It’s already July and I haven’t posted this, so I thought I ought to get my act in gear. I had a fabulous week in the glamourous south of France in mid-June and took full advantage of my sun lounger time to read. As the school summer holidays are not far off now, here’s a few of my favourites from the week for some inspiration for your holiday.
Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean
This is an atmospheric and chilling story of the events of one boiling hot summer in a small Australian town when three young girls went missing. Told through the eyes of Tikka – eleven years old at the time and still haunted by the events when she returns to her home town years later – as an adult you have a massive sense of foreboding and quiet horror at the events in the lead up to the disappearance. This is so well written and the descriptions so good that you can feel and almost touch the heat and the unexplained smell of the town. It’s also funny and endearing and if I didn’t find the ending entirely satisfying, I think that may have been part of the point of it.
Fumbled by Alexa Martin
Intercepted was a Book of the Week and this was a runner up in my best new books of 2019 so far but Fumbled deserves more than just a passing mention. As regular readers will know, I’m not a big fan of the secret baby trope, but this one is actually one that worked for me and without making either parent seem like a bad person. The heroine is feisty, the hero actually listens to her and respects her point of view and they talk about their problems rather than ignore them. And I liked that it dealt with the issue of brain injuries in the NFL and in (American) football generally. I like Alexa Martin’s voice and her connection to the game (her husband is an ex-pro) really shines through.
An Act of Villany by Ashley Weaver
This is the fourth in the Amory Ames series of murder mysteries set in the 1930s. This is right in my Daisy Dalrymple/Phryne Fisher sweet spot and with a smart bright young thing married to a reformed (we hope) philanderer. This has a theatre-centric plot that reminded me (in a good way) of the theatre-set installments of Ngaio Marsh’s Alleyn books. The banter is good, the characters are fun – and the central relationship between Amory and Milo is more complicated than the usual husband doesn’t want the wife involved dynamic that you get in a lot of these series.
And on top of all of these, there were lots of Susan Mallery books (mostly from the Fools Gold series), Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (after I bought it while writing the where to start with Pratchett post), the latest Rivers of London (which is excellent but really needs to be read in series order) as well as BotW pick Maud West.
We’re halfway through the year (or we will be on Monday) and so it’s time for me to take a look at my favourite new releases of the year so far. A couple of months ago I looked at my top reads of the year Q1 (although they were not necessarily all new releases) so some of these picks will not a surprise to you, but hey, I like to shout about the books that I’ve enjoyed! Sue me.
Contemporary Romance: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
This one was on my 2019 lookahead after I loved Hoang’s debut last year and which lived up to the buzz it was getting ahead of release. This is a fabulous way to follow up the success of The Kiss Quotient and would make a brilliant beach read this summer. It’s an arranged marriage/relationship of convenience romance with a feisty immigrant heroine and an neuro-diverse hero who thinks he can’t – and shouldn’t – love. Plus it’s mostly set in California and feels super summery and the descriptions of the Vietnamese food will make you hungry. What’s not to love in that. Here’s my review from May.
Honourable Mention: Fumbled by Alexa Martin
Historical Romance: A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian
I went on a big old Cat Sebastian jag while I was in the US last autumn, so I had this on my radar. A Duke in Disguise was billed as her first “traditional” male/female romance – but that’s doing it a disservice. This is a clever subversive romance which doesn’t focus on the world of the ton (although they do appear and the nobility plays a role) with feisty, smart, sexually experienced heroine and a neuro-diverse, virgin hero. And the heroine is called Verity – which makes another for my list. Total catnip right? The only reason this wasn’t a BotW is because I read it the same wee that I read Intercepted – and that was the first Alexa Martin I’d read. NB: this has a content warning* for off page domestic violence, off page neglect of child, epileptic seizure
Honourable Mention: An Unconditional Freedom by Alyssa Cole
Non fiction History: The Adventures of Maud West
Yeah, I know, it’s only two weeks since I read this. But it really is so very, very good. And it ticks so many of my boxes – early twentieth century, women in history, detective stories, forgotten lives. If you’re a fan of golden age mysteries, what’s not to love about this investigation into the life of a real life lady detective from the first half of the twentieth century? Here’s my review from earlier this month.
