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 round-ups, Christmas books

Recommendsday: Christmas books 2020

It’s only a few days to go before Christmas now, and so it’s time for my annual Christmas reading post, which as is traditional coming slightly later than I had hoped!

Build Your Own Christmas Movie Romance by Riane Konc

Copy of Build Your Own Christmas Movie Romance

Lets start with something utterly cheesy and frivolous! Remember the old choose your own adventure books that we all used to read, well this is one of those but for Christmas movies and written by some one with a sharp eye on the tropes and stereotypes of the Hallmark Movie genre. Depending on how evil you are depends on how long the story is and where you end up, although there is an overarching story. I got this for Christmas last year and it would make a great gift for the person in your life who’s been watching Christmas movies since the day after Halloween!

In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

Cover of In a Holidaze

For years Maelyn Jones has spent Christmas in a cabin Utah with a big group of her family’s closest friends. But this year it’s all gone horribly wrong, and even worst it could be the last Christmas at the cabin too. On her way back to the airport, Mae asks the universe to show her what will make her happy. Then tyres screech, metal collides… and she wakes up on the plane on the way to Utah before the holiday has even started. And what happens next is basically Groundhog Day with a romance and Christmas twist, as Mae tries to make her way through the holiday all over again – fixing what went wrong each time to try and break the loop and find her true love. This funny and sweet and it really worked for me – despite the fact that I don’t usually like time travel. I’ve written about Christina Lauren before (most recently about the Honey-Don’t list) and when they work for me, they really work. This is on the right side of the pranks and embarrassment scale for me, as well as being lovely and escapist in what’s been an awful year. The isolated nature of the cabin also means that you don’t really think about how different life in reality at the moment compared to what you’re seeing in the books. Wonderfully escapist.

The Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews

Cover of The Gift of the Magpie

I mean honestly it wouldn’t be a Christmas post without a mention of Meg Langslow. Donna Andrews has been on a two book a year schedule with this series for a while, but for the last few years the second book has been a Christmas one. This is the 28th book in the series and sees Meg’s already busy life complicated with the Helping Hands project – matching volunteers up to people who need help with jobs. There’s some one who needs a ramp building for wheelchair access, someone else has a quilt that needs finishing – and then there Harvey the Hoarder who is in danger of losing his home. Meg’s helped him before, so she’s sent in to work her magic again, but after some initial success, he’s found dead in his garage. But who killed him? One of his relatives hoping there’s something valuable in his junk or one of his neighbours who got fed up of living next door to his mess? After last year’s snowed-in murder, this is back in town and has some of the series’ Christmas traditions back in evidence. The mystery is good and I love spending time with the characters. And I think it would just about work for someone who’s never read the series before.

The Trouble with Mistletoe by Jill Shalvis

Cover of The Trouble with Mistletoe

Willa Davis knew Keane Winters at high school, but when he comes into her pet shop needing someone to look after his aunt’s cranky cat while he’s at work, he doesn’t even remember her. Despite this inauspicious start, the sparks between the two of them just keep flying. But both of them have issues in their childhoods that make them think that relationships are not at thing that will work for them so they’ll have to work together to build trust and break down each others barriers to get to their happy ending. Now I know this doesn’t sound that Christmassy, but the backdrop to all this is the run up to Christmas and the festivities going on in Willa’s shop, so it totally counts and it has mistletoe in the title of course. This is the second book in Shalvis’s Heartbreaker Bay, and although you don’t have to read them in order, you will spot stuff from the other books in the series cropping up or being cued up in it. Perfect reading material for the sofa in the cold weather.

Christmas on 4th Street by Susan Mallery

Cover of Christmas on 4th Street

This book 12.5 in Mallery’s long-runing Fools Gold series (which feels like it has more in between titles than it does “proper” titles) and is actually closer to a novel in length than to a novella.  Our heroine is Noelle, who moved to town to open a festive-themed store The Christmas Attic. Army doctor Gabriel is in town to recuperate after an injury and to visit his brother Gideon. Their parents are in town for the holidays too – and both men, but especially Gabriel, have a difficult relationship with their father – a literal drill sergeant. Gabriel doesn’t believe in happily ever afters, but when he ends up spending more time with Noelle to get away from his dad, he starts to reconsider. As an added bonus here, Gideon is the hero of book 11, and so if you’ve read that, this gives you a sort of extended epilogue opportunity with some old friends too.

