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What I’m Reading: Episode 27, May 2020

Time to share with you all what I’m currently reading, what I recently read and what I plan to read next. 

What I’m reading now

Given I have zero tolerance for heights, you might be surprised to learn that I’m reading a book about climbing. It won’t be my first either – many years ago I was fascinated by Regions of the Heart, an autobiography of the British climber, Alison Jane Hargreaves.  She reached the summit of Everest alone, without oxygen or Sherpas in May 1995. Later that year she died in a storm while descending K2.

I suspect what interests me in this kind of book is that they reveal levels of endurance and courage I don’t have myself.

My current read takes place closer to home; among the slate quarries of North Wales. Many of them were abandoned when the industry declined leaving behind enormous craters; just the kind of terrain to attract climbers.

In  Slatehead: The Ascent of Britain’s Slate-climbing Scene, Peter Goulding talks about his love affair with slate and the motley gang who join him in scaling the heights of oddly named landmarks like Orangutan Overhang. I’m on the blog tour for this book which is published by New Welsh Rarebyte on June 4.

I’m also making my way through Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope, number four in his Chronicles of Barsetshire series. It took a time to get going but the drama has now kicked up a gear with the bailiffs about to come knocking on the door of a vicar caught up in the financial schemes of a so-called friend. Some of the well known and well-loved characters from previous books make an appearance including the quite awful bishop’s wife Mrs Proudie.  

What I just finished reading

I managed to get to the library the day before all branches in our county were closed indefinitely because of Covid-19. By good fortune it meant I could pick up Actress by Anne Enright. What a delight that turned out to be; a book so good that I didn’t want it to end.

It’s a character study in which a daughter tells the story of her actress mother Katherine O’Dell in an attempt to answer the question she is most often asked “What was she like?” There is another question in the narrative: why did Katherine go mad?

The book was longlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction 2020 but strangely never made the shortlist. Maybe she will be more successful with the Booker Prize when that longlist is announced in July – Actress is definitely on a par with The Gathering, the novel that won her the prize in 2007.

What I’ll read next

I’ve resisted the temptation to join in 20 Books of Summer, hosted by Cathy at 746books.com again this year. I love the event even though I have never managed to complete my list but at the beginning of the year I made a decision to avoid any challenges which involve reading from a list. That won’t stop me feeling envious when I see all the other participants blogging about their reading plans

I do have a few books lined up already, the result of getting carried away with review copies. Plus I’ve been trying to support independent bookshops and publishers during these extraordinary times so my book buying has gone through the roof.

First for me to read will be The Waiting Rooms by Eve Smith. It’s a debut novel taking place amid a health crisis in the world – a theme we have become all too familiar with in recent month. Smith’s novel is about one woman’s hunt for her birth mother at a point in the future when an antibiotic crisis has decimated the population. The ebook came out in April with the paperback version published by Orenda out on July 9.

There are some new books coming out I have my eye on. One is by the Welsh author Alis Hawkins. Those Who Know is the third in her Teifi Valley Coroner series. It’s out in ebook format but publication of the paperback (the format I’d prefer to read) is postponed until September. I’m waiting for my order of her novel set during the time of the Black Death – The Black and the White  – to arrive through my letterbox.

And I’ve just taken delivery of Nia by another Welsh author, Robert Minhinnick, published by Seren Books. It’s about a new mother who joins forces with two friends to explore an unmapped cave system. As events unfold, the strands of her life come into focus – her dysfunctional parents, the daughter she must raise differently, the friends with whom she shared childhood.


Those are my plans. I’ve only now realised that a number of the books I’ve mentioned have a Welsh connection. Now what’s on YOUR reading horizon for the next few weeks? Let me know what you’re currently reading or planning to read next.


This post is for WWW Wednesday hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

What I’m Reading: Episode 26, March 2020

Time to share with you all what I’m currently reading, what I recently read and what I plan to read next. 

