Book of the Week, historical, literary fiction, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Swan Song

A tricky choice for my book of the week this week – partly because of a reduced list this week because of exciting things like holidays with friends, but partly because I had little quibbles with everything I read.  In the end it came down to Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s Swan Song and The Vacationers (apt because I was on vacation!) but as I’ve recommended Emma Straub before, I thought I’d go with Swan Song instead.  And to be fair, writing this post turned out to be really quite easy in the end!

Copy of Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of my love of novels based on real events, and this one takes a look at the downfall of Truman Capote, who after years of friendship (and patronage) with a group of elite high society women, committed social suicide by using their lives as material.  He called them his Swans, and they tell the story as a sort of Greek chorus, switching between their lives, his life and the stories he told them.  Hopping backwards and forwards through time, the Swans recount the various versions of Capote’s childhood that they’ve been told, full of inconsistencies and embroideries, they tell the stories of their friendship with him and its implosion and the aftermath.

This is really good. While it is most definitely a bit of a Rich People Problems type of situation, there is proper scandal, betrayal and heartbreak on all sides here. There are a lot of novels that talk about the unhappiness of rich and privileged people, and although they can sometimes be my favourite books to read, when it doesn’t work it’s hard to muster any sympathy.  But that’s not the case here at all – the women who Truman exposes have all their unhappiness exposed to the world – all the things that they have managed to ignore or put up with to keep their status are suddenly out there in print and although Joe Public might not know who the stories are about at first, the veil disguising their identities is very thin and people work it out – fast. I still can’t make up my mind if Truman knew that what he was about to do was going to explode his life but did it because he was terrified about failing to deliver a follow up to In Cold Blood, or if he thought that the women wouldn’t mind and couldn’t believe that they would be prepared to turn their backs on him.  My main quibble was around the last quarter – which I didn’t think worked quite as well as the earlier part had done, mostly because after the swans have broken with him, using them as a narrative device didn’t work quite as well for me.

There is a big cast of characters here but I was fine, knowing a bit about the story and having read another novel based around this very same issue before.  But my other quibble was whether you’d get lost if you didn’t know anything about this set before – as I was slightly when I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue – which didn’t tell you what it was that he’d done! Swan Song does give you the details on that – which is good, and I think if you keep reading beyond any initial confusion, it will all start to slot in to place. It’s just that the first part is a little bit like Truman’s brain after he’s had a few Orange Drinks and some pills. And obviously there is Wikipedia to help too if you’re really stuck – to be honest I think you can get all you need to know from Truman’s entry and then disappear off down any rabbit holes that strike your fancy!

Last week I recommended a book of fiction so cleverly done that you can’t believe the band isn’t real and actually these two make quite a good pair and overlap in time in some patches – although you may find that hard to believe.  You’ve got Truman and his swans living in the high society world of the East Coast which still feels like a relic of an earlier era, while over on the West Coast, Daisy and the Six are living it up in the new world of rock and drugs and feel much more contemporary.  And both would make great books to read on the beach if you’re about to head off on Spring/Easter break.  And writing post this has reminded me again that I really need to finish writing that Rich People Problems books post – it’s sitting half done, waiting for an opportune time to finish it (and for me to finish reading a couple more books).  Maybe this will be the push that I need!

I’ve had this on the pile for a while – twice in fact as I managed to get a NetGalley ebook copy when I already had a paper copy via the joys of my proper job – but although it came out last summer, I’m sort of timely – as earlier this month it was named on the longlist for the Women’s Fiction prize at the moment. The paperback isn’t out until the end of June so you could preorder it (and Amazon do have that pre-order price guarantee) but the hardback isn’t a bad price on Amazon at the moment if you just can’t wait, and would expect (or hope at least!) there might be a copy in any reasonably sized bookshop – especially now it’s been longlisted for a prize, even more so if it makes the shortlist. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo too.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: March 11 – March 18

Two nights away from home for work (including a trip to the theatres) and then a holiday to see friends at the weekend. Sorry, not sorry.

