books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: January 11 – January 17

So a strange week. It was my birthday – and we usually go away for my birthday, but this year, like everyone else, we were at home. 2021 is also messing with my brain in the same way that 2020 did, and I’ve been finding it really hard to concentrate on new books. When I’m in a mood like that, it’s almost a waste to read anything new – even stuff I’ve been looking forward to – like the new Stockwell Park Orchestra book – because I’m probably not going to appreciate it the way that I should/would normally. So instead I retreated to my happy place – and re-read some old favourite comfort reads – in this case the Amelia Peabody series, which I first read way back in the days before this blog and have come back to – in books and audiobook – ever since.

Read:

The House on Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams*

Shirley Flight, Air Hostess in Pacific Castaways by Judith Dale

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

Slay Ride by Diane Vallere

The Palace Guard by Charlotte McLeod

Lumberjanes FCB 2020 by Various

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett

Started:

Continental Riff by Isabel Rogers

Still reading:

The AI Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

Murder on Mustique by Anne Glenconner*

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden

The Beekeepers Apprentice by Laurie R King

Still not counting, still don’t care

Bonus photo: As I mentioned, it was my birthday last week and so this week’s photo is one of my presents – a stationery subscription box! Exciting times.

Contents of a stationery box

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, Children's books

Book of the Week: How Nell Scored

Last week was a lot. I thought hard about what to pick today, but eventually decided that the craziness that is this Bessie Merchant book was the thing I wanted to write about.

How Nell Scored is not a long book, but it packs a lot in to under 100 pages. Nell lives on an isolated farm in New Zealand along with her extended family. At the start of the book her parents leave for the nearest town, to look after her older brother David who is sick. Nell and her sister Sue are left in the care of their aunt, the magnificently named Angelina Ann. No sooner are the parents gone, than a ship is wrecked on the rocks near the house and Nell and Sue (but mostly Nell!) has to rescue two of the crew from the wreckage. One man has a broken leg, the other is your stereotypical Girl’s Own “bad lot” – he tries to get out of helping rescue his shipmate and then when they’re back at the farm acting suspiciously while alone in the room of his colleague. When the sick man wakes up, he confides in Nell that he has a belt full of pearls that he needs to get to the nearest town or – and here’s a real shocker – Nell’s brother will be ruined. Yes. In one of those weird Girls Own coincidences, Nell’s brother stood surety for the mystery man and if he doesn’t get the money to town soon the bank will come to collect. This is the mystery reason why David has fallen ill. With me so far? A lot of plot isn’t it – and we’re not even halfway through! The latter part of the book involves a quest to find a doctor which turns into a 30 mile trek to New Plymouth.

It’s a lot. It’s mad, it has so very much plot and yet is strangely missing a final confrontation between Nell and the villain. It didn’t really matter though – I was too bamboozled to care. It was the bonkers adventure book I needed last week. My first Bessie Marchant, but I suspect not my last.

I have no idea where you’ll get this from. Honestly. My copy came from the local vintage emporium. It cost me a pound. And it was money well spent. Honestly the most bonkers book I have recently read – and it will take some beating to be the maddest book of the year!

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: January 4 – January 10

Well I think we can all agree that last week was something else. And that extreme something else-ness is the reason why my reading list is heavy on the light and fluffy and Asterix. My brain can’t cope with Black Narcissus at the moment. Or anything complicated to be honest. 2021 carrying on where 2020 left off…

Read:

The Power Hour by Adrienne Herbert*

The Art of Showing Up by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

How Nell Scored by Bessie Marchant

If the Boot Fits by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford

Asterix and Cleopatra by Goscinny and Uderzo

Asterix and the Big Fight by Goscinny and Uderzo

Started:

The House in the Cerulean Sea by TJ Klune

The Beekeepers Apprentice by Laurie R King

Still reading:

The AI Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

Murder on Mustique by Anne Glenconner*

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden

The House on Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams*

Still not counting, still don’t care

Bonus photo: the latest iteration of my Beat the To-Read Shelf spread in my journal. Last year was *a lot* on so many levels, and I didn’t fill the bookshelf up, but hopefully 2021 will be different…

Drawing of a bookshelf full of lots of blank books

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

Best of..., book round-ups

Recommendsday: My favourite books of 2020

Well, it’s the first Wednesday of 2021, so I’m popping up with my favourite books of 2020. And for the first time (I think) they’re all books that were new in 2020. Which is a surprise to me. But hey, there were some really good new books out last year – and as I mentioned in my post on Sunday, one of the big casualties of 2020 in my bookish life has been the chance to wander around bookshops and happen across books. My bookshop discoveries were often backlist books rather than new releases – and it’s been harder to find that sort of book in the Quarantimes. Hopefully in 2021 I’ll actually be able to wander a bookshop again, and next year I can go back to doing favourite new releases and favourite backlist again. Pretty please.

Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

This was Book of the Week back in September and not only is it my favourite murder mystery of the year, I’ve been recommending it all over the place – and everyone who has told me they have read it has loved it. And it’s sold like gangbusters – if you only got one book for Christmas this year, it may well have been this because it has sold a whole tonne of copies – including being the number one book for Christmas. But don’t be put off by that – and think it’s over hyped. It is just so much fun. The mystery is twisty, it’s got a wonderful cast of characters and why wouldn’t you want to read a murder mystery solved by a group of scheming residents of a retirement village. Just lovely. I can’t wait for the sequel.

Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

 

I talked about Brit Bennett’s second novel back in June and the story of the Vignes sisters has really stuck with me. Stella and Desiree are identical twins, but after they run away from their small town home at the age of 16 their lives take radically different directions. Stella passes as white as she tries to build herself a better future – and spends her life looking over her shoulder – and Desiree escapes an abusive relationship only to find herself back where she started, but with a child in tow. But somehow the sisters lives always end up being intertwined. As you read it the language and the clever structure enthralls you and once it’s over it leaves you with a lot to think about. 

Legendary Children by Tom and Lorenzo

I read a lot of non-fiction last year, and I was having a hard time picking my favourite, but then the new series of Drag Race started, and my choice became obvious. Tom and Lorenzo’s book uses Drag Race as a framing device to look at queer life and how the show turns that into addictive TV. It’s well researched, incredibly readable with a really fun snarky tone – like their blog. This came out in March last year, and as I said in my BotW review back then I learnt so much from it. It’s enhanced my enjoyment of the show – and it’s meant that I can look super knowledgable. A total win. My only regret is lending my copy out – and not getting it back before everything started to lock down again!

V for Victory by Lissa Evans*

Cover of V for Victory

In the dying days of the Second World War, Vee Sedge and her “ward” Noel are just about making ends meet in their house on Hampstead Heath thanks to a strange assortment of lodgers and a more than a bit of good luck. When having to attend court threatens to bring their life crashing down, they need all of their skills and cunning to keep the show on the road. V for Victory is the third book featuring Noel and his eccentric extended family and carries on from after Crooked Heart (Old Baggage was set before Crooked Heart) and I don’t know what more I can say about how much I love them. The books have a wonderful spirit and a real sense of the shades of grey and contradictions in people and of wartime. And it’s funny and will also make you cry. Lovely stuff. I’ve got the paperback preordered so that I can lend it around.

Take a Hint Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Cover of Take a Hint Dani Brown

The sequel to Get a Life Chloe Brown, is a fake relationship with a social media twist. I loved #DrRugbae – Zaf is a sweetie and Dani is total competence porn and watching the two of them rub each others hard edges off (ooo-er) is a delight. Talia Hibbert writes wonderful British-set contemporary romances – something I’ve really struggled to find and enjoy this year. This did everything I wanted it to and narrowly beat out it’s predecessor for BotW when I read them both in the same week in June. The third book is out in March – and I’ve got it preordered.

And there you have it. Five of my favourite books from 2020. Honourable mentions go to Bad Blood, Love Lettering, Her Last Flight, and the latest books in the Veronica Speedwell, Rivers of London and Vinyl Detective series’ – all of which I’ve already written about ad nauseum over the years.

 

 

Book of the Week, Young Adult

Book of the Week: You Should See Me in a Crown

The first BotW pick of the new year is a nice uplifting YA novel, which as we’re back in lockdown from today, is probably for the best. I think we all need a bit of cheering up right now. Coming up tomorrow are my favourite books of last year – and just in case you haven’t seen them already my obsessions and the books that I read for my Read the USA challenge.

Cover of You Should See Me in a Crown

You Should See Me in a Crown is the story of Liz Lighty. She’s got a plan to get her out of her small town and get the future her mum had dreamed of for her. But when she misses out on the scholarship she needs to be able to go to Pennington College, she thinks her dream is over – until she remembers the scholarship that comes with the Prom Queen’s crown. Her small Indiana town is prom-obsessed – and to win the crown she’ll have to run the gamut of public events and contests – all in the spotlight of the school’s social media channel. The only thing making life bearable is the new girl, Mack. They’ve got so much in common – including the fact that Mack is running for prom queen too. Can Liz afford to fall for the competition?