What I’m reading now

For the first time ever I purchased a book in advance of publication. I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies so much, I just had to have the final instalment in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy. I wasn’t expecting The Mirror & The Light to be so big. Huge in fact and because it’s in hardback, it’s heavy. Which makes it very difficult to read in bed….

Hilary Mantel

But that’s only part of the reason why my progress through this book is at glacial speed. The main factor is that this is a book which takes a good amount of concentration. Mantel’s narration is slippery. You have to keep on your toes to be certain who is speaking. Plus there are a lot of characters (the list at the front of the book is five pages long).

But I’m not complaining. This is a book of sheer brilliance. It is absolutely meant to be savoured. I suspect I’m still going to be reading it when it’s time to do my April edition of “What I’m Reading”.  

What I just finished reading

WalesReadingMonth (otherwise known as Dewithon 2020) has been running throughout March. As you’d expect I’ve been participating in the event hosted by Paula at Book Jotter by reading a few books by Welsh authors that were on my TBR shelves.

I posted my review of one of these – Turf or Stone by Margiad Evans – a few days ago. It wasn’t great. Far more to my taste was One Moonlit Night by Caradog Pritchard. It was written in the Welsh language in 1961 as a portrayal of life in a small slate quarrying town in North Wales. The narrator recalls his childhood in this community, a life in which joy, sadness and tragedy are seldom apart.

Caradog Pritchard

Pritchard’s novel is written in a poetic style but also uses the local dialect. Once you’ve tuned into this, and got accustomed to the oddities of character names (Will Starch Collar is my favourite), the book is tremendous. I’ll post a more considered response in the next few days.

Incidentally the photo was taken on what turned out to be my very last trip to a coffee shop for some considerable time. No prizes for guessing why coffee shops are no go areas right now.

I also just finished The Silent Treatment by Abbie Greaves, a debut novel which comes out in April. It has an interesting twist on the theme of relationships because it focuses on a married couple who have not spoken to each other for six months. I’m on the blog tour for this mid April so will share my thoughts in a few weeks.

Abbie Greaves

What I’ll read next

I said at the beginning of the year that I was pulling back from reading challenges that involved making lists of books to read or goals for the number of books to read. But I am joining in short reading events where I can and where I have a suitable book/s on my TBR.

There are two coming up fairly soon. One is ZolaAddictionMonth hosted by Fanda and the other is the 1920club hosted by Karen and Simon.

I have one book lined up for each.

For Zola Addiction month I have His Excellency Eugene Rougon/Son Excellence Eugène Rougon which is book number two in Zola’s Rougon-Macquet cycle. I’ve been reading them out of order but am now trying to fill in the gaps.

For the 1920 reading club I have Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence. This will be the final book on my Classics Club project (woo hoo….)

I turned to Twitter to help me decide which to read first. But it didn’t help. Because it was a draw… So I shall have to rely on my instinct instead.

In the meantime there is the (not so small) matter of the Mantel to finish, and The Binding which is the next book club choice. And a library loan of Actress by Anne Enright (not that it needs to be finished soon because libraries have gone the way of coffee shops). And more than 200 other books on my shelves.

I shall be busy.


Those are my plans. Now what’s on YOUR reading horizon for the next few weeks? Let me know what you’re currently reading or planning to read next.


This post is for WWW Wednesday hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

3 Technology Solutions To Covid-19 Cabin Fever

With coronavirus rampaging around the world, about the only thing that’s certain is that many of us are going to have a lot more time on our hands in the next few months. 

A pleasure we’ll have to forgo for a while
Credit: Unsplash.com

Social media is full of ideas about how to occupy yourself when museums, restaurants, cinemas are closed and you’re told to stay indoors or avoid contact with other people. You can enjoy a live safari with Cincinnati zoo, watch live streaming of operas from USA or take virtual tours of museums and art galleries around the world.

