reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

A really, really easy decision about what to pick for BotW this week, but I’m ashamed to say that my copy of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo had been sitting on my Kindle for more than 18 months before I finally got around to reading it.  It was one of those occasions where I requested something from NetGalley, with eyes too big for my reading time and it got lost in the backlog.  And the NetGalley backlog is huge.  One of my aims for the year is to solve that.  We’ll see if that happens, but certainly the attempt has turned up a real gem.

The cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Evelyn Hugo was a huge star in her day, but these days she’s pretty much a recluse.  So when Monique Grant is sent out to do an interview with her it’s a big deal.  A massive deal.  And Hugo would only talk to Monique – but why?  Monique is a virtual unknown – a junior reporter at a magazine – and she’s as clueless as everyone else about why Hugo has picked her.  And when Monique arrives to do the interview, Evelyn has a different proposal for her – she doesn’t want to give an interview, she wants Monique to write her biography – she wants to tell Monique the stories and secrets behind her career and her seven marriages.  Monique’s marriage has just broken up and she’s looking to rebuild, so she takes the job.  Soon she’s spending her days listening to Evelyn telling the story of her rise to stardom – from her childhood in poverty in New York to the top of the Hollywood tree.  It’s no holds barred – the domestic abuse, the Hollywood catfighting, backbiting and machinations – and the truth about who was the love of Evelyn’s life.  And Monique finds herself warming to Evelyn, even though the story she’s telling isn’t always pretty or nice and Evelyn doesn’t always come out of it in the best light.  But still she wonders, why was she picked to be the one to tell it.  But as Evelyn’s story goes on, it becomes clear that there’s a purpose to all of this – and somewhere Evelyn’s life is linked to Monique’s.

And I’m not prepared to say any more about the plot than that.  I’ve checked the blurb and I don’t think I’ve given away too much beyond what’s there.  And that’s because Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel is best discovered blind.  I hadn’t checked goodreads or read any reviews when I went in, so I didn’t know any of the twists and turns that were ahead of me and I think if I had, it would have been a real shame.  But that does mean it’s hard to explain how clever this novel is.  It is a totally page-turning book – the sort of thing you could sit and read on a sun-lounger all day without being bored (if you can read slow enough) but it’s also a very smart look at the world we live in.

Evelyn is a Cuban-America and as she rises up through the Hollywood machine you see the challenges that she faces as a woman and as a Latina and to be herself.  She’s constantly having to change, to tone-down or hide aspects of herself in order to be acceptable and accepted and successful.  But it’s so well written that it’s only afterwards you realise how much social commentary is in there. It’s good and it’s very, very clever. I’ve also gone down a few Google and Wikipedia rabbit holes since finishing this, trying to work out which bits of Evelyn’s story are based on which real life Hollywood stars. I can’t tell you my conclusions though because it’ll give too much away. Sorry, not sorry.

My copy came from Netgalley an age ago, which means this is out in paperback now as well as on Kindle and Kobo. I’m hoping it should be relatively easy to find in an actual bookshop too. Taylor Jenkins Reid has a new book out shortly – which I mentioned in my anticipated books post (my excitement about this has only increased after reading this!) on New Year’s Day – so keep an eye out for that too!

Happy reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Anyone for Seconds

This week’s BotW is the new Laurie Graham, which managed to sneak into the world without me noticing.  At least I noticed it just after it was released, so I’m only posting this 12 days after release.  Anyway, regular readers of this blog will be aware of my long-standing love for Laurie Graham’s books. Gone with the Windsors is one of my all-time favourites – and I consider it (and her) an under-appreciated gem.  Her last book, The Early Birds was a Reccommendsday pick last year and The Grand Duchess of Nowhere was one of the first books that I reviewed for Novelicious back in the day. I have most of her books as actual books and they live on my downstairs bookshelf (for easy access) and I have all the ones I don’t have physical copies of on ebook.  And a couple of them as both.  I even have two paperback copies of Gone with the Windsors.  Ahem.

Cover of Anyone for Seconds

Anyway, at the start of Anyone for Seconds, former TV chef Lizzie Partridge runs away from home in a desperate bid for sympathy and attention.  She’s fed up of her life – she’s the wrong side of sixty and ever since she lost her TV gig, after throwing chocolate mousse at the presenter of Midlands This Morning, nothing seems to have gone her way.  Her partner has left her, her mother is driving her mad, she doesn’t seem to ahve anything in common with her high-power lawyer daughter – and now her last bit of work (a magazine cookery column) has been axed as well.  Over the course of her wet week in off-season  Aberystwyth, she has a bit of an epiphany and starts to think there might be a new future in the offing.  Then her nephew’s TV producer girlfriend comes up with the idea of reuniting her with her former nemesis for a new TV show.  Is Lizzie’s life looking up?

