book round-ups, non-fiction

New Year, New You

A Friday bonus post for you.  Back in the autumn I started thinking about what I might write for New Year this year and realised that I hate New Year’s Resolutions posts because they never feel natural and they add an extra level of guilt and obligation to my reading that I just don’t need. So instead of a resolutions post, but still in the spirit of new beginnings, I thought I’d write about some self-help/self-improvement books that I have read.  Which meant I had to read some. And so I embarked on some reading.

This is not a genre that I read a lot – I have a low tolerance for inspirational stuff, but I try and keep an open mind. And trying to grow and improve yourself is good, and so in the interests of you, dear Reader, I did it.  Here is what I discovered: I am really not a good candidate for self help books.  They make me really quite angry quite easily.  And it seems that as a person in a relationship but without children, a lot of them really don’t apply to me.  But here were are, I’ve done the reading so you don’t have to. Lets start with the bad…

Most Unintentionally Depressing: Fair Play by Eve Rodsky

Cover of Fair Play

My main takeaway from this was that finding a decent man in America must be a garbage fire. This book claims to be “a revolutionary, real-world solution to the problem of unpaid, invisible work that women have shouldered for too long.” What it actually is is a way to gamify domestic labour that you trick your other half into playing with you. I had high hopes for this because it was a Reese Witherspoon book club pick and her fiction picks have always been interesting, but hooo boy.  It’s definitely true that women have greater expectations placed on them by external and internal forces when it comes to running a household, but this feels like the marriage equivalent of a dating manual that advises you to trick your potential spouse.  And despite what the blurb would have you think, it also only really applies to hetero-normative relationships with kids.  And only then if you’re prepared to treat your partner like a child – which to be honest isn’t the relationship that I aspire to.  I prefer to share my life with someone I can talk to like an adult about problems and, if you believe the author, it seems most men in the US can’t have a sensible conversation about shared workload and need to be tricked and gamed into doing their share.

Most Irritating: Girl Wash Your Face by Rachel Hollis

Cover of Girl, Wash Your Face

I’m going to chalk this up to a lack of research on my part.  My library suggested this to me (I can’t remember why) and knowing I was going to write this post I read the blurb and thought it sounded worth a try and got myself on the hold list.  It came in just in time to read for this post more is the pity. Per the Goodreads entry “With wry wit and hard-earned wisdom, popular online personality and founder of TheChicSite.com founder Rachel Hollis helps readers break free from the lies keeping them from the joy-filled and exuberant life they are meant to have.” So far so good – but the bit I didn’t clock properly was at the end: “With unflinching faith and tenacity, Hollis spurs other women to live with passion and hustle and to awaken their slumbering goals.”  The key word there being faith.  There’s a lot of God and knowing that God has plans for your life and your journey in this, and that was not what I was looking for.  There’s also a lot of American therapy speak that always makes my skin itch and big sections of the book are about juggling a job and kids. To be fair though, her relationship does sound a bit better balanced than the ones in Fair Play – so maybe not all American men are awful.

And now for the good…

Most Reassuring: The Likeability Trap by Alicia Menendez

Cover of The Likeability Trap

Journalist Alicia Menendez examines the concept of likeability and why women either are perceived as cold but strong or warm but weak and why this is outdated and how to fight against it. I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this, but it turned out to be useful, reassuring and quite practical. I’m not sure how many things I’ll be able to implement in my life, but it definitely felt like someone with similar experiences and feelings to me was giving me advice.  And as we go into a US Presidential election year, it’s really interesting to take a deep dive into the notion of female likeability so you know what you’re looking for in the commentary on the women in the running for the nomination and the presidency.

Most practical: The Making of a Manager by Julie Zhuo

Cover of Making of a Manager

Julie Zhuo was an early hire at Facebook and at 25 found herself managing a team of designers.  As the company grew, so did the number of people she was managing.  In The Making of a Manager she discusses the perils and pitfalls of becoming a manager and offers helpful advice for how to avoid them.  I actually found this the most useful of the lot.  Not everything she talks about applies to the job that I do, but enough did that I started making notes.  And although she works in tech and draws her examples from her own experience, it doesn’t feel like you’re being lectured by a Facebook zealot and it felt like she’d worked hard to make her advice applicable to most sorts of teams and workplaces and so I think almost anyone who manages people  could get something out of this.

