book round-ups

Recommendsday: US elections 2020

So, long term readers may remember that two years ago, I spent the autumn and early winter in Washington DC for my day job – to work on the coverage of the Midterm elections. This autumn, the pandemic has changed everything – except the Presidential election is still happening next week and I’m still interested. So in the run up, I’ve been reading books about American politics again – and here are the highlights!

Team of Five by Kate Andersen Brower 

Cover of Team of Five

Kate Andersen Brower specialises in writing about the White House and the people who live and work in it and her latest book is a look at the relationships between ex-presidents and between the ex-presidents and the current president. Donald Trump gave the author an interview for the book, but he’s not the centre of the story. Started when there were five living ex-presidents (George H W Bush died in late 2018 but is a prominent part of the story), Team of Five looks at the relationships between Jimmy Carter, the two Presidents Bush, Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. It looks at how they have dealt with the norm busting presidency of Donald Trump, but also at what you do when you’re no longer the leader of the free world and the different ways they have handled their post presidency career – from learning to paint (George W Bush) to moving back to a tiny town in Georgia and starting a foundation that has helped eradicate guinea work (Jimmy Carter).  As with Andersen Brower’s books about the vice-presidents (First in Line) and the First Ladies (First Women), it is big on the interpersonal relationships and less on the policy minutea, which is mostly what I want at the moment. If you want some election reading but have read enough Trump administration books, this is the one for you

Hoax by Brian Stelter

 Cover of Hoax by Brian Stelter

Brian Stelter is CNN’s chief media correspondent and the host of their show Reliable Sources. This is his second book and as he’s also younger than me,  I feel like a total underacheiver. Anyway Hoax is Stelter’s look at the relationship between Fox News and Donald Trump. It takes in the presidential campaign – glide down the golden staircase onwards but goes right through to the early days of the Coronavirus and how the president handled it. If you haven’t really watched much Fox News, but have heard a lot about it, this will expand your knowledge of the channel, but it also has lots of inside sources and information about that’s happening behind the scenes and how it fits into the right in the US and the Republican party. I’m not sure it’s going to make you feel better about the world, but it will help you understand the polarisation that is happening (has happened?) in the US a little better.

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Cover of RodhamAfter writing a heroine based on Laura Bush in American Wife, in her latest novel Curtis Sittenfeld has gone full on alternative history of a real person with a novel about what Hillary Clinton might have done if she hadn’t married Bill. In this book, Hillary Rodham breaks up with the charismatic Bill and goes on to forge her own path. There wasn’t anything in this that struck me as being wildy implausible. I haven’t read all the biographies of the two Clintons bu I have watched the recent tv documentary series about her though, and the CNN series about the Nineties, which covers the Clinton presidency and this hit all the points that you would expect and transforms some of the moments from what really did happen into events in this alternative narrative. I was *very* anxious for the last third of this book to see where this was going to end up, because several different outcomes (some much more satisfying than others) seemed possible but when I did get to the end, I felt like I had had a really satisfying and well constructed reading experience, if you know what I mean. My favourite Sittenfeld novel is still Eligible – her Pride and Prejudice retelling which is just so clever and funny (NB Rodham is not funny), but I liked this a lot and I know I’ll be recommending it and lending my copy around.

Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump

Cover of Too Much and Never Enough

I’ve read a lot of books about the Trump Administration, and I thought I had read enough and knew everything that I was going to learn. But then President Trump’s niece wrote this book and I decided to make an exception. Mary Trump is a qualified pyschologist as well as being a member of the Trump family, and this made Too Much and Never enough a bit different from the rest of the books by journalists, ex-administration figures and the like. Now the author clearly has her own agenda and axe to grind and you need read it through that lens but with all that said it’s a fascinating look at the inner workings of the family of the 45th President of the United States. It is a lot, and I would definitely not have liked to have been a child in that family, but as far as insights into the forces that moulded Donald Trump, it’s pretty unique in terms of access and insight.

