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Jackie's 2019 5 star category challenge Part 2

This is a continuation of the topic Jackie's 2019 5 star category challenge.

2019 Category Challenge

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1Jackie_K
Edited: Jul 4, 1:41pm Top



Welcome to my 4th year of the Category Challenge! My name is Jackie, I am English but have lived in beautiful Scotland since 2005. I have a significant birthday in 2019, so will be planning a year of fun things to do to try to take the edge off the number a bit!

I'm keeping all the same categories as previous years (these are the categories that my mountain of TBR books broadly fall into), but I have chosen a new theme for 2019 - and one which is pretty apt (though I say so myself!). I am going to name each of my categories after a book which I have read in previous years which I consider to be an outstanding 5* read. The books I read in 2019 will mainly be from Mt TBR, but I am continuing my personal challenge to read at least a book a month from my local library as well.

I will continue using my Jar of Fate, which is a jar containing colour-coded slips of paper with every title of every TBR book I own, which (other than books I've chosen for particular challenges) I will pick out to decide my next read. The colour codes relate to my 11 main categories (I always have 12 categories, with the 12th one being CATs and challenges).

My categories (and their colours and 5* books) are:

1. (red/Stalin's Nose) 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/On the Front Line) Non-fiction (general). Non-fiction that doesn't fall easily into any of my other categories.
3. (yellow/The Sparrow) Contemporary fiction (1969-present). Contemporary with me, so fiction from the year of my birth onwards.
4. (dark green/Hurrah for Gin!) 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/Sea Room) 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/To Kill a Mockingbird) Vintage fiction (1900-1968). Fiction from the 20th century BJ (Before Jackie).
7. (pink/The Politics of Duplicity) 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/Wild Swans) Biography/autobiography/memoir/true events. Occasional overlap with other categories, but otherwise pretty self-explanatory.
9. (light brown/David Copperfield) Ancient fiction (pre-1900). Lots courtesy of Project Gutenberg, plus other bits and bobs I've picked up over the years.
10. (purple/Journey to the Edge of the World) Travel. Anywhere in the world - mainly but not exclusively non-fiction.
11. (dark brown/Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger) Religious. Mainly related to Christianity, but not exclusively. Primarily non-fiction.
12. (no colour/The Shepherd's Life) CATs and Challenges. I'm not going to go mad on CATs, but will try to complete the whole Non-Fiction challenge in the 75 group and will do CATs those months where I have a book which fits.

Note to self so I don't have to look everywhere - code for inserting a picture (surrounded by less than and greater than signs): img src="URL" width=200 length=150

2Jackie_K
Edited: Aug 27, 10:13am Top

1. Stalin's Nose (Rory MacLean) (CEE/FSU)



Stalin's Nose tells the surreal and fictionalised story of a journey by Trabant in the early 1990s throughout the newly-transitioning countries of Eastern Europe, from East Germany south to Romania, then ending up in Moscow. But that doesn't begin to do justice to this bonkers and funny yet incredibly profound book. I went to Romania first in 1993, and lived there for a few months in 1994 teaching English, and even though this account is totally madcap in presentation, I recognised so much of it. A brilliant book.

Since first going to Romania in 1993 I've spent a couple of extended periods there and also in Moldova, and visited a few other countries of the region. Along the way I've picked up quite a number of books!

1. Slavoj Zizek & Nadya Tolokonnikova - Comradely Greetings. Finished 23.2.19. 4/5.
2. Timothy Garton Ash - The File: A Personal History. Finished 27.4.19. 4.5/5.
3. Mark Holborn & Torsten Nystrom - Propaganda: Photographs from Soviet Archives. Finished 22.7.19. 4.5/5.
4. Zvi Feine - Jewish Communal Service in Romania and Poland 1986-2006. Finished 27.8.19. 3.5/5.

3Jackie_K
Edited: Sep 15, 1:58pm Top

2. On the Front Line: The Collected Journalism of Marie Colvin (Non-fiction: general)



I read On the Front Line in 2017 and felt bereaved when I finished it. Marie Colvin was the veteran Sunday Times foreign correspondent who was killed in 2012 whilst reporting from Syria. This book contains every piece she ever wrote, and is an extraordinary testament to a remarkable woman.

This category is for all my non-fiction that does not easily fit into my other categories.

1. William Zinsser - On Writing Well, 30th anniversary edition. Finished 9.1.19. 4/5.
2. Aaron Swartz - The Boy Who Could Change the World. Finished 4.3.19. 4/5.
3. Peggy Shinner - You Feel so Mortal: Essays on the Body. Finished 2.5.19. 3.5/5.
4. Peter Wohlleben - The Hidden Life of Trees. Finished 30.5.19. 4/5.
5. Andi Cumbo-Floyd - Love Letters to Writers. Finished 24.7.19. 4/5.
6. Rebecca Solnit - Hope in the Dark. Finished 25.7.19. 4/5.
7. Anne Janzer - The Writer's Process: Getting Your Brain in Gear. Finished 22.8.19. 4/5.
8. Elementum Journal: 3: Roots. Finished 4.9.19. 4.5/5.
9. Elementum Journal: 4: Shape. Finished 15.9.19. 5/5.

4Jackie_K
Edited: Aug 5, 5:22am Top

3. The Sparrow (Mary Doria Russell) (Contemporary fiction: 1969-present)



The main character in The Sparrow, Catholic priest Emilio Sandoz, is my biggest literary crush. This is also a book which broke my heart. Life is discovered just outside of our solar system, and the Jesuits send a team to make contact (basically, if you think of the film The Mission and make it sci-fi and slightly in the future, this is it). The end result is tragic and brutal, and I've still not dared pick up the sequel, Children of God, because I know I'll have my heart broken all over again.

This category is for the fiction that is contemporary with me, so published from 1969 onwards.

