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!

book round-ups, historical, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: The Happy Valley Set

For this week’s Recommendsday, a post that has been some considerable time in the making, about books set in the Happy Valley in Kenya. Now between the World Wards, this particular patch of the British Empire was somewhat notorious for being a haven for rich people living scandalous lives, with spouse swapping, drugs and murder among the real life activities that went on.  So this postis basically historical rich people problems – fiction, non-fiction and barely fictionalised.  Given the difficult state of the world at the moment, I thought that spending some time among a gang of dissolute loafers in the mid-20th century might be a bit of a change. And as most of these are fairly modern, they have an eye on the fact that colonising places is not a good idea. This is a bit of mix of fiction and non-fiction, but I think it’s a nice introduction to the subject. I’ve tried to provide a bit of a guide as to how to lay your hands on these at the moment if you are so minded, but if you want a physical copy, obviously try your local independent bookshop first to see if they can get hold of them for you – they need your money more than the conglomerates do at the moment.

Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

Cover of Spear of Summer Grass

Delilah Drummond’s family want her out of Europe after one scandal too many. She finds herself exiled to her favourite step-father’s house in Kenya.  What she finds there is a crumbling estate in a community of seething rivalries and intrigue.  Ryder White, a safari guide (of sorts), quickly catches her eye as not being quite like the rest of the colony.  But when an act of violence happens, will Delilah stick to her plan to leaving as soon as possible or has she discovered someone – or somewhere – that she can’t leave behind? I’ve written about Deanna Raybourn before – you can find posts about Veronica Speedwell here and here – but this is one of her standalone novels and as far as this post goes it is firmly in the fiction camp – I don’t think there are any real people here – but is clearly inspired by in what was really going on in colonial Kenya and what the Brits out there got up to. Delilah is engaging but self destructive and you spend a lot of time while reading it hoping that she doesn’t screw this up for herself.  I could happily have read another 100 pages. This one has the bonus of being on Kindle Unlimited at the moment – or £1.49 to buy on Kindle or Kobo.

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen

Cover of Love and Death Among the Cheetahs

This is the thirteenth instalment in the Royal Spyness series and sees Georgie and her new husband honeymooning in Kenya’s Happy Valley. Now while I wouldn’t recommend starting the series here (you’ll miss all the drama in Georgie’s love life if you do), it would make a gentle introduction to the Happy Valley set. I thought Rhys Bowen did a really good job of writing about life in that little set while keeping it within the bounds of what regular readers of her series expect – which is not really sex and swingers.  While the antics might have been eye opening for Georgie, they were actually fairly subtle compared to some of what actually went on. This one is not cheap at the moment as it is the latest in the series and only out in hardback and ebook. The Kindle is £9.99 or £9.49 on Kobo, but I expect that might drop a little when the paperback comes out in July.

Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

Cover of The Ashford Affair

I’ve written before about how much I liked Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, but she also does a very good line in standalone novels. This is a time-slip novel with dual narratives – one in the 1920s, the other in 1999.  Lawyer Clemmie finds herself poking around in her family’s history after a relative drops hints about a family secret at her grandmother’s 99th birthday party. It’s got Great War-era British high society, a grand country house, Kenya and modern day (ish!) Manhattan. I read it a couple of years back and liked it a lot – Ihink I even got a bit teary-eyed at the conclusioN.  You’ll find some similar themes here to the previous two but with the added bonus of more Britain in it – if you think that’s a bonus. This is an astonishing £10.44 on Kindle at the moment or a slightly better but still quite pricey £7.55 on Kobo. There are third party sellers on Amazon with secondhand hardback copies at a more sensible price though.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Cover of Circling the Sun

This is Happy Valley adjacent: a fictionalised version of the real-life story of Beryl Markham, who had an unconventional upbringing in Kenya and went on to be the first woman to break into several male dominated areas – the first to get a horse trainer’s licence, the first to get a pilot’s B Licence. But for all the independence of spirit that her Kenyan upbringing gave her, she struggled with relationships – and being entangled in the upper class expat crowd in Kenya (including the Happy Valley set) did not make for a peaceful, happy or harmonious personal life.  When I read it a couple of years ago, I thought enjoyed it, liked that didn’t feel like it was judging her – but it wasn’t entirely satisfying, mostly because I felt like I was missing some key background – I think the author assumed that everyone has read (or knows about) Out of Africa (which I hadn’t at the time) so I was sometimes at sea with the complicated comings and goings of Karen Blixen and her crowd. This one is a few years old now as well so it’s £2.99 on Kindle or Kobo or Amazon have the paperback for £3.99.

