Book of the Week, book round-ups

Book of the Week… or not

So. I said in yesterday’s post I didn’t know what I was going to write about today. And I didn’t. And I sat and stared at the list of things I read last week for a while and I still didn’t. And then I ended up writing this.

My favourite thing I read last week was probably The Game, but that’s the sixth in the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series and I have a rule about books in series and you really will get the most out of that if you’re reading them in order. Also it’s not that long since I wrote about The Beekeeper’s Apprentice – and I suspect the next stop on this journey is going to be a post about the series. So that rules that out. Side note: It’s one of those annoying ebooks where you can’t see a proper cover for it at the start of the book. Why do publishers do this to me?

I finished Theatre for Dreamers last week, but I hated almost everyone in it and I couldn’t work up the energy to write about them all. I originally bought it as a gift for mum and then when it arrived I read the start and realised that it wasn’t going to be for her. I was right. Good decision not to give it to her past Verity. But if you want to read about the writers’ and artists’ colony on Hydra in the early 1960s, go for it – it’s well written and it’s got Leonard Cohen in it, but it’s about as cheerful as one of his songs. Maybe by the time I have enough books for another Fictionalised Real People post, I’ll have mellowed on it a bit. At the moment I’m just annoyed at them all.

I went into A Few Right Thinking Men thinking (hoping?) it might fill the Phryne Fisher-shaped hole in my reading. And it is set in Australia, at a similar sort of time and with a hero with a monied background but more colourful and less conservative leanings, but whilst it does have a murder to solve, also gets very deep into the societal factions of conservatives and communists and to me felt like it tended more towards the thriller end of the spectrum and less towards the historical cozy one. It’s also less witty and fun than Phryne is and I’m not sure how much I liked any one in it. I might read some more, but I’ll need to be in the right mood.

The Larks of Jubilee Flats was a fun Career novel from the Girl’s Own era that I love, but it’s slight, and niche, and probably only of interest to a very small subset of people – many of whom were at the Bristol Conference with me a couple of years back. If you want to read a book doing a bit of not very subtle encouraging of young teen girls to have a bit of ambition (but only before they get married) and to Do The Right Thing, then it’s sweet but it’s also going to cost you at least £5 plus shipping for a book that took me less than an hour to read. Also, Covid scuppered the next edition of book conference both last summer and the rearranged date this year, so I have to wait another whole year before I get to go and play with the book people and spend all my money on obscure titles again.

And after that there was nothing else in the list that was nearly finished enough for me to kid myself I could get it read and count it on a technicality. So instead you get a couple of little summaries from me and a sheepish apology for having had a busy week and on top of that a sort of social life for the first time in a year. I’ll try and do better next week.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: May 2021 Mini Reviews

Another month is over, so here we are with some more reviews of books that I’ve read this month, want to talk about but haven’t had the chance yet. And unlike last month, I actually read them all this month. By rights Early Morning Riser and Wicked Enchantment from last month’s post also belong here, but I broke all my own rules at the start of May. But that’s what rules are there for right?

Drop the Mikes by Duncan MacMaster

Paperback copy of Drop the Mikes

Anyone fancy a murder mystery inspired by the Fyre festival debacle? Yes? Well this is it. A buzzy tech start up is organising a music festival on an island to promote a new product. It’s already shaping up for a disaster – with no luxury villas for the guests and no musical acts because all the cheques bounced. But when the Boss’s right hand man is found dead, things take a turn for the even more serious. Kirby Baxter happens to be holidaying across the bay from the festival and is soon called in to consult. Long term readers will remember that I interviewed Duncan MacMaster a couple of years back, when Hack (the first Jake Mooney book) came out. This is the third Kirby Baxter, and although you don’t have to have read the previous ones if you have – and also if you have read the Jake Mooney books – there is extra fun to be had here. But even if you’re just reading it as a standalone, it’s still a funny and twisty murder mystery, based on a great idea.

Elizabeth and Monty by Charles Castillo*

Cover of Elizabeth and Monty

My love of books about Golden Age Hollywood is well known, so this was an obvious choice for me to request on NetGalley. But it’s a bit of a weird one. I’m not sure I learned that much new about Elizabeth Taylor – but it’s not that long since I read Furious Love about her and Richard Burton and she has also come up in a lot of the other books I’ve read, so perhaps that’s the reason why. I did however learn a lot more about Montgomery Clift, who often only features in things as a bit of a side note in the Elizabeth Taylor story. But there are frustratingly few conclusions here about the whys and wherefore as of his self-destructive behaviour – which began even before the car crash that damaged his matinee idol looks. If you like old Hollywood, go for it, it’s readable but imperfect.

