holiday reading, The pile

Weekend Bonus: My ereader changed my life

A bonus post for you this weekend with what may seem like an over dramatic title, but as I was relaxing on the beach last week I realised that without my ereader, my holidays would be very different.  Allow me to explain.

Kindle in a case
One very loved kindle and slightly battered case…

As you may have worked out by now, I am a fast reader.  I read twelve books during my week in Croatia – and that’s not even the most I’ve  read during a week away.  I’d either need an extra suitcase or to take no clothes with me to take enough reading material for a week on the beach and the flights to get me to said beach.  And that’s before you take into account my notoriously flighty nature and tendency to want to read something, anything other than the books that I’ve brought with me*.

What you may not know is that I’m not good when left alone with my own head.  I have to have something to listen to to go to sleep – silence makes my brain start obsessing over things – did I do everything I should have done at work today, why haven’t I done x or y, death, that sort of thing.  So laying on the beach doing nothing was never my sort of holiday because although a bit of people watching is fun,  I can’t just about doing doing nothing for hours but there was no way I could take enough books to keep me going for a week. But sometimes you don’t want a holiday full of activities, where you’ve always got places to be or things to be doing.  Sometimes you just need to relax and unwind and do nothing and the ereader means that I can do that.

I was a (relatively) late adopter of ereaders.  I like the feel of books, I like the smell of them.  I like the way your favourites fall open to your favourite passages and the way you can lend books you love to the people that you love.  I managed the whole of my first year of the long commute without an ereader – taking proper books with me in my bag and occasionally using the Kindle app for free books on my phone when I ran  out of reading material before I got home.  But then came EURO 2012 – when I was going to be spending a month away from home in Poland. I knew I wouldn’t have space in my suitcase for books, but might well have some reading time.  I treated myself to a Kindle Touch (the first generation of them I think) and I’ve never looked back.

This holiday we took 4 actual books with us between us – a Janet Evanovich (that I’d already read) for Him Indoors who is working his way through the Steph Plum series one holiday at a time, two books he picked out from a selection from my to-read pile that he would like to read too and my holiday book – the Andrew Cartmel that was this week’s BotW.  He read the Steph Plum and then nicked my kindle to continue his Vicky Bliss odyssey.  I finished two of the three and started the other.  Without the ereader(s) we would have been lost.  The iPad isn’t allowed on the beach, but in the evenings we were often to be found relaxing on the balcony, him with the Kindle and me with the iPad.

If I didn’t like a book, I didn’t have to finish it (I hated one of the paperbacks and although I did finish it, I abandoned it to its fate at the hotel, clearing space in the suitcase for an extra bag of sweets for my long-suffering work colleagues) and equally if I loved a book and wanted the next in the series or another by the same author, the joys of wifi meant that I could just buy it.  I stocked it up with some cozy crimes and some favourite authors before we went and I had more than enough choice to keep me going for the week.*

My trusty Kindle is almost exactly five years old now and is groaning with the weight of the books stored on it.  I use it on the train every time I travel too or from work, I use it at the hostel on the nights I’m way from home and I use it on my breaks in the early hours during the dreaded night shifts.  I’m debating getting a new one – because reading on the iPad is just not the same – I’m sentimentally attached to my worn, well loved Kindle that makes me loath to let it go.  Although it would mean next holiday we’d have two to use on the beach…

If only I’d had an e-reader back in the day when I used to have to go on camping trips!

*I think this is the same tendency that makes me not want to eat packed lunches that I’ve made for myself.

**To be honest, I’ve probably got enough to keep me going for a year if only authors didn’t keep publishing new books.

 

fiction, literary fiction, Recommendsday, women's fiction

Recommendsday: Standard Deviation

Another day, another great holiday read to recommend, this time it’s Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny which filled some very happy hours on the plane and the beach last week and which I’m sure I’m going to be recommending to a lot of people this summer.

The cover of Standard Deviation
I love the origami figures but I’m still not quite sure the cover of this really does it justice.

