Category Archives: Something Different

Six Degrees of Separation: From Born to Run to Scary Monsters

I take part in this meme every few months. This time we begin with Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen’s memoir. (See Kate’s opening post.)

#1 Springsteen is one of my musical blind spots – I maybe know two songs by him? – but my husband has been working up a cover of his “Streets of Philadelphia” to perform at the next open mic night at our local arts venue. A great Philadelphia-set novel I’ve read twice is The Sixteenth of June by Maya Lang.


#2 The 16th of June is, as James Joyce fans out there will know, “Bloomsday,” so I’ll move on to the only novel I’ve read so far by Amy Bloom (and one I felt ambivalent about, though I love her short stories and memoir), White Houses.


#3 A recent and much-missed occupant of the White House: Barack Obama, whose Dreams from My Father didn’t quite stand up to a reread but is still a strong family memoir when it doesn’t go too deep into community organizing.


#4 Similar to the Oprah effect, Obama publicly mentioning that he’s read and enjoyed a book is enough to make it a bestseller. On his list of favourite books of 2022 was The Furrows by Namwali Serpell, which I currently have on the go as a buddy read with Laura T.


#5 The Furrows is longlisted for the inaugural Carol Shields Prize for Fiction. In 2020 I did buddy reads of six Carol Shields novels with Marcie of Buried in Print. One of those was Happenstance, the story of a marriage told from two perspectives, the husband’s and the wife’s.


#6 My Happenstance volume gives the wife’s story first and then once you’ve read to halfway you flip it over to read the husband’s story. The only other novel I know of that does that (How to Be Both does have two different versions, each of which starts with a different story line, but you don’t physically turn the book over) is Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser, which recently won the Rathbones Folio Prize in the fiction category. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Ali Smith was a judge! (How astonished am I that I predicted all three category winners and the overall winner in this post from three days before the announcement?!) I know nothing else about the novel, but I have a copy out from the library and plan to read it soon.


Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s starting book is Hydra by Adriane Howell, from the Stella Prize 2023 shortlist.

Have you read any of my selections? Tempted by any you didn’t know before?

A Recent Cover Trend: FRUIT

The other week on Twitter I remarked on seeing four covers with oranges on, and since then I have only been finding more.

There was also this poetry collection I reviewed a few years ago. And that’s not to mention the title references (e.g., Larger than an Orange by Lucy Burns, Bitter Orange by Claire Fuller, The Orange Grove by Larry Tremblay)…

or the books that are actually about oranges, like a pre-release memoir I’m reading now by a Florida citrus buyer’s daughter, Through the Groves by Anne Hull.


Oranges are not the only fruit


There’s also


I have read (or, in the case of the Russell, DNFed) these six:

I own these three and might consider reviewing them together as a “Three on a Theme” post:

And yes, there are more! (A few of these lemony covers are recent, but most are not; perhaps it’s a trend that’s on the decline, whereas oranges are on the rise?)



N.B. Often used suggestively!! Or as a metonym for the American South.

I’ve read these:

and had a look at this one:

Plus a couple more I spotted:



I did the briefest of searches for titles including the word “pomegranate” and was overwhelmed. People seem to see the fruit as evocative of indulgent cooking, or of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern travels. Not a lot of the results were recent, but here’s an upcoming book that caught my eye. It’s about a queer Black woman just getting out of prison for opiate possession, and has been recommended to readers of Yaa Gyasi and Jesmyn Ward, so sounds worth getting hold of.

(I have actually reviewed several pomegranate books, plus another with one on the cover – Safekeeping by Jessamyn Hope.)

Have you read any of the books I feature here?

What cover trends have you been noticing this year?

Eighth Blog Anniversary! & Thoughts on the Women’s Prize Longlist

Last year, in the manic busyness that preceded moving into our house, I completely forgot to mark my blog anniversary. This time (8 years!) I wanted to be sure to remember it. Why have I not noted before that it coincides with International Women’s Day?! I’m pleased with that.

By Հայկ Ափրիկյան, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons.

Yesterday evening the Women’s Prize longlist was announced.** Of my predictions, 4 were correct, which is pretty good going for me. I got none of my personal wishes, however. Of course, I would have preferred for us to have one of my lists. Still, overall, it’s a fairly interesting mix of new and established authors, with a full half of the list being debut work. Seven of the authors are BIPOC. I’ve read 2 of the nominees and would be amenable to reading up to 7 more. My library always buys the entire longlist, so I’ll eventually get the chance to read them, but not soon enough to add to the conversation.


Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver (CORRECT PREDICTION): Follows the contours of Charles Dickens’s David Copperfield, transplanting the plot to 1990s southwest Virginia to uncover the perils of opiate addiction. Ten-year-old Damon Fields lives in a trailer home with his addict mother, who works at Walmart, and his new stepfather, a mean trucker. Tragedy strikes and Damon moves between several foster homes before running away. His irrepressible, sassy voice is reminiscent of Holden Caulfield’s in this Appalachian cousin to Shuggie Bain.

Black Butterflies by Priscilla Morris: Drawing on her own family history, Morris has crafted an absorbing story set in Sarajevo in 1992, the first year of the Bosnian War. Zora, a middle-aged painter, has sent her husband, Franjo, and elderly mother off to England to stay with her daughter, Dubravka, confident that she’ll see out the fighting in the safety of their flat and welcome them home in no time. But things rapidly get much worse than she is prepared for. It was especially poignant to be reading this during the war in Ukraine.


Requested from the library:

Fire Rush by Jacqueline Crooks – Sounds good, if too much like this year’s Opal & Nev.

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell (CORRECT PREDICTION) – I was going to skip this because I wasn’t keen on Hamnet, but I do love O’Farrell in general, so I guess I’ll give it a try.


Interested in reading (but can’t find):

Homesick by Jennifer Croft – N.B. This was subtitled “A Memoir” at its U.S. release.

Children of Paradise by Camilla Grudova

Memphis by Tara M. Stringfellow

I’m a Fan by Sheena Patel (CORRECT PREDICTION)

Wandering Souls by Cecile Pin


Not interested in reading:

Glory by NoViolet Bulawayo – Like I said when it was nominated for the Booker, I have to wonder why we needed an extended Animal Farm remake…

Stone Blind by Natalie Haynes – I really should have predicted this one. It’s a hard pass on the Greek myth retellings for me.

Trespasses by Louise Kennedy (CORRECT PREDICTION) – I avoid anything set during The Troubles. (Sorry!)

Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh – The Water Cure was awful.

The Dog of the North by Elizabeth McKenzie – The Portable Veblen was trying too hard.

Pod by Laline Paull – Her novels always sound so formulaic.

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff – Nah.


See also the reactions posts from Cathy, Clare, Eric and Laura.


**The announcement has traditionally been on International Women’s Day, but I’m guessing that this year they brought it forward to pre-empt news of the inaugural Carol Shields Prize for Fiction longlist. This prize is open to novels, short stories and graphic novels by women, published in calendar year 2022, with parameters otherwise quite similar to those of the WP except that it’s only for U.S. and Canadian residents. {EDITED} To be honest, I was not convinced that the literary world needed an additional prize for women’s fiction, especially as North Americans tend to do well in the WP race. However, at first glance, its longlist is a lot less obvious and more interesting, with 11/15 BIPOC and some short story collections as well as a graphic novel in the running. It remains to be seen if I’ll follow both prizes or switch allegiance. Some of the CSP books may prove difficult to access in the UK. So far I have read Brown Girls and can get The Furrows from the library. Of note: the Carol Shields Prize is worth a lot more ($150,000 U.S. vs. £30,000).


What have you read, or might you read, from the longlist?

Six Degrees of Separation: From Beach Read to Mandy

I’m getting back into my favourite regular meme after a couple of months off. This time we begin with Beach Read by Emily Henry – though it’s midwinter here in the UK, it’s beach season for Kate in Australia! (See her opening post.)

#1 I’m no beach bunny; we prefer to explore rocky seabird coasts. The last time I remember sitting under an umbrella on a sandy beach, my choice of reading material was When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi (reread when it was on the Wellcome Book Prize shortlist).


#2 Kalanithi was a neurosurgery resident who was unexpectedly diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at age 36. My latest cancer-themed read was the excellent autobiographical novel Body Kintsugi by Senka Marić.


#3 I first learned about the Japanese practice of kintsugi – filling cracks, such as in pottery, with liquid gold to accentuate rather than hide the imperfections – from A Manual for Heartache by Cathy Rentzenbrink (you can see it in the cover design), a slim and reassuring self-help book that’s shelved under YA at my library.


#4 Cathy Rentzenbrink blurbs nearly every new release out there, but rather than a recommendation for a shiny book I got from her I have in mind that she’s a fellow evangelist for a favourite older novel of mine, Moon Tiger by Penelope Lively.


#5 Thinking of other Penelopes I’ve read, I learned about an appealing upcoming reissue, The Home by Penelope Mortimer (1971), thanks to British Library Women Writers series consultant and classics champion Simon Thomas of Stuck in a Book (his review is here). It sounds like a sort-of sequel to The Pumpkin Eater, which I loved.