Now I’ve written that summary and it sounds like this is going to be all cut throat and mean, but it’s not. Leah Johnson has constructed a prom competition that’s not entirely a popularity contest – with grades factored in and a community service requirement. Liz doesn’t have to go all Mean Girl or ditch her friends to be popular. It’s like She’s All That and Never Been Kissed had a book baby, but without all the problematic stuff* and with a heroine who is black and queer. Liz is fun and funny – and a band kid (like me!) and I really liked her backstory. There is some sad stuff here – Liz’s mum is dead, her brother has a chronic illness and Liz herself has some anxiety issues, but it is all very sensitively handled.

My copy of You Should See Me in a Crown came from the library, but you can get it on Kindle (but irritatingly not on Kobo) or in paperback now. It was the first pick for Reese Witherspoon’s YA book club and is being compared to Becky Albertalli and Jenny Han so I would have expected it to be fairly easy to find in bookshops, if only bookshops were open

*Little sis and I loved Never Been Kissed when it first came out, but she can’t watch it now she’s a teacher because it’s not ok that Mr Coulson has a thing for Josie, even if she’s actually not a pupil. And she’s not wrong, even if I can manage to ignore it if I concentrate very hard.

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: December 28 – January 3

Welcome to the first week in books post of 2021. As is traditional at this time of year, I’ve started on the productivity and self-help books as I try to make (and keep) some New Year Resolutions. I’ll let you know how that goes, but here’s how it went at the start of last year, before the world changed.

Read:

You Should See Me In A Crown by Leah Johnson

Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell

The Button Box by Lynn Knight

Black Hills by Nora Roberts

Gone with the Ghost by Erin McCarthy

The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferré

When She Was Naughty by Tessa Dare

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant*

The Lavender Ladies Detective Agency by Minna Lindgren

Started:

The Art of Showing Up by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

The House on Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams*

Christmas Pudding by Nancy Mitford

Still reading:

The AI Who Loved Me by Alyssa Cole

Murder on Mustique by Anne Glenconner*

Black Narcissus by Rumer Godden

Still not counting, still don’t care

Bonus photo: New Year’s Day in the park near my house. This explains a lot about the fireworks the night before – and was by no means the only pile of empty fireworks boxes…

empty boxes of fireworks in the middle of a parl

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

Best of..., The pile

My 2019 Obsessions: Revisited

Well. Here we are again. And obviously 2020 has been a year like no other. When I came to try and write the end of year obsession posts, I realised that I  have no new obsessions – 2020 in my reading life has been fairly similar to last year – whether that’s because everything has been in a sort of stasis since March or because I haven’t been able to go into bookshops and find something new to be obsessed with, I don’t know. So only one obsessions post this year and this is it!

The Year of the Library 2

Collage of covers: Sex and Vanity, Killings at Kingfisher Hill, Vanderbeekes lost and found and The Gravity of Us

Like last year, I’ve read a huuuuuge number of ebooks from the library this year. It helped me finish the Read across the USA challenge, as well as enabling my binge-reading habits and keeping me from the worst excesses of book buying. I’ve also used it to try a lot of new books at a lower risk. And when I’ve liked them, I’ve often gone out and bought the next books in the series. And so the combination of always having library holds coming in – and buying sequels, it meas that as with last year, the TBR shelf is as full as it’s ever been. On top of that I think the library book situation has contributed to my enormous NetGalley backlog, because there’s always something due in a few days that I “should” be reading!  Tackling the NetGalley mountain is one of my priorities this year…

Another Year of Non-Fiction

Collage of the covers of Here for it, Money, Bad Blood and The Radium Girls

Some of my favourite books of the year have been non-fiction ones – I’ve been recommending Bad Blood to all and sundry, and I’m looking out for more books with a similar feeling to them. I also had another bumper year of American politics books – perhaps unsurprisingly given that it was the presidential election year – but I haven’t read as much history. That’s something I want to change in 2021 – I’ve missed it. I’ve got a stack of interesting group biographies and similar waiting on the to-read bookshelf, so hopefully I’ll get to them soon…

