Book of the Week, reviews, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Clean

Taking a break from the run of romance novels as Books of the Week to go for something completely different: Juno Dawson’s new YA novel Clean.  There were a couple of strong contenders for BotW, but this blew me away when I read it.  You will be hearing more of some of the other books from last week though – there’s one on there that’s not out in the UK yet that’s definitely going on one of my summer reading list posts at the very least.

Cover of CLEAN by Juno Dawson

Clean is the story of Lexi Volkov, the socialite daughter of a Russian hotel millionaire who definitely isn’t hooked on hard drugs and really doesn’t need to be in rehab.  Or at least that’s what she’d thinks.  She’s been checked into an exclusive treatment centre by her brother after nearly overdosing and the book follows her as she works her way through her treatment.  This is a Young Adult book, but it is dealing with a properly adult subject matter and in a very upfront way and realistic way.  I think this is one for the older end of the YA market – probably over 14 – maybe a bit older – although I was definitely reading stuff like this by GCSE sort of stage.  I found this so readable that I wanted to keep going – but had to take a break or two because it is a lot to take in and deal with.

Lexi is a brilliant character – at the start she is very abrasive and incredibly hard to like – and that’s by design I think.  It’s her addictions and the selfishness of the addict speaking rather than her real personality.  I only really started to like her about two thirds of the way through – may be later – and started really wanting her to succeed but even then she had her moments.  The book is also packed with interesting characters and great representation.  I don’t have any experience of inpatient treatment, but the book felt like was based on fact and reality – even if sometimes I wondered if there shouldn’t be some more staff around.  But then a bit of artistic licence is definitely allowable, and anyway as I’ve said – I don’t know anything about the reality of an expensive private rehab facility. I did have a few other minor quibbles and thought the ending was really clever – but I can’t say much more about any of that without spoiling things and breaking my rules about that sort of thing.

What I will say though is that this probably needs a trigger warning for pretty much everything – and not just for the drug taking and drug addiction.  As I said earlier, it’s definitely for the older end of the YA market, and I needed to take breaks while reading this.  But then as I’m a massive wimp who often doesn’t read books like this because they’re too dark for me, that’s probably not surprising.

I got my copy of Clean via NetGalley, but it’s out now and available in all the usual formats – Kindle and Kobo (and only £2.99 at time of writing) as well as paperback from all the usual sources.  I’d also expect to be able to find this fairly easily in an actual bookshop and may be even the supermarkets..  I’ve got another of Dawson’s earlier YA books sitting on the TBR shelf along with her non-fiction adult book The Gender Games and this has made me thing that I really need to get to them sooner rather than later.

American imports, Book of the Week, historical, new releases, reviews, romance

Book of the Week: After the Wedding

As you may have noticed from yesterday’s post, I did a lot of reading last week – even for me.  And there were a lot of contenders for this week’s BotW, but it seemed serendipitous that Courtney Milan’s latest romance is actually out today, whereas the release dates had already passed for the other contenders.  And don’t worry, some of the other books from last week will feature in upcoming posts I have planned – there’s another cozy crime round up due as well as the traditional Holiday Reading post.  I read through my holiday so that you can benefit from it when picking your holiday reading.  Or at least that’s a happy accident of the fact that my preferred way of spending my holiday is reading!  Anyway, on to the review.

The cover of After the Wedding

After the Wedding is the second book in Courtney Milan’s Worth Saga.  I haven’t read the first, but that didn’t in any way impair my enjoyment.  Set in the late 1860s, it tells the story of Camilla and Adrian. Camilla has been moving around from family to family for years since her father was convicted of treason, but she never seems to be able to keep any of them happy enough with her to be allowed to stay.  Adrian is juggling a lot of things.  He’s trying to run the family business while trying to convince his uncle (a bishop) to recognise his family, who were disowned when his mother ran off with a black abolitionist. This sees him doing things that he would rather not be doing – like impersonating servants to obtain vital information.  When the two of them find themselves married – at gunpoint no less – they begin an awkward dance to work out what to do next.  He has definite ideas about what he wants from marriage, she can’t see how the world can make anything worse for her, but has had enough blows that she knows that she can’t rule anything else.

This is a really good historical romance – but it’s not your typical historical romance.  There is a a sadness in each of the character’s backstories that goes beyond what you normal find, and that is never going to go away or be resolved fully.  But that makes a lot of the other events of the book even sweeter.  Milan says in the afterword that this book is about hope – and I can totally get on board with that.  It’s showing two characters who face obstacles in their lives work out how they’re going to get around them – or live with them – and come to terms with themselves in the process.  The Camilla of the end of the book is not the same bowed, cowed and undermined character that she is at the start, but that’s not because everything has been magically fixed for her because she has found a man.  She’s done it for herself.   Adrian also works out what his priorities are and what he really wants but he’s also working for the best outcome for Camilla because he knows that she has even less choices than he does in many ways.  For me, the best sort of romances are the ones where the characters grow and develop and the fact that they’ve fallen in love in the process is a happy consequence, not the fix.  And that’s how it should be.   You can’t – and shouldn’t – rely on someone else to make you happy or to make your life complete.

