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Jackie's Jar of Fate challenge meets the Scottish islands

2018 Category Challenge

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Edited: Jun 21, 2:00pm Top

Hello, I'm Jackie and I'm back for my 3rd year in the Category Challenge group. I'm English but have lived in beautiful Scotland since 2005, so it's definitely home now! You can also find me over in the 2018 ROOT group.

I'm keeping the same categories I've had for the last couple of years, and also keeping my Jar of Fate (a pot which contains colour coded slips of paper with all the book titles on my TBR pile, corresponding to my categories. Instead of choosing which book to read next I will just pull out a different coloured slip which will be the next book I read). I'm adding a bit of Scotland into the mix too this year, as I finally feel confident enough to add photos to my posts as well! Specifically, given that island living is a bit of a dream of mine (roll on Lottery win) (not that I do the Lottery, but I suspect that's what it will take to make the dream a reality!), I am allocating a Scottish island to each of my categories. In all honesty, the strength of the links between the place and the category range from tenuous to non-existent, but hey - pretty photos! All of the islands are places that I have visited over the years, so all the photos are by me.

As well as my 11 categories, I also intend to participate in the ColourCAT each month, and RandomCAT occasionally if I have a book on the TBR that fits. I'm also hoping to participate in the 75 group's non-fiction challenge, as non-fiction is really much more my thing than fiction. So my 12th category will be CAT reads and the 75ers non-fiction challenge reads. My overall aim is to read 48 of my own TBRs (ROOTs) in the year, plus one book a month from the library to support my local library service (I get lots of books out for my daughter, but in this era of local authority funding cuts I figured if they have details of someone else also taking books out that will bump up their case for continuing support). If I do ColourCAT and the non-fiction challenge each month then I would expect category 12 to have at least 24 books in it by the end of the year, and like 2017 I will aim for at least 1 in all the other 11 categories. So those are the various components of my personal challenge for 2018.

Before introducing you to Scotland's beautiful islands, here is a picture of the legendary Jar of Fate itself (note high quality Canderel jar - no expense spared spent):

These are my categories, along with their colour code and island, and a brief explanation:

1. (red/Harris) Central/Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union. This could be travel writing or academic stuff, but equally could be Bosnian war fiction or a book on Soviet propaganda posters.
2. (dark blue/Lewis) Non-fiction (general). Non-fiction that doesn't fall into any of my other categories.
3. (yellow/Coll) Contemporary fiction (1969-present). Contemporary with me, so fiction from the year of my birth onwards.
4. (dark green/Cumbrae) Sexual/reproductive health/rights; parenting; children; gender. This reflects my academic interests and experience, and also my work. This will mainly be academic, but also includes some popular non-fiction and maybe the odd bit of fiction. There is quite a lot of crossover here with my academic and central/eastern Europe categories.
5. (light green/Bute) Celtic. Fiction and non-fiction relating to the Celtic lands (primarily Scotland, but also potentially including Irish, Welsh, Cornish and Breton-related books).
6. (light blue/Arran) Vintage fiction (1900-1968). Hopefully self-explanatory. I think this is one of my smallest categories.
7. (pink/Skye) Academic. Some of the academic books that I've acquired over the years - text books, research methodology, stuff that I've just thought looks interesting.
8. (orange/Gigha) Biography/autobiography/memoir/true events. Occasional overlap with other categories, but otherwise pretty self-explanatory.
9. (light brown/Shetland) Ancient fiction (pre-1900). Lots courtesy of Project Gutenberg, plus other bits and bobs I've picked up over the years.
10. (purple/Inchmahome) Travel. Anywhere in the world - mainly but not exclusively non-fiction.
11. (dark brown/Inchcolm) Religious. Mainly related to Christianity, but not exclusively. Primarily non-fiction.
12. (no colour/Ailsa Craig) CATs and Challenges. ColourCAT reads, Non-Fiction Challenge, plus maybe RandomCAT some months.

Edited: Aug 2, 7:33am Top

1. Category: Central/Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union
Island: Harris

We went to beautiful Harris at the very end of 2007/first couple of weeks of 2008 for our honeymoon, and this is the view from the garden of our cottage. To celebrate our 10th wedding anniversary (which is tomorrow!), at the weekend we are going to Harris again for a week, I can't wait!

In the dim and distant (and not so distant) past I lived in Romania and have travelled quite a bit in eastern Europe, and also did my PhD study on health services in Romania and Moldova, hence building up over the years quite a lot of books about the region.

1. Nick Hunt - Walking the Woods and the Water. Finished 1.2.18. 4.5/5.
2. ed. Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska & Richard Sakwa - Ukraine and Russia: People, Politics, Propaganda and Perspectives. Finished 2.8.18. 3.5/5.

Edited: Apr 19, 4:50am Top

2. Category: Non-fiction (general)
Island: Lewis

A bit of a cheat, given that Harris and Lewis are the same land-mass, although they are definitely separate entities! So this picture dates from the honeymoon too, it is of the Calanais (pronounced Callanish) standing stones, contemporaries of Stonehenge. (Edit: no they're not! They're much older than Stonehenge!)

This category is for my non-fiction that doesn't fit anywhere else. As I'm more of a non-fiction buff, this makes up a fairly sizeable chunk of Mt TBR.

1. Nicole Faires - Food Confidential: The Corporate Takeover of Food Security and the Family Farm, and What to Do About It. Finished 14.1.18. 4/5. (also counted in Ailsa Craig category (CATS/challenges), but I originally got it out of the Jar of Fate for this category)
2. Deb Wilenski & Caroline Wendling - Fantastical Guides for the Wildly Curious: Ways into Hinchingbrooke Country Park. Finished 25.1.18. 4.5/5.
3. Lynn M Brewster - Suffrage in Stirling: The Struggle for Women's Votes. Library book, finished 18.2.18. 4/5.
4. Ella Frances Sanders - Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World. Finished 18.4.18. 4.5/5.

Edited: Jul 5, 5:34am Top

3. Category: Contemporary fiction (1969-present)
Island: Coll

We spent Christmas 2012 in a cottage on Coll, one of the inner Hebrides and near neighbour of Tiree. There's hardly anything to do there, which to be honest was one of the attractions! It has lovely beaches, some gentle walks, one main village (the total population of the island is less than 200).

Although I'm not a big fiction buff, somehow I seem to have quite a lot of fiction on Mt TBR, so I've split them into three categories depending on year of publication. This one is for contemporary fiction, contemporary with me - so from the year of my birth onwards.

1. Kim Edwards - The Memory Keeper's Daughter. Abandoned 11.1.18. 3/5.
2. Brian Anderson - It Came from the Diaper Pail. Abandoned 29.1.18. No rating, due to faulty ebook I had nothing to rate!
3. Barbara Kingsolver - The Poisonwood Bible. Abandoned 12.3.18. 3/5.
4. Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin & Irvine Welsh - One City. Library book, finished 30.3.18. 4/5.
5. Gabriel Garcia Marquez - Bon Voyage, Mr President and Other Stories. Finished 14.5.18. 3/5.
6. Steve Goddard - Whatever Happened to Billy Shears?. Finished 26.5.18. 4/5.
7. Mohsin Hamid - The Reluctant Fundamentalist. Library book, finished 26.6.18. 4/5.
8. Devi Menon - Amla Mater. ER book, finished 5.7.18. 5/5.

Edited: Aug 26, 10:15am Top

4. Category: Sexual/reproductive health/rights; parenting; children; gender.
Island: Cumbrae

Cumbrae is one of the islands in the Firth of Clyde, on the west coast of Scotland not far from Glasgow, so it was a popular destination for day-trippers and holiday-makers going "doon the watter". We've been twice, in January 2009 and also June 2011 when we took my parents there for a day trip the day after my PhD graduation, which is when this picture was taken. The Crocodile Rock has been thus painted for decades, apparently a young lad fell out of the pub, thought this rock looked like a crocodile, so painted it, and it's just stuck (I think it's repainted every couple of years).

This category relates to my work and academic interests, but not all the books are dry and work/study-related (last year I included Hurrah for Gin in this category).

1. ed. Susan Gal & Gail Kligman - Reproducing Gender: Politics, Publics, and Everyday Life after Socialism. Finished 13.4.18. 4/5.
2. Kelly J. Baker - Sexism Ed: Essays on Gender and Labor in Academia. Finished 15.4.18. 5/5.
3. The Unmumsy Mum - The Unmumsy Mums: A Collection of Your Hysterical Stories from the Frontline of Parenting. Finished 9.8.18. 3/5.
4. Laurence J. Cohen - Playful Parenting. Finished 26.8.18. 4.5/5.

Edited: Aug 9, 2:00pm Top

5. Category: Celtic.
Island: Bute

Bute is another of the Firth of Clyde islands, which we visited at the very end of 2010 to see in the new year. So this picture will be from the first couple of days of 2011. It's from a ruined church, looking south towards Arran.

This category is where I keep all my books (fiction and non-fiction) related to the Celtic lands - Scotland, Ireland, Wales, but also potentially Cornwall and Brittany.

1. Paul Murton - The Hebrides. Finished 1.1.18. 4.5/5.
2. Chris Leslie - Disappearing Glasgow: A Photographic Journey. Finished 21.4.18. 4.5/5.
3. Jackie Kay - Fiere. Finished 4.8.18. 4.5/5.
4. Elspeth King - Stirling Girls: Towards a Women's History of Stirling. Finished 9.8.18. 3/5.

Edited: Aug 25, 12:48pm Top

6. Category: Vintage fiction.
Island: Arran

Arran is also in the Firth of Clyde, we visited it first in June 2009 as a day trip for my 40th birthday, and then in September 2017 we camped there for a weekend at an archaeological festival. This picture is from a walk we did in June 09 - we drove round the whole circumference of the island, but did a walk through the middle of the island to Machrie Moor (home of a number of well known stone circles).

This is one of my smaller categories, fiction from 1900-1968. Going through the Jar of Fate, it appears that quite a few of them are Asterix books :)

1. Goscinny & Uderzo - Asterix aux Jeux Olympiques. Finished 3.6.18. 3/5.
2. Frances Hodgson Burnett - A Little Princess. Abandoned 25.8.18. 3/5.

Edited: Jun 16, 4:06pm Top

7. Category: Academic.
Island: Skye

Skye is one of the largest of the Scottish islands, very close to the mainland and in fact now connected to the mainland by the Skye Bridge. This picture is of the famous Cuillin mountain range taken from Portree, which is the island's biggest town. We had a holiday there in October 2015, which included visiting friends from England who have bought some croft land and are self-building their own croft. Living the dream!

This category is for stuff I've picked up over the years which I think looks interesting. It's not necessarily related to my own academic interests (eastern Europe/gender/sexual & reproductive health), although that is also included.

1. ed. Kathleen Kuehnast & Carol Nechemias - Post-Soviet Women Encountering Transition: Nation Building, Economic Survival, and Civic Activism. Finished 16.6.18. 4.5/5.

Edited: Jun 10, 1:59pm Top

8. Category: Biography/autobiography/memoir/true events.
Island: Gigha

We visited Gigha in June 2017 for a long weekend for my birthday. Gigha is the southernmost of the inner Hebrides, between larger Islay and the Kintyre peninsula. It is small (about 9x2km total area) and has a population of around 170. It features lots of beautiful tiny beaches (the one in the picture was our favourite), a main village with a primary school, hotel and gallery, and a stately home with huge extensive gardens which are open to the public. The island was bought out by the population in 2002, and is now managed by the islander-owned Isle of Gigha Heritage Trust.

I've not ever really been a big auto/biography reader, but appear to have acquired quite a lot of them, hence them having their own separate category.

1. Madeleine L'Engle - Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage. Finished 10.5.18. 5/5.
2. Joy Ross Davis - Mother, Can You Hear Me?. Finished 10.6.18. 3.5/5.

Edited: Dec 28, 2017, 1:06pm Top

9. Category: Ancient fiction (pre-1900).
Island: Shetland

I went to Shetland for a job interview in July 2009, and stayed half a day either side to explore. This is the harbour in Lerwick, the main town. (I did get offered the job, but because there was nothing for my husband at the time and for other various complicated reasons, I had to turn it down. I'd still move there in a heartbeat, I absolutely loved it. Although in all honesty I'd move to several of the islands I'm showing you in a heartbeat). Shetland is the northernmost of the UK's northern isles, and consists of around 100 islands, of which 16 are inhabited (the total population is just over 22,000, although that is inflated by the oil and gas workers who are based in Shetland and work in the North Sea oilfields).

I used to be an avid reader of 'classics', but that has fallen off somewhat. Of the few that I've re-read recently, I've found it quite hard to read them as an adult with 21st century sensibilities. But I'll keep trying!

Edited: Jul 12, 2:24pm Top

10. Category: Travel.
Island: Inchmahome

Inchmahome is a little island in the middle of the Lake of Menteith, around half an hour's drive from where I live now. We visited it in June 2013 with my in-laws, and then May 2017 again, and discovered on our second trip that the island is covered in bluebells (they had gone over by the time we visited the first time in June). There is a ruined abbey, which was once the hiding place of the infant Mary, Queen of Scots. It's a great day out, the boat to the island only takes about 10 minutes but once on the island you could be in the middle of nowhere.

Most of my travelling these days is within the UK, but I very much enjoy armchair travelling. One of my guiltiest pleasures is a good TV travel show tie-in book.

1. Sue Reid Sexton - Writing on the Road: Campervan Love and the Joy of Solitude. Finished 7.5.18. 3/5.
2. Colin Thubron - Among the Russians. Finished 11.7.18. 4.5/5.
3. Christina Grau - Backpacking my Style. Abandoned 12.7.18. 1.5/5.

Edited: Mar 31, 5:06am Top

11. Category: Religious.
Island: Inchcolm

Inchcolm is one of the few of Scotland's east coast islands, sitting in the Firth of Forth near Edinburgh. Annoyingly, having thought I'd backed up every single digital photo I've ever taken, there's no sign of my Inchcolm photos anywhere (I suspect they're sitting on a memory stick somewhere and I'm going to have to trawl through them). However, I used to (sporadically still do) post on my photo blog, and one of my Inchcolm photos is still there, so here's a link to show you what it is like: https://www.blipfoto.com/entry/2339386

Inchcolm features a very well-preserved abbey, and also some extensive First and Second World War fortifications. We visited it for a day trip in September 2012.

This category mainly includes books relating to Christianity, but not exclusively.

1. Dave Walker - Peculiar Goings On. Finished 27.3.18. 4/5.
2. Margaret Silf - Sacred Spaces: Stations on a Celtic Way. Finished 31.3.18. 3.5/5.

Edited: Sep 8, 3:33pm Top

12. Category: CATs and Challenges
Island: Ailsa Craig

Ailsa Craig is a granite island off the Ayrshire coast, south of Arran, Bute and Cumbrae. It is uninhabited, but there are a few signs of habitation as there used to be quarry workers based there as well as a lighthouse and a small narrow gauge railway line (the quarry is the source of the stones used in the sport of curling, apparently). It is now home to extensive seabird populations, and in June 2011 we took a boat trip round the island for my birthday present. Unfortunately we weren't able to land and explore the abandoned cottages as some kayakers had tied up their kayaks to the (extremely rickety) jetty so the boat we were in didn't have the space to tie up there, which was disappointing, but we still had a great view all the way round of the basalt cliffs and the extensive nesting sites. As I looked up at all the birds wheeling about overhead I remember thinking I could do with a David Attenborough narration to put the icing on the cake of this trip. Well worth a look, it was a fascinating day out (and we saw seals swimming really close to us, as well as all the seabirds).

This category is where I will record my 2018 CATs and challenges. I intend to participate in ColourCAT each month and also the non-fiction challenge over in the 75 group (I don't have a thread there, so other than posting on the challenge threads I'll be writing up my thoughts here). I'll also have a go at RandomCAT on months where I've got something which fits, but that probably won't be every single month.

