What I read in September 2019

What I read in September 2019

A couple of re-reads this month, and a long book which I couldn’t put down….

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame by Janet Lansbury

The first of my re-reads! I felt in need of a reset with my three-year-old and was hoping Janet could help me with this. I’ve been a huge fan since I interviewed her for the Green Parent and I always think “what would Janet do?” when faced with a parenting conundrum. In short, she advocates respectful parenting, treating babies and children as people from the very beginning and trusting their innate abilities. She’s got a super podcast too.

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of September 11, 2001 by Garrett M Graff

Like everyone old enough to remember, I know exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard about the 9/11 attacks. But there was so much I didn’t know about what happened that day, and this book paints an incredibly picture from multiple perspectives in an “oral history” presentation style. You’re hearing from people directly, in their own words – some who lived to tell the tale, and heartbreakingly, others whose last words were captured on answer phone messages or phone calls with their loved ones. I was so gripped by this 512-page book that I read it in just four days.

Angel is Airborne: JFK’s Final Flight from Dallas by Garrett M Graff

Still buzzing from The Only Plane in the Sky, I downloaded another Garrett M Graff book linked to one of my specialist subjects, the assassination of JFK. At just 61 pages, this Kindle Single naturally had a much narrower scope, and while I did learn some new information, I found it a bit repetitive.

Candlenight by Phil Rickman

Another re-read, although this time I listened to the audio version. I’m eagerly awaiting the next instalment in Phil Rickman’s Merrily Watkins series and decided to go right back to the beginning with his first novel. It was……OK. I really enjoyed listening to the spoken Welsh and it had plenty of spooky moments. But you can certainly see how Phil’s talents as an author have developed over the years!

Books I finished in August 2019

Books I finished in August 2019

Apparently I’m particularly susceptible to Facebook advertising – and the algorithms have completely got me pegged – because the two books I finished in August both originally popped up as ads in my feed.

Make Time: How to focus on what matters every day by Jake Knapp and John Zeratsky

I’ve recently stepped down from a demanding volunteer role and found myself suddenly with extra time on my hands. Make Time helped show me ways to prevent this precious commodity from just running through my fingers, with down-to-earth, sensible advice that is generally easy to put into practice. I particularly liked the idea of the daily highlight to help with focus and a feeling of momentum. The two Google alumni authors seem to genuinely like each other, and I often felt like I was listening in to a conversation between friends. It’s an easy read and I found it gave me a boost when I was feeling a little adrift.

The Devouring Gray by Christine Lynn Herman

I love a good YA novel. I “devoured” this one (sorry) quite quickly but ultimately didn’t find it completely satisfying. The basic premise is this: four founding families of a small town surrounded by spooky woods somehow trapped some sort of bloodthirsty monster in a kind of “Upside Down” and since then the members of said families have (or in some cases, don’t have…) various supernatural powers which they use for good or ill. The writing style was quite jarringly “woke” in some places and I wanted to see more loose ends tied up instead of just setting it up for the sequel, but I suppose the tactic has worked because I will almost certainly read The Deck of Omens when it’s published next year.
And because I’ve been procrastinating on Twitter instead of typing this post (apologies to the authors of Make Time……) I have just seen that Christine Lynn Herman describes the series as “ensemble cast novels about angry teenagers in the woods with messy magic” and my 40-year-old self is here for that!


Books I finished in July 2019

Books I finished in July 2019

I used to do a regular round-up of the books I finished every month, but I’ve really fallen out of the habit of writing/ blogging over the past 18 months. But I am back!

Without further ado, these are the books I finished in July 2019:


The Forgotten Village by Lorna Cook

I bought this as a Kindle cheapie (at the time of writing this it’s 99p on Kindle or £2 for the paperback) because I fancied reading something easy which didn’t need much thought. The premise looked interesting – the mystery at the heart of a village requisitioned by the Army during World War Two, and the modern woman who decides to solve it – and I was glad I downloaded it on a whim. The present-day heroine, Melissa, was very likeable and I was really rooting for her relationship with Guy. In fact I found myself far more invested in the story than I expected and ended up reading up about real-life requisitioned villages. The resolution was suitably satisfying and I’d give it a solid four stars.


The Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths

Another Kindle bargain, but this one wasn’t a gamble because I’m already a huge fan of Elly Griffiths and her Ruth Galloway series. The Stranger Diaries is a standalone thriller with well-observed characters, multiple narrators and plenty of red herrings along the way. I thought I’d cracked whodunit but at the denouement the real villain of the piece came rather out of left field and didn’t strike me as believable. Maybe I need to read it again forearmed with the knowledge. It’s a very atmospheric book and would probably suit a dark and stormy winter night more than a summer read. Recommended!


Salem Falls by Jodi Picoult

I came across this one in a charity shop and picked it up somewhat against my better judgement – I either love or hate Jodi Picoult’s books (see Books I Finished in January 2017 for one I REALLY loved). This book had lots of twists and turns as it tackled rumours, lies, rape and witchcraft, and you aren’t always sure who you should be sympathising with. I guzzled it down but somehow it hasn’t really made that big an impact on me. Warning: don’t do what I did and read the last page early. Big mistake!