If you’re an avid reader, the obvious way to fill all this new leisure time, is simply to read even more. It sounds an idyllic way to spend the day doesn’t it? But what if, like me, you find even that loses its appeal after a while?

Lisa at ANZLitLovers has helpfully come up with ten suggestions that will keep you busy if you have to be in quarantine or are practising self isolation.

I’m going to share a few more suggestions with you. The added beauty is that they won’t cost you a penny.

Embrace audiobooks

I know many of you are already fans of audio books so feel free to skip this section. But if you’re someone who has never explored this world. now could be a good time to begin the adventure

.Audio books are perfect companions for chores like ironing and cleaning (judging by my friends’s plans, all our houses are going to be spotless in coming weeks). They can also go with you if you’re able to get outside for some socially isolated exercise.

Listening to Audiobooks
Creative Commons Licence via Pixabay.com

There are big service providers like Audible and Scribd but they all require you to pay a monthly subscription. However, there are free alternatives available.

One option is to check whether your local library service includes the ability to borrow audio books via a digital download to your computer or devices like smartphones/iPads.

Failing that you can try Open Culture. Most of these products are audio versions of the classics but you’ll also find a smattering of more contemporary works. Expect to see plenty by Austen, Brontes, Conan Doyle, Dickens and Arthur C Clarke but you’ll also find Neil Gaiman; Ian McEwan and Column McCann.

It’s also worth checking out Librivox, a not for profit organisation which has hundreds of books available. They’re all read by volunteers so you’ll find the quality does vary considerably. But since they’re all free, if you don’t like a particular narrator’s voice, you won’t be out of pocket if you abandon it and look for a different recording.

Discover Podcasts

Audio recordings of novels do tend to run several hours ( a standard length novel can last about 11 hours in recorded form). If you prefer something shorter, then podcasts may be more to your taste. It’s rare for a podcast to last more than an hour. Some may run for just 15 or 30 minutes.

I’ve been a massive fan of podcasts since I first heard about them in the early 2000s. I listen to them in the gym, my car and on flights.

Right now I have 15 different podcast streams on my iPod, covering a mix of book/reading discussions, true crime, drama and genealogy. The choice of programmes can be overwhelming – just take a look at the Apple Itunes podcast library for all the categories.

Here is just a small sample of all the podcasts related to “Books” Some are produced by people who also have blogs, others come from commercial media outlets such as The Guardian. The New Yorker.

You’ll also find podcasts via the websites of some of the big broadcasters, like the BBC A Good Read which is one of my favourites.

Go Back To School

A less well known feature is ITunes University where some of the leading education establishments have made material from their courses available. Don’t expect them to be highly polished productions – with some service providers, they have simply recorded the lecture so the audio quality will sometimes be a bit ropey (you won’t hear the question from the student for example). But what you will get are some highly interesting insights – I’ve listened in to some fascinating episodes on Shakespeare’s plays, children’s literature and the Romantic writers for example.

If you are afraid that your brain will turn to mush during the period of Covid-19 isolation, one solution would be to enrol for an online course. Just think how smug you’ll be come the summer (winter for you southern hemisphere folks).

MOOCs (Massive Online Open Course) have democratised education in recent years, making university level courses available to thousands of people around the world – and all free of charge. If you’ve never heard of MOOC, take a look at these Ted Talk videos to get an idea of what they can accomplish.

The range of subjects is staggering but since I suspect your main interest is in literature I’ve done some digging around and found these courses for you.

Walter Scott: The Man Behind the Monument

Delivered by the University of Aberdeen in Scotland via FutureLearn.com, this is course starts Monday, March 23. Over a four week period you’ll “discover the writer, collector and cultural icon who remains one of Scotland’s most enduring literary legends.”

Explore the English language through Shakespeare’s plays

Starting on April 6, this is a six week course via FutureLearn that looks at the life and works of William Shakespeare. Actors and experts around the world give insight about five of his plays and explain some of the universal themes he explored in his work.