So there you have it.  I think on balance I got enough from the good books to make up for the bad bits, but next time I do this (if there is a next time!) I’m going to pay better attention to the blurbs and try and decode things a bit better. Also maybe stop reading the stuff I don’t like before it makes me ragey.  Three of these came from the library (hello again themes of my 2019 obsessions) but The Making of a Manager came from NetGalley.

Until Monday – Happy Reading!

books, stats

December Stats

It’s the end of the year – so here it is, the bumper end of year stat post. I’m sure there’ll be some tweaks to the format at the end of January, but this is the 2019 format for the very last time:

New books read this month: 37*

Books from the to-read pile: 17

Ebooks read: 8

NetGalley books read: 3

Library books: (all ebooks): 9

Non-fiction books: 8

Most read author in December: Noel Coward – 2 plays read, which feels a bit wrong, but no other repeated authors

Books bought in December: 8 books, 3 books and a couple of preorders for 2020

Books read in 2019: 402!!!

This is my highest ever total, which is somewhat amazing and mind boggling. You can check out my year in books on Goodreads here.

Most read author in 2019: Susan Mallery – I’ve read the entire Fools Gold series this year basically, and all  but one of the Happily Inc series too and some standalones.  It’s been a proper glom.

Books on the Goodreads to-read shelf (I don’t have copies of all of these!): 540

And if you’ve somehow missed them, here’s my look back at my favourite new books of the year, my 2019 reading obsessions (which maybe should have included Susan Mallery, but doesn’t!), how my 2018 obsessions fared last year, and my look ahead to exciting new releases in 2020.

Bonus picture: Here’s my completed Beat the To Read Shelf spread from my journal.  I started this in 2018 as a way of making me work my way through the books on the tbr pile.  I find that I hate not finishing something even more than I hate being “forced” to read something.  But the library ebooks meant I fell a little bit behind this year – and had to do almost an entire shelf in the last month and a half of the year, and half a shelf in the last ten days.  I’m dead proud of it now I’m done though!

*Includes some short stories/novellas/comics/graphic novels (4 this month)

 

Book previews

Books I’m looking forward to in 2020

Happy New Year everyone. It’s the start of 2020, so after looking back at 2019, it’s time to look ahead to some of the books coming out this year that I’m excited about.  And as with last year’s list, it’s fairly weighted towards the start of the year – because that’s just how it always happens.  Will one of these be this year’s Daisy Jones and the Six for me? Who knows.

The Mirror and the Light – Hilary Mantel (March)

Cover of The Mirror and the Light

Lets start with the big name, potential blockbuster released.  The final part of Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy has been so long coming.  It’s about 7 years since I read Bringing up the Bodies – I know because it was pre-this blog, but after I started working at the BBC (I know because I read it during a run of nightshifts up behind the old BBC World studio, which means the latest it can have been is autumn 2012).  I mean it’s even been a few years since the TV adaptation of the first two parts. Whether it can live up to the hype and awards of its predecessors, who knows, but I’ll be reading it to find out.   I studied the Tudors back in the day, and one of the big achievements of this series is to make Thomas Cromwell likeable. I know how this story ends (hint: not well for him) but I can’t wait to see how she finishes it all off.

Miss Austen – Gill Hornby (January)

Cover of Miss Austen

Why did Cassandra Austen destroy a cache of letters written by her famous sister, more that 20 years after Jane’s death? My love of Austen-related books is well known, as it my love of mysteries and books about books and authors so I’m hoping this will be right up my alley.  It’s out at the end of January and I’ve got a copy from NetGalley waiting on the Kindle already, so if I do like it, chances are you’ll be hearing about it.

The 24-Hour Cafe – Libby Page (January)

Cover of The 24-hour Cafe

I really liked Page’s debut, The Lido, when I read it back in April 2018, and I’ve got high hopes for this. Set in a cafe, where two best friends work together, this is promising a story of friendship and community.  The 24-Hour Cafe is another January release that I have a copy of from NetGalley and I’m hoping this will be a nice uplifting book to carry me through the dark and cold of the post-Christmas, pre-birthday period.

The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle (April)

Cover of The Intoxicating Mr Lavelle

Per the blurb Benjamin & Edgar Bowen head off on a Grand Tour of Europe to meet People of Quality, but it turns out the People of Quality may not want to meet them. But then Benjamin meets Horace Lavelle and his education really begins.  I love a grand tour novel and this sounds like it might be right up my street.  I have a copy from NetGalley and so this is another one which you may hear more about sooner rather than later.

