Another month of this super weird year is over. Just a few weeks now until we can kiss goodbye to 2020 and hopefully 2021 will be better. I mean 2020 has thrown everything at us, so surely there can’t be quite as much going on right? I mean I feel nervous just writing that, because this year has done such a number on everyone! Anyway, a few old friends in this month’s post and some new ideas too.
Vanderbeekers Lost and Found by Karina Yan Glaser
I’ve written about this series before, but Karina Yan Glaser’s Vanderbeeker books continue to be a total delight. This fourth installment sees the gang helping Mr Biederman prepare to run in the New York marathon when they discover that someone is sleeping in the community garden’s shed. When they discover it is someone that they know (and love) they set about trying to fix the problem, in inimitable Vanderbeeker style. This installment also deals with grief and loss as one of the longer running storylines develops in a way that the grownups amongst us have seen coming, but does it in a very sensitive and caring way – as you’d expect – but which also provides a framework for younger readers who might (well almost certainly will) find themselves in a similar situation.
The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz*
So Anthony Horowitz has two very meta series going at the moment. The Moonflower Murders from the other series was a BotW back in August, and if anything this is maybe the weirder – with Horowitz himself featuring as the protagonist, writing a book about Hawthorne, an ex-cop turned private investigator and police consultant. The murder mystery is good, Hawthorne is intriguingly dislikeable and “Anthony” is a good narrator. Horowitz has made himself an endearingly stupid Watson to Hawthorne’s Holmes. I think on balance I prefer the Susan Ryeland series, with their book within a book structure, but these are a good read and I will happily read more of these, if/when they materialise.
Help Yourself by Curtis Sittenfeld
Curtis Sittenfeld is another author that I’ve written about here before and this is three more short stories from her. They look at racism and suburbia, a film crew running into trouble on a shoot in the Mid-West and a squabbling group of aspiring authors waiting to hear who has got the best scholarships on their MA programme. I think they’re all from angles that you wouldn’t quite expect and make you think as well as make you laugh. Would make a lovely stocking filler book for one of the readers in your life.
First World War Poets by Alan Judd and David Crane
A slightly left-field choice for my last pick and another that would make a good stocking filler. I’m not really a poetry person, but the War Poets are the ones that i do like and where I can genuinely believe that the writers really did put in all those layers of meaning that teachers tell you about when you study them (like I did at A Level back in the day). This is a really lovelt little book from the National Portrait Gallery with short biographies of the key figures along with pictures of them from the NPG collection and one of their poems. I have another book from this series about the Bloomsbury Group that I’m looking forward to reading at some point when I’m slightly less behind on my various yearly reading challenges. The Portrait Gallery is my favourite of the London Galleries and as well as museums hing been shut for most of the year the NPG is now closed for refurbishment until 2023, so books like this and the virtual collection are the only way we’re going to be able to enjoy it for a while.
Well here we are at the start of December, and I’m recommending a romance again. Because what we all need when it’s cold outside is something that warms your insides. I mean it’s also set in summer in Maryland (another state ticked off!) so it might make you nostalgic for hot weather too, but you can’t have everything.
The heroine of Well Met is Emily, who has rushed to help her sister and her niece after a car crash. And Emily soon finds herself roped in as volunteer at the town’s Renaissance faire. She’s only there because her niece needs an adult to accompany her, but she’s soon enjoying herself – or she would be if it wasn’t for Simon – high school teacher in the week and Ren Faire killjoy at the weekends. But when rehearsals are over and the Faire gets underway for real, Simon is transformed into a pirate and Emily is a tavern wench and the two of them can’t stop flirting. Is it just a summer fling or will Emily put down roots in Willow Creek?