The Naughty List by Ellie-Mae MacGregor

Cover of The Naughty List

A bit of a wildcard here. This is a steamy Christmas novella with a single mum who wakes up on her sofa on Christmas night to find Santa is in her house. Santa – aka Nikolai – is lonely and horny and so is Kate. Thus high jinx and sauciness ensue. It’s not long, but it is fun. Don’t read it on the train though, it might make you blush!

How Love Actually Ruined Christmas by Gary Raymond*

Cover of How Love Actually Ruined Christmas

And finally – the one I haven’t finished yet: this is Gary Raymond’s response to all the people who think that Love Actually is a perfect Christmas movie. I loved Love Actually when it came out, but as time has gone on, I’m more fond of some of the characters than I am about the whole thing, and there are definitely elements that have not aged well to say the least. Whether I’ll come out of this a convert to the Church of Hating Love Actually I don’t know, but I’m a third of the way through and it’s definitely making me laugh as well as think.

If you want more recommendations, for Christmas books, you can check out my previous posts: New Christmas books 2019, Old Christmas books 2019, Christmas 2018, Christmas 2017, More Christmas 2017, Christmas 2016 and finally Christmas 2015.

Happy reading – and Happy Christmas!

*as usual an asterisk means a book came from Netgalley. Unless otherwise noted, everything else I’ve either purchased or borrowed from the library.

 

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from November

Another month of this super weird year is over. Just a few weeks now until we can kiss goodbye to 2020 and hopefully 2021 will be better. I mean 2020 has thrown everything at us, so surely there can’t be quite as much going on right? I mean I feel nervous just writing that, because this year has done such a number on everyone! Anyway, a few old friends in this month’s post and some new ideas too.

Vanderbeekers Lost and Found by Karina Yan Glaser

Cover of Vanderbeekers Lost and Found

I’ve written about this series before, but Karina Yan Glaser’s Vanderbeeker books continue to be a total delight. This fourth installment sees the gang helping Mr Biederman prepare to run in the New York marathon when they discover that someone is sleeping in the community garden’s shed. When they discover it is someone that they know (and love) they set about trying to fix the problem, in inimitable Vanderbeeker style. This installment also deals with grief and loss as one of the longer running storylines develops in a way that the grownups amongst us have seen coming, but does it in a very sensitive and caring way – as you’d expect – but which also provides a framework for younger readers who might (well almost certainly will) find themselves in a similar situation.

The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz*

Cover of the Sentence is Death

So Anthony Horowitz has two very meta series going at the moment. The Moonflower Murders from the other series was a BotW back in August, and if anything this is maybe the weirder – with Horowitz himself featuring as the protagonist, writing a book about Hawthorne, an ex-cop turned private investigator and police consultant. The murder mystery is good, Hawthorne is intriguingly dislikeable and “Anthony” is a good narrator. Horowitz has made himself an endearingly stupid Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes. I think on balance I prefer the Susan Ryeland series, with their book within a book structure, but these are a good read and I will happily read more of these, if/when they materialise.

Help Yourself by Curtis Sittenfeld

 Copy of Help Yourself

Curtis Sittenfeld is another author that I’ve written about here before and this is three more short stories from her. They look at racism and suburbia, a film crew running into trouble on a shoot in the Mid-West and a squabbling group of aspiring authors waiting to hear who has got the best scholarships on their MA programme. I think they’re all from angles that you wouldn’t quite expect and make you think as well as make you laugh. Would make a lovely stocking filler book for one of the readers in your life.

First World War Poets by Alan Judd and David Crane

Copy of First World War Poets

A slightly left-field choice for my last pick and another that would make a good stocking filler. I’m not really a poetry person, but the War Poets are the ones that i do like and where I can genuinely believe that the writers really did put in all those layers of meaning that teachers tell you about when you study them (like I did at A Level back in the day). This is a really lovelt little book from the National Portrait Gallery with short biographies of the key figures along with pictures of them from the NPG collection and one of their poems. I have another book from this series about the Bloomsbury Group that I’m looking forward to reading at some point when I’m slightly less behind on my various yearly reading challenges. The Portrait Gallery is my favourite of the London Galleries and as well as museums hing been shut for most of the year the NPG is now closed for refurbishment until 2023, so books like this and the virtual collection are the only way we’re going to be able to enjoy it for a while.

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: October, September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the Books of the Week from November: Love, Death and Cellos, Grumpy Jake, Someone to Romance and Boiled Over.