The Bolter by Frances Osbourne

Paperback copy of the Bolter

The only proper non-fiction book on this list and this is on the bibliography at the end of the aforementioned Love and Death Among the Cheetahs because the titular Bolter – Idina Sackville – plays a role in the novel. This was my first introduction to the Happy Valley set back in my pre-Goodreads days, soon after it came out, and is still on my shelves (as the photo proves!).  The author is the subject’s great-granddaughter and makes use of family papers to tell Idina’s story.  Perhaps for that reason its not quite as salacious as you might expect, especially given that its subject was the inspiration for The Bolter in Nancy Mitford’s novels.  The Temptress by Paul Spicer looks at the Valley’s other Femme Fatale – Alice de Janze – I liked it but I didn’t think it was as successful as the Bolter, and felt more interested in the murder of the Earl of Errol at times than it was in Alice herself. This one is £4.99 on Kindle and Kobo, but I’ve seen second-hand copies in the charity shops around here fairly regularly if you can wait until they reopen.

Miscellaneous bits and bobs

The classic book in this area is obviously Isak Dinesen/Karen Blitzen’s Out of Africa. I’ve read it and I can see why it was such a big deal – and if you read all of these and are super keen on the subject, it’s definitely worth reading, but its not necessarily the easiest going and I preferred some of the others.

In the course of writing this and looking for other options I read Kat Gordon’s An Unsuitable Woman, which fell into the good in principle but not as good in the execution. This one features a young boy who goes out to Kenya with his family and gets caught up in a group of people inspired by the Happy Valley set. It’s got a readable style, but I wasn’t quite sure where it was going for most of the book – and couldn’t understand why the Scandalous Set took a 14-year-old boy into their gang to start with. And it had a really sudden plot development near the end that didn’t have enough time to properly play out. But if you’ve read all the rest of these and want some more – it’s an option!

Happy Reading!


		
book round-ups, books

Surviving Coronavirus: Escapist Fiction for Difficult Times

It may not have escaped your notice that times are somewhat stressful at the moment. A lot stressful. And life in the newsroom means that I can’t exactly ignore what’s happening in the world at any given time. Never have I been more glad that I stopped reading dystopian future novels a few years back. I’ve explained before that newsroom life is why I read a lot of romances and mysteries even in normal times – but that is even more true now – as recent Week in Books posts atest. Romance novels and mysteries both have a pact with the reader going in –  in a romance you’ll get a Happily Ever After (or a bare mininum Happy for Now if you’re reading New Adult or something with teen protagonists) and in mysteries the bad guys will get caught. But in uncertain times, rereading old favourites can also  help. So here are a few recommendations from me for fiction to help you out if you’re feeling a bit anxious.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

paperback copy of Heartburn by Nora Ephron

If you like Ephron’s films like When Harry Met Sally (and to be fair any other rom coms of that type) and you haven’t read Heartburn – then what are you doing? Heartburn is a fictionalised version of the break-up of Ephron’s second marriage – Rachel is seven-months pregnant when she finds out her husband is in love with another woman. Now if that sounds like an unpromising start to a novel to cheer you up, bear with me. This is so, so funny. Rachel can’t decide if she wants her ex back or wants him dead, and in between there is some great cooking. When I was asking Twitter last week for recommendations to cheer me up, this one was suggested and it reminded me how much fun it is – I read it in paperback seven years ago and still have my copy – and regular readers will know that not all books last that long on my shelves…

Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Well-loved copy of Venetia with other Heyer books behind it

