Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: Evvie Drake Starts Over

Such an easy choice for this week.  I had to be dragged away from this one and it totally lifted me out of what had been a bit of a reading slump as I rationalised the to-read shelf and discovered that there was a fair number of books on it that I didn’t like when I started reading them.

Cover of Evvie Drake Starts Over

Evvie Drake has the car packed. She’s leaving her husband. But just as she’s about to about to go when the phone rings: Tim has been in a car accident, she needs to get to the hospital, fast.  We rejoin Evvie nearly a year later – when everyone in town thinks it’s grief that’s keeping her at home and she hasn’t done anything to correct them.  To help out a friend – and to help pay the bills, she lets the apartment at the back of her house to Dean Tenney, former Major League Baseball pitcher and now a byword for blowing it after a major case of the yips saw him lose his aim.  The two of them make a deal – she won’t ask about his baseball career and he won’t ask about her late husband.  But as the months go by the two of them grow closer and a friendship looks like it could develop into something more.  But those demons are going to need addressing before they can really move forward.

This is just what I hoped it would be.  It’s warm and has a great slow burn romance and two people trying to figure out whether they are right for each other – and whether they’re actually ok themselves.  Evvie (rhymes with Chevy) is a wonderful heroine – smart and funny but also a little bit broken and trying to figure out who she really is and if she can get her life back on track.  And Dean is such an appealing hero – he’s lost the ability to do the thing that defined who he was and has to figure out who he is if he’s not a baseball player.  The supporting characters are wonderfully drawn too and Evvie’s complicated relationship with the town feels very realistic.  I had a few minor quibbles here and there – but nothing that took me out of the story or disturbed my warm and cozy feeling at the way that it was all unfolding.

I had been a little worried that this wouldn’t live up to my expectations for it: I had been looking forward to reading this ever since I heard about it.  Linda Holmes is the presenter of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast from NPR and mentioned more than a year ago (as part of their things that are making them happy this week section) that she had written a novel and that it was going to be published.  On top of that, it’s got great reviews, been picked for a big TV book club in the US and the UK version has blurbs from Rainbow Rowell, Helen Hoang and Taylor Jenkins Reid.  How could it ever live up to all that?  But it did, it really did.  I’m often moaning about not being able to find the sort of romantic novels that I like, the sort of thing that I used to be able to buy really easily 10 years ago – with smart heroines and humour and where people fix themselves and get romance as a bonus – and this did everything that I wanted it to do.  When I got to the end and read the list of thank yous from the author, it was a list of people who I listen to on podcasts or read on my favourite websites and I realised that I should have had more faith and been less worried.

British cover of Evvie Drake Starts Over

My copy of Evvie Drake Starts Over came from the library – and I got there before a huuuuuuge queue developed behind me – I only had to wait a couple of weeks after release for my hold to come in.  But its available now in Kindle, Kobo and hardback (with a paperback coming out in March 2020).  It would make a perfect read on your sunlounger this summer.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: July 8 – July 14

I thought this list was going to be shorter than usual this week but actually it’s worked out ok. Why did I think the list would be shorter? Well the Michelle Dean is long and I’ve spent a lot of train journeys reading that, and secondly because I’ve had one of my periodic culls of the tbr-pile which included another round of “50 pages and out” on stuff that I wasn’t sure whether to keep or jettison.

Read:

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley

Best Of My Love by Susan Mallery

Of Dogs and Walls by Yuko Tsushima

Springtime at Cherry Tree Cottage by Cathy Woodman

All Or Nothing by Rose Lerner

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Dockside by Susan Wiggs

One Hot Summer by Kat French

Started:

The Burning Issue of the Day by T E Kinsey

The Great Successor by Anna Fifield

Autoboyography by Christina Lauren

Still reading:

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards

Sharp by Michelle Dean

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby

And no books bought – I’m trying hard to restrain book buying urges and the library with its ebook loan service is really helping me.  I did pick up a kindle freebie or two though.

Bonus photo: Summer flowers in my parents’ garden this week – it looks so perfectly English country garden to me.

flower borders

 

Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+

Book of the Week: Proud

Picking a BotW this week was a mix of hard and actually quite easy this week. I read a lot of stuff, but actually didn’t love a lot of it – and some that I did like were by authors that I’ve already written a lot about. But then there was Proud. And it was Pride in London this weekend and I spent my Saturday walking through happy, rainbow-bedecked crowds – firstly on their way to the parade, which started by work and secondly wandering through the after parties in Soho on my way to the theatre in the evening and then back to my hostel afterwards.