Literature of the English Country House

Starting on May 4, this looks an interesting course which explores the literature of English country houses from the time of Thomas More to Oscar Wilde. I have a feeling that some book bloggers have taken previous presentations of this course so maybe can comment on their experience.

Open Learn

If you prefer to follow your own timetable the Open University “Open Learn” platform could be the answer. It offers a series of short modules taken from the syllabi of their distance learning courses. They’re all self -directed so you start whenever you want, and take as much time as you want. One module could be just 2 hours, others last 15 hours. Literature topics include Thomas Hardy’s Far From The Madding Crowd and Dickens’ Great Expectations. There are also three linked courses on the history of reading.

Havard edX

For something more challenging take a look at two courses offered by Havard through their edX platform.

Modern masterpieces of world literature started on March 18 but you might still be able to enrol. It covers a wide range of authors and texts from Goethe and Candide to Jorge Luis Borges and Lu Xun.

Also just got underway is a 12 week programme called The History of World Literature – – sounds perfect for those of you who love literature in translation.


I’m going to follow a mix of these ideas plus those highlighted by Lisa. I’ve already loaded up my Ipod with audiobooks and podcasts. And I’m thinking of enrolling for the English country house course. What are YOUR plans? Any strategies you are thinking of adopting to get you through this crisis?

2020: Why It’s Time For New Directions

The year is barely a week old and I’m already feeling I’m in catch up mode. I meant to share my 2020 plans well before now but it’s taken me until today to work out what exactly I want to focus on this year.

I’ve spent the last few days soul searching as well as reflecting on my experience over the last few years when I set specific goals for reading and blogging. And I’ve come to a few conclusions which are going to influence what I do this year.

The End of Challenges

The biggest decision is to stop doing reading challenges that involve making lists of titles to read. I love the process of creating the list but as soon as that’s done, and it’s time to actually read those chosen books, my interest in them completely fades away. Having a list to work through takes away the element of freedom.

Instead of being able to choose a book at random from my ‘owned but unread’ shelves or delve into something that caught my eye in the library, I’m ‘having’ to read one of the titles on my list. Just so that I can make some inroads into that challenge.

It’s why I’ve never completed a #20booksofsummer project. Even reducing the number to 15 this year didn’t work (though I came close). It’s also why it’s taken me longer than the target 5 years to get through the Classics Challenge and why, unbelievably, my Booker Prize project is unfinished seven years after it began.

Away With Lists

Lists are clearly not my thing. Neither are challenges that require me to read specific categories of books or numbers of books within a specified time period. Some of those I’ve been undertaking in recent years, like the Booker Prize project have been entirely self imposed. So I have only myself to blame for that!

There’s nothing wrong with the challenges themselves. Plenty of other bloggers and readers find them enjoyable and rewarding and, amazingly, have the ability to cope with several at the same time. It’s not the challenge that’s the issue; it’s me.

2020 will therefore be a year without challenges. I’ll finish the ones I’ve already started – I’ve come so far with most of them that it would be silly to stop now – but I won’t go looking for anything new. I want a year of relaxed, stress-free reading.

I’ve Started So I’ll Finish

Booker Prize Project: One more title to go and then I’ll have read (or attempted to read) every winner from 1969 to 2015. That’s 50 winners in total. Once I’ve read How Late It Was How Late by James Kelman, I’ll be done. I don’t regret having spent time with the Booker Prize but my interest in it as a literary prize has seriously waned in the last few years so I won’t be committing myself to reading any of the post 2015 winners.

Classics Club challenge: I embarked on this in November 2012. According to the ‘rules’ I was supposed to have read 50 books from my list by November 2017. Well, it’s now more than 2 years later and I still have three titles yet to go. I’m using the latest Classics Club spin to give me a nudge towards the finishing line. I still have books on my original list that I haven’t read. I might get to them over time or I might not.