Graham Cavanaugh is on his second marriage.  Wife #2, Audra, is one of Those Women – you know the sort – who know every one, who makes friends effortlessly and opens her arms (and home) to any waif or stray of her acquaintance (no matter how tenuous the connection) who needs help. They have one child, origami-obsessed Matthew, who has Asperger’s and sees the world slightly differently and finds a lot of it a bit challenging.  When Wife #1, Elspeth, re-appears in Graham’s life, the contrasts become apparent.  Because of course Audra wants them to be friends with Elspeth and so their lives get tangled up together all over again.

This is a fun, witty and touching look at the choices that we make and how our lives can change. Just reading about life with Audra makes you tired, but despite that and despite her nosiness and lack of boundaries you still warm to her.  I don’t think I’d want to be friends with her in real life, but then the same applies to Graham and to Elspeth too.  They all have their monstrous moments, but it makes for fascinating reading.  It has some heart-warming moments too – mostly dealing with Graham’s hopes for Matthew as he grows up and Audra’s efforts to try and give him a normal life.

This is Katherine Heiny’s first novel, but it doesn’t feel like a debut.  It feels like the work of an author who is already well in their stride, with confidence in the characters that they have created and the stories that they are spinning.  But perhaps that is unsurprising given Heiny’s background in short stories.  She’s been published in the New Yorker and had a collection of short stories – Single, Carefree, Mellow – published a few years back*.  This article from the Guardian says that she’s written more than 20 Young Adult novels under various pseudonyms, but frustratingly doesn’t give me any titles (and nor does good reads) which doesn’t help me with my need to glom on everything that she’s written.  Luckily I have a New Yorker subscription so I can go back and read the full version of How to Give the Wrong Impression from back in 1992.

If you like Nora Ephron movies and books, this may be the beach read for you.  In writing this I’ve seen lots of comparisons to Anne Tyler (who I’ve never read but always meant to) so I’ll be recommending this to my mum who’s had a bit of a Tyler thing recently.  My copy of Standard Deviation came via NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback (sorry) and you should be able to get hold of a copy from all the usual places and it’s also available on Audible (the link may only work if you’re signed in) Kindle and Kobo.

Happy reading!

*which is now on my wishlist unsurprisingly!

 

Book of the Week, crime, detective, fiction, mystery

Book of the Week: Written in Dead Wax

We had a lovely time on holiday last week and I read a lot of books.  A lot. And the pick of the bunch was Andrew Cartmel’s first Vinyl Dectective novel, Written in Dead Wax.  I’d had my eye on this for a while but finally managed to pick myself up a copy at Big Green Bookshop a few weeks back now.

Copy of Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel.
My copy on the beach in Croatia last week. Lovely setting, made better with a good book!

The Vinyl Detective hunts down rare records.  In fact he makes his living by selling the records that he finds while out and about in London.  Then one day a mysterious woman shows up and asks him to find the unfindable – a priceless, impossibly rare jazz album.  And so he sets off on an oddessy around the record shops, car boot sales and charity shops hunting for the elusive record.  But soon it seems he has competition.   Ruthless competition.  He’s not a detective, but when people start turning up dead, he start trying to work out what’s going on.

This has a blurb on the front from Ben Aaronovitch – and Andrew Cartmel also co-writes the Rivers of London graphic novels so I thought that it might be right up my street and I was right.  It was so much fun.  There’s no magic here (apart from the magic of vinyl) but it definitely has some points of comparison with Rivers of London – there’s a similar sense of humour and wry way of looking at the world and it has the geekery that I love too – that makes you feel like you’re a member of a special club of people in the know – even if all you know about LPs is what you learned on your parent’s old record player* and what you’ve read in the book.  The mystery is clever and twisty, there’s plenty of action and it’s really hard to figure out where it is going next.