Literary Fiction: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
This is everywhere – on all the lists and getting all the mentions in the mainstream press – even the bits that don’t usually talk about books. It was on my anticipated books list, I read it and loved it, it was on my Q1 review post and now I’m talking about it again. By now you may be getting wary of reading it because of the hype. But trust me, it’s worth it. I’ve been recommending it all over the place to people for their summer holidays and I think it might be turning into my Swiss Army Knife fiction recommendation – I think it has something for pretty much everyone. And for once I was sightly ahead of the curve. Here’s my review from March.
Mystery Fiction: Death of an Angel by Derek Farrell
I haven’t read a lot of new mystery fiction this year, but what I have read has been cracking. This is the fourth Danny Bird mystery and as well as giving you all the snark and fun you could want from a detective who calls himself “Sherlock Homo”, it has a healthy dose of social commentary about the state of London today along with solving the murder. I love Danny and his world and I would recommend them to anyone. You can read my review from February here or my interview with Derek Farrell from last year here.
Honourable mention: Vinyl Detective: Flip Back by Andrew Cartmel
So there you are, my favourite new books of the year so far – each of them a belter. Here’s hoping the rest of 2019’s new releases live up to the first half.
Let me know what your favourite book of the year so far is in the comments – and let me know what you think I should be looking out for in the rest of 2019.
*I’m going to be trying to give content warnings when books have things that some readers want to avoid and that wouldn’t be obvious from their plot summary or genre. So I won’t be warning you about murders in detective stories or in a non-fiction book like The Five which has it in the subject matter – but I will try and tell you if there’s something like sexual assault in the back story of a romance (if it’s not mentioned in the blurb). Does that make sense?
The long-awaited Amazon/BBC Good Omens adaptation goes live on Amazon Prime today, and I’ve had a couple of conversations with people about where to start with Terry Pratchett. So I thought this was a good time to do a quick bonus post about one of my favourite authors because the answer is not simple. But first, here’s the Good Omens trailer:
So obviously, if you enjoy Good Omens, then read that first. There are snazzy tie in editions and a script book and all sorts to coincide with the TV event, you should even be able to pick them up in the supermarket I could have thoughts. But obviously Good Omens is co-written with Neil Gaiman and is in an alternative version of the real world. So where next? Well, that depends what you like to read the rest of the time. And this is one (rare) occasion where I wouldn’t suggest starting at the very beginning. Why? Well unless you’re already a fantasy reader (and if you are why haven’t you read him already?) then these are the furthest away from what you’re used to and they might scare you off. They’re not the most accessible and (imho) they’re not his best. The series improves as Pratchett develops the world and its many characters and leans into the satire of our real world.. Luckily there are series within the series and other ways in.
This is a very non traditional choice, but I actually think The Truth is actually a really good place to start. It’s sort of stand alone but it’s also the first of the Industrial Revolution books and is centred on the invention of the printing press and what happened next. It’s got the later Pratchett social satire, but it also has some of the key features of other series: it’s set in Ankh Morpork, the City Watch appear, the Patrician features and there’s a sprinkling of the supernatural- vampires, werewolves and magic. And if you like it, depending on what your favourite bits are, it’ll give you a clue about where to read next.
Now, if you like what you see of the Watch in The Truth, then try Guards! Guards! You’re jumping back in time, but it’s the first book in the Watch cycle. If you like police or crime-y type stories usually, this might also be your best place to start. There’s a nice new* edition at the moment with an introduction from Ben Aaronovitch – so if you like his Rivers of London series (and lord knows I do) then this is your best jumping in point. This has a rag tag team of misfits who are the night watch and their reluctant leader Sam Vimes trying to figure out who is trying to take over the city – and stop them. I love it. Vimes is a wonderful creation – but then Pratchett is full of wonderful creations. Wikipedia describes him as “somewhere between an Inspector Morse-type ‘old-school’ British policeman, and a film-noir-esque grizzled, jaded detective” and I think that’s pretty much right. He doesn’t want to care, he definitely doesn’t want to be The Hero, and yet it just seems to keep happening. There are eight novels about the Watch – and there’s a TV series that’s been in development since before Sir Terry died, but which seems to be inching closer to being a reality. I’ve got everything crossed that it will materialise eventually.