Read:

Who Killed Marilyn Monroe by Liz Evans

Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Black Panther: Soul of a Machine by Fabian Nicieza

The Vacationers by Emma Straub

Clammed Up by Barbara Ross

Started:

The Road to Grantchester by James Runcorn

Still reading:

The Binding by Bridget Collins

On the Road and off the Record with Leonard Bernstein by Charlie Harmon

From the Corner of the Oval by Beck Dorey Stein

One book bought, several more acquired from my friend…

Bonus picture: Portugal on Saturday:

 

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: March 4 – March 10

I had two late shifts (slow trains home!) and three days off in a row last week – and look what it did to my reading list!  And yes, I’m still on that Susan Mallery jag…

Read:

Just One Kiss by Susan Mallery

Turtles All the Way Down by John Green

Sag Harbor by Colson Whitehead

My Oxford Year by Julia Whelan

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Two of a Kind by Susan Mallery

Three Little Words by Susan Mallery

Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Started:

Who Killed Marilyn Monroe by Liz Evans

Still reading:

The Binding by Bridget Collins

On the Road and off the Record with Leonard Bernstein by Charlie Harmon

Bonus picture: the stage at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket last night while I was waiting for Patti LuPone to be in conversation!

theatre ticket and stage in the background

Book of the Week, graphic novels

Book of the Week: Fence

A long list of books read in yesterday’s Week in Books post.  You’ll have noticed that I’m still on a big old Susan Mallery reading jag, but in the interests of not being repetitive, this week’s BotW features what I fear may become my next graphic novel obsession: Fence.

Cover of Fence Vol 1Fence is the story of Nicholas Cox who is determined to make it in the world of fencing.  He’s managed to win a fencing scholarship into a top boarding school and needs to get a spot on the school team to stay.  But in his way is enigmatic Seiji Katayama – who beat him at the last big competition and who also happens to be his new roommate.  Why is he putting himself through this?  Well he’s the illegitimate son of a fencing great and he wants the chance to be a fencing legend like the dad that he never knew.  And if it means beating his half-brother – his father’s acknowledged son and protege – on the way, then so be it.

This exists at the convergence of the Venn diagram of some of my top catnip: boarding schools, underdogs, Olympic sports and – dare I hope – enemies to lovers.  It ticked so many of my boxes, you would not believe.   Or may be you would if you’ve been here a while!  Aside from Nicholas and Seiji, the fencers at Kings Row are a really interesting gang of people and – like Boom! box stablemate Lumberjanes – they are a super diverse bunch but that’s not made into a Thing, it’s just how life is.  Because of course that is how real life is.  I love the art from Johanna the Mad – and the simple but striking colour pallette that’s used.  I know very little about fencing – except that it’s in a fair few historical romances and that these days it’s *very* fast-moving when it pops up on TV at the Olympics – but this totally hooked me in and had just enough detail about the ins and outs of the sport to keep you interested without overloading you – which is a skill in itself, especially in a graphic novel.

I saw an issue of this while I was in the US in the autumn, but waited and bought the trade version from my local comic book shop.  I’ve now got Volume two on order, but volume three isn’t out until May and I can’t just glom on it now.  Hey ho, I can’t have it all my own way.  You should be able to get hold of Fence Vol 1 from any good comic retailer – and please do support your local comic store – but if you want a taste, the first issue (one fourth of this trade) is £1.79 on Kindle at time of writing.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, memoirs, new releases, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Diary of a Drag Queen

First up a bit of housekeeping: don’t forget last week’s BotW, Death of an Angel is out on Thursday! If you saw the WiB yesterday, you’ll know that there was a bit of a theme to last week’s tired, last night train reading, but actually it’s a non-fiction pick this week.  For once I’m almost relatively timely – because it’sa new book.  Well by new, it only came out on the 7th, Crystal Rasmussen’s Diary of a Drag Queen. Doesn’t it have a great cover?