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 round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from October

Here we are again, another month is over, and I have more books to tell you about from my last month in reading. We’re starting to get towards the end of the year, so there’s a few here that would make for good gifts either to go on your own list or to buy for other people. So without further ado, here we go.

Sweet Dreams by Dylan Jones*

Cover of Sweet Dreams

I’m a little bit young to remember the New Romantics when they were new, but I listen to a lot of the music and I like a good music memoir or history so this really appealed to me. Dylan Jones is the editor of GQ magazine – and former editor of i-D – who was there in and amongst the scene at the time. This makes him ideally placed to write this – using the voices of people who were there, through new interviews with him and previous ones. This is a chunky old book – and is occasionally a little bit too in depth – but by the end I felt like I really understood the scene and the characters in it. I read a ebook copy and haven’t see the physical version, but I suspect this would make a great gift for Christmas as well as being a good read for anyone interested in the 80s and the music scene.

Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody by Barbara Ross

 Cover of Jane Darrowfield, Professional Busybody

I know I reccomended a Barbara Ross book yesterday, but I can’t help myself, this is a lot of fun and also quite different to Boiled Over. Jane Darrowfield is settling into her retirement – bridge games with friends, gardening, a bit of travel. The trouble is she’s bored. Then her friends start asking her to help solve their personal problems and soon she’s getting a bit of a reputation as someone who can stick their nose in to a problem and fix it for you. And soon she has her first professional assignment – to try and resolve some issues at an over 55s complex – where it’s all getting more than a little high school. But soon after she arrives, a leader of one of the cliques is killed and Jane’s investigation is suddenly much, much more serious. I love an older lady heroine, and Jane is a really good one. On top of that the mystery is good and I like the side story lines that are being set up for the series. Easy, calming reading.

Bear Markets and Beyond by Dhruti Shah and Dominic Bailey

Bear Markets and Beyond in Hardback

I posted a photo of this earlier this month and I need to add a disclaimer: Dhruti is a friend and work colleague. She’s great. And this book is great but  wouldn’t expect anything less from her to be honest. This is a beautifully illustrated, smartly written guide to all those jargon-y terms you’ve heard (or read) used in business articles but dint quite get. And then there’s a whole bunch more you might not have heard of but are equally fascinating. It’s great. Perfect for a non-business person to get some info, great for the business person who has everything! Also would make a good stocking filler, because it is nearly that time of year after all.

Jeeves and the Leap of Faith by Ben Schott*

Cover of Jeeves and the Leap of Faith

This is an authorised Jeeves and Wooster continuation, which sees Bertie’s beloved Drones Club in a spot of trouble and his friends entangled romantically again. This isn’t quite a full throated recommendation –  I liked this, and it is undoubtedly Wodehouseian in tone and the style is there, but it just felt like it was too long. One of the plot strands would have been enough for me. One of the things I love about the original books is their light tone and brevity – they breeze in, make you laugh and then they’re gone and you want more. But it’s a minor quibble, because it is fun.

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: September, August, July, June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from October: Merit Badge Murder, Manhunting, The Haunting of Alma Fielding (which I’ve just realised is the only one which doesn’t start with an M!), and Money.

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 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 round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from August

Another month gone, and here we are with another group of mini-reviews.  This isn’t a recommendation fest this month – some of them are books that I just wanted to talk about in a non Book of the Week way.

We Germans by Alexander Starritt*

Cover of We Germans

Meissner, was a soldier on the Eastern Front and now an old man, his Scottish-German grandson ask him what he did in the war, he initially shuts down and refuses to talk about it and then writes a letter. We Germans is that letter (interspersed with memories and stories about his grandfather from the grandson, Callum) and tells the story of a rampage he and a small group of colleagues went on during the final days before the Russians overran what was left of the Nazi forces. Separated from their unit, the men see other soldiers carrying out atrocities – and commit some crimes of their own.  At times it is incredibly graphic and it is a lot to grapple with – but then there is a lot to think about about what happened to the men who fought in for the Nazis once the conflict was over – and how to reconcile their actions during the war with what happened after. I found it a complete page turner, and it gave me a lot to think about. I studied First World War Literature as part of my A-Levels and found this an interesting and Second World War addition to the various more modern novels I read as part of that module.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Cover of The Gravity of Us

