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Reccomendsday: Trisha Ashley

There’s a Trisha Ashley book out tomorrow and as she’s one of my favourite authors, I thought I’d pull together a post of my writing about her.

The new book is a reissue of one of her early novels. I managed to borrow Happy Endings from the library back in the day, but others haven’t been so fortunate. It’s now called Written from the Heart and tells the story of Tina Devino, a not as successful as she’d like author and book doctor, and her somewhat tangled love life. The introduction tells me it’s been polished and tweaked here and there rather than rewritten. I’m midway through reading it and so far that seems like a fair description. But it has been a while since I read it.

The Trisha Ashley collection - next to the Laurie Graham collection

I’ve written a fair few Trisha posts over the years, but I think my favourite book of hers is still the first one I read, A Winter’s Tale, which combines several of my favourite things – a big old house in trouble, a heroine with A Past, a suave yet plausible rogue and a hidden hottie just waiting to be noticed. I’ve written recently about how much I miss so-called Chick Lit and this is the sort of book I mean: the heroine is feisty, the writing is funny, the characters are appealing and the fact that Sophie ends up with a bloke is a happy consequence: she’s already saved the house on her own.

In fact all of the books set around that little bit of Lancashire are like that. I don’t mean that they’re all saving stately homes, obviously, but they’re all heroines with a problem, who fix it themselves and get a relationship out of it as a bonus. Several of them intertwined as well with brief glimpses of previous characters as a little Easter egg for the faithful.  A lot of them were published before I started the blog – so I don’t have reviews to link you to on here – but A Winter’s Tale, Wedding Tiers, The Magic of Christmas and Chocolate Wishes are all set in and around the same patch.

More recently the novels have shifted slightly, with a little more tragedy in the backstory and a little bit more angst in the present. We’re not talking terminal cancer diagnoses for the heroines though – think more towards Lucy Dillon and less towards Katie Fforde. But they are still very readable and I enjoy them a lot and writing this post has made me notice how gradual that shift has been..  Anyway – to the links:

 

Every Woman for Herself

 

 

 

Every Woman for Herself – Another early Trisha re-released a few years back and the origin of the running Skint Old Northern Woman newsletter/Magazine that pops up through her novels.  Charlie is returning to her childhood home after a break up and discovers that an actor has moved into the neighbourhood.

 

 

 

 

 

Creature Comforts – A secret past and a dog rescue in trouble, Izzy is trying to restart her own life, help her beloved aunts and regenerate the village she’s returned to.  Set in Lancashire, this in a new village rather than the ones around Winter’s End.

 

 

A Christmas Cracker – probably not the season for this, but Trisha has always done a good line in festive novels. This one features a heroine who is just out of prison (but there are Reasons for that) and a christmas cracker business that needs saving.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Little Teashop of Lost and Found – Alice was abandoned on the moors as a baby – now she’s back, setting up a teashop near where she was found and looking for answers.

 

 

The House of Hopes and Dreams – Trisha’s most recent (new) novel. Carey’s longtime partner has died and his son has kicked her out of their home and their stained glass business.  So she goes to stay with an old friend who is recovering from a motorbike accident.  She sets up on her own and finds herself as well as a new start.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy Reading!

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Book of the Week: Summer at Willow Lake

Happy Christmas everyone!  I hope you’re having (or have had depending on when you’re reading this!) a fabulous day and that Santa left you plenty of books in your stocking/pillowcase/under the tree.  A lot of my reading last week cropped up in my Christmas reading post, which ruled it out for here, and several of the other books onthe list would have been repeats, so you’ve ended up with a totally seasonally inappropriate book of the week – Summer at Willow Lake.  I’m only a little bit sorry about it though, because this was a lot of fun and I know there’ll be people out there with Christmas-overload at the moment.  But if you do want something more seasonally appropriate, check out my Christmas Day post from last year about Magnificent Meals.