Cover of Diary of a Drag Queen

Crystal is the drag name of Tom Rasmussen, a writer, Drag Queen and Céline Dion super-fan and their first book is a raw, honest, no holds barred, letting it all hang out look at one year in the author’s life. You follow them back to London after a difficult spell trying to make it in New York, trying to break the fashion industry, find a place in the drag scene and work out where they fit in the LGTBQIA+ community and their own personal manifesto. If you are squeamish, if you can’t deal with reading about other people’s poo, be warned: there is a lot of that here. But Crystal -has a lot they want to tell you and it is worth sitting up and listening.

I think this might be the most honest memoir I have read since Viv Albertine’s Boys, Clothes, Music. Crystal is setting their life and their truth out there on the page, without a filter (or at least not one that I could spot) and seemingly without hiding anything. At various points Crystal talks about having had to tone their life down for their partner or to be accepted or even just to be exist and it feels like this Diary, this book is their life as they want it to be seen, in all its imperfections, messiness, mistakes and triumphs. Here is Crystal explaining their approach in the introduction:

I spent a lot of my life in the violent, painful clutches of shame, which manifested itself in various modes of self-harm, self-destruction, and other untenable, unsurvivable behaviours.

I learned, however, that the antidote to this shame is not pride, or honour, or even celebration. That comes later. The antidote to shame is honesty. Stark, crass, funny, powerful honesty. Honesty that smashes through notions of taboos and inappropriatenesses. I am not shameful, because I’ve done nothing wrong. It’s the same with being gay, queer, femme, non-binary, a drag queen.

Crystal tells these stories with caustic wit, biting insight and what might be considered a reckless disregard for the secrets of the bedroom, if it wasn’t for the fact that they have assured us at the start that some names and details have been changed to protect identities. Phew. A lot of Crystal’s life is a long way from my experience and my background. And, again as I thought with Viv Albertine, I’m not sure that Crystal would like me. There were times when their critiques of various things made me squirm in my seat with the knowledge that I might have skirted the edges of doing some of the things they were railing against. But as they say, we have all made mistakes it’s how you deal with the mistakes and learn from them that makes a difference. And I’m always trying to do better. We should all always be trying to do better.  Here’s Crystal again:

Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer/questioning, Intersex, Asexual and + (not you, straight guy who loves glitter a bit but thinks bum sex is gross). Yes, it’s a long acronym, yes, it’s seven whole letters, but I learned the national anthem even though borders are constructs, so you can learn seven letters.

My copy of Diary of a Drag Queen came from NetGalley, but it is out now in hardback and you should be able to lay your hands on a copy fairly easily – I’d expect it to be in any good-sized actual bookshop. Crystal is also out and about on a book tour, so they may soon be coming to a store near you. I know I’m looking to see if I can make one of the dates – and if you can’t, the audiobook is read by the author and the sample on Amazon is a fairly representative section of the book. And of course it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: February 18 – February 24

Ok, so I’ll admit there’s a bit of a theme here. But I have a couple of Susan Mallery omnibuses and it’s so easy just to read straight on to the next one. Also I was on late shifts and worked the weekend and they were just what my tired brain needed this week.

Read:

Only His by Susan Mallery

Dear Santa by Nancy Naigle

Only Us by Susan Mallery

Diary of a Drag Queen by Crystal Rasmussen

Rivers of London: Action at a Distance 4 by Ben Aaronovich et al

Almost Summer by Susan Mallery

Summer Days by Susan Mallery

Started:

The Omega Objection by Gail Carriger

Summer Nights by Susan Mallery

Read and Gone by Allison Brook

Still reading:

A Well-Behaved Woman by Theresa Anne Fowler

The Binding by Bridget Collins

Is Everybody Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling

One ebook bought on a kindle daily deal but other than that, nada.

Bonus picture: The Gielgud Theatre on Thursday as I left after the Company matinee, before I headed to the National Theatre for Follies that evening. Double Sondheim. Lovely.