Authors I love, Book of the Week, Fantasy, new releases

Book of the Week: Early Riser

Luckily for me – although it didn’t seem so at the time, I didn’t manage to finish Early Riser in time for it to make last week’s WiB.  I had 50 pages to go on the Sunday night and ended up finishing it on Monday morning.  This made it eligible for this week’s BotW and meant that I could write this nice and early before the last minute madness descended ahead of my departure for DC.  Hopefully by the time you read this I’ll be in the US and starting work – but I’m writing this a week earlier with a to-do list the length of my arm.  However I’m fairly confident that nothing else I finish this week will pip this to the post – and if anything does run it close I’m sure I’ll manage to write about it at some point!

Front cover of Hardcover UK edition of Early Riser

Early Riser is the latest novel from Jasper Fforde and his first new book in four years – and his first new adult novel in six years.  It’s a standalone novel and it’s in a different alternative universe to his other work too.  I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde – I’ve read most of his books but I think that the long hiatus between books means that I’ve never had a chance to properly write about him here because I glommed on pretty much everything he has written before I started writing this.  Anyway, to the plot:

Charlie Worthing is about to start his first season as a Winter Consul.  Every year, the human population hibernates for four months to escape the bitterly cold weather.  But some brave souls are needed to protect the sleeping – and Charlie has volunteered to be one of them.  To stay awake during the winter means you need to be very committed – but also a little bit mad as Charlie soon discovers.  One of his first tasks is investigating an outbreak of viral dreams – where people are having the same dream right down to the little details.  And then the people who’ve had the dream start dying.  And then Charlie starts having the dream – and bits of it seem to be coming true.  Is it just winter narcosis – or is soething more sinister going on.  Charlie sets out to find out the truth – but he’ll need to brave Villains and Nightwalkers and the seemingly less-than-mythical WinterVolk to do it.

If you’ve read and Jasper Fforde before you’ll know that his thing is creating bonkers parallel universes to our own and then just dropping you straight into them and leaving you to work out what’s going on.  In the Thursday Next series is a world where the Crimean War never ended, where literature is venerated and where – if you have the right skills – you can actually get inside a book and wander around the story.  In Early Riser he does the same thing.  After a lovely diagram of a Dormitorium opposite the title page, you find yourself on a train with a dead woman who is playing the bouzouki.  And it only gets weirder.  This was probably the slowest starting of Fforde’s books for me – but that might be because I started reading it as an egalley (from NetGalley) which had all the footnotes out of sync with the pages – and boy do you need the footnotes at the start to help you get your head around the new world that you’ve found yourself in.  But after I’d bought myself an actual copy of the book* everything got a lot easier and started to make more sense.

Shelf of Jasper Fforde books
Taking this photo has got me wondering who has my copy of Something Rotten. I’m hoping my dad has it…

And it is a rollicking good adventure.  There are lots of twists and turns and I really didn’t see many/any of them coming.  Charlie is an engaging accidental hero and you sympathise with him as he bumbles his way through his first winter, running into complications and obstacles at every turn.  I really like the worlds that Jasper Fforde creates – I don’t know where his ideas come from but they’re so clever and subversive.  If you had pitched this to me before I’d read any of his stuff I would have chalked it up as not for me.  But I trust him having read and loved the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crime series and so was prepared to take the leap into this with him.  I’m so glad I did – and I hope lots of other people are reading it too.

In the author’s note at the end of the book, he thanks readers’ patience for sticking with him in the long gap and says he hopes it won’t be such a big gap to the next book.  I may hate waiting, but I’ll gladly wait if we get books like this at the end of it.  I just hope that the next one is the eighth Thursday Next book…

Early Riser is out now in hardback and on Kindle and Kobo if you’re in the UK.  I’ve seen copies in all the proper bookshops – Foyles Charing Cross have several display piles of it – so you should be able to lay your hands on it fairly easily.  It’s due for release in the US on February 12th 2019 – and should be available to preorder at your bookseller of choice – there are some handy links on Jasper Fforde’s website to help you whether you’re in the UK or in the US.

Happy Reading!

*I went to Foyles during a lunchbreak one of my weekend working days in August.  I was meant to be just having a look around, but they’d had a signing with Jasper Fforde a week or two earlier and they had one signed copy left – among piles of unsigned ones on various displays.  I took it as a sign that I should buy it for myself.

Bonus Picture: My Dormitorium postcard that came with my hardcover!

Dormitorium postcard!

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!

historical, new releases, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: The Governess Game

Bonus post this week – because the new Tessa Dare book came out yesterday.  I read it back at the start of the month and really, really enjoyed it.  It is the second book in the Girl Meets Duke series and features the romance between one of the friends of the heroine of the first book and a man you saw her run into in that book.  The Duchess Deal was a BotW back in May, and is also well worth reading.

Cover of The Governess Game

Alexandra Mountbatten makes a living by setting clocks in the London houses of the rich.  But when she loses her equipment, she finds herself the governess to two out of control orphans who are in the care of a renowned libertine.  Alexandra knows that what they need is a stable, loving home.  Chase is the heir to a duke and lives by one rule: no attachments.  He won’t settle down and he doesn’t want anyone depending on him.  He knows he’s not to be trusted – all he wants is for his new governess to turn his wards into proper young ladies so that they can find men that they can rely on when they grow up.  And we all know where this is going.  It’s got a grumpy scared to love rakish hero with two children to take care of, a very wary accidental governess who sees the job as her ticket to her own independence and a bit of forced proximity. Bingo, my catnip.

