Children's books, Recommendsday, Series I love

Recommendsday: The Vanderbeeker series

Another week, another Recommendsday post to start off the new year.  Long term readers will know that I love middle grade stories – I’ve written before about my love of the Wells and Wong series as well as older books that I read when I was the “right” age. I discovered Karina Yan Glaser’s series at the end of last year – but ran into Christmas posts before I could write about it.

Cover of The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street

So the Vanderbeekers live in part of a brownstone in Brooklyn. There’s five children and it’s maybe not quite big enough but they’ve always lived there, their dad is the building superintendent and the building is like part of the family. All three books in the series so far are basically a modern take on the classic “children go on a quest” trope. In the first book their landlord is trying to evict them and they have to try and stop it. In the second, they’re trying to start a secret garden and in the third they’re trying to save their mother’s business after accidentally putting it at risk.

Cover of The Vanderbeekers and the Hidden Garden

I really, really loved these books. The characters are great, the relationships between the family are just wonderful and they’re quirky and fun without being annoying. There’s all the classic characters in the gang – the dreamy one, the adventurous one, the problem solver – but they’re also people you recognise and would like to be friends with. There are inventions, there are pets, there’s special food – just like in the Enid Blyton stories you remember but the plots deal with issues like gentrification and the gig economy – which are very twenty-first century but also, when you think about it probably the modern successors of the Enid Blyton quest stories of old.

They’re also more diverse. The family is biracial, the neighbourhood is multicultural and so you can give it to children when you want them to get all the feels you got from your childhood favourite adventures but without everyone being white and a bit posh or the risks of language that can be out of date at best and racist at worse.

I’ve already bought the first one for the nieces (as a Christmas book) – that’s how much I liked them. My copies came from the library, but they’re available in Kindle and Kobo editions as well as in paperback and hardback from all the usual sources – although they’re probably a special order job (Foyles have two of the three available to order at the moment)

Happy Reading!

Award nominated, Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Furious Hours

Starting off the New Year with a book from that NetGalley backlog I said that I was trying to deal with.  I try to only have one non-fiction book on the go at once, and this one is one I kept meaning to get around to – and in fact even started a while back and then got distracted by the arrival of a bunch of non-fiction library book holds and I forgot about it.  But it made the final of the non-fiction category of the Goodreads awards* which jogged my memory and gave me the push I needed to come back to it.

Cover of Furious Hours

So Furious Hours is Casey Cep’s first book and it tells the story of an Alabama serial killer whose trial caught the eye of Harper Lee.  The first part of the book tells you about the frankly astounding story of Reverend Willie Maxwell, who was suspected of killing members of his family – and who was then killed at the funeral of one of his alleged victims.  And just to add to what is already an eye-popping story, the killer was defended at the murder trial by the same lawyer who had previously defended Reverend Maxwell when he was accused of murder.  The second part of the book is about Harper Lee – the author of To Kill a Mockingbird – who took attended the trial with a view to writing her own true crime book about it, in the same way that her friend Truman Capote wrote the story of the Clutter family murders in In Cold Blood.  Now as you probably know, until the (somewhat controversial) publication of Go Set a Watchman, Harper Lee famously had only one published book – so you know a bit about how that went for her, but that’s only really part of the story, and Cep takes you through Lee’s life that lead her to that point and beyond.

Both of the stories told here are absolutely fascinating, and if I have a complaint about the book it’s that they feel like two separate stories for a long time.  When I first picked up the book I had picked up on the Harper Lee element of the story and was surprised when the start of the book didn’t mention her at all.  But having now read the whole thing, I understand why it was structured like that and that you need to know one story fully to understand the other and I’m not sure I could have come up with a way of integrating the two that wouldn’t have been just far too confusing.  So it requires you to read the blurb properly (bad Verity) to understand what you’re about to read – and then to go with it because it will all make sense in the end.

