Book of the Week, literary fiction, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Angel

You may be relieved to hear that this weeks BotW is neither Fahrenheit Press book or a Christmas book – even though the title might suggest that it could be the latter.  It is however the perfect book for curling up with on a sofa on a wintry afternoon.

hardback copy of Angel by Elizabeth Taylor
My second hand copy- the stain on the front was there when I got it, the dent in the top… I’m not sure.

The titular Angel is the spoilt darling of a grocery shop proprietress, who spins fantasies to her school mates about a glamorous house where her aunt is a maid.  When she is found out she takes to her bed, refuses to return to school and starts to write novels.  These turn out to be bestsellers – at least at first – even if they’re wildly inaccurate, far-fetched and slated by the critics.  But Angel doesn’t care – she believes she is one of the world’s greatest writers and nothing and nobody is going to stand in her way.

Elizabeth Taylor (not that one) has created a monster.  Angel is dreadful in every way – delusional, deceitful, ungrateful, selfish, vain and more.  But you can’t stop reading about her in a sort of fascinated horror.  She is oblivious to her faults and to the way that others view her and is able to sail through life in the comfortable delusion that she is clever, witty, brilliant and under-appreciated.  You would never want to spend any time with any one like her in real life, but I could happily have spend hours more reading about her antics.

There are a fair few women in books who become writers as a response to straightened circumstances – often with a trusty maid in attendance.  But they are almost always portrayed as gentlewomen brought low by financial troubles not of their own making.  Angel is not one of these – she starts writing as a way of getting her own way – initially she’s more interested in showing her neighbours that she’s better than them.  Then the money enables her to exert power over her mother, who in her attempts to allow her daughter to go further in life by scrimping and saving for a better education for her has created a stubborn tyrant who will brook no opposition.  As we follow Angel through 40 plus years we see the changes in British society as it moves from the Victorian era, through two World Wars – and we see Angel rewrite her past and invent new fictions for herself – which she believes even if those around her know other wise.

Although Angel is the centre of this book we also get to see the people she uses up and spits out – her mother, her aunt, a wannabe poetess, her husband, her servants – and the people who manage to survive her onslaught – only really her publisher and his wife.  It’s a portrait of a tyrant and it’s very, very good.

My copy of Angel is a lovely Virago Designer Hardback which I got second hand and seem to be quite hard to come by, but it’s also available in paperback from Amazon, Foyles and Waterstones and on Kindle and Kobo.  And as it was first published in 1957, you have a fighting chance of being able to find yourself a second hand copy in a charity or second hand bookshop.

Happy reading.

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: December 12 – December 18

So this week coming is Nightshift week, so that means impulse purchases and light reading. So not that different to a normal week then!  And this week’s reading ended up being really un-Christmassy – even though I’m feeling quite festive now.  And in unrelated but rather lovely news, I’m on Fahrenheit Press’s list of Book Bloggers of the Year which was very touching and made me come over all teary eyed.  But then I’ve got a fractured elbow, a terrible cough and am fighting off the newsroom lurgy so I think I’m particularly suseptible to tears at the moment.  Or that’s my story and I’m sticking to it – after all I cried at the Strictly final on Saturday night.  Twice.

Read:

The Case of the Screaming Beauty by Alison Golden

Last Boat to Camden Town by Paul Charles

The Case of the Hidden Flame by Alison Golden

Sweetest Regret by Meredith Duran

Juniors at the Chalet School by Katherine Bruce

A Little Murder by Suzette A Hill

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

Started:

Deadly Treasures by Vivian Conroy

Still reading:

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Three e-books bought – and three real books when I went into The Works for some Christmassy bits.  Oops.  And I’m never good at avoiding buying books on nights either am I?  Still I’ll try and restrain myself – because who knows what Santa might bring – if you want to know what I’m hoping he’ll bring, check out my Christmas gift post – or if you’re still looking for last minute things here’s the book gift guide.

fiction, Gift suggestions, non-fiction

Give Me a Book for Christmas 2016

Yes, it’s that time of year again, where I tell you what’s been sitting in my Amazon Shopping basket for months as I try to justify buying more books in the guise of offering recommendations for people who like what I like but actually offer last minute hints to my loved ones who read the blog and anyone else who wants to buy me something.  In writing this I went back over last year’s version of this post and was cheered over how many of my 2015 wishes I’ve got and have read – and there are a couple more on my Kindle too that I bought myself!

Non Fiction

The non fiction section of this list always seems to be bigger than the fiction one – I think because non-fiction books are often more expensive or come out in hardback first so I’m less likely to buy them myself and it takes longer for them to drop down in price secondhand.