Proud is a collection of Young Adult short stories poetry and art edited by Juno Dawson and featuring a mix of new and established LGTBQ+* authors. There’s a huge range of experiences and identities here – including a few that I haven’t seen represented much in my own reading.

I can’t pick a favourite of the stories, because they’re all good and there were several that I really liked. I love a Pride and Prejudice retelling, so I Hate Darcy Pemberley really appealed to me. But then so did The Courage of Dragons – a story about a group of Dungeons and Dragons playing friends who band together during prom to right some wrongs done to one of their number. And then there is Penguins – about prom and crushes and two male penguins who have fallen in love.

Although I read a lot of Middle Grade fiction, I don’t really read a lot of YA – because I find it can tend towards the depressing – particularly when dealing with LGTBQ+ issues. But this is the opposite of that – the stories are affirming and joyous and romantic which is exactly what you want in a book called Proud.

My copy came from NetGalley (yes, I know, I’m super behind because this came out in March and I’ve only just read it) but you should be able to get a copy of Proud from any good bookshop and it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Here’s a bonus picture of the post-Pride march parties.

Partying in the street in Soho near the King Edward Theatre which has Rainbow flags on its big screens

Happy reading!

* I’m using LGTBQ+ here as this is how the book itself describes itself and its contributors.

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: July 1 – July 7

After all the nonfiction reading of the last few weeks, this week was thoroughly fiction centric.

Read:

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare

Proud ed Juno Dawson

It Takes Two by Jenny Holiday

Marrying Winterborne by Lisa Kleypas

Thrill Me by Susan Mallery

Hot Head by Damon Suede

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

Marry Me at Christmas by Susan Mallery

Started:

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley

Sharp by Michelle Dean

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life by Samantha Irby

Still reading:

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards

One book bought – but it’s a replacement for a Laurie Graham that I’ve lost – so it totally doesn’t count at all.

Bonus picture: The Coliseum on Saturday night, in the middle of the Pride parade party – I was on my way to see On Your Feet!

St Martins Lane in London

 

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Seduction

June’s stats coming up tomorrow, but first, this week’s Book of the Week – where we’re still firmly in non-fiction (that’s three BotW posts in a row now!) and in a different part of my historical sweet spot: classic Hollywood.

Cover of Seduction

As the subtitle suggests, this is an examination of the machinations of movie mogul Howard Hughes.  A controversial and massively famous figure in his day, if you’re not into Hollywood history you’ve probably still seen Howard Hughes references in all sorts of stuff – like the episode of The Simpsons where gambling is legalised and Mr Burns turns weird, or Willard Whyte in Diamonds are Forever or the fact that Stan Lee cited him as an inspiration for Tony Stark.  And of course there’s the Martin Scorsese film The Aviator in which he’s played by Leonardo DiCaprio.  But like Hallie Rubenhold in The Five last week, Karina Longworth is coming at this from the perspective of the women in the case – and there were a lot of them – she examines what Hughes’s obsessions with sex, power and publicity meant for the women in his orbit and how it affected them. Hint: he was a real piece of work, even more than you might already be thinking.

This was where the majority of my commute reading time went last week (five of my six train journeys) because although it’s fascinating it’s also super long. I’m a recent* convert to Longworth’s podcast, You Must Remember This, and was a little bit worried that this was going to be covering some of the same ground that that has already covered, but actually that’s not a problem. Some of the stuff has been touched on, but this is much more in depth and with more space to develop an overarching theme and narrative.

Obviously #MeToo has been much in the news over the last few years and if you want an illustration of what powerful men in Hollywood have been getting away with since the silent era then this is it. It would also serve as a great starting off point for a wider journey into Hollywood lore – I know there’s a few more lives I want to explore and a couple of books off the bibliography that I’ll be keeping an eye open for.

My copy of Seduction came from the library, but it’s out now in hardback, Kindle and Kobo as well as audiobook read by Longworth. NB: if you haven’t listened to her podcast, she’s got a very particular way of talking which can take a bit of getting used to and I know doesn’t work for everyone.  I’m not sure how easy it’s going to be to find in bookstores – it’s available to buy from Waterstones’ website, but not on click and collect – ditto Foyles.

Happy Reading!

*as in a couple of series ago.

 

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: June 24 – June 30

It’s the start of July and it’s a Monday so we have the traditional conundrum about how to juggle the schedule for the stats post, but don’t worry, it’s coming.  Anyway, a nice and varied list of books for the last week of June – although it got a bit interupted in places – that’s why there’s a lot of books on the started list!