As well as the Goodreads awards, this was a nominee for the Baillie Gifford prize (which was won by another former BotW The Five) and made a lot of end of year lists – including Barack Obama’s – so it’s well worth a look if you like true crime or books about authors and that sort of thing.  As previously mentioned, my copy came from NetGalley, but Furious Hours is out in hardback at the moment – with the paperback due in April in the UK.  You should be able to get hold of a copy from any bookshop with a reasonable non-fiction section.  It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook from Kobo and Audible.

Happy Reading!

*Alongside previous BotW Catch and Kill – in fact there were a lot of books on that shortlist that I fancy reading – but they were all beaten by Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis, which given my experience with Girl, Wash Your Face I don’t think I’ll be reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: December 30 – January 5

It’s strange – because this post covers the very end of last year as well as the first five days of 2020 and yet the end of 2019 books feel like I read them eons ago already.  Strange.  Anyway, here we are in 2020 – if you missed it, I wrote a post last week about the books that I’m looking forward to this year.  A couple of house keeping updates: firstly I’ve been trialing adding links to these posts for a couple of weeks, back to posts where I’ve written about those authors before and I’m going to try and make a habit this year.  Secondly, I’ve got a huge NetGalley backlog going on at the moment – and have had for a year, so my big reading resolution (yes I know I said I hate them, but this is the only one I’ve made) this year is to get that down, so I’m trialling marking them here with an asterix, and hopefully the end of month stats posts this year will show an uptick in NetGalley reading. We can but hope.

Read:

Dancing Star by Gladys Malvern

The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker

100 Nasty Women of History by Hannah Jewell

Rules by Jenny Colgan (writing as Jane Beaton)

The Angel with Two Faces by Nicola Upson

Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis*

The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo*

Furious Hours by Casey Cep*

Weird War Two by Richard Denham*

Started:

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith

When A Duchess Says I Do by Grace Burrows

Still reading:

The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths

The Case for Jamie by Brittany Cavallaro

Four books from Nick Hern ordered as I was writing last week’s BotW post and a book and a cook book from Amazon. So not exactly a great start to the year in terms of not buying stuff, even if technically the Nick Hern order was in 2019…

Bonus photo: A follow up from the picture in the December Stats post – here’s this year’s Beat the To-Read Shelf bookcase drawing ready to go…

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley.

book round-ups, non-fiction

New Year, New You

A Friday bonus post for you.  Back in the autumn I started thinking about what I might write for New Year this year and realised that I hate New Year’s Resolutions posts because they never feel natural and they add an extra level of guilt and obligation to my reading that I just don’t need. So instead of a resolutions post, but still in the spirit of new beginnings, I thought I’d write about some self-help/self-improvement books that I have read.  Which meant I had to read some. And so I embarked on some reading.

This is not a genre that I read a lot – I have a low tolerance for inspirational stuff, but I try and keep an open mind. And trying to grow and improve yourself is good, and so in the interests of you, dear Reader, I did it.  Here is what I discovered: I am really not a good candidate for self help books.  They make me really quite angry quite easily.  And it seems that as a person in a relationship but without children, a lot of them really don’t apply to me.  But here were are, I’ve done the reading so you don’t have to. Lets start with the bad…

Most Unintentionally Depressing: Fair Play by Eve Rodsky

Cover of Fair Play

My main takeaway from this was that finding a decent man in America must be a garbage fire. This book claims to be “a revolutionary, real-world solution to the problem of unpaid, invisible work that women have shouldered for too long.” What it actually is is a way to gamify domestic labour that you trick your other half into playing with you. I had high hopes for this because it was a Reese Witherspoon book club pick and her fiction picks have always been interesting, but hooo boy.  It’s definitely true that women have greater expectations placed on them by external and internal forces when it comes to running a household, but this feels like the marriage equivalent of a dating manual that advises you to trick your potential spouse.  And despite what the blurb would have you think, it also only really applies to hetero-normative relationships with kids.  And only then if you’re prepared to treat your partner like a child – which to be honest isn’t the relationship that I aspire to.  I prefer to share my life with someone I can talk to like an adult about problems and, if you believe the author, it seems most men in the US can’t have a sensible conversation about shared workload and need to be tricked and gamed into doing their share.