If you like the magic-y type stuff, then go and read Wyrd Sisters. This was actually my first Discworld book, recommended by a wise librarian when I was at the bottom end of secondary school**. Wyrd Sisters is twisted Macbeth but with witches running the show. It’s also the first really big appearance*** of the most beloved characters in the series – as the blurb says witches “don’t have leaders. Granny Weatherwax was the most highly-regarded of the leaders they didn’t have.” I love Granny and her gang and they’re a great jumping off point for the series in a very different part of the Disc. And once you’ve read them, maybe come back for the wizards.
If you’re still unsure where to go next then try Mort. Mort is a young country lad who ends up apprenticed to Death himself, and it really isn’t what he expected. Mort was the top rated Pratchett book in the BBC’s Big Read list back in 2003 – coming in at number 65, three places in front of Good Omens and one of five Pratchetts in the top 100 (with 15 in the top 200!). Mort and Death are an excellent double act, Binky the horse is brilliant and if you like this strand then Soul Music is one of the best take offs of popular music you could hope for. Death appears in pretty much every book in the series as well as in Good Omens – so Mort is also an excellent place to start if you read Good Omens and want more of him. It’s also the fourth book in the series and is the earliest of alternative starting points.
As well as having read the books, I also own a lot of the audiobooks – the early series are mostly done by Nigel Planer (or Tony Robinson for abridged versions) and the sound quality on audible is described as “vintage” (it’s awful for some of them – I actually returned at least one!) but Stephen Briggs takes over at book 24 and I love his narration My most listened to are the Moist Von Lipwig books. They’re the next stage of the industrial revolution series that starts with The Truth (or Moving Pictures depending on how you’re reckoning it) and I think Going Postal is my favourite of the entire series, and not just because I was a stamp collector as a child. For me, they’re the culmination of everything that has been going on in the background through the other books with Vetinari’s vision for the city and Pratchett’s satire on modern life. I know some don’t like Raising Steam and get a bit touchy about the latter books in general, but my only really problem with it is that Adora Belle has the wrong accent in the audiobook and that’s Stephen Briggs’s fault not Sir Terry’s.
Usually I would suggest the middle grade part of the series much earlier than this. But although I love Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegles are brilliant, as an adult, if you’re going to read these you need to have read the Witches’ books first so you get the full impact of The Thing That Happens in the final book in the series, The Shepherd’s Crown. But once you have read the Witches – or if you have a middle grader – The Wee Free Men is the place to start. One of the other middle grade books, Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents, is on offer at the moment but it’s the only Discworld that I haven’t read so I can’t tell you where to fit it in at the moment – but I’ve bought it and I’m gong to fix that!
And finally there’s Rincewind. He’s the first running character and he comes with the Luggage (I want a Luggage), but he is in at the very start in the highest fantasy the series has. Go discover him once you’re already in love with the series. It’ll work best for you if you’re not a fantasy regular. Start with the first book – The Colour of Magic – and go from there. This was one of the ones that Sky turned into a mini series along with Hogfather and my beloved Going Postal (which has early Clare Foy as Adora Belle!) and is actually worth a look. I liked it as a version of the first two books, and they do make them rattle along. There are nine Rincewind novels – the longest of the strands through the series.
There’s so much more I’ve barely touched on here, but so I don’t turn into any more of a boring fangirl, I’ll leave it here, except for saying that with 80 million book sales around the world you really should give it a try. If you’re a Pratchett fan, let me know your favourites in the comments and tell me where your recommended starting point for newbies is. I’ve put a nice graphic in below – but that doesn’t even reckon The Truth is a starting point, so you can see how many different options and opinions there are. I’m off to read Maurice and watch Good Omens (not at the same time).