I have written an authors I love post about Heyer before – but it’s over my statute of limitations, so I feel justified in recommending Venetia again and more fully here. One of my favourite tropes in historical romance is the reformed rake and this is the uber example of the genre. Damerel has been breaking rules and shocking society ever since he ran off with someone else’s wife when he was just out of university. Venetia lives on the neighbouring estate to the ancestral home that he’s been avoiding since time immemorial. She’s feisty and independent and has been running the household for her older brother who is away in the Napoleonic Wars. When he does return home and runs into her, he’s fascinated – against his will – but it turns out she’s more than a match for him.  It’s romantic but it’s also funny – Damerel and Venetia spar with each other delightfully but there’s also a cast of secondary characters that are made for comic moments. I love this so much I have it as an audiobook as well. Just joyous.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Cover of Eligivle by Curtis Sittenfeld

I love Pride and Prejudice, but if you’ve already reread that and watched your favourite of the adaptations, this might be the book for you. Sittenfeld moves the story to contemporary Cincinnati and updates the story accordingly. Bingley is a doctor from a wealthy family who became famous on a TV show similar to The Bachelor, Darcy is a neurosurgeon (and anyone who’s watched Greys Anatomy knows about the egos there) the Bennets are a trustfund family running out of cash: Jane is a yoga instructor, Lizzy a journalist for a women’s magazine, Kitty and Lydia are heavily into Crossfit. The update works, the dialogue is witty, there’s hate sex and reality TV and it’s really funny. I’ve read a lot of P&P retellings and continuations and I think this is still my favourite. It was one of my favourite books of the year back in 2016, but I’m counting it as over the statute of limitations because I think it might be what you need at the moment. In picking it up off the shelf (one of the downstairs ones because I like it handy) it’s made me want to read it all over again – although my copy is a big format paperback advance copy, so it’s also made me wonder about buying its on kindle too, because that’s where my head is at at the moment.

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

Copy of Diary of a Provincial Lady - also in front of the Heyers, including Venetia

The Provincial Lady lives in Devon, in a nice house, with a nice husband and (mostly) nice children. Her husband is not a vicar, but if you’ve ever watched the Joan Hickson Miss Marples, she’s a bit like Griselda in Murder at the Vicarage – there’s an image that she needs to live up to, but how does everyone else make it look so easy? Written in the 1930s, it’s wickedly funny and very low stakes and sufficiently different from the reality of day to day life at the moment that I think it makes a lovely escape that doesn’t make you wish about what could have been.  And if you read this and like it, there are sequels – my paperback is an omnibus, which is great, but did mean that I couldn’t justify buying the pretty Virago designer hardback with the Cath Kidston print cover.  Angela Thirkell does a similar thing in her Barsetshire series – the trials and tribulations of various bits of the not quite gentry in the interwar period. And if you want less housekeeping and more village scandal, then try Miss Buncle’s Book by D E Stevenson – in which an unmarried lady discovers that her income is drying up and turns to writing fiction to make some money. Trouble is, that the book she writes is based on her village…

And as well as all of these, there are a few others that I’ve written about within the statute of limitations for a repost that you might really quite like, for example:

To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski – need an antiheroine in your life? Meet Dreadful Deborah who can rationalise whatever awful thing she wants to do in her quest for a glamourous bohemian life in wartime Britain while her husband is on a posting to Cairo.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – need some Old Hollywood glamour and scandal? I’ve talked a lot about Daisy Jones and the Six, but this should also not be ignored. Evelyn is a reclusive Hollywood star who grants rare interview to a junior reporter at a magazine – and stipulates that she will only do the interview if it was with her. It turns out that what she really wants is for Monique to write her biography – it’s the opportunity for a life time for Monique but why has Evelyn picked her? Oh and it’s 99p on Kindle at the moment!

And writing this post has made me realise that there are a whole bunch of series that I love that I have not yet written about – and that’s really perked me up and given me some stuff to reread and write about!

Happy Reading – and stay safe.