Anyway, Summer at Willow Lake is the first in the Lakeshore Chronicles series, and I read it last week because I like to read series in order and the next book in the series looked wintry/Christmassy.  As I said, I was reading for the Christmas post last week.  And yes, I know, I was super behind, I need to be better organised and plan ahead more.  But in my defence, I plead the trip to Washington.  After all I’m not going to be able to use that as an excuse for very much longer so I might as well make the most of it while I can!

Olivia Bellamy is spending the summer renovating her family’s old summer camp.  Camp Kioga’s been closed for a decade, but her grandparents are determined to mark their Golden Wedding by renewing their vows at the spot they originally got married and as a “house fluffer” Olivia is the obvious choice to help make that happen.  Olivia is happy to have the excuse to get out of Manhattan, where the relationship that she thought was heading for the altar has unexpecctedly crumbled, although Kioga wouldn’t be her first choice.  She was very much the ugly duckling at school and her memories of camp are not the best.  Connor is the local contractor who is going to help make her vision a reality.  The trouble is, he’s also the boy that she had a huge crush on at camp.  From his point of view, he’s not keen on spending a summer renovating the camp where he spent his time as a scholarship camper as his alcoholic father was on the staff.  He doesn’t recognise Olivia at first, but soon the sparks are flying once again.  But can they put the past behind them?

That’s the main plot line, but there is a large cast of characters alongside Olivia and Connor who get quite meaty storylines of their own which (I hope/presume) set up the next books in the series.  It’s got a slightly saga-y feel if sagas were set in upstate New York.  There are big extended families with secrets and rivalries and dramas.  It’s all very enjoyable.  And if you grew up reading American middle grade novels about children being send off to summer camp, it’s a lot of fun to get a grown up summer camp novel!

As I said at the top, this is in no way seasonally appropriate, but I don’t care – especially as it’s only 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment which is a total bargain for nearly 400 pages of summer romance and angst.  Even if you don’t fancy reading it now, it might well be worth picking up for that moment at the end of spring when you just want to read about long hot summers. This is also the last Book of the Week post of 2018 – which means that my end of year roundup posts are on their way to you in the next week.  And the good news is, that I’m much more up to speed with them than I have been with my Christmas reading…

Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!

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Book of the Week: Autumn Term

Given the fact that I’ve been on a school story binge after my weekend at the book conference, it’s hardly a surprise that I’d pick a boarding school book as my BotW at some point.  I picked up a copy of Antonia Forrest’s Autumn Term at Bristol for free – its owner was giving it away to someone who hadn’t read it, as the first few pages were loose so it was unsalable.

Copy of Autumn Term by Antonia Forest

Autumn Term is the first book in the Marlow series and tells the story of Nicola and Laurie Marlow’s first term at boarding school  Their older sisters are already there – one is the headgirl in fact – and the twins are confident that they know exactly how things are going to play out for them.  Except that it doesn’t go how they expect.  They get in a row before they even arrive, then they’re not in the form that they expect to be in and that throws all their plans into disarray.  How will they recover from this – and will they recover from this – is the subject of the book.

This is one of the best boarding school books I think I’ve read.  I can imagine that if I’d read it at the “right” age for it, I might not have loved it, but as an adult it completely knocked my socks off.  This has possibly the most complicated and rounded set of characters that I’ve come across in Girl’s Own fiction. Everyone has flaws and weaknesses – even the one’s that you’re meant to like.  There are no perfect paragons or cartoon baddies here.  Everyone has strengths and weaknesses and over the course of the book you get to see their triumphs and disasters.  You can cheer them on as things go well, or hide your head in your hands as they plunge themselves into trouble without thinking.

I’ve read one book in this series before – but it’s a holiday book and although it turned out to be quite an exciting spy adventure in the end, I didn’t really understand the characters the way that I do now having read this and there is a lot of naval and sailing detail to get bogged down in.  But having read this, I’ve put getting my hands on more of the Marlow books well up my acquisitions list.

As I mentioned, my copy came for free at a book sale (don’t worry, I bought other things from the same stall as well) and it’s out of print so if you want to read it you’re going to have to go secondhand as well as it’s not available on Kindle.  Abebooks has some for under £10 including postage – or you could try your local charity shop with a large childrens section.

Happy Reading!