1. Barbara Demick - Nothing to Envy. January Non-Fiction Challenge (Prizewinners). Finished 3.1.18. 4.5/5.
2. Jasper Fforde - The Eyre Affair. January RandomCAT (Ack I've Been Hit - BBs). Finished 9.1.18. 4/5.
3. Nicole Faires - Food Confidential: The Corporate Takeover of Food Security and the Family Farm, and What to Do About It. January RandomCAT (Ack I've Been Hit - BBs). Finished 14.1.18. 4/5.
4. David Torrance - Nicola Sturgeon: A Political Life. February Non-Fiction Challenge (Biography). Library book, finished 5.2.18. 3.5/5.
5. Darden Asbury Pyron - Liberace: An American Boy. February Non-Fiction Challenge (Biography). Finished 22.2.18. 3.5/5.
6. Tzvetan Todorov, tr. Andrew Brown - The Fear of Barbarians: Beyond the Clash of Civilizations. February ColourCAT (Brown). Finished 27.2.18. 4/5.
7. Linda Herrera - Revolution in the Age of Social Media: The Egyptian Popular Insurrection and the Internet. March RandomCAT (Ripped from the Headlines). Finished 2.3.18. 4/5.
8. Helen Morales - Pilgrimage to Dollywood: a Country Music Road Trip through Tennessee. March Non-Fiction Challenge (Travel). Finished 3.3.18. 4/5.
9. Rebecca West - Black Lamb & Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia. January ColourCAT (Black)/March Non-Fiction Challenge (Travel). Finished 5.3.18. 3/5.
10. Heather Rogers - Green Gone Wrong: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Eco-Capitalism. March ColourCAT (Green)/March RandomCAT (Ripped from the Headlines). Finished 9.3.18. 4.5/5.
11. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions. March RandomCAT (Ripped from the Headlines). Finished 11.3.18. 4/5.
12. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - We Should All Be Feminists. March RandomCAT (Ripped from the Headlines). Finished 17.3.18. 4/5.
13. Various - Where Freedom Starts: Sex Power Violence #MeToo. March RandomCAT (Ripped from the Headlines). Finished 17.3.18. 4/5.
14. Michael Kohn - Dateline Mongolia. March Non-Fiction Challenge (Travel). Finished 24.3.18. 4/5.
15. Dominic Selwood - Spies, Sadists and Sorcerers: The history you weren't taught in school. April Non-Fiction Challenge (History). Finished 1.4.18. 3.5/5.
16. Simon Kitson, tr. Catherine Tihanyi - The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France. April Non-Fiction Challenge (History). Finished 10.4.18. 3.5/5.
17. Wen Stephenson - What We're Fighting for Now is Each Other: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Climate Justice. April ColourCAT (Yellow). Finished 17.4.18. 4/5.
18. Joshua Blu Buhs - Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend. May ColourCAT (Blue). Finished 26.4.18. 4.5/5.
19. Sue Hubbell - A Book of Bees. May RandomCAT (Spring is All Around). Finished 3.5.18. 4.5/5.
20. Rory Stewart - The Marches: Border Walks With My Father. May Non-Fiction Challenge (Borders, Maps, Geography, Geopolitics). Finished 19.5.18. 4.5/5.
21. Samuel Hall Young - Alaska Days with John Muir. June Non-Fiction Challenge (The Great Outdoors). Finished 27.5.18. 3.5/5.
22. Ghillean Prance - The Earth Under Threat: A Christian Perspective. June ColourCAT (Purple). Finished 1.6.18. 4/5.
23. Andrew Eames - Blue River, Black Sea. May ColourCAT (Blue). Finished 8.6.18. 4/5.
24. John Lewis-Stempel - Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field. June Non-Fiction Challenge (The Great Outdoors). Finished 9.6.18. 5/5.
25. Victoria Whitworth - Swimming With Seals. June Non-Fiction Challenge (The Great Outdoors). Finished 19.6.18. 5/5.
26. Barry Finlay - I Guess we Missed the Boat. July RandomCAT (Getting to Know You). Finished 30.6.18. 2/5.
27. L.A. Kauffman - Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism. July ColourCAT (Pink). Finished 2.7.18. 4.5/5.
28. Julie Summers - Jambusters. July RandomCAT (Getting to Know You). Finished end of July 2018. 4/5.
29. Various - Northumberland: Time and Place (no touchstone). August Non-fiction challenge (Short and Sweet: Essays). Finished 2.8.18. 4/5.
30. Matthew Small - The Wall Between Us: Notes from the Holy Land. Summer 2018 real-life book group challenge (Walls). Finished 5.8.18. 4/5.
31. Charles Darwin - The Galapagos Islands. August Non-Fiction Challenge (Short and Sweet: Essays). Finished 9.8.18. 4/5.
32. Anne Bronte - Agnes Grey. August ColourCAT (Grey). Finished 13.8.18. 3.5/5.
33. Ben Goldacre - Bad Science. September ColourCAT (Metallic). Finished 7.9.18. 4.5/5.

Dec 28, 2017, 1:25pm Top

I think that's the thread open for business! Although it might be a bit abandoned for a while as I have to pack for my Harris trip, and while I'm away next week I'll only be sporadically online.

Welcome to 2018 :)

Dec 28, 2017, 3:02pm Top

Your thread and pictures look great. I love that you have taken them all yourself. Have an enjoyable holiday (or should I say second honeymoon?)

Edited: Dec 28, 2017, 3:20pm Top

I love this theme and pics and look forward to seeing your reading choices. I'm especially interested in the Scotland picks.

Dec 28, 2017, 4:28pm Top

I love the idea of your Jar of Fate, and I love how you've organized your categories! Looking forward to following along this year...

Dec 28, 2017, 4:28pm Top

Looking forward to following along with your wonderful theme! Enjoy your Harris trip!

Dec 28, 2017, 4:31pm Top

Gorgeous photos! I've only been to Mull and Iona and I'd love to see more of them and have more time to spend there.

Looking forward to following your reading in 2018!

Dec 28, 2017, 4:37pm Top

Lovely photos. Happy anniversary and have a lovely holiday. I like the idea of the jar of fate, I just know I'd draw something and not fancy it...

Dec 28, 2017, 6:44pm Top

Happy anniversary and enjoy your trip! Have to hide this thread from my mum, otherwise she'll start planning a trip and/or looking at property :D

Dec 28, 2017, 8:22pm Top

Hope you have a great year of reading.

Dec 29, 2017, 11:50am Top

Thanks for sharing those beautiful travel pictures. You have certainly availed yourself of some wonderful travel adventures. I paid a short visit to the Shetland Islands many years ago and was struck by the total absence of trees. As much as I would love to visit again, I don't think I could live without trees.
Have a wonderful year of books!

Edited: Dec 29, 2017, 11:53am Top

>15 Roro8: >16 clue: >17 katiekrug: >18 VivienneR: >19 RidgewayGirl: >20 Helenliz: >21 rabbitprincess: >22 thornton37814: >23 mamzel: Thank you very much! I'm looking forward to next year's reading already, nearly as much as my holiday :)

>21 rabbitprincess: I'm trying to see what the problem is with a trip and/or property, but can't quite see it ;) (confession: I'm always looking at island properties and trying to figure out how we can get from {what our house is worth} to {what island houses cost}. Hence the need for a Lottery win, sadly).

Dec 29, 2017, 11:55am Top

>23 mamzel: A lot of the islands have no (or very few) trees, due to the Atlantic/North Sea winds. I think my husband feels the same, his dream is to live near a wood (well it's to own one really, but living near one will do him). I'm still trying to figure out how we can combine our needs for island and woods.

Dec 29, 2017, 12:16pm Top

>24 Jackie_K: Trip planning is easier to handle than looking at property ;) I think my parents would need a lottery win as well to buy anything!

Dec 29, 2017, 1:28pm Top

Your photos are gorgeous. And I love the Jar of Fate! Looking forward to following your reading adventures.

Dec 29, 2017, 3:32pm Top

>25 Jackie_K: For the most spectacular combo of trees and islands, check out the Pacific Northwest!

Dec 29, 2017, 3:37pm Top

I'm scheduled for a two week ramble through Scotland and Ireland in August. You've got me drooling! Good luck with your challenge. :)

Dec 29, 2017, 4:11pm Top

>28 mamzel: Ooh, now that's very tempting! (although I'd prefer the Canadian side of the border!)

>29 majkia: How fantastic, I hope you enjoy it - I love both Scotland and Ireland and would happily holiday in either (but make sure you bring some good midge repellant!).

Jan 1, 9:55am Top

>30 Jackie_K: I don't blame you one bit!!!

Jan 1, 10:24pm Top

What a gorgeous tour through these Scottish islands! You're making me want to plan an immediate trip. Good luck with the Jar of Fate!

Jan 2, 3:01am Top

Love the Jar of Fate! I may have to borrow that idea. Gorgeous photos. I want to visit every one of those islands.

Jan 2, 1:23pm Top

Wonderful pictures, Jackie. Enjoy your trip!

Jan 4, 7:41pm Top

Beautiful pictures, Jackie. I am looking forward to following along.

Jan 5, 11:38pm Top

Oh, hey... Jar of Fates meets Scottish islands?! Loving this theme! Your pictures for your categories are fabulous. Looking forward to following your reading!

Jan 7, 12:46pm Top

>32 christina_reads: >33 madhatter22: >34 MissWatson: >35 DeltaQueen50: >36 lkernagh: Thank you all for dropping by, and happy new year! I spent the first week of 2018 back on Harris, we got back yesterday evening after a pretty epic drive, so I have spent the day (in between washing and food shopping) trying to read and get up to date with a week's worth of threads here and in the ROOT group (although I've not managed to comment anywhere else yet. Will get there, slowly!). I've read a couple of books this past week to get my challenge off to a flying start, and hopefully later this evening I'll get round to getting them on my threads. Also, because I'm a completer, I need to go back to the 2017 group and add my October, November and December CAT reads to the various wikis.

Jan 7, 3:23pm Top

Good to see you and your jar of fate back here. :) I love the island pictures! The UK has so much to offer, I hope to be back once or twice this year. And I keep my fingers crossed that all the Brexit discussions turn out ok and things won't become overly complicated...

Edited: Jan 9, 1:33pm Top

>38 Chrischi_HH: Thank you! I'm not holding my breath that Brexit won't be anything other than a complete disaster (particularly as I hear that Nigel Farage is meant to be meeting Michel Barnier today. On the radio someone described it as like sending an arsonist to put out a fire, which I think is about right. Sigh).

However, better news is that I finished my first books of the year last week! Here goes:

Category: Bute (Celtic)

Paul Murton's The Hebrides was a 2017 Christmas present from my daughter (she clearly has very good taste! ;) ). It was an ideal read for the start of our Hebridean holiday, so I started it on the first day (30th Dec) and finished it on New Year's Day. I thought it would be more of an in-depth look at the islands than in Murton's Grand Tour TV series, but in fact it appears to be pretty much lifted from the scripts from the series (I haven't seen all the series, but there were a few that I recognised where the book featured the same people I remembered him featuring on the programme). That's not a criticism, as I like the series a lot, it's a very gentle view, and this was a very gentle read! He covers both well-known and smaller more obscure islands, and generally each one has a few pages with some lovely photos, a bit of history and observations about the place. I loved it. 4.5/5.

Ailsa Craig: January non-fiction challenge: Prizewinners

Barbara Demick's Nothing to Envy is a book I've had on the shelves for two or three years, I picked it up as January's non-fiction challenge theme in the 75 group is Prizewinners, and this book won the Samuel Johnson Prize in 2010. A couple of very rainy days confining us to the house rather than exploring Hebridean beaches and landscapes meant that I was able to race through it in a couple of days. It is an excellent expose, based on interviews with North Korean defectors, of life in North Korea in the time of Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il, including covering the famine in the late 1990s. It follows six people in some detail, looking at their lives from childhood through to making the decision to defect and then a bit about how they got on once getting out (mainly to China and South Korea). In the Epilogue the author talks about how Kim Jong-Il appears to be grooming his youngest son to take over, and wondering how that's going to turn out... (I'd be really interested in a companion volume which looks at life in Kim Jong-Un's NK). In many places this is harrowing, but also fascinating looking at how giving all for the regime makes sense in the wider context. I found the various points at which people start questioning what they've always known and thinking about defecting very interesting, as well as the various strategies people used to ensure they weren't detected. We've all seen the scenes of people howling and crying when the leader dies, and it was really interesting when she talked with people about how they behaved and the logic behind it when Kim Il-Sung died and they all had to be seen visiting the statues and displaying public grief.

Harrowing but very readable, and even though time has moved on and Kim Jong-Il is no longer leading the country, I suspect this is still a really important book for understanding today's North Korea. Highly recommended. 4.5/5.

Jan 8, 5:25am Top

>39 Jackie_K:, I have also read Nothing to Envy and found it a very readable account. It certainly reinforced for me how lucky I am to be born in Australia and to have the freedoms and luxuries that I sometimes take for granted.

Jan 8, 5:47am Top

>40 Roro8: Oh yes, absolutely! There but for the grace of God go I, and all that.

It was also interesting as towards the end of last year I read a book about the fall of the Berlin Wall, which included accounts of how difficult many East Germans found it to reintegrate into a western system which didn't acknowledge or see any good in their past reality at all. That seemed to be also the case (magnified!) for the North Koreans who managed to escape.

Jan 8, 12:16pm Top

>39 Jackie_K: That The Hebrides book looks interesting. Neither my local library nor the larger one a couple counties over has it, but I've added it to my wish list.

Jan 8, 12:53pm Top

>42 thornton37814: Lori, it's only very recently been published, by a specialist Scottish publisher (Birlinn) so it may well not have made it further afield yet. It's worth having a look at Birlinn's catalogue, in the last year or so I've read a few really good books published by them.

Jan 8, 2:23pm Top

I was thinking of you as I read Peter May's Blackhouse set on Lewis. Somehow it didn't occur to me that it was so windy and rainy on the islands. I loved the book.

Jan 8, 6:21pm Top

My dad would probably roll his eyes into the next province if I sent him and my mum a link to the Birlinn catalogue... but I might do anyway :D

Jan 8, 6:55pm Top

>43 Jackie_K: I think I added it to the Book Depository wish list.

Jan 9, 6:25am Top

>44 VivienneR: Yes, wind and rain are regular features, as the Hebrides are so exposed. This is the second time we've gone to Harris/Lewis in the first half of January, I did say to my husband next time I want to go in the summer!

>45 rabbitprincess: Haha, that makes me happy!

>46 thornton37814: Hope they come up with the goods!

Jan 9, 12:07pm Top

I love the photographs and descriptions of each of the island! Tastes of locations like this always reminds me of geocaching.

I also loved the North Korea book when I read it. Lots to think on and connect and be grateful for there.

Jan 10, 5:58am Top

>48 pammab: Geocaching is something I've never got into, but I have a few friends who do it and go all over the place. I was put off though by a friend of a friend who came on a walk with us in Yorkshire and was so obsessed about finding the cache that he hardly seemed interested at all in the scenery!

(Ailsa Craig) January RandomCAT: Ack I've Been Hit! (aka book bullets)

My 3rd book for January was The Eyre Affair, the first in the Thursday Next series by Jasper Fforde, which I chose for January's RandomCAT, which is about BBs. This series is one which friends on another online forum I'm on have raved about for years, so when kobo offered this as a cheapie a year or two ago I got it to see what the fuss was about, although I've only now (thanks to the category prompt) got round to it. I thoroughly enjoyed it! I'm not a fiction fan, generally, and this is nothing at all like I would usually read, but it was really fun. Thursday Next is a literary detective, employed by SpecOps in England in 1985, where literature and reality intermingle, as do past and present (as demonstrated by Thursday's time-travelling father), England and Russia are still at war in the Crimea (Thursday is a veteran of this war), Wales is a renegade independent republic, reconstituted dodos are popular pets, and Jane Eyre ends with Jane going to India with St John Rivers, leaving Rochester to mope back at home. Evil criminal mastermind Acheron Hades steals the original manuscript of Martin Chuzzlewit, steals a minor character from it and murders him, causing him to disappear from the original (and so all subsequent copies). Acheron then turns his attention to another original manuscript, with more ambitious plans for ruination. Will Jane Eyre be returned safe to Thornfield before Acheron eliminates her forever, and will her fate forever be in India with St John? Will Thursday and her fellow LiteraTecs catch Acheron and save the day? What is the role of the shadowy Goliath Corporation, who appear to have the government and police force under their control? Will Thursday get her man? And why does Edward Rochester keep appearing in Thursday's real life?

This was Fforde's first novel (there are now 7 in the series, and he has written other series too), and he was compared favourably to the likes of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett. On the strength of this I can see why - from the first chapter it reminded me of reading Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency, with the same fast pace and clever silliness whilst playing around with conventional reality expectations. There's also a lot of very corny literary word play, but none of it felt forced, and I laughed out loud towards the end at a very brief hommage to Lord of the Rings. I'm pretty sure there will be lots of literary references I missed though, but it didn't matter. I've got a couple of others in the series and will look out for the rest, I'd definitely like to read them all eventually.

Interestingly last night I read on Amberfly's thread in the ROOT group that she had given up on the exact same book as she didn't like it at all! I can definitely see that it could be a bit of a Marmite book. I think for me, sometimes what I need is something where you just know from the start to suspend all disbelief and roll with it, which is easier with this sort of book than with fiction that purports to be realistic and accurate - I am still ploughing my way through another fiction book which I started in early December, because I'm a bit wound up with the initial premise and so am just not getting into it. I am going to finish it (it's a RL book group book that I didn't finish the first time round), but already know it's not a keeper.

Anyway - 4 stars for The Eyre Affair!

Jan 10, 10:23am Top

>39 Jackie_K: - Nothing to Envy was such an eye-opener for me when I read it a few years ago. It was especially interesting to see how hard it was to transition to a new life in Korea for those who did escape.

Jan 10, 2:31pm Top

>49 Jackie_K: I enjoyed all of Thursday's adventures. Fluff? Sure, why not?

Jan 10, 2:38pm Top

I've really liked all the Fforde that I have read.

Jan 10, 2:59pm Top

>49 Jackie_K: Glad you enjoyed it. I tried one as I enjoy both Pratchett & Adams. I started with book 5 and I'm afraid it just didn't work for me, far too much I didn't understand. Moral of the story, always read in series order....

Jan 10, 4:41pm Top

>50 LittleTaiko: yes, I found that interesting too - it's like they'd reached the destination they'd been dreaming of for years, and then what?

>51 mamzel: Fluff yes, but honestly, after reading a book about North Korea it was just what I needed!

>52 hailelib: I'll definitely be trying some more some time!

>53 Helenliz: Ooh, I couldn't do that (read out of series order) - I'm twitching just thinking about it! :)

Jan 10, 5:40pm Top

>54 Jackie_K: It's amazing how many books are out just now. I just had a student return Escape From Camp 14. I chatted with him about how they just had their big breakthrough negotiating to get athletes in the Olympics and the student behind him asked for the book. (I love when that happens!)