 

book round-ups

Mini Reviews from March

Such a weird month. As I’ve already said, so much has changed in such a short period of time. And yet March seems to have gone on forever at the same time. Long, like January was long, except it didn’t come to an end and we’re still living in the new world. And my reading has gone a bit to pot. Urgh. Also I wrote about quite a lot already. Anyway. There was enough left that I hadn’t already wittered on about that I can carry on my series of mini reviews from March, even if it’s not a #recommendsday post this time!. Voila:

Open Book by Jessica Simpson

Cover of Open Book by Jessica Simpson

OK so one of my main takeaways from this was that Jessica Simpson has terrible taste in men – but this is a ride and a half. If you’re of an age with me, then there’s some serious blast from the past inside early 00s pop music here as well as some seriously ditzy and Valley Girl behaviour. I watched some Newly Weds back in the day and either she was doing a very good act or her ghost writer has done a really good job on this. There’s also a lot of God and religion along with a lot of evidence of those really awful men in her life – her dad is terrible and her boyfriend choices were also not great. I really hope her second husband is everything she thinks he is. Trigger warning though – this deals with alcoholism.

Aunty Lee’s Chilled Revenge by Ovidia Yu

Cover of Aunty Lee's Chilled Revenge

I’ve written about Ovidia Yu‘s Singaporean-set murder mystery series before, but it continues to delight me, even if I had the murderer figured out quite early on. This sees Aunty Lee hobbled by a twisted ankle and fending off attempts from her daughter-in-law to take over the restaurant at the same time as investigating the death of a British expat who had caused problems for Aunty Lee’s assistant Cherril in the past. This has got a message about the perils of internet witch hunts and social media pile-ons as well. 

Love and Other Scandals by Caroline Linden

Cover of Love and Othe Scandals

Not a lot of historical romance recommendations here recently, so I wanted to drop one in here. This is a brother’s disreputable friend and Society Wallflower story and it’s a lot of fun. The relationship is a nice animosity to friends to lovers with a slowish burn and there is no unnecessary drama to keep them apart by doing stupid things. I enjoyed it. It would be a good read for those seeking to avoid high angst at the moment!

So there you are – three more book reccs to help keep you going through this current moment. And of course there’s also all the other books from last month: Legendary Children, Murder by Matchlight (and Murder in the Mill-race), Love Hard, You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams, Answer in the Negative and American Sweethearts.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from February

Yes, this was meant to go up last week. I did say the week got away from me a bit… anyway, it’s here now.  Only a couple this time because February was a short month, but I am trying to make this a regular thing this year, so I didn’t want to fall down on month two. If you missed January’s mini reviews, you can find them here.

World of Wolf Hall 

The Mirror and the Light is now in the shops but if you’ve forgotten what happened in the first two, this kindle freebie (which I’ve also saw in actual paperback in Foyles, but no idea how much it costs/how to qualify for one) recaps the events so far, the cast of characters, the world and some key themes and reader questions. It’s slight, but if it’s been a while since you’ve read the first two parts then it’s a nice reminder. I’m still conflicted about whether to buy this in hardcover (I love the cover, I prefer to read these on paper) or in ebook (so much lighter, but so much easier to ignore in favour of romances). I’ll keep you posted.

Meat Cute by Gail Carriger

This is definitely not the place to start the series, but this is the long wished for prequel that tells the story of the infamous hedgehog episode where Alexia Tarabotti (heroine of the Parasol Protectorate series) meets Conall Maccon. If you’re a fan of this does everything you’re hoping for, and a little bit more! If you’re not yet a fan, I have a lot of posts about my love for Gail Carriger’s steampunk world. My advice is start with Soulless and go from there.

Case of the Drowned Pearl by Robin Stevens

There’s still a few months to go before the final (sniff) full-length book in the series comes out, but there’s a Wells and Wong short for World Book Day. The Case of the Drowned Pearl sees the Detective Society and the Junior Pinkertons on a seaside holiday with Daisy’s Uncle Felix. Again, probably not the place to start the series, but it’s a lot of fun. The mystery is clever and Olympic-themed and I loved Hazel’s reaction to the British seaside. This has some Daisy PoV stuff too, which is always nice. Do start at the beginning with these too – and if you haven’t already bought them for the middle-grader in your life, why not?