World of Literature Project: Another self-imposed challenge to read books by authors from 50 different countries within 5 years. I’m two years over the target date with 9 countries still to go. No reason why I shouldn’t find those remaining countries before the year is over. I’m not abandoning my interest in reading translated fiction and fiction from around the world – just taking away the pressure of specific goals.

New Directions

The one aspect of challenges I do enjoy is the camaraderie and feeling of connection to other bloggers. I don’t want to lose that – the social element of blogging is by far the thing that keeps me going. Without it, blogging would be just a form of vanity publishing.

Instead of year long or multi year challenges I’m going to switch my focus to small events; the kind that last just for a week or a few months.. There are countless numbers of these around so I’m going to have to be selective otherwise I’ll end up in the same rabbit hole I’ve been in before via challenges.

I’ll be joining events if and only if they take my fancy and I can do them without a reading list in sight.

Reading Events On the Horizon

There are already a few events that are calling to me.

Japan Literature Challenge, hosted by dolcebellezza is now in its 13th incarnation. It involves just reading books by Japanese authors between January and end of March. It’s a good opportunity to revisit some of the authors whose books I already own.

Paula at Book Jotter will be hosting the Wales Readathon throughout March. This will be the second year for the event and of course I have to support anything which promotes literature from my home country.

Unfortunately that readathon coincides with Reading Ireland Month hosted by Cathy at 746books so I might have to limit myself to just one book from Ireland. I’ll at least feel that I’ll have joined in the buzz. That’s what is so great about these short events – you can just dip in like this without any obligations to do much more.

Finally, in April, Simon and Karen will be hosting the 1920 reading club; a week long celebration of fiction, non-fiction, poetry published 100 years ago.

And that’s more than enough for me to be getting on with. What happens after April I’ll decide further down the road.

Will You Be Joining Me? Have you made any plans yet for 2020? Do they include challenges or do you prefer more free-form reading? Do post a comment below to let me know.

Reading horizons: Episode 23

Reading Horizons: October 2019

What I’m reading now

Abir Mukherjee is about to publish the fourth book in his crime series set in 1920s Calcutta. Death In the East comes out on November 14 in the UK. I have a copy to review. But before plunging in this far into the series I thought I should get familiar with the main character and the setting by reading the first in the series: A Rising Man.  

This novel introduces us to Captain Sam Wyndham, formerly a Scotland Yard detective, who arrives in India hoping to make a new start after his experiences in the trenches of World War 1. He has barely got his feet under the table in his new role with the Indian police when he’s called in to solve the murder of a senior British official. 

Abir Mukherjee

So far this is proving an enjoyable read. I love the detail about Calcutta and the tense relationships between the British governing class and the Indian population. I can see why this book won the Crime Writers’ Association Endeavour Dagger for best historical crime novel in 2017 and was the Sunday Times crime novel of the month in May 2017.

By contrast I’m listening to Michelle Obama’s memoir Becoming. I have the print version of this and have dipped into sections of it over the past few months. Hearing her narrate the book gives it extra impact I think.

It’s a mystery why I haven’t read more of Penelope Lively’s work. I loved Moon Tiger which won the Booker Prize in 1987 but I’ve never gone on to read anything else by her, despite having three of her books on my shelves.

Reading How It All Began was a chance to put that right. And what a wonderful experience this turned out to be. It’s a cleverly plotted tale of seven people whose lives are derailed because one elderly person is mugged on a warm April day.

Penelope Lively

Via Twitter and comments on my review I’ve now added to the list of other Penelope Lively books I definitely want to read. The Photograph seems to be the one most highly recommended.

What I’ll read next

Now usually this is a tough question because I don’t like to overly plan my reading (I’m realising that challenges which involve making a list are not my thing). But for once I know what I’m going to read next because there are some books that have deadlines attached to them.

First in the queue is The Dutch House by Ann Patchett which I just collected from the library. There’s a very long queue of library members who all want this book so I know there will be no chance of renewing it and I’ll have to finish it before the return date.