First of all let it be said that Emily’s ex boyfriend is awful and should go directly to jail, do not pass go, do not collection £200*. Secondly this is a lovely, sweet slow burn romance with a side of self discovery for Emily. Simon is an intriuging character, and although I joined the dots on bits of his backstory faster that Emily did, I think that I was meant to. I’ve never been to a Rennaissance Faire – I’ve done a couple of living history type events, but I don’t think that’s quite the same thing – but that’s not a problem because it’s so well described that you can really picture it. I am basically assuming that all of their “English” accents are as awful as a group of Brits trying to do American accents would be though! The side characters are all great – and I’m looking forward to seeing what Jen DeLuca does with them in the next books in the series. The good news is that this came out a couple of years back (because as ever I am behind the curve) so the sequel is already out, with the third one planned for 2021.
You can get a copy of Well Met on Kindle or Kobo or audiobook. There is a paperback – but it looks like it’s an US-import type situation, so it may not be available in your normal bookshop.
Another steady week in reading as I attempt to finish all my reading challenges but get distracted by shiny new books and library holds. And once again, the end of the month is timed to annoy me! Book of the week as per usual tomorrow, Mini-reviews on Wednesday and Stats on Thursday seems to be the order of the day. Where has this year gone and also how has this year been forever?
Bonus photo: we’ve reached the Misty, foggy, cold part of the year when I always want a fire in the evenings so I’m cursing that one of the covid-complications has been that the chimney people haven’t been able to come and fix the top of the sitting room chimney so I don’t dare light a fire, because 2020 has already been bad enough without burning the house down…
An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley
Quite a long list of reading in yesterday’s post, but with two books by the same new-to-me author on the list, today’s Book of the Week pick may not be that much of a surprise to some of you.
Life, Death and Cellos is the first book in Isabel Rogers’ Stockwell Park Orchestra series. In this debut outing, the orchestra is having a bit of a tricky time of it. Their conductor just dropped dead mid-concert and landed on their biggest donor – who is now threatening to withdraw her financial support. But one of the cellists, Erin, has a plan to try and save the orchestra, but it involves self-obsessed and self-involved section leader Fenella and a Stradivari cello and is not without risk. Then there’s the regular conductor who seems to be working his way through the female members of the orchestra and David, the band treasurer whose nervous tick grows worse at every set back.
So, first of all it needs to be said that I am a Band person. I’ve never played in an orchestra, but I played in concert bands (and the occasional jazz band) of various types all through secondary school and after a break at uni (because all the options there were for “proper” musicians, which I am emphatically not), I picked my clarinet back up when I moved to Southend. I joined a community band there and when I first moved back to northampton I found myself another band and carried on playing for a couple of years until my shift work got too much to be able to make rehearsals reliably. So all the band-centric stuff really appealed to me – but it’s hard for me to tell how it will come across to someone who doesn’t have some sort of background in music. The actual plot itself is a comic caper – with almost farcical elements and a strong retro feel, but there’s a lot of music stuff in with that – I wanted a play list to go with it so that I could listen along as it talked about the various different elements of the pieces – but I don’t know how it would go for you if you don’t know what an arpeggio is or a little bit about key signatures! If you have ever played in band, I think you’ll recognise a lot of things in this – viola players being a punchline, the brass section being uppity etc. I certainly enjoyed it so much that I went straight on to book two, have pre-ordered book three and told all the musical people in my family that they need to read it!
Bonus photos: I tried (although admittedly not very hard!) and failed to find a picture of me back in my Northamptonshire County Training Wind Orchestra heyday, so sadly you don’t get to see me in my long-haired, train track braces glory, but instead, here I am playing with my Northampton band in the early 2010s – as their principle clarinet (not a position that I enjoyed), front row left in the red t-shirt, at a local concert.And here I am looking much happier as a lowly third clarinet in my Essex band – in my concert dress at the Royal Festival Hall to play Bernstein and Gershwin. I’ve actually played at the Festival Hall twice – this concert in the Clore ballroom, and then in the main hall as part of the National Festival of Music for Youth back in my school days, when we were runners up in our class to our big sister/brother band the mighty Northamptonshire County Youth Concert Band.