So there you go, three slightly belated mini reviews for other stuff that I read in February. I bought all of my copies of these (except for the free one but you know what I mean) so you should be able to get all of them fairly easily – although you might want to rush if you want a physical copy of the Robin Stevens.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, holiday reading

What I read on my holiday: January 2020 edition

As you’ll have seen from this week’s Week in Books I was on holiday last week and read a lot.  Now I’ve already written about Lucy Parker’s Headliners as Book of the Week, but I wanted to do some mini-reviews of some of the others as well.  There are some that I loved, and some that I could see were very good – but just not quite for me, so I wanted to give them a mention too.

If I never Met You by Mhairi McFarlane*

Cover of If I Never Met You

Mhairi McFarlane has been a BotW pick before (after my birthday holiday a year ago in fact!), and once again I really, really enjoyed this. Laurie’s longterm boyfriend breaks up with her out of the blue at the start of this book, leaving her life in turmoil – not only do they live together, but they work together and it’s all a bit unbearable.  After getting stuck in a broken down elevator with the office playboy he makes a proposal: he needs a serious girlfriend to convince the bosses that he’s serious about his job – she needs the rumour mill to find something else to talk about other than her break-up.  Soon they’re posting pictures of their new relationship on social media – much to the astonishment of their co-workers.  But what is the price they’re going to have to pay for their deception – and is Laurie getting a little bit too attached to a man who says he doesn’t believe in love?  I was a little worried at the start that it was going to be a bit gloomy, because Laurie’s breakup was really, really bleak – and being pretty near her age, I could really empathise with her. But once the fauxmance plot got underway, it was really, really great. I was worried that the resolution wouldn’t be satisfying enough, but actually this was really neat. And for those of you who like a heroine who is older than the hero, this has that for you too!

How to be a Footballer by Peter Crouch

How to be a Footballer on a sun lounger

This was Him Indoors’s top airport bookshop pick. I wasn’t expecting to read it, because even though I like football (I was the first female voiceover on UEFA.com don’t you know!) I don’t really read footballer memoirs.  But then he laughed so much at it and read me so many bits from it that I just had to read it too.  And it’s really good. Crouch has had a really interesting career, knows that he’s not a typical footballer (his build, his skills, his career trajectory) and is very funny.  It’s written with Tom Fordyce and I don’t know how that arrangement worked, but the end product sounds very Peter Crouch, and also not at all what you’d expect from a footballer’s book. One to add to the list of books to buy to give as gifts too.

Xeni by Rebekah Weatherspoon

Cover of Xeni

This is modern take on the marriage of convenience trope – which I love in historical romance but is hard to pull off often in contemporary. But never fear, Rebekah Weatherspoon has done it! Xeni Everly-Wilkins is in upstate New York to clear out her recently departed aunt’s massive house. But when Sable’s will is read, family secrets spill out and in order for Xeni to claim her inheritance, she has to marry. Her aunt has even picked out the man: Mason McInroy. Sable was a mentor to him, and had promised to leave him some money to pay off the debt that made him leave Scotland, but she didn’t tell Mason about the conditions. Xeni and Mason decide to marry for the money and then divorce as soon as they can. But when it turns into a friends with benefits type relationship, will they actually want to break up? The dialogue is great, the hero is plus-sized, they’re both bi-sexual and the relationship is steamy and a little bit kinky. This is probably the most explicit on the page romance I’ve recommended in a while – it will make you blush – a lot – if you read it in public. I raced through this and could have read another 100 pages with Xeni and Mason.

The Doll Factory by Elizabeth MacNeal*

Cover of The Doll Factory

Creepy, atmospheric and not entirely my sort of book but very well written. I found the juxtaposition between the two threads of the story annoying more than anything else and I was much more interested in one side of the story than the other and that influenced my reading experience.  I also wanted a more definite resolution but that’s fairly common with me – and if you’re a regular here, you’ve heard me complain about that sort of thing before.