Lizzie’s earlier adventures, leading up to the infamous mousse incident, are the subject of one of Graham’s earlier books, Perfect Meringues, which came out 21 years ago.  Those days were the tail end of the era when local TV news could make you into a big star – my local bulletin used to have its own chef, who I think did a good line in cookery demonstrations to WIs across the East of England  At any rate I’m fairly sure one (maybe two) of the recipes I copied out of my mum’s cookbook when I was first getting into cooking came from one he did for the Northampton Federation.  And pretty much every year at panto season you’ll spot a semi-familiar face on a poster who’s still managing to live off their local TV fame of yesteryear.  And this makes Lizzie and her friend Louie’s adventures terribly believable and very, very funny.

I read this book as my treat for my weekend working train journeys and it was an absolute delight.  Graham has a brilliant eye for the ridiculous and manages to skewer this sort of fading fame very well.  And Lizzie’s inner voice is pure Graham – funny, dark, sarcastic and with an observant eye on others, but not as much self-awareness as she thinks.  I could have read pages more of the exploits of Lizzie and her friends – there are definitely a few things left not as resolved as I could have wanted.  There aren’t enough books with leading ladies who are over 60, and Lizzie is definitely not a fading old lady in a twinset and pearls. She’s spunky and fun and not done with life and love yet – and anyway she hasn’t got a bank balance to sit back and retire.  And even if she had, her mother wouldn’t let her and, after all what would she do – her daughter doesn’t want Lizzie’s help as she raises her gender-neutral, sugar-free future genius son.  This was perfect book to beat my end of summer blues.

My copy of Anyone for Seconds came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback, Kindle and Kobo.  I have no idea how easy it will be to find in bookshops – but you should be able to order it and I definitely encourage you to check out Graham’s books.  If you want to read Perfect Meringues first, it’s on Kindle and Kobo for £3.99 which seems to be about the standard price for all of Graham’s books at the moment – except for this new one.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, historical, new releases, reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Old Baggage

This week’s Book of the Week is Lissa Evans’s new novel – which is appropriate because it comes out on Thursday! You may remember that one of her previous books, Crooked Heart, was a Book of the Week just under 18 months ago so I was thrilled to spot this one on NetGalley and be able to pick it up.  You don’t need to have read Crooked Heart to read this – but if you have I think it will add an extra layer to your enjoyment.

The cover of Old Baggage by Lissa Evans

Old Baggage is the story of Matilda.  Before the war, she was a suffragette and her life revolved around the quest to get women the vote.  Now it’s 1928 and women are about to get parity – the vote on the same terms as men.  Mattie is pleased but she doesn’t think the battle is over.  Unfortunately no-one else seems to agree with her and she’s rather at sea trying to figure out what she should do next.  The book follows Mattie as she searches for a new mission – with her loyal friend Florrie Lee (known as The Flea) supporting her and trying to be a calming influence.  Along the way she encounters old friends who’ve faced a similar dilemma and is stung by a criticism from one of them, who is trying to recruit Mattie to help with her facist youth group, that she is just a dabbler.  And so she sets up a rival group – to try and educate young women about why they take an interest and get involved in causes that they believe in – or that Mattie thinks that they should believe in.

I really liked Mattie as a character – she’d be a nightmare to be friends with because you’d never get a word in edgeways and she would always tell you if she disagreed with you and go into details about why – but she’s fascinating to read about.  For all her talk of being sensible and levelheaded, she has some very real blindspots.  She’s definitely on the right side of history but she’s not always going about it in the right way.  And when she picks the wrong person to try and take under her wing, it puts everything that she’s worked for at risk.  On top of this, Mattie’s history with the suffragettes – her confrontations with police, her time in prison etc – often means that there are people who aren’t prepared to listen to her or take her seriously.  It almost goes without saying, but the title of this book is so clever and well chosen – Mattie has a lot of baggage from her suffragette days but a lot of people see her as an old baggage – a nuisance of an old woman, out of touch and past her prime.