Most Irritating: Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Cover of Girl, Wash Your Face

I’m going to chalk this up to a lack of research on my part.  My library suggested this to me (I can’t remember why) and knowing I was going to write this post I read the blurb and thought it sounded worth a try and got myself on the hold list.  It came in just in time to read for this post more is the pity. Per the Goodreads entry “With wry wit and hard-earned wisdom, popular online personality and founder of TheChicSite.com founder Rachel Hollis helps readers break free from the lies keeping them from the joy-filled and exuberant life they are meant to have.” So far so good – but the bit I didn’t clock properly was at the end: “With unflinching faith and tenacity, Hollis spurs other women to live with passion and hustle and to awaken their slumbering goals.”  The key word there being faith.  There’s a lot of God and knowing that God has plans for your life and your journey in this, and that was not what I was looking for.  There’s also a lot of American therapy speak that always makes my skin itch and big sections of the book are about juggling a job and kids. To be fair though, her relationship does sound a bit better balanced than the ones in Fair Play – so maybe not all American men are awful.

And now for the good…

Most Reassuring: The Likeability Trap by Alicia Menendez

Cover of The Likeability Trap

Journalist Alicia Menendez examines the concept of likeability and why women either are perceived as cold but strong or warm but weak and why this is outdated and how to fight against it. I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this, but it turned out to be useful, reassuring and quite practical. I’m not sure how many things I’ll be able to implement in my life, but it definitely felt like someone with similar experiences and feelings to me was giving me advice.  And as we go into a US Presidential election year, it’s really interesting to take a deep dive into the notion of female likeability so you know what you’re looking for in the commentary on the women in the running for the nomination and the presidency.

Most practical: The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo

Cover of Making of a Manager

Julie Zhuo was an early hire at Facebook and at 25 found herself managing a team of designers.  As the company grew, so did the number of people she was managing.  In The Making of a Manager she discusses the perils and pitfalls of becoming a manager and offers helpful advice for how to avoid them.  I actually found this the most useful of the lot.  Not everything she talks about applies to the job that I do, but enough did that I started making notes.  And although she works in tech and draws her examples from her own experience, it doesn’t feel like you’re being lectured by a Facebook zealot and it felt like she’d worked hard to make her advice applicable to most sorts of teams and workplaces and so I think almost anyone who manages people  could get something out of this.

So there you have it.  I think on balance I got enough from the good books to make up for the bad bits, but next time I do this (if there is a next time!) I’m going to pay better attention to the blurbs and try and decode things a bit better. Also maybe stop reading the stuff I don’t like before it makes me ragey.  Three of these came from the library (hello again themes of my 2019 obsessions) but The Making of a Manager came from NetGalley.

Until Monday – Happy Reading!

books, stats

December Stats

It’s the end of the year – so here it is, the bumper end of year stat post. I’m sure there’ll be some tweaks to the format at the end of January, but this is the 2019 format for the very last time:

New books read this month: 37*

Books from the to-read pile: 17

Ebooks read: 8

NetGalley books read: 3

Library books: (all ebooks): 9

Non-fiction books: 8

Most read author in December: Noel Coward – 2 plays read, which feels a bit wrong, but no other repeated authors

Books bought in December: 8 books, 3 books and a couple of preorders for 2020

Books read in 2019: 402!!!

This is my highest ever total, which is somewhat amazing and mind boggling. You can check out my year in books on Goodreads here.

Most read author in 2019: Susan Mallery – I’ve read the entire Fools Gold series this year basically, and all  but one of the Happily Inc series too and some standalones.  It’s been a proper glom.