1. Julian Gough & Jim Field - Rabbit & Bear: Attack of the Snack. Finished 4.2.19. 4.5/5.
2. Christopher Francis - I Don't Want to Go to Sleep!. Finished 11.3.19. 4/5.
3. Mark Stay & Mark Oliver - Back to Reality. Finished 26.3.19. 4.5/5.
4. Mark Stay - The End of Magic. Finished 14.5.19. 4.5/5.
5. Max Porter - Grief is the Thing with Feathers. Finished 2.6.19. 3.5/5.
6. Catherine Doyle - The Storm Keeper's Island. Finished 5.8.19. 5/5.

5Jackie_K
Edited: Sep 12, 2:10pm Top

4. Hurrah for Gin! (Katie Kirby) (Sexual & Reproductive Health and Rights; parenting; children; gender)



Although many of my books in this category are academic and/or professional in scope, Hurrah for Gin! is the hilarious book by one of my favourite 'mummy bloggers'. Sweary stick people tell it like it is.

1. Rima D. Apple - Mothers & Medicine: A Social History of Infant Feeding, 1890-1950. Finished 3.4.19. 4/5.
2. Ellen Lewin - Lesbian Mothers: Accounts of Gender in American Culture. Finished 11.5.19. 3.5/5.
3. Katie Kirby - The Daily Struggles of Archie Adams (Aged 2 1/4). Finished 12.9.19. 3.5/5.

6Jackie_K
Edited: Aug 26, 5:12am Top

5. Sea Room (Adam Nicolson) (Celtic)



Sea Room is a wonderful book - the author was the hereditary owner of the Shiants, three islands just off Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, and this details a summer spent living alone there; in effect a love letter to the islands. It complicated my rather trenchant views about rich landowners (generally I disapprove, but he was so sympathetic and thoughtful and respectful of the land and of the island population that saying 'I disapprove' suddenly felt too simplistic).

Most of my books in this category are Scotland-related, with a significant minority related to Ireland, but this category is aimed at all the Celtic lands.

1. Lorna Main - First Generations: The Stirling Area from Mesolithic to Roman Times. Finished 24.2.19. 3.5/5.
2. Ian Crofton - Scottish History Without the Boring Bits. Finished 8.6.19. 3/5.
3. Jayne Stephenson - The Home Front Stirling 1939-1945. Finished 18.7.19. 2.5/5.
4. Hubert Butler - The Eggman and the Fairies. Finished 20.7.19. 4/5.
5. Alistair Moffat - The Hidden Ways: Scotland's Forgotten Roads. Finished 25.8.19. 4.5/5.

7Jackie_K
Edited: Jul 4, 1:49pm Top

6. To Kill a Mockingbird (Harper Lee) (Vintage fiction: 1900-1968)



I know there are all sorts of reasons that mean To Kill a Mockingbird could be considered as problematic as it is classic (the black experience being told by a white author, for one, plus its negative portrayal of the white working class), but nevertheless, this book, which I first read in the early 1980s at school, opened my eyes for the very first time to issues of racism and injustice, and for that I'll be always so grateful.

This is for all my 20th century fiction prior to my contemporary fiction category, so published between 1900-1968.

1. Goscinny & Uderzo - Asterix and Cleopatra. Finished 28.1.19. 3.5/5.

8Jackie_K
Edited: Aug 29, 1:24pm Top

7. The Politics of Duplicity (Gail Kligman) (Academic)



Gail Kligman's The Politics of Duplicity: Controlling Reproduction in Ceausescu's Romania was one of two academic books (the other one being Michele Rivkin-Fish's Women's Health in Post-Soviet Russia: The Politics of Intervention) which blew me away during my own PhD research. If I'd stayed in academia, and in the same research field, these are the books I would have loved to have written.

This category is for all my academic books.

1. Sally R. Munt - Queer Attachments: The Cultural Politics of Shame. Finished 16.3.19. 3.5/5.
2. Alena V. Ledeneva - How Russia Really Works. Finished 24.6.19. 4/5.
3. Alison Phipps - The Politics of the Body. Finished 29.8.19. 4.5/5.

9Jackie_K
Edited: Jul 4, 1:51pm Top

8. Wild Swans (Jung Chang) (Biography/autobiography/memoir/true events)



Wild Swans details three generations of a Chinese family at the same time as charting the events of 20th century China including the rise and rule and profound impact of Chairman Mao. I read it in the mid-90s, and I think it is one of the first non-fiction books that absolutely took my breath away.

1. Joanna Cannon & others - Three Things I'd Tell my Younger Self. Finished 18.2.19. 3/5.
2. Amanda Owen - The Yorkshire Shepherdess. Finished 23.5.19. 3.5/5.
3. Marcia Kester Doyle - Who Stole my Spandex? Life in the Hot Flash Lane. Finished 9.6.19. 3/5.

10Jackie_K
Edited: Jul 4, 1:52pm Top

9. David Copperfield (Charles Dickens) (Ancient fiction: pre-1900)



David Copperfield is the first Dickens I ever read, and it remains my favourite (and the only one I have reread, several times). I always cry in the exact same place every single time I read it, even though I know exactly what's coming (it's the chapter where Dora dies). A lot of the books in this category are classics, but I must admit that few if any come close to David Copperfield for me.

11Jackie_K
Edited: Sep 2, 11:20am Top

10. Journey to the Edge of the World (Billy Connolly) (Travel)



A good TV travel series tie-in book is one of my guilty pleasures, and none is finer than Journey to the Edge of the World. Billy Connolly is the most wonderful and generous travel companion - he was interested in everyone and everything he saw, and infused throughout is his wonderful humour.

I love armchair travelling with a good book.

1. Colin Thubron - In Siberia. Finished 26.3.19. 4.5/5.
2. Dea Birkett - Off the Beaten Track: Three Centuries of Women Travellers. Finished 24.6.19. 4/5.
3. Mark Carwardine - Last Chance to See: In the Footsteps of Douglas Adams. Finished 2.9.19. 4.5/5.