The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting by K J Charles

Cover of The Gentle Art of Fortune Hunting

KJ Charle’s latest sees Robin Loxleigh and his sister Marianne (oh yes, the clue is there in the name) descend on London in the search of a fortune each. But the sucess of their venture comes under threat from Sir John Hartlebury, the uncle of the heiress Robin is courting. Will Robin be unmasked or is there Another Way to resolve this? This is a lot of fun. It mostly delivered what I was hoping it would – which was/is a queer Masqueraders sort of vibe (NB to audiobook producers, could you hurry up and record Masqueraders and put it on Audible, please and thank you) but with less Jacobites and the Old Gentleman and more snark. I was a bit dubious about The Arrangement between Robin and Hart, but Charles handles the potential pitfalls of a Pretty Women kind of situation very neatly. And that’s a close as I can get to explaining things without using proper spoilers.

The Wife Upstairs by Rachel Hawkins

Cover of The Wife Upstairs

Jane is a dog walker in a wealthy community in Birmingham, Alabama. She’s also on the run from her past and in need of some protection in case it catches up with her. When she meets widower Eddie Rochester, he seems like the solution to her prayers – although the recently deceased wife is a bit of a disadvantage. But as Jane falls for Eddie, so the mystery of what happened to Bea and her best friend the night the disappeared at the lake looms larger and larger. Will Jane get her happy ending? As mentioned several times this week already, it turns out I’m still not ready for suspense/thrillers – even when they’re based on a known property like Jane Eyre! But despite my squeamishness and need to space out reading it, this is really good. It’s twisty and inventive enough that you’re never quite sure that it is going to do what you think it’s going to do. And this “Jane” is a more complicated heroine than the original ever was! And I liked the ending.

So there you have it, another month finished and another batch of mini-reviews. And in case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in May were Wilde Child, Fabulosa! Love at First and Dial A for Aunties (even though I technically finished that on the last day of April, because it’s book of the *week* and weeks don’t end neatly for the end of the month… which means I could also count yesterday’s Circus of Wonders post as I finished that in May, but posted it in June. Even the rules I make myself are too complicated. And finally, just to complete the link-fest, here are the links to the mini reviews from January, February, March and April.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: April 2021 Mini Reviews

Ok, so slightly cheating this month, in that I couple of these were actually finished in the first two days of May, but I’m giving them a bye because they came out in April. Oh the ways in which we deceive ourselves…

Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny*

Cover of Early Morning Riser

Jane is a teacher in Boyne City, Michigan. When she locks herself out of her house she meets Duncan – not actually a locksmith, but a carpenter who can fix locks as well. Soon they’re dating – but as Duncan has already dated almost ever woman in town, she never quite feels like she has him to herself. Soon Jane is caught up in a web of relationships with some of Boyne City’s eccentric residents – including Duncan’s ex wife and her new husband. After a terrible car crash Jane, Duncan and Aggie’s lives are permanently linked, but is there actually a different sort of happy to the one Jane was expecting waiting for her if she just looks for it? Standard Deviation was a book of the week pick here, a couple of years back and this is Katherine Heiny’s latest novel. Back then I said that I wouldn’t actually want to be friends with the leads in that, but I think I would like to be friends with Jane – although Duncan would be a bit of a trial to have as a boyfriend! This is warm and funny but bittersweet. It’ll make you laugh and make you cry and then you’ll want to tell everyone you know to read it too. I need to buy a copy so I can lend it out.

The Devil Comes Courting by Courtney Milan**

Cover of The Devil Comes Courting

Courtney Milan’s latest novel is the long awaited third in the Worth Saga, but set on the other side of the world. Amelia Smith was adopted by missionaries as a child, but has always been waiting for her real mum to come back for her. When Captain Grayson Hunter offers her a job devising a code to transmit Chinese characters by telegraph, she doesn’t think she’s the person he’s looking for. But after some persuasion, she decides giving it a go is a better option than marrying another missionary. Grayson is determined to lay the first transpacific telegraph cable and achieve the dream his brothers aren’t here to complete. Convincing Amelia that she’s the missing link that his company needs is a hard task, but soon the sparks are flying between the two of them – even though both of them are determined to ignore them. As well as the romance this is also examining the damage that missionaries did going out and forcing their beliefs on to other cultures around the world. This will may make you feel uncomfortable, but it’s meant to and you probably need to sit with that. I liked the romance well enough, but what I really loved was watching Amelia come into herself and make the life that she wants to have, not the one that her adoptive mother things she should have. And if you liked the meddling relatives in Dial A for Aunties, this has a couple of characters who are doing a similar sort of thing – just in nineteenth century China. If you’re fed up of Regency or even just European-see historicals, try this.