Edited: Jan 11, 12:56pm Top

Category: Coll (Contemporary fiction 1969-present)

Having written above only yesterday that I was going to finish the book I've been reading since early December, today I've officially decided to finally abandon it. I originally started it for last year's December CATWoman, so have also posted this on my 2017 thread and added it to the CATWoman wiki, but given that I've abandoned it in January I'm also counting it as my first in my contemporary fiction category for 2018.

I've given it 3 stars anyway, as the writing is such that had I finished it I'm very very sure I would have given it 3 stars, but this is my second attempt at this book and I realised that the reason I have now stalled twice with it is that I'm just not that invested in any of the characters. For what it's worth, it was Kim Edwards' The Memory Keeper's Daughter, the basic premise of which is that in the 1960s a rural doctor delivers his wife's twins during a storm, they clearly didn't know till the birth that they were having twins. The first child, a boy, is healthy, but the second is born and it is clear that she has Downs Syndrome. The doctor makes the decision to tell his wife that the girl died at birth, and gives her to the nurse who assisted at the delivery to take her to a residential home. The nurse does so, but is so appalled at the home that she leaves with the baby and starts a new life with her. That's pretty much where I stopped at the book both times - it follows the various characters, doctor and his wife (who is suffering with undiagnosed postnatal depression, and never stops grieving her 'dead' daughter), nurse, and latterly the children as they grow older. The premise of the book is fine (ish - I was annoyed with the doctor's decision so found it hard to go along with after that), the writing is well-done and not at all mawkish, but it just didn't make me want to find out what was going to happen. Now that's happened twice, I feel better about abandoning it, it's clearly just not the book for me. Unlike most books that I abandon, though, I think this is more a case of 'me, not the book' (most of the others it's definitely the other way round!). Onto the Barter Books pile it goes. 3/5.

Jan 11, 5:45pm Top

>49 Jackie_K: Wonderful review of The Eyre Affair! I really enjoy Fforde's work. Did you catch that Landen Park-Laine was a Monopoly joke? Being an American, I had no idea until I was at an author event where Fforde himself explained it! Now it delights me every time. :)

Jan 12, 2:06pm Top

>57 christina_reads: Yes I did spot that, it made me laugh - after the character Jack Schitt I figured I was going to have to imagine saying most names out loud to make sure I got the play on words in the names. I'm sure I missed some, but LP-L was one I did get!

Jan 12, 7:30pm Top

>49 Jackie_K: - The Eyre Affair was my first exposure to Jasper Fforde. Such a fun story!

Jan 13, 7:14am Top

>59 lkernagh: Yes, mine too. I'm really pleased I got round to it at last!

Jan 13, 8:46am Top

I saw this book on Wordery and for some reason thought of you! https://wordery.com/the-scottish-bothy-bible-geoff-allan-9781910636107

Jan 13, 9:33am Top

>61 rabbitprincess: thank you rp! I have seen that book in the shops (and bought my husband a related book (this one: https://wordery.com/wild-guide-scotland-kimberley-grant-9781910636121 )), but in all honesty most bothies are so far off the beaten track that it is only the hard-core hikers/mountaineers who end up in them. I'm too fair-weather for that!

Edited: Jan 13, 12:39pm Top

>62 Jackie_K: I'm with you on that one! Also I don't imagine that very many of the bothies would have indoor plumbing :-/

Edited: Jan 14, 2:54pm Top

>63 rabbitprincess: For the odd overnight that doesn't bother me so much, it's the effort involved in getting there in the first place that would make me miserable!

Category: Lewis (Non-fiction - general) / Ailsa Craig (January RandomCAT - Ack I've Been Hit! aka BBs)

This is the blurb from amazon about Nicole Faires' "Food Confidential: The Corporate Takeover of Food Security and the Family Farm, and What to Do About It":

Fight the power and protect your family from the corporate interests that control our food chain.

When author and homesteader Nicole Faires decided to retrofit an old school bus and tour America’s small farms with her husband and two small children, she expected to learn a lot, be inspired, and have some fun. But what she found disturbed her. Mismanaged small farms; clueless urbanites setting up shop to “get back to the land”; a mindless devotion to organic farming; and, ultimately, the discovery of just how dependent we are on corporations for our food.

She began to understand how dangerous and fragile our food system really is. Climate change. Farmers retiring or going out of business. Corporations controlling our food distribution system while being protected from the consequences when they endanger our health. Skyrocketing food prices. Outsourced food production. With this admittedly bleak assessment of the current state of affairs, Nicole and her family decided to abandon the bus trip and instead start a farm. “I couldn’t tell people the solutions to our food crisis while I was traipsing around America taking photos. I had to live it,” Nicole says. And so the seeds for Food Confidential were sown.

Our basic right to healthy food is at risk.

What can we do? Written in an astute, engaging style, armed with examples from her own homesteading lifestyle, small farmer Nicole Faires’s Food Confidential gives you the tools to fight the intangible battles, as well as the practical ones.

I enjoyed reading this. I think I would have liked a bit more detail/evidence for some of her scientific assertions, but generally this accords with my thoughts, which is about the importance of buying fresh and local, growing where you can, and resisting the growing corporatisation of our food networks. It had practical suggestions too, and I'm sure I'll come back to this, as well as look out for her other books. 4/5.

Edited: Jun 21, 2:12pm Top

Category: Lewis (Non-fiction: general)

This is really a booklet rather than a book, and took me less than half an hour to read, but it is jam packed full of marvels. Deb Wilenski and Caroline Wendling's Fantastical Guides for the Wildly Curious: Ways into Hinchingbrooke Country Park (touchstone should appear eventually - they seem to take ages with books where I'm the only person who has it listed) was raved about in one of my favourite books of the last few years, Robert MacFarlane's Landmarks, which is why I got it, and what a gem it is! (and MacFarlane himself provides the foreward). The two authors spent a day a week for a term (Jan -April) with a 1st year primary class in Cambridgeshire (so we're talking children aged 4 and 5), the morning was spent with them exploring the local country park, and then the afternoon was spent in the classroom doing further activities relating to what they had explored in the morning. It looks at the children's ways of seeing and exploring and talking about the landscape, and is just magical. Towards the end of the project they made an 'alternative map' of the park, featuring all the drawings the children had done of the places they had explored. Trees became doors to other worlds, one boy was amazing at picturing underground waterways, other children made stories about the other worlds that could be there - it was really stunning. I think the fact that my A is the same age made it even more magical for me, I could absolutely imagine her throwing herself into an activity like this, and the snippets of children's dialogue sounded exactly like the kind of random conversations and flights of fancy she goes on with her friends. I've never read anything quite like it, but it was gorgeous. 4.5/5.

Jan 27, 3:30pm Top

>65 Jackie_K: wow! I had no idea. I used to work near that park, I'd go there to run in summer. Will certainly be on the look out for that.

Jan 27, 3:54pm Top

>64 Jackie_K: Food Confidential is an interesting idea for a book. I think your criticism that it lacks evidence is enough to turn me off the hunt right now, but I'll keep my eye open for it if it jumps into my path. I've started gardening and it's real work, and quite impressive that we're able to do something as complicated as feed a large city every day.

Jan 27, 5:18pm Top

>66 Helenliz: It's fairly cheap on amazon marketplace (sold by a local supplier, I think) - it was a real gem. I'm not familiar with the park, but am originally from Northamptonshire (East Midlands/East Anglia border I guess) so not a million miles away. Parts of Cambridgeshire really are beautiful - I had a wander round Wicken Fen a few years back and it was lovely.

>67 pammab: It's not so much that it lacks evidence, so much as the basis for her assertions weren't always immediately obvious to me. I'm used to reading academic literature, so having texts littered with references a) doesn't bother me, and b) is what I expect! It was mainly the opening chapter where it particularly bothered me (where she was talking about the science of soil and seeds and climate change, that sort of thing), and it wasn't that she didn't present evidence, it was more that I didn't know enough about the subject to know whether what she was saying was plausible or not. (I don't know if that makes sense or not! TL;DR: it was probably me rather than the book!) The rest of the book was fine, as it was outlining who's who in the US administrations, conflicts of interest between politicians and big business, and the impact of various laws and regulations on traditional farming, and I found it easier to accept as was (probably because it confirmed my own biases). She's also written books (presumably more practical) about homesteading, and I'd be really keen to read those, because she's basically living my dream.

Jan 30, 4:40pm Top

Category: Coll (contemporary fiction 1969-present)

This feels like a bit of a cheat, but bear with me! I had to abandon this book, Brian Anderson's It Came From the Diaper Pail, because despite taking up 25MB of space on my kobo, apart from the front cover page every other page was blank, presumably due to some technical glitch. I have included it here as it was one of the books in my nearly 400 total TBRs, and now it isn't, but I haven't put it in my LT catalogue as I have no way of rating it as I haven't got anything at all to go on other than 128 blank pages! Luckily it was a freebie from bookbub last year (I'm not sure I'd have bought it in any case, generally I find cartoons don't work so well on ereaders, but thought as it was free I'd give it a go), so at least I've not lost anything.

Not doing too well on the contemporary fiction front so far - both this month have been abandoned! I've picked another book from the Jar which I will stick with, hopefully this will be 3rd time lucky!

Feb 1, 12:49pm Top

Category: Harris (Central & Eastern Europe/former Soviet Union)

This book is the culmination of my Patrick Leigh Fermor travel kick (I read PLF's three volume travelogue at the end of last year). Nick Hunt's Walking the Woods and the Water retraces PLF's footsteps through his epic gap year from Holland to Istanbul (Constantinople at the time) eight decades later, tracing the similarities and differences in the places with the passing of time and history. This book does quote PLF extensively, but whilst a respectful homage it is also its own journey, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was particularly interested in the eastern European bit of the journey (and within that particularly the Romanian bit, as that is the country I know best), and I wasn't disappointed. He started the journey just after PLF's death in 2011, but I can't help thinking that PLF would have really enjoyed reading this account. 4.5/5.

Feb 3, 6:08pm Top

I see the Jar of Fate continues to produce some interesting reads for you!

Feb 5, 4:58pm Top

Hi Jackie, too bad about the e-book but I suspect we all know "what" came from the diaper pail! Can't wait to see what your Jar of Fate has in store for you next!

Feb 6, 11:50am Top

>71 lkernagh: I've been very lucky so far! Not too many that have made my heart sink when I've pulled them out!
>72 DeltaQueen50: That's very true!

Not a Jar of Fate book, but one from the library now:

Category: Ailsa Craig (CATs/Challenges)

Nicola Sturgeon: A Political Life is the first edition of a biography of our currently serving First Minister, from my current go-to Scottish publisher of choice, Birlinn. This edition takes us up to just before the UK election in May 2015, where the SNP almost swept the board in Scotland, taking 56 of the 59 seats available (presumably the next edition, now published, covers at least that, and maybe also the 2016 Scottish elections where the SNP remain the largest party, and thus Nicola Sturgeon is still First Minister, but just lost their overall majority. It may also cover the Brexit referendum, I'm not sure). The book covers her early political awakening (she joined the SNP as a 16 year old), her initial activism and subsequent rise through the party including being the youngest candidate for the Westminster elections of 1992, when she was just 21, through to eventually being elected as a list MSP in the first Scottish parliament in 1999 and rising up the ranks to become Deputy Leader to Alex Salmond in 2004. Following the SNP's narrow (1 seat) victory as the largest party in the Scottish elections in 2007 she became Deputy First Minister as well as Cabinet Secretary for Health, a position that was strengthened in the SNP's landslide victory in the 2011 Scottish elections and the subsequent Independence Referendum (Indyref) campaign leading up to the referendum in 2014 which was narrowly lost. After that referendum loss Salmond stepped down and Nicola Sturgeon became First Minister, a position she still occupies.

The book, written by a Scottish journalist, draws mainly on already published interviews and media appearances, but he did also speak to a number of her associates. At times it felt a bit nit-picking, as he highlights certain inconsistencies in things that she says, which honestly reminded me of the kind of 'spot the difference' pictures you get in kids books - they certainly weren't, as far as I could tell, particularly earth-shattering or inconsistent. It also, as the author himself asserts in the introduction, is necessarily an incomplete picture, as a full assessment of her political career can't really be made whilst she's still in the middle of it. For me though the main disappointment was that Indyref and the whole campaign leading up to it was only one chapter - I do think that it is so significant, not only in Scotland's contemporary political history and landscape but also in Nicola Sturgeon's career as a politician, that there could have been an awful lot more there. No doubt those books will follow in the fullness of time.

As a person and politician, I can't say that this book particularly changed my view of Nicola Sturgeon - I think that she is a very admirable person, a phenomenally hard worker who really tries to master her brief, a committed social democrat, a voracious reader, a very skilled Tweeter (she does use Twitter herself, I have followed her for a number of years and she really knows how to use it well. Let's just leave it at that), and a very caring and competent politician. I do think (and this book confirmed that, for me) that economics is her weakest area, but even there I think that compared to many of her contemporaries she is considerably more of a safe pair of hands than many.

So, I think this book was a good read for a first attempt at assessing her impact on Scottish politics, but I would expect subsequent biographies in the fullness of time to have considerably more depth. 3.5/5.

Coincidentally, when I went to the library on Saturday to renew this book and to get out my February book (one of my New Year's Resolutions is to get a book a month out of the library), I decided as I had over-run the end of the month to just get a very short book, and the one I picked up was Suffrage in Stirling: The Struggle for Women's Vote. I thought it was a good complement to the book I was just about to finish, about a woman political leader, but hadn't realised that this week (today in fact) marks the 100th anniversary since some women were first allowed the vote in the UK (although it was to be another 10 years before we had universal suffrage). I'm going to leave the final word though to Nicola Sturgeon, who today on her facebook page posted a picture of the Scottish Government offices with this caption:

This was once the site of Calton Jail where many Suffragettes were imprisoned. Today, it is the seat of the Scottish Government and the Suffragette flag is flying high.

Thank you to all the women who fought for our right to vote - and enabled a woman to occupy the office of First Minister.

Feb 7, 5:28am Top

>73 Jackie_K: That's a timely reminder not to take out rights for granted.

Feb 7, 7:59am Top

>74 MissWatson: Yes indeed - I am very thankful that I live now and not 100 years ago (not that things are perfect now, but in comparison we do have a lot to be grateful for).

Feb 18, 9:42am Top

Category: Lewis (non-fiction, general)

Apologies for the wonky photo - I couldn't find an image of this book online so had to take my own photo, but I can't figure out how to make photos in the member gallery portrait instead of landscape.

Anyway, this is my library book read for February, a nice short one, but very informative. It's actually based on the author's final year dissertation (she did a degree in sociology and history at Glasgow University), and is very impressive for an undergraduate dissertation. As most histories of the suffrage movement in the UK are very Manchester or London-focused, this was really informative as it looked at what was happening locally. I was interested to learn that a lot of male politicians in Stirling in the late 19th/early 20th century (at both national and local levels) were supportive of women's suffrage, to greater or lesser degrees, including passing official resolutions of support; I wonder if our local councillors would be so forthright about equivalent controversial issues these days. The women who were involved in the campaign for women's suffrage were primarily middle and upper class women, interestingly fairly evenly divided between Liberal and Conservative party supporters. They also had gained a lot of experience in organising and campaigning through the growing women's and philanthropic movements.

A very interesting and informative 45 pages, and exactly what the local library should be providing. 4/5.

Edited: Feb 21, 6:19pm Top

As a former SNP-member, I'm putting the Sturgeon-book on my wishlist!

ETA: Former because I left Scotland for the US, not necessarily because I disagree with them... :)

Feb 22, 5:33am Top

>77 -Eva-: Ah, I hadn't realised you used to live here! Where did you live? Make sure you go for the most up to date version of the book - this library book was the first edition, so doesn't include the 2015 Westminster or 2016 Holyrood elections, or the Brexit referendum.

Edited: Feb 22, 6:15am Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (February Non-Fiction Challenge: Biography)

Darden Asbury Pyron's Liberace: An American Boy is a book I got from the University of Chicago Press free ebook programme a few years ago, when I was getting most of them regardless of subject (I suspect if it had appeared more recently I would have passed on it). I picked it up for this month's Non-Fiction Challenge in the 75ers group (this month's theme is Biography). I have to say, for my complete lack of interest in the subject, this was a surprisingly interesting book, although at 590 pages it was really really long and personally I think could have been a bit shorter without losing any of its effect. Liberace was undoubtedly a very strange and sad as well as talented character, and I think where this book is strongest, in the second half, is where the author really works hard to place Liberace, and the whole phenomenon of his personality and performing persona, within the wider 20th century American context. Clearly that includes things like life for gay men pre- and post-Stonewall, and the advent of AIDS (the illness which Liberace died of), but so much more than that - the post-war boom in syndicated TV shows for example. His over-the-top and flamboyant costumes and props as well as his opulent homes make a lot more sense when you learn of his poor upbringing, and in the context of his conflicted early family life his political and religious conservatism, not to mention the extraordinary lengths he went to to ensure that his homosexuality did not become public knowledge, did have a sort of logic. Overall then this was a very interesting book, and I feel I learnt as much about 20th century America as I did about Liberace. 3.5/5 (although really it's more like 3.75).

Feb 22, 1:17pm Top

I'm watching the series Mozart in the Jungle. Rodrigo (a conductor from Brazil) lost his connection with the ghost of Mozart and when he tried to get him back got Liberace instead. I enjoy this series with the little snippets of classical music and a backstage view of symphonic life.

Feb 22, 1:35pm Top

>78 Jackie_K:
Cowgate in Edinburgh. Had a friend who went for a gap year in South America so I got to borrow his flat. He was (is?) quite wealthy, so no charge to me! Couldn't turn that down. :)
Looks like there's a 2016 edition, so I'll list that one.