I think this is my favourite new romance of the year so far and a timely reminder to me to go back and read more of what Courtney Milan has written.  I really, really like what she is doing with her historical romances – they’re something a bit different from what you expect and have a cast of characters who not only aren’t all dukes, but aren’t all white members of the haut ton.  And they’re stories that I want to read more of.  The conflict at the heart of this is not a misunderstanding that could have been fixed by having a conversation. And that makes for a really satisfying conclusion when you get to the happy ending.

I received my advance copy of After the Wedding from the author via her Facebook page, but as mentioned at the top, this is out today.  As I write this, I can only find it in Kindle and Kobo in the UK, but fingers crossed there’ll be some physical copies at some point.  I’m off to buy more of Courtney Milan’s back catalogue.

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!

Book of the Week, Children's books, graphic novels, new releases

Book of the Week: Lumberjanes: The Moon is Up

Firstly, it came to my attention slightly belatedly over the weekend, that Anita Shreve has died.  Her last book The Stars are Fire was a BotW back in May last year – it’s out in paperback in 10 days time and is well worth a read.  She’s definitely on the list of authors I need to read more of – just as soon as I get the TBR pile down…  Anyway, this week’s BotW is not out for a few weeks yet (sorry, but it had to be done), but I enjoyed it so much and have things to say, so I picked it anyway.  The Moon is Up is second Lumberjanes novel and it’s been a while since I wrote about the series (nearly a year in fact ) so I thought it was ok to mix it up a little bit and go back for some more middle grade action.

If you haven’t come across the Lumberjanes before, you can read my previous posts about here and here, but I’ll give you the quick rundown now too:  the series follows a group of campers at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types.  Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley  are te girls of Roanoke cabin.  They all have different backgrounds and different strengthgs but they’re also  feisty, fun and best friends who look out for each other whatever the circumstances.  The graphic novel series runs to 9 volumes now, and this is the second spin off novel.

Cover of Lumberjanes: The Moon is Up

In The Moon is Up, the girls of Roanoke are taking part in the Galaxy Wars contest, which sees them up against their fellow campers in a series of space-related challenges and competitions.  There is the usual weird creature of the week type plot – this time a Moon Pirate – that we get in the graphic novels, but the novel format gives us a chance to see a bit more inside one of the characters – in this case Jo, who is trying to make a decision about whether she should take up the offer of a place at a prestigious science camp, and who also happens to be trans.

Apart from the excellent storytelling and fun adventures, one of my favourite things about the Lumberjanes graphic novels has always been the fact that it has a really diverse cast of strong female characters, who have a range of interests and strengths and support each other and know that when they work together they’re better.  And this novel is absolutely doing the same thing.  Jo is the analytical one in the gang and it’s fun to see inside her head as she tries to work out what the right thing to do is and to see the other girls giving her space to work out whatever is bothering her.  It’s a great example of how female friendships should be – and how people with different interests can be the best of friends.

All this makes it sound like the book might be a bit preachy and boring, but it’s the total opposite of that.  It’s a fun adventure romp that absolutely fits in with some of my favourite camp stories from when I was younger.  My copy was an advance e-copy from NetGalley and didn’t have the final artwork, so I know I’m going to be trotting out to the shops to have a look at the finished article as well as looking for the first book in the series too.  The novels are a great addition to the Lumberjanes universe, and I can’t wait to read more of them.

Lumberjanes: The Moon is Up is out on May 8, and is available to preorder now in Kindle and Kobo and hardcover from Amazon, Book Depository and Foyles.  The first in the series, Unicorn Power is available now from all the same places.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: A Princess in Theory

Normal service is nearly resumed here this week – real life is still super busy, but I read some really good stuff last week and I have an excellent BotW pick in Alyssa Cole’s latest book, A Princess in Theory.  After a few weeks of crime picks, I’m back on a romance reading spree, and this one is one of the best that I’ve read in a long time.  And it’s on offer at the moment as an ebook in the UK – so I’m all about enabling your book-buying habit as well!

Cover of A Princess in Theory

A Princess in Theory’s heroine is Ledi, a smart, fiercely independent orphan who’s come through the foster care system and built her own life.  She’s an epidemiologist – aka someone who studies diseeases – and is really fed up with getting taken advantage of at work.  She just doesn’t have time to deal with these weird scam emails claiming that she’s betrothed to an African prince. Prince Thabiso is one of Africa’s most eligible bachelors, sole heir to the kingdom of Thesolo, so why is he so hung up on the idea that the girl he was betrothed to when he was a child is the one for him? When he tracks her down, she ends up thinking he’s just another normal guy – could this be the best way to find out if they could be the real thing? Ledi really likes this clueless new guy who’s moved in across the hall, but what will happen when she finds out who he really is?

