Bookcrossing Uncon: T minus 3 days


I joined Bookcrossing back in 2003 whilst living in Dublin, Ireland, after seeing an article in the Financial Times about it – it was this kooky idea of “the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise”. (My “shelf” can be found here)

I then didn’t do anything for a year or so, but decided to go back to it – in part because I was reading a stupid number of books, but also I decided that I needed to get a better work/life balance, and wanted someone to go out drinking with. Books and alcohol seemed to be a perfect combination! I therefore set up BCIE (Bookcrossing Ireland), concentrating on Dublin as that’s where I was, and within 2 years, there was a fabulous crowd meeting on a regular basis, often getting very drunk in the process!

At the time the “Conventions” were only being held in the US, but the non-US people still wanted to meet up, so the “Unconventions” (i.e. “not-the-convention”) happened.

By the time I came back to the UK in 2006, I had already attended one “Unconvention” in Birmingham (2005?) and had met many of the bookcrossers that I had only communicated with on the forums. The Birmingham Bookcrossers allowed me to have a group of “ready made” friends which allowed me to settle back into the UK.   It’s also allowed us to support local independent coffee shops along the way, where they have allowed us to set up bookshelves (OBCZs) for the safe storage and exchange of books. As with many of the active local groups, there are monthly meetings held around the city, and we are currently meeting in 3threes in Martineau Place, Birmingham.

With approx 1700 books registered, and more released, I’m not the top of the list in terms of registering, capturing and releasing, but also not at the bottom. I have too many books for me to realistically pick up any more at any of the monthly meetings, but I do try and bring new books into the mix, to make sure there is something different.

I have been to a couple of Unconventions in the UK (couple in Birmingham, one in Leeds, and the Convention in London), but haven’t madeBook Buffet Table it to all. Often, by the time I got to find out I could go, it was too late to sign up.  However, I’ve managed to arrange to have the time off for the 2016 Uncon that’s happening in Birmingham this weekend. There are people coming from the UK, Ireland and Western Europe, many of whom I’ve met before and some that I haven’t!  

We have a number of local authors giving talks, as well as plenty of games (usually book related, naturally), goodie bags etc.

One of the things that happens is the “book buffet” table (see right), where the bookcrossers bring some/all of their available books, lay them out, and then the other attendees pick up the books that they fancy reading. Those that are left have, traditionally, been released on the Sunday during release walks, but as we are meeting the week before the Conservative Party convention, we wont be doing it this year, and will be using alternative arrangements.

If you want to know more about bookcrossing, or find out about a local group, there are a number of ways:

  • Go to Bookcrossing itself, and go to the forums
  • You can also find the official Bookcrossing group on Facebook.
  • If you are in the UK, there is a Bookcrossing UK public group on Facebook that you can join
  • If you are in Birmingham, there is a BCBrum group on Facebook (I cant find the public group link ATM, sorry).







The Act of Reading

Recently I wrote a post about producing content, and one of the tricks was to have one or more “buckets” of prompts for when content dries up.  In reviewing one of these buckets, I found a number of prompts that I think work well together.

Do you have a certain place at home for reading?Birmingham and Midlands Institute Library

Generally it’s the bedroom and, occasionally, the bathroom!

Bookmark or a random piece of paper?

I have a stock of bookmarks on my bookshelf, but still tend to use the same bookmark over and over until it falls apart or I lose it. It’s rare therefore that I simply dont have a bookmark on me – at which point I will use a random piece of paper – usually a receipt or a train ticket. I haven’t – gasp – turned down a corner in years.

Can you stop reading anytime you want or do you have to stop at a certain page, chapter, part, ect.?

I tend to stop at the end of a chapter, unless time or opportunity runs out on me (e.g. the train is pulling into the station and it’s 8 more pages to the end of the chapter). I can’t stop in the middle of  a paragraph, so finish at the end of the paragraph or the page, which ever is neater.

Reading at home or everywhere?

I read everywhere. I am notorious for it, and sometimes get told off for reading instead of eating my dinner! Since I frequently eat out on my own, I favour restaurants that afford me the luxury of being a solo diner without giving me much grief. One of the cues to not being disturbed is to have a book on hand, though this doesn’t always work – I’ve had one guy try and start a conversation every time I looked up from my book (I left quite quickly once it became clear he wasn’t taking the hint); I’ve had a guy try and pick me up in an otherwise empty pub as I was sitting there minding my own business (I started talking Greek to him – he soon left!),

Do you eat or drink while reading?

As per the above, I do read in restaurants, and therefore can have food with me. I tend to favour ebooks at this point – simply because they are easier to read when using both hands to deal with my food. I tend not to read whilst eating at home – I generally have the TV on instead

Can you read while listening to music/watching TV?