The Thursday Murder Club – Richard Osman (September)

This is probably one of the more anticipated books for next year. The blurb for this promises a group of octogenarians, who meet up at their retirement village every week to investigate unsolved killings, investigating a real crime when a property developer ends up dead near by. Sounds right up my street already doesn’t it?  Add to that the fact that Richard Osman is the tall guy behind the desk on Pointless and back when I worked at TV Centre, one of my treats to myself during tea breaks was to go and stand in the viewing gallery and watch episodes of Pointless being filmed and you’ll see why I’m really quite excited about this one and have been since it was announced back in May. It feels like it’s been a long wait already.

So there you have it, five books that I’m looking forward to this year.  The list could have been longer – there are new books coming that I’m looking foward to from Lucy Parker, Gail Carriger, Deanna Raybourn and more, but I thought I’d try not to be too predictable!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, memoirs, reviews

Book of the Week: Year of the Fat Knight

My final BotW of 2020 continues the Year of Non-fiction, except this is one from the to read bookshelf and not from the library. If you’ve missed my look back at my reading obsessions over the year, you can find them here, and also my best books of the year. Coming up tomorrow, instead of the stats, is my look ahead to some new books coming in 2020. The stats will follow later in the week. Because I’m that good to you. Anyway, to the review.

Year of the Fat Knight on a bookshelf

Ever wondered what it takes to be an actor? Or more particularly if you’ve got what it takes to be an actor? You sort of half think it might be an easy life right? Wrong. Over the course of this book you watch (in your mind’s eye at least) Antony Sher agonise over taking a part, preparing for the part and playing the part. And as you read, you realise all the hidden hard work that goes into crafting a performance, an interpretation of words on paper.

The Fat Knight of the title is Falstaff, one of Shakespeare’s iconic creations. But not, as Sher muses, one that The Big Names often play. He muses that there are traditionally two tracks for Shakespearean actors – one leads to King Lear, via Macbeth and Hamlet, and the other to Falstaff (via parts like Bottom) and that never the twain shall meet. But here is Sher – who famously played Richard III as a young man (which Sher also wrote a book about) and who I saw play Macbeth just after the turn of the century* – considering an offer, from his partner no less, to play Falstaff. Illustrated with Sher’s own drawings, it’s fascinating and eye opening and incredibly readable. Sher’s partner is Gregory Doran, a director who at the start of the book is just taking over the helm at the RSC so as well as the musings on Falstaff, you get a peek behind the curtain at the RSC and in the world of theatre generally. The two are named as a power couple in the media in a couple of lists during the book, which perplexes Sher but reminds the reader that there are fairly large stakes here professionally. The production – and Sher’s performance – were a success but that never feels anywhere near certain as you read it.

I raced through this and although I didn’t see the productions of Henry IV Sher is writing about, I have seen a couple of the others that are mentioned in it and have seen some of the other actors in other things which made for an added bonus as a theatre nerd.  I don’t know that you need to be a theatre nerd to enjoy this though – I think you just need to be someone who is interested in process and creation.  If you’ve ever wondered how a production of Shakespeare is put together, whether the actors really understand what they’re saying and how they create a character, this would certainly interest to you.  But if you’re a creator of something else, I think this would be worth a look as well – and you can compare your process in your field to this.  I’m sure you’d get something out of it.

I had this on the shelf – I think it came from a work book sale a year or so ago (it came out in , but you should be able to get hold of a copy fairly easily from a bookshop with a theatre section.  Mine is a hardback, but there is also a paperback edition now. If you want to buy online, may I suggest you go direct to Nick Hern Books, the publisher, where the price is within pennies of that of Amazon as I write this and will undoubtedly benefit them more direct.  They’ve got 20% off everything at the moment – so in one of life’s more predictable moments, I ordered myself Sher’s other two books on acting – the aforementioned Year of the King and his latest, Year of the Mad King about King Lear – when I went to check this out.

Happy Reading and Happy New Year!