Cal wants to be a journalist and his following on social media platform Flashframe has snagged him an internship at BuzzFeed. But all his plans are derailed when his dad is selected as an astronaut on Nasa’s mission to Mars. Soon he’s moving into a new house in Houston, and into the world of the reality TV show that covers the lives of the astronauts and their families. But Cal’s family isn’t like any of the picture perfect ones on the show, and his new life is a struggle – until he meats Leon. Leon’s mum is also on the mission and as the two of them bond, they also start to fall in love. But when things start going on in the programme, Cal has to try to find a way to get to the truth of what is going on. Now long-time readers will know that I’m a big fan of books about the space race. I’ve previously recommended The Astronaut Wives Club and The Right Stuff and when I went to Washington two years ago I spent Thanksgiving Day wandering round the Air and Space Museum annexe to look at the Space Shuttle. So this was so up my street it was unbelievable. This is just a lovely blend of space race nostalgia and astronaut nerdery and angsty first love romance. I had a few minor gripes with some of the journo ethics of the hero, but then that’s what my day job is and so it’s maybe not surprising, and I’ve seen much, much worse.

Dance Away With Me by Susan Elizabeth Philips

Cover of Dance Away with Me

This is the first of the not quite as positive reviews, but I wanted to chuck this in here, because I loved the Chicago Stars series and read this hoping that it was going to be somewhat similar in feel despite being sold as “a novel”, but it’s… not. Recently widowed Tess has upped sticks for rural Tennessee looking for space to grieve. Her new neighbours at her isolated retreat are an enigmatic street artist Ian North and a free-spirit, not really in the real world pregnant model. This has so much plot, with so many different strand and so much angst and tragedy that it’s really hard to see how it can be satisfactorily resolved. Because there is so much going on, Tess feels quite one dimensional – even though you spend so much time with her and because and a lot of that plot also doesn’t actually involve the hero I never got to know North well enough to really understand him and root for him. Overall: Not awful just not what I wanted. But it will probably be absolutely someone’s jam. Just maybe not in a pandemic. Never mind!

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Cover of Untames

Now back at the start of the year I did a round up post of self-help books, and this was one of the ones I didn’t get to back then. Now it may seem like all you can do at the moment is get through the day what with the Quarantimes and the ‘Rona, but my library hold came in so I got stuck in to this. Glennon Doyle had built a successful career as a Christian mommy blogger and motivational speaker, but while on book tour for her book about the how she and her husband saved their marriage after infidelity and betrayal, she looked across the room, saw a woman and fell in love. Untamed is the story of what happened next, and how she built a new life. Now this isn’t exactly a recommendation, because I am not the target audience for this and I don’t think I’m implementing anything from this book into my life. Back in that January post, I wrote that Rachel Hollis’s book was Not What I Was Looking For and this is much less preachy than this, but it’s still aiming at a target audience that is Not Me, but it is an interesting read, and could serve as a template for the aforementioned Rachel Hollis on how to pivot your career when the thing about your life that made your name is suddenly gone.

 

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: July, June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from August: The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, V for Victory, The Moonflower Murders, Daring and the Duke and The Great Godden.

Happy Reading!

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

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from July

Another month, another batch of minireviews. There was a lot of author binging at the end of the month which made this a little tricker to write than usual, but I think there are some good options here for people looking for beach-y holiday reads!

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

Cover of One to Watch

Bea is a plus-sized fashion blogger who goes viral after writing a blog about the lack of body diversity on a TV dating show. When she’s invited to be the star of the next series, it seems like an opportunity to take her career to the next level as well as trying to change representation on TV. But there’s no chance she’s going to fall in love. Now from that summary it sounds like it’s a romance, but it’s a but more complicated than that – for large parts of the book I wasn’t sure how any of this was going to manage to work out happily ever after for Bea. It did mostly/sort of get there in the end – but don’t go in there expecting a traditional/normal contemporary romance. It’s a little bit closer to some of the late 90s early 00s women’s fiction that I used to love – but they were all much more comedic than this is.  But it’s fun and would be great to read on the beach and even though I’ve only ever seen about 15 minutes of The Bachelor/Bachelorette (I’m from the UK) it still worked for me!

Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

Cover of The Constant Rabbit

I wrote about my love of the Thursday Next series earlier in the Quarantimes, but this is a standalone novel from Jasper Fforde, although like his previous book Early Riser, there are commonalities with the series. But this is Fforde’s response to the current political and social moment in the UK, and as I saw him say somewhere (Instagram? his website?), it’s not subtle. But it’s also absolutely Jasper Fforde. It’s absurd, it’s funny and he’s managed to make a world where there are six foot anthropomorphised rabbits (and a few other species) seem absolutely real and plausible. I think if you like Fforde’s previous books, this is a continuation of the same sort of thing he’s been doing there, but with a different twist. It’ll make you think as well as make you laugh, and it is utterly mad at times. Maybe not the best place to start with Fforde’s work (and again I point you at The Eyre Affair), unless you’re used to reading alternative world fantasy/spec fiction.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Cover of the Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires

This is a supernatural thriller set in the 90s about a book club that ends up trying to protect its community from a vampire. It’s got a lot of buzz and given that as a teen my bedroom walls were plastered with posters of Angel and Spike due to my deep and abiding love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (we’re currently on a rewatch and are mid season three, the last great season) I thought it might be just what I needed in July. It turned out not to be – but not because it’s bad, but because it’s too much over towards the horror side of things for me! I liked the start and the set up, but as soon as it got into the vampire-y stuff, it was Not For Verity. But if you like horror movies of the 90s – and bear in mind that I’m too wimpy for any of them so I can’t give you actual parallels, but I want to say Scream – then this will probably be absolutely your summer reading jam.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Cover of The Radium Girls

I actually finished this on Saturday night, but as it was in progress for all of July (and more!) I’m counting it here. The Radium Girls is the true stories of a group of women in the US in the first half of the 20th century who painted watch dials with Radium to make them luminous and suffered horrendous health consequences because of it. Spoiler: a lot of them died, and died very young and in a lot of pain. But their long and difficult fight to find out what was wrong with them and to get compensation when it became clear there was no cure, changed worker safety regulations and affected research into nuclear bombs and saved a lot of lives. This is really hard to read – which is why it took me so long to read it – but it’s so well told. The stories of the women are heartbreaking and upsetting, but their courage in fighting their illness and for compensation are inspiring.

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from July: Here for It, The Chiffon Trenches, Hello World and Not Your Sidekick.

Happy Reading!

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

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from June

Stats coming up tomorrow, but like last month, I want to keep to my posting schedule of first Wednesday of the month for the mini reviews, and it just happens in July that that is the first of the month!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Cover of The Vanishing Half

Brit Bennett’s first novel The Mothers, was a BotW pick here, but her second is maybe even better. The Vignes sisters are identical twins. They grew up in an African-American town in the Deep South, but ran away at 16 to start new lives together. Ten years later, one sister is back in their home town with their daughter, the other is passing as white, living a life where no one knows her racial identity. But their lives are still linked and fate will bring them together again. I got a copy of this book from NetGalley – but I enjoyed it so much I bought myself a (signed) copy of the hardback as well. It’s just brilliant. The stories are incredibly powerful and readable, the language is so wonderful – it absolutely conjures the variety of settings and times it features, and I loved the structure too – slowly revealing more and more of the stories of the women as it jumps around in time. Gorgeous.  Days (nearly weeks) later I’m still thinking about it. And if you do read it (or have already read it), the Book Riot podcast have done an episode about it, which I found really interesting too.

Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri*

Cover of Don't Touch My Hair

This is a wide ranging and compelling look at why black hair matters and why matters relating to it are so complicated. It’s about hair, but it’s also about the history of the oppression of black people across hundreds of years – from pre-colonial Africa through to the present day. I read this not long after reading A’Leila Bundle’s book about Madam C J Walker and it made for an interesting contrast – I thought that was a bit overly sympathetic at the time and I think now if I had read this first I wouldn’t have finished the other! This covers Madam CJ and puts her in her historical context as well as looking at other black entrepreneurs in the spectrum. But it’s much much broader than that. I learnt a lot. And if you’re looking for more books by black authors about black history and culture to read at the moment, this is a great choice. It’s also just come out in the US, but under a different title – Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture.

The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu*

Cover of The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney

This is a touching and readable first novel that looks at identity and belonging. Half-Nigerian Nnenna lives in Manchester, where she’s been brought up by her white mother who has never answered her questions about her father. She’s always had a close relationship with Joanie, but as she starts to explore her Igbo heritage, their relationship starts to fracture. Through the course of the novel the reader finds out what happened between Joanie and Maurice as well as watching Nnenna exploring who she is, who she wants to be and trying to work out a new sort of relationship with her mother. This would be a good read at any time, but as a white reader in this moment, there is so much here that is being talked about with the examination of systemic racism that is going on in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Made me think a lot as well as being an enjoyable read. A wonderful debut -and don’t just take my word for it, it has just been nominated for The Desmond Elliott Prize for the most outstanding novels of the last 12 months.