#6 I looked through a Goodreads list of other 1971 releases to inspire this final link. A number of them are on my TBR, but there are only a few that I’ve read. One of those is a children’s book I had completely forgotten about until now, though I owned a copy way back when: Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards, about an orphan who finds an abandoned cottage in the woods and makes it her own. YES, it’s by that Julie Andrews, and it sounds like a perfect follow-up for anyone who’s read The Secret Garden.


Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s starting book is Trust by Hernan Diaz.

Have you read any of my selections? Tempted by any you didn’t know before?

Cover Love: My 13 Favourite Book Covers of 2022

As I did in 2019, 2020, and 2021, I’ve picked out some favourite book covers from the year’s new releases. Fewer have stood out to me this year for some reason, so it’s just a baker’s dozen here, and all of them are from books I’ve actually read.

Usually it’s the flora and fauna covers that get me. Not so many of those this year, though!

Instead, it was mostly about colour blocks and textures.

And a few of my favourites feature partial images of female bodies:

I also appreciate the use of a blocky 1980s-reminiscent font on these two. It’s appropriate to the contents in each case. Powell’s poems are loosely inspired by/structured like an old-school hip-hop album, and Zevin’s novel is about the love of vintage video games.

What cover trends have you noticed this year? Which ones tend to grab your attention?

Novellas in November 2022: That’s a Wrap!

This was Cathy’s and my third year co-hosting Novellas in November. We’ve done our best keeping up with your posts, which Cathy has collected as links on her master post.

The challenge seemed doomed at points, what with my bereavement and Cathy catching Covid a second time, but we persisted! At last count, we had 42 bloggers who took part this year, contributing just over 150 posts covering some 170+ books.

Ten of us read our chosen buddy read, Foster by Claire Keegan (with four bloggers reading Keegan’s Small Things Like These also/instead). I’ve gathered the review links here.

Our next most popular novella was a recent release, Maureen [Fry and the Angel of the North] by Rachel Joyce, which was reviewed four times. Other books highlighted more than once were Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence, Mrs Caliban, The Swimmers, The Time Machine, Winter in Sokcho, Ti Amo, Body Kintsugi, Notes on Grief, and Another Brooklyn.

Thank you all for being so engaged with #NovNov22! We’ll see you back here next year.

Novellas in November: A Change of Plans

I will be leaving Novellas in November in Cathy’s very capable hands this year. From tomorrow there will be a pinned post on her blog, 746 Books, where you can leave your links throughout the month.

We lost my mother yesterday evening, suddenly, and I’ll be flying out to the States in the next couple of days to help with arrangements and attend the funeral.

I happen to have read a few novellas already so will schedule in reviews of those, but won’t be able to read or write as much as I’d like. I might not manage to reply to comments or keep up with social media and your own blogs – forgive me.

I’ll be taking plenty of books with me, including lots of novellas. Perfect for travel days and moments stolen away from tedious admin tasks. And (books in general, of course) for distraction, comfort and good cheer. One thing I was sure to mention in the obituary I wrote this morning was that my mother passed on to me and to her many students her great love of reading.

Planning My Reading Stacks for Novellas in November (#NovNov22)

Just a couple of weeks until Novellas in November (#NovNov22) begins! I gathered up all of my potential reads for a photo shoot, including review copies, library loans, recent birthday gifts and books that have been languishing on my shelves for ages.


Week One: Short Classics (= pre-1980)


Week Two: Novellas in Translation

I always struggle with this prompt the most. (The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang Goethe would also be a token contribution to German Literature Month.)


Week Three: Short Nonfiction

This is probably (not so secretly) my favourite week of the month. Others may find it strange to consider nonfiction during a novellas month, but this challenge is really about celebrating the art of the short book in all its forms, and I love a work that can contribute something significant on a topic, or illuminate a portion of an author’s life, in under 200 pages.


Week Four: Contemporary Novellas (= post-1980)

I have a few other options on my e-readers as well, such as Marigold and Rose by Louise Glück, Foster by Claire Keegan (our buddy read for the month), and The Hero of This Book by Elizabeth McCracken.

I read 29 novellas last November; why not aim for one a day this time?! November is also Margaret Atwood Reading Month, so I’ve lined up one of her fairly recent poetry collections that I picked up from a Little Free Library. Apart from that, I do have a few review books I need to get to for Shelf Awareness, so it’ll be a jam-packed month.

Kate has already come up with her list of possible titles. Look out for Cathy’s today, too. If you’re struggling for ideas, here’s a long list of suitable authors and publishers I put together last year, or you might like to browse through the reviews from 2021.