*these new editions have proved… controversial with some of the Pratchett fans – because they don’t look like Pratchetts – but that’s precisely the point. They don’t look like fantasy because there are a lot of people who don’t read books with the sort of illustrated covers that these have previously had. Think of it as the equivalent of the adult cover Harry Potter books.
**I can remember Jingo coming out (but i’m not sure if it was the paperback or hardback) and being excited about it, which dates the start of my Pratchett reading to 1997ish.
It’s the end of March, so we’re a quarter of the way through the year – and I thought I’d try something a bit different and do a first quarter round up of the best things I’ve read so far. But before I do, in case you missed it on Wednesday, here are my romance recommendations for people who are looking to broaden their author base after the #RITASsowhite fiasco and also my BotW post for Can’t Escape Love. I’m still angry.
Daisy Jones and the Six
A BotW post in March, I think this is a book you’re going to hear a lot more about this year – it was an Apple books pick in March as well as being Reese Witherspoon’s book club pick and it’s being picked by articles and groups all over the place. It sent me off down a Wikipedia rabbit hole – and I’m still thinking about it a couple of weeks on – and not just because I went to see Taylor Jenkins Reid talk about the book on Tuesday evening. There are a lot more thoughts on that BotW post – but basically, it’s just brilliant. It was my second Taylor Jenkins Reid book of the year – the first The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo was also a BotW (in Janurary) and would have been on this list but for the think where I try not to repeat myself! Also Taylor Jenkins Reid has made a Spotify playlist to go along with Daisy – if you need some more hints about the book – or something to listen to while you read it…
Don’t You Forget About Me
I’ve been recommending Mhari MacFarlane’s latest all over the place sine I read it back in January. As I said in my BotW review back then, it’s a proper romantic comedy – along with rooting for it all to turn out alright for Georgina, it’ll make you snort with laughter, as well as make you want to cry. And that’s often what I want from a book – and it seems to be getting harder to find at the moment – as lots of my previous auto-buy and favourite authors seem to be shifting towards different things. But this is proper good and will restore your faith in rom-coms. Now if only they were still making films to match.
This is another one that was a Book of the Week and that I’ve been recommending all over the place – it’s my favourite middle-grade book of the year so far and adults should be reading it too. I know that the centenary of the First World War is over now, but it still feels really timely to read this beautiful look at a family growing up through the Great War. It’s just wonderful. I cried happy and sad tears and generally embarrassed my self by getting emotional in public reading this. If I was a teacher reading this to my class, I’d have to get the children to read the climax or I’d be crying as I did it. And I don’t think that’s a plot spoiler – happy and sad tears I said. I’m hoping that this will find a place on the shelf of children’s classics about war – along with Carrie’s War, The Machine Gunners, War Horse and the like. It would make a brilliant – but heartbreaking – double bill with Five Children on the Western Front, but maybe read Skylark’s War second…
So there is your three top picks, honourable mentions to Fence, Brown Girl Dreaming and The Sumage Solution – my other top rated reads of the year so far. I’ve only written about one of them so far, but I’m sure that will change at some point… And as I’m writing this slightly before the end of March, you never know, there may be something else amazing in my last couple of the month. If there is, I’ll be sure to let you know.
Every year I write a post about my obsessions of the year, which usually boils down to which authors did I discover years late and then binge my way through. This year is no exception. Yesterday I looked at how last years obsessions have fared, and discovered that crime series and romance series continue to be the staples of my reading diet along with a strong strain of non-fiction. So, here are the authors whose work I have been obsessed with this year…
The Kinsey Milhone series by Sue Grafton
I only discovered Sue Grafton after seeing the obituaries and tributes after her death. And this year I’ve read 19 of the 25 books in the series – the only reason I haven’t read all of them is that I’m trying to slow down and pace myself so that it’s not over too quickly. Kinsey is a great heroine, a private detective who is very aware of her own strengths and weaknesses, and the mystery plots are clever and twisty. What more could you want in a mystery series. It’s such a shame she didn’t live long enough to write the last book in the alphabet.