Children's books, children's books, Forgotten books, Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Dimsie, Head Girl

For this week’s BotW, we’re back in the world of the boarding school books that I love so much, after I happened upon this on the collectible shelf of the charity shop last week for the bargain price of £2.  My love of the Chalet School, Drina books and boarding school and ballet books in general is well known, but I’d never had a chance to read any of the Dimsie series – which was out of print by the time I was old enough to read them.  This is the sixth book in the series, and so probably not the best place to start, but I’m not one to let a trifle like that stop me!

Colour illustration from the front of Dimsie, Head Girl
Who hasn’t felt a bit confused when reading a Girl’s Own book? The illustration is lovely though.

Dimsie is a prefect at Jane Willard Foundation, and the start of this book sees the prefects shaken by the unexpected departure of the head girl Erica and her replacement with the dreamy second prefect Jean.  The title gives it away that Jean’s reign may not be a long one, but it’s a lot of fun watching how it all unfolds.  Dimsie is a butter-inner, slightly lacking in tact, but utterly devoted to her school.  When she sees that Jean isn’t pulling her weight in the way that she should be, she tries to set the Head girl on the right track.  When one of the new prefects proves to be too officious and inflexible in her dealings with the younger girls, it’s Dimsie who tries to sort the situation out.  To be honest, I’m surprised she wasn’t Erica’s replacement in the first place – except for the fact of course that that if she had, the author wouldn’t have had a book!

It wouldn’t be a boarding school book without the Middles causing trouble – here it takes the form of insubordination to the prefects, illegal pet keeping and midnight feasts.  What more could you want?  And yes, this is a slightly higher level of spoilers than I usually give out – but to be honest, I can’t  imagine that many of you are going to be able to lay your hands on a copy of this!  Which is a shame really, because it’s not half bad – some of it is funny in a way the author didn’t intend but that’s one of the joys of reading a book written for children in the 1920s now!  It does have some of the usual problems of outdated language and a very homogeneous cast, but that’s sadly to be expected in a children’s book of this era and it’s by no means as bad as some.

My copy of Dimsie, Head Girl
Im inclined to think that this was a proper bargain for £2.

This was my Dorita Fairlie Bruce book, and I suspect it won’t be my last – I’ve already been playing on the used book websites to see if I can find more.  Because of course what I need at the moment is more books.  Of course it is.  The big worry is if it sends me off down another rabbit hole of classic school story authors that I haven’t read.

Happy reading!

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Recommendsday: The Early Birds

Longtime readers will be well aware of my love for Laurie Graham.  Gone With the Windors is one of my all-time favourite books and while reading Paula Byrne’s biography of Kick Kennedy I’ve been reminded again how good her historical research is.  It’s been seven years since she wrote a contemporary novel, but the Early Birds is her first sequel and is actually a return to the group of women we first met in Future Homemakers of America, which came out more than 15 years ago.

Copy of The Early Birds by Laurie Graham
Here’s the airport edition – spotted at Luton on the way to Croatia the other week

For those who haven’t read the first book, the gang were brought together by a coincidence of geography in the 1950s.  Most of them were US airforce wives, posted to Suffolk along with their spouses.  One, Kath, was a local they met on a trip off-base.  That’s all you really need to know.  The Early Birds rejoins them in American in at the turn of the millennium when the ladies are in their 70s.  Peg is moving across the country to help with the care for her ex-spouse.  Old age is catching up with the gang, but their friendship and their sense of fun endures. Then 9/11 happens and the world changes and there are lots of new questions – not least was life as an air force wife worth it?

My favourites of Laurie Graham’s books tend to be the laugh out loud funny ones.  This is more a wry smile and the occasional giggle sort of book, but it is a wonderfully touching portrait of female friendships and camaraderie that has endured through time, distance and changing circumstances, forged in the shared terror of what could happen to your husband while he was flying a jet plane – and what would happen to you if the worst did happen.  They don’t all like each other all the time, they sometimes enjoy a bitch about each other, but when something bad happens to one of them, they’ll move heaven and earth to help.

