book adjacent, Recommendsday

#Recommendsday: Book-adjacent stuff to watch

I’ve mentioned before that I’ve been having some problems concentrating on books at various points during the Current Situation, so I’ve been watching a lot of TV in those concentration lapses. As I watch news all day every day at work, I don’t watch news on my off days, and tend to favour non-news TV. I thought today I’d mention some of the bookish things that I have watched, along with all the Drag Race, Tiger King, My Lottery Dream Home and Great British Menu.

Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict

A couple of years back I read Judith Mackerell’s The Unfinished Palazzo, about a house in Venice that was owned by Luisa Casati, Doris Castelrosse and Peggy Guggenheim. When I wrote about the book in my Rich People Problems nonfiction post last year, I said I would happily read more about any of them, which is true, but Peggy is the one I ws really curious about. So imagine my delight when I found a feature length documentary about her on BBC Four the other week.  And it turns out, she’s just as interesting as I thought she would be – and possibly as much of a nightmare to be around as I suspected too.  I am still definitely in the market for a good book about her – but this was a very good watch.  Peggy Guggenheim: Art Addict is available to watch for people in the UK (with a TV licence) on the BBC iPlayer for another nine days.

Becoming Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama’s memoir was huuuuuge when it came out – huge to the point were a year on it’s still not out in paperback and there’s still a hold queue for it at my library. Now Netflix has a new documentary that follows her on the tour she did to promote the book, which saw her talking to huge arenas and small groups. If you haven’t read the book (and I haven’t yet) it is a really good insight into her life and her story. I assume if you have read the book, it does the same but even more so! It’s got bonus appearances from Barack Obama, and for the news junkies like me you get to see behind the scenes of some of the TV interviews you may have seen her (and her mum) do at the time of the booklaunch. This one’s on Netflix now.

Wise Children

There’s a lot of theatre that has been on YouTube or TV during the lockdown, but this has been one of the most interesting to me. This is an adaptation of Angela Carters book about two ageing music hall stars, the unacknowledged daughters of the most famous Shakespearian actor of the day. I read the book two years ago, and while it is very good it didn’t really strike me as a show that would be easily adapted for the stage – despite the fact that it is about the theatre. But Emma Rice has done it and now we can all watch. I haven’t got to the end of this yet, but I’m really enjoying as much of it as I have watched. Wise Children is available to watch for people in the UK (with a TV licence) on BBC iPlayer until at least the start of June.

Howl’s Moving Castle

I read the book the other year, but I saw the film first and it has a special place in my heart because of that. All of the Studio Ghibli stuff is available on Netflix now, so if you haven’t seen them already, now is your chance. I’m planning on watching it again – but this time with subtitles instead of the English language dub.

Voila – a few ideas from me. Please put any suggestions you have for me in the comments – I will run out of Drag race soon…

Happy Watching!

 

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Bad Blood

It was a busy week of reading last week, but one book really stood out – and stood out so much I couldn’t save it for a non-fiction round up post as was my original plan! I have got posts lined up featuring some of the other books I read last week – including a Series I love post about Gail Carriger’s Parasolverse. Anyway, back to this week’s BotW.

Cover of Bad Blood

Bad Blood tells the story of Elizabeth Holmes and her company Theranos. You’ve probably heard of them – probably because you heard about what happened. Anyway, if you haven’t, here’s the summary. In the mid 2010s Holmes had positioned herself as the female Steve Jobs – a visionary college dropout whose Silicon Valley startup was promising to revolutionise medicine with their new blood testing technique. She raised billions of dollars in venture capital, was on the cover of major magazines, won awards and was invited to events at the White House. And then it all came crashing down – the tech didn’t work and never had. This is the inside story of Theranos, written by the Wall Street Journal reporter who broke the story after digging into the web of secrecy and deceit and facing up to some very expensive lawyers!

As usual, I’m somewhat behind the curve here – as the book came out in 2018 and I’ve only just got to it, but it absolutely blew my mind last week. Like Ronan Farrow’s Catch and Kill this is an incredibly readable piece of non-fiction reporting that reads a bit like a thriller – and if it was fiction you would say that it is too far fetched and that maybe the author should have reined it in a bit. But no, it all happened. My only real problem with the book is that it doesn’t really answer the question of *why* Elizabeth Holmes did what she did. It shows you how it was done, and all the ins and outs of that, but it doesn’t offer any explanation about what her plan was – and how she thought it would all play out. Also it had never occurred to me that I could call my self an inventor if I just thought of an idea and then paid people to try and make it work!  I was always an arts person at school rather than a science one, so I can imagine how people like me might have been taken in by her spiel but I was surprised that she was able to get the idea past so many actual science and medical people.