*Gosh that makes me feel old saying that, but although the turn of the century automatically makes me think of the start of the 20th century, we’re far enough into the 21st now that I probably should get used to it.  I saw Macbeth with Sher and Harriet Walter at the Swan in Stratford sometime around 2000 – I still have the poster somewhere, but I’m not getting it out to check!

books, stats, The pile, week in books

The Week in Books: December 23 – December 29

I do hope everyone had a good Christmas.  I got a stack of books (see picture) and ate a lot of lovely food.  But as well as Christmas, this was the week that the RWA (Romance Writers of America) set itself on fire (if you missed it, here’s a good timeline of what went down from Clare Ryan – but suffice to say it was such a big deal that the AP wrote an article about it) – so now seems like a good time to remind you about my Diverse Romances, from back in March, which was written because of the RITA nominations drama but has loads of recommendations for good stuff written by interesting people that it seems the RWA doesn’t really care about. Sigh. In actual reading terms, this week I have mostly been reading books from the TBR bookshelf because I have a spread in my bullet journal that I want to complete before the end of the year.

Read:

Ghosts of Painting Past by Sybil Johnson

The Art of Theft by Sherry Thomas

I Go by Sea, I Go by Land by PL Travers

Design for Living by Noel Coward

The Rat-Catcher’s Daughter by KJ Charles

Trivial Pursuits by Frank Vickery

Night of a Thousand Stars by Deanna Raybourn

Binny for Short by Hillary McKay

Waiting in the Wings by Noel Coward

Year of the Fat Knight by Antony Sher

Started:

The Angel with Two Faces by Nicola Upson

The Case for Jamie by Brittany Cavallaro

Still reading:

The Blood Card by Elly Griffiths

I bought a few books this week – mostly ebooks and preorders supporting various authors caught up in the aforementioned RWA debacle. And obviously there was some incoming from Christmas…

Bonus photo: The Christmas book arrivals (the the tbr bookshelf in the background).

Best of...

Best (new) books of 2019

You may remember my halfway point round up from back in June.  Well here we are at the end of the year and it’s time to decide what my favourite, favourite picks are from the whole year. There are a few things that haven’t changed though as you’ll see.

Mystery Fiction: Death of an Angel by Derek Farrell

No change here, because I haven’t read a new crime novel in the second half of the year that I liked more than Death of an Angel. I continue to love Derek Farrell’s creation – this is not the first time he’s appeared in a best books of the year post – and I’ve got a Danny Bird short story waiting for me to read because Fahrenheit Press have got Death of a Sinner in a special edition with Jo Perry’s Everything Happens and I have been saving it for a Christmas treat.

Honourable mention (also no change!): Vinyl Detective: Flip Back by Andrew Cartmel

Contemporary romance: Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

The first change from the half year list. Evvie Drake Starts Over was just perfect for me.  I could have spent hours longer with Evvie and Dean, just watching them go about their lives.  I’ve spoken a lot about the fact that I miss the romantic fiction of the early 00s – where people fix themselves at get love as a bonus, and this is the best example of that that I’ve read this year. The the characters are great – their lives are messy and imperfect just like real people – and the romance is wonderful.  I have the paperback pre-ordered, so that I can read it again, lend it out and keep it on the bookshelf.

Honourable mention: The Bride Test by Helen Hoang (my pick at the halfway point)

Historical Romance: Brazen and the Beast by Sarah MacLean

Another change. And I thought about it a lot because I do love A Duke in Disguise, but Hattie from Brazen and the Beast, was the heroine I needed this year. She knows exactly what she wants from her life, she’s got a plan for how she’s going to get it – and she doesn’t want it it if she’s only getting it as a gift from someone else. My kind of girl.  Also a bit of a theme in my reading.  As I mentioned in my 2019 obsessions post, I’ve had trouble with historical romance this year.  There are a lot less of them on the list than usual and some authors who have dependably put out novels that I love have let me down.  But Sarah MacLean didn’t let me down – this was exactly what I wanted at this point in time.

Honourable mention: A Duke in Disguise by Cat Sebastian

Literary Fiction: Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

No change from the halfway point mostly because this easily my most recommended book of the year.  Daisy is a force of nature, the story is so clever and not a manic pixie dream girl in sight. Daisy is smart and clever and not afraid of saying that she had a plan and she did the work – it wasn’t just handed to her.  There have been other books that I’ve liked a lot – including The Starless Sea just a week or two back but I have found myself coming back to this all year: I read it in March, I’ve listened to it on audiobook as well now and I still think it’s brilliant.  I’m a bit nervous about the TV adaptation, because I don’t know how you can make it work – how do you create the music and make it feel believable?  The paperback is out in the UK on January 9 – I haven’t pre-ordered it, because I already have a (signed) hardback. So all I can do is hope that there won’t be too long a wait for the next novel from Jenkins Reid.