If I had a problem with it, it was that the female characters weren’t always as three dimensional as they could be – but that was kind of in keeping with the Vinyl Detective’s record-centric world view: he’d be able to tell you (in depth) all the details about a rare record that he once saw, but he wouldn’t remember what you were wearing if you made him turn his back and describe your outfit to you! I tried to make myself read it slowly – and that worked for about 150 pages, and then I just needed to know what happened next and how it would all work out.  Luckily it’s taken me so long to get around to reading this that book 2 is already out and so I can get another fix soon.

If you like PC Grant’s adventures, read this.  And if you like this, then I think you might also like The Barista’s Guide to Espionage – which is really quite different but keeps coming into my mind when  I was writing this review and trying to come up with if you like this then read thats.  You should be able to get hold of Written in Dead Wax from any good bookshop – I’m planning a trip back to the Big Green Bookshop at the weekend to get hold of book 2 – or it’s also on Audible (you might need to be a member for this link to work), Kindle and Kobo.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.  I’ve already lent my copy to my dad…

Happy Reading!

*I spent parts of my childhood dancing around the dining room to a small selection of my parents’ records.  A bit of ballet, the Beatles, some Carpenters, Stevie Wonder, and Tony Orlando and Dawn, the records I created routines too aren’t as cool as the ones the Vinyl Detective is looking for – but I still have my first LP (the Postman Pat soundtrack) even though I don’t have a record player plumbed in to play it on.

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: June 19 – June 25

Can you tell that I’ve been on holiday? I think you can….

Read:

Nun Too Soon by Alice Loweecey

The Tell-Tale Tarte by Maya Corrigan

Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel

The Clock Strikes Nun by Alice Loweecey

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

If The Haunting Fits, Wear It by Rose Pressey

Death of a Lobster Lover by Lee Hollis

I Don’t Like Where This Is Going by John Dufresne

Asking for Truffle by Dorothy St James

The Early Birds by Laurie Graham

Paper Girls Vol 1 by Brian K Vaughan

Started:

The Greedy Queen by Annie Gray

The Hissing of the Silent Lonely Room by Paul Charles

Still reading:

Kick by Paula Byrne

Reel History: The World According to the Movies by Alex von Tunzelmann

The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell

Trans Like Me by CN Lester

I don’t think I actually bought any books this week – which is a minor miracle in itself.  I’m almost proud of me!

 

Book of the Week, Fantasy, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Bitch Planet

A relatively short Book of the Week post this week because it’s been a bit of a strange one really to be honest.  So it seemed fairly logical to pick Bitch Planet Volume 1 because it was kick ass and a bit subversive and fitted my mood!

Last week’s comic bookshop haul – complete with Bitch Planet nestled in the middle!

So, Bitch Planet is a graphic novel set in the near future. And as always (or almost always) this is a dystopian near future.  Bitch Planet is the nickname for the penal colony where women who don’t do as they’re told are sent.  In volume 1 we meet a gang of new arrivals and follow them as they try to form alliances and work out a way to survive. It’s a dark and twisty take on sci fi and women in prison and it’s fabulous.

It’s not been that long since I picked Lumberjanes 4 as my BotW and this is a different sort of graphic novel, but it’s definitely as good. I had heard so much about this on the bookish internet and finally remembered to look and see if my comic book store had a copy last week.  It did and I’m so glad I picked it up – I just wish I’d bought Volume 2 at the same time. I can totally understand why so many people love this – the tales of Non Compliant tattoos make sense to me now. But this isn’t just a graphic novel for women – there’s plenty here for comic fans and sci fi movie fans too – the assistant behind the till at the cash register was telling me how much he likes the series too.

You should be able to pick up Bitch Planet from any good comic book store and I would encourage you to do that – read my Lumberjanes post for further and better particulars but basically it boils down to help the little guys who are experts.

Happy Reading!

PS I said this would be short but sweet didn’t I!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week In Books: June 12 – June 18

 A busy week of news and work. Honestly I wish it would just stop. It’s starting to feel a bit end of days to be honest.  Here’s hoping the world improves.