She Represents by Caitlin Donohue*
Cover of She Represents
For my final pick I have gone for something completely different. This is a well put together resource for young people who want to learn more about women in politics – from across the political spectrum. It is skewed towards the US (and the author explains in the introduction that this is because that is where the book is being published), but also includes some women from the rest of the world. It looks at their policies and what they stand for – as well as if they have been involved in controversies. I thought it was a great overview that would provide a good jumping off point for more in-depth reading as well as encouraging young people to get involved in politics and activism by seeing what other people who look like them or have backgrounds similar to their own have accomplished in politics.

So there you are. Here are my top picks for election related reading this time around. You should be able to get hold of them all fairly easily from where ever you get your books from, and they’re all in ebook too.  And if you’re a US citizen reading this, please remember to make your plan to vote. Every election day here in the UK, I get a text message from my mum (and she sends them to every woman in her address book I think) reminding me that women died so that I could vote. My earliest memory of elections is walking to the polling station in my village with my mum while she told me the story of Emily Davison – the suffragette who was trampled to death by the King’s Horse at the Derby in 1913 (a story that stuck with me so much that I made this video about it for General Election day 2015). So voting is important – it’s the way you show what you think of the politicians in charge and have your say. 

Happy Reading – and here’s hoping that this time next week we have a result!

Book of the Week, cozy crime, detective

Book of the Week: Merit Badge Murder

As I said yesterday, last week was a much better week all around. And as today is a week to go before Election day in the United States, I’m conceding defeat – I’ve read as many electiob books as I’m going to and it’s soon going to be too late, so there is a Recommendsday post coming up tomorrow. Meanwhile, as far as today’s post goes, I started a couple of new mystery series last week, and as I read two from the Merry Wrath series, I thought I ought to pick it for my Book of the Week this week, as I clearly like them and we all know I have rules (albeit flexible ones) about book series, reading orders and spoilers as the affect recommendations…

Cover of Merit Badge Murder by Leslie Langtry

Former CIA agent Merry Wrath is used to being undercover, but after her identity was unmasked and she was forced into (very) early retirement, she has to reinvent herself as a normal person with a fresh identity in a small town in Iowa. And while she is figuring out what she wants to do next, she’s helping run a Girl Scout group. But when dead enemy agents start turning up on her doorstep (literally), she has to try and figure out who is trying to frame her, all while preserving her cover. Add into the mix her ex-handler who the CIA send to help her, and her new neighbour across the street who happens to be the investigating police officer and suddenly Merry’s new life is getting really, really complicated.

I love a cozy mystery and I love a Steph Plum-style comedy thriller and this is pretty much in the Venn diagram of those. Merry is a fun heroine – massively clueless about normal life and how to be a regular person and you’re rooting for her as she hides behind her Dora explorer sheets-cum-curtains to see what is going on in her neighbourhood. The Girl Scout troop is a really nice touch – adding an extra level of complications to everything – and there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot. I raced through it and then went straight on to the net one – which is always a sign that I’ve enjoyed myself. It’s quite a long running series – so there are plenty more for me to read, just as soon as I get the rest of the TBR-pile down a bit!

You can buy Merit Badge Murder on Kindle and Kobo. Physical copies are listed on Amazon, but it looks like it’s an Amazon inhouse publisher, so you won’t be able to get hold of it in stores.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: October 19 – October 25

A much better week in reading and in life. And check me out for reducing the number of books on the still reading list. But Sweet Dreams by Dylan is nearly 500 pages long so that might be on the list for a while!

Read:

Merit Badge Murder by Leslie Langtry

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

Jeeves and the Leap of Faith by Ben Schott*

Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody by Barbara Ross

Mint Cookie Murder by Leslie Langtry

The Killing at Kingfisher Hill by Sophie Hannah

Murder on Cold Street by Sherry Thomas

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Started:

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

The Body on the Train by Frances Brody

Still reading:

The AI Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik*

Sweet Dreams by Dylan Jones*

Still not counting, still don’t care

Bonus photo: An autumnal photograph from the park on Sunday.