The Butterfly Bride by Vanessa Riley*

Cover of the Butterfly Bride

I think Vanessa Riley may just be too melodramatic for me. I like the premise of this – illegitimate daughter of duke wants to be married off by Christmas so she can be independent – but I just don’t like it in the execution.  I’ve had the same experience with the previous books in the series, but the blurbs are always so intriguing and so I keep coming back again. I think I just like a bit more humour and a bit less angst in my romances. But if you do like the drama, this has all you could want to keep you turning the pages and is well written to boot.

So there you have it. Four books from my holiday reading selection for your consideration. They’re all out now and should be easily available from all the usual sources – although The Butterfly Bride is probably a special order situation in the UK if you want a physical copy. The paperback edition of The Doll Factory is out in March and should be preorderable.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, non-fiction

New Year, New You

A Friday bonus post for you.  Back in the autumn I started thinking about what I might write for New Year this year and realised that I hate New Year’s Resolutions posts because they never feel natural and they add an extra level of guilt and obligation to my reading that I just don’t need. So instead of a resolutions post, but still in the spirit of new beginnings, I thought I’d write about some self-help/self-improvement books that I have read.  Which meant I had to read some. And so I embarked on some reading.

This is not a genre that I read a lot – I have a low tolerance for inspirational stuff, but I try and keep an open mind. And trying to grow and improve yourself is good, and so in the interests of you, dear Reader, I did it.  Here is what I discovered: I am really not a good candidate for self help books.  They make me really quite angry quite easily.  And it seems that as a person in a relationship but without children, a lot of them really don’t apply to me.  But here were are, I’ve done the reading so you don’t have to. Lets start with the bad…

Most Unintentionally Depressing: Fair Play by Eve Rodsky

Cover of Fair Play

My main takeaway from this was that finding a decent man in America must be a garbage fire. This book claims to be “a revolutionary, real-world solution to the problem of unpaid, invisible work that women have shouldered for too long.” What it actually is is a way to gamify domestic labour that you trick your other half into playing with you. I had high hopes for this because it was a Reese Witherspoon book club pick and her fiction picks have always been interesting, but hooo boy.  It’s definitely true that women have greater expectations placed on them by external and internal forces when it comes to running a household, but this feels like the marriage equivalent of a dating manual that advises you to trick your potential spouse.  And despite what the blurb would have you think, it also only really applies to hetero-normative relationships with kids.  And only then if you’re prepared to treat your partner like a child – which to be honest isn’t the relationship that I aspire to.  I prefer to share my life with someone I can talk to like an adult about problems and, if you believe the author, it seems most men in the US can’t have a sensible conversation about shared workload and need to be tricked and gamed into doing their share.

Most Irritating: Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Cover of Girl, Wash Your Face

I’m going to chalk this up to a lack of research on my part.  My library suggested this to me (I can’t remember why) and knowing I was going to write this post I read the blurb and thought it sounded worth a try and got myself on the hold list.  It came in just in time to read for this post more is the pity. Per the Goodreads entry “With wry wit and hard-earned wisdom, popular online personality and founder of TheChicSite.com founder Rachel Hollis helps readers break free from the lies keeping them from the joy-filled and exuberant life they are meant to have.” So far so good – but the bit I didn’t clock properly was at the end: “With unflinching faith and tenacity, Hollis spurs other women to live with passion and hustle and to awaken their slumbering goals.”  The key word there being faith.  There’s a lot of God and knowing that God has plans for your life and your journey in this, and that was not what I was looking for.  There’s also a lot of American therapy speak that always makes my skin itch and big sections of the book are about juggling a job and kids. To be fair though, her relationship does sound a bit better balanced than the ones in Fair Play – so maybe not all American men are awful.