Read:

An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson

Gridiron Grit by Noel Sainsbury Jr

Fatal Forgeries by Ritter Ames

Bitch Planet Vol 1 by Kelly Sue DeConnick et al

Rivers of London: Detective Stories 1 by Ben Aaronovitch et al

 Fatal Facade by Alison Campbell

The Antique House Murders by Leslie Nagal

Started:

Trans Like Me by CN Lester

The Early Birds by Laurie Graham

Nun Too Soon by Alice Loweecey

Still reading:

Kick by Paula Byrne

Reel History: The World According to the Movies by Alex von Tunzelmann

The Headmistress by Angela Thirkell

Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny

Written in Dead Wax by Andrew Cartmel

I may have bought a few Kindle John LeCarrés, but apart from that, well behaved. I’m also trying to make the Cartmel last because I’m really enjoying it!

 

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Once in a Lifetime

This week’s BotW is Jill Shalvis’s Once in a Lifetime which was the last book in that omnibus of her Lucky Harbor series that I mentioned in a Recommendsday post when it was on Kindle sale last month.  It was a very busy and challenging week at work for me last week what with the fall out from the London Bridge attacks and the General Election here in the UK and this was perfect escapist reading for me.

This is the UK cover for the individual ebook which is… ok. Not as pretty as I’d like

Aubrey is Lucky Harbor’s resident bad girl – or at least the town thinks that she is.  She got into trouble at school, she was a mean girl and a beauty queen – and she recently slept with her boss.  But now she’s trying to make things right and turn her life into what she wants it to be.   Ben is back in his hometown after leaving to escape his grief over the death of his wife.  He’s not looking to risk his heart again, but there’s something about Aubrey that draws him to her, even though everyone keeps telling him that she is Trouble.

Once in a Lifetime is the ninth book in the Lucky Harbor series and it has been building towards Aubrey and Ben’s story for the previous two books.  You’ll get more out of this if you’ve read those two books – because you’ll have more insight into Aubrey and Ben’s pasts and you’ll see the love stories of Aubrey and Ben’s closest friends, but it still works as a standalone book too.  Aubrey is not a traditional romance heroine – she’s not sweet and goody goody and you learn through the book exactly how mean she can be.  But she’s working to be better and to make amends and her family backstory explains a lot of her behaviours and makes a character who you don’t initially like that much into one that you’re really rooting for.

Ben is a more usual sort of romance hero – except for the fact that he is a widower.  Shalvis does a really good job of negotiating the fact that he has been in love before and had a happy marriage whilst still working towards a happy ending with Aubrey.  It’s a difficult tightrope to tread – particularly at times because he is discovering things about his wife that he didn’t know – but Shalvis manages to create a lovely relationship between Ben and Aubrey without running down or ruining the one that he had before.

I’m not a massive reader of contemporary romance as you all know, but small town contemporaries really do scratch an itch sometimes.  They seem like a logical extension of my love of Sweet Valley High and the Babysitters’ Club books when I was growing up.  To me the towns often feel  a lot like a larger (and American) version of the villages that I grew up in – where everyone knows you and your business – but populated by small businesses, often quirky, and attractive people.  Who wouldn’t want to live in that sort of world?  Well except for everyone knowing you and your business and your history, which I know from personal experience can get on your wick after a while, but hey it’s a romance book and it’s fun to read about!

Anyway, as I mentioned, my copy of Once in a Lifetime was in an omnibus (the third of the Lucky Harbor omnibuses to be precise). That’s unfortunately not on sale anymore and is back up to £4.99 on Kindle but that’s still a better deal than buying it individually for £3.99.  Both of those are probably better value than buying the actual books – which I think are quite expensive considering how long they take to read – but that is often the case with American romance novels.  However the first three Lucky Harbour books are £3.99 at the moment,  if you want to dip your toe into the water (so to speak) – I know I’m very tempted…

Happy reading!