Wicked Enchantment by Wanda Coleman*

Cover of Wicked Enchantment

Ok, so let’s preface this with the fact that I’m not a big poetry person. In fact I’m still holding a grudge agains Wordsworth, Tennyson and the Brownings after my A-Levels. But every now and again I venture in and this was one of those times. And it was also my first encounter with Wanda Coleman and it has absolutely made an impression on me. This is a thought provoking and well put together collection of more than 130 poems from across Coleman’s forty career. The order is drawn from Coleman’s own preferences and examines her life and black American experiences as she saw them. It’s gritty and rule breaking and I sometimes felt totally out of my depth. You’ll have to think and concentrate and probably read out loud to understand the rhythm. And although some of the poems are forty years old, the themes and experiences still feel strikingly relevant today.

The Fear-fighter Manual by Luvvie Ajayi Jones*

Cover of The Fear-Fighter Manual

This is a readable and insightful look at the importance of speaking up for yourself and how to navigate that without blowing up your life or reliving your mistakes forever more. This is dedicated to the author’s grandmother – a formidable Nigerian woman who overcame substantial obstacles, lived her life as she wanted and spoke out when she thought it was needed. I particularly enjoyed reading about how the author’s upbringing – split between Nigeria and the US has informed her perspective and the lessons that she has taken from the strong women in her life and the squad she has built around herself. It is quite American-self-help book in tone at times- which is not always my style, but I enjoyed it and found it just on the right side of my personal line for that. I’m not sure how much of this is applicable to my life – but there are some important ideas and lessons here that I will sit with (as the Americans say) and digest and try to use to inform my thinking and behaviour. Also I already couldn’t wait to be able to meet up with people in person again, but after all the sections about her friends and her squad, that’s only got worse!

An honourable mention has to go to Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven, about a murder in fundamentalist Mormon country. I gave it a mention in my post about podcasts when I was talking about Short Creek – and if I hadn’t listened to that I would probably have given it a whole list of its own. But it’s a little out of date now, and Short Creek will do you a lot of the same things, just in updated podcast form – the main change is the Rulon/Warren Jeff’s situation.

In case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in April were Dial A for Aunties (published in May, but read in April!) He’s Not My Boyfriend, Rosie Danan’s Roommate duo, Enjoy the View and Billion Dollar Loser.

And here are the links to the mini reviews from January, February and March.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: March 2021 Mini Reviews

So we made it to the end of a year of the quarantimes. And despite the fact being back in March meant it felt like we’d never left March at all and the world had ground to a halt in 2020 and given us endless March, itwas actually quite a good month in my reading life. Here are a few books I enjoyed that I haven’t told you about yet.

Women vs Hollywood by Helen O’Hara

Hardback copy of Women vs Hollywood

Empire Magazine’s Helen O’Hara’s new book is an examination of pioneering women through Hollywood history and the ways in which they’ve been left out of the history of the silver screen. It also examines what could be done to help redress the balance and for films to tell some different stories from some different points of view. It’s impeccably researched and well argued and will left me wanting to go out and spend some money at the cinema on female-centric films. As the cinemas are still closed, I contented myself by watching Lady Bird and Emma. and a couple of Katherine Hepburn films.

The Consequences of Fear by Jacqueline Winspear

Cover of the Consequences of Fear

I’ve written about the Maisie Dobbs series here before. And this is another engrossing and twisty instalment in the series. With long running series it’s always a challenge writing a review that doesn’t give away too much of the plot – or spoil earlier books in the series. But what I can say is that now the books have reached World War Two, Jacqueline Winspear is consistently finding interesting aspects of the conflict to entangle Maisie in, and if a few liberties are taken with the timeline, they are minor and you forgive them because it’s so page-turning and engrossing. This also sees some really interesting developments in Maisie’s personal life too – so all around this is a really good read.