Music yes, Spoken word (including TV and radio) not really – I can’t have two sets of words crowding my brain at the same time – one wins over the over. I can have the TV on in the other room whilst reading, as I don’t like being in silence too long

One book at a time, or several at once?

I usually have two on the go at the same time – an ebook and a paperback. Ebook is usually in the handbag and the paperbook is occasionally thrust into the handbag, otherwise is on the bedside table.

Reading out loud or silently in your head?

Normally in my head – it’s generally only when I’m reading to my nieces and nephews that it gets said out loud.

Do you read ahead or skip pages?

Oh yeah – I’ve been known to read the last page long before I’ve got even part way through. I think it’s because I read a lot of crime novels, and I simply want to know who I need to pay attention to as I’m reading the book. I dont feel it takes away from the process of reading and the journey taken to get to the end.

Breaking the spine or keeping it new?

I’m not too precious on this – I will pick up second hand books where the spine has been broken, and if I have a paperback, I will break the spine if I find it will make reading that bit easier. However, I don’t do it on every book, especially if there’s no reason to.

Do you write in books?

Not for a long time! I went through a phase in my teens when I did (it was also encouraged, briefly, at school) but apart from that, no.


So feel free to copy and answer these questions on your own blog – leave a link below so we can see how you answer!  If you dont have a blog, or only want to answer a few questions, leave something in the comments

#BookReview: The Fire Child by S. K. Tremayne

Book Review of The Fire Child

When Rachel marries dark, handsome David, everything seems to fall into place. Swept from single life in London to the beautiful Carnhallow House in Cornwall, she gains wealth, love, and an affectionate stepson, Jamie.

But then Jamie’s behaviour changes, and Rachel’s perfect life begins to unravel. He makes disturbing predictions, claiming to be haunted by the spectre of his late mother – David’s previous wife. Is this Jamie’s way of punishing Rachel, or is he far more traumatized than she thought?

As Rachel starts digging into the past, she begins to grow suspicious of her husband. Why is he so reluctant to discuss Jamie’s outbursts? And what exactly happened to cause his ex-wife’s untimely death, less than two years ago? As summer slips away and December looms, Rachel begins to fear there might be truth in Jamie’s words:

‘You will be dead by Christmas.’

From HarperCollins, via Netgalley, in exchange for a review.

This book has clear inspiration from Du Maurier’s Rebecca in that the second (named) wife is stepping into the shoes of a recently dead previous wife. Whilst I was part way through I realised it also has marked similarities to Tremayne’s previous book The Ice Twins – husband away a lot, nervous insecure wife with secrets that come out late in the book, child behaving oddly, bleak and isolated house and landscape taking on a life of it’s own.  I started to worry that Tremayne was possibly a one trick pony – the names may change, but the fundamental story remains the same. To an extent this is true: whilst the Rebecca-esque presence of the previous wife is a change, as well as David’s need to continue the family name, the fundamental structure is very similar to The Ice Twins (to the point I could predict what one of the final surprises would look like).

That apart, the execution of the story in itself is excellent, with plenty of spooky events; the odd behaviour of Jamie, David and Rachel; the question over who is sane and who isn’t; the fact that all adults are lying to each other and themselves resulting in a level of fear and mistrust that only adds to the stress. The mines and shafts have their own lives that dominate the surrounding area and people.

Both The Ice Twins and The Fire Child are excellent books in and of themselves, but reading both has left me a little deflated with The Fire Child in its underlying sameness to the previous book.  I know authors and publishers are under the pressure to keep recreate a book that has previously been successful, but this is the first in a long time that I’ve found a book *too* similar to a previous book.  So I would recommend that people read one or the other book – then leave a long time before reading the next one. I am, unfortunately, now less excited for the next book by this author in the fear that it could be the same story again.

#BookReview: Hunting Season by Andrea Camilleri

Hunting Season

Sicily, 1880. When a stranger arrives in Vigata, the town’s inhabitants immediately become unsettled. It seems the young man, Fofo, is the son of a local peasant legendary for his home-grown medicines; a man who was murdered many years before.

Fofo opens his own pharmacy in Vigata and his remedies are sought by many. But he soon finds himself entangled with the local nobility: Don Filippo – a philandering marchese set on producing a new heir, his long-suffering wife Donna Matilde, his eccentric elderly father Don Federico, his son Federico and beautiful daughter Ntontò above all. But it won’t be long before death visits Vigata and the town and its most noble family will never be the same again . . .

Both a delightful murder mystery and a comic novel of huge brio, fired by love and obsession and filled with memorable characters, Hunting Season is the captivating new book from Andrea Camilleri, the bestselling author of the Inspector Montalbano series.

