Children's books, Recommendsday

#Recommendsday: Finding Langston

I had a hard time picking my Book of the Week yesterday, because there was a lot of good stuff I read last week, but picked This Book is Anti-Racist as a call to action for the times that we’re in. So as a bonus for #Recommendsay, I’m writing about the other book which I read and loved last week and just needed to tell you about.

Cover of Finding Langston

Langston is eleven and he’s just moved to Chicago with his dad. It’s 1946 and the move was prompted by the death of Langston’s mum. Unsurprisingly Langston is struggling with all the upheaval in his life, not helped by the fact that he is being bullied at school for being from the South. But Langston finds a refuge in the local library. In Alabama, the library was only for white people, but his nearest branch is for everyone. And inside Langston finds his namesake – the poet Langston Hughes, who has the words to express how it feels to be uprooted from the south and transplanted to the North.

This is just such a gorgeously written book. While you’re reading it you can see post-war Chicago absolutely vividly and clearly and understand the life that Langston and his dad are leading, on the edge of poverty but hoping for better times soon. It’s about loss and upheaval and the Great Migration, but it’s also a love letter to books, words and poetry and the power they have to help you through difficult times. This is Lesa Cline-Ransome’s debut novel (she has previously written several picture books) and has won a ton of praise and totally deserves it. It has a companion novel about one of the bullies that I would now really like to read as well. This is a middle grade novel and would make a great addition to school reading lists or just for kids who like books about people who like books. And maybe have some Langston Hughes handy for afterwards because it will make you want to read more of his poetry. It’s just wonderful.

I borrowed my copy of Finding Langston from the library, but it is available on Kindle and Kobo and in paperback. At time of writing, Amazon has just a couple of copies left of the paperback, so it may be out of stock at your local indie too, but do put it on order.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, children's books, Young Adult

Book of the Week: This Book is Anti-Racist

As I mentioned yesterday, I changed my reading plans last week and focused on books by black authors and other authors of colour. And so for the second week in a row, this week’s BotW pick is a book for young people.

Tiffany Jewell is an anti-racism educator and this book does exactly what the subtitle suggests – it is a beautifully illustrated (by Aurélia Durand) and brilliantly to the point book that will make children first think about and understand their levels of privilege and then start to look at what they can do to change the status quo and deal with systemic racism. It has activities in every chapter aimed at making readers think and examine their own lives and actions, where ever on the scale of privilege they live. It also helps you work out what you can do to make a difference – how you can use your skills and talents to be anti-racist. Written from the author’s lived experiences – whilst also reflecting the fact that racism manifests in a multitude of insidious ways – it’s absolutely centring the experiences of people who are experiencing racism. This is a great starting point to try to show children what they can do and how to feel less powerless. This would be a great tool for the classroom. It’s also a great tool for adults – to read, digest and think about what you should be doing in your own life. I’m obviously older than the target audience for the book, but I still got a lot from it.

My copy of This Book is Anti-Racist came from NetGalley, but it is on offer at the moment on Kindle for £1.99. You may be able to track down a copy via your local independent book seller, but a lot of books about racism are out of stock at the moment and I think this may be the same, as Amazon don’t have any paperback stock at the moment. Hopefully the publishers are working on getting more copies out there, so that it can be in school libraries and classrooms when we get to the new normal.

Keep Reading.

 

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: June 1 – June 7

I work in a newsroom, so I see a lot of what is going on in the world but last week, well the last two weeks really have been extraordinary even by the standards of what has been a news-dense and upsetting year. On Tuesday, I set aside my planned reading for the week and aside from library books that were due back and which I couldn’t renew, have spent the rest of the week focussing on books written by black authors. I am listening and I am learning. I’m trying to work out how best to use my privilege for good, but in the mean time the best thing I can do is try to amplify and uplift black voices.

Read:

He’d Rather be Dead by George Bellairs*

The Honey Don’t List by Christina Lauren

This Book is Anti-Racist by Tiffany Jewell*

On Her Own Ground by A’Leila Perry Bundles

First Comes Scandal by Julia Quinn

A Fake Girlfriend for Chines New Year by Jackie Lau

Finding Langston by Lesa Kline-Ransome

Started:

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett*

Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri*

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward*

Me and White Supremacy by Layla F Saad

Still reading:

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

Hello World by Hannah Fry

Still not counting, but this week all my purchases bar two have been books by BIPOC.

Bonus photo: the covers of some of the books I’ve bought, borrowed or got from NetGalley this week.