A new addition to the list is Trainwreck: The Women We Love to Mock, Hate and Fear by Sady Doyle, which Sarah MacLean recommended in her Christmas mailing list.  It’s a look at troubled women in the public eye through history – from Mary Wollstonecraft through Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse – examining what makes a “trainwreck” and why we’re so fascinated by them.  I’ve had my eye on The End of the Perfect 10 by Dvora Meyers since the Olympics in the summer, but haven’t been able to justify shelling out for it when I have so much waiting on the to-read shelf.  And then there’s Roxanne Gay’s Bad Feminist and Ta-Nehisi Coates’s Between the World and Me which I’ve just heard so much about but haven’t got around to reading yet.

There’s a few memoirs that I’m interested on – I keep hearing good things about Tara Clancy’s The Clancy’s of Queens about her childhood growing up in different parts of New York.  Then there’s Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime about growing up in South Africa when his parents’ marriage (between a white Swiss man and a black Xhosa woman) was illegal.  Noah is almost exactly my age and it’s crazy to me that this was still happening in my lifetime, to my contemporaries.

In history terms, I’d like First Women by Kate Anderson Brower about modern First Ladies of the US,  I want to read Barbara Leaming’s Kick Kennedy because I already have Paula Byrne’s novel Kick waiting on the shelf and I wouldn’t mind Rosemary by Kate Larson (although I fear it may make me sad and angry) because most of my knowledge about the other Kennedys comes from Laurie Graham’s novel The Importance of Being Kennedy and Robert Dalek’s biography John F Kennedy: An Unfinished Life.

I’m not one for science books in the main – although I’d also like to read several of the Mary Roach books I recommended yesterday – but I’d really like Emily Nagoski’s Come As You Are which is an exploration of female sexuality and sex, but I’m not sure there’s anyone I know well enough that I can ask them to buy it for me!  Perhaps I’ll treat myself to it in the New Year!

Fiction

The fiction section this year breaks down into authors I want to try or books I keep hearing about and series/authors I collect.  I’ll start with the former, because if you’ve been here a while the latter may seem a bit familiar to you…

Last year I was asking for the last of Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation books – this year i’m asking for her first collaboration with Beatriz Williams (who I also really like) and Karen White, The Forgotten Room, which is a timeslip novel covering three generations of a family in New York.  And incidentally I still haven’t managed to read Willig’s other novel from last year That Summer, where a woman inherits a house and discovers a painting and a mystery.

I’m always wanting non-Christmassy books to read in January – particularly because that’s when my birthday is and I’m sick of tinsel and mistletoe by New Year’s Day – which conincidentally is when Sherlock is back on TV, so Brittany Holmes A Study in Charlotte (female Holmes descendant at a US boarding school) or Sherry Thomas’s A Study in Scarlet Women (historical romance with female Sherlock) which I’ve been coveting for ages might well suit my mood early in 2017.

On the collection front, Virago reissued three more Angela Thirkells recently that I have not yet read or added to my collection (I wasn’t allowed to buy myself when Foyles were doing 20% off online, apparently 1 book as a present and 1 book for me was not an acceptable purchase ratio…) Miss Bunting, The Headmistress and Marling Hall.  There’s also a few more of Virago’s Designer Hardbacks that I’d quite like to add to the shelf – notably the two Daphne Du Maurier short story collections – Don’t Look Now and Other Stories and The Birds and Other Stories and Patricia Highsmith’s Strangers on the Train.

And in more boring every day reading so to speak, I really want to read the new Aurora Teagarden Mystery by Charlaine Harris, All the Little Liars, partly because I like the series but also because the idea of an author coming back to a series after nearly 15 years fascinates me. I still don’t have the latest Julia Quinn (Because of Miss Bridgerton) or Sarah MacLean (A Scot in the Dark) so I’m falling behind in my historical romance reading as well as the rest of the backlog.

Bookish Stuff

As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve already bought myself another year of Fahrenheit Press books and a couple more years of Literary Review, and I have Vanity Fair as well.  I did investigate a membership of the London Library, but I don’t know anyone who would spend nearly £500 on a library membership for me – especially with the massive backlog I have at the moment (and I can get a *lot* of books for £500 – that’s probably more than I’ve spend on books for myself this year anyway!).

I do fancy a new Kindle e-reader though – my first generation Kindle Touch has given me faithful service for more than 4 years, but it’s now struggling a little bit (it keeps stalling, possibly because of the amount of stuff on it) and the paint is scratching off it.  It’d also be nice to have two so that Him Indoors could use one on the beach on holiday (he ended up using mine for a fair bit of our last one).  My pick (I think) is the Voyage – because I want the backlight but I’m also getting lazy in my old age and liked the page turning squeezing thing when I tried it at the airport.

So there you are, more books than you can shake a stick at that I want for Christmas, despite the piles I already have.  It’s like an addiction except that I learn things and it’s not illegal.

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…

Read:

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

Started:

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Last Boat to Camden Town by Paul Charles

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

Still reading:

n/a

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 Amazon.com 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.