The Theranos saga has also been made into a documentary by HBO, which I haven’t watched yet but really want to. It’s currently available to buy from some streaming services, but I’m hoping it will eventually turn up on a channel on my actual TV. I’ve put the trailer in the bottom for those of you who are interested. If you want to read Bad Blood, it’s available on Kindle and Kobo for £3.99 at the moment, as well as in paperback. The UK edition of the paperback looks to be with a big publisher, so I’d hope it would be easy to obtain from your Independent bookseller of choice.

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: May 4 – May 10

Had a lovely chat with my book club friends over Zoom yesterday afternoon, which really perked me up. Also the weather was glorious on Saturday so I spent a lot of that out reading in the hammock. So that all made up for anything else that had gone wrong in the week. In case you missed them, I wrote about VE Day 75 and the Rivers of London books last week, as well as all my usual stuff, like Mini Reviews from April.

Read:

Defy and Defend by Gail Carriger

Once Upon an Eid edited by S K Ali and Aisah Saeed*

Bad Blood by John Carreyrou

Strangers and Cousins by Leah Hager Cohen

The Body in the Garden by Katharine Schellman

Reticence by Gail Carriger

The Smart Women’s Guide to Murder by Victoria Dowd*

A Springtime Affair by Katie Fforde*

The Cuckoos of Batch Magna by Peter Maughan

Started:

The Rise of the Rocket Girls by Nathalia Holt

First in Line by Kate Andersen Brower

Yellow Thread Street by William Marshall

The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

Still reading:

She-Merchants, Buchaneers and Gentlewomen by Katie Hickman

Still not counting, but several books have been incoming this week.

Bonus photo: Bank Holiday Saturday sky, as seem from the hammock in the garden

An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley.

detective, Fantasy, Series I love

Series I Love: Rivers of London

So while I was writing about nice escapist reading from the ‘rona, I realised that even though I’ve talked about it a lot, I haven’t written a Series I Love post about one of my favourites: Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant/Rivers of London series. Back in the early days of the blog, I wrote about the first book, Rivers of London (or Midnight Riot if you’re in the US) but sticking to my rule about not recommending later books in series, even though there’s a lot of five star ratings on my Goodreads for them, I haven’t revisited the series properly. Even though my bonus picture for one of the last weeks before the lockdown was me at a Ben Aaronovitch event for the new book – and I enjoyed it so much I had a ticket for another one which got cancelled because of said lockdown. Anyway, now I’ve read that latest instalment in the series, here goes:

Rivers of London series

We meet Peter Grant in the first book as a rookie police officer in the Met, about to get assigned to a dead end department until he sees a ghost. Yes that’s right, a ghost. That leads him into a hidden world of magic and encounters The Folly – or the magic department. This means the series is what I have described as Grown Up Hogwarts but in the Police. Over the course of the subsequent eight books (so far), two novellas, an audiobook exclusive and a line of graphic novels, he and the gang have investigated in Soho, in the Underground, in a brutalist estate, in Herefordshire and in Mayfair and so much more as he’s learned about the world of magic, River Gods and so much more.

I don’t want to go into too much of the plots, because really that spoils everything, but I will say that you do need to read these in order – there is an overarching story that weaves in around the cases of the week (so to speak), which builds over time to a crescendo that puts everything else into second place. Peter doesn’t know that magic exists until he sees the ghost in the first book – but once he’s involved and has met Inspector Nightingale (the last wizard in England) things are slowly revealed to him. Ben Aaronovitch used to write for Dr Who and I think it really shows in his skill at building a complete and fully formed world – even if he insists he didn’t have all the rules sorted out when he first started writing the series.

Now, some of you might be reading this and thinking that you don’t really do books like this, but please don’t be so hasty or so judgemental.*  If you’ve read Harry Potter, then this is nothing more “hard” fantasy than that is really. Ditto if you’ve read Terry Pratchett – this is closer to “real life” than he is. If you read police procedurals as your main thing (and hello, lovely to see you if you do, but not sure how you got here) then this is really one step small away from reality – the jargon of the police force is there – down to the brand name of their walkie talkies. So go on, give it a go. I honestly don’t think anyone who I’ve recommended them to and who actually read one has told me they didn’t like them.

As I said, start at the beginning with Rivers of London. These have sold a tonne of copies, so if you’re somewhere where you can get to a bookshop, then I would be surprised if they don’t have a copy in stock. And if they’re not open, then call your local and see if they have a copy they can send you. I’m sure Big Green Books will oblige if he can too. Equally your local library (and their digital collection) should carry them – mine does. They’re also on Kindle and Kobo. The audiobook versions are read by the silky-voiced Kobna Holdbrook-Smith** and I own most of those as well. The eagle-eyed may have noticed in the photo of my shelf that I’m missing one of the novellas and that’s because before that event at Foyles, I waited for them to come out in paperback. I’ve broken that duck now, so who knows what will happen – They’ve already changed the paperback style so that furthest station and Lies Sleeping don’t quite match the previous ones, so all bets are off. Will I mix it up? Will I buy another copy of False Value when it comes out in paperback so they match?