I also really liked the Flea – for all Mattie’s talk and noble aims, it’s Florrie who is out there in the real world trying to do something to make a difference on a day to day basis.  She’s the sensible counterpoint to Mattie’s idealist and shows that you need the quiet organisers behind the scenes to get things done as well as the people on the frontline.  And Ida, one of the young women who is drawn into Mattie and Florrie’s orbit, is an interesting character in her own right and not just a plot device for showing the strengths and weaknesses of Mattie and Florrie.

It’s 100 years this year since some women in Britain got the vote and a lot has been written about the Suffrage and Suffragette movements.  There’s a stack of new books out this year – and I’ve got many of them on my to-buy list – many of them non-fiction.  But sometimes the situation calls for some fiction too and Old Baggage reminds us – in a very readable and compelling way – that the fight didn’t end in 1918 and takes a very plausible (in my view) look at what might have happened next to some of the women whose lives had revolved around trying to get the vote before the start of World War One.  Evans has used a very light hand when it comes to the flashbacks of the realities of Mattie’s life as a suffragette – I could have read pages more about it. 

I may not have read much last week in the grand scheme of things, but I think this would probably have been my BotW pick even if I’d read a dozen books.  It’s not onle massively readable – I raced through it and wished that I could have been disciplined enough to make it last longer – but it makes you think and gives you things to chew over long after you’ve finished reading it.  As I mentioned at the top, my copy was an e-galley – so it’s also going on my to-buy list because I know that my mum and my sister will really enjoy this.

Old Baggage is out in hardback on the 14th – you’ve still got time to preorder it and have it get to you on the day of release if you’re quick.  I hope it gets a good push at the bookshops – I’d expect it to be in all the good bookshops, but I’m not sure about the supermarkets.  I’m sure Big Green Bookshop will be happy to get it in for you, but it’s also available in Kindle and Kobo if you want an ebook.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, women's fiction

Book of the Week: In the Unlikely Event

A bit of women’s fiction for this week’s BotW pick – and I’ve gone with Judy Blume’s adult novel In the Unlikely Event. This had been sitting on my shelf for a while (it was one of the books that got lent to my mum during the great renovation of 2017) and it took me a while to get to it – and to read it – because my copy was hardback and we all know that I don’t take them on the commute with me.

Cover of In the Unlikely Event

In the Unlikely Event tells the story of the worst year of Mimi Ammerman’s life.  At the start of the book we meet her as she heads back to her home town of Elizabeth for the 35 anniversary of three plane crashes that hit her home town within a couple of months.  That was the year that she was 15 and as well as all the usual teenage angst, love affairs, school and family problems, Mimi and her friends had to deal with death falling from the sky towards them. The reader follows the community through the tumultuous period that changed all of their lives forever.

I read a lot of Judy Blume’s children’s books when I was in the right age bracket for them.  Between her and Paual Danziger my early views of what life was life in the US were formed.  From Scoliosis, to party line telephones, to periods and a lot in between, so much of what I knew about young women and teenage girls in America came from what I read in her books.  And, although she’s writing for an adult audience in this, I could feel echos of that coming through.  Mimi’s world isn’t that far different to Margaret’s but as well as seeing the world through her eyes, we also see it through the eyes of some of the adults around her and some of the older teenagers.  And it’s engrossing.  I particularly liked the newspaper articles written by Mimi’s uncle Henry.  They really set the scene for what’s happening and present the official point of view that Mimi doesn’t really see.

It is a book about three plane crashes happening though – but although I had to take some breaks from reading it, it wasn’t as bad as some of the other books about tragedies that I’ve read.  Definitely cope-able with.  And lots of you out there probably won’t even have to take breaks – I’m just a bit of a wuss.  I hadn’t really realised when I started reading this that the three plane crashes in Elizabeth actually happened.  Or if I had, I’d forgotten.  And I found out midway through wen I went googling because it seemed almost too implausible.  At university I did a History and Literature module, and my final essay question was “Literature has to be plausible, history only has to be true.  Discuss”.  If I was writing that essay now, this book would definitely be getting a mention.

Anyway, this was a really interesting read and I know I’ll be lending it on to other people.  I can’t remember exactly where I got my copy from – it was either the magic bookshelf at work or from one of the work booksales – but because I’ve had it for so long it’s been out in paperback for a couple of years nearly.  You should be able to get hold of it from any good sided bookshop or all the usual suspects – as well as on Kindle or Kobo.  As is traditional, I suggest buying from the Big Green Bookshop – they’ll post it out to you and have been running a really lovely “Buy a Stranger a Book” twitter campaign on Wednesdays that will gladden your heart.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, holiday reading, reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

Hello and welcome to another BotW post – this week we’re in saga territory with Sophie Green’s The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club, which came out at the start of last month, but which I only got time to sit down properly to 10 days ago.  It was nearly BotW last week, but I didn’t finish it until Monday morning after my weekend at work and so I got to save it!  And after last week’s pick celebrated female friendship for middle grade readers, this does the same for grown ups.