12Jackie_K
Edited: Aug 27, 2:31pm Top

11. Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Ron Sider) (Religion)



Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger really opened my eyes to my responsibilities towards humanity from a faith perspective, and is another I've reread several times. I fall short all the time, of course, but the longing for justice and equality never goes away.

Most of my books in this category are related to Christianity, but not all.

1. Dan Papworth - The Lives Around Us: daily meditations for nature connection. Finished 20.4.19. 4.5/5.
2. Richard Holloway - Godless Morality: Keeping Religion Out of Ethics. Finished 27.8.19. 3.5/5.

13Jackie_K
Edited: Sep 13, 11:11am Top

12. The Shepherd's Life (James Rebanks) (CATs and Challenges)



I read The Shepherd's Life in 2017 when the RandomCAT and my real life book group's summer theme (the Animal Kingdom) coincided, and I was blown away by this account of an increasingly precarious way of life, of environment, of education, and of farming. An absolutely extraordinary book.

This is for all my CAT and challenge reads this year.

1. Jackie Kay - Red Dust Road. January RandomCAT (Your Name in Print). Finished 12.1.19. 5/5.
2. Robert Macfarlane - The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot. January Non-Fiction challenge (Prizewinners & Nominees). Finished 25.1.19. 4.5/5.
3. Tim Peake - Ask An Astronaut. February Non-Fiction challenge (Science & Technology; Innovation & Innovators). Finished 4.2.19. 4/5.
4. Svetlana Alexievich - Second Hand Time. February group read. Finished 9.2.19. 4.5/5.
5. Dana Stabenow - Alaska Traveler. February RandomCAT (We Need A Break). Finished 16.2.19. 4/5.
6. Roger Hutchinson - Calum's Road. March TBRCat (Books acquired for/during trips or special occasions). Finished 8.3.19. 4.5/5.
7. Chris Moon - One Step Beyond. January TBRCat (First in, Last out). Finished 11.3.19. 3.5/5.
8. Helen Russell - The Year of Living Danishly. March RandomCAT (Brexit Madness). Finished 17.3.19. 4/5.
9. Emma Mitchell - The Wild Remedy: How Nature Mends Us - A Diary. April Non-Fiction Challenge (Comfort Reads). Finished 4.4.19. 5/5.
10. Tara Westover - Educated. April TBRCat (Book originally acquired for a challenge or group read). Finished 13.4.19. 5/5.
11. Julia Blackburn - Thin Paths: journeys in and around an Italian mountain village. April Non-Fiction Challenge (Comfort Reads). Finished 19.4.19. 4.5/5.
12. Paul MacAlindin - Upbeat. April TBRCat (Book originally acquired for a challenge or group read). Finished 27.4.19. 4/5.
13. China Mieville - October: The Story of the Russian Revolution. May Non-Fiction Challenge (History). Finished 25.5.19. 4/5.
14. Monica Connell - Gathering Carrageen. May TBRCat (Book I keep looking at but never manage to open). Finished 26.5.19. 4/5.
15. Kate Evans - Threads: from the Refugee Crisis. June Non-fiction challenge (Non-fiction told in images). Finished 4.6.19. 5/5.
16. Various - Migrations: Open Hearts Open Borders (?no touchstone). June Non-Fiction Challenge (Non-fiction told in images). Finished 5.6.19. 5/5.
17. Pete Souza - Obama: An Intimate Portrait. June Non-Fiction Challenge (Non-Fiction told in images). Finished 12.6.19. 5/5.
18. Robin Sloan - Mr Penumbra's 24 hour Bookstore. June TBRCat (Book bullets). Finished 1.7.19. 3.5/5.
19. Anne Lamott - Bird by Bird. July RandomCAT (All about Birds). Finished 6.7.19. 4/5.
20. Trevor Noah - Born a Crime. July Non-Fiction Challenge (Biography/Memoir). Finished 11.7.19. 5/5.
21. Isabella Tree - Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm. July RandomCAT (All about birds). Finished 14.7.19. 5/5.
22. Jasper Fforde - Lost in a Good Book. July TBRCat (books by an author with more than one book on your TBR shelf). Finished 28.7.19. 4/5.
23. Alexander McCall Smith - Morality for Beautiful Girls. July TBRCat (books by an author with more than one book on your TBR shelf). Finished 30.7.19. 4/5.
24. Evelyne Bloch-Dano - Vegetables: A Biography. August Non-Fiction Challenge (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral). Finished 1.8.19. 3/5.
25. Jane Brown - Tales of the Rose Tree. August Non-Fiction Challenge (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral). Finished 8.8.19. 3.5/5.
26. Susan Calman - Cheer Up Love. August TBRCat (books bought with great enthusiasm, still on your TBR). Finished 8.8.19. 4.5/5.
27. Andrea Wulf - The Brother Gardeners. August Non-Fiction Challenge (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral). Finished 15.8.19. 4/5.
28. Douglas Adams & Mark Carwardine - Last Chance to See. August Non-Fiction Challenge (Animal, Vegetable, Mineral). Finished 18.8.19. 4.5/5.
29. Mohammed Omer - Shell-Shocked. September Non-Fiction Challenge (Books by Journalists). Finished 2.9.19. 4.5/5.
30. Chitra Ramaswamy - Expecting: The Inner Life of Pregnancy. September Non-Fiction Challenge (Books by Journalists). Finished 12.9.19. 5/5.

14Jackie_K
Jul 4, 1:58pm Top

Welcome to my new thread for the 2nd half of 2019! Looking forward to more book chat :)

15Helenliz
Jul 4, 2:24pm Top

Happy new thread!
May I just say I love the juxtaposition of To Kill a Mockingbird as a category containing just the one book: Asterix & Cleopatra. Two books I think I'd stuggle to say had a lot in common, but there they are. >:-) Isn't it great how reading throws these things up.