A tree with the sun shining through it's remaining yellow leaves, with loads more on the ground around it

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Manhunting

Back with a romance book this week – a contemporary romance at the time it was written, but given that that was the early 90s, not quite contemporary now! I’ve written about Jennifer Crusie’s books a few times before and as I read two of them last week it feels like they’re turning into a regular comfort read for me. And I needed some comfort reading. Anyway, to the book.

Kate Svenson is a successful businesswoman, but she’s unlucky in love. She’s been engaged a few times – but found out just in time that the men were only after her (father’s) money. But she’s fed up of being alone and wants someone to spend her life with. So she comes up with a plan: a two week holiday at a Kentucky resort. The Cabins is full of eligible bachelors – surely one of them must be the guy for her? But everytime she goes on a date, something happens to the guy. Jake Templeton’s brother owns the resort and he works there. He’d sworn off women even before he picked one of Kate’s rejects out of the swimming pool. He’s not interested in her, and she’s not interested in him – so why are they spending more time together than Kate is with anyone else?

This is a fun, frothy romantic comedy. You know exactly where it’s going to end up, but there are enough complications to keep it interesting, and the various situations that Kate finds herself in with the prospective boyfriends are a hoot. Obviously life – and technology – have changed a bit since 1993 when it was written, but I don’t think there’s anything here that’s dated in a bad way – which isn’t always the case! It’s just the sort of book I love reading – the stakes are fairly low, it’s funny but the humour isn’t nasty or based on humiliation and you come away with a nice warm feeling inside.

The bad news is that this doesn’t seem to be available on Kindle or Kobo at the moment, but Amazon have a bunch of paperback copies for a couple of quid.

Happy Reading

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: October 12 – October 18

So it’s been a bad week in my Real Life. I’m not going to bore you with all the details, but I’m fine. I’m hoping that next week will be better, but given the way 2020 has gone so far, I’m not holding my breath. Still I ticked another two states off my 50 states challenge list, I’m nearly halfway through my NetGalley list for the month and I’ve got a couple of Bonus posts nearly finished. So lets count them as small wins. Onwards and upwards.

Read:

Vanishing Act by Charlie Hodges*

Lumberjanes: Campfire Stories by Shannon Watters et al

Grave Secrets by Alice James*

Strawberry Shortcake Murder by Joanne Fluke

Getting Rid of Bradley by Jennifer Crusie

Manhunting by Jennifer Crusie

Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump

Started:

Sweet Dreams by Dylan Jones*

Murder on Cold Street by Sherry Thomas

Still reading:

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

The AI Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik*

Jeeves and the Leap of Faith by Ben Schott*

Still not counting, still don’t care

Bonus photo: I spotted this postbox on my walk the other day – and it seemed like an apt photo for this week. Why I hear you ask? Well I’ve been sending a lot of post to people through the pandemic – including a whole bunch of cards to people last week, I’m in a research study about covid antibodies in the general population that involves me sending blood samples by post and one of the things that keeps coming up at work at the moment is postal voting in the US Election. This isn’t the flashiest or biggest postbox – but it is a King George one – which means that it’s at least 68 years old, but could be 100. A pillar of stability in a crazy world.

A red postbox in a wall

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

Book of the Week, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: The Haunting of Alma Fielding

Lots of non-fiction reading last week. You’ll hear more about the Kate Andersen Brower anon (or you can find my previous writing about her here), but in the meantime, this week’s BotW is new release (well on October 1) non-fiction that feels really appropriate for the run up to Halloween!

Cover of the Haunting of Alma Fielding

Nandor Fodor is a Jewish-Hungarian refugee in 1930s London. He’s also a ghost hunter and he starts to investigate the case of Alma Fielding, a surburban housewife who says she’s being plagued by a poltergeist. As he starts to investigate as part of his work for the International Institute of Physical Research, the phenomena intensify and he discovers Alma’s complicated and traumatic past. And all this is happening against the backdrop of the rise of Fascim in Europe as well as the obsession/renaissance in spiritualism that happened in the post Great War period.