You’re History by Leslie Chow*

Cover of You're History

What’s not to love about a book with a cover as gorgeous as this and I did enjoy it, but that comes with a few caveats. I think I was missing some of the background on some of the songs to get the most out of it. Although the names listed in the blurb are all people you will have heard of – Kate Bush, Nikki Minaj,  Janet Jackson, Taylor Swift and TLC – in quite a lot of cases it’s actually taking quite a deep, in depth dive into their musical back catalogues. Really I think it needs to come with a playlist so you can listen to the songs that are being talked about as you read the book, because unless you’re really, really into music you may get lost here unless you’ve done some prep work. I used to work at radio stations as well as watching a fair few music documentaries both general and artist specific, so I consider myself fairly well across music, and I still had to do a fair bit of googling. I have a goal to try and read more books about music and musicians – because when I do I invariably enjoy that – and this fits in to that but it’s not my favourite of the genre.

Happy Singles Day by Ann Marie Walker

Cover of Happy Singles Day

This is a sweet, fluffy holiday (by which I mean vacation not Christmas!) romance set on an island off North Carolina, with a widowed hero with a B&B he can’t face running since the death of his wife and the professional organiser who visits for an out of season holiday. Lucas is focussed on raising his daughter and ignoring the bills that are coming due – so his sister relists the B7B without telling him – until Paige is booked and on the way. When Paige arrives, she finds that her accomodation doesn’t quite match the online brochure and decides to return home. But bad weather means the ferry isn’t running and she’s stuck on the island… Nothing revelatory or surprising, but a nice fun weekend read featuring a grumpy hero, a sunny heroine, a bit of forced proximity, a cute kid and some puppies.

Flake by Matthew Dooley

Hardback copy of Flake

So this is a really genuinely charming graphic novel about an ice cream seller and his van and the rivalries and challenges he faces. Low key but remarkably emotional. It had been sat on my shelf for a few months – my friendly local comic book shop had managed to get me a copy just before her last lockdown started again and I had been saving it for a treat. And I was right that it was a treat because it was really, really good.

In case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in March were Wild Rain, Act Your Age, Eve Brown, Mrs Tim of the Regiment and Heroes are my Weakness. And here are the links to the mini reviews from January and February.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: February 2021 Mini Reviews

A bit of a strange month all in, because although I read a lot of stuff, there were a lot of series, and there weren’t a lot of books that I really liked that I haven’t already told you about. Still there are a few, so here we go again…

We Are Bellingcat by Elliot Higgins*

Cover of We Are Bellingcat

If you’re a casual news consumer you’ll probably have come across Bellingcat as a result of their investigation into the 2018 poisoning of Sergei Skripal and his daughter in Salisbury. But the open source investigation team has its roots further back – in the Arab Spring and the dawning of citizen journalism via social media. It’s an absolutely fascinating read, but a warning: if you worked in a newsroom in the period 2011-2015 (roughly) approach this book with care. I wanted to read this book because I was interested in their verification techniques, mission statement and how they work – after all my day job is in a newsroom. But reading it brought back some memories that I’d rather not think about. It’s not that the book is overly graphic – or even excessively so. But if you watched the sort of pictures they’re talking about first time around – most of which didn’t make the tv news because they were so graphic, you’ll find it coming back to you. I started at the BBC fulltime almost exactly ten years ago – and my first job was in picture intake. That first year – through the Arab Spring, Japanese Tsunami, Utoya Island, the assassination of Mummar Gaddafi – I saw so much really grim footage that I invented the Panda scale of how many times did I have to watch my video of baby pandas playing to cheer myself up. And I didn’t even get the worst of it. This brought back some of the images from that time that I thought I had forgotten. But if you’re interested in open source investigation and in how the masses of UGC (user generated content) from the conflicts of the last decade are being preserved and the hopes for how it might be used in the future- this is the book for you.

Teach Me by Olivia Dade

Cover of Teach Me

Not my first time writing about Olivia Dade – and I’ve read this series out of order – but this is a lovely romance between a newly divorced Dad and the teacher whose world history class he’s unwittingly stolen. What I really like about this whole series is that there is no stupid drama. Rose has reasons why she doesn’t trust people and why she won’t let people in. Martin has issues around his self worth. But there’s no big misunderstanding that could (should?) be resolved by a simple conversation, it’s all about two people working out if they are right for each other beyond just chemistry, and then starting to negotiate life together. And it’s very, very romantic despite – Dade is proving you don’t necessarily need high stakes drama to make a satisfying romance. And I don’t need any more angst at the moment, so this was perfect!