The Year of Contemporary Romance again

Collage of covvers of Spoiler Alert, Well Met, Real Men Knit and Snapped

I’m finding it hard to tell whether I read more contemporaries than I did last year, but I certainly carried on the trend. As I hoped this time last year, I’ve got better at figuring out what I’m likely to like though – so I’ve had less flops and got better at finding new-to-me authors who are writing the sort of books that I want to read.  This year I’ve been happy to read books set in The BeforeTimes (even if the authors didn’t know that’s what they were when they were writing them)  but mostly ones set in America because that always feels like it’s one step away from Real Life for me anyway. I’ve got no idea how things will go in 2021 though – because I can’t work out if I want to read books about people finding love in the Quarantimes – or if I just want the genre to completely ignore that anything is happening! I do think that when we can all go out and about again, it will be to a different sort of normal – and I don’t know how that’s going to work out in books.

Last year turned out very differently from what we had all hoped, so here’s hoping 2021 doesn’t throw quite so many curveballs at us all, and that at the end of the year I’ll have some different things to tell you about!

reading challenges

Read Across the USA 2020

As you all know, I started this somewhat later in the year than I should have done, but I made it in the end – with 20 minutest to spare! Slightly tighter than I expected, but hey, 2020 just kept throwing curveballs right until the end. NB I also read books for DC and Puerto Rico, but DC wasn’t marked on the map I found, and neither was Puerto Rico. And as adjusting the shape of Michigan taxed all my ingenuity as it was, I didn’t want to mess it all up by having a go at drawing either of them on!

Map of the US with all the states coloured in

And as well as a picture of my pretty coloured in map, I thought you might like the full list of what I read for which states, complete with links to the ones I’ve written about, so here you go:

Alabama – Murder on a Girls Night Out by Anne George
Alaska – Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler
Arizona – Wedding Cake Crumble by Jenn McKinlay
Arkansas – Strangled Prose by Joan Hess
California – One to Watch by Kate Stayman London
Colorado – Blitzed by Alexa Martin
Connecticut – Memory of You by Jamie Beck
Delaware – Hope Never Dies by Andrew Shaffer
Florida – 40-Love by Olivia Dade
Georgia – Peach Pie and Dead by Guy A Gardner
Hawaii – Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams
Idaho – Animal Magnetism by Jill Shalvis
Illinois – Finding Langston by Lesa Cline-Ransome
Indiana – You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson
Iowa – Merit Badge Murder by Leslie Langtry
Kansas – On the Corner of Hope and Main by Beverly Jenkins
Kentucky – Man Hunting by Jennifer Crusie
Louisiana – Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett
Maine – First Time in Forever by Sarah Morgan
Maryland – Well Met by Jen DeLuca
Massachusetts – Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Michigan – Man Hands by Sarina Bowen
Minnesota – Strawberry Shortcake Mystery by Joanna Fluke
Mississippi – ***Murder on a Mississippi Steam Boat by Leighann Dobbs
Missouri – Guilty Pleasures by Laurell K Hamilton
Montana – Sweet Home Montana by Shann McPherson
Nebraska – Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell
Nevada – Not Your Sidekick by C B Lee
New Hampshire – Fall into Death by Emily Toll
New Jersey – Twisted Twenty Six by Janet Evanovich
New Mexico – Bad Day for Sunshine by Darynda Jones
New York – Love Lettering by Kate Claybourn
North Carolina – On the Rocks by Sawyer Bennett
North Dakota – Dakota Born by Debbie Macomber
Ohio – Gone with the Ghost by Erin McCarthy
Oklahoma – Hope Flames by Jaci Burton
Oregon – Doing It Over by Catherine Bybee
Pennsylvania – Staging is Murder by Grace Topping
Rhode Island – Murder Stalked a Mansion by A M Sutton
South Carolina – Geekerella by Ashley Poston
South Dakota – Black Hills by Nora Roberts
Tennessee – Undercover Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams
Texas – The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon
Utah – To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton
Vermont – Pollyanna by Eleanor H Porter
Virginia – Sweet Talkin’ Lover by Tracey Livesay
Washington – Welcome to Moonlight Harbor by Sheila Roberts
West Virginia – Not A Creature was Stirring by Christina Freeburn
Wisconsin – You Deserve Each Other by Sarah Hogle
Wyoming – The Honey-don’t List by Christina Lauren
Washington DC – The Worst Best Man by Mia Sosa
Puerto Rico – The House on the Lagoon by Rosario Ferré

Will I do it again, well I’m thinking about it, but I’m going to decide in the next few days so that I can get started and it doesn’t end in a mad rush again if I do! And I’ll try and find a map that gets Michigan right…