Anyway, go forth and enjoy and when London’s reopened after all this, hopefully you’l have enjoyed the series so much that you’ll be planning a walking tour of all the various locations.

Happy Reading!

Ben Aaronovitch talking to Temi Oh at the Foyles event for False Value
Here is that picture of the Foyles event again!

*If you’re a romance reader who is fed up of people being rude about your genre of choice, then stop now and have a good hard think about what you’re saying and how much you hate it when people do that about romance. And if you need more persuading: Sarah Wendell from Smart Bitches has mentioned (more than once) on her podcast how much she enjoys them.

**The observant of voice may recognise him from Paddington 2 where he plays the warder, but he’s been all over various bits of TV for years – and also won an Olivier award for playing Ike Turner in the original cast of Tina! (Which I’m still annoyed that I didn’t manage to see)

tribute

VE Day 75

So today marks 75 years since VE Day and the end of the Second World War in Europe. The world is upside down at the moment, and although we have a bank holiday here in the UK today plans for big events to celebrate this have been shelved, for obvious reasons. This morning I was hanging out of the attic window trying to spot the Red Arrows flying over on their way home after their central London flyover and then I watched (and observed) the two minute silence at 11 am.

I was going to write a post full of World War Two reading recommendations for today, but it didn’t really feel right. Instead, I want to ask you to be kind to yourself, to your family and to your friends; and to take a bit of time if you can to remember all the people who served or contributed to the war effort. I have been thinking mostly about my grandfathers today, and I wanted to share a bit about them with you.

Black and white photo of Douglas Ward in army uniformThis first photo is my Grandpa on my mum’s side, Douglas Ward. He was in the Royal Engineers, worked on the railways (including on the Hush Hush train and on the Mallard) and helped build components for the Mullberry harbour that towed across the Channel to Arromanches, then he landed on the beaches on D Day and went on across Europe to Hamburg where he worked on boats at the docks. Mum still has his army book because he was never properly demobbed. It shows if he hadn’t been released for essential work – to go back and take over as chief engineer at the factory he worked in pre-war – he would have been posted to the Far East. He went on to be the chief engineer at a number of shoe factories in Northampton. We lived next door to him and my grandma for most of my childhood (my parents live in my grandparents house now) and he hardly ever talked about the war. But he was very proud of being a Royal Engineer and the skills that he learned.

Photo of RAF service ment

Crouching down in the middle of this photo is my other grandad, Ivor Wilde. I know even less about what he was up to during the war because he died when I was a baby. But I do know that he was in the RAF and served in India. The photo below is of him and my granny. They got married during the war, and my dad’s older sister was born in 1946. My grandad went on to be a farmer, stand as a candidate to be an Member of Parliament and eventually set up a fencing company which is still in the family today. I wish he’d been around a bit longer for me to get to know him the way that I knew my other grandpa.

Photo of my grandad with my granny during the war

Thank you for taking the time to read this. I hope everyone is enjoying the bank holiday. Stay safe and happy reading.

 

 

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from April

Another month is over, so here’s the latest selection of mini reviews – these are for books that I enjoyed in the previous month, but which I haven’t already talked about. Two of these are new releases that I got from NetGalley (they have the asterisks) the other is one I bought for myself after seeing other people recommend it. If you want a physical copy of these – and Mooncakes is only available as a physical copy – then please get in touch with your local independent bookseller – or in the case of Mooncakes your local comic book store.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

paperback copy of Mooncakes

A graphic novel to start – Mooncakes is a YA fantasy story about a magic and witches and first love. Set in New England, when Nova Huang follows reports of a white wolf one night she discovers her childhood crush Tam Lang battling a horse demon. With the help of her grannies and the spellbooks from their bookshop, the two are soon trying to defeat the dark forces that threaten their town – but also discovering that they still have feelings for each other. I loved the artwork for this as well as the story – it really worked for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan in me. I see on Goodreads it’s getting a “people who read this also read…” to Pumpkinheads, but I think it would also work for fans of Lumberjanes who are a little older – either grownups like me or teens who have aged out of middle-grade. As I said at the top, this is only available as a paperback – so no ebook links here I’m afraid.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healy*

Cover of The Animals at Lockwood Manor

Need some creepy gothic fiction set in World War 2? Well maybe try this: it’s summer 1939 and Hetty Cartwright has been entrusted with evacuating the natural history museum’s collection of mammals to keep them safe from the looming war. But when she gets to Lockwood Manor where she will stay to look after them, she discovers a very strange household indeed.  Lord Lockwood is short-tempered and unpredictable, his daughter is friendly towards Hetty but clearly troubled and the servants really don’t like the large collection of taxidermy that they’re now having to help look after. And then things start moving, and then going missing altogether. But for all the talk of ghosts and haunting, that sort of thing isn’t real is it? This has a lot of themes in it that I like – women trying to make their way in a world built for men, big country houses, the time period (and a gorgeous cover) – but the pace was a bit slow for me. Other people whose opinions I respect haven’t had that problem though so I’m still happy recommending it. This came out in March in hardback and ebook (Kindle/Kobo) and audiobook.