Feb 22, 2:00pm Top

>81 -Eva-: Oh wow, you can't get much more central than that, and rent-free? Amazing! What a great opportunity.

Feb 22, 2:39pm Top

>80 mamzel: That's not a series I've heard of, but I love the set up! (actually Liberace was a talented concert pianist who'd performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra by the time he was 20. His career could have gone down the entirely classical route, if he'd wanted it to).

Feb 22, 4:37pm Top

>82 Jackie_K:
Oh yeah, it was very cushy. :)

Feb 23, 1:02pm Top

MitJ is in its fourth season and can be seen on Amazon. You will learn more about oboes than you ever thought you could. Bernadette Peters plays the director of the symphony. Great binge watching!

Feb 27, 3:51pm Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (February ColourCAT: Brown)

Tzvetan Todorov's The Fear of Barbarians: Beyond the Clash of Civilizations (translated from the French by Andrew Brown) was another University of Chicago Press free ebook, it was offered last year just after the Trump administration's initial executive order banning citizens from certain Muslim countries from entering the US. The book was actually written mostly in the mid 2000s and published in 2010, but this was a timely re-release.

This is an academic book, and not only that but an academic philosophy book, and philosophy is the academic discipline which I think I find usually most baffling of all. However, I managed to follow this and largely agree with where he was coming from. He looks at definitions of barbarian and civilisation, and looks at different events (certain French legislation, plus the murders of an anti-Islamic Dutch film-maker, the controversy over the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammed printed in a Danish newspaper, and Pope Benedict's speech which ended up inflaming Islamic sensibilities, as well as also touching on American responses to 9/11) and considers how such actions relate to the projects of barbarity and civilisation. He also considers the issue of European identity and the European Union. An afterword written in 2010, after the publication of the CIA manual on torture, considers both that and President Obama's ongoing military engagement in Afghanistan (and is critical of both).

The translation was very good, it didn't read at all clunkily like some translations can. I'm just very pleased that I could (more or less) follow the discussion. 4/5.

(now I really do need something a bit lighter!)

Mar 2, 2:01pm Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (March RandomCAT: Ripped from the Headlines)

Linda Herrera's Revolution in the Age of Social Media: The Egyptian Popular Insurrection and the Internet was a very interesting look at the lead-up to the revolution in January 2011 which eventually toppled President Mubarak, and the aftermath of the disappointing next few years, and the role that the internet and so-called cyberdissidents played. It also looks at how both foreign (particularly the US State Dept) and in-country actors influenced what was going on and how the internet was used to mobilise popular dissent. Although this is relating to events of several years ago, with the focus now on 'fake news' and alleged Russian interference in elections and referenda in other countries, the discussion is just as relevant now. 4/5.

Edited: Mar 3, 2:19pm Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (March Non-Fiction Challenge: Travel)

Helen Morales' Pilgrimage to Dollywood: a Country Music Road Trip through Tennessee is yet another former University of Chicago Press free monthly ebook. Morales is an English academic, transposed to a university in California, who also happens to be a Dolly Parton fan. She decides to undertake this 'pilgrimage' in order both to understand the Dolly phenomenon better, and also to get more of a sense of America itself and her place in it (as she was still feeling quite uprooted and an outsider at this point). Due to floods the year she intended to do it, she wasn't able to combine the Dolly Parade with the rest of the pilgrimage, so the book starts with her seeing the Dolly Parade (featuring the lady herself) in March, and then returning a couple of months later with her partner and 9 year old daughter to do the rest of the journey, starting at Graceland in Memphis, taking in Loretta Lynn's museum, Nashville (including the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and the Parthenon, which she was particularly taken with), and then on to places more closely associated with Dolly Parton herself, culminating with a day at the Dollywood theme park. I'm not a country music fan at all, although I don't mind a bit of Dolly every so often, but that didn't matter as I found this an entertaining look at the country music phenomenon (specifically the country music memorabilia/experience aspect), and I enjoyed her reflections more generally. Not a particularly life-changing book for me, but it was an enjoyable way to spend a few hours. 4/5.

Mar 5, 4:32pm Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (January ColourCAT (Black) and March Non-Fiction Challenge (Travel))

(apologies for the essay - I need to get this out of my system!) With a massive sense of achievement, I have finally finished the epic chunkster that is Rebecca West's Black Lamb & Grey Falcon: A Journey Through Yugoslavia (around 1200 pages in the print version - thank goodness I was reading an ebook copy, my poor wrists would have given out a long time ago otherwise!). The book is based on a 6 week trip that she took with her husband in 1937; it took me the best part of 37 hours to read, over 3 months (this was meant to be my January ColourCAT read). I am now mentally exhausted!

I found this a really frustrating, and at times infuriating book. She does what I normally really like in a travel book, which is drop in bits of history relating to the particular place being visited, but whereas someone like Patrick Leigh Fermor got the balance really well, and I never lost my sense of the place he was visiting at the time and the history enhanced the travelogue, here the travel aspect is often utterly swamped by the history. I felt throughout my read that what this book really really needed was a good (and ruthless!) editor, because it was just Way Too Long. Although in parts her descriptive writing of the places they visit is really beautiful (I really really want to visit the Dalmatian islands, Macedonia and Montenegro now), in other parts I had no sense whatsoever of what the place was like, because of the volumes of history attached to that place. That is especially true of Sarajevo (vast reams on the decades leading up to the assassination of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, and what happened to every little bit player afterwards) and Belgrade (pretty much a centuries-long overview of the Serbian monarchy), where there was almost no description of the place, but reams and reams about the history. When I was about half way through it suddenly occurred to me that if the book had been subtitled "A Journey Through Yugoslavia and its History" it would have bothered me much less, because I would have had more idea what to expect before I started, and after that I was less wound up by it (although I still think a good chunk of it could have been edited out).

Another really frustrating thing about it was that the author, for all her support of the suffragettes (she was a supporter of Emmeline, though not Christabel, Pankhurst) there was an awful lot of gender essentialism/weaker sex stuff which I got a bit cross with, along with some most definite ethnic and national prejudices (she was not a fan of the Turks or the Germans), and a handful of instances of 'of its time' use of racist language (specifically the n-word). There was also a lot of unnecessary speculation about individual people they came across - for example during a church service she would describe one particular person in the congregation and speculate about the weight of history that was weighing down on this random woman's thoughts and personality, even though they didn't exchange so much as a glance, and she was just as likely spending half of the service thinking about what to make for dinner. There were huge bits of that sort of thing that just needed some ruthless editing.

Throughout nearly all of the journey they were accompanied by a man called Constantine (a pseudonym), a well-educated poet and Jewish Serb nationalist who was now employed by the Yugoslav authorities. Constantine was such an over-bearing presence that I found him really quite stifling at times, as he just knew everything about everything, although at other times he was utterly charming. About a third of the way through the book, the party is joined by Constantine's awful German wife Gerda, who as well as being openly anti-Slav and anti-Semitic (both of which caused obvious tensions with her husband) was also strongly dismissive of everything and everyone she met, including the author and her husband, to the point of shocking rudeness, and if Constantine's presence had been stifling at times, Gerda's was just constantly toxic and oppressive. After what in reality was 2 weeks, but reading felt like 2 years, she fell out with everyone sufficiently to get back on a train to Belgrade in a huff, and I think my sigh of relief was barely less heartfelt than the author's.

The book ends with a (long, obviously) Epilogue which starts off with their last day in Yugoslavia before heading back to Budapest, but then quickly moves on to sum up all the history again, and brings it up to date (the book was published in 1941, so obviously the menace that was sometimes hinted at during the 1937 trip was fully out in the open by then). I don't know what it is about Epilogues, but I felt similarly about this one to the one in War and Peace, which I similarly skimmed. It was an exhausting end to an exhausting book.

So why did I persevere with it? Because, despite all my annoyance and frustration with it, and my longing for large chunks of it to be cut out, every so often she would drop in a turn of phrase so perfect that it was just sublime. In particular, I absolutely loved her take on Orthodox Christianity (as opposed to Protestantism and Catholicism), and felt that she had really captured the essence of Orthodoxy in her description of its basic premise and theology. Some of her descriptions of places, when they weren't swamped with the weight of history, were beautifully evocative, and I felt like I was there. There was enough of that (plus my bloody-mindedness that I wasn't going to let it defeat me!) to keep me going, and at the end I am really glad I read it. But I'm also really glad I finished it! 3/5.

Mar 5, 5:38pm Top

HURRAY!!! You finished!! Congrats!

Mar 6, 1:21am Top

>89 Jackie_K: I'm not surprised you needed a long review to get that off your chest. Well done on finishing, despite its faults.

Mar 6, 12:09pm Top

Wow! That was real dedication!

Mar 6, 3:09pm Top

You deserve a pat on the back - not only for the excellent review - but just for finishing the book! Well done!

Mar 9, 4:20pm Top

>90 rabbitprincess: >91 Helenliz: >92 mamzel: >93 VivienneR: Thank you all! I had a real sense of achievement at the end!

Category: Ailsa Craig (March ColourCAT: Green/March RandomCAT: Ripped from the Headlines)

Heather Rogers' Green Gone Wrong: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Eco-Capitalism was a fantastically researched and at times very depressing look at the state of environmentalism today. She looks at issues like organic farming, eco-travel, eco-housing, and carbon offsetting, and how these are undermined by the realities of capitalist markets and regulation. At the end she looks at potential solutions, although all will rely on much wider agreement that a) there's a problem and b) we can work together to do something about it, something I'm not going to hold my breath about, sadly. She looked at projects in the USA, Paraguay, India, Borneo, UK and Germany amongst others, so it was definitely a global overview. A fantastic, but very sobering read. 4.5/5.

Mar 11, 5:57am Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (March RandomCAT: Ripped from the Headlines)

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Dear Ijeawele, or a Feminist Manifesto in Fifteen Suggestions is a short read (it took me half an hour), and is in the form of an extended letter to a friend who had just had a baby girl and had asked the author for suggestions on how to raise her as a feminist (actually it's just as relevant for parents of baby boys too). There's nothing new here to anyone who follows debates on feminism, but it was good to have the suggestions all in one place. I particularly liked her take on equal parenting - not equal time or tasks, necessarily, because everybody's circumstances are different, but she talked about knowing it was equal from the absence of resentment. 4/5.

Mar 12, 1:01pm Top

Category: Coll (Contemporary fiction: 1969-present)

Another cheat, really, but I decided that this book, Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible, is for the Barter Books pile. I started it last year and abandoned it after several chapters because I really wasn't in the mood for horrible white colonial Christian men making everybody miserable, but always thought I'd try again when I felt up to it. Well, I've decided that I'm not going to be up to it for the foreseeable future, and I'd be better off trying to get some credit for books that I'd actually enjoy reading. If I change my mind there's always the library. Meantime, my reading pile just got a bit smaller, and I don't have it staring at me making me feel bad! :D

It's not at all that this is badly written (it's absolutely not - Kingsolver is a great author and I loved the other book of hers that I read, years ago - Pigs in Heaven). It's just that all the characters in this book are so unsympathetic and their lives seem to be such non-stop misery, and I honestly can't face it or imagine that I'd ever be in the mood for it. I'm giving it 3 stars anyway, as the writing is really good (and I do feel guilty abandoning it!).

So far, all 3 books in this category have been abandoned, but I do have one on the go at the moment that I will finish!

Mar 12, 1:11pm Top

>96 Jackie_K: I found the beginning slow, too, and the ending didn't work for me either but the middle part I loved. I enjoyed the experience through the girls' eyes. I will never forget how the villagers sneaked eggs into the family's coop so they wouldn't starve.

Mar 12, 2:23pm Top

>97 mamzel: I know a lot of people think it's a fantastic novel, and as I say even the small bit I read was beautifully written. I think I'm just not in a place right now where I can read unremitting bleakness, which is what it felt like!

Edited: Mar 17, 5:05am Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (March RandomCAT: Ripped from the Headlines)

Another short one (and confession: I bypassed the Jar of Fate and just picked this because I knew it was short! Although I did want to read it anyway). Having recently finished Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Dear Ijeawele, I pretty much knew what to expect with We Should All Be Feminists. This is based on her TED talk, and like Dear Ijeawele there probably isn't anything new for people who are following, viewing and participating in current debates with a feminist lens, but it's good to have as a concise overview. 4/5.

Edited: Mar 17, 2:21pm Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (March RandomCAT: Ripped from the Headlines)

Where Freedom Starts: Sex Power Violence #MeToo is the latest free report from Verso that I picked up last month, and wanted to read while it was still current. As with most other Verso reports, it is an anthology of writing (largely previously published) about the issue at hand, in this case the #MeToo 'moment'. I really liked this one, particularly the fact that it overwhelmingly dealt with the experience and perspectives of women of colour, whose voices have often been overlooked - even the actual slogan itself was coined by a black woman, Tarana Burke (who is featured in this anthology) in 2006 so that women of colour could report and organise in response to the gender-based violence and harassment they face, yet it was only when it was taken up by a white actress that it gained wider attention. A couple of the pieces made me a bit uncomfortable (rightly so, given the subject matter), but all were excellent. 4/5.

Annoyingly, I can't add this book to my catalogue even though it does seem to have an LT page (as the touchstone goes to the right page) - when I click on 'add to your books' it tells me that it can't be found. Gah.

Mar 21, 11:00pm Top

Stopping by to get caught up and in awe at your great reading since my last stop by.

Edited: Mar 24, 10:35am Top

>101 lkernagh: Thank you! I've been having a good reading month! (even though two of this month's were really short and one was abandoned, I still think I've done well!)

Category: Ailsa Craig (March Non-Fiction Challenge: Travel)

I received Michael Kohn's Dateline Mongolia from the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme - thank you to the author and publisher.

I knew very little about Mongolia, but love good travel writing, and this turned out to be a great introduction to a fascinating country. The author got a job as a reporter/editor with an English language newspaper in the Mongolian capital in the late 1990s, and this is his account of the three years he spent there. He coincided with a lot of pretty momentous political and religious transitions, and as well as writing about that he also covers how Mongolia was starting to negotiate the transition from Communist single-party rule to a fledgling democracy and multi-party state. He didn't just stay in the capital, but also travelled round the country, so we see amazing festivals, join a hunt with eagles, and catch a fascinating glimpse of nomad and herding life. Colourful characters add to the mix, and overall I thoroughly enjoyed this 'immersed expat' take on Mongolia. This 2nd edition includes an Epilogue which details some of the changes in the country after the author left in 2000 (largely increased economic prosperity and its impact on the more traditional ways of life) which was interesting.

I would have given this 4.5 stars rather than 4, but there were quite a lot of missing words (usually things like 'in' or 'with') which got increasingly annoying, as well as a few typos which really should have been spotted, especially as this is a 2nd edition. However, that is a pretty minor quibble, and I would definitely recommend this book, I really enjoyed reading it. 4/5.

Mar 24, 10:17am Top

Yay, I'm glad that ER book worked out for you! :)

Mar 27, 2:31pm Top

>103 rabbitprincess: I'm really pleased with it - sometimes ERs can be turkeys, but I really enjoyed this one!

Category: Inchcolm (Religious)

Another shameless bypassing of the Jar of Fate to fit another short book in to increase my March numbers (in my defence, it's been a very acquisitive month. Although I guess that's not a very impressive defence! But I heard today I'd won another ER book, so needed to read something before it arrives so that Mt TBR doesn't go over 400). Peculiar Goings On is a book by my lovely friend Dave Walker, it has been great to see him take the plunge into freelance cartooning over the past several years and make a real success of it. Dave was (maybe still is, I'm not sure) the cartoonist for the Church Times, and a big bulk of his cartoons are about church life (with a specific Church of England slant), gently highlighting the mildly ridiculous and silly aspects of church culture. This is his 3rd or 4th book of church cartoons (he has more recently diversified into cartoons about cycling, which are also doing really well).

I loved this, it is so very reflective of his gentle and wry sense of humour, which is never unkind but always perceptive. I mean this as a massive compliment, but I think this is an ideal book for the downstairs loo of the churchgoer of a certain age. 4/5.

Mar 30, 8:16am Top

Category: Coll (Contemporary fiction: 1969-present)

March's library book was a rare (for me) foray into fiction - a selection of short stories based in Edinburgh, written in aid of the OneCity Trust. One City features stories by Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin and Irvine Welsh, and also an introduction by JK Rowling, so we are talking Scottish literary royalty here. The stories were all very different, but I enjoyed them all, even Irvine Welsh's one, which I approached with some trepidation as I'm such a literary wimp - I don't do fictional gore at all, but the gore in this one was just so very funny. It's quite an old book (the author blurb describes Alexander McCall Smith as the author of six No 1 Ladies Detective Agency books, for example, and it also says the fourth Harry Potter film will be released soon) but the stories didn't feel dated at all. 4/5.

I'm not deliberately only getting Scottish books out for my library challenge (a book a month all year), it's just how it's worked out, and my April book (which I've already checked out) is also Scottish (photography of Glasgow). Maybe I'll go a bit further afield in the summer...

Mar 30, 9:05am Top

Oooooo looking forward to hearing about the photography of Glasgow book! We're making a brief return visit there on our trip in September :)

Mar 30, 10:03am Top

>106 rabbitprincess: Oh - don't get too excited, it's photos of housing schemes before they are cleared and demolished!

Mar 30, 10:16am Top

>106 rabbitprincess: Hm, yes, excitement might not be the most appropriate emotion for that book.

