fault I spotted Robert MacFarlane’s “Landmarks” in the window (actually, it was Matthew who pointed it out to me …) and had to buy it.

I bought several e-books for Kindle this month:

Because I’d won Christie Barlow‘s newest Love Heart Lane novel from NetGalley, I felt I needed to fill in books 4-6 (“Starcross Manor”, “Primrose Park” and “The Lake House”) so I could get all the back story filled in. Simon at Stuck-in-A-Book heartily recommended E. Nesbit’s “The Red House” and I found a cheap copy, and David Harewood’s memoir “Maybe I Don’t Belong Here” on race and his breakdown, and John Barnes’ “The Uncomfortable Truth About Racism” were both on my wishlist and both in the Kindle sale.

I won a lot of NetGalley books this month again:

Lucy Dickens’ “The Holiday Bookshop” (published in July) sees the heroine running a bookshop in the Maldives, a bit different there, Josie Lloyd’s “Lifesaving for Beginners” (July) is an ensemble piece about female friendship and sea swimming and Camille Baker’s “The Moment we Met” (July) pits a busy Black woman against a dating app. Emily Henry’s “Book Lovers” (May) is an enemies-to-lovers light read set in the world of book editors and agents, “Daisy’s French Farmhouse” by Lorraine Wilson (May) was offered to me by the publisher and has the heroine find a new life in France and Christie Barlow’s “The New Doctor at Peony Practice” (May) is the newest Love Heart Lane novel set in Scotland. In non-fiction, “Birdgirl” by Mya-Rose Craig (June) is the memoir of a young woman committed to birdwatching and environmentalism, “Inside Qatar” by John McManus (Sep) looks at the rise of this tiny, rich and troubled country, and “The Ponies at the Edge of the World” by Catherine Munro (May) continues my interest in Shetland. “Why We Read” edited by Josephine Greywoode interrogates 70 writers on why they read non-fiction.

So that was 20 read and, along with the 9 of the Oxfam haul, 28 coming in in April – oops!

Currently reading

I’m currently reading Katherine MacInnes’ amazing “Snow Widows” about the wives of Scott of the Antarctic et al. and Jude Rogers’ super “The Sound of Being Human” (started in pdf but I wanted to get the book) for Shiny New Books. “Cut from the Same Cloth?” is my current read with Emma (got off to a very theoretical start but looks like a good mix of essays by British women who wear the hijab) and my e-book novel is “True Biz” by Sara Novic, a novel set in a school for deaf people in the US which is fascinating.

Coming up next, my print TBR that I must read …

I want to get my teeth into “Foula” and I need to read those two British Library Women Writers novels, Rose Macaulay’s “Keeping up Appearances” and Maud Cairnes’ “Strange Journey”. It’s Real LIves month in the LibraryThing Virago Readers group so time to tackle this substantial “Virago Book of Women Travellers” and it’s Heaven-Ali’s Daphne du Maurier Week this month and she kindly loaned me “The Scapegoat to read for it … and there’s also of course my Larry McMurtry.

My NetGalley TBR for May is fairly full, and because it includes that Love Heart Lane book, I need to read books 1-6 of that series first (I have the first three as a cheapy omnibus e-book).

So from those incomings above, I have “Why We Read”, “Daisy’s French Farmhouse”, “Book Lovers”, “The Ponies at the End of the World” and “The New Doctor at Peony Practice”, then I have Sara Cox’s novel of community and pottery, “Thrown”, Susanna Abse’s therapists’ tales, “Tell me the Truth About Love”, Akwaeke Emezi’s “You Made a Fool of Death with your Beauty” (I hear this novel opens with a shocking scene so hope I can deal with it!) and Clare Pooley’s new community-based novel, “The People on Platform 5”.

With the ones I’m currently reading (not including my readalong which will take a while), that’s 21 books I think I’m going to read this month, and that’s not including getting a few more off the print TBR, too! I do have a weekend away with two longish train journeys coming up this month at least …

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

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