Unflappable by Suzie Gilbert*

Cover of Unflappable

Are you one of the many people who’ve been watching Tiger King in lockdown? I have and that’s exactly why I requested this from NetGalley. Luna Burke is on the run. Her estranged husband has stolen a bald eagle from a wildlife sanctuary and she’s determined to steal it back from his private zoo and get it to safety in Canada where it can be reunited with its mate. This is classed on Goodreads under chick lit and romantic comedy but I actually think it’s trying to be an adventure caper – there’s certainly not a lot of romance in it. But whatever it is a story featuring craziness from wildlife rescuers is perfectly timed at the moment. I didn’t think it was entirely successful – better in the idea than the excecution – but there are enough people on Goodreads who’ve loved it that I think it might work better for other people.  One thing is for sure though: the plot seemed a lot less far-fetched than it would have done before I had watched the exploits of Joe Exotic and Carol Baskin! This one is a paperback original – but looks like it’s probably a special order from the states, so it’s probably easier to get the ebook – in Kindle or Kobo.

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from April: Dead Famous, A Cowboy to Remember, Murder to Music and Death of a Demented Spiv, the blog tour post for Conjure Women, the Series I Love post for the Cazalets, my escapist coronavirus fiction suggestions and my #Recommendsday post for the Happy Valley Set.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Logging Off

There are Mini Reviews from April coming up tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s another BotW post. And for the second week running it’s not a mystery. Logging Off is a comedy but it does have romantic elements, so don’t panic, I’m not that far outside my current trends.

Cover of Logging Off
Andy Bellows has got a problem – he’s feeling awful. He’s got insomnia, anxiety and neck-ache, on top of the IBS he’s had for years. When he googles his symptoms, the internet convinces him that he’s got a fatal illness, so he heads to the doctors. But what the doctor diagnoses is an unhealthy reliance on the internet and modern technology and instead of getting a death sentence, Andy is prescribed a digital detox. He’s is convinced the doctor is wrong, but his best friend convinces him to give it a go. Soon Andy is trying to navigate the world the old-fashioned way and realising how different it is without a smartphone in his hand. But when a story about his detox appears in the local paper, he becomes a hero to other people who are worried they have the same problems – and suddenly Andy has a new problem to deal with. Will Andy ever be able to figure out how to balance his life?

It might seem a bit of a strange choice to pick a book about a digital detox at a time when most of us are using technology more than ever to keep in touch with family and friends, but this made me laugh so much that I couldn’t help myself. Admittedly it took me a little bit to get into – but I’m blaming that on the poo-splosion incident near the start, which was too close to humiliation humour for me* but that’s just me. Andy’s adventures without his phone were funny and relatable, the secondary characters are great and  I thought the resolution was really clever.  It also reminds you not to take what you see on the internet too seriously as a model for your own life and will make you think about your own technology consumption – especially if you’re reading it on a Kindle like I was – but in a good way not in a boring preachy way that will make you feel bad about it. I mean I work in a tech heavy and tech reliant job and I was definitely thinking “well at least I don’t do that” rather than “uh oh, I have a problem” while I was reading it.

This is the second Nick Spalding book I’ve read – I read Bricking It back in December 2015 and that was a BotW as well as getting a mention in my books about renovations post.  I’m not to sure why it’s taken me so long to read him again, because I really enjoyed that too. Four and a bit years ago, my main complaint with Bricking It (according to my Goodreads review)  was that the resolution was a bit too sudden, and this one doesn’t have that problem. There is a definite dilemma that Andy is going through and it resolves itself in stages – and you don’t really notice that it’s doing it until you realise that it’s done. Which is neat.

Anyway, this came out at the start of April, and I hope that the fact that everyone is stuck inside on their phones hasn’t discouraged people from buying it. My copy came from NetGalley, but you can get hold of it now on Kindle (it’s in Kindle Unlimited at the moment too!) or as a paperback or audiobook exclusively from Amazon.

Happy Reading!

*It’s hard to explain, but not good with humour based on embarrassment or humiliation. It’s why I struggle with Alan Partridge and The Office. They used to be one one after the other when I was at uni and I watched with my then boyfriend in the common room because everyone was and I didn’t want to be the boring one and I really struggled. When The Office Christmas Special was on, I watched it at home only to see if Tim and Dawn got a happy ending. To this day only you can make me come over all misty-eyed.