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

books, stats

May Stats

New books read this month: 32*

Books from the to-read pile: 7

Ebooks read: 8

NetGalley books read: 6

Library books: 11 (all ebooks)

Non-fiction books: 6

Favourite book this month: Reticence by Gail Carriger for finishing the series off brilliantly, but as a standalone book, Bad Blood

Most read author: Donna Andrews – two books

Books bought: not counting

Books read in 2020: 161

Books on the Goodreads to-read shelf (I don’t have copies of all of these!): 570

If we were living in the old normal, this would have been a fairly regular looking month if you just looked at the figures, but of course we’re still in this strange new world and there were definite peaks and troughs in my reading mood and experience. As we had towards the midpoint in the year, I’m behind schedule with my efforts to work my way through the to-read bookshelf and with my attempts to catch up with my NetGalley backlog. I’m trying not to beat myself up about it, because a lot of now is about being kinds to yourself, but I am going to try and focus my efforts a little bit more in June to see what I can do. In blog terms May was another busy month – there’s a list of all the posts I’ve made in yesterday’s mini reviews – I don’t know what has brought on this surge of creativity, or how long it’s going to last, but hey, it’s been two months now so that’s something right?!

Bonus picture: A fairly typical view from the hammock, where a lot of the reading of books from the tbr shelf has happened this month. I suspect I should probably be doig something to make that hedge in a better shape, but I have no idea about gardening and my parents haven’t been allowed over to supervise me and tell me what to do

the edge of a hammock and a hedge

*Includes some short stories/novellas/comics/graphic novels (3 this month)

 

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from May

Another month where I’ve been mostly at home (or in my garden) is over and so it’s time for another set of mini reviews for books that I enjoyed in last month and haven’t already told you about.

Once Upon an Eid edited by SK Ali and Aisha Saeed*

Cover of Once Upon An Eid

I really enjoyed this collection of short stories about Eid. I’m neither Muslim nor a middle-grader but I found a lot to enjoy here and learnt a few things too. One of the main things was – as the introduction says – the range of different experiences of Eid – in a wider way than just different family traditions. It is not a monolith – and in the same way that different countries have different Christmas traditions, Muslims from different places and in different parts of the faith have different ways of marking Eid – this has stories from different parts of America as well as Australia, Canada and America.  I liked this a lot and think it would be a great resource for educators as well – the Muslims in their class would see themselves represented in a way that they often don’t and the other kids would learn a lot.

An Heiress to Remember by Maya Rodale

Cover of An Heiress to Remember

This is a historical romance that came out at the end of March and sees a newly divorced woman return to New York to try and claim the future she wants. Beatrice was married off to a British duke who wanted her for her fortune, was miserable and wants to take over the running of her family’s department store. What she doesn’t expect is that the boy she really wanted to marry is now their main competitor. The shop setting, the late 19th century time period and the group of supportive women really worked for me. I liked the feisty independent divorcee heroine and I thought that the conflict with the hero was well handled and sorted out quite nicely – although I was expecting it to be more misunderstanding related from the start than how it was eventually not-quite explained. Easy, fun romance.

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

Cover of Crossed Skis

This is a clever split narrative murder mystery – with detectives investigating a death in a fire at a boarding house in London, while a group on a skiing holiday are oblivious to the fact that one of their number may have carried out a murder. I really enjoyed this – I liked the characters and the plot and I thought the structure was very clever too. It kept me guessing for a long time. Carol Carnac is one of the  pen names of Edith Caroline Rivett – who also wrote as ECR Lorac who I’ve read a bunch of this year and has already been a BotW pick this year – and I enjoyed this just as much as the others – and particularly liked the 1950s European setting, which reminded me a bit of the later Chalet School series and their Swiss setting.

The Birds: Short Stories by Daphne Du Maurier

Hardback of The Birds on a shelf with other Virago Hardbacks

This gorgeous hardback edition had been on my tbr shelf for a while and during one of my reading slumps in May I thought that some short stories might be the solution. It probably wasn’t my best idea to read this in the middle of a pandemic as it didn’t exactly make me less anxious, but the stories were really good and I’m glad I finally picked it up. Most people will have heard of the title story because it was turned into a movie by Alfred Hitchcok, but actually I thought all the stories were pretty strong. That shouldn’t have surprised me but it did. All the stories are chilling and creepy, but as well as The Birds, I  particularly liked the final story and it’s ending. It was so clever and bamboozling I had to go back and read it again to check I hadn’t missed something – and judging by the Goodreads reviews a fair few readers have missed something. It repays careful reading. But as I said, if you’re feeling anxious at the moment, maybe wait until your baseline stress levels are a little lower!

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from May: Logging Off, Bad Blood, Slippery Creatures and First in Line; the Series I Love posts for Peter Grant, Thursday Next, the Parasolverse and Tales of the City.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Children's books

Book of the Week: The Good Thieves

As mentioned yesterday, monthly stats are coming on Thursday, so I can keep to my regular schedule of Book of the Week on Tuesdays and mini reviews on the first Wednesday of each month. And this week, for the first time in a long time, my pick is a middle grade book – Katherine Rundell’s The Good Thieves.