Now to get reading!!

Do you have any novellas in mind to read next month?

Which options from my stacks should I prioritize?

Birthday Outing and Book Haul

I’m not quite sure why, but I’ve made it a habit of posting something about each birthday I’ve celebrated since I started blogging. Maybe because, otherwise, the years pass so quickly that I can’t remember from one to another what I did, ate, or received as presents! So, to follow on from my 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020, and 2021 posts, here’s this year’s rundown. (Oh dear, I realize I’ve read just one of the books I received last year!)

On Thursday, I treated myself to a charity shop crawl around Newbury (it’s a great place for thrift shopping, as is nearby Thatcham) and got two jumpers plus this small stack of secondhand books.

Then yesterday, my actual birthday, we took time off and went to Kelmscott Manor in West Oxfordshire/the Cotswolds (right on the border with Gloucestershire), where Victorian designer William Morris lived. We’re a fan of Morris’s floral-based wallpaper and textile designs and he was a progressive thinker, too, embracing socialism and environmentalism – I’ll get his utopian novel, News from Nowhere, out from the university library to read soon. Despite a drizzly start to the day, the place was packed with visitors. The tea shop’s cakes incorporate fruit from the manor’s own trees. Naturally, I had to sample two of their offerings, and still had room for a chocolate beetroot cupcake (with the requisite candle) once we got home.

On the way back, we stopped in Wantage for some secondhand book shopping. I’d found out about Regent market from Simon’s blog and he’s right – it’s huge, with an excellent stock and good prices (£2 or £2.50 for nearly everything I looked at, vs. when we were in Inverness I didn’t buy a thing at Leakey’s because even poor-condition paperbacks started at £4). I would happily have spent much longer there and acquired twice as much, but one must be restrained when there are further book hauls to come. I was pleased to find several books I’ve been interested in reading for a while, as well as a couple by authors I’ve enjoyed before.

I requested a vegan Chinese feast, inspired by a recent cookbook I’ve reviewed for Shelf Awareness’s upcoming gift books feature, The Vegan Chinese Kitchen by Hannah Che. My husband made a special trip to an Asian grocery superstore in Reading and the recipes were fairly involved, but the results – cabbage rolls, wontons and bao buns, most featuring tofu and mushrooms – were worth waiting for. We have leftovers for the weekend, along with a banoffee cheesecake from Nigella Lawson’s Kitchen still to come. (When are complicated dishes for if not for birthdays?)

Here are the books I received as birthday gifts, with more to come, I expect, plus a significant amount of birthday money that I may well spend on books. Some good options for #NovNov22 in here!

Six Degrees of Separation: From Notes on a Scandal to Belzhar

This month we begin with Notes on a Scandal by Zoë Heller. I remember reading it at around the time the excellent film came out; I bet I’d get more out of it on a reread. (See Kate’s opening post.)

#1 Heller’s novel came to mind as I was reading The Best Short Stories 2022: The O. Henry Prize Winners, edited by Valeria Luiselli. In the story “Clean Teen” by Francisco González, a junior high student who lives with his grandmother in Arizona has an affair with his English teacher, who’s unhappily married to a cop. These situations never end well, do they?


#2 I’ve not read anything by Luiselli, but the book of hers that most intrigues me is The Story of My Teeth.


#3 Speaking of teeth, Joshua Ferris’s To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is a comic novel about a dentist who falls victim to online identity theft.


#4 That novel won Ferris a Dylan Thomas Prize, as did Grief Is the Thing with Feathers for Max Porter.


#5 Porter’s creative response to bereavement draws on various forebears, including the poetry collection Crow by Ted Hughes.


#6 Most of you will know that Hughes was married to Sylvia Plath, author of The Bell Jar. I’m using that as my half-step to get to one of the books I’m currently reading, Meg Wolitzer’s Belzhar. We’re reading this YA novel for book club this week as Wolitzer is a reliable author for us.

The premise: troubled teens are sent to a Vermont boarding school. Jam is one of five chosen for a special literature seminar that each year focuses on just one author. This year it’s Plath. When writing in their journals, the teens find that they are transported back to the scene of their trauma and can be with their lost loved ones, or be their undamaged selves, once again. They call that magical space Belzhar. I’ll plan to review this one in full in the near future.


Where will your chain take you? Join us for #6Degrees of Separation! (Hosted on the first Saturday of each month by Kate W. of Books Are My Favourite and Best.) Next month’s starting book is the classic cookbook The Naked Chef by Jamie Oliver.

Have you read any of my selections? Tempted by any you didn’t know before?