Mar 31, 5:07am Top

Category: Inchcolm (Religious)

Margaret Silf's Sacred Spaces: Stations on a Celtic Way was the book I chose to read for Lent this year. It is divided into seven chapters, and looks at different types of spaces (eg boundaries, bridges, wells) which were sacred in Celtic spirituality, and includes some meditations and thoughts about these, drawing on Christian stories but accessible to anyone regardless of how they feel about Christianity. The last few years I have read either books specifically written as Lent studies, or something that was reasonably 'meaty'. This book, although probably fairly reflective of my own sense of spirituality, disappointed me a little bit - I have read another book by the author, a set of more explicitly Christian Ignatian reflections, which I really liked, but for much of the time I was reading this book I felt like it was a bit wishy-washy and I wished I'd chosen something a bit more substantial. I did like the end though, and it was probably as much of a case of me not being so much in the mood for it right now than anything else. I did like how it was laid out, and the photos were gorgeous (lots of Celtic crosses, stone circles, waterfalls etc). 3.5/5.

Mar 31, 7:44am Top

>105 Jackie_K: This looks interesting. I have a "Scottish Mysteries" category for this year's challenge, and I hope to visit Scotland sometime in the next few years.

Mar 31, 12:09pm Top

>110 mathgirl40: I'm not sure I'd classify any of the stories in the book as mysteries - McCall Smith's was about an Indian guy who had moved from India to Edinburgh, Rankin's was about a homeless guy learning magic tricks, and Welsh's was about a tiger on the loose in suburban Edinburgh (hence the gore!). I'm not too au fait with the short story challenge, but it might work for that.

There's so much to see in Scotland, it's a great place! I do hope you're able to visit. I've lived here 12+ years, and there's still so much I haven't explored yet.

Apr 1, 11:40am Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (April Non-Fiction Challenge: History)

This is a book I took as a BB from (I think) someone in the Category Challenge a couple of years ago, Dominic Selwood's Spies, Sadists and Sorcerers: The history you weren't taught in school. I chose it because April's non-fiction challenge in the 75 group is history, and made a start on it last month and then found it quicker than I expected! I hadn't realised it is based on the author's newspaper columns, so each chapter was a pretty quick read, and provides just an overview. He takes various events in (mainly English) history, and looks at what we know (or assume we know) and what has been overlooked. Overall I found this very entertaining and easy to read, although I would have liked some more depth, and as it is a series of standalone newspaper columns there was some repetition in the book. It has though given me a couple of characters from the Second World War who I'd love to find more out about - Juan Pujol Garcia (a Spanish spy who fooled Hitler into thinking he was a Nazi intelligence officer and fed loads of false information about the build-up to D-Day which led to the Germans being underprepared and mainly expecting an invasion further round the coast) who ended up being decorated by both sides, and Noor Inayat Khan, a British Muslim woman who worked as an underground radio operator in Nazi-occupied Paris, who was ultimately captured by the Gestapo and shot in Dachau concentration camp. 3.5/5.

Apr 3, 11:19am Top

>112 Jackie_K: That does sound like an interesting book! Ben Macintyre's Double Cross: The True Story of the D-Day Spies talks about Juan Pujol Garcia a lot, as well as five other agents who posed as German spies although they were actually loyal to the Allies.

Apr 3, 11:28am Top

>113 christina_reads: Ooh thank you for the recommendation - I had never heard of him before but it sounded like such an unlikely story I'm really keen to find out more! I will add that book to my wishlist.

Apr 3, 11:35am Top

Seconding Christina's recommendation of Double Cross! Also, Ben Macintyre in general is worth reading.

Apr 4, 1:16am Top

I second that second!

Apr 4, 2:09pm Top

>113 christina_reads: >115 rabbitprincess: >116 VivienneR: Excellent, it's on the wishlist already! Good to know it comes highly recommended!

Apr 9, 11:05am Top

Hi everyone - hope you've all stopped twitching from LT's extended downtime! I don't want to think about the amount of time over the weekend I refreshed the page hoping it would come back soon! I even had to do more reading! (shock horror)

It did leave me with a question though, which many folk here can answer. I have a GoodReads account which I don't really use - I only signed up because I got a review copy of a book which asked for a review to be placed on amazon and GoodReads. So that's the only book sitting there on my account. I was wondering, and asked friends on facebook who are on GR, what it is about it that they like, and they all said about cataloguing, challenges, reviewing, seeing what other people are reading - basically all the things I like about LT! I don't see the point of being on two sites to do the same thing (I spend far too much time here and elsewhere online as it is!). Of my fb friends who are on both sites, one said he preferred LT to GR, and one said that she only uses LT for cataloguing and GR for reviews and interaction. Certainly quite a few of my fb friends post their GoodReads reviews to facebook, so I know it's popular. So I was wondering - for those of you here who are also on GoodReads, what do you use GR for that's different to LT? The main thing I can see could be better on GR is linking with friends to see what they're reading, as the LT friends feature is pretty basic. But other than that?

(also posted on my ROOT thread)

Apr 9, 1:52pm Top

I think I poked around GR for a few minutes and wasn't enticed to join. What really bugs me, is when reviews crow "10,000 five star reviews on GR". Really? I'm not convinced that those are legitimate.

Apr 9, 2:02pm Top

>118 Jackie_K: I started out on GoodReads, and jumped ship to LT. I didn't need to maintain both and I found this the better interface, less advertising, less pushy, less flowery (for the want of a better description).
I liked some of the ways that they display information, so you can easily view reading stats from year to year in a way that doesn't seem so possible in LT. That's where it wins hands down, displaying the information.
I think the emphasis on your book matching the book you have is a lot less, so you tend to have one book to add to your library for any given title.Which is fine if all you want to do is record what you're read, and was plenty good enough for me. It is more intuitive to add a book to your library than on LT (that add books button just takes you to a search, it doesn't actually do what is says it will).
The way groups work is similar, but good reads has the edge in having friends and the interaction that generates, if that make sense. It's more accessible than here, if that makes sense. As an example, if we were friends on LT, I'd still have to post or star your thread to find it. On goodreads, friends post would appear above those from groups, I wouldn't have to seek you out.
I ended up here for a number of reasons, which doesn't mean I don't miss some of the things that GR offers.

Apr 9, 2:06pm Top

I'm on both LT and Goodreads, and spend most of my time here, but Goodreads is a lot bigger than LT, which meant it ends up being the place where people who are active in the Tournament of Books comments section hang out in the off-season. So my Goodreads interactions is entirely composed of people from LT and the ToB.

Edited: Apr 9, 2:20pm Top

I'm on both LT and Goodreads, but to be perfectly honest, I'm only on Goodreads because so many of my friends use it. It's nice to see what they're reading in a feed, at a glance, and it's also easy to recommend books through the GR system. The groups, reviewer program, and etc., though, all seem much more clunky than LT's, and the ER program is especially useless in my opinion. I've gotten some books from there, but it's all random, and it seems like they expect you to have a review up as soon as you win a book, let alone receive it, or you won't get another.

>120 Helenliz:, I admit I'm fascinated that you think the groups function is better on GR; I found it totally overwhelming and frustrating the few times I looked into groups!

I will say that the one thing Goodreads has over LT is that it's incredibly easy to figure out the order of books in series where the titles themselves don't make it obvious and there's no clear numbering, so with longer series, I often find myself hopping onto GR to see what title comes next in a series. But other than that? LT is hands-down the best. I post reviews on Goodreads only because I've already written them for LT and it takes no time at all, but 99.9% of the time I spend between the two sites is spent on LT. I could easily live without GR and not really miss it; losing LT would leave a gigantic hole in my life!

Apr 9, 4:03pm Top

>119 mamzel: >120 Helenliz: >121 RidgewayGirl: >122 whitewavedarling: Thank you all for your feedback, that is really helpful! (along with feedback I got from facebook and the ROOT group too). As I just said in my ROOT thread, I think what I'm realising is that LT and GR are basically both imperfect ways of doing more or less the same thing. So it will come down to personal preference, ultimately. I don't feel any great need to be on both, it was just because of the weekend downtime here I didn't have anywhere to read and chat about books that I thought I'd have a closer look at GR. I think I'll probably just stick to what I'm doing already - hang out here, and just use GR for reviews of books where they are requested, or where I think a GR review would help out the book/author. I don't need an all-singing all-dancing interface, and tend to prefer low-tech, so I think LT is probably better suited to me anyway.

Apr 10, 11:15am Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (April Non-Fiction Challenge: History)

This book, like the last one, was read for this month's Non-Fiction challenge (this month is history). This is yet another of the University of Chicago Press free ebooks, from a few years ago, Simon Kitson's The Hunt for Nazi Spies: Fighting Espionage in Vichy France. As a random aside, the translator is also credited on the front of the book, but it seems a really strange setup - the author is a British academic (lecturing in French), and originally wrote the book in French for a French audience. When it came to be published for an English-speaking audience, it was initially translated back into English by Catherine Tihanyi, who as far as I can make out is French, and her name is included on the front page, although the author subsequently revised the translation prior to publication. It just seems a bit of a strange way of doing it, as all the translators I know are adamant that they only translate into their native language, from the foreign language they know, rather than this way round. Anyway, that's an aside - I've no idea why it happened that way. It certainly didn't read like a translation, so that was good anyway!

As the title suggests, the book is looking at the work of the intelligence service of wartime Vichy France. Although the Vichy government was officially collaborating with the Germans, they maintained an intelligence service and much of this service's activity was focused on rooting out German spies (breaking the terms of the armistice with Germany). Having said that, the service also focused on Allied and Gaullist spies too, and what I think the book was particularly good at was showing the tension and nuances of the Vichy position. Just because it was officially collaborating with Germany it didn't necessarily follow that the Vichy government was sitting back and doing the Germans' work for them (although that was increasingly the case the longer the war went on, it seems to me), and they were keen to continue to ensure French sovereignty, hence targeting German spies. However, just because they were pursuing German spies it didn't necessarily follow that they were all anti-German and pro-Allies - the book shows a lot of evidence that they were really not fans of the Brits at all, and were also working to undermine the British intelligence officers (that's something I'd be interested in reading more about; it's only really touched on briefly here). In the introduction the author makes the point that a number of historians advised against looking at this subject, as the accepted version of events was that Vichy was pro-Nazi and supported collaboration with the Nazi regime, so writing about their efforts to undermine German spies could be viewed as being an apologist for a pro-Nazi government. I think he does a good job here of showing that it just wasn't that simple - there were push-pull forces in all directions, both pro-collaboration and pro-sovereignty, pro-pursuing Nazi spies but also anti-Brit/Allies. Overall this was a good introduction to a subject I knew next to nothing about; the writing was a bit dry but it wasn't ever dull. 3.5/5.

Apr 13, 3:44pm Top

Category: Cumbrae (Sexual/reproductive health/rights; parenting; children; gender)

Susan Gal & Gail Kligman's edited volume, Reproducing Gender: Politics, Publics, and Everyday Life after Socialism is a book I've owned for a long time, Gail Kligman is one of my academic heroines, and I cited a couple of chapters from this book in my PhD. I always meant to get back to it and read the whole thing, but have only now managed it. Each chapter represents a piece of research in several central/east European countries looking at gender, reproduction, and politics after the end of communist rule, covering issues such as abortion and reproductive policy, media representation, women in politics, women's movements and organisations. They were all fascinating, although I did feel that a few of the chapters were a little too ambitious and tried to include too much. Other than the two chapters on Romania, which I already knew, I particularly liked the chapters on Hungary and Serbia and found them interesting and well-written. The editors have also written another book which accompanies this volume, expanding on the various issues that they had drawn out from this project, I hope I can get to that sooner rather than later (again, it's one that I have read some of but not managed it all). Reading this book made me nostalgic for my former research. Although this is quite an old book in academic terms (it was published in 2000) it's still relevant. 4/5.

Apr 13, 5:45pm Top

>123 Jackie_K: - I'm chiming in late on the LT/GR discussion. I use LT for the social aspect but find GR a much better way to track my books. The app is wonderful to have when shopping so I can look up a book to see whether I've read it, browse my wishlist, etc...

Apr 13, 5:54pm Top

>125 Jackie_K: Hurray on finishing this book! :D Is the accompanying book in the Jar of Fate already?

Apr 14, 9:01am Top

>126 LittleTaiko: Thank you! I think if I was really into smartphones and apps and stuff I'd be more into GR, but as I rely on my memory (possibly not the most sensible thing!) and am looking to downgrade my phone back to a grannyphone in the next few years (when my one and only smartphone, already 6 years old, finally packs up) I'm one of those Luddites who isn't tempted by good apps!

>127 rabbitprincess: Only 7 years after finishing the PhD! Yes the other book is in the Jar of Fate, hopefully it won't be another 7 years before I get to it! I have read bits of it already and know it's good, I've just never found the time to sit down and just read it straight through.

Apr 14, 10:45am Top

I haven't been here for a while and can see that you've read very interesting books. Not sure if I can get my hands on the Edinburgh short story book here, but it sounds entertaining.

>126 LittleTaiko: There's also a LT app, which I often use when I'm not sure what to buy.

Apr 15, 7:29am Top

>129 Chrischi_HH: Thanks, it's nice to see you! I've not seen the Edinburgh book either, I just found it in the library. I'm not sure it's very widely available now.

Category: Cumbrae (Sexual/reproductive health/rights; parenting; children; gender)

I received this ARC (epub version) through the Library Thing Early Reviewers programme - thank you very much to the author and publisher.

The essays forming this collection were mainly written between 2014-17, primarily on the site Chronicle Vitae, after the author had decided to leave academia and the hunt for tenure (NB she is writing from an American context; however all the essays seem very relevant to me in the UK context). As someone in a very similar position (though by no means as impressive!) as her, I was already pretty pre-disposed favourably towards this book, but she certainly didn't disappoint. The book is in three parts - "It's Personal", introducing the general issues around sexism in academia, "Academic Labors and Their Discontents", primarily focusing on the reality of academic precarity and the reliance on short-term and insecure contracts, and "Sexism, Up Close and Personal", which focuses more on the author's personal experiences. I pretty much nodded my head through the whole book, but the third section (whilst detailing much worse than I ever experienced, and as the author herself admits, she experienced much less than many academic women in the public domain, particularly women of colour) was what raised this to a 5 star read for me. Angry, thoughtful, hopeful, and offering thoughts about how academia (and life in general) doesn't have to be this way.

Nothing in this book will come as any surprise to any woman in academia, especially one who has any kind of public profile. However, putting it all together in one place really crystallises the extent of the issues, and I think this would make a great book to organise thinking about how to not just mend but revolutionise the system. It will also be a great book to show those colleagues and folk in wider society who simply have no idea what it is really like every day for women in academia. A fantastic read. 5/5.

Apr 17, 8:20am Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (April ColourCAT: Yellow)

Wen Stephenson's What We're Fighting for Now is Each Other: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Climate Justice is a rallying call to radical action in the face of catastrophic climate change. Stephenson is a journalist and activist, and this book features interviews with a number of climate justice activists mainly between 2012-2014. It was inspiring, compelling, encouraging and urgent. The author makes clear how the issue of climate change intersects with other social justice issues of the day - poverty, race, class - and how you can't tackle one without the others. I really liked how he talked to grass roots activists, not just big names, and also how he showed how many people of faith were involved in this struggle (it is really easy, particularly from this distance, to see American Christianity as just synonymous with right-wing, conservative, Republican voices who are predominant in the media. This book shows that the picture is much more varied than that, and I am glad). It's also given me a number of authors that I would like to read more of (particularly Bill McKibben, but I'd also like to go back to the older stuff by Wendell Berry), and challenged me to think about what am I doing for the future of the planet and the future of my child and her generation. Turning off unused lights and using Bags for Life isn't going to be enough.

There were some points where I felt the book was a bit rambling and less well focused, but overall this was a fine call to thoughtful action, and to creatively finding ways to speak truth to power and challenge the status quo. 4/5.

Apr 19, 4:52am Top

Category: Lewis (Non-fiction: general)

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World by Ella Frances Sanders arrived yesterday, and was so irresistible that I read it all in one go (so I have the added benefit of not adding to my net total of TBRs). The author has taken 50 brilliant words from various languages around the world which don't have an equivalent in English, and has both explained what they mean and beautifully illustrated them. Some of them I had actually heard of before, including my favourite, the Japanese word "Tsundoku", or "leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with unread books", which of course nobody here would relate to at all, would they? ;)

My only slight criticism is that sometimes the writing merged in with the illustration in such a way that it made it a bit hard to read in places, and the font and colours used for the author's comment on the word and its meaning would have been, I imagine, really difficult for someone with dyslexia or Irlen's or similar conditions to read comfortably (white writing on a not sufficiently dark background).

This is only my 3rd paper book of the year - mostly I've acquired ebooks - but is one book where I'd definitely recommend getting the hardback copy, as it's basically an entire sensory experience. Not only the words and illustrations are beautiful, but the feel of the hard cover, the colours of the illustrations, and the smell of the paper were all stunning. 4.5/5.

Apr 19, 6:13am Top

Looks like your daughter picked a real winner from the jar!

Apr 19, 6:29am Top

>133 MissWatson: Yes she certainly did! Perhaps I should get her to choose books for me more often! :)

Apr 19, 3:04pm Top

>132 Jackie_K: that sounds fabulous. Some books do work best on paper.

Apr 20, 5:37am Top

>135 Helenliz: That's very true. I'm a sucker for a TV travel show tie-in book, and always get those in paper copy so that I can savour the photos. Plus the way they're laid out is often not really conducive to an ereader.