Books on the Goodreads to-read shelf (I don’t have copies of all of these!): 540

And if you’ve somehow missed them, here’s my look back at my favourite new books of the year, my 2019 reading obsessions (which maybe should have included Susan Mallery, but doesn’t!), how my 2018 obsessions fared last year, and my look ahead to exciting new releases in 2020.

Bonus picture: Here’s my completed Beat the To Read Shelf spread from my journal.  I started this in 2018 as a way of making me work my way through the books on the tbr pile.  I find that I hate not finishing something even more than I hate being “forced” to read something.  But the library ebooks meant I fell a little bit behind this year – and had to do almost an entire shelf in the last month and a half of the year, and half a shelf in the last ten days.  I’m dead proud of it now I’m done though!

*Includes some short stories/novellas/comics/graphic novels (4 this month)

 

Book previews

Books I’m looking forward to in 2020

Happy New Year everyone. It’s the start of 2020, so after looking back at 2019, it’s time to look ahead to some of the books coming out this year that I’m excited about.  And as with last year’s list, it’s fairly weighted towards the start of the year – because that’s just how it always happens.  Will one of these be this year’s Daisy Jones and the Six for me? Who knows.

The Mirror and the Light – Hilary Mantel (March)

Cover of The Mirror and the Light

Lets start with the big name, potential blockbuster released.  The final part of Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy has been so long coming.  It’s about 7 years since I read Bringing up the Bodies – I know because it was pre-this blog, but after I started working at the BBC (I know because I read it during a run of nightshifts up behind the old BBC World studio, which means the latest it can have been is autumn 2012).  I mean it’s even been a few years since the TV adaptation of the first two parts. Whether it can live up to the hype and awards of its predecessors, who knows, but I’ll be reading it to find out.   I studied the Tudors back in the day, and one of the big achievements of this series is to make Thomas Cromwell likeable. I know how this story ends (hint: not well for him) but I can’t wait to see how she finishes it all off.

Miss Austen – Gill Hornby (January)

Cover of Miss Austen

Why did Cassandra Austen destroy a cache of letters written by her famous sister, more that 20 years after Jane’s death? My love of Austen-related books is well known, as it my love of mysteries and books about books and authors so I’m hoping this will be right up my alley.  It’s out at the end of January and I’ve got a copy from NetGalley waiting on the Kindle already, so if I do like it, chances are you’ll be hearing about it.

The 24-Hour Cafe – Libby Page (January)

Cover of The 24-hour Cafe

I really liked Page’s debut, The Lido, when I read it back in April 2018, and I’ve got high hopes for this. Set in a cafe, where two best friends work together, this is promising a story of friendship and community.  The 24-Hour Cafe is another January release that I have a copy of from NetGalley and I’m hoping this will be a nice uplifting book to carry me through the dark and cold of the post-Christmas, pre-birthday period.

The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle (April)

Cover of The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle

Per the blurb Benjamin & Edgar Bowen head off on a Grand Tour of Europe to meet People of Quality, but it turns out the People of Quality may not want to meet them. But then Benjamin meets Horace Lavelle and his education really begins.  I love a grand tour novel and this sounds like it might be right up my street.  I have a copy from NetGalley and so this is another one which you may hear more about sooner rather than later.

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman (September)

This is probably one of the more anticipated books for next year. The blurb for this promises a group of octogenarians, who meet up at their retirement village every week to investigate unsolved killings, investigating a real crime when a property developer ends up dead near by. Sounds right up my street already doesn’t it?  Add to that the fact that Richard Osman is the tall guy behind the desk on Pointless and back when I worked at TV Centre, one of my treats to myself during tea breaks was to go and stand in the viewing gallery and watch episodes of Pointless being filmed and you’ll see why I’m really quite excited about this one and have been since it was announced back in May. It feels like it’s been a long wait already.

So there you have it, five books that I’m looking forward to this year.  The list could have been longer – there are new books coming that I’m looking foward to from Lucy Parker, Gail Carriger, Deanna Raybourn and more, but I thought I’d try not to be too predictable!

Happy Reading!