I picked up Hunting Season in a bookshop – a rare purchase of a new paper book in a time of a overwhelming TBR. This is by the writer of Inspector Montalbano series of books, but set in the 1880s version of Montalbano’s Vigata (I believe it’s a precursor in every way, having been written in 1990).

It’s still a detective story of sorts, starting with the arrival of a young man who keeps himself to himself, and proceeds to set up a pharmacy. When the town finds out who he is – he’s the son of a local peasant who was murdered 20 years previously – the book seems to be set up to have him the centre of some mystery.

However much of the book concentrates on the local nobility and the fatal accidents that befall the senior members of the family. Along the way there is plenty of opportunities for sex including what Don Filippo will do to have a son (and who Frederico falls in love with, before he, too, dies…..) and the book is often described as “bawdy”.

There are comic effects along the way too – something that is often taken into Montalbano books and the show which annoys some reviewers. For example, the Marquis is annoyed by the smallest things, one of which being the cock that fails to crow when the Marquis expects and wants him to. Therefore the Marquis decides he needs to give the bird a good talking to

The discussion between the Marquis and the cock took place without the others knowing about it. They realized, however, that the cock had not budged from his intention to do things his way, since they found him with his neck broken

In the end, though we get to find out how many of the deaths were natural, how many weren’t and what was done.  I’m not usually a fan of novels in translation, but I think the translator here has done an excellent job in making this book readable, and I understand that he has managed to convey the underlying tone of someone who regularly writes in hard-core Sicilian

What I do when I run out of content……

I’ve found myself in the strange position of not having many books to review at the moment.  This has made me look at the other content I could or should (or should not) be publishing.  I always have a number of draft posts sitting in the background in one shape or form.  These can consist of:

Partially Written Posts

These are normally review posts that simply need to be finished off and scheduled.

I currently have a whole series of near-completed Montalbano posts lying around in this state and just need to finish them off.

I have posts that I know I only produce once every three months or so. These are stubbed, and built up over the months, so that when it comes time to publish, all the heavy lifting has already been done.  Having them scheduled also allows me to schedule other newly minted posts around them.

Fun at the time, now less so

I had several posts that I thought would be fun to fill in at the time I saw them, and seemed to be a self contained post, so I created a draft post and started working on them. However, as part of taking a serious look at what to take forward, I’ve decided that I wont be able to do a decent job of them, so have deleted them.

Prompt bucketsLenses Old Documents

Several posts that I use to store prompts and that I occasionally raid to get inspiration.

I’ve deleted one post as in going down the questions, I realised that I was never going to be able to answer them in anyway that would be fun or interesting, so got rid of it.

I was about to delete another post – this one about arts and crafts, but I’ve decided that perhaps I should work on at least a couple (or a variation thereof). I haven’t written much about my craft stuff, which does take up a good percentage of my life, so I should do better in sharing.  I’ve already started one post and think I have stuff for a couple more so they now fall into the “Partially Written Posts” bucket (above).

I have a list of book related prompts, that I really look to cull or write something for them. I do need to have the “mojo” for a post though, so sometimes it can be difficult to find the right vein of inspiration to make an interesting or useful post.  This one really needs an overhaul – it would be a shame to get rid of the lot.

In total

I have about 20 posts in one shape or another, a handful of which will never be published in the form they are in. I also think I need to start looking for some more inspiration from around the internet, either in ideas or images, to make this a better blog!

So how about you: what do you do when you’re stuck for content? Do you actively look for inspiration (if so, where?) or do you just wait for the next thing to come along?


#BookReview: The Lavender House by Hilary Boyd

The Lavender House front cover

The Blurb:

Nancy de Freitas is the glue that holds her family together. Caught between her ageing, ailing mother Frances, and her struggling daughter Louise, frequent user of Nancy’s babysitting services, it seems Nancy’s fate is to quietly go on shouldering the burden of responsibility for all four generations. Her divorce four years ago put paid to any thoughts of a partner to share her later years with. Now it looks like her family is all she has.

Then she meets Jim. Smoker, drinker, unsuccessful country singer and wearer of cowboy boots, he should be completely unsuited to the very together Nancy. And yet, there is a real spark. But Nancy’s family don’t trust Jim one bit. They’re convinced he’ll break her heart, maybe run off with her money – he certainly distracts her from her family responsibilities.

Can she be brave enough to follow her heart? Or will she remain glued to her family’s side and walk away from one last chance for love?

My Take:

This is the last book in the #QuercusSummer event, and a hardback copy arrived from the publishers (Quercus) in early August. My reviews of the previous #QuercusSummer books can be found here: Florence Grace and Last Dance in Havana.