The cover of The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club

The Inaugural Meeting of the Fairvale Ladies Book Club (such a long title, but I forgive it) is set in Australia’s Northern Territory in the late 1970s and early 1980s and follows Sybil, Kate, Sallyanne, Della and Rita.  Sybil came to Fairvale station 25 years ago, but she remembers how strange it felt compared to her life as a nurse in Sydney, so when her son brings his new wife Kate from Britain she comes up with the book club as an idea to adjust and make friends.  Sallyanne is stuck with a difficult husband who’s turned to drink while she brings up their three small children.  Della is a transplant from Texas at the next station over – she left her father’s ranch to find some freedom and her own place in the world.  Rita has been friends with Sybil since they were young nurses together and is now working for the Flying Doctors service in Alice Springs.  Across the course of the book all four women face trials and difficulties and find support and friendship from the rest of the group as well as finding someone to talk about books with.

I absolutely loved this book, which seemed to me like almost a what-happened-next to the outback life that I had read about in Nevil Shute’s A Town Like Alice.  I read that back in my teenage years  – it’s one of my mum’s favourite books and although it’s all good, my favourite part of it is the third part, that deals with Jean’s life in Willstown.  And Fairvale Ladies Book Club shows you another wild and inhospitable part of Australia that is almost inconceivable to me in its remoteness and challenges.  I  loved reading about Fairvale and the town of Katherine and wanted to be friends with all the women.  I’ve read quite a few of the books that the women read for the club – but this has reminded me that I still have Thorn Birds sitting on my kindle waiting to be read and has also given me some ideas for more reading about the Australian outback and a way of life that seems almost impossible to believe in.

I really enjoyed reading this and it brought a tear to my eye more than once. I think it would make an excellent beach read if you’re getting to the time of year where you’re thinking of holiday books – and as it’s over 400 pages long it would last a while as long as you don’t read as fast as I do!  It would also make a great book club pick – there are plenty of things to talk about here.

My copy came from NetGalley, but you should be able to get a copy from all good bookshops – like Foyles, Book Depository and Big Green Bookshop.  The Kindle and Kobo editions are already a bargain at £1.99 (at time of writing) but it cropped up as a Kindle Daily Deal about two weeks ago, so that may come around again if you’re not in a hurry and have a system for keeping track of these things.

And if you’ve got any recommendations for books set in the remote bits of Australia – or other remote parts of the world – let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The House of Hopes and Dreams

In a change from recent form, it’s not a crime pick this week – but perhaps the pick won’t be a surprise to regular readers with an eye on the new release lists. I’m a long-time Trisha Ashley fan, and she has a new novel out this week and I was lucky enough to have an advance copy sent to me by the publishers. If you follow me on Litsy (I’m @Verity there) you’ll have seen me get excited about this when it arrived and it’s taken a lot of willpower to save it until close to release to read it.

Proof copy of The House of Hopes and Dreams

The House of Hope and Dreams follows Carey and Angel, who’ve been friends since art college, although life has taken them in slightly different directions. At the start of the novel TV interior designer Carey is in hospital recovering after nearly losing his leg after being knocked off his bike. He’s been dumped from his show, but when a lawyer arrives to tell him that he’s inherited a minor historic house in Lancashire it looks like he may have a new project. Angel’s life had been turned upside down after the death of her partner – who she’d been working with at his stained glass company for more than a decade. She’s lost her job and her home, but luckily her skills are exactly what her old friend is looking for and there’s space for her at Mossby. Soon Angel is setting up a workshop so she can repair Mossby’s unique windows and Carey is working on a new TV series about the renovation of the house and the secrets that it’s hiding. But how long will it take the two of them to work out that there’s more to their relationship than just friendship?

If you were to ask me about my book catnip, high on the list are old houses, competency porn (aka heroines who are really good at what they do) and friends to lovers stories, so straight away this ticks a lot of boxes for me. And this is back in a corner of Lancashire that has a lot of old friends from previous visits to TrishaWorld – Carey’s house is just up the road from Middlemoss so you get a few glimpses at old friends from novels gone by. This is a little sadder in the backstory and less funny than some of her other books, but I relaxed happily back into it and although I always had a very fair idea where everything was going, it was an enjoyable ride to get there.

