Gift suggestions, Uncategorized

Give a Book for Christmas: 2016 edition

It’s that time of year, Christmas present shopping has hit last minute panic mode is in it’s final throes and I’d like to remind you all that books and bookish related paraphernalia make great presents and are easily available without venturing into a department store.  The fractured elbow has slowed my progress somewhat – this should have been with you a week or more ago  – sorry.  But here are some suggestions from me.

Books for Him

My other half has just devoured the new Guy Martin book Worms to Catch in about 3 days (very fast for him).  I mentioned him last year, but he keeps turning out very readable books for the petrolhead in your life.  I don’t think you can go wrong with A Kim Jong-Il Production (a BotW pick a few months back) because as far as narrative non-fiction goes it’s just so bonkers it’s hard to believe it’s true.  I keep hearing Mary Roach recommended places – and they sound like they might be perfect books for men (although I’m still hoping one might end up in my stocking) Grunt  – all about how science and war and people collide – or Stiff – about what happens to human cadavers (as long as the recipient isn’t squeamish like me) seem to be the top picks.

For Fiction, I read The Murdstone Trilogy (actually just one book) by Mal Peet earlier this year – about a writer whose sensitive YA novels about troubled teens stop selling and who ends up writing fantasy – it’s a dark and funny look at fantasy tropes with some horror thrown in too.  If he’s read Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones or the like there’s probably something here for him.For my last pick, I’m suggesting Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, another book that I haven’t read yet, but have heard great things about.   It’s set in the future where natural resources are scarce and people escape into immersive video games like OASIS.  Then one player stumbles upon the first clue to a series of Easter Eggs which could lead him to a fortune.  I have the audiobook of this waiting on my phone for just as soon as I finish The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore – which is good, but very, very gory and long – only 20 hours of that to go!

Books for Her

Lets start with the fiction.  It feels like a long time ago that I read Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible (April) but I’ve lent it on since then and had nothing but good feedback, so I’m going to recommend it again.  I can’t remember why it wasn’t BotW at the time (maybe because I was half expecting to be reviewing it for Novelicious) but it is definitely one of my favourite books of the year, and hands down my favourite Pride and Prejudice retelling.  I reviewed Lucy Dillon’s All I Ever Wanted over on Novelicious the other week, and that would also make a really good pick – it’s sort of Christmassy (it starts at Christmas) but it’s not all tinsel and mistletoe, it’s a great wintery read to give to someone who wants to spend Boxing Day (or longer) curled up on the sofa with a book in front of a roaring fire if you have one. Helen Ellis’s collection of short stories American Housewife (a previous Book of the Week) would also make a nice stocking filler if you have a woman with a dark sense of humour in your life (get a taste of what I mean here).

And now some non-fiction.  I’ve already mentioned The Best of Dear Coquette (which you should totally buy as a present for yourself at least!), but if you’re buying for someone who was a teenager in the mid 90s or later, As If! an oral history of the making of the movie Clueless might be perfect.  Clueless was one of the films that I watched on heavy rotation as a teenager (it came out just before I started secondary school so we had it on video at various slumber parties) and it still stands up today.  As If! is a fun look behind the scenes and a reminder of how different and big the film was at the time

Books for Children

For little children, I love Jon Klassen (I’ve mentioned this before) and this Christmas sees his third book about hats – We Found a Hat follows on from I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat which have been big hits among the children I buy for.

I really enjoyed the first two books in Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair’s Mysteries and  both The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow and The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth should be fairly easy to get hold of if you’ve got a middle-grade (upper half of primary school) reader to buy for.  Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong books got a mention last year, but the series has grown since then and I think it’s a great choice for a girl (or boy) who has done St Clares or Mallory Towers and some Famous Five/Five Find-outers and wants more.  They do contain death though

Other Bookish Gifts

In my post about presents for me last year, I said that I wanted a Literary Review subscription – I got one (thanks Little Sis!) and have just bought myself another two years worth.  I’ve enjoyed reading it, found books I want to read that I wouldn’t otherwise and used their reviews it to weed out books I don’t want to read/can wait to turn up in the secondhand shops.

I can’t believe how much I’ve talked about Fahrenheit Press already, but I’m going to do it again now – sorry! I bought myself their subscription earlier on this year – and it’s given me a string of Books of the Week and so much good stuff.  I’ve just renewed it for another year and if you have a crime reader in your life this might be just the gift for them.  2016 has had reissues of 90s crime series, new thrillers about all sorts of things, the Danny Bird series and James Bond and Stephanie Plum’s lovechild and more. They’re so good I feel like I’ve done nothing but talk about them all year.  And that’s before I write my Books of the Year post! Details here.