Hardback copy of The Good Thieves

Vita and her mother got the first boat to New York when the letter from Vita’s grandfather arrived. He’s been cheated out of his ancestral home by mobster Victor Sorrotore. Vita’s mum wants to move him to London, but Vita can’t bear to see her grandfather sad and broken and is determined to get Hudson Hall back for him. But Sorrotore is a powerful mobster – how on earth can she beat him? Well the answer involves a pickpockets, animal tamers and a trapeze artist and a thrilling heist caper through Prohibition New York. I love a strong female heroine and Vita is great – she’s fierce and brave and believes that she can do anything – she’s not letting her age or her dodgy foot (affected by polio) stop her. And if his means that she sometimes makes some stupid decisions (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get there), they are totally in keeping with who she is. This is fast-paced, there’s loads of suspense and both the characters and the setting are so brilliantly drawn you just can’t put it down. And on top of that, the writing absolutely sparkles – the descriptions of Vita and her friends and of New York are brilliantly evocative – you can really see them and the menagerie of animals in their little corner of the city by Carnegie Hall.

My love for heist-y adventure-y books is well known, as is my fondness for middle grade fiction (despite the fact that I have not been a middle grader since the 1990s) and along with the interwar setting, maybe it’s not surprising that ticked a lot of my boxes. This would be great for children who’ve read the Enid Blyton …of Adventure series or the Famous Five, or more modern series like Robin Steven’s Wells and Wong books and Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair mysteries. I loved tales of derring do when I was at the top end of primary school – and read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew voraciously as well as series like the Three Investigators, most of which I either wouldn’t recommend for modern kids or aren’t in print any more, and this would fill that gap for kids with similar interests today.

My copy of The Good Thieves is a delightful signed hardback that I bought from Foyles – who made it their children’s book of the year last year – but it’s also out in paperback on June 10th according to Foyles. And of course you can get it in Kindle and Kobo as well.

Happy reading

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: May 25 – May 31

Lovely weather last week meant time to lay in the hammock and read. And there was some really good stuff in there. I’ll certainly be talking about a few of them. Slight rearrangment to the posts this week because of the start of the month falling on a Monday – I’ve decided to do things as usual with a Book of the Week tomorrow and #Recommendsday mini reviews on Wednesday – and so you won’t be getting May stats until Thursday. I think that makes most sense.

Read:

Owl be Home for Christmas by Donna Andrews

Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stevenson*

The Good Thieves by Katherine Rundell

Taking Up Space by Chelsea Kwakye and Ore Ogunbiyi*

The Birds: Short stories by Daphne Du Maurier

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood*

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Girl Gone Viral by Alisha Rai

She-Merchants, Buchaneers and Gentlewomen by Katie Hickman

Dreaming of You by Lisa Kleypas

Started:

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

He’d Rather be Dead by George Bellairs*

Hello World by Hannah Fry

Still reading:

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

Still not counting…

Bonus photo: I treated myself to some flowers to cheer me up – and it worked. Lovely peonies.

Some peonies

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

Series I love

Series I Love: Tales of the City

Hello, welcome to another Friday and the latest in my new batch of Series I Love posts. Today I’m talking about Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City Series, which I think it pretty perfect reading for the moment – as it’s episodic and starts back in the 1970s.

Tales of the City series on a bookshelf

So this is an iconic series, that started as a newspaper serial, about the lives (and loves) of a group of housemates in San Francisco. Starting in 1976, we meet Mary-Ann Singleton, who has just moved to the city from Cleveland and starts to discover a whole new world. She moves into a boarding house run by the eccentric Anna Madrigal (she names the marijuana plants she grows in the garden) and soon her life is tangled up with the other residents of the building – Michael Tolliver, known as Mouse; Mona, hippy and bi-sexual; Brian, a horny lothario and Norman, the mysterious tenant of the shack on the roof.  It’s fun, it’s incredibly readible – and it’s soapy in the best way aka increasingly ridiculous and far-fetched but you go with it anyway. Across the series (nine books, I still need to buy a copy of The Days of Anna Madrigal, although I have read it!) you’ll laugh and you’ll cry as you cover 40 years in their lives. There are real life people (and events) who feature across the series, with varying levels of disguise.

I love these books so much, and their episodic nature (well except for Michael Tolliver Lives) means they are great for when you’re having trouble concentrating on a book – the bitesized nature means you can pick it up and down, but their newspaper origins means there are constant cliffhangers and teases to keep your interest. Tales of the City has a lot of heavy lifting to do to set everything up, although it’s done so well you don’t really realise it until you read More Tales of the City and see the difference! When I first read them I tore through the first seven books in four months – slowed down only by a Lent book-buying ban which meant I couldn’t buy book 3 for a month! The early books are also a great portrait of 1970s San Francisco – and the LGTB culture in the city before the Aids epidemic hit, and then the impact of Aids on the community. Because they were published in a newspaper soon after being written, current events feature and they’re also a great cultural history document to show how things were seen and what people wer doing at the time. I know I missed a lot of the references first time around, but as my knowledge of LGTBQIA+ history has grown, I’ve spotted more things. Revisiting them to write this book after reading Legendary Children I spotted even more!