If you’re very familiar with Ashley’s books (and I speak as someone who has read everything she’s published except her historical novel) then this may feel a bit like a Greatest Hits album – which I found a bit of a mixed blessing. But I think there’s a lot here for newer fans to love, especially people who’ve only started reading her in her last couple of novels and haven’t come across this part of her imaginary corner of England before. And they’ll be able to go away and discover more of it with the side characters in this, which in turn may lead them to my absolute favour of Ashley’s novels, A Winter’s Tale (another story about an old house with secrets) .

The House of Hopes and Dreams is out on Thursday – you should be able to find it in supermarkets (that’s where I picked up my first Trisha) and bookshops, or if you can’t wait here are the preorder links for Amazon and Kindle. I’ll be buying one too – because my preview copy doesn’t have the recipes in the back!

if you want to go and read some of my previous ramblings about Trisha’s world, try here, here and here.

Happy reading!

book round-ups, mystery, romance, women's fiction

Veritys in fiction

Today is my birthday, so it seemed like a perfect time to talk about Veritys in fiction. I’ve always really liked my name, but it seems to give some people problems. Back in my reporting days, people used to mishear it all the time – I’d get messages to Sarah T, or Dorothy or a variety of V-names – and you should see the mess Starbucks make of it. There aren’t many of us, but here are five notable ones from my reading back catalogue.

Verity-Ann Carey – The Chalet School series by Elinor M Brent Dyer

I think Verity-Ann was the first time I encountered my name in a book – and I didn’t really count it at the time because of the Ann! Verity-Ann is one of what I think of as the second generation of Chalet girls: she joins the school during the Second World War year’s in Armiford and becomes Mary-Lou’s sister-by-marriage. Verity-Ann is always described as silvery and fairy-like and has a beautiful singing voice. Even when I was a child I had nothing in common with her: my sister has banned me from singing in public and I’m a tall brunette. Never mind. The school stories are great though – even if Verity-Ann was never one of Brent Dyer’s pet characters and had very little to do except be dreamy and sing solos in school plays.

Verity Hunt – Nemesis by Agatha Christie

I saw this on television before I read the book and it creeped me out no end. I was eleven at the time and hadn’t met another Verity and one of the first ones I encountered was the murder victim in a Miss Marple! But once I got past the fact that the dead girl had the same name as me, it’s a cracker of a story – darker in the novel than the Joan Hickson TV version (don’t get me started on the Marple version – which had added nuns!). It’s not my favourite Miss Marple, but it’s right up there.

Verity Kindle – To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis

A new discovery last year, Verity Kindle is the female lead in Willis’s time-travel romp. She’s also much more my style: for a start she’s a historian and a Cat fan. Well, sort of. To Say Nothing of the Dog was one of my favourite books of last year: a screwball comedy full of literary in jokes, Peter Wimsey references and all the worst bits of Victoriana. I’d been lent it by a friend and really didn’t want to give him his book back. Which reminds me, I must buy myself a copy so I can reread it and then lend it out….

Verity Browne in the Lord Edward Corinth series by David Roberts

Like me, Verity Browne is a journalist, however that’s pretty much where the similarities end. This Verity is abrasive and has communist sympathies – which don’t help her in the 1930s. I read this whole series nearly four years ago in my ongoing quest for good historical mystery series. This is very much Wimsey crossed with spies and Verity can be quite hard to like. But if you like mismatched detecting duos, they’re worth a look.

Verity Love – True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop books by Annie Darling

Verity Love is a bookseller at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop in Annie Darling’s first book, but in the sequel she gets her own happily ever after. This Verity is a huge Jane Austen fan who has invented herself a boyfriend to stop her friends’ attempts at matchmaking and to give herself an excuse not to do things she doesn’t want to. Of course this plan goes awry and she finds herself with a real pretend boyfriend. Lots and lots of fun and I had a lot of sympathy with this Verity! Also I can’t wait for book three in this series to come out next month.

So there you have it: five fictional Veritys to celebrate my birthday. I think there’s one for most reading tastes here, if you only read one, make it Verity Kindle. She’s smart, plucky, loyal and fun – a set of character traits most people would be happy with I think. And if you can think of any more Veritys I ought to read about, let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!