I got myself a Vanity Fair subscription this year which I’m still enjoying – and magazines are a gift that keeps giving through the year – I’ve bought Good Food, Gardener’s World and others at various points. Condé Nast keep emailing me to tell me that if I buy the wrong magazine for me giftee then I can change it for free too and so that’s practically a win win!

So there you have it, some gift suggestions from me. And if you need any more ideas, all my suggestions from last year still stand – gifts for him, her and kids. Coming next: What I want for Christmas…

Book of the Week, crime, new releases, Thriller

Book of the Week: Sparkle Shot

I feel like I’m getting repetitive here, because this BotW is another Fahrenheit Press pick.  Seriously, my Fahrenheit subscription has been one of my best book-based purchases this year.  It was a total bargain (and I got in early so it really was a bargain!) and I’ve discovered older series I was too young for (or not in the right crowd for) first time around and new authors doing interesting things and who I’m hoping I can say that I was there at the beginning for.

And Sparkle Shot falls in the latter camp.  It’s Lina Chern’s first book and it’s short but it packs a lot in.  The subtitle is “A wannabe cowboy, a handsome cop and the search for a perfect breakfast cocktail” but that doesn’t really do it justice.  It is a perfect fit for the Fahrenheit family – Mara fits in somewhere between Sam Jones from Black Rubber Dress and Eva Destruction from Barista’s Guide to Espionage, in that she’s sassy, smart and runs with an interesting crowd which sees her getting tangled up with things she’d rather not be.  In this case, her roommate, a stripper who dances under the name of Karma misses a breakfast date with her and then phones in a panic – she’s witnessed a murder and needs Mara to help stop her being the next victim.

Sparkle Shot races along at 100 miles an hour, with boys with guns, girls with guns, wannabe mafia dons, cops and peril.  It’s probably technically novella length at 95 pages, but doesn’t suffer from any of my common complaints about novellas.  There’s not a hint of underdeveloped story or things feeling too rushed.  There’s plenty of plot, there’s backstory, character development and proper tension and proper danger – not just the sort of thing that is a misunderstanding or could be fixed with a simple conversation.  It does feel like it could stand a sequel or two – hopefully longer than this because it was over too fast – but even if it’s not more from Mara and her friends, I’m still looking forward to seeing what Lina Chern writes next.

You can buy Sparkle Shot on Kindle or in paperback from Amazon, or you could treat yourself to some Bad Santa Bucks from Fahrenheit themselves and buy a few of their books – the discount gets bigger the more bucks you buy – and given that I’ve already mentioned two Fahrenheit books that have been BotWs and I’ve also recommended Death of a Nobody and Murder Quadrille (this is why I think I’m getting repetitive with my love of Fahrenheit, but honestly, so many good books) that’s five there – even if you only buy the first Sam Jones book and not the series…  And if you’re still not sure, both Sparkle Shot and Barista’s Guide to Espionage would be good books to read if you’ve read Stephanie Plum or any of the other Janet Evanovich thriller series and are looking for where to go next.  And on that encouragement to buy books I’ll go away before I buy more myself.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: December 5 – December 11

Lots of Christmas-y reading this week – and yes, I am planning a post on it, just as soon as I get my Christmas book gift posts sorted.  Fractured elbows are a nightmare…


Sleigh Bells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan

What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin

The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh

Sparkle Shot by Lina Chern

Candlelight at Christmas by Katie Fforde

Comfort and Joy by Cathy Bramley

Not Just For Christmas by Alex Brown


American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Last Boat to Camden Town by Paul Charles

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

Still reading:


Four ebooks bought.  Three proper books.  And the library book bag was replenished too!

Award nominated, historical, literary fiction, Prize winners, reviews

Book of the Week: The Underground Railroad

I am not a reader of Award-Winning Books.  See my posts here and here for proof of this — and I don’t think the situation has improved much in the last two years.  But some times you hear so much buzz and chatter about a book that you have to check it out.  Particularly when you luck into a copy of said book.  And Colson Whitehead’s the Underground Railroad was one of those books.  I’d heard everybody on the Bookriot podcasts that I listen to talking about how excited they were for something new from Whitehead – and then about how brilliant it was.  It kept popping up in lists of hotly anticipated books.  It was an Oprah Bookclub pick.  It was on President Obama’s summer reading list.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
I apologise for my lousy photography, but I really like the cover – with the train tracks snaking around.

The Underground Railroad tells the story of Cora, a slave on a brutal cotton plantation in Georgia.  Life is more terrible than you can imagine, especially for Cora who is an outcast among her fellow Africans.  When Caesar, a recent arrival at the plantation suggests that they escape together, they take a terrifying risk to try and get to the Underground Railroad.  But it doesn’t go according to plan, and Cora’s journey is fraught with dangers as there are hunters after them, dogging their every move.  In Whitehead’s world the railroad is real – actual trains in tunnels under the southern states with a network of drivers and conductors ferrying runaways to safety.