And now for the good…

Most Reassuring: The Likeability Trap by Alicia Menendez

Cover of The Likeability Trap

Journalist Alicia Menendez examines the concept of likeability and why women either are perceived as cold but strong or warm but weak and why this is outdated and how to fight against it. I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this, but it turned out to be useful, reassuring and quite practical. I’m not sure how many things I’ll be able to implement in my life, but it definitely felt like someone with similar experiences and feelings to me was giving me advice.  And as we go into a US Presidential election year, it’s really interesting to take a deep dive into the notion of female likeability so you know what you’re looking for in the commentary on the women in the running for the nomination and the presidency.

Most practical: The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo

Cover of Making of a Manager

Julie Zhuo was an early hire at Facebook and at 25 found herself managing a team of designers.  As the company grew, so did the number of people she was managing.  In The Making of a Manager she discusses the perils and pitfalls of becoming a manager and offers helpful advice for how to avoid them.  I actually found this the most useful of the lot.  Not everything she talks about applies to the job that I do, but enough did that I started making notes.  And although she works in tech and draws her examples from her own experience, it doesn’t feel like you’re being lectured by a Facebook zealot and it felt like she’d worked hard to make her advice applicable to most sorts of teams and workplaces and so I think almost anyone who manages people  could get something out of this.

So there you have it.  I think on balance I got enough from the good books to make up for the bad bits, but next time I do this (if there is a next time!) I’m going to pay better attention to the blurbs and try and decode things a bit better. Also maybe stop reading the stuff I don’t like before it makes me ragey.  Three of these came from the library (hello again themes of my 2019 obsessions) but The Making of a Manager came from NetGalley.

Until Monday – Happy Reading!

book round-ups, reviews

My 2018 Obsessions – Revisited

Welcome to my annual revisit of last year’s obsessions to see what has endured – or not. You can find last year’s obsessions post here – and last year’s revisited post here.  Coming tomorrow is a look at this year’s newly acquired obsessions.

The Kinsey Milhone series by Sue Grafton

I still haven’t finished this series.  I love them – and I don’t want them to be over.  I’m slowly reading V for Vendetta – but trying to make it last because this really is a case where when it’s done, it’s done.  And I still haven’t found another series that does anything similar for me – I don’t like Katy Munger’s Casey Jones books anywhere near as much and I find it hard to work out what to search for when looking for similar books – Goodreads gives me Janet Evanovich (been there, read all those!), Dick Francis, a weird selection of older cozy crimes (mostly really quite hard to get even if they did appeal) and then books that have covers that look way too dark and violent for me.  Suggestions in the comments please – help a girl out.

The Charles Paris series by Simon Brett

I’ve finished this series off now and listened to all the radio dramatisations too.  I find Charles such an engagingly flawed hero.  He never really learns or changes and you know he’s going to drink too much and mess it up with his (estranged) wife again, but he’s just so charming while he does it – especially when voiced by Bill Nighy.  I’ve started on another of Brett’s series now – Mrs Pargitter, but I don’t like them quite as much so I’m reading them a little bit slower than I did these.  And again – this is another case where I struggle to find anything similar, because I don’t know what I’m searching for.  The Flaxborough series are a similar vintage, but not similarly funny (and I’ve read them all anyway) and they’re cozy crime, but they’re comedy cozy crime. Again – suggestions in the comments, I need some more light relief!

Cat Sebastian

Well.  Having glommed on Cat Sebastian last year, all I could really do was read her new books – and I’ve done that.  I mentioned last year that her first “traditional” m/f romance was due out in 2019 but A Duke in Disguise was more than that – yes it’s the first book that she’s done with a “traditional” male/female pairing, but to reduce this book to that is to underplay what Sebastian is trying to do. This is a clever subversive romance which doesn’t focus on the world of the ton (although they do appear and the nobility plays a role) with feisty, smart, sexually experienced heroine and a neurodiverse, virgin hero. Total catnip right? I hope it’ll tempt readers who haven’t yet read Sebastian because they “don’t do” LGTBQI+ romances to try Sebastian’s work and see what they’re missing out on.  It made it into my favourites of the year so far in June – you’ll have to wait and see if it’s made the end of year list – but it really was a cracker.  I’ve tried to expand my romance reading into more authors writing LGTBQI+ stories this year because I liked her novels so much and it’s been great.