Now although reads like the plot of a novel, this is actually non-fiction. It’s sometimes hard to believe this while you read it though as Alma continues to manifest material affects after she’s been strip searched and put into a special costume provided by the Institute. But it is and its fascinating. Fodor is rational although he wants to believe, but as he develops doubts about Alma, he handles it in a much more sensitive way than I was expecting. I’ve almost said to much here, but it’s really hard to talk about non-fiction like it’s a novel, when so much of whether it works is about the research and the story and whether it feels satisfying. On that front, I wanted a little bit more closure about Alma and her haunting, but I appreciate that in a work of non-ficiton, you can only work with what the sources tell you.

The juxtaposition of Alma’s story and the wider context of the late 1930s also works really well. If you’ve read Dorothy L Sayers’ Strong Poison* you’ll have encountered the wave of spiritualists of the era – and seen some of their trickery exposed (to the reader at least) by Miss Climpson, but this really sets what Fodor was doing and the organisations that he worked for into the wider context. I was fascinated. If you’re looking for something to read for Halloween, and don’t want fiction, this is really worth a look.

Unlike most of the rest of the world (it seems) I haven’t read the Suspicions of Mr Whicher, but reading this has definitely made me more likely to. My copy of The Haunting of Alma Fielding came from NetGalley in return for an honest review, but it is out now in hardback and should be easily available in bookstores as well as on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

*I love it when I get to mention Lord Peter Wimsey, and Strong Poison is one of my favourites, if I haven’t worn you down yet, go and read it.

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: October 5 – October 11

Another week where I had a lot of trouble concentrating. But I did read a lot of non-fiction and that always takes more time and brainspace so can’t really complain.

Read:

Baby-Sitters Club: The Truth About Stacey by Anne M Martin and Raina Telgemaier

Closed Casket by Sophie Hannah

The True Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale*

Team of Five by Kate Andersen Brower

Growing Up by Angela Thirkell

The Memory of You by Jamie Beck

Started:

Too Much and Never Enough by Mary Trump

Jeeves and the Leap of Faith by Ben Schott*

Still reading:

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

The AI Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Vanishing Act by Charlie Hodges*

This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik*

Still not counting, still don’t care

Bonus photo: My show posters (and the corner of the to-read bookshelf), newly back from the framers. The best thing that happened in my week last week, despite the cost!

Six show posters

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from September

Here we are again, another month is over, and I have more books to tell you about from my last month in reading. So without further ado, here we go.

Furious Love by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger

Cover of Furious Love

My love of Old Hollywood is well known and this is a very thorough and well researched look at the relationship between Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. “Liz and Dick” were the biggest story in the world when they met and fell in love on the set of Cleopatra (while they were both married to other people) and their tumultuous relationship lasted for the rest of Burton’s live. This was written while Taylor was still alive and with access to her private papers, even if she maintained her stance of not talking about her relationship with Burton after his death. I think you probably need to know a little bit of background before you read this, but probably nothing you couldn’t get from listening to this episode of You Must Remember This or a quick google search.

The Art of Drag by Jake Hall et al

Hardback copy of The Art of Drag

This is a lovely illustrated overview of the history of Drag with brilliant art from a group of authors. The colour palate remains consistent across the book but the art styles are different. I had my favourites but they all had a perspective and a sense of fun and vitality. I was going to save this for my Christmas recommendation post, but that feels like a long time to wait, and I’m fairly sure there are other people out there who have Drag Race and drag show withdrawal and could use this right now

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Cover of Such a Fun Age

This is one of the buzziest books of the year. Which means it’s surprising that I’ve actually read it before the year is out! When a white blogger calls her African American babysitter to help out in a family emergency, it sets in train a series of events that will ripple through both of their lives and families. This is being sold as a great book club book – and I can see why because there’s plenty to dissect about the characters and their decisions. I thought the ending was really quite clever too.