The Charles Paris series by Simon Brett
This was a late on in the year discovery – I read my first one of these while I was in Washington and I’ve now read nearly half of the 20 book series. Charles Paris is a probably-alcoholic jobbing actor who seems to stumble on murders on every job he takes. The series started in 1975 and the most recent installment came out this year. There have also been two different radio adaptations over the years – the most recent one which stars Bill Nighy as Charles (and has been somewhat modernised) is a lot of fun and available on Audible.
One of the joys of being in the US was being able to read some of the authors that I’ve heard a lot about but who are harder/more expensive to get hold of in the UK. Cat Sebastian is one of these. She writes mainly Male/male historical romances – which is part of the genre that I haven’t really read a lot of before and I haven’t really been able to try because it is really quite expensive to buy over in the UK. I had been able to pick one up on offer on Kindle and luckily my local library had a whole stack of them. I think there’s a limit to the number of different tropes available to male/male historicals, so it takes a bit of creativity to come up with scenarios with a potential for happy endings, but Sebastian has a knack for it. I also really liked Unmasked by the Marquess, which features a non-binary heroine, where the conflict isn’t about the heroine’s presentation, rather it’s about her deception and the obstacles in the way of a happy ending for the hero and heroine. Sebastian’s first male/female romance is out in 2019 and I’m really looking forward to it.
After glomming on Jill Shalvis, Susan Elizabeth Philips and Kristen Higgins in 2017, I’ve continued to expand my contemporary romance horizons in 2018. I’ve read even more Shalvis, Morgan and Crusie and added Alyssa Cole, Jasmine Guillory and Talia Hibbert to the list. There no-go tropes are still there – billionaires, biker gangs, secret babies – but there’s plenty that I do like and they make a great way to relax and get away from the stresses of the newsroom after a long day of breaking news.
As you’ll see from the 2018 obsessions post tomorrow, I’ve read a whole stack of new crime series this year. The new Hobson and Choi was a Book of the Week and it’s a bit of a spoiler for my Books of the Year post to tell you how much I liked the new Vinyl Detective book. I’ve also continued to work my way through the Royal Spyness series – which I love, despite the title and the fact that I have to not think too hard about the premise – but some of the other series that I discovered last year have faded a little this year as they’ve got longer and deeper. I’m not naming names though.
I’ve probably read more non-fiction books this year than any year before. And yes, a lot of that was preparing for my Washington posting, but I’d already read a fair bit of non-fiction by that point. There was more Mary Roach but also more celebrity memoirs than previously. I’m continuing to try and expand my world-view and the perspectives that I get on the world through my non-fiction reading and it’s been a lot of fun. However, I haven’t read a lot of straight up history this year, so I’m hoping to change that a little bit in 2019.
I said in this post last year, that my obsessions tend to be quite consistent – and that I was hoping for something new and random in 2018. I think I’m still working on similar themes to previous years, but the breadth and variety of my non-fiction reading is helping me from becoming boring in my old age!
It’s nearly the end of the year and I promised you some extra posts looking back at the year didn’t I? Well, here’s my look at five of my favourite books of the year. Looking back on my Goodreads stats to write this, I realise that I’ve been very stingy with the 5 stars this year – which has made this very tricky to write because there are a lot of 4 star ratings and I’ve had to workout which ones were my real favourites. And because of the way this blog works, you’ve heard about most of these before – either as Books of the Week or in other roundup posts – because when I like stuff this much, I tell you about it!
A Day in the Death of America by Gary Younge
This was part of my pre-Washington reading and although I read a lot of good books in that particular reading jag, this one has really stuck with me. A snapshot of all the children and teens killed by guns on just one day in America, it is meticulously researched and will break your heart. If you are in any doubt about the scale of gun deaths in the US, this will put it all into perspective -this is just a normal day – no mass shootings, just ten dead young people ranging in age from 9 to 19.
Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders
Lets get all the sad books out of the way to start with. This is a middle grade continuation/follow on to E Nesbit’s The Five Children and It book. I think I read the 5 children (maybe even more than one of them) after the 1990s BBC TV series was shown and it had never occurred to me that these were the children who would be the young men and women of the Great War – and of course when Nesbit was writing the books, she had no idea what was in their future either. This is really, really good, but also quietly devastating. There are a lot of Second World War middle grade books, but not so many (or at least not that I’ve come across) Great War ones – this is a very good addition to the genre. It came out a couple of years ago, but reading it this year with the centenary of the Armistice, felt very timely. It wasn’t my BotW at the time -I was in a historicalcrimegroove back in at the start of the year, but I’ve recommended it a few times since and it’s quietly crept up my list of best reads of the year.
The Victory Disc by Andrew Cartmel
The third in the Vinyl Dectective series is right up there as one of my favourite detective stories of the year. This time our unnamed hero is on the hunt for records by a wartime swing band. The Flarepath Orchestra were contemporaries of Glenn Miller, but their recordings are incredibly rare. After one pops up unexpectedly, the Detective and his gang are asked to track down the rest. But there are still secrets and lies at the heart of the band and soon a great deal of danger is threatening the gang. This wasn’t a Book of the Week at the time – because it’s the third in the series and you’ll get the most from them by reading them in order. The first in the series, Written in Dead Wax was a BotW last summer though – and I thoroughly recommend starting with that. My Dad has read these and practically snaps my hand off to get the next one from me! Good reads doesn’t have any details for a fourth yet, but I’m hoping that we’ll get more adventures in vinyl in 2019.
Anyone for Seconds by Laurie Graham
Regular readers know how much I love Laurie Graham (and if you don’t, herearethepoststoproveit) but I remember saying to a friend before this came out that if she was going to write a sequel to one of her novels, this wasn’t the one that I would have picked. How wrong I was, because this is my favourite of her contemporary novels in ages. It snuck out a bit under the radar in August and I nearly missed it. We rejoin Lizzie Partridge, the heroine of Perfect Meringues, some twenty years after we last met her. Lizzie was a TV-chef on the regional news, but after The Incident she has mostly worked in print. But when her last paying gig is pulled, Lizzie decides to run away in the hope that it’ll get her some attention. But no-one notices. It does however, set in train a series of changes in Lizzie’s life. It was a BotW and it’s still one of my favourites this year.
Early Riser by Jasper Fforde
It was a long wait for a new book by Jasper Fforde – my big Fforde discovery and binge actually happpened before I started this blog, but Early Riser was worth it and it was a BotW. Set in a world where humans hibernate for four months every winter, this follows the adventures of one man in his first year as a Winter Consul – one of the people who watch over the sleeping masses. This is completely standalone from his other books, but if you’ve read other Fforde novels you’ll spot that this world has some elements in common with Thursday Nexts. It’s fantasy and sci-fi but at the end of that spectrum that I like.
The Birth of South Korean Cool by Euny Hong
And another non-fiction book to round out this list. Euny Hong’s family moved back to South Korea in the 1980s when she was at school so she is ideally placed to take a look at how South Korea turned itself into a big name on the world stage through the course of twenty years. This is a really, really interesting and readable guide to the Korean pop-culture phenomenon and the policy behind it. Although some of the section dealing with North Korea is now slightly dated that doesn’t detract from the overall impact of the book. I would happily have read another 100 pages. It had been on my to-read list for ages – but I finally got around to getting hold of a copy after the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics at the start of the year (although it took me another few months to get around to reading it!). I’ve recommended it a number of times – and used knowledge I learned from it to look smart when talking about K-pop with younger colleagues. A winner all around!
Let me know what your favourite books of the year have been in the comments – and coming up over the next few days we’ve also got my reading obsessions of the year – and how 2017’s obsessions have lasted as well as the books that I’m looking forward to in 2019.So here you are, six of my favourite reads of 2018. There were a few five star reads this year that aren’t on the list – but they are very much from favourite authors – new installments in the Wells and Wong series and from GailCarriger and the Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang that I’ve already talked about so much already over the years that I’d be boring you to tell you about them again.