Honourable mention: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern (Bonus: Foyles and Waterstones have the hardback half price in their sale at the moment)

Non-fiction: Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow

At the halfway point, this was called non-fiction history – but now I’ve read a stack of other nonfiction too and so we’ve added a subdivision because they both deserve a mention and this is the not-history pick. It’s only a few weeks since this was a Book of the Week, but I’ve been recommending this to everyone.  It’s just that good.  It’s meticulously researched, but wears it lightly.  It reads like a thriller but it’s real life.  I’d read a lot of articles about the Harvey Weinstein story before I read this, but I still felt that I learned a lot of new information from it.  It’s now got a tie in podcast – and I’m still learning more from that.  And with a trial coming up in te new year, this is not a bad time to read this either – before it needs an epilogue on the next edition to explain what happened next.

Honourable mention: The Great Successor by Anna Fifield

Non-fiction History: Maud West Lady Detective by Susanna Stapleton

This survives as my favourite history book of the year. Maud West is such a Venn Diagram of my interests – early twentieth century, women in history, detective stories, forgotten lives and Golden Age Crime.  Maud is a fascinating woman – very hard to pin down because she really didn’t want you to be able to – and Stapleton’s details about her search are fascinating too.  No date for a paperback release yet – but hopefully it will get one.  And if anyone wants to write a fiction series about a lady detective like Maud, then I am totally here for it.  But it is also worth noting that the honourable mention in this category (in June and now)- The Five by Hallie Rubenhold – has been picking up prizes all over the place.

Honourable mentions: The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

Coming up next: A look ahead to some of the books I can’t wait to read in 2020!

Best of..., The pile

My 2019 Obsessions

After yesterday’s look back at my 2018 obsessions, here is the lowdown on how my reading life has evolved this year.  I thought this was going to be really hard to put together, but then when I actually looked at my stats and the goodreads lists for the year, it actually was fairly obvious…

The Year of the Library

The biggest change this year has been the sheer number of library books I’ve read. What’s changed? Well ebook borrowing.  I’ve maybe only borrowed a couple of physical books – but I’ve read so many ebooks.  It’s been amazing.  I’ve glommed on series, read new authors, and been able to do it on my kindle.  It’s also cut my book-buying expenses massively.  I’m so much less likely to buy odd e-books here and there – because I can check in with the library and borrow them that way or get in the hold line.  It means that I can spend the money I put aside for books more wisely – pre-ordering favourite authors (it helps them with their publishers don’t you know), buying nice editions of books that I like etc – without feeling guilty about the money I spent on an ebook I bought as a kindle daily deal and hated after a couple of pages. The downside of all this is that the to-read bookshelf is as full as it was at the start of the year – because I have had so many good ebooks on tap at all times!

The Year of Non-Fiction

I think I’ve read more non-fiction books this year than ever before and this ties in to obsession number one because I think this is mostly down to the availability of them as e-books from my library. In the past, I’ve had loads that I want to read, but various factors have been holding me back – price, availability and the fact that they’re so big they’re unwieldy to take in my handbag to work.  But also sometimes you can only read a little bit of non-fiction before you need to go and read something lighter and if they’re on your kindle, you can just dip in and out alongside your romance novel…

The Year of Contemporary Romance

After having spent years saying that I don’t really like contemporary, it turns out that I do! I’ve had much more success with contemporaries this year than I have had with historicals – which is totally bucking every other year in my reading life since I’ve been keeping track.  And it has even included sports romances like Intercepted and The Bromance Book Club as well as sort-of sports romances like The Right Swipe and Evvie Drake Starts Over (the heroes are both retired sportsmen). I’ve read angsty stuff (Alisha Rai‘s Forbidden Love series) and funny stuff (The Unhoneymooners) and stuff that I hated so much I wanted to throw it across the room (no I’m not telling you what) but even they helped me refine and workout what I really like in contemporary romances. So maybe next year I’ll be good enough at reading between the blurb lines that I will only pick up stuff that I like?!  We can but hope.

And so onward into 2020. Who knows where it will lead.  I mean this time last year, I had no idea that we would move house this year and yet, we did (and the books were only packed away for a few weeks while we did it!) I’ve got some reading resolutions made – mostly to do with reducing the reading backlog, but the lure of new releases usually proves too much for me…

I hope you’re having a good festive season – and aren’t working too hard!