Also on the go (I have a terrible habit of reading too many books at once):

Books I finished in February 2018

Books I finished in February 2018

The Hazel Wood – Melissa Albert

I can honestly say that I haven’t read anything like this book before. I’ve seen a lot of commentary online saying that it’s just a retelling of Alice in Wonderland but as far as I can see the similarities don’t go much beyond a girl called Alice finding herself in a form of fairyland.
If it’s important to you to like the protagonists in books you read you might struggle with this one, because Alice is quite hard to warm to – but you do find out why during the course of the book. It’s really a book of two halves, split into before and after Alice (and the reader) find out the truth about the bad luck that has dogged her and her mother Ella for her whole life. At around the halfway point I wasn’t sure if I was enjoying it anymore, but I’m glad I pressed on, because it’s a memorable read which raises a lot of interesting questions about fate, predestination and free will. (Thanks to NetGalley for the free copy)

31 Songs – Nick Hornby

A re-read of a much-loved book by the author of my all-time favourite book, High Fidelity (which I’m currently listening to as an audiobook). My affection for the book 31 Songs – Hornby’s meditative musings on meaningful songs for him – actually comes second to my love of the album that goes along with it, which is a great compilation of familiar and more obscure tracks. It not only includes Bruce Springsteen (LOVE Bruce!) but also introduced me to the gorgeous Late for the Sky by Jackson Browne and Hey Self-Defeater by Mark Mulcahy, which would probably be one of my Desert Island Discs. So yes, I enjoyed reading the book again but revisiting the soundtrack CD (which I bought way back in 2004) was even better.

The Griffins of Castle Cary – Heather Shumaker

Can’t say too much as it’s not published until next year, but I had the enormous honour of being a test reader for this one! It’s the first fiction book for one of my favourite parenting authors Heather Shumaker, who I interviewed for The Green Parent a couple of years ago. Here’s her blog post where she talks about her new book, and here’s my interview with her about her book It’s OK Not To Share.

Books I finished in January 2018

Books I finished in January 2018

This was the month I embraced the joys of NetGalley! I’d used it previously to access a book for a Green Parent feature but now I’m all signed up as a Reader and loving the opportunity to preview some great new books! And it’s making me read more, which can only be a good thing. If I can keep up this rate I will burst through my Goodreads reading challenge this year.

The New Almanac: A Seasonal Guide to 2018 – Lia Leendertz

This was an absolutely fascinating read full of facts about the world around us here in Britain, from tide times and sun rises to seasonal vegetables and countryside lore. It’s the perfect size, whether you prefer to dip in and out or read the whole thing cover to cover as I did. I’m planning to go back at the start of each month and re-read the relevant chapter, to help me tune in more deeply to the turning of the wheel of the year. I’m looking forward to finding the constellations and making all the recipes too. I am happy to confirm that January’s recipe – apricot, date and pecan sticky toffee pudding – was every bit as delicious as it sounds!

Three Daughters of Eve – Elif Shafak

I love books set in Oxford and downloaded this when it was on offer on Kindle, having read an interview with the author a while ago. I think I must have missed the point of this one though – it seemed to take an interminable age to get going, and even when it did, nothing really happened… Even the big mystery of what Peri had done as a student seemed like a huge anticlimax to me when it was finally explained. I kept going until the end but I probably shouldn’t have bothered. Having said that, it was interesting to read a book by a Turkish author and to see into a culture that I know very little about, juxtaposed with the strand of the book which was set in Oxford at the tail end of my own time there.

A Monk’s Guide to a Clean House and Mind – Shoukei Matsumoto

This book wasn’t quite what I expected, but it wasn’t a disappointment – it just touched me in ways I didn’t expect. I’m clearly not a Zen monk living in a temple in Japan – I’m an English mum with two young sons and a cluttered house, and a cluttered mind to match. Perhaps naively, I didn’t expect this book to be literally about keeping a temple clean, but despite the huge gulf between our everyday situations I found plenty of common ground and thought-provoking reflections. Much of the advice appears basic on the surface, but somehow it’s so basic that you can easily overlook it, for example the importance of noticing and honouring the change in the seasons. I was planning to give this quick and quirky little read three stars, but I’ve gone for four because I suspect I’ll be drawn back to it again in the future, not least because of the charming illustrations and deceptively simple insights in the human condition. (Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy)

The Dark Angel (Ruth Galloway 10) – Elly Griffiths

I’ve been a keen reader of Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway series since those long nights of breastfeeding my oldest son, who was born in 2011 and is the same age as Ruth’s daughter Kate. Sometimes long-running series run out of steam after a while but this one – now at its 10th title – shows no sign of slowing down. The Dark Angel sees part of the action taking place in Italy, and while I initially longed for the blue-grey of the Norfolk salt marsh rather than the sunny August climes of Lazio, I managed to suspend my scepticism of this plot device and just enjoy the ride. To be honest, I don’t really read these books for the actual plots – it’s all about the tangled web of relationships involving characters that I feel I have really got to know. Just when you think it’s all going to resolve itself, the next twist occurs and throws everyone into turmoil again. I wouldn’t say it is my favourite in the series, but it definitely carries things forward, and I can’t wait for the next one. (Thanks to NetGalley for the review copy)