Bonus photo: I found this blue plaque for Edward Murrow just up the road from work on a lunchtime stroll. I don’t know how I haven’t noticed it before. If you’ve never heard of him, he was a legendary war correspondent for CBS during World War 2 and then went on to be instrumental in bringing about the downfall of Senator Joseph McCarthy (as in McCarthyism and the Red Scare). Here’s his wikipedia page, but I also reccomend the film Goodnight and Good Luck (named for his famous sign off) about his work on McCarthy – David Strathairn was nominated for an Oscar for playing Murrow and which also has George Clooney in it – here’s the trailer.
An * next to a book title indicates that it came from NetGalley. ** indicates it was an advance copy from a source other than NetGalley
As I mentioned yesterday, it was a bit of a patchy week in reading last week, because it’s 2020 and all normal rules are suspended. You’ll hear more about Mr Wilder and Me at some in the (hopefully near) future, but today I want to talk about Melissa Blue’s novella Grumpy Jake.
Bailey knows all about Jake the Rake. He’s been making his way through the single members of the faculty, while his son has been working his way through pre-school. Now Jayden is in Bailey’s Kindergarten class and it feels like it’s going to be a long year. And then they get stuck in a lift together and she starts to see what all her co-workers fell for. For his part Jake knows he shouldn’t fall for her, but he needs stability for his son. Bailey knows the clock is ticking – will she end up like all the others?
I mean I think you can probably answer that question now, but this novella is a lot of fun. It is a novella though and that means that perhaps there’s not as much time as you want for everything to develop and it all to play out. Most of the time here is focused on Bailey and Jake getting to know each other and it all wraps up quite quickly at the end. But it’s a lot of fun – really quite steamy – and Bailey keeps everything professional at work. It did exactly what I wanted it to do one evening last week and that’s basically the ideal for a story right? Fills the craving you have at the time.
You can get Grumpy Jake on Kindle – where it’s only 77p at the moment – and Kobo.
Spent the weekend at work – which is why I have a whole bunch of stuff started and not finished – or still going – I’m reading across physical copies, kindle and iBooks and it all got a bit complicated. I’ll get it under control though.
As I said in yesterday’s post, most of last week’s books were nice soothing reading to help my frazzled brain after a lot of work on US election coverage. And a fair few of them were old favourite authors or the latest in long-running series. So today you get a romance pick!
Jessica Westcott has decided that this season she’s going to get married. After years of ignoring the marriage mart because of the way they treated her best friend Abigail, she’s decided that she can’t be left behind any more. She might be older than some of the other debutants, but she’s the sister of a duke, so there will be options. Gabriel Thorne has just returned to England from Boston in order to reluctantly claim his inheritance. When he sees Jessica he decides that she might be his ideal wife. And when she learns more about him, she is intrigued and drawn to him. But will he manage to claim his birthright and will Jessica be at his side if she does?
This is the seventh in Balogh’s Westcott series, but you don’t have to have read the others for this to make sense – as with most romance series they’re a linked set of standalone stories rather than an ongoing plot with the same characters. I’ve read two of the others – the first and the fifth. This one is not quite a marriage of convenience, not quite a lost heir, but it’s also really quite low angst for all of that. Mary Balogh has been writing reliably good romances for decades and on the drama scale they clock in closer to the Georgette Heyer end of the drama scale than the Big Confrontation, Major Twist into a Sudden Ending one. And ditto on the steaminess scale – more Georgette than Sarah MacLean. It’s a lovely, romantic and calming read that did exactly what I wanted it to last week. And if you’re feeling stressed about the world – and goodness knows 2020 has dealt a lot of stress – than this would be a perfect read for you.
My copy of Someone to Romance came from the library, but it should be fairly easy to get your hands on – there are Kindle and Kobo editions as well as a paperback release in the UK. All the physical bookshops are shut at the moment, but bookshop.org.uk has stock of it. If this were normal times I’d say that these often crop up in The Works a year or so after release so you should be able to find them in supermarkets or Waterstones on release. But these aren’t normal times so who knows.
Well. Well. That was a week wasn’t it? I did a lot of hours at work – and my brain was correspondingly fried, so there’s a lot of familiar authors on this weeks list as I retreated to books I knew wouldn’t require too much effort of my frazzled brain!