The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

Cover of The Honey-Don't List

I’ve recommended Christina Lauren before, but just wanted to give this a quick mention too because it is a lot of fun. Carey has worked for Melissa and Rusty Tripp for a decade. She was there before their home design empire took off, and now she’s ringside for for the launch of their next TV show and latest book. Trouble is the Tripps can barely tolerate each other anymore and Carey has got to try and keep that fact a secret with only the help of Rusty’s new assistant James. James thought he was getting a job as a structural engineer, not as a PA but he can’t afford another gap in his CV so he’s stuck trying to keep the wheels on the Tripp bus with Carey. The two of them get on better than either of them every expected – but how can there possibly be any future for them as a couple? I was hoping for a bit more from the ending but hey I forgive it because it was so good and such a clever idea. Also I wonder what Chip and Jo think?!

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from June: Me and White Supremacy, Take a Hint, Dani Brown, The Boyfriend Project, This Book is Anti-Racist and The Good Thieves.

Happy Reading!

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

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 round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from April

Another month is over, so here’s the latest selection of mini reviews – these are for books that I enjoyed in the previous month, but which I haven’t already talked about. Two of these are new releases that I got from NetGalley (they have the asterisks) the other is one I bought for myself after seeing other people recommend it. If you want a physical copy of these – and Mooncakes is only available as a physical copy – then please get in touch with your local independent bookseller – or in the case of Mooncakes your local comic book store.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

paperback copy of Mooncakes

A graphic novel to start – Mooncakes is a YA fantasy story about a magic and witches and first love. Set in New England, when Nova Huang follows reports of a white wolf one night she discovers her childhood crush Tam Lang battling a horse demon. With the help of her grannies and the spellbooks from their bookshop, the two are soon trying to defeat the dark forces that threaten their town – but also discovering that they still have feelings for each other. I loved the artwork for this as well as the story – it really worked for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan in me. I see on Goodreads it’s getting a “people who read this also read…” to Pumpkinheads, but I think it would also work for fans of Lumberjanes who are a little older – either grownups like me or teens who have aged out of middle-grade. As I said at the top, this is only available as a paperback – so no ebook links here I’m afraid.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healy*

Cover of The Animals at Lockwood Manor

Need some creepy gothic fiction set in World War 2? Well maybe try this: it’s summer 1939 and Hetty Cartwright has been entrusted with evacuating the natural history museum’s collection of mammals to keep them safe from the looming war. But when she gets to Lockwood Manor where she will stay to look after them, she discovers a very strange household indeed.  Lord Lockwood is short-tempered and unpredictable, his daughter is friendly towards Hetty but clearly troubled and the servants really don’t like the large collection of taxidermy that they’re now having to help look after. And then things start moving, and then going missing altogether. But for all the talk of ghosts and haunting, that sort of thing isn’t real is it? This has a lot of themes in it that I like – women trying to make their way in a world built for men, big country houses, the time period (and a gorgeous cover) – but the pace was a bit slow for me. Other people whose opinions I respect haven’t had that problem though so I’m still happy recommending it. This came out in March in hardback and ebook (Kindle/Kobo) and audiobook.

Unflappable by Suzie Gilbert*

Cover of Unflappable

Are you one of the many people who’ve been watching Tiger King in lockdown? I have and that’s exactly why I requested this from NetGalley. Luna Burke is on the run. Her estranged husband has stolen a bald eagle from a wildlife sanctuary and she’s determined to steal it back from his private zoo and get it to safety in Canada where it can be reunited with its mate. This is classed on Goodreads under chick lit and romantic comedy but I actually think it’s trying to be an adventure caper – there’s certainly not a lot of romance in it. But whatever it is a story featuring craziness from wildlife rescuers is perfectly timed at the moment. I didn’t think it was entirely successful – better in the idea than the excecution – but there are enough people on Goodreads who’ve loved it that I think it might work better for other people.  One thing is for sure though: the plot seemed a lot less far-fetched than it would have done before I had watched the exploits of Joe Exotic and Carol Baskin! This one is a paperback original – but looks like it’s probably a special order from the states, so it’s probably easier to get the ebook – in Kindle or Kobo.

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from April: Dead Famous, A Cowboy to Remember, Murder to Music and Death of a Demented Spiv, the blog tour post for Conjure Women, the Series I Love post for the Cazalets, my escapist coronavirus fiction suggestions and my #Recommendsday post for the Happy Valley Set.

Happy Reading!