 

 

 

 

 

books, stats

December Stats

New books read this month: 38*

Books from the to-read pile: 13

Ebooks read: 10

NetGalley books read: 2

Library books: 13 (all ebooks)

Non-fiction books: 6

Favourite book this month: In A Holidaze by Christina Lauren and The Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews

Most read author: hard to tell because I spent most of the month reading books for my missing US states and I had a no repeats rule and the only author with more than one book on the list was Rainbow Rowell (a novella for Nebraska and a novella in a fairytale retellings series) and neither were long. On pages probably Nora Roberts because Black Hills was loooooooong

Books bought: still not counting

Books read in 2020: 393

Books on the Goodreads to-read shelf (I don’t have copies of all of these!): 589

So here we are. The end of another year. My books total is ever so slightly down on last year (393 to 402) which considering I didn’t have my usual summer holiday sunlounger reading time (and I’ve been commuting around 50% less since March) is actually quite impressive. As usual I’ll probably tweak the format of my stats when I get to the end of January, but I haven’t figured out how yet, so that can be a suprise in a month’s time. And  I’ve got a few more look back/lookahead posts coming, but in the meantime, Happy New Year and may 2021 be a better year.

Bonus picture: Here’s the view from our attic at midnight, as seemingly people all over town unloaded a tonne of fireworks into the sky to celebrate the end of 2020.

Fireworks seen from roof height

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

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: The Button Box

A slightly cheaty BotW pick this week, as I actually finished The Button Box this morning, although I did read most of it last week. But having already written about The Trouble with Mistletoe and How Love Actually Ruined Christmas in my Recommendsday post, and having written frequently about Rivers of London and Lumberjanes, it seemed like the obvious choice none the less (if I could finish it of course!).

Copy of The Button box

The Button Box is an examination on the changing lives of women through the 20th century, using the contents of the author’s button box, which contains items owned by her mother and her grandmother as well as from her own clothes gone by. From Victorian mourning jewellery through to Biba and the 70s, Lynn Knight uses buttons and buckles to trace the evolution of female life in a century that saw huge changes as women started to have the ability to have a life beyond the domestic and careers became an option – rather than working until marriage – or sitting at home waiting for marriage to come to you depending on your class. 

As an avid reader of books written or set pre-1950, I found the sections on the realities of women’s wardrobes and clothing in those periods absolutely fascinating. The obsession with the ability to sew in my beloved boarding school stories – and the anger of the teachers when a pupil got a fresh tunic covered in ink – come into sharper focus when you realise exactly how small the children’s wardrobes likely were, as well as the struggles that parents must have had to find the money for all the clothes their boarders needed. My grandma used to tell stories of some of her schoolmates not having proper shoes, or having carried a baked potato to school to keep their hands warm en route and then eating it for lunch, but when you’re little it doesn’t really sink in. During the early stages of the book I found myself thinking – more than once – of my wardrobe full of clothes and my easy ability to buy more and feeling lucky but also guilty.

Knight is also able to talk at length about the importance of home dressmakers and home dress making – which was also fascinating. My mum did some sewing (still does really) but mostly nice extras – like the strawberry patterned kaftan she made for me (with a little help from me!) when i was about 10. My mother in law made me a pinafore apron for Christmas (it’s amazing) and is helping me with a Mary Quant design the V&A published more than a year ago before the virus hit, but it’s all recreational stuff – it’s not out of necessity. And the book is full of little insights – like women in the era before reliable contraception sitting downstairs doing their darning in the hope that by the time they got to bed their husbands would be asleep. And on top of everything else, it would definitely make a useful addition to the research shelf of any author writing books set in the first half of the twentieth century.

My copy of The Button Box is an advance copy of the hardback, which has been sitting on the to-read bookshelf for some years – I think it came from the proofs trolley at work, back in the days when that was a thing. I want to say that I picked it up after reading a review of it in the Literary Review, but the review might have been after – or it might not have existed at all because I can’t find a link to it! Anyway, that’s all to say, that it’s been around so long it’s been out in paperback for three years – I don’t know if you’ll be able to find it actually in a shop or you’ll have to order it, but Foyles has stock, so you never know. And it’s available in Kindle and Kobo too. 

Happy Reading!

Bonus Photo: The paperback cover of The Button Box – I thought it was an updated kindle one, but it only shows in the kindle library view – when you open the book up it does that irritating thing of having a different cover (the only thing more irritating, being not having a cover at all!)

Cover of The Button Box