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)