Naughty Brits

Cover of Naughty Brits

Sarah MacLean is one of my favourite historical romance authors and this anthology has her first contemporary story in it. It’s my favourite in this collection, which are all tied together by an event at the British Museum. MacLean’s has a secret duke with a yearning for privacy and a photographer trying to rebuild her career. Sophie Jordan’s has a selfhelp author who is assigned a bodyguard for her book tour, Louisa Edwards’ is a writer who runs into Hollywood’s hottest action star, Tessa Gratton an ex-soldier who is sent to Wales to buy a pub and Sierra Simone a woman who re-encounters the man who left her at the altar. I think there’s something for most tastes!

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews for the rest of the year: August, July, June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from September: The Duke Who Didn’t, Her Last Flight, Death at the Seaside, Thursday Murder Club and The Miseducation of Evie Epworth.

Happy Reading!

*an asterix next to a title means it came from NetGalley, in return for an honest review (however belated that might be) ** means it was an advance copy that came some other way

Book of the Week, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Money

A lot of non-fiction reading last week all in all, so it’s probably not a surprise that this week’s pick is from the nonfiction list. Just a reminder that the mini-reviews are coming tomorrow – where among the picks is another non-fiction book from last week.

Cover of Money by Jacob Goldstein

So Jacob Goldstein’s Money is exactly what the subtitle says it is – The True Story of a Made-up Thing. It’s a an engaging and easy to understand history of money that goes right from when people stopped bartering and started developing money through to the present day with all the complications that the internet and computers have brought.

Goldstein is one of the hosts of NPR’s Planet Money podcast and has a really conversational style as well as having a knack for explaining complicated ideas in easy to understand language. In this he’s done possibly the best job I’ve found so far of explaining things like bitcoin, blockchain and what exactly happened with the 2008 crash. I mean I came away feeling like I finally understood them at any rate. Be warned though, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find the idea that there will be another big crash or breakdown in the way that we use money just a little bit terrifying and may lead to some googling to work out how safe the money in your bank is. It definitely made me think a lot about electronic banking and the cashless economy. Anyway, If you’re not a person who thinks of themselves as business or money minded, this would be a great primer/introduction for you, or if you’re starting to think about your Christmas present list, this would make a good choice for someone who likes authors like Mary Roach or Bill Bryson.

My copy of Money came from NetGalley, but it’s out now (came out in the UK last week in fact) on Kindle and Kobo and as a hardback. As usual I have no idea whether it’ll be in bookshops, but they should be able to order it for you if they don’t have it in stock. Give them a call/drop in in a safe and responsible way.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: September 28 – October 4

We’re into October and it feels like this year has both flown by and been never ending. If you missed it last week, her are the September stats. Coming up on Wednesday are the Mini Reviews. As far as my week in reading goes, I’m trying a new tactic around my NetGalley reading – I’ll let you know how it goes at the end of the month!

Read:

A Medal for Murder by Frances Brody

Baby-Sitters Club: Kirsty’s Great Idea by Anne M Martin and Raina Telgemaier

Furious Love by Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger

Money by Jacob Goldstein*

Loud Black Girls by Yomi Adegoke and Elizabeth Uviebinené*

Bear Markets and Beyond by Dhruti Shah and Dominic Bailey

Mistletoe and Mr Right by Sarah Morgenthaler*

Started:

This Green and Pleasant Land by Ayisha Malik*

The True Haunting of Alma Fielding by Kate Summerscale*

Still reading:

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

The AI Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Vanishing Act by Charlie Hodges*

Team of Five by Kate Andersen Brower

Still not counting, still don’t care

Bonus photo: My copy of Bear Markets and Beyond, written by my friend and colleague the wonderful Dhruti Shah.

Hardback cover of Bear Markets and Beyond

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley