Book of the Week, graphic novels, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Pumpkinheads

A busy week in reading last week with lots on the list. You’ll be hearing more about some of them (yes I know, I keep saying that but look – you had a Recommendsday post last week and that was worth it right?) but as it’s Halloween this week this seemed like the obvious choice.

UK Edition of Pumpkinheads

Written by Rainbow Rowell and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads tells the story of one night in the life of Deja and Josiah.  They are seasonal friends.- they’ve worked at the same stall at the same pumpkin patch together, every autumn, all through high school – but never see each other between Halloween and next September 1. But their last year. And more specifically their last night. Josiah wants to be melancholy, but Deja wants him to seize the moment and let go of his quest to be the employee of the month and enjoy their final shift together. To that end she’s traded their shifts at the succotash stall for something closer to where Josiah’s long-term crush works, in the hope that she can persuade him to finally ask her out. But what actually happens ends up being a mad chase around the patch to finally see all the sights and taste all the snacks.

I’m not a horror reader, so Halloween themed reading is always a challenge for me.  But if you’re like me and need some low stakes, low peril Halloween reading, this may be exactly what is required. This is funny and sweet and not at all scary, but it is very, very Halloween-y. We don’t really have pumpkin patches over here – or if we do it’s a very recent arrival – so it’s not something that I’m familiar with, but that didn’t matter because the art did all the work for you.  I loved the visual style of this – the colour palette is gorgeously autumnal and the characters are all really expressive.  There’s so much detail here too – I loved the runaway goat and the troublesome teens.  Read this curled up on your sofa with a seasonal beverage whilst hiding from trick or treaters.

My copy of Pumpkinheads came from my local comic store – your local should be able to get hold of it too. Otherwise it’s available from all the usual sources.  I’ve also written about some of Rainbow Rowell’s books before – here are my reviews of Carry On and Fangirl. I also finished Wayward Son – which is the sequel to Carry On – last week.  It’s really good, but you need to have read Carry On to get the most out of it.  And there’s a third book coming too.  Exciting times.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: October 21 -October 27

A week of finishing books and starting new ones. I nearly finished the Cormoran Strike on Sunday night, but it’s not exactly bedtime reading and I had to switch to something different last thing to try and avoid nightmares. I know, I’m a big child.


The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro

Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

Playing for Keeps by Jill Shalvis

A Christmas to Remember by Lisa Kleypas, Lorraine Heath, Megan Frampton and Vivienne Loret

The Rogue of Fifth Avenue by Joanna Shupe

My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell


Died and Gone to Devon by TP Fielden

The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden by Karina Yan Glaser

The Christmas Invitation by Trisha Ashley

The Dollhouse by Fiona Davis

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

Still reading:

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

Bonus photo: a cache of books from my childhood, rediscovered in some boxes from my parents’ garage (delivered to me to deal with now we’re in the new house). And yes, I was reading Agatha Christie at the top end of primary school, at the same sort of time I was reading Narnia…



book round-ups, non-fiction, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Rich People Problems – Non-fiction Edition

Regular readers of the blog may be aware that I’m somewhat fascinated by the interwar period.  I love Golden Age crime novels, like my beloved Peter Wimsey, one of my all-time favourite novels is Laurie Graham’s Gone With the Windsors and I’ve read a lot about of some of the notables of the period  – some of which I’ve written about here before – like Flappers, Bright Young People and Queen Bees.  And after a recent jag of books about the era (and slightly beyond), now seemed like an ideal time for a bit of a round up of the best bits of the non-fiction.  You’ll hear more about the fiction anon…

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell JrCover of Empty Mansions

This is another one of those books that I’ve wanted to read after I saw the author interviewed about on the Daily Show before Jon Stewart left and have recently got around to reading (see also: Jim Henson) and it is really something.  Huguette Clark died in hospital in 2011 at the age of 104. The fact that she died in hospital is about the only “normal” thing about her life. She was worth $300m. She’d been in the hospital for 30 years. She hadn’t been photographed – in public at least – for nearly twice that. Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman and one of Huguette’s cousins, Paul Clark Newell Jr, look at her life, her family’s fortune and why she retreated to the confines of one room (and progressively smaller one at that) of a hospital for so long when she had apartments and riches that most people can only dream of.  And it’s one hell of a ride.  I read it as an ebook, which is good because it’s long and dense and has footnotes that you might want to flick back and forth to. As well as being fascinating it leaves you with lots of things to ponder – why did she retreat from public life in the 1930s? Was she exploited by the hospital or her carers? And what do people who have made huge fortunes owe to the people and the towns they made the money off? Well worth a look.

The Riviera Set by Mary S Lovell

Hardback of The Riviera Set

Want to know how the French Riviera become the playground of the rich and famous?  This book will tell you.  Lovell’s book starts by introducing you to Maxine Elliott and showing how she established herself as one of Edwardian society’s notable hostesses before building Chateau de l’Horizon, the modernist villa at the centre of the book.  Between the wars, Maxine’s house hosted all the notables of the time – the Churchills, the Windsors, Noel Coward and more – and after the war it transitioned into a party house for the Hollywood set under the ownership of Aly Khan.  I learned new things about some familiar faces from the interwar years – as well as being introduced to a 50s and 60s jet-set that I wasn’t really very knowledgable about.  This mixes royal history, political history and Hollywood history as it shows how the Riviera evolved through the years – although it stops well before the coast became the exlusive playground of oligarchs and the super rich.  Very readable and just gossipy enough. I liked it so much it’s still on my downstairs shelves, nearly two years after I first read it.

Chanel’s Riviera by Anne de Courcy

hardback copy of Chanels Riviera

Once you’ve read about Maxine, go straight on to Anne de Courcy’s new book and see what happened to the Riviera when the Second World War hit it.  The Lovell – which focuses on the villa and the rich – covers the World War Two in one chapter, mostly about how everyone got out.  Chanel’s Riviera will fill in the gaps – and make sure that you don’t go away with the idea that the Riviera wasn’t really affected by it all.  There is plenty about Chanel herself in here, mostly around her time on the Riviera and her friends there, but there’s a lot more detail about the more normal people down there – and not just the rich.  There are expats who had moved down there for their health and the people who had moved down there to work for them or with them.  This one only just came out – it’ll get a place on my shelves just as soon as I get it back from my mum…

The Unfinished Palazzo by Judith Mackrell

Cover of The Unfinished Palazzo

This is a group biography of sorts of three very unconventional for their time women who all owned the titualar Venetian Palazzo during the twentieth century. I found this while scouring my shelves looking for something similar to The Riviera Set after reading that – and it even has some crossover in the cast list (if you know what I mean!), as Doris Castlerosse is a principle figure in this after being a side character in the Lovell.  Luisa Casati was what probably what we would consider now to be a performance artist – albeit one with a pet cheetah. Doris Castlerosse was a socialite who married money and was close to Winston Churchill. And Peggy Guggenheim was an heiress who renovated the building and used it to showcase her collection of modern art (yes, one of those Guggenheims).  Although this was less satisfying than the Lovell overall,  and would serve you well as an entry point into any of their lives.  I would happily read more about any one of the women in this.

So there you have it.  Four more books to add to the list.  This has been mostly European focused – even Huguette – who was part French and spoke with a French accent!  If you’ve got any recommendations for more stuff about America or the rest of the world in this period, hit me up in the comments. Equally if you’ve got an historical rich people problems novels that you think I should read let me know – because they are also my catnip.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Vacationland

As I mentioned yesterday, was a bit of a week last week and there nearly wasn’t a BotW post this week – until I finished this on the train home on Sunday evening.  And after a long spell without an essay collection as a pick, we’ve now had two come along in quick succession.  Such is the way of reading. Or more accurately, such is the way of library hold queues.  This also continues a bit of a theme of things that I discovered through Jon Stewart, which includes previous BotW Jim Henson: A Biography (and you could argue Born A Crime as that’s where I first saw Trevor Noah – when he was a correspondent before he got the gig when Jon left) as well as a whole host of books people, shows and music I haven’t written about here, although the list here will expand further tomorrow. Aren’t I a tease?!

Cover of Vacationland by John Hodgman

Anyway, you may know John Hodgman for his turn as Deranged Billionaire* on The Daily Show in the Jon Stewart era.  Or as the PC in the apple ads in the 1990s. Or for his Judge John Hodgman podcast.  Anyway, he’s carved out a bit of a niche for what he calls in the book “Privilege Comedy”.  This is a book of essays which form a memoir about his travels through two states – Massachusetts, where he spent his childhood holidays and early adult summers and Maine, where his wife spent her childhood holidays. It’s also about losing a parent, realising that you’re a man in your forties, actually a grownup and that you need to learn to deal with it, and that freshwater clams are scary.

My life is really quite different from John’s, but I found this funny, reflective and thought provoking.  It’s also a lot more real than I was expecting given John’s stage personas.  I saw him do Judge John Hodgman live a couple of years back, and while it was very funny, it was definitely a performance of a character.  This is not that. I came away feeling like I had more of a handle on who he is behind the act, and what makes him tick.  He’s also very aware of the position that he is in, as a well-off white man and points out all the things that he is able to do (and tell you about) in this book because of that and that is refreshing in itself.

And as someone whose knowledge of New England comes almost entirely from Rich People novels and biographies or cozy crime, and of Maine specifically mainly from Murder, She Wrote, I felt like I came away knowing a lot more about that part of the American coast, what it looks like, how its economy work and what it really means when little towns in Maine or Massachusetts pop up in novels.

My copy of Vacationland came from the library, but it’s available in Kindle, Kobo and audiobook, as well as in hardback in the UK and paperback if you’re prepared to order in from the US. Foyles don’t have any available as click and collect, but say they can have the hardback to you in a couple of days, and Waterstones found one London branch and a brighton one with stock for click and collect so it is probably an order a copy job rather than a pop in and pick it up one.

Happy Reading!

*John in Deranged Billionaire mode on his final Daily Show appearance

Bonus picture: A terrible iPhone picture from when we saw him live!

John Hodgman on stage in a judge costume


books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: October 14 -October 20

It has been a week. I mean if you live in the UK I’m sure you’re well aware, but for those of you in the rest of the world, let me tell you, it has been a ride.  And I’ve been at work for a lot of it.  Consequently not a lot of reading has happened and I’ve had trouble finding stuff to read that fitted my mood, but a bit of stress-related book-buying has happened.  Tant pis.  On the brightside, I’ve started the Christmas-themed reading, which makes me somewhat better organised than I was last year.  Or better organised *at the moment* at least.


The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

A Bollywood Affair by Sonali Dev

The Christmas Sisters by Sarah Morgan

Vacationland by John Hodgman


Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street by Karina Yan Glaser

Still reading:

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro

My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams

Two books bought. One more pre-order arrived – after some aggressive chasing of a certain multinational mega-company who took my order in June, emailed me last week to say it wasn’t going to dispatch until November and yet had it as available with Prime on their website on release day. Colour me unimpressed.  I like to pre-order books from authors that I really like because it helps them with their publishers.  But I really wish the aforementioned company did their pre-order price guarantee on ebook orders because it would be so much easier all around.

Bonus photo: Sunday night dinner, as prepared by Him Indoors – the dish we call Coq O’ven – because it’s Coq au vin done in the oven.  The recipe is from The Roasting Tin which, along with its two sequels, is in frequent rotation chez nous.


A roasting tin with chicken dish



Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Next Year in Havana

It’s definitely starting to feel distinctly wintery here, and I’m being drawn to books about sunnier climes to counter act the gloom of the days shortening and the lack of sunlight.  So this week’s BotW pick is one that took me away from the damp of a British late-autumn and to the warmth of Cuba – but don’t worry, this isn’t a sunny beach read.

Cover of Next Year in Havana

Marisol Ferrera is on her way to Cuba for the first time.  She’s grown up on stories of the land her grandmother was forced to flee. Now with the easing of travel restrictions for Americans, she’s on her way to the country she’s heard so much about ostensibly to write an article for tourists, but with her grandmother’s ashes hidden in her luggage to fulfil her dying wish to return home.  But Cuba has changed a lot in the 60 years that have passed, and there are family secrets waiting to be uncovered. Back in 1958 Elisa Perez was a debutante, the daughter of a sugar baron and sheltered from the unrest sweeping the nation.  But that all changes when she starts an affair with a revolutionary who is fighting alongside Fidel Castro.

I liked both women and I was swept away by Cuba – in both time lines.  I do love a bit of last-days-before-it-all-comes-crashing-down society sometimes – all that doomed glamour and obliviousness; but actually modern day Cuba was just as intriguing – a country held in stasis, where you had to know the right people and say the right things to get on or else survive by your own ingenuity and cunning.  Which ever way there’s a lot of personal risk involved.  I will admit that I was a little worried that there was no way for there to be a satisfactory resolution to Marisol’s story, but actually it really pulled it off. I finished the book really wanting to visit to Cuba – but even more conflicted about doing that than I had been previously.

We all know that I love a dual timeline novel and I’ve had a fancy to read this since I first first heard about it, which I think (like it often is) was when Chanel Cleeton was a guest on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast back on episode 284 in early 2018.  And yes, it’s taken me this long to get around to getting hold of a copy and reading it.  In between it’s become a Reese Witherspoon book club pick and was a Goodreads choice award nominee for historical fiction last year. And actually it pretty much lived up to the hype, which isn’t always the case with books like this and as my Goodreads reviews will attest.  It was a period of history I don’t really know a huge amount about – beyond having studies the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis during GSCE history and it was nice to be swept up into a different era and a different culture – I’ve read a lot of European-set dual timeline novels (particularly recently) and it’s not often that I venture as close to the present day as the 1950s for novels like this so it was a refreshing change all around.

My copy of Next Year in Havana came from the library, but you can get hold of a copy on Kindle, Kobo or in paperback from somewhere like Book Depository.  I’m not sure how easy it will be to find in stores, Amazon say they can despatch it really quickly but Foyles say they can order it but it will take about a week, which makes me wonder if it’s an American import.  I’ve already got Cleeton’s next novel on hold at the library.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: October 7 -October 13

A real mix of reading this week – with everything from graphic novels aimed at middle graders to prize winning translated fiction with romance and Hollywood history in between.


Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

The Castle on Sunset by Shaun Levy

Lumberjanes Vol 10 by Shannon Waters et al

Backstagers Vol 1 by James Tynion IV et al

The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer

The Order of the Day by Eric Vuillard

Meet Cute by Helena Hunting


The Last of August by Brittany Cavallaro

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith

My Friend Anna by Rachel DeLoache Williams

Still reading:

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

Four books bought, no ebooks.  And one of the books was a book that had been recommended to me earlier in the week and that I then spotted in the charity shop serendipitously, so I can hardly be blamed for that right?

Bonus photo: my first attempt at flower arranging. I need help. Is there a book for that?

badly arranged flowers in a vase...


American imports, Book of the Week, memoirs, non-fiction, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Southern Lady Code

I had a really lovely week of reading again last week. And there were difficult choices for book of the week this week, but actually I haven’t picked a book of essays in a while and this one was just delicious.

Cover of Southern Lady Code

I wrote about American Housewife back in 2016 and I’ve been waiting for more from her ever since.  American Housewife was a short story collection though, and this a bit different. Across more than twenty essays, Ellis examines what it means to her to be a Southern Lady – and in particular what it’s like to be a Southern Lady living in Manhattan.  Her mantra is “If you don’t have something nice to say, say something not-so-nice in a nice way” and there are a lot of laughs to be had because of this, but there are also ghosts, retro buffets, cleaning as a method of keeping the spark in a marriage and how to shop for a formal event.  It’s funny, clever and true – or at least mostly true. Probably.  But basically Helen Ellis makes me laugh.  I’m not a Southern lady, and I’m a bit younger than Ellis, but there was so much here that amused me and spoke to me.

If you like wry sideways takes on American life, this would make a great addition to your autumn reading list. It was definitely worth waiting two months in the hold queue for it.

As you might guess from that, my copy of Southern Lady Code came from the library, but I’ll be buying myself a copy when it’s out in paperback here. It’s available in hardback, kindle and kobo.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: September 30 – October 6

I’m really trying hard to ration myself and read Wayward Son nice and slowly.  Really slowly.  Make it last.  This was derailed this week by the arrival of my signed, special edition hardback, which has caused me no end of problems and worries – because I ordered it so long ago it was going to the old house, and Waterstones don’t let you change delivery addresses.  Nightmare.  Luckily our old house and our new one are so close together that we have the same postman and he is a Good Guy.  Phew.


The Allingham Minibus by Margery Allingham

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

Mrs Hemingway by Naomi Wood

Asterix in Britain by Goscinny and Uderzo

Asterix and Caesar’s Gift by Goscinny and Uderzo

Lumberjanes Vol 9: On A Roll by Shannon Waters et al

Who Is Vera Kelly by Rosalie Knecht

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan


Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

The Age of Light by Whitney Scharer

Still reading:

Wayward Son by Rainbow Rowell

Bonus photo: my lovely copy of Wayward Son.  Isn’t it pretty…

collage of pictures of signed hardcover Wayward Son - with flowery edges, flowery cover under the dustjacket and lovely endbards


books, stats

September Stats

New books read this month: 33*

Books from the to-read pile: 7

Ebooks read: 8

NetGalley books read: 3

Library books: 12 (all ebooks)

Non-fiction books: 12

Most read author: Weird one this month because technically Isak Dineson (two quite short books) or Gosciny and Uderzo (two Asterix cartoons) but actually probably Brian Jay Jones because his Jim Henson biography is the longest book I’ve read this year (600+ pages)

Books read in 2019: 300

Books bought: 1 ebook,  5 books.  I blame the airport

Books on the Goodreads to-read shelf: 531(I don’t have copies of all of these!)

A solid month of reading, really helped by having a week’s holiday in there.  This is probably the most non-fiction I’ve ever read in a month and it’s been really good – although I could have done without all my library holds coming in at once so I could space them out more.

Bonus picture: more Rhodes!

A view of the sea from high on a mountain on Rhodes

Bonus bonus picture: possibly the last Pimms of the summer on the South Bank ahead of a concert.


*Includes some short stories/novellas/comics/graphic novels (2 this month)