In The Lavender House, Nancy is presented with a scenario that some older women find themselves in – being dumped by her husband for a younger model, her daughter and son-in-law having personal and professional issues, an aging and ailing mother, and an overall lack of confidence in herself and what her role in life now is. The author does tell the story from the perspective of the three generations of women (plus Jim!), but Nancy is the focus of the story.

I found Frances (as Nancy’s mother) perhaps the least well developed – a woman who grew up after WWI, who was taught to always have the best face on, no matter what, which means that she’d never admit to being ill, even when others can see what’s wrong.

Now being a woman in her 60s and having put her family first for so long – especially after the divorce – Nancy finds it difficult to then start looking after what’s best for her. She finds it difficult to say “no”, even if it means standing Jim up for a birthday date because she refuses to ask Louise to look after Frances or when Louise needs a last minute baby sitter on New Year’s Eve, which means Nancy can’t go to France with Jim.

In turn, however, the family have no problems expecting Nancy to drop everything, often at short notice. Their dislike of Jim seems to stem from the fact that his appearance in Nancy’s life represents a change in the dynamic and that things will change if she continues to date him. It takes the advice of her friends to make Nancy realise it’s not a case of either one or the other: she can have both, if everyone is willing to compromise a little.

I must admit I struggled with this book the most out of the three – I’m significantly younger than Nancy (though I do have old-ish parents), and have no children. I understood most of the dilemmas at a hypothetical level, but less at an emotional level.   I am thankful for taking part in this event from Quercus, as it has certainly made me read and review books I wouldn’t necessarily have picked up otherwise!

#BookReview: Sergeant Cluff Stands Firm by Gil North

Cluff Stands Firm Book Review

‘He could feel it in the blackness, a difference in atmosphere, a sense of evil, of things hidden.’ Amy Snowden, in middle age, has long since settled into a lonely life in the Yorkshire town of Gunnarshaw, until – to her neighbours’ surprise – she suddenly marries a much younger man. Months later, Amy is found dead – apparently by her own hand – and her husband, Wright, has disappeared. Sergeant Caleb Cluff – silent, watchful, a man at home in the bleak moorland landscape of Gunnarshaw – must find the truth about the couple’s unlikely marriage, and solve the riddle of Amy’s death.

Published by the British Library in it’s Crime imprint, I actually received this from Poisoned Pen Press via Netgalley in exchange for a review.

When Sergeant Caleb Cluff is called out to the scene of a sudden death, it looks like a clear-cut case of suicide – Amy Wright is found lying on her bed, with the doors and windows shut and the gas turned on. She was 48 years old, having spent much of her life looking after her father (who left her well off in the money department) and then her mother. After the death of the mother Amy made a bad marriage to a man 20 years her junior who only married her for her money.  Although everyone holds Alf Wright morally responsible for her death, legally he seems to be in the clear. Cluff can’t accept the coroner’s verdict, however, partly out of guilt because he, like everyone else, knew that Wright was cruel to Amy but had done nothing to stop it. Since there’s to be no official police investigation, Cluff takes some time off and begins to pursue Wright himself.

This is a written in a very sparse style, where sentences are cut back to the bare minimum and with little in terms of exposition, back history etc. Cluff is not the easiest character to like – older and a confirmed bachelor, who is dogged in his approach and quick to anger.  He is a local man, who doesn’t seem the type to ever get above Sergeant, and there’s an implication that something happened to him during the war that has seen him back in his home village.

Beyond the first few chapters and the initial investigation of the death, little is said about Amy herself. The focus is on Wright, his behaviour after the funeral and the inquest, and his reaction to Cluff’s silent near harassment of him.  His departure after the inquest to a nearby farm he used as his alibi brings attention to the inhabitants of the farm, and the death of  farmer Cricklethwaite, who was much older than his young wife Jinny.  There’s an unhealthy relationship between Alf, Jinny and a second man called Ben, that results in highly wrought nerves and an unexpected turn of events.


This is a definite change in style and tone than previous books that I’ve read from the British Library. There is also a certain level of violence that pulls it away from the likes of the traditional “Golden Age” books, and pulls it certainly into the 1960s. I wonder when the change came about – it must have been before this book as it was the start of an 11 book run. I have the second of this series to read, and I’d like to see whether it is in the same vein or different.  My reaction to the second book will decide whether I’d take it further.

About this author

Gil North is the pseudonym of Geoffrey Horne, a British writer. He was born in Skipton Yorkshire and educates at Ermysted’s Grammar School and Christ’s College Cambridge. He married Betty Duthie in 1949. From 1938 to 1955 he was a civil servant in the African colonies. He has also written novels under his own name.