So if you’re looking for some escapist reading, this might be the thing for you. Plus you get to You should be able to order the Tales of the City easily from your book vendor of choice – most bookshops I have been into carry them. And as a bonus for the ereaders, the first book is £2.99 on Kindle and Kobo at time of writing. And if you like them, the  books have also been turned into two TV series so you can do a compare and contrast. The first was in the early 1990s for Channel 4 in the UK- which is available for free on All 4 and then in 2019 Netflix did a mini-series with a modern update. Both series feature Laura Linney as Mary-Ann and Olympia Dukakis as Anna. I’ve watched most of the first series, and some of the second. I keep meaning to go back and watch more, and writing this post has given me another nudge, but I’ve got a lot of Drag Race stacked up on the box at the moment and Him Indoors is getting annoyed at the space it’s taking up so I should really watch that first…

And if you haven’t read them already, you can catch up with recent posts in this series on Peter Grant, the Parasolverse, Thursday Next and the Cazalets, as well as older ones on Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion, Roderick Alleyn or view the whole archive here.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: First in Line

I didn’t read many books last week, but I did read a lot of pages of various non-fiction books and this was my favourite of them.

Cover of First in Line

First in Line is Kate Andersen Brower’s book about the American vice presidents of the modern era. Part group biography, part examination of the shifting nature of the role, it also takes a look at the early days of the Trump White House and the role of Mike Pence in the administration.  Looking at 13 vice-presidents as well as the responsibilities of the job and how a presidential running mate is selected, Brower has spoken to all six of the living vice presidents – and the insight this gives the book is great. Brower’s writing style is breezy and accessible and the book is peppered with anecdotes and personal stories.

The first six chapters cover the broad strokes of the role – the vetting process, where the VP lives, what the VP does and the basics of the various different types of relationships that there can be between the President and his second in command. The final seven chapters then take a more in depth look at the different partnerships in the second half of the twentieth century – from Eisenhower and Nixon onwards. I don’t think you need much background knowledge going into this – if you know the vague outlines of what happened in America post World War 2 you should be fine.

I found this fascinating. I knew the vague outlines of the process by which the vice president is selected and what the role of the job is, but I hadn’t really realised that the VP’s official residence was such a recent development – or how widely the relationships between the Commander in Chief and his deputy had varied. All the relationships are interesting, but I found the contrast between Nixon and Bush really fascinating – both were Republican vice presidents who became presidents but they had very different experiences.

 

Brower is somewhat of a specialist in writing about the occupants of the White House – her first book (which I haven’t read yet), The Residence, is about the house itself, her second (which I have) was about the modern First Ladies, and her latest book – which came out as an ebook last week and will be out in hardback next month – is called The Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the age of Trump, and looks at what it is like to be one of the living former presidents at the moment. She’s spoken to President Trump as part of the process – she’s written a teaser article in the current edition of Vanity Fair – if you want a taste you can read it here.

And finally – you know how sometimes you read a bit in a book and it really resonates with your experience? Well at the bottom of page 288, Brower says:

Unlike [Dick] Cheney, who had no interest in the presidency, when he was vice president, when Pence goes to the Hill to “touch gloves’ as he says, on a weekly basis, he insists on walking through the Capitol Rotunda so that tourists can get their photos taken with him.

And here is my photo of Mike Pence doing exactly that on the day that I toured the Capitol right at the end of my posting in Washington a couple of years ago.
Vice President Mike PenceIf you want to read First in Line it’s available as an ebook on Kindle or Kobo as well as in hardback. I suspect you might have to order it in though rather than find it in stock when you call your local indie. I’d also recommend First Ladies and having read both (albeit some time apart) I don’t think there was a lot of repetition.

 

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: May 18 – May 24

So lots of nonfiction reading this week, but also lots of problems with concentrating. And it’s been super busy – including my turn to work the weekend. So a short list. But I’m hoping for some quality bank holiday Monday reading time in the hammock.

Read:

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

The Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

First in Line by Kate Andersen Brower

Terns of Endearment by Donna Andrews

Started:

Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Owl be Home for Christmas by Donna Andrews

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear

Still reading:

She-Merchants, Buchaneers and Gentlewomen by Katie Hickman

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stevenson*

The Cactus by Sarah Haywood*

Still not counting.

Bonus photo: unexpected peonies in my garden! We haven’t been here quite a year yet, so this is the first time we’ve seen them. And yes. I know there are weeds in the pavers. It’s on the list…

Three pink peony flowers on a plant in a garden

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