16Jackie_K
Jul 4, 3:36pm Top

>15 Helenliz: Haha, I know! I am actually currently reading a more 'highbrow' book for that category (although it's a chunkster so I doubt I'll finish it for another 2 or 3 months). I suppose that depending on how you define your categories, some interesting combinations of books will get thrown together!

17rabbitprincess
Jul 4, 6:56pm Top

Happy new thread! Looking forward to seeing what else fills your thread this year.

18Robertgreaves
Jul 4, 9:37pm Top

Happy new thread, Jackie.

19tess_schoolmarm
Jul 5, 3:31am Top

Happy new thread!

20MissWatson
Jul 5, 3:55am Top

Happy new thread, Jackie! Copperfield is one of the few Dickens I haven't read yet ...

21Jackie_K
Jul 6, 10:15am Top

>17 rabbitprincess: >18 Robertgreaves: >19 tess_schoolmarm: >20 MissWatson: Thank you all!

Category: The Shepherd's Life (July RandomCAT: All About Birds)



No sooner bought than read! Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird is a book about writing, and so much more, and I've meant to get to it for ages. Short chapters cover all aspects of the writing process, from deciding to write, first drafts, plot, writing groups, publication, and all sorts of other things. This isn't a book about improving your writing per se - it doesn't have writing exercises, or millions of examples - I suppose it's more about the philosophy behind why we write, and how to make the most of the experience if we decide that's the direction we want to take. I did find some of it a bit too hyperbolic and overblown for my taste (especially the penultimate chapter on publication), but there were plenty of bits which I absolutely loved, and in particular towards the end when she talks about writing as giving. I think this is one I will dip in and out of often. 4/5.

22Jackie_K
Jul 7, 11:22am Top

I'm going to be offline for the next week and a half, we are heading to England for the annual family visits. I'm hoping to get plenty of reading done, as well as all the social stuff. I can't wait - even though it won't be particularly relaxing, I feel like I'm running on empty, so a bit of time away from it all is just what I need.

23RidgewayGirl
Jul 7, 4:37pm Top

Have a fun time on your annual trip south! I like Billy Connelly a lot, but I always need awhile listening to be able to understand him.

24Helenliz
Jul 7, 4:41pm Top

>22 Jackie_K: It's been nice down here recently, obviously in honour of your visit. Have a nice trip and hope the change is as good as a rest.

25MissWatson
Jul 8, 5:16am Top

Have a good trip and a nice time with your family, Jackie. I just spent Sunday at my aunt's 80th birthday and it was great to meet her great-granddaughters for the first time.

26VivienneR
Jul 8, 3:23pm Top

>22 Jackie_K: Enjoy the family visits and recharge!

27Jackie_K
Jul 16, 12:31pm Top

>23 RidgewayGirl: >24 Helenliz: >25 MissWatson: >26 VivienneR: Thank you all! I did have a nice time, and also managed to visit Triangular Lodge (star of one of Helenliz's categories!) which was very interesting. I also got a couple of books finished, and a few more still on the go (as per usual!).

Category: The Shepherd's Life (July Non-Fiction challenge: Biography/Memoir)



Trevor Noah's memoir of growing up in South Africa around the end of the apartheid regime, Born a Crime, was absolutely brilliant, I loved it. He is an absolute master storyteller, and could teach fiction writers a thing or two about writing characters, about crafting scenes, and evoking a time and place. He discusses family, politics, identity, and race, both through stories of his family and in short sections explaining how the politics of apartheid impacted on daily life. A couple of the sections had me laughing out loud (for those who have read it: the bit where he takes a dump in his grandma's kitchen instead of using the outhouse, and also later on his break-dancing friend Hitler). But amongst all the absurdity, he doesn't shy away from the more violent side of life, with an abusive and violent stepfather, and the realities of living in a police state. An absolutely wonderful book. 5.5.

Category: The Shepherd's Life (July RandomCAT: All about birds)



Wilding: The return of nature to a British farm by Isabella Tree is currently shortlisted for this year's Wainwright Prize (my absolute favourite literary award - I've never read a Wainwright nominee I didn't love). The author and her husband owned a dairy and arable farm in Sussex in southern England, but increasing financial precarity led to them selling their livestock in 2000 and gradually letting the farm return to a wilder state. They introduce some free-roaming grazing animals (longhorn cows, Exmoor ponies and Tamworth pigs), and stop spraying and weeding the land. Over the years they see the resurgence on their land of animals that had disappeared (or were close to disappearing) from the English landscape - such as the Purple Emperor butterfly, turtle dove, and nightingale - and muse on alternative ways to farm sustainably whilst not destroying biodiversity. They are also open about the resistance they faced, certainly in the first decade, from neighbouring farmers and landowners, and the frustrations of political caution and obstruction. This is a really important book, and I'd urge everyone to read it. 5/5.

28DeltaQueen50
Jul 16, 2:11pm Top

Can't get much better than two 5 star books in a row!

29Jackie_K
Jul 16, 5:25pm Top

>28 DeltaQueen50: Even better, two 5 star books in a row whilst on holiday! :D

30tess_schoolmarm
Jul 16, 5:53pm Top

>27 Jackie_K: Wilding goes on my wishlist!

31Helenliz
Jul 17, 1:58am Top

Glad you had a good time, with some very good reads. I'm pleased to have hit someone with a building bullet >:-)

32Jackie_K
Jul 17, 5:47am Top

>30 tess_schoolmarm: Hope you enjoy it if you get to it!

>31 Helenliz: Excellent, 'building bullet', I love it! It was a great building - so much in such a small building. I made sure I bought a guidebook, which definitely helped me see some details I might otherwise have missed.

33clue
Edited: Jul 17, 4:11pm Top

I look forward to reading Wilding! It won't be available in the U.S. until September so it will be cool enough for outside reading by then.