These two reviews have turned out to be not quite so mini as I intended, so a quick rattle through a couple of other things: I listened to the audiobook of Strong Poison for the umpteenth time – I still find the mystery incredibly satisfying and Sayers portrayal of “bohemian” writers life, the interwar craze for Spiritualism and surplus women all make for something a little out of the ordinary run of murder mysteries of the time. And that’s before you get to the fact that it is the start of Peter and Harriet. I read The Sugared Game, the second part of the Will Darling Adventures by K J Charles and it was really good and I’m annoyed that there’s no date for the final part yet – although I do have Charles’s new book (in a different series) so that is something. And I also ended up listening to The Unknown Ajax again after I found out that her next series is about smugglers! Apart from that, I read some more romances – historical and contemporary- that I had too many quibbles with to fully recommend, and I carried on with the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series.

In case you missed any of them, the Books of the Week posts in February were: Beekeepers Apprentice, Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows, Boyfriend Material and The Holdout. And January’s mini reviews are here.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups

Recommendsday: January 2021 mini reviews

In putting this post together, I realised that amidst the flood of end of year posts, I didn’t do a mini reviews for December. To be fair though, I think I had already written about pretty much everything I enjoyed. As previously discussed ad nauseam in the middle of January I had a severe case of loss of reading mojo that saw me retreat to the safety of old favourites. But before that there were a couple of books I read and wanted to mention to you.

The Hatmakers by Tamzin Merchant*

Cover of The Hatmakers

This is a delightful middle grade story about an alternative version of Britain where there are magical families of makers who each make one thing. Our heroine, Cordelia, is a hatmaker. But after her father goes missing at sea, she finds it hard to concentrate on the hat her family are meant to be making for the king. But soon she’s swept up in trying to foil a plot against her family – and the makers. I really enjoyed this. I think it would appeal to a lot of children – it’s a fast paced adventure with enough peril, but not too scary and a magical world with consistent rules that are easy to make sense off. NetGalley told me it was out in January – but Amazon tells me it’s actually out mid-February. Either way, I will buy for the middle graders in my life.

If the Boot Fits by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Cover of If the Boot Fits

I don’t know how I missed that this was meant to be a Cinderella retelling until after I had finished and I was looking at other reviews. I can only chalk that up to the fact that I just automatically put holds on Weatherspoon’s new books without even looking at the plots – she’s just that reliable at turning out great romances! Anyway this features an aspiring screenwriter, who is trapped as the PA/dogsbody to an obnoxious second generation Hollywood starlet, who hooks up with the newest Oscar-winning actor at a post-Oscars party and then accidentally takes his statuette home with her. Amanda then runs into Sam again at his family ranch, where a friend is getting married. There’s a lot of dancing around whether they want to have a relationship or just a fling, and it’s all very romantic. The denouement is fun – although I wanted a little more comeuppance for our baddie. This came out in October and should be fairly easy to get hold of on Kindle, I don’t know about the paperback.

The House on Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams*

Cover of The House on Coco Beach

This is a twisty, historical romantic suspense novel about Virginia who travels to Florida in search of answers after the death of her husband. Virginia and Simon were estranged at the time of his death and as she tries to unravel what led up to his death, the reader discovers the story of their relationship. The narrative is split between 1917 when they met while she was working as an ambulance driver in France and their subsequent romance and 1922 as the story of their romance unravels. I got more and more anxious for Virginia as the story went on and the twists kept coming, but I was pleased/happy with the resolution. I’ve written about Beatriz Williams on here before and although I didn’t like it as much as I liked Her Last Flight, it is a lot of fun. In the US this is titled just Cocoa Beach, and it’s also connected to Williams’s earlier novel A Certain Age (Virginia is the sister of one of the characters in A Certain Age) but you don’t need to have read the previous book for this to make sense (I had in fact forgotten what happened in A Certain Age and it didn’t cause me any problems). If we were going to the beach right now, it would be a great beach read. This came out a couple of years back (when I got a copy from NetGalley and promptly forgot about it) and is available on Kindle and in paperback – in the BeforeTimes I used to find physical copies of Williams’s books in the bookshops and the libraries.

Other things…

Beyond those two, there was a new Stockwell Park Orchestra book which sees the gang on tour in Germany and Belgium, I read another Inspector Littlejohn (which wasn’t my favourite but was still good), And I finally finished the San Andreas Shifters series – which is Gail Carriger writing as G L Carriger and follows a gay werewolf pack and their friends/hangers on in modern day (but with supernatural creatures) California. I’d been saving the last full length novel for a time of need and was reminded that I had it waiting when Miss Gail’s author newsletter flagged that there was a new short story in the series out. So I read them both.

If you missed the Book of the Week picks from January, they were You Should See Me in a Crown, How Nell Scored, The House in the Cerulean Sea, Bag Man and Rex Lee, Gypsy Flyer. I also wrote about Amelia Peabody, some tv picks and my favourite books of last year.

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