This is such a powerful book.  It’s beautifully written, but oh so difficult to read – I’ve had to take it in bite-sized chunks so that I can digest it properly – but it’s worth it.  It makes you confront harsh and terrible truths about what people have done to each other and are capable of doing to each other.  But it’s also compelling and personal and page turning and clever.  Whatever I say here, I won’t be able to do it justice.  I still haven’t finished digesting it and I’m going to be thinking about it for some time to come.  It’s going to win all the awards – and it deserves to. It’s already won the National Book Award in the US and is editor’s Number 1 Book of the Year.  In years to come it’s going to be on English Literature syllabuses.  Well, well, well worth your time.

I would expect this to be somewhere prominent on a table or on a front facing shelf in bookshops.  It’s in hardback at the moment – and you can get it from Amazon (out of stock at time of writing, which says a lot), Waterstones and Foyles and on Kindle and Kobo.  It might make it into the supermarkets, but I’d be surprised.  The paperback is out in June.  I’m off to read some more of Whitehead’s work.

Happy reading.

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: November 28 – December 4

So the elbow is still giving me trouble, but I did find time to sit down and finish The Underground Railroad.  And I’ve properly started my Christmas reading kick now – with two festive short stories, finishing the Christmas Meg Langslow and starting a holiday-themed Sarah Morgan.  I foresee this situation continuing.


Duck the Halls by Donna Andrew

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

Silent Night by Deanna Raybourn

Twelfth Night by Deanna Raybourn

The Wangs vs the World by Jade Chang

Herring on the Nile by L C Tyler

The Underground Railroad by Coulson Whitehead


What Nora Knew by Linda Yellin

The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh

Sleigh Bells in the Snow by Sarah Morgan

Still reading:


One book bought – to get some free postage for a Christmas present. Progress!

new releases, reviews

Autumn Preview: Update!

A quite while back now (September, yikes) I had a little look ahead to some of the books that I was excited about this autumn.  And now I’ve read a few of my picks, I thought it was time to give you an update in the form of a bonus post…

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple (6 October)

I was worried about hating this, but this is neither good Semple or bad Semple – it’s somewhere in between. But the good news here, is that I’ve worked out what I like about Maria Semple’s writing and what I don’t.  I don’t like being inside the head of her female leads – they’re self-centred, middle-aged quirky-to-the-point-of-irritation and they drive me crazy.  But viewed through the eyes of someone else (more normal) they can be funny and touching.  And that’s why I liked …Bernadette – because she’s not there for most of the time and it’s Bee who’s trying to work out what’s going on.   This didn’t make me tear my hair out like This One is Mine did, but it did make me vaguely annoyed.  So lesson for the future:  if Semple’s next book is written from the perspective of  a woman with children then I won’t bother reading it.

The Wangs vs The World by Jade Chang (3 November)

Well I liked this, but I didn’t love it.  May be I was reading it too soon after Kevin Kwan’s Crazy Rich Asians, or maybe the fractured elbow was impeding my sense of humour.  I think my problem is that there wasn’t a family member that I loved – and I wanted to fall in love with one (or more of them).  Each of them has a frustration (or two) about them which stopped me from embracing this as fully as some of the people I’ve heard recommending it have.  It’s a good road trip book and it was funny in places, but it wasn’t hilarious.  And I really wanted it to be.

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch (3 November)

I loved this so much. So much.  There’s magic, and the super-rich and posh school kids and all sorts of new complications.  If you like the other books in the series, I suspect you’ll like this – but the overarching story is not finished yet and there is a frustration that comes with that, along with a delight that there should/will be more from Peter and the Folly.  I read it too quickly – once I started reading it that is – and now I suspect I may have a long wait until the next installment appears.  I’ll have to console myself with the graphic novels in the interim.

I still haven’t read Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson (22 September) or How to Party with an Infant by Kuai Hart Hemmings (8 September) because I haven’t managed to get copies of them yet, but I live in hope that one or both of them may appear in my Christmas stocking…

books, stats

November Stats

New books read this month: 28*

Books from the to-read pile: 9

Ebooks read: 18

Books from the Library book pile: 1

Non-fiction books: 1

Most read author: Courtney Milan and Deanna Raybourn (2 short stories each)

Books read this year: 328

Books bought: 12 ebooks and 4 books

Books on the Goodreads to-read shelf: 484 (I don’t have copies of all of these!)

I’m not even going to talk about how many books I’ve bought this month – and I wasn’t doing great even before the elbow-fracture induced pain purchases.  Bad Verity. Still, hopefully I’ll be able to restrain myself in December with the prospect of Christmas present books on the horizon.  Oh who am I kidding.

*Includes some short stories/novellas/comics (8 this month)