34Jackie_K
Jul 18, 1:17pm Top

>33 clue: I read quite a bit of it outdoors on our holiday last week, and you're right, it does lend itself to outdoor reading!

Category: Sea Room (Celtic)



Jayne Stephenson's Home Front Stirling 1939-1945 was a short book from the library detailing local memories of WW2 in Stirling. The city only saw one hostile action (two bombs dropped on Kings Park in 1940), otherwise this just mentions things like rationing, evacuees, and changes in employment, plus memories of the VE Day celebrations. It's a thin volume (30-odd pages) which reflects the lack of action here - it would be of interest I presume to local historians. 2.5/5.

35VivienneR
Jul 19, 1:01am Top

Wonderful! Your two five-star books have become two five-star books on my wishlist! Thank you.

36Jackie_K
Edited: Jul 20, 6:35am Top

>35 VivienneR: I'm confident you'll enjoy them both, Vivienne!

Category: Sea Room (Celtic)



I've acquired a few essay collections recently, and amongst those were a couple of collections of essays by Hubert Butler. This one, The Eggman and the Fairies, is a collection of his Irish essays (the other one I bought is of his essays about the Balkans). He was writing throughout much of the 20th century, and I found that many of the essays were pretty timeless. I liked some more than others, of course, but throughout I appreciated his focus on the importance of the local, as well as his discussions of nationalism and history. The essays I particularly liked were one on Irish literature (a hastily-written but impressive talk he gave to the Union of Writers in then-Leningrad in 1956), and an essay from 1941 called 'The Barriers', about nationalism and small nations, and the importance of diversity to national culture. There was also a quote in the final essay which really made me think nothing has changed at all really, however much things change - this was written in 1956, but could have been written yesterday:

Speed of communications has increased, and we are expected to have strong feelings about an infinite series of remote events. But our powers of understanding and sympathy have not correspondingly increased. In an atmosphere of artificially heated emotionalism truth simply dissolves into expediency.

I'll look forward to reading the Balkan essays when I eventually get to them. 4/5.

37Jackie_K
Jul 22, 6:18am Top

Category: Stalin's Nose (Central & Eastern Europe/former Soviet Union)



Propaganda: Photographs from Soviet Archives (curated by Mark Holborn and Torsten Nystrom) is a coffee table book of photographs from the Novosti Press Agency archives in Sweden. Mostly from 1960-1990, it details the vast scale of Soviet enterprise in many domains, from forestry to space. It made me think how exciting it must have been in the 1960s and 70s to see so much technical innovation, even if a lot of the hardware today looks slightly ridiculous. A really interesting set of photos, recommended. 4.5/5.

38Jackie_K
Jul 26, 11:37am Top

Category: On the Front Line (non-fiction: general)



Author Andi Cumbo-Floyd is a member of a number of online writing groups, including the one that I am part of, so I was happy to buy this to support a very supportive writer. Love Letters to Writers is a series of 52 short letters (so you could read it one a week for a year, which I might well do, although I read it in a couple of short sittings this time) covering various aspects of the writing life, and has plenty of wisdom and down to earth advice. 4/5.

Category: On the Front Line (non-fiction: general)



Hope in the Dark by Rebecca Solnit is a series of essays, originally published in the early 2000s around 9/11 and Iraq invasion time. This features a foreward and afterword from 2016, and could clearly be updated again (sigh). She discusses activism and protest, and ways of looking at it, and at a time when I'm feeling politically quite impotent I needed this shot in the arm. I freely admit to being her target audience, but I did really like it. 4/5.

39Jackie_K
Jul 28, 11:14am Top

Category: The Shepherd's Life (July TBRCat: books by an author with more than one book on your TBR shelf)



Lost in a Good Book is the second book in Jasper Fforde's Thursday Next series, and it was just as fun and silly and clever as the first one. This time, the dastardly Goliath Corporation manage to 'eradicate' Thursday's new husband, Landen Parke-Laine, and she embarks on an adventure jumping between books in an attempt to a) get him back, and b) save the world. In order to do this she is apprenticed to ace JurisFiction agent, Miss Havisham (yes, that Miss Havisham). I loved this, and the explanation of the Well of Lost Plots (which, as it happens, is also the title of the next book in the series) made me laugh out loud. 4/5.

40Jackie_K
Jul 30, 4:30pm Top

Category: The Shepherd's Life (July TBRCat: books by an author with more than one book on your TBR shelf)



It's not like me to race through a fiction book in 2 days, but that's what I've just done with Alexander McCall Smith's Morality for Beautiful Women, the 3rd in the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series. As with the previous books, detective Mma Ramotswe gently goes about solving mysteries (in this case the alleged poisoning of the brother of a Government official), and observing daily life in Botswana. And as with the other books, this was just the gentle read I needed. 4/5.

41Jackie_K
Aug 1, 5:08pm Top

Category: The Shepherd's Life (August Non-Fiction Challenge: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral)



Vegetables: A Biography by Evelyne Bloch-Dano (translated by Teresa Lavender Fagan) is a short book which covers the history of various vegetables - where they came from, where their names come from, how they ended up where they are now. It includes some recipes and extracts from historical literature. An interesting book, but it felt a bit unsatisfying. 3/5.

42Jackie_K
Aug 5, 5:22am Top

Category: The Sparrow (contemporary fiction: 1969-present)



Catherine Doyle's The Storm Keeper's Island is a middle grade (ie younger-than-YA) chapter book which I got from the library, but it was so wonderful I'll definitely be getting my own copy and I can't wait until my daughter is old enough that we can read it together. I'll also definitely be looking out for the sequel which is out any time now. Late primary/early secondary school me would have been all over this book 40 years ago - it has magic, mystery, foreboding, humour, adventure - I loved it. 5/5

This is the blurb:

When Fionn Boyle sets foot on Arranmore Island, it begins to stir beneath his feet...