There’s not much to smile about in Peg’s husband’s descent into Alzheimer’s, but those passages of the book do capture a lot of what I remember about my grandparents when the were suffering from dementia.  I was never as involved in their care the way that Peg is, but I remember the sadnesses and the frustrations of people forgetting who you are and the adaptations that you make to try and make more days “good” days.

I probably should have re-read Future Homemakers before I read this, and I’m probably going to go back and read it again now I’ve seen the girls dancing through their dotage. The world needs more books about strong women supporting each other.

You should be able to get a copy of The Early Birds from all the usual sources – like The Big Green Bookshop and the like – but you may need to order it.  IIt’s in hardback at the moment – but there’s a large format airport paperback as demonstrated in the photo!  And of course it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.  Future Homemakers of America is also available on Kindle and Kobo – and new and second-hand copies can be found on Amazon (I think it may be out of print as it’s showing as out of stock everywhere else I search).

Happy Reading!

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Bonus Post: Escapist reading

A bonus post from me, for you to enjoy this weekend as I recover from my nights.  I’m looking for escapist reading this week after a busy news week, so here are some suggestions for you as I try to read myself back into day time living.

Rosie’s Little Cafe on the Riviera by Jennifer Bohnet

I read this on holiday – it’s a sweet romance set in the French Riviera.  Rosie’s opening her dream cafe, but a Michelin starred chef is opening up a fancy hotel nearby.  She’d be mad, only she didn’t find him so attractive.  There’s also two friends – one recently widowed with a daughter and the other newly single – and you follow them all across the course of the first spring and summer season in business.  Perfect for a spring weekend, but t may make you want to move abroad though.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

Immerse yourself in the world of Singpore’s super rich.  Rachel Chu has agreed to spend the summer in Singapore with her boyfriend’s family.  But what she doesn’t know is that Nick is one of the island’s most eligible bachelors and that she doesn’t measure up to his family’s expectations for a potential wife.  There’s outrageous wealth, spoilt IT girls and culture clashes galore – not just Rachel’s ABC (American-born Chinese) background, but also the old money versus new money of Singapore’s old family’s and China’s new superrich.  It’s bonkers, it’s addictive and it’s perfect to escape from your normal life.

The Accidental Detective by Michael R N Jones

I read this modern Sherlock Holmes retelling on holiday.  Victor Locke is a beer-drinking genius, who’s banned from owning laptops or smart phones after getting caught hacking into something he shouldn’t have done.  Dr Jonathan Doyle is his court-appointed psychologist and the two of them race around Middlesbrough (of all places) solving crimes and outwitting shadowy government figures.  This is from my perennial favourites Fahrenheit press, so if you’ve read some of my other recommendations from them you’ll have an idea about the sort of tone we’re looking at.  Funny and escapist, read it with a drink in your hand like Victor would!

And if these three aren’t enough, try recent BotW’s Bet Me or the Roanoke Girls or one of my smart, funny romance recommendations as well.

Happy Reading!

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Give a Book for Christmas: 2016 edition

It’s that time of year, Christmas present shopping has hit last minute panic mode is in it’s final throes and I’d like to remind you all that books and bookish related paraphernalia make great presents and are easily available without venturing into a department store.  The fractured elbow has slowed my progress somewhat – this should have been with you a week or more ago  – sorry.  But here are some suggestions from me.

Books for Him

My other half has just devoured the new Guy Martin book Worms to Catch in about 3 days (very fast for him).  I mentioned him last year, but he keeps turning out very readable books for the petrolhead in your life.  I don’t think you can go wrong with A Kim Jong-Il Production (a BotW pick a few months back) because as far as narrative non-fiction goes it’s just so bonkers it’s hard to believe it’s true.  I keep hearing Mary Roach recommended places – and they sound like they might be perfect books for men (although I’m still hoping one might end up in my stocking) Grunt  – all about how science and war and people collide – or Stiff – about what happens to human cadavers (as long as the recipient isn’t squeamish like me) seem to be the top picks.

