book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from August

Another month gone, and here we are with another group of mini-reviews.  This isn’t a recommendation fest this month – some of them are books that I just wanted to talk about in a non Book of the Week way.

We Germans by Alexander Starritt*

Cover of We Germans

Meissner, was a soldier on the Eastern Front and now an old man, his Scottish-German grandson ask him what he did in the war, he initially shuts down and refuses to talk about it and then writes a letter. We Germans is that letter (interspersed with memories and stories about his grandfather from the grandson, Callum) and tells the story of a rampage he and a small group of colleagues went on during the final days before the Russians overran what was left of the Nazi forces. Separated from their unit, the men see other soldiers carrying out atrocities – and commit some crimes of their own.  At times it is incredibly graphic and it is a lot to grapple with – but then there is a lot to think about about what happened to the men who fought in for the Nazis once the conflict was over – and how to reconcile their actions during the war with what happened after. I found it a complete page turner, and it gave me a lot to think about. I studied First World War Literature as part of my A-Levels and found this an interesting and Second World War addition to the various more modern novels I read as part of that module.

The Gravity of Us by Phil Stamper

Cover of The Gravity of Us

Cal wants to be a journalist and his following on social media platform Flashframe has snagged him an internship at BuzzFeed. But all his plans are derailed when his dad is selected as an astronaut on Nasa’s mission to Mars. Soon he’s moving into a new house in Houston, and into the world of the reality TV show that covers the lives of the astronauts and their families. But Cal’s family isn’t like any of the picture perfect ones on the show, and his new life is a struggle – until he meats Leon. Leon’s mum is also on the mission and as the two of them bond, they also start to fall in love. But when things start going on in the programme, Cal has to try to find a way to get to the truth of what is going on. Now long-time readers will know that I’m a big fan of books about the space race. I’ve previously recommended The Astronaut Wives Club and The Right Stuff and when I went to Washington two years ago I spent Thanksgiving Day wandering round the Air and Space Museum annexe to look at the Space Shuttle. So this was so up my street it was unbelievable. This is just a lovely blend of space race nostalgia and astronaut nerdery and angsty first love romance. I had a few minor gripes with some of the journo ethics of the hero, but then that’s what my day job is and so it’s maybe not surprising, and I’ve seen much, much worse.

Dance Away With Me by Susan Elizabeth Philips

Cover of Dance Away with Me

This is the first of the not quite as positive reviews, but I wanted to chuck this in here, because I loved the Chicago Stars series and read this hoping that it was going to be somewhat similar in feel despite being sold as “a novel”, but it’s… not. Recently widowed Tess has upped sticks for rural Tennessee looking for space to grieve. Her new neighbours at her isolated retreat are an enigmatic street artist Ian North and a free-spirit, not really in the real world pregnant model. This has so much plot, with so many different strand and so much angst and tragedy that it’s really hard to see how it can be satisfactorily resolved. Because there is so much going on, Tess feels quite one dimensional – even though you spend so much time with her and because and a lot of that plot also doesn’t actually involve the hero I never got to know North well enough to really understand him and root for him. Overall: Not awful just not what I wanted. But it will probably be absolutely someone’s jam. Just maybe not in a pandemic. Never mind!

Untamed by Glennon Doyle

Cover of Untames

Now back at the start of the year I did a round up post of self-help books, and this was one of the ones I didn’t get to back then. Now it may seem like all you can do at the moment is get through the day what with the Quarantimes and the ‘Rona, but my library hold came in so I got stuck in to this. Glennon Doyle had built a successful career as a Christian mommy blogger and motivational speaker, but while on book tour for her book about the how she and her husband saved their marriage after infidelity and betrayal, she looked across the room, saw a woman and fell in love. Untamed is the story of what happened next, and how she built a new life. Now this isn’t exactly a recommendation, because I am not the target audience for this and I don’t think I’m implementing anything from this book into my life. Back in that January post, I wrote that Rachel Hollis’s book was Not What I Was Looking For and this is much less preachy than this, but it’s still aiming at a target audience that is Not Me, but it is an interesting read, and could serve as a template for the aforementioned Rachel Hollis on how to pivot your career when the thing about your life that made your name is suddenly gone.