Once in a generation, Arranmore Island chooses a new Storm Keeper to wield its power and keep its magic safe from enemies. The time has come for Fionn's grandfather, a secretive and eccentric old man, to step down. Soon, a new Keeper will rise.

But, deep underground, someone has been waiting for Fionn. As the battle to become the island's next champion rages, a more sinister magic is waking up, intent on rekindling an ancient war.

43Jackie_K
Aug 8, 11:14am Top

Category: The Shepherd's Life (August Non-Fiction Challenge: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral)



Jane Brown's Tales of the Rose Tree was one of the books I bought recently as part of my research for something I'm planning on writing soon. It (this book, not what I'm going to write!) is a history of the rhododendron, and details the various plant collectors, gardeners, explorers and financiers involved in the spread of the rhododendron and its various hybrids as a popular ornamental plant around the world. It was a bit plummy and breathless in tone, but somehow that was really fitting for the subject. There were so many different characters that it was sometimes hard to keep up, but it was interesting and there are a few things in it which have changed (or deepened) my thinking about what I plan to write myself. I thought the penultimate chapter, on ecology, was the most interesting. 3.5/5.

Category: The Shepherd's Life (August TBRCat: books bought with great enthusiasm but still on your TBR)



Cheer Up Love: Adventures in Depression with the Crab of Hate by Scottish comedian Susan Calman was a frank but fun look at mental health. I had already heard her podcast series "Mrs Brightside", where she discusses mental health with eight different comedians, and in a way this was more of the same, but as I absolutely loved "Mrs Brightside" (and am happy to hear there's likely to be a second series in the pipeline), that's no bad thing - I really enjoyed this, if that's not a weird thing to say about a book about depression. 4.5/5.

44Helenliz
Aug 8, 1:21pm Top

>43 Jackie_K: I love rhododendrons, although I understand the problems they pose the native flora. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your point of view) we live on the wrong type of soil. That's a maybe if I see it kind of bullet. Half a wing, if you like.

45Robertgreaves
Edited: Aug 8, 7:25pm Top

>43 Jackie_K: So, is rhododendron honey really poisonous?

46Jackie_K
Aug 9, 10:01am Top

>44 Helenliz: Yeah, it's got a huge foothold in the west of Scotland, so we clearly have the right sort of soil!

>45 Robertgreaves: Now, she did say something about that, but I've been to sleep since reading it so can't remember it all! I think there's a yellow flowered rhododendron that can be a bit dodgy, yes. But I think most of them are fine, honey-wise.

47Jackie_K
Aug 10, 10:46am Top

>45 Robertgreaves: Thank goodness for a decent index! You prompted me to look up the poisonous honey thing - I was right, it's the Chinese yellow azalea that's the main culprit, most rhododendron honeys are fine. There was one experiment which described people being nauseous etc, but they had ingested 50g of honey, which seems quite a lot to me.

48Robertgreaves
Aug 10, 7:39pm Top

>47 Jackie_K: Greek Fire, Poison Arrows, and Scorpion Bombs by Adrienne Mayor has a couple of pages on this comparing the experiences of Greek and Roman soldiers in Anatolia and Armenia and later experiences of hippies seeking natural highs and getting more than they bargained for.

49Jackie_K
Aug 15, 10:23am Top

>48 Robertgreaves: I think the search for natural highs often leads to getting more than one bargains for, whatever the source!

Category: The Shepherd's Life (August Non-Fiction Challenge: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral)



Andrea Wulf's The Brother Gardeners (subtitled Botany, Empire and the Birth of an Obsession) is the account of a group of gardeners, plant collectors and botanists who led the search for more and more exotic and far-flung plants to fill the gardens and estates of Britain in the 18th and 19th centuries. As expected, a number of the men included in Tales of the Rose Tree feature here, such as Bartram and Collinson, with a really detailed account of their friendships, rivalries, arguments, journeys, and finds, all among the backdrop of the growth of the British Empire. Really interesting, and very readable. My only very mild complaint was that the formatting of the glossary was off in my epub version - not that I would have read every word of a humungous glossary, but I would have flicked through it if I could. 4/5.

50clue
Aug 15, 2:39pm Top

>49 Jackie_K: I've meant to read Andrea Wulf forever but just haven't gotten to her. I'm going to make sure I do that before year end. Not only does the book look good, I love the cover!

51Jackie_K
Aug 15, 3:26pm Top

>50 clue: I'll definitely be trying some more of her books at some point, I really liked her prose style - even though it was clearly really well researched, it was never dry and academic. And yes, it's a great cover, isn't it?

52thornton37814
Aug 16, 5:06pm Top

>49 Jackie_K: That one sounds interesting.

53Jackie_K
Edited: Aug 18, 5:08pm Top

>52 thornton37814: It really was!

Category: The Shepherd's Life (August Non-Fiction challenge: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral)



Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams and Mark Carwardine was a wonderful read - yet another reminder of the deep loss to the world when Adams died so suddenly and so young. Back in the late 1980s Adams joined Carwardine (who is a zoologist) and a BBC sound recordist on a number of trips to various countries around the world trying to track down some super-rare animals and make a radio documentary about the trips, and this is the book of that project. They go to Madagascar, Zaire (as it was then), New Zealand, China, Komodo, and Mauritius, and Adams' writing is just a joy. He manages to perfectly portray the difficulties inherent in conservation of such endangered species, the interesting characters involved in conservation, and the bureaucracy facing them at every turn. The scene near the beginning where they visit an Australian academic who's the world expert on poisonous snakes had me howling with laughter (for Brits of a certain age who remember "The Fast Show", this was straight out of a "That's Amazing" sketch). Some years after Adams' death, Mark Carwardine did a TV documentary series with Stephen Fry visiting some of the same places, and I have the book of that series lined up for reading next month.

I ended up leaving this book with the friend we were staying with this weekend - he was absolutely bemused that there was a Douglas Adams book that he hadn't heard of, so I thought it was the least I could do! 4.5/5.