For Fiction, I read The Murdstone Trilogy (actually just one book) by Mal Peet earlier this year – about a writer whose sensitive YA novels about troubled teens stop selling and who ends up writing fantasy – it’s a dark and funny look at fantasy tropes with some horror thrown in too.  If he’s read Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones or the like there’s probably something here for him.For my last pick, I’m suggesting Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, another book that I haven’t read yet, but have heard great things about.   It’s set in the future where natural resources are scarce and people escape into immersive video games like OASIS.  Then one player stumbles upon the first clue to a series of Easter Eggs which could lead him to a fortune.  I have the audiobook of this waiting on my phone for just as soon as I finish The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore – which is good, but very, very gory and long – only 20 hours of that to go!

Books for Her

Lets start with the fiction.  It feels like a long time ago that I read Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible (April) but I’ve lent it on since then and had nothing but good feedback, so I’m going to recommend it again.  I can’t remember why it wasn’t BotW at the time (maybe because I was half expecting to be reviewing it for Novelicious) but it is definitely one of my favourite books of the year, and hands down my favourite Pride and Prejudice retelling.  I reviewed Lucy Dillon’s All I Ever Wanted over on Novelicious the other week, and that would also make a really good pick – it’s sort of Christmassy (it starts at Christmas) but it’s not all tinsel and mistletoe, it’s a great wintery read to give to someone who wants to spend Boxing Day (or longer) curled up on the sofa with a book in front of a roaring fire if you have one. Helen Ellis’s collection of short stories American Housewife (a previous Book of the Week) would also make a nice stocking filler if you have a woman with a dark sense of humour in your life (get a taste of what I mean here).

And now some non-fiction.  I’ve already mentioned The Best of Dear Coquette (which you should totally buy as a present for yourself at least!), but if you’re buying for someone who was a teenager in the mid 90s or later, As If! an oral history of the making of the movie Clueless might be perfect.  Clueless was one of the films that I watched on heavy rotation as a teenager (it came out just before I started secondary school so we had it on video at various slumber parties) and it still stands up today.  As If! is a fun look behind the scenes and a reminder of how different and big the film was at the time

Books for Children

For little children, I love Jon Klassen (I’ve mentioned this before) and this Christmas sees his third book about hats – We Found a Hat follows on from I Want My Hat Back and This Is Not My Hat which have been big hits among the children I buy for.

I really enjoyed the first two books in Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair’s Mysteries and  both The Mystery of the Clockwork Sparrow and The Mystery of the Jewelled Moth should be fairly easy to get hold of if you’ve got a middle-grade (upper half of primary school) reader to buy for.  Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong books got a mention last year, but the series has grown since then and I think it’s a great choice for a girl (or boy) who has done St Clares or Mallory Towers and some Famous Five/Five Find-outers and wants more.  They do contain death though

Other Bookish Gifts

In my post about presents for me last year, I said that I wanted a Literary Review subscription – I got one (thanks Little Sis!) and have just bought myself another two years worth.  I’ve enjoyed reading it, found books I want to read that I wouldn’t otherwise and used their reviews it to weed out books I don’t want to read/can wait to turn up in the secondhand shops.

I can’t believe how much I’ve talked about Fahrenheit Press already, but I’m going to do it again now – sorry! I bought myself their subscription earlier on this year – and it’s given me a string of Books of the Week and so much good stuff.  I’ve just renewed it for another year and if you have a crime reader in your life this might be just the gift for them.  2016 has had reissues of 90s crime series, new thrillers about all sorts of things, the Danny Bird series and James Bond and Stephanie Plum’s lovechild and more. They’re so good I feel like I’ve done nothing but talk about them all year.  And that’s before I write my Books of the Year post! Details here.

I got myself a Vanity Fair subscription this year which I’m still enjoying – and magazines are a gift that keeps giving through the year – I’ve bought Good Food, Gardener’s World and others at various points. Condé Nast keep emailing me to tell me that if I buy the wrong magazine for me giftee then I can change it for free too and so that’s practically a win win!

So there you have it, some gift suggestions from me. And if you need any more ideas, all my suggestions from last year still stand – gifts for him, her and kids. Coming next: What I want for Christmas…