 

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews for the rest of the year: July, June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from August: The Miseducation of Evie Epworth, V for Victory, The Moonflower Murders, Daring and the Duke and The Great Godden.

Happy Reading!

*an asterix next to a title means it came from NetGalley, in return for an honest review (however belated that might be)

book round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from July

Another month, another batch of minireviews. There was a lot of author binging at the end of the month which made this a little tricker to write than usual, but I think there are some good options here for people looking for beach-y holiday reads!

One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London

Cover of One to Watch

Bea is a plus-sized fashion blogger who goes viral after writing a blog about the lack of body diversity on a TV dating show. When she’s invited to be the star of the next series, it seems like an opportunity to take her career to the next level as well as trying to change representation on TV. But there’s no chance she’s going to fall in love. Now from that summary it sounds like it’s a romance, but it’s a but more complicated than that – for large parts of the book I wasn’t sure how any of this was going to manage to work out happily ever after for Bea. It did mostly/sort of get there in the end – but don’t go in there expecting a traditional/normal contemporary romance. It’s a little bit closer to some of the late 90s early 00s women’s fiction that I used to love – but they were all much more comedic than this is.  But it’s fun and would be great to read on the beach and even though I’ve only ever seen about 15 minutes of The Bachelor/Bachelorette (I’m from the UK) it still worked for me!

Constant Rabbit by Jasper Fforde

Cover of The Constant Rabbit

I wrote about my love of the Thursday Next series earlier in the Quarantimes, but this is a standalone novel from Jasper Fforde, although like his previous book Early Riser, there are commonalities with the series. But this is Fforde’s response to the current political and social moment in the UK, and as I saw him say somewhere (Instagram? his website?), it’s not subtle. But it’s also absolutely Jasper Fforde. It’s absurd, it’s funny and he’s managed to make a world where there are six foot anthropomorphised rabbits (and a few other species) seem absolutely real and plausible. I think if you like Fforde’s previous books, this is a continuation of the same sort of thing he’s been doing there, but with a different twist. It’ll make you think as well as make you laugh, and it is utterly mad at times. Maybe not the best place to start with Fforde’s work (and again I point you at The Eyre Affair), unless you’re used to reading alternative world fantasy/spec fiction.

The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix

Cover of the Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires

This is a supernatural thriller set in the 90s about a book club that ends up trying to protect its community from a vampire. It’s got a lot of buzz and given that as a teen my bedroom walls were plastered with posters of Angel and Spike due to my deep and abiding love of Buffy the Vampire Slayer (we’re currently on a rewatch and are mid season three, the last great season) I thought it might be just what I needed in July. It turned out not to be – but not because it’s bad, but because it’s too much over towards the horror side of things for me! I liked the start and the set up, but as soon as it got into the vampire-y stuff, it was Not For Verity. But if you like horror movies of the 90s – and bear in mind that I’m too wimpy for any of them so I can’t give you actual parallels, but I want to say Scream – then this will probably be absolutely your summer reading jam.

The Radium Girls by Kate Moore

Cover of The Radium Girls

I actually finished this on Saturday night, but as it was in progress for all of July (and more!) I’m counting it here. The Radium Girls is the true stories of a group of women in the US in the first half of the 20th century who painted watch dials with Radium to make them luminous and suffered horrendous health consequences because of it. Spoiler: a lot of them died, and died very young and in a lot of pain. But their long and difficult fight to find out what was wrong with them and to get compensation when it became clear there was no cure, changed worker safety regulations and affected research into nuclear bombs and saved a lot of lives. This is really hard to read – which is why it took me so long to read it – but it’s so well told. The stories of the women are heartbreaking and upsetting, but their courage in fighting their illness and for compensation are inspiring.

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from June, May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from July: Here for It, The Chiffon Trenches, Hello World and Not Your Sidekick.

Happy Reading!

*an asterix next to a title means it came from NetGalley, in return for an honest review (however belated that might be)

Authors I love, Book of the Week, Fantasy, new releases

Book of the Week: Early Riser