54Jackie_K
Aug 23, 2:30pm Top

Category: On the Front Line (Non-fiction: general)



Anne Janzer's The Writer's Process: Getting Your Brain in Gear covers some of the cognitive and behavioural science behind writing, and suggests how to have more of an idea what's going on through the process of writing. She contrasts the Scribe and the Muse, which I found a helpful way of picturing the different but complementary tasks of researching and getting the words down on the page with the incubating ideas and getting inspiration (I tend to spend a *lot* of time in the incubation stage!). 4/5.

55Jackie_K
Aug 26, 5:13am Top

Category: Sea Room (Celtic)



Another great book from the library - hooray for local libraries! - Alistair Moffat's The Hidden Ways: Scotland's Forgotten Roads is his account of walking ten of the now largely forgotten but previously important roads within Scotland, including Roman roads, drove roads, and abandoned railways. This is just my cup of tea - armchair travel at its finest. As well as writing about what he sees, he includes a lot about the history, and I learnt loads. Also: what a gorgeous cover! 4.5/5.

56tess_schoolmarm
Aug 26, 5:54am Top

>55 Jackie_K: sounds wonderful!

57rabbitprincess
Aug 26, 8:37am Top

>55 Jackie_K: If my mum doesn't have this, she needs it! It looks great.

58Jackie_K
Aug 27, 10:15am Top

>56 tess_schoolmarm: It really was!

>57 rabbitprincess: I'm sure as a Scotland-phile she'd enjoy it!

Category: Stalin's Nose (Central & Eastern Europe/Former Soviet Union)



I received Jewish Communal Service in Romania and Poland 1986-2006 by Zvi Feine from the LibraryThing Early Reviewer programme - thank you to the author and publishers for providing me with the chance to review the book.

I requested this because I have worked in various positions related to civil society/non-governmental organisations in Romania over the past 20 years, but have little knowledge of Jewish organisations there (although I did have the chance to be shown round the beautiful Sibiu synagogue during a 'Doors Open Day' in 2007 and loved meeting some of the community during that).

This book details the 20+ years the author spent working with the American JDC as Country Director for Romania (plus around 7 years concurrently as Country Director for Poland); the programmes that were supported and established both pre- and post- the 1989 fall of communism in both countries (including what worked well and in some cases less well); and the various people and communities involved. The work in Romania was covered more extensively, probably due to the author's greater experience and knowledge there, although I did find the information on the Polish community very interesting and would have liked to have read more about that.

I found the structure of the book a bit clunky - it sometimes looked at specific issues and used examples from both countries, but then towards the end had sections specifically and separately about the work in Romania and then Poland. This meant there was some repetition, and I found it sometimes hard to put my finger on the nub of the work that was being described. This was a feeling I had throughout the book, but particularly in the opening chapters - whilst the author describes in some detail issues he had to overcome, people he had to negotiate with, skills he needed to do his job, I just didn't always feel like I fully understood what the programmes involved. I would have appreciated a further concluding chapter where the achievements of the work undertaken by Dr Fiene and his organisation were concisely presented; that would have helped me to have more of a handle on the wide range of projects undertaken.

That said, Dr Feine is clearly an accomplished negotiator and manager, and the work he was involved in clearly improved the lives of both individuals and the Jewish community in the two countries more widely. 3.5/5.

59thornton37814
Aug 27, 10:17am Top

>55 Jackie_K: Sounds like a great book. Not available at my libraries though. Added to my wish lists at Amazon (ebook) and Book Depository (print).

60Jackie_K
Aug 27, 2:32pm Top

>59 thornton37814: Thank you, I enjoyed it very much and hope it gets a wider audience!

Category: Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Religion)



Richard Holloway's Godless Morality: Keeping Religion Out of Ethics is a fairly old book (late 90s) by one of Scotland's premier thinkers. He used to be Bishop of Edinburgh and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the premise of the book is that invoking 'God' in moral debate is problematic and meaningless in a pluralistic society, and we need an approach that is more human-centred in considering contemporary morality. He then goes on to talk about various ethical issues - sex, homosexuality, addiction, abortion, euthanasia, and assisted reproduction.

I broadly agree with him about these issues, but I'm not entirely sure that this book succeeded in its aim of proposing a morality without God/religion. It was a very good broad overview of the ethical issues, and in places he showed how religious opinions on them can be problematic, but I didn't find that consistently throughout the book. This is a very accessible and readable introduction though to some thorny ethical subjects though, and I'll happily read more of his work. 3.5/5.

61tess_schoolmarm
Aug 28, 2:08pm Top

>60 Jackie_K: would be difficult for a person with a Christian worldview to keep it out of ethics....at least for me!

62Helenliz
Aug 28, 2:09pm Top

>55 Jackie_K: this looks gorgeous!

63Jackie_K
Aug 29, 1:27pm Top

>61 tess_schoolmarm: Yes, although I think his point is more that when discussing with people who have no religious belief, it's counter-productive to use God as the basis for ethics and morality.

>62 Helenliz: It was, and it's such a lovely cover!

Category: The Politics of Duplicity (Academic)



The Politics of the Body by Alison Phipps is one of many academic books I bought full of enthusiasm in my PhD/post-PhD days and then have struggled to find the time to get round to reading. I'm glad I finally made it to this one, it was very much my bag! She covers issues such as sexual violence (using the cases of Julian Assange, Roman Polanski and Dominique Strauss-Kahn as case studies), gender and Islam, sex work, and reproduction (specifically 'normal birth' and breastfeeding campaigns) and looks at them from a political sociology perspective, looking at their various links with neoliberalism and neoconservatism. I particularly liked the reproduction chapter and its focus on the values- and class-based assumptions of many supposedly morally neutral interventions (something which I picked up in my PhD study too). 4.5/5.