This is full of some of my favourite tropes – secret identities, fake relationships and most of all: a Super Competent Heroine. Ledi is such an engaging character – you really feel like you understand who she is, and what she wants and what her hopes are. She’s so used to being let down – describing herself as “defective Velcro” that people just don’t stick around to – that she’s put up big walls to keep people out and stop her from being hurt any more. She’s clever and driven, but she’s used to not being taken seriously and to people not treating her fairly – as a black woman in a male-dominated STEM field, she’s used to trying to get what she’s due whilst trying to avoid being labelled troublesome. One of the things I liked most about the resolution to this was that it didn’t diminish Ledi’s own accomplishments and skills in her finding her happy ever after. She and Thabiso are going to be a team, and he’s on her side.

I usually have a limited tolerance for princes as heroes, but actually Thabiso is kinda charming in his clueless way. Of course he should have told Ledi who he was straight away (although the book wouldn’t be the same at all if he had!) but he knows that and if he starts to look like forgetting that, he has his super efficient, super sarcastic assistant Likotsi to remind him. And Likotsi is a lot of fun too – she’s not going to let Thabiso get away with taking away Ledi’s decision making power and she’s firmly on Ledi’s side later in the book. I really liked that for once in this sort of book, the prince’s advisor/friend who was trying to sabotage his relationship.

I had a few concerns at the midpoint about whether this was all going to be resolved in a totally satisfactory manner, but I shouldn’t have been worrying. This is a fun, smart contemporary romance, with a great voice and that’s diverse and inclusive and bringing something different to the genre. This is my first Alyssa Cole – but it definitely won’t be the last, because I’ve already got the next book in this series preordered! I’ve heard Alyssa interviewed a couple of times on The Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast and not only does she seem like great fun and someone you’d really like to go out for a meal with, but she’s a great advocate for her genre and for the need for more books representing people other than white women. Oh and she lives in the Caribbean and it all sounds super exciting.

Anyway, I think I’ve gone on about how much I enjoyed this enough – so here are the links: I bought my copy on Kindle (it’s only £1.99!), but it’s also available on Kobo. There is a paperback edition, but I suspect if you want it, you’re going to have to order it in, either from Amazon or Foyles or Big Green Bookshop.

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 of the Week, children's books, detective, new releases

Book of the Week: A Spoonful of Murder

This week’s BotW is the latest Wells and Wong mystery, A Spoonful of Murder, which makes three mystery books in a row, but I don’t see a problem with that.  The only surprise here is that I managed to pace myself and take two and a half weeks to read this, rather than glomming it on the day it came out, which is what I usually do and what nearly happened.

Cover of A Spoonful of Murder

Anyway, this is the sixth instalment in the Wells and Wong series and sees Hazel sent for by her father after the death of her grandfather.  Hazel heads back home to Hong Kong, accompanied by Daisy for moral support.  And she needs the support when she gets home and discovers that more has changed than just the death of her beloved Ah Yeh.  As always with this series, the mystery is clever, the action is fast-paced and you just keep turning the pages.  The stories are getting more mature as we go through the series – not unlike the Harry Potter books did – so the murder is a little bit more gruesome, the girls see a little bit more and are in a bit more danger, but there’s nothing here that should give a middle grader nightmares.  Or at least not in the way that I scared myself with Miss Marple books when I was about 10 any way.

The big change in this book from the others, is that although we are still seeing the action through Hazel’s eyes, for once it is Daisy who is the fish-out-of-water and Hazel is on her home turf.  One of the things that I have always loved about this series is the way that it takes classic boarding school stories and adds in new layers and gives you a different viewpoint.  The reader has always been aware that Hazel is seen as an outsider and that she doesn’t always know how things work in Britain, but it’s only really in this book, where Hazel is back at home and Daisy is her guest that you really realise how different her life is at home and how much she’s had to adapt to be accepted in England.  The way that you see Daisy struggle to work out a world she doesn’t understand and to figure out where she fits in and accept (well sort of) that here she isn’t seen as important the way she is in Britain is so cleverly done.  Daisy is still Daisy, but she’s realising that there’s more to Hazel’s life than she thought and that she has hidden skills that Daisy hadn’t appreciated.  And this is all done without meanness or cruelty and seamlessly with everything that we already know about the two girls.

And there’s obviously been a huge amount of research done into this.  The picture that Robin Stevens paints of high society in interwar Hong Kong in this feels grounded in research and facts, but it wears it very lightly.  I came away wanting to know more about Hong Kong’s history and what it was like as well as wanting to read more books set there.  It worked for me on every level – it’s a great mystery, with great characters and a great setting that just happens to be aimed at 8 to 11 year olds.  Perfect.  And I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, if you liked St Clares or Mallory Towers or (my beloved) Chalet School when you were little and like Agatha Christie and other Golden Age crime authors – then you should read this.  And if you have a middle grader in your house, this makes a great chapter book to read with them.  It has maps and everything.

You should be able to get this from any bookshop with a children’s section and I’ve seen them in the supermarkets too.   For best effect, start at the beginning with Murder Most Unladylike, especially if you’re giving to a child at the younger end of the age spectrum as it’s less for them to cope with on the death and violence spectrum.

Happy Reading!