Then there’s the new Abir Mukherjee novel I mentioned earlier, Death In the East which I need to read and review by November 18.

Also coming up soon is Love Is Blind which is the book club choice for November. I’m ambivalent about this one. I used to love William Boyd (Brazzaville Beach was my favourite) but in recent years I’ve been less than enthused by his work. Have any of you read Love Is Blind and can tell me whether its so-so or Boyd at his best?

That should keep me busy for a while.


Those are my plans. Now what’s on YOUR reading horizon for the next few weeks?


This post is for WWW Wednesday hosted by Sam at Taking on a World of Words.

Can You Say Goodbye To Your Books?

No-one likes to bid farewell to books. But unless you have a home with ever-expanding wall, there comes a point when your stock of books exceeds the space available.

But how many of you shy away from making that ultimate decision to let go of a book?

A columnist in one of the UK national newspapers once confessed that she felt unable to give any of her books away.  

About to move house she was faced with the prospect of finding space for her collection of roughly 10,000 books in a property half the size of her current abode. Such was her reluctance to part with any of them she even pondered farming her son out to his grandparents because that would give her another 150 feet of shelving.

Too Precious To Lose?

I can’t give away unread stuff, obviously, but I can’t give away the things I’ve read either. They all carry memories — of the places I read them (all of Austen one glorious fortnight with an equally bookish friend at the end of university), the people who gave them to me, the long-gone second-hand shops I found them in …

She has my sympathy.

I too have books that are precious because of the story of how they were bought or acquired.

Take my copy of Delia Smith’s Complete Cookery as an example.

I acquired this in 1993 as part of a prize from The Economist . It’s moved home three times and it’s covered in greasy dabs but it’s seen me through many large family Christmas lunches so there’s no way I’m giving that one away.

I’m just as reluctant to let go of my copy of Germinal by Emile Zola. It’s not simply that it’s my favourite title from his Rougon Macquart series but the fact that buying it became an international quest.

I’d taken it on holiday to South Africa. One hundred pages from the end I accidentally drenched it in sun tan cream. Desperate to know what happened I began a search in every bookshop in every town we visited. I found a second hand copy eventually, just a few days before we were due to fly home. Every time I look at the book I’m taken back to that holiday and that quest.

Decision Time

I used to keep most of my books even if they had no special memories or provenance.

I’d finish a novel, think “I might want to read this again” and shove it back on the shelf.

Did I ever go back and re-read? Hardly ever in fact. The only ones to get a second look-in were those that could be loosely described as classics. The rest just gathered dust.

The few attempts I made at a clear out usually resulted in me creating a pile to give away and my husband removing at least half of them because “I might want to read that”.

But that was in the days when I had only a modest collection of unread books. Once I started blogging, that collection exploded.

A few months ago I shared with you the strategy I’m adopting to bring a semblance of order to my piles of unread books. As much as I love having masses of books, I do need to scale back so I can actually get in the storage room where all of these are stacked.

There’s no big cull in the offing. I’m not taking drastic action and sweeping aside whole shelves. I’m just being more pragmatic.

That stack of books I thought I might re-read, is now about half its previous size.

I’m also being very disciplined with myself whenever I finish reading a book. Unless I am absolutely certain I will re-read it, it goes straight into a bag of books to try and sell via Ziffit.com or donate to family, friends or charity. Very rarely do I now keep the copy once I’m done reading it.

It was tough doing this at first. I had several false starts where I put a book into the bag only to take it out again the next day. It’s possible I suppose that I’ll experience some moments of regret in the future when I discover a book I fancy re-reading is one I no longer have. But I can’t see that being a major problem; I can always borrow it from the library.

The books I’ve kept are primarily classics. They are books that I think are ultra special. I suppose if I was a devotee of Marie Kondo I’d say they are the books that “spark joy” every time I look at them and read them. The ones I’ve given away might be perfectly good reads, it’s just that they are not special enough to warrant space on my shelves or on my floor.

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