64Jackie_K
Sep 2, 11:21am Top

Category: Journey to the Edge of the World (Travel)



I've said it before, and I'll say it again - a good TV travel (and wildlife) show tie-in book is one of my not-so-secret guilty pleasures. And this one was another absolute delight. Last month I read Last Chance to See by Douglas Adams, which was the book of a series of trips with zoologist Mark Carwardine which became a radio series in the late 1980s. For this book, Last Chance to See: In the Footsteps of Douglas Adams, Mark Carwardine returns 20 years later to several of the places that he and Douglas Adams had visited (and a couple of others), this time with Douglas Adams' good friend Stephen Fry, and a TV crew in tow. This book accompanies the resulting TV series, and I loved it. Mark Carwardine is actually a pretty good writer himself, and the book is only enhanced by al the beautiful photographs throughout. Like the first book, this is pretty sobering though - despite the many valiant efforts being made across the world, we seem as a species to be generally making a right old mess of conserving what's left. Two of the animals that they had visited in the 80s (the northern white rhino, and the Yangtze river dolphin) were extinct by the time they returned for the TV show, and although some populations (such as the kakapo in New Zealand) were making valiant efforts at increasing their numbers, they're still very fragile populations. And 10 years on from when this show was made, I expect there will be further species which are now extinct, or close to it. 4.5/5.

65Jackie_K
Sep 2, 3:10pm Top

Category: The Shepherd's Life (September Non-Fiction Challenge: Written by a Journalist)



Mohammed Omer is a Palestinian journalist living in Gaza, and this book, Shell-Shocked, is a collection of all his reports during the 51 days of Israel's Operation Protective Edge, their assault on Gaza in 2014. Most of the reports are for Middle East Eye, but there are some for Al Jazeera too. They detail the impact of the war on Gaza's civilian life, and the whole book is pretty harrowing. The main feeling that I had - similar to when I see other injustices such as the effects of austerity in the UK - is of the pointless cruelty of it all. Very highly recommended, but far from an easy read. 4.5/5.

66Jackie_K
Sep 4, 2:14pm Top

Category: On the Front Line (Non-fiction: general)



One of my excellent birthday presents this year from my excellent husband was a subscription to Elementum journal. It's a literary journal which features nature writing, art and photography, and each edition is an absolute work of art. As well as the subscription for this year, he also bought me last year's back copies, and so I've just been reading through one of those, Elementum Journal: 3: Roots. It features writing from some of my favourite writers - Jim Crumley, Robert Macfarlane, Annie Worsley, Kathleen Jamie - and some I wasn't so familiar with. One of the pieces was from a volunteer in Mauritius who had worked with the people that Douglas Adams, Stephen Fry and Mark Carwardine met in the two Last Chance to See books. The whole thing was beautiful, and I can't wait to read the others now. 4.5/5.

67MissWatson
Sep 5, 9:33am Top

What a fabulous gift!

68VivienneR
Sep 11, 7:03pm Top

>64 Jackie_K: I was just reading that there are two northern white rhinos left, both female. Using IVF, several of their eggs were fertilized with frozen sperm saved from males, of which none remain. They were able to produce two viable embryos that will be carried by surrogate southern white rhino females. I wish them success but believe our conservation efforts are too little, too late.

Happy belated birthday. I know someone who would like Elementum Journal too.

69Jackie_K
Sep 12, 2:09pm Top

>67 MissWatson: Yes, it really is!

>68 VivienneR: That's interesting re the rhinos - it's so sad that we've got to this point. And thanks re Elementum - I'm reading issue 4 now and it's just as good as issue 3. I want to just stroke the pages.

Category: Hurrah for Gin! (Sexual & Reproductive Health and Rights; parenting; children; gender)



The Daily Struggles of Archie Adams (Aged 2 1/4) is the second book by Hurrah for Gin's Katie Kirby. This time, rather than discussing babyhood and parenting, she turns her attention to the challenges and joys that having a toddler in the family brings. The familiar sweary stick figures are joined by Archie's diary as he makes sense of life, parental choices, and a new sibling, amongst other things. I didn't enjoy this as much as Hurrah for Gin!, but bits of it did really make me snigger with recognition, so it's still a solid 3.5/5.

70Jackie_K
Sep 13, 11:12am Top

Category: The Shepherd's Life (September Non-Fiction Challenge: Books by Journalists)



Whenever I start a new reading year, I always wonder if (and hope that) I'll be blown away by a book that's just wonderful in every way. This year was no exception, and unless the reading gods have something else in store for me, I'm pretty sure that my book of the year this year will be Expecting: The Inner Life of Pregnancy by Chitra Ramaswamy. She writes so beautifully and powerfully about her pregnancy - I so wish this book had been around when I was pregnant. This is no ordinary pregnancy book - usually they are full of 'at this stage the baby is x cm long and the size of a {insert relevantly-sized piece of fruit here}'. This one though is full of all the raw emotion and paradoxes and general weirdness of pregnancy that none of the books tell you about, and she weaves it in effortlessly with her wider life, alongside bereavements, journeys, chance encounters, work, place, and daily life. Absolutely fantastic, and I'll be buying this for everyone I know the second I find out they're pregnant! 5/5.

71Jackie_K
Sep 15, 1:58pm Top

Category: On the Front Line (non-fiction: general)



After thoroughly enjoying Elementum Journal: 3: Roots, I was excited to carry on with the 4th journal, Elementum Journal: 4: Shape. If anything, I think I liked this one even more - every single article was beautifully written and illustrated. I particularly liked the ones where the writers explained the link between the nature they saw and their creative process. The final piece, by lacemaker Jane Atkinson, about how she tries to render the patterns in the water of her local coastal marshland in lace, was fascinating. 5/5.

72mathgirl40
Sep 15, 10:43pm Top

>53 Jackie_K: Coincidentally, a friend had just recommended this Douglas Adams book to me. I'd not known about it until now, but it sounds like I definitely need to add it to the TBR stack!

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