Otherwise I'm a pretty enthusiastic convert to ebooks, but they really can't do pictures justice. And sometimes you need to just feel and smell the pages too :)

Apr 20, 8:37am Top

Every time I see your Jar of Fate come by, it looks like such a fun strategy for getting through the TBR pile. I really need to try it one of these days!

Apr 20, 8:47am Top

>137 Tafadhali: Thank you! After an initial burst of hard work (actually writing the titles down and realising when I was about 100 books in (which is how many unread books I had estimated I had) that I actually had more than 3 times that many, but it was too late to give up by then) it's been a really fun way of doing it, and it has really increased my reading rate.

This year for the first time I have (over on my ROOTs thread) a ticker with the exact number of TBR books left to read. It's currently sitting at 398 (having started the year at 395), and I'm finding not wanting to go over 400 a terrific incentive to not just Buy All The Books, but to be much more careful and mindful about what I really do want. What I'm aiming for is 395 by June (so I can have birthday books without guilt), and to be below 395 at the end of the year (ie a net reduction over the year). We'll see. (and we won't think about Barter Books, and Verso sales, and generous gift-givers. Better get reading!)

Apr 20, 5:35pm Top

>132 Jackie_K:
I think this'll be a great mother's day present this year (although, I might take a gander before I wrap it...). :)

Apr 21, 5:06pm Top

>139 -Eva-: Lots of people seem to think the same (as do I - as I was reading it I was thinking "ooh, I could get this for X", and then "ooh, Y would like it too!").

Category: Bute (Celtic)

April's library book, Chris Leslie's Disappearing Glasgow: A Photographic Journey is a beautiful, gritty book detailing the last days of six of Glasgow's notorious housing schemes. Atmospheric photos, interspersed with commentary from academics, architects and writers, and each one is introduced by the author including interviews with past and more recent residents. I used to work with families in similar blocks in different parts of Glasgow (not these particular ones) and recognised so much. This is an important collection detailing a past and an urban landscape which is fast disappearing. Unsentimental, but thoughtful, respectful and never mawkish. I loved it. 4.5/5.

Apr 24, 2:34pm Top

>140 Jackie_K:
Sounds very interesting! It's the ones Jeff Torrington called "vertical Barlinnies," I believe...

Apr 24, 4:37pm Top

>141 -Eva-: Oh very likely! The first scheme was Red Road, which is probably the best known one outside of Glasgow.

Apr 24, 6:34pm Top

>142 Jackie_K: And the title of an excellent Denise Mina novel: The Red Road

Apr 24, 6:57pm Top

>140 Jackie_K:
Wow, I just found their website and saw the photos and film clips. Amazing. Very beautiful work indeed.

Apr 26, 4:35pm Top

>143 rabbitprincess: Yes indeed, plus the name of a critically acclaimed film a few years ago too.
>144 -Eva-: The photos on the website are reproduced in the book, but it's good to have the videos too. The photos are stunning.

Category: Ailsa Craig (May ColourCAT: blue)

This is another of my old free University of Chicago Press ebooks, which I picked up to start in time for May's ColourCAT but ended up enjoying so much I raced through it and finished it before May has even started! (I'm still going to count it for the CAT though!). Joshua Blu Buhs (wonderful name, and why I chose it for this CAT) Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend is a book which outlines the various 'wildman' legends (Yeti in the Himalayas, Sasquatch in Canada and Bigfoot in the USA) and the hunts to prove or disprove them throughout the 20th century, including all the main players, and places them in the American cultural context of the time - particularly the rise of consumerism and mass-media, along with class insecurities and questioning of academic/scientific authority. I wasn't expecting to be so drawn into this, but it was actually fascinating, and I saw so many parallels with today. In particular, chapter 7 which looks at why white working-class American men in particular were so drawn to the Bigfoot myth really reminded me of articles I've read in the last year and a half trying to explain why white working-class American men were so drawn to vote for Trump; and other chapters where he talks about how evidence of extremely dubious provenance is elevated to the realms of truth - so many parallels with today's 'fake news', although this was mostly pre-internet. Later on he talks about how and why the Bigfoot believers doubted so-called experts - the scientists and academics - and were able to convince themselves that they in fact were the ones who were truly in touch with the truth, and that really reminded me of Michael Gove's "I think people are tired of experts" prior to the Brexit vote.

One thing I noticed more and more as I read through the book was that the author seemed to use the terms 'Bigfoot' and 'Sasquatch' interchangeably, and I was never really sure why. It didn't particularly detract, but was a detail which I would have liked a bit of clarity on.

Overall a surprisingly enjoyable and fascinating account which I'm really glad I read. 4.5/5.

May 3, 12:09pm Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (May RandomCAT: Spring is All Around)

Sue Hubbell's A Book of Bees was lovely, exactly my kind of book (and, if I'm honest, exactly the kind of book I'd love to write!). It explains the beekeeping year, from the perspective of the author who is a beekeeper in the Ozark mountains of Missouri (at least, she was when she wrote this). The book is split into four seasons, and she talks about the patterns of behaviour of the bees and the various tasks she needs to do at that particular time of the year, as well as being peppered with advice for people interested in starting out in beekeeping. Over the years she has really become attuned to what works best for them in that location, and this showed a lot of respect for these amazing creatures. A beautiful book. 4.5/5.

May 3, 3:11pm Top

>146 Jackie_K: I loved Sue Hubbell's books and I'm glad of the reminder. It's time to do some rereading!

May 3, 5:46pm Top

>132 Jackie_K: Ahh! I've just been hit by a bullet! Lost in Translation is right up my street. I love odd words like that. A couple of years ago I had a "Tsundoku" category that got quite a few of those layabouts off the shelf.

>146 Jackie_K: Sue Hubbell's book looks enticing too! Every time I read or see something about bees I am reminded of my ignorance of the topic.

May 4, 6:48am Top

>147 clue: This was my first, and I'll definitely look out for more. Kobo keep recommending me A Country Year, but with nearly 400 unread books on Mt TBR I don't feel I can justify it just yet. It's definitely more on my radar now though, and I really liked her gentle writing style, even with something she was so knowledgeable about.

>148 VivienneR: Glad to have been of assistance :D Lost in Translation was lovely, and is pretty near the top of my 'this would be a great gift for ...' list (if I had such a thing. But you know what I mean! I can't imagine anyone getting it as a gift and not loving it!). And A Book of Bees taught me so much I didn't know. I had no idea that all the bees you see out actually collecting the nectar are female (the male bees basically guard the hive and fertilise the queen's eggs, and not much else). Also that all the fertilised eggs are female, but the queen can also lay unfertilised eggs, and they're the males. Isn't that amazing?

May 4, 10:51am Top

>146 Jackie_K: - The bees book sounds intriguing. Definitely adding it to my wishlist.

Edited: May 7, 4:29pm Top

>150 LittleTaiko: It's a lovely book - I hope you enjoy it if you get to it.

Category: Inchmahome (Travel)

Sue Reid Sexton's Writing on the Road: Campervan Love and the Joy of Solitude was this month's library book, and yet another Scottish book (it really wasn't my plan when I pledged a book a month from the library to be so Scottish-focused, but here we are!). The Glasgow-based author, who has published a couple of bestselling fiction books, writes about campervanning in Scotland, her writing process, and the inner life, and I'll be honest, I had high hopes for this, but I ended up disappointed. In the end, I think the book just promised more than it delivered, at least for me. It is structured in two halves, 'outer' and 'inner' (I suspect inspired by the Glasgow subway system), with the first half concentrating more on the practicalities of campervanning and travel, whilst the second half concentrates more on the process of creativity, the author's need for solitude and how she seeks it out and achieves it (or not), although the two halves are pretty porous so bits of all of those things appear throughout, along with mention of the breakdown of her marriage and the impact of that on her writing and self-awareness, and bits and bobs about Buddhism and mindfulness. On paper it is exactly the sort of book I like - lots of different strands interweaving, travel, Scotland, writing, self-reflection - but it just felt too muddled and unfocused for me, with a major case of anecdote-itis, and it ended up just not doing it for me.

I'm swithering between a rating of 2.5 and 3 stars. I'm giving it 3 for now, but might revise that.

I was also swithering about which category to put this book into - it works for Inchmahome (Travel), Bute (Celtic), Gigha (memoir) or Lewis (general non-fiction, as it's not strictly any of the others in totality). But, today was a bank holiday and we went to Inchmahome for a lovely day trip, so Inchmahome it is :)

May 10, 9:15am Top

Category: Gigha (Biography; autobiography; memoir; true story)

My first book for this category is Madeleine L'Engle's Two-Part Invention: The Story of a Marriage. Despite L'Engle being super-famous and prolific, this is in fact the first book of hers I've ever read, and oh my goodness it was wonderful. As the title suggests, it is the story of her marriage (40 years married to the actor Hugh Franklin), with a lot of focus on his final devastating illness. She goes backwards and forwards in time to an extent (so we know from pretty early on how it all ends), but this never detracts from the overall narrative, which is of a life, and marriage, well-lived. She is very open about the role of her Christian faith, but is never preachy, it's just something else that makes perfect sense in their lives. She is also very open about the indignities Hugh suffers during his cancer treatment, and pays tribute to the medical and nursing staff who went above and beyond for him (and made me proud of my profession). I thought I was going to hold it together, but I cried my way through the last two chapters. This is a beautiful book, and a well-deserved 5*.

May 14, 4:22am Top

Category: Coll (Contemporary fiction: 1969-present)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez's Bon Voyage, Mr President and Other Stories (translator not stated) was one of the little books that Penguin put out in 1995 to celebrate their 60th year of publishing (Penguin 60s). I'm pretty sure I bought them all when they came out, so although it's only small, it's got very deep (23 years!) roots! This is actually a collection of four short stories, of which the first (which gives the collection its title) is by far the longest, about half the book's total. It is about a deposed Latin American/Caribbean president anonymously seeking medical attention in Geneva, but he comes to the attention of a fellow exiled countryman who happens to work at the hospital; the second is about a man on a long-haul flight sitting next to a woman he falls for instantly but doesn't ever dare speak to; the third is about a woman who is accidentally admitted to a psychiatric hospital in Spain and when her husband eventually finds her he believes the doctors and doesn't take her out; and the final one (which is the only one which features the magical realism for which Marquez is so well known, and is only 4 pages long) is about some boys in Madrid who have a boat in their flat and end up drowning their entire class with light.

I must admit to having never read any Marquez before, so I wasn't too sure what to expect. I could see straight away the quality of the writing - this is an author who is at the top of his craft, not a single word was out of place or awkward (and credit must also of course go to the unnamed translator). I can't say I particularly warmed to any of the characters, though, so although the quality of the writing kept me reading, if any of these stories had been novels I might well have not bothered (possibly apart from the third one about the accidental psychiatric patient). I'm glad I can now say I've read some Marquez, but I'm not going to go out of my way to pick up any more. Short and sweet definitely worked better for me! 3/5.

May 19, 6:19am Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (May Non-Fiction Challenge: Borders, Maps, Geography, Geopolitics)

Rory Stewart's The Marches: Border Walks with my Father is the account of two separate walks that the author does along the England-Scotland borderlands, the first along the length of Hadrian's Wall. and the second from his cottage in Cumbria (NW England) to his family estate where his parents still lived, near Crieff in Perthshire, directly on the line between the Scottish Highlands and Lowlands. Interspersed among it all is the author's relationship with his elderly (and increasingly frail) father. Stewart is a Conservative MP in Cumbria, and previously was in the army and foreign office, so himself has a really interesting history, whilst his father fought in WW2 and then worked himself for the foreign office and secret service, particularly in SW Asia, so there were lots of interesting reminiscences about their former life too. Stewart's aim in doing the walks was to get a handle on English and Scottish identity, with the starting hypothesis that there basically is no difference between the people in these border lands, and in the run up to the Scottish independence referendum he would uncover this and complicate what he expected the dominant narrative of the independence campaign would be, of palpable differences in culture and ethnicity.

The Hadrians Wall walk was interesting in looking at the Roman history of the area, and also his correspondence with his father (initially they were going to walk together for a mile or so then his father would drive on to a meeting place in the evening, but it soon became too much for him so the walk was more solitary). The Cumbria-Crieff walk was longer, and interesting in that Stewart's assumptions about what he would find were challenged (primarily by the lack of interest people he met had in their history, but also by the differences he did see between both sides of the border, even when there might only have been a few hundred metres between villages - differences which he was able to trace to historical and political decisions).

The final part of the book details him discussing the ongoing writing of the book with his father, and then his father's death at home. This was a very tender look at his father's increasing frailty and decline, and was very moving.

Ultimately I don't think Stewart really answers any of his initial questions, but nevertheless this ended up being a fascinating look at a historically fascinating part of both England and Scotland, as well as a moving account of his relationship with his father. 4.5/5.

May 19, 11:24am Top

>154 Jackie_K: My mum wants to do the Hadrian's Wall walk when she and my dad retire (she is hoping that will be sooner rather than later!). Maybe I'll send this title her way.

May 19, 11:30am Top

>154 Jackie_K: Didn't he do a TV programme looking at this same stretch of land? I feel sure it was him. It was interesting and he was certainly engaging as a presenter. I will look out for this one. There, you've done it, caught me with a BB. >:-)

May 19, 2:52pm Top

>155 rabbitprincess: I definitely think it's worth a read (although he's a bit dismissive of the whole Hadrian's Wall tourism walks thing, so as long as she's aware of that before starting it! He's far more dismissive of academics he disagrees with though!).

>156 Helenliz: I'm not sure about the TV programme, but I wouldn't be surprised (actually I just checked his wikipedia page and yes you're right, just before the Scottish independence referendum). He also walked across northern Afghanistan and wrote about that, as well as being the governor in Southern Iraq for a while in the early 2000s (those books are The Places in Between and Occupational Hazards; I wouldn't mind reading them at some point). I remember first hearing of him just before the 2015 election, The Guardian did a piece where they got various MPs of different parties to meet up and have lunch and a chat, and then wrote it up, and he was paired with Diane Abbott, which was certainly an interesting combination!

May 19, 9:07pm Top

>157 Jackie_K: Haha fair warning! I'll definitely give her that disclaimer ;)

Edited: May 25, 9:52am Top

>151 Jackie_K: Too bad that one didn't live up to its potential. It sounds intriguing on the surface.

>154 Jackie_K: Book bullet! I know I've seen this one before, but I'm in the mood for a read like this -- which is a good thing since the BAC for June focuses on Travel Writing!

May 26, 12:38pm Top

>159 thornton37814: Yes, the campervan book did sound right up my street, but I didn't feel I connected with the author at all, and found it quite muddled. The Marches on the other hand was a really interesting read, and the writing is really good quality, even when I found the author himself occasionally a bit prickly.

Category: Coll (Contemporary fiction: 1969-present)

I should add right away that the reason I have Steve Goddard's Whatever Happened to Billy Shears? at all is because I know the author, I probably wouldn't have picked it up otherwise. I've read books by people I know before, it's always fun to spot the occasional thing that I recognise from knowing the author, and this book had a few of those moments, so I enjoyed that.

The story follows two people, Billy (an approaching-retirement-age Church of England priest who now works in media/PR for the church), and Sophie, a recently widowed teacher. The chapters initially alternate between the two, apparently unconnected stories. With regard to the title, we're told really early on that a person from his past (who is no longer in his life) is significant, and he has chosen not to tell anyone about this person. I actually guessed the link between Billy and Sophie really early on, and the link is first hinted at and then confirmed around half way through (I can't say more than that without giving a massive spoiler). The themes of the book include family, secrets, honesty, football, music, and they all interweave throughout. Having said I guessed the link early on, there were a couple of twists at the end which I absolutely didn't see coming and which stopped me in my tracks when I just assumed I knew what was going to happen (I also had to go back at the end and re-read the Prelude, which was about another character who never reappeared in the book. Once I'd read the book it made sense, I'm glad I did that!).

I really warmed to both characters, and although there were a few literary devices which I thought were a bit clunky and not quite convincing, there was also a lot of heart to the book and I am recommending it not because I know Steve, the author, but because it is a really good read. I loved an early scene set in Pennan (the Scottish village which was the setting for the film "Local Hero") in particular. 4/5.

May 28, 5:44am Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (June Non-Fiction Challenge: The Great Outdoors)

Samuel Hall Young's Alaska Days with John Muir is a short book I got from Project Gutenberg from a BB a couple of years ago. The author was a Christian minister in Alaska who accompanied Muir on a few trips to Alaska, Hall to minister to the Indians and preach the gospel, and Muir to map the as yet largely uncharted Alaska coastline and glaciers. They ended up with a lifelong friendship and admiration for each other, and this is Hall's account of the trips, and what he learnt from Muir about the beauty of the landscape. A really gentle, lovely read. I have a collection of Muir's writings lined up for a challenge later in the year, I'm really keen to get to it as although I've heard lots about him I've never actually read the man himself. 3.5/5.

Jun 1, 12:04pm Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (June ColourCAT: Purple)

Ghillean Prance's The Earth Under Threat: A Christian Perspective is a short book which contains the text of four lectures the author gave for the London Templeton Lectures in 1995 at the Linnaean Society of London. The author was at the time the Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, and in the lectures he firstly outlines why the natural world is so amazing, and the degradation that it is subject to, before turning his attention to a Christian theology of the environment, reasons to be hopeful, concluding with a short chapter of action that can be taken by individuals and churches to preserve the environment. Given that I was reading this more than two decades after the lectures were delivered, I was struck by a few things. Firstly, the warnings about environmental damage that we're so familiar with have been going on for so long. Secondly, how hopeful he was that things could and would change (the lectures were given just a couple of years after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit) - I feel quite sad that the world in general seems to have continued to ignore the warnings and things are so much worse now than then.