Read:

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Seduction by Karina Longworth

We’ll Meet Again by Cathy Bramley

Devil’s Daughter by Lisa Kleypas

Crowned and Dangerous by Rhys Bowen

Kiss Me by Susan Mallery

Why Do You Wear A Cheap Watch by Hans Fallada

Started:

It Takes Two by Jenny Holiday

All Grown Up by Jami Attenberg

Proud by Juno Dawson

Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare

Still reading:

Gallows Court by Martin Edwards

No books bought – but quite a few audiobooks in Audible’s birthday sale. But they don’t count to they?!

Bonus picture: the heatwave in Fitzroy Square!

A sunny day in a Georgian square

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: The Five

Ok, so this is *technically* cheating, because I finished it yesterday, but as this is where a lot – if not the majority – of my reading time went last week, so it’s a fair pick really guv.

Cover of The Five

Hallie Rubenhold’s The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper does exactly what it says on the tin – and that is the opposite of what most books about Jack the Ripper do.  Rubenhold has researched what the lives of the canonical five victims were like before they were killed.  She’s not interested in who they were killed by – or the gruesome details of their deaths.  She is interested in their lives and whether prevailing idea about them – ie that they were prostitutes – is accurate.  Thus she puts the victims back at the centre of a narrative that has long dismissed them as incidental to the identity of their killer and at the same time gives an important insight into what life was like for working class women in Victorian London.

As a rule, I’m not interested in books about Jack the Ripper.  I was wracking my brains to think what the last one I read was, and I think it was probably Laurie Graham’s novel The Night in Question three and a half years ago.  I don’t want gruesome details of murders and rampant speculation.  But The Five has caused something of a stir.  Rubenhold’s book has got the Ripperologists’ knickers in a twist – because of her assertion that three of the five women were not sex workers.  The angry push back – and her measured responses – were enough to make me want to read this book for myself.  And it was well worth it.  The women in these pages are three dimensional people with messy complicated lives and they deserve to be at the centre of their own stories, not pushed aside in favour of the speculation about who killed them.

As a journalist, I’ve worked on a lot of coverage of murders and killings and one of the common themes when you’re deciding what how to cover them is how to refer to the victims and their killer.  All too often serial killers names are remembered but not their victims.  The first case that I was in court for after I qualified was the Ipswich murders.  Most people probably know the case as “Suffolk Strangler” or worse “the Ipswich Ripper” and could probably tell you who carried out the killings, but not the name of any of the victims (Paula Clennell, Anneli Alderton, Gemma Adams, Annette Nicholls and Tania Nichol).  Harold Shipman, Peter Sutcliffe,  Fred and Rose West, Myra Hindley – I bet all of those names are familiar to you (if you’re a Brit anyway) and yet I doubt you could name many of their victims.  There are books and books about these cases – and you could fill a library with just books about Jack the Ripper.  After the recent mass shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern vowed never to say the gunman’s name.  The Five is doing something similar with the Ripper.  We’ll never know who the killer actually was or how many victims they really killed but there is – as Rubenhold demonstrates – a wealth of information about the lives these women lived before their deaths.

And in learning about their lives, you’ll learn a lot about what it was really like to be poor and a woman in Victorian Britain.  When I was little, the geriatric hospital in Northampton was St Edmunds Hospital.  But a lot of the old people in Northampton would do anything to avoid going in to this George Gilbert Scott-designed building.  Why?  Because it was formerly a workhouse and they had been brought up to fear the shame of going into the workhouse.  And once you’ve read The Five you’ll get it – you’ll understand why sleeping on the streets might be preferable to going into one. St Edmunds closed in the 1990s (I think) and has been derelict ever since.  Work has recently started to renovate it – and to turn it into a retirement village.  We’ll see if the elderly of Northampton are prepared to live there yet.

So why do the Ripperologists hate this book so much?  I have my theories – and I don’t think it’s just because Rubenhold’s research demolishes their pet theories or because it feels seedy to be obsessed with a murderer when you know more about the lives of their victims.  But I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions.  But if you like social history, and books looking at the lives of women in history, this might be your ideal next read.

My copy of The Five came from the library (after a long wait on hold!), but you should be able to find it pretty much anywhere.  It’s popping up on a lot of summer holiday reading recommendation lists and I’d expect it to be front and centre on the history book table at any (good) bookshop.  Sadly I can’t tell you if it’s got an airport paperback edition – because there was a mix up with our baggage when we went on holiday the other week and instead of browsing the airport bookshop and eating a leisurely breakfast before our flight, I spent all my time running around Luton airport trying to get our suitcase taken off an Amsterdam flight and retagged and put on our flight to Nice – but I hope it does.  It’s also availabe on Kindle and Kobo or from Book Depository.

Happy Reading!