The dialogue is sparky, the characters are great from the hero and heroine, right the way through all the minor characters.  I loved the running joke about the funerals.  You’ll get it when you read it – but if I tell you it’ll spoil it.  Here’s what the author had to say about it on twitter:

And if that doesn’t make you want to read it, I don’t know what will.  Anyway, if I had one quibble, it’s that the heroine’s surname is Mountbatten which I *think* originated as one of the invented surnames for some of the British end of the Royal Family when they were Anglicizing things during World War One – in this case the bits of the Battenburg family that married Queen Victoria’s youngest daughter and one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters.  It’s also the one that Prince Philip adopted just before he married the then Princess Elizabeth – meaning the current British royal family has the surname Mountbatten-Windsor.  If you’re not a massive nerd like me, it probably won’t bother you, but it made me think of Prince Philip every time it was mentioned.*  I’m sorry if by mentioning it I’ve caused the same issue for you.

My copy came via NetGalley, but The Governess Game is available on Kindle and Kobo and if it’s anything like the Duchess Deal it may pop up in larger supermarket book selections and some of the bigger bookshops when it comes out in paperback in the UK next week.  If not, order it from your local friendly indie.

Happy Reading!

*Oddly not the only romance novel I’ve read recently that has done this.

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Kiss Quotient

I said in the Week in Books that I had some interesting choices to make for this week’s BotW, and it turns out that my pick is a bit of a cheat: I finished it yesterday (Monday). But as it’s out in paperback on Thursday here, I thought I’d give myself a pass and let myself pick Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient.

Cover of The Kiss Quotient

Stella has a problem: her parents want her to settle down and start a family. But although she’s been very successful in her career, Stella hasn’t had much luck with dating. What she’s good at is analysing data, and the data – and a lifetime of learning to navigate the world with Asperger’s – tells her that she needs to practice dating and learn how to get good at it. So she hires Michael, a male escort, to teach her everything she needs to know. Michael is good at his job – that’s why he turned to escort work when he needed extra cash – but he’s got a firm no repeat customers rule because he’s had problems before. But there’s something about Stella and her proposal that tempts him to break all his rules. And the more time they spend together, the more complicated it all gets…

As you may have worked out, this is sort-of gendered flipped Pretty Woman, but if Richard Gere’s character had autism. And it is brilliant. Stella is a great character and I loved spending time with her and understanding how her mind worked and what made her tick. And Michael is a great hero too. He has his own baggage to deal with but kind and caring and talented. I really liked that neither of them were judging the other one either. Stella has flashes of jealousy about Michael’s romantic history, but only because she’s worried about how she measures up, she’s not concerned about his career choice. And for his part, once Michael has figured out (or been nudged in the right direction) what Stella’s deal is, all he wants to do is figure out what that means he needs to do and how he needs to adapt to make their relationship work better. There’s also a great cast of secondary characters and some fun set pieces. I could have read another 100 pages easily.

There’s been a fair bit of hype for this boom- I’ve heard about it on a bunch of the bookish podcasts that I listen to and and on bookish Twitter as well as Litsy. I requested it on NetGalley and then managed to pick it up for free on Kindle while I was waiting for NetGalley approval. And it totally lived up to the hype for me. I can’t wait to see what Helen Hoang writes next.

The Kiss Quotient is already available on Kindle and I’m hoping that you’ll be able to get The Kiss Quotient all over the place once the paperback is on sale.

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, mystery, new releases, reviews

Book of the Week: Judge Walden – Back in Session

Another change of direction for this week’s BotW pick.  I read a lot last week, and a lot of it was good, but Judge Walden: Back in Session seemed like a fairly obvious pick – even if it is the second in a series, and not just because it is out on Thursday.  And I know I keep saying it, but the summer reading reccs post is coming up, so more of last week’s books may yet get a mention!

Cover of Judge Walden: Back in Session

Back in Session is the second book about Charlie Walden, resident judge (that means he’s in charge) at Berdmonsey Crown Court.  His main aim in life is just to get on with his job – trying criminals – without attracting the attention of either the press or, even worse, the Civil Servants.  He calls them the Grey Smoothies and is constantly on the watch for their latest targets or cost cutting idea.  He also has to manage his three fellow judges – who all have different ideas about the law and how it should be applied and aren’t afraid of expressing them.  Charlie’s wife – a vicar – is also a regular character who offers insight and support depending on what’s going on at court. The book is broken down into a series of cases, each covering one trial but which either have some relevance to wider life at the court or which have something happening in the background at the same time.  Each case is about novella length and as you get to the end of the book all the threads that have been bubbling along build to a satisfying conclusion.

I bought the first book in this series after reading the first case in it (which is free on Kindle) and both the books really, really worked for me.  The characters are interesting, the setting is fun and different and it’s all knitted together so well.  The author is a former resident judge himself and so presumably knows exactly what he’s talking about. As a journalist in my “proper” job,  I’ve done my share of court reporting over the years, and all the court scenes in this really worked for me – except with all the boring stuff taken out!  Because it’s broken down into cases, I think it would make a great book to read on the train or on a plane – it’s easy to pick up and put down without losing the sense of what’s going on.

Back in Session does build on the framework from the first book – so I definitely suggest reading Walden of Berdmonsey first – but if you don’t, I don’t think it would be the end of the world.  My copy of the new book came from NetGalley, but I bought book one on a Kindle deal, so it might be worth adding that to your watchlist as the price may drop when book two comes out.  If you want to get hold of a copy for your very own, Back in Session is available to pre-order in Kindle, Kobo or in paperback from Amazon, your friendly local bookshop or Big Green Books.  The first book is also in all the same places (Kindle/Kobo/Amazon paperback/Big Green Bookshop) or if you want a free taster, you can try Walden’s First Case, but I could only find that on Kindle.  I’m hoping we haven’t heard the last of the Judges of Berdmonsey Crown Court.

Happy Reading!

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!