There wasn't anything particularly new here for anyone who has followed debates about the environment - loss of biodiversity, population growth, climate change etc - nor particularly for anyone of faith who has engaged with these issues. That doesn't though negate the importance of the book's central message, that it is vital for world faiths, who inspire so many billions of people, to engage with and take seriously the threat to the world. It is encouraging to me that, despite what we might be presented with in the media suggesting the contrary, not all religious folk (in this instance Christians) are just about claiming the earth's resources for their own ends. The recommendations for action at the end were probably quite innovative when this was published, but seem quite tame now.


Jun 3, 10:56am Top

Category: Arran (Vintage fiction)

I did another shameless bypass of the Jar of Fate for a short book, but decided to assuage my guilt by making myself work quite hard for it, so this one is in French, Goscinny & Uderzo's Asterix aux Jeux Olympiques. Back in the day when I was at school I did A'level French and was actually pretty decent at it, but it's been more years than I want to think about that I've not really used the language at all, so I'm really rusty now. I remember at school reading the Asterix books in French and really finding the jokes funnier than in the English translation (although I do like the English versions too). This one took me a bit longer than usual, but I was pleased that I got most of what was going on, although I'm sure with this passage of time I've missed a number of the jokes.

I did though find myself a bit disgruntled at the lack of women in the story. In fact, just after I'd thought "there are no women in this at all" there was a strip with the village women actually saying something along the lines of "anyone would think this story is only about the men". I thought "hooray" at that, and then was quickly disgruntled again, as the next picture was them saying "well now they've all gone to the Olympics we can clean and tidy up without them".

That aside, it was an amusing way to spend a bit of time, and it was good to get my linguistic brain cells whirring again, albeit not at the most intellectual level! 3/5.

Jun 3, 12:44pm Top

Très bien! :)

Jun 3, 12:47pm Top

>163 Jackie_K: oh well done! My foreign language skills were never up to that even when I was studying. It's a lack I feel I should do something about. We're working with a German company and all the German I can remember is "Ish haben einen Wellensitich" which translates as I have a budgerigar and is, let's be frank, not the most useful sentence to have remembered for 30 years!

Jun 3, 1:02pm Top

>164 rabbitprincess: >165 Helenliz: Thank you! I am wondering if it is time for me to start looking at another language (this time I can go for fun rather than utility). I do like communicating in another language, and I do think it makes you look at the world differently. Although I agree that "I have a budgerigar" might be a bit limited in its utility. I remember when I first learnt Romanian (which I now speak reasonably well), one of the first full sentences I learnt was the supremely useful "a lightbulb is on a shelf".

Jun 3, 2:54pm Top

My BF and I took a night class to study Japanese together, and the only sentence I remember translates to "Would you like to eat cake?" Mildly useful.

Jun 3, 10:51pm Top

>163 Jackie_K:
Always worth taking time out for a little Asterix! :)

Jun 9, 2:05pm Top

>167 rabbitprincess: Absolutely vital, I would have thought!
>168 -Eva-: Indeed!

I've a couple more books to report:

Category: Ailsa Craig (May ColourCAT: Blue)

Continuing with my literary travels in middle/eastern Europe in the footsteps of Patrick Leigh Fermor (I feel I've done this journey a hundred times in the last year!!) is Andrew Eames' Blue River, Black Sea. This isn't strictly a Leigh Fermor retread (like Nick Hunt's Walking the Woods and the Water which I read earlier this year), instead the intention was to travel the entire length of the Danube, from Germany to Romania, by various means. He cycles until Budapest, then travels on horseback from Budapest south through Hungary to the Croatian/Serbian border, where he then catches a cargo boat from there to Romania with about 400 miles to go. He then has a diversion through Transylvania (the only bit where he did try to follow Leigh Fermor's footsteps, away from the Danube), and he then rejoins the Danube towards the end in the Danube Delta region of Romania, finishing up the last 20-something miles by rowing himself to the Black Sea port of Sulina.

As with both Leigh Fermor's trilogy and Nick Hunt's book, there are lots of observations of the countries and people he encounters, and musings on travel and life, with a sprinkling of aristocrats visited as well. I found it a bit harder to get into than the others - he is a really good writer, but although I really liked some of his literary descriptions they also sometimes did seem like they were trying too hard to point out how clever they were. However, as I got used to his writing style I noticed that less and less, and overall really enjoyed this journey. 4/5.

Category: Ailsa Craig (June Non-Fiction Challenge: The Great Outdoors)

I've said in several threads on LT when the subject has come up that I'm yet to meet a Wainwright Prizewinner or nominee that I haven't loved, and John Lewis-Stempel's Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field is no exception. The author, as well as being an accomplished nature writer, is a farmer in Herefordshire (right on the border with Wales), and this book is the account of a year in his meadow. Month by month he describes the animals, birds, insects and plants, not to mention the weather, that make up the life in the field, along with occasional nods to past literature and poetry, and the whole thing is gorgeous. 5/5, and already a top contender for my book of the year.

Edited: Jun 9, 2:34pm Top

>169 Jackie_K: I live many miles away from English meadows but I know I will love Meadowland, on my list it goes!

Jun 9, 2:52pm Top

>170 clue: I hope you enjoy it when you get to it! I thought it was wonderful.

Jun 10, 10:01am Top

>169 Jackie_K: My mum might like that one too... I should just raid your reading lists for book ideas for her!

Jun 10, 2:01pm Top

>172 rabbitprincess: haha - you could shortcut my reading list and just go straight to the Wainwright Prize website, it has lists of all the winners, shortlists and longlists.

>173 VivienneR: Glad to be of service :)

Category: Gigha (Autobiography/biography/memoir/true events)

Joy Ross Davis's Mother, Can You Hear Me? is my most recent Early Reviewers win. It has two subtitles, "A Caregiver's Story" and "A Memoir of Hope". It is a short (68 page) memoir of the author's time as full-time carer for her elderly mother, who had dementia. She outlines some of the challenges she faced with her mother's confusion (and her mother sounded like quite a character, it has to be said!), but also the "moments of grace" she finds in the everyday, whether this is an unexpected moment of connection with her mother, or the kindness of friends and care staff. She clearly has a Christian faith which also helps her through. She also looks back to events and people in her mother's past, to try to show the woman behind the dementia.

Initially I wasn't sure if I would like this, as it seemed to be so focused on trying to see the best in the situation and it felt a bit, not exactly sugar-coated, but trying hard to not be warts-and-all, but as I read on I warmed more to it. She mentions the tiredness and monotony of being a full-time carer, but doesn't dwell much on this, preferring to try and find the humour in the everyday. Although I don't have personal experience of being a carer in this situation, my cousin did care for my aunt with dementia in the final years of her life a few years ago, so I did recognise aspects of what she was writing about. I can imagine that this book could resonate with people in a similar situation, and in a sense I wish it had been longer. Although I could see that she was trying hard to maintain her mother's dignity and sense of personality, and the focus on those little moments of grace was a lovely way to look at things, I think I would have appreciated a little bit more about the down days to give a more overall view of what life day in day out as a carer of someone with dementia can be like.

I struggled to know how to rate this book - it's always hard when you are in effect judging somebody's personal experience. Eventually I've come down around 3.5/5 stars - I think it could have been strengthened as I say by more of a sense of the drudgery and difficulties as well as the humour and good times, but that said, this was well-written and never twee or cliched. 3.5/5.

Edited: Jun 16, 4:06pm Top

Category: Skye (Academic)

Post-Soviet Women Encountering Transition: Nation Building Economic Survival, and Civic Activism, edited by Kathleen Kuehnast and Carol Nechemias, has been on my TBR since October 2007 (according to amazon) - so I bought it just after I returned to the UK from my PhD fieldwork abroad. This is a similar volume to Reproducing Gender (which I read and reviewed earlier this year), but unlike that one which focused on the countries of eastern Europe, this one focuses on the countries of the former Soviet Union (specifically here Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan). As with Reproducing Gender, I had read some of the chapters but not all, so I was glad to get back to this and finally read it right through. Each chapter details aspects of women's lives in the first decade or so since the collapse of the Soviet Union, looking at the impacts of the transition to market economy, political representation, and Western aid/development involvement. The chapters were all very good, although the final section (on the impact of Western involvement) was my favourite, not least because I was familiar with all of the authors and their work already (one of them was actually my PhD supervisor). I'm really pleased I got to this at last. 4.5/5.

(note to self: go back and edit posts when touchstones are working again)

Edited: Jun 21, 4:48am Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (June Non-Fiction Challenge: The Great Outdoors)

(I'll try and add the book image tomorrow, because it's beautiful, but for some reason my computer is messing about and not letting me right-click on images. Gah)

I know I said upthread that Meadowland: The Private Life of an English Field was already a contender for my book of the year. Well right on its heels is my next contender - Victoria Whitworth's Swimming With Seals. An intensely personal memoir of how wild swimming - mainly in the same bay in Orkney - helped her understand herself, her place in the world, deal with loss and relationship break-up, as well as how nature, history, archaeology, myth, religion and personal stories interact and are intimately bound up with each other. The book is framed throughout with her original facebook posts describing individual swims, and all those topics - bereavement, her academic interests, childhood in Africa, moving to Orkney, myth, marriage breakup, religion, giving birth, being an 'incomer', writing, archaeology, memories, history, swimming, nature, friends (in no particular order) - are then threaded throughout. I thought it was a stunning book, and it's just been announced this week that it has been deservedly shortlisted for this year's PEN Ackerley Prize (which last year was won by Amy Liptrot's The Outrun which was one of my favourite books I read last year, and which features the same group of Orkney wild swimmers). Absolutely stunning, everyone should read it! 5/5.

Edited: Jun 28, 4:12am Top

Category: Coll (contemporary fiction: 1969-present)

June's library book was a bit of a departure for me, and my first non-Scottish library book of the year! The Reluctant Fundamentalist is a novel by Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, and it was shortlisted for the 2007 Man Booker Prize. Pretty much every other Man Booker book I've read I've either given up on or at best finished but remained baffled throughout, and they all seem to be so flippin' long! This one though took me only about 2 hours to read, and wasn't baffling at all, so I'm feeling pleased with myself!

The book is the story of Changez, a young Pakistani man who moves to the USA in the late 1990s to go to Princeton, where he is an exceptional student who then gets a high powered job in an exclusive finance company in New York once he graduates. He falls for an American girl, Erica, but she is complicated and is mourning the death from cancer of her childhood sweetheart, and can never fully give herself to Changez. Meanwhile, the events of September 11th 2001 happen, and he starts to experience growing unease with American life and imperialism, and his initial acceptance of this lifestyle, exacerbated by the American invasion of Afghanistan and the increasing tensions between Pakistan and India at the same time. Whilst experiencing this turmoil, Erica is admitted to a mental hospital and eventually cuts off communication with him, and he is first fired from his job then returns to Pakistan where he gets a job as a university lecturer and a name for himself as someone who tries to disrupt the dominant narrative of the American worldview.

The story is narrated by Changez to an unnamed American businessman he meets in a Lahore restaurant. For the most part this worked really well - Changez is literally the only person who speaks, and any conversation or reaction on behalf of the American is also narrated by Changez (kind of, "oh, I see you're looking uneasy at the waiter" or "What's that you say? You're staying in X hotel?" etc). That was the only bit which didn't quite work for me, it felt a bit forced, although I do appreciate the power of having literally just the one voice for the entire novel.

I'll definitely be looking out for more from this author (I've heard good things about Exit West). 4/5.

Jun 28, 12:13pm Top

>177 Jackie_K: - I've read 3 of his four novels and have enjoyed them all. My favorite is How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia though Exit West was really good too. I'm planning on reading Moth Smoke later this year.

Jun 29, 4:55am Top

>177 Jackie_K: prize winners can be a bit "difficult", but that review makes that one certainly worth a go.

Jun 30, 2:22pm Top

>178 LittleTaiko: Good to hear more positive reviews! I certainly found him an easy author to read.
>179 Helenliz: I'd definitely recommend it (even though it didn't actually win, it was just shortlisted). It was much more readable than any Man Booker winner I've attempted!

Category: Ailsa Craig (July RandomCAT: Getting to Know You)

Sneaking one more book under the wire for June, this one (unlike my last few reads) was distinctly underwhelming. Barry Finlay's I Guess we Missed the Boat features the author, his wife and three other couples who are his in-laws (two of the women are his wife's sisters, and one of the others was his wife's cousin, I think), reminiscing about the various holidays they've taken, together and separately, over the years. They have in common that they are all from the Canadian prairies, they're retired, and travel extensively.

Whilst they are all nice people, I'm afraid I just found this dull, and despite the accolades for the book the writing was OK but nothing special. I'm sure all of the stories would be hilarious if you were there, or if you knew any of the people well, but the experience of reading this put me in mind of having to look at hundreds of holiday snaps by a complete stranger. They would probably have worked OK as shorter facebook posts, or as a blog, but as a book it was just pretty underwhelming. At least I didn't pay much for it. 2/5.

Jul 3, 9:41am Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (July ColourCAT: Pink)

L.A. Kauffman's Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism is a fascinating insight - from a direct action insider, as well as journalist - into American protest movements from the late 60s onwards (the final set of protests in the book are the 2014 Ferguson protests, and genesis of Black Lives Matter). Although a sympathetic account, she doesn't flinch from the more negative aspects of many protest movements (particularly the lack of consideration of people of colour in many of them, as well as those actions that were less well organised). I particularly liked her account of the AIDS activist groups, particularly ACT UP, and the more recent stuff on Ferguson. It's given me a lot to think about - I attend marches, and that sort of thing, but how meaningful is that given my own level of involvement, and what else can I do? 4.5/5.

Jul 4, 10:07am Top

>181 Jackie_K: I'll keep an eye out for that one. It sounds interesting. I recently read a memoir by one of the founders of Black Lives Matter, and I'd like to find out more.

>177 Jackie_K: I'm glad you liked The Reluctant Fundamentalist. It's the best post-911 novel I've read so far.

Jul 5, 5:36am Top

>182 RidgewayGirl: It really was interesting, and has made me want to read more about some of the movements in more depth.

Category: Coll (Contemporary fiction: 1969-present)

I received a pdf copy of this book from the LT Early Reviewer programme - thank you to the author and publisher - I loved it!

Devi Menon's graphic novel Amla Mater is a sweet and surprisingly profound look at home and memory. Mili is an Indian girl now settled in London and married to a lovely local boy (The Baker), and as her pregnancy progresses she looks back to her childhood and early adulthood in India, and the friends and family she's left behind. The amla of the title is the fruit of the Indian gooseberry tree, and Mili tries to make amla pickle to try and bring back a little sense of home to her East London flat. The book is loosely structured around the latter weeks of her pregnancy (it ends just before she has the baby, as she is waiting for her mum and childhood friend to arrive in London in time for the birth), although the reminiscences of India, childhood, early days in London, and getting together with The Baker, are more free-flowing and random. The pictures are simple, but with unexpected depth. I'm not a big reader of graphic novels, but this was really lovely, a really impressive debut. I had a pdf copy of the book, and I think reading it on my ereader confirmed that I need to read graphic books in paper version to fully appreciate them, but this one was so good it managed to overcome that. 5/5.

Jul 11, 3:00pm Top

Category: Inchmahome (Travel)

This is a book I've had for a long time, I'm sure I bought this when I still lived in London, so 2005 or before. Colin Thubron's Among the Russians is a wonderful account of a journey he took in the very early 1980s, driving alone through the western Soviet Union, from Belarus to Moscow then north to Leningrad (now St Petersburg) and then Estonia and Latvia, and then south to the Caucasus, Georgia and Armenia, the eastern Black Sea coast, Crimea and Odessa, before driving back north and then across to Kiev and Lvov. Along the way he meets ordinary Soviet citizens (not just Russians) and dissidents, is followed by KGB officers (who are more or less obvious), sees the sights, gets drunk with the locals, and muses on the Soviet system. This was a really fascinating look at a long-gone era, and his writing is really evocative. 4.5/5.

Jul 12, 2:26pm Top

Category: Inchmahome (Travel) (DNF)

Christina Grau's Backpacking My Style is the other Early Reviewer book I won last month, but unfortunately I didn't have the same reaction I had to the last one (see post >183 Jackie_K: above), and I ended up abandoning this one unfinished. I did give it a good go - 39% of the book read, 33 chapters, plus the final two chapters which were a summary of all the countries and tally of what she spent, and 109 pages - so I think I can still give a fair review, I just couldn't face any more of the same.

The author backpacks to various different countries (16 in total) in the course of a year, either house-sitting or working with a couple of volunteering websites (Helpx and Workaway), and I expected from the blurb that this would be a 'how to' kind of a book, detailing the countries visited but also how to go about seeing them on a budget and volunteering etc. A number of the other reviews have said that it read like excerpts from a travel diary, but to me it read more like the notes to accompany a powerpoint presentation - although it was in full sentences it wasn't really much more than bullet point type points in its level of detail. Actually more than that, it reminded me of some of the really poor essays I used to have to mark when I was teaching as a postgrad. Tourist attractions would be mentioned a bit, there was more detail about precisely every single meal she ate and how much it cost which got increasingly dull, plus notes on how much various tours and bus or taxi journeys took, and occasional lists of 'films which were set in this particular location'. I appreciate that this wasn't meant to be a deep look at the history of any particular country, but what historical details were there were pretty patchy. For example, this in the chapter on Jerusalem had me rolling my eyes:

All through history, because of its location, Jerusalem has been sieged, attacked, conquered, and ruled by many different countries. The Persians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Turks, Ottomans, and British - and probably some other country I can't remember right now - all ruled Jerusalem at one time or another.

The word which kept coming to me while I read this was 'superficial', and the more I read the more dissatisfied with it I felt. It didn't help that I still had no sense of how the volunteering/house-sitting side of things really worked, as she barely mentioned this, and although she details how much she spent overall which was kind of interesting, other than that it was basically a list of tourist attractions she saw and cheap meals she ate. I think it could have been redeemed with significant redrafting and focus, but as it stands I just couldn't face any more of it, I'm afraid. 1.5/5.

Jul 12, 2:58pm Top

Sounds like you need congratulations on getting as far as you did. There is nothing more disappointing than a good surmise poorly executed. With you on the eye-rolling.

Jul 16, 10:22pm Top

>185 Jackie_K: That sounds pretty bad. I'd say your 1.5 star rating was generous.

Jul 21, 8:36pm Top

>185 Jackie_K:
Well, it does say "How to..." so I would be disappointed too. Thanks for taking the hit for that one! :)

Jul 30, 10:24am Top

>186 Helenliz: Thank you, I always feel guilty about abandoning books but in this case it was a relief!
>187 VivienneR: Yes possibly, although there was one top tip about travelling to Jordan which I thought was really worth knowing (basically buying a ticket to the main attractions before you buy your visa, then the visa fee is refunded), so in the event of ever travelling there that is something really useful I wouldn't have known otherwise.
>188 -Eva-: You're welcome! I've done pretty well with my recent ERs, so I suppose I was overdue another dud!

Category: Ailsa Craig (July RandomCAT: Getting to Know You)

My July library book was the excellently-titled Jambusters by Julie Summers, and I must admit I chose it primarily because of the top-class book title pun! It is a history of the WI (Women's Institute) in World War 2, and is extensively researched. There are some WI members she follows throughout the book, and she also draws upon minutes and correspondence and other archival material to build up a fascinating picture of WI activity throughout the war. I hadn't realised how much the government had relied on the network of Women's Institute branches in rural England and Wales to mobilise women for the war effort. As well as the jam-making (actually not just jam, also preserving and canning fruit from hedgerows, abandoned gardens and allotments that would otherwise have rotted before being picked), they did a lot of things like sewing and knitting garments for soldiers and prisoners of war, housing evacuees, as well as providing entertainment to try and keep morale up. The privations and considerable sacrifices made by many women, as well as their impressive resourcefulness, were well documented, and I found myself full of admiration for them. The book is very careful not to resort to 'Jam and Jerusalem' cliches about the WI, and is in fact a very good social history. I did think the final chapter (which sums up what happened to the various women mentioned in the book after the war) was a bit unfocused and weak compared to the rest of the book, and in particular the final sentence was really weak, like the author had completely run out of steam and just wanted to finish it. But apart from that disappointing end, I'd actually very much recommend this as an interesting social history which goes way beyond the stereotypical view of the WI. 4/5.

Jul 30, 11:57am Top

>189 Jackie_K: I looked this up in my library's catalog and found that it inspired the popular PBS series Home Fires. In the U.S. it has been published under the title: Home Fires: the Story of the Women's Institute in the Second World War. I've put it on my library list and look forward to reading it.

When I was growing up in the late fifties and in the sixties we had two war brides in our neighborhood, one from England and one from Japan. I'm pretty sure the English bride met her future American husband through her WI work. I thought both wives were the most interesting people in the world! Well, they were in my world.

Jul 30, 12:51pm Top

>190 clue: I didn't see the Home Fires series, but I had read that the book inspired it (although I don't think it was a direct dramatisation of the book in the same way that, say, Call the Midwife was).

There were apparently American GIs stationed near my home town during the war - I think there were quite a few war babies born thanks to them (probably more born than brides returning to the US). I don't think there would have been a WI there though, as the town is too big (it is a rural organisation, and in order to have an institute, the village had to have a population below a certain number. That's something I learnt from the book, I hadn't realised it was rural only).

Aug 2, 9:32am Top

Category: Harris (Central and Eastern Europe and former Soviet Union)

Ukraine and Russia: People, Politics, Propaganda and Perspectives (ed. Agnieszka Pikulicka-Wilczewska & Richard Sakwa) was a free ebook I picked up a couple of years ago from E-International Relations. It features chapters from different scholars of the region, looking at the events in Ukraine of 2014 (Euromaidan, the annexation of Crimea, and the ongoing separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine) and how they are interpreted in Ukraine and Russia. Most of them are from a political science perspective, which isn't my academic background, but it was interesting, and gave me more insight than I had to date - I'm just as guilty as the next person of accepting the somewhat simplistic media oversights of a complex series of situations. 3.5/5.

Category: Ailsa Craig (August Non-Fiction Challenge: Short and Sweet: Essays)

Forgive the rubbish picture - I couldn't find an image online of this book, so had to take a picture from my kobo (propped up on my netbook). "Northumberland: Time and Place" is an anthology of writing created for the 10th anniversary of the Hexham Book Festival a few years ago. They got ten authors to stay in ten different places in Northumberland, and write a thing. This includes non-fiction, short stories, a fictionalised biography, a children's picture story, and poetry. My favourite piece was by Melissa Harrison, but I enjoyed it all, including the short stories (a genre which doesn't usually do it for me). (NB the book is available for download from here: http://hexhambookfestival.co.uk/10th-anniversary-author-residency-programme/ ) 4/5.

Aug 4, 7:14am Top

Category: Bute (Celtic)

August's library book is by another Jackie K - definitely not me! Jackie Kay's Fiere is a collection of poetry to go alongside her memoir, Red Dust Road (which I now really really want to read). Some of the poems are in Scots, others English with some Igbo phrases and words thrown in too, reflecting her Scottish-Nigerian heritage. I found I really wanted to hear her reading them, as I'm sure they'd be even more beautiful read out loud. I really enjoyed the collection - unlike a lot of poetry I found it very accessible, I understood (mostly) what was going on and wasn't left baffled. She really does know how to turn a phrase. Recommended. 4.5/5.

Aug 4, 3:14pm Top

>189 Jackie_K: Thanks for that recommendation - and to >190 clue: who provided the alternate title in North America. My local library doesn't have this but another library that I can use does have it. Now I just have to decide who gets to read it first: my daughter-in-law or me!

Aug 5, 4:47pm Top

>194 VivienneR: You're welcome, I hope you enjoy it!

Category: Ailsa Craig (Summer challenge, real life book group: Walls)

My real-life book group (which I don't actually go to any more since moving out of Glasgow, but stay in touch with online) always picks a theme for the summer rather than a specific book, and we all choose one or more books related to that theme to discuss. This year the theme is 'Walls', and the book I chose was Matthew Small's The Wall Between Us: Notes from the Holy Land, about Palestine under occupation and particularly in the shadow of the Israeli Separation Wall. Small is a journalist who spent a month in the Holy Land on a 'working retreat', helping Palestinian farmers with the olive harvest and learning about life from both Palestinian and Israeli perspectives (although, as I think is pretty inevitable in a situation like that, he found it difficult to be neutral as he had aimed, and his sympathies are overwhelmingly with the Palestinians). Short chapters, which include extracts from his diary at the time, detail the encounters he has with other group members as well as with Palestinians and Israelis, and his thoughts on peace and the future. It ends with him visiting the Auschwitz concentration camps, as an attempt to try to understand the formation of Israel and their need for safety and security. Overall I found nothing in the book I disagreed with, although it felt a little bit earnest in parts, and it is yet another voice crying for justice and peace. 4/5.

Edited: Aug 9, 7:24am Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (August Non-Fiction Challenge: Short and Sweet Essays)

My other read for this month's Non-Fiction challenge was a short one (but as that's the challenge - short collections of essays - I don't feel like I was cheating to get my ROOT numbers up by reading a short one!). Charles Darwin's The Galapagos Islands is another of the Penguin 60 classics; this features two essays, The Galapagos Archipelago, and Tahiti. Both are primarily descriptive of what he found in each place, flora, fauna, and human occupants. What I found most interesting was in the Tahiti essay, where (despite being considered by many to be an enemy of Christianity) he was very supportive of the missionaries there, and defended them staunchly against criticisms by others that they had robbed the locals of their joy and were making them live in fear, stating that he had seen quite the opposite, and indeed felt that things were greatly improved now in many aspects of life.

It's kind of difficult to rate this sort of book, being largely a factual description of the places by a great mind. I'll say 4 stars, as it was interesting but not earth-shattering (well, I suppose it kind of was earth-shattering, in the grand scheme of things). I enjoyed it, and will keep this one. 4/5.

Aug 9, 2:00pm Top

Category: Bute (Celtic)

An extra library book to boost their numbers, Elspeth King's Stirling Girls: Towards a Women's History of Stirling is the gazetteer which accompanied an exhibition at the wonderful Stirling Smith museum (one of my favourite 'local' museums anywhere in the world) in 2003. It details prominent women with connections to Stirling, and also the holdings of the museum and gallery which are either by or of women. It wasn't the easiest thing to read without the actual exhibition in front of me, and not all of the exhibits are pictured in this, but it was interesting to read about some of the women - I want to read more now about Annie Croall, who set up the Stirling Children's Home in the late 19th century. I also loved the cover illustration, which features various Stirling features as the women's accessories (eg the Stirling Bridge is her choker, and the feather in her headdress is the Wallace Monument). 3/5.

Aug 9, 4:46pm Top

And now for something completely fluffy!

Category: Cumbrae (Sexual/reproductive health/rights; parenting; children; gender)

The Unmumsy Mum is one of those 'telling it like it is' mum bloggers, and is (along with Hurrah for Gin and a couple of others) probably one of the most popular in the UK over the past few years. When she was writing her first book, she asked for her followers to send in their own tales of parenting disasters/faux pas/hilarious inadvertent sweariness/etc, and then she put some of them in this little ebook along with the introduction to her own book as a freebie to advertise the book. The Unmumsy Mums: A Collection of Your Hysterical Stories from the Frontline of Parenting is only 30-odd pages, but was a fun diversion for half an hour. I think I've been following her page for so long now that some of these tales felt a bit tame (hence only giving it 3 stars), but a few of them did have me laughing out loud. But then I laugh out loud reading the comments on her facebook posts too - parenting really is the most ridiculous thing sometimes. I've got both of her actual books still waiting to be read, and the taster of the first book did remind me that she really is, amongst all the tales of poo and tantrums, a very good and funny writer, so I'm looking forward to reading those. 3/5.

Edited: Aug 13, 5:13pm Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (August ColourCAT: Grey)

So I finally managed to read some Anne Bronte! I have read Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre by her sisters, and to be honest am not a huge fan of either, mainly on account of the awful leading men. As my copy of Anne's Agnes Grey was from Project Gutenberg and didn't have a cover picture, I have therefore treated myself (and you) to another showing of one of my favourite cartoons by Hark, A Vagrant! I have to say, I am totally with Anne on this one (and I am disproportionately amused by the thought of Anne even thinking of the phrase "If you like alcoholic dickbags", never mind actually saying it!).

From what other people have said in the past, I gathered that Anne is the preachiest of the three sisters, and that certainly came across here, although that didn't annoy me as much as it might have. The story was much less dark and brooding than those of her sisters, and it left absolutely no need to guess who Agnes was going to end up with, it was obvious as soon as he was introduced. It reminded me more of Jane Austen than the other Brontes, but without the humour/satire. I'm giving this 3 stars for the story, and an extra half star for having a bearable male lead. 3.5/5.

Aug 13, 5:33pm Top

>199 Jackie_K: - The last sentence is one of my favorite last lines of a book - "And now I think I have said sufficient." Very accurate.

Aug 14, 6:00am Top

>200 LittleTaiko: If only some other authors were so self-aware!

Aug 14, 10:30am Top

>199 Jackie_K: That cartoon is the BEST! And I agree with your assessment of Agnes Grey -- very Austenesque, except without the humor and liveliness.

Aug 14, 12:00pm Top

>199 Jackie_K: ha! I would agree that there is something not at all right with Heathcliffe and Mr Rochester. Having said that, I can't really recall much of the leading man in Agnes Grey, so I'm not sure that says much for him either...

Aug 16, 9:02am Top

>202 christina_reads: It's brilliant, isn't it? I love Anne's face in the last picture, and am highly amused by the thought of the phrase "if you like alcoholic dickbags" even entering Anne's head, never mind coming out of her mouth!

>203 Helenliz: Yes, good point - I guess ultimately, being happily fairly boring myself, I'm less bothered by his ordinariness and good character, although I wouldn't want to read hundreds of similar books - the odd one is fine though! I just find Heathcliff's violence and cruelty, and Rochester's awful treatment of Bertha, really disturbing.

Aug 16, 1:47pm Top

>204 Jackie_K: I know what you mean, I live what probably appears to be a middle of the road, slightly boring, life as well. But I'm happy in it. Like you, I didn't find anything appealing in Heathcliffe. Mr Rochester does get his comeuppance, but I was left feeling that Jane was taking on something somewhat unpredictable and that this wasn't going to be an entirely happy ending if played through. Despite the slightly triumphant "Reader, I married him" business. Agnes, while preachy, did at least find a mate that seems to have a few brain cells, an ounce of compassion and some initiative. She probably got the best deal!

Edited: Aug 17, 2:51am Top

>205 Helenliz: Now I'm really looking forward to reading Agnes Grey!

Aug 25, 12:50pm Top

>205 Helenliz: Oh yes, I agree with this exactly!
>206 MissWatson: I hope you enjoy it!

Category: Arran (Vintage Fiction: 1900-1968)

This feels like cheating, because I haven't actually finished this one, but decided instead this afternoon to officially abandon this book, but I am still going to give it a star rating because it is a childhood book that I read several times *cough*ahem* years ago. When I was a child Frances Hodgson Burnett's A Little Princess was one of my favourite books, and I do remember reading and rereading it and loving it then. When I got my first ereader a few years back I picked this up on Project Gutenberg and was really looking forward to rereading it, but unlike some childhood favourites which stand the test of time and adult cynicism, I really struggled with this one. Privileged and rich (but unspoilt and all-round perfect girl) Sarah Crewe starts off at boarding school and enjoys privileges beyond any of the other boarders. Then her dad loses all his money, and she has to become a maid at the school where she is maltreated by the same headteacher, Miss Minchin, who was all over her when her dad was showering her with money. This time round I found it too hard to suspend disbelief that someone could be so very perfect when she was so very privileged and wanting for nothing, and so I just kept putting this down and leaving it for months at a time (I think I started it in July 2017, and have read 6 or 7 chapters). I'm giving it 3 stars, this is mainly nostalgic and remembering my past love of the book. I might try again at some point, but I think I've tried hard enough for now. 3/5.

Aug 26, 10:16am Top

Category: Cumbrae (Sexual/reproductive health/rights; parenting; children; gender)

Laurence J. Cohen's Playful Parenting is one of the most helpful how-to (as opposed to my usual '*&@! it sucks sometimes, I'm rubbish at this') parenting books I've ever read, and I found myself agreeing with most of it. His basic premise is that we should use play to connect/reconnect with our children, in order to foster greater security, relationship and emotional wellbeing (for them and for us). I just found it a very generous book, which spoke a lot of sense, and highly recommend it. 4.5/5.

Sep 8, 3:34pm Top

Category: Ailsa Craig (September ColourCAT: Metallic)

My September ColourCAT read is Ben Goldacre's Bad Science. I'm already a fan, so he's preaching to the converted here. He looks at the misrepresentation of science, and its effects, by media, pharmaceutical companies, alternative therapists and rogue medics, with the aim of encouraging all of us to be more critical about the information we're consuming. Excellent stuff (although I did find myself getting quite irritated by his use - more than once - of 'humanities graduate' as a term of insult). 4.5/5.

Sep 8, 4:10pm Top

>209 Jackie_K: Ha! Not going to read that, then. My husband sometimes brings home things written by his interns, engineering and math majors, all, just to marvel at how they could have benefitted from a couple of writing classes. And I think we all can see the sad result of decades of sneering at subjects like history and philosophy.

Sep 8, 4:31pm Top

>210 RidgewayGirl: I've probably been unfair - he is just very passionate about how science incorrectly reported by people who don't understand it has real-life devastating consequences, and so he can occasionally get a bit hyperbolic. This book is actually highly readable and in all honesty I think that he is right up there as one of the most important people in the UK today making science - particularly medicine - understandable and accessible to those of us who aren't medics. I think below the hyperbole about humanities graduates, his point is probably similar to yours about sneering at the humanities, only about science - science and medicine being dismissed and distorted by people who don't understand it (I guess you only need to look at the current slew of politicians who deny climate change) is dangerous.

Today, 4:19pm Top

No more books to report, but I do have my very first LT meetup to report! rabbitprincess is in Scotland at the moment, and over the weekend has been here in Stirling for the Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, so I was really delighted to be able to meet up with her on Saturday. We had lunch, then wandered up to watch the English vs Scottish crime writers 5-a-side football match, which was entertaining and great fun (although England won, with a Scottish goal controversially disallowed, so I suspect next year's match might be a bit of a grudge match!).

I put a photo of the match on my rather neglected blipfoto blog: https://www.blipfoto.com/entry/2490267476655342296

And this is rabbitprincess and me after the match had ended:

Today, 4:42pm Top

What a great event to be at for a meet-up! Looks like you both enjoyed the match and getting together!

Today, 6:39pm Top

The match was so much fun! You could tell the players were enjoying themselves. Mark Billingham and Craig Robertson make pretty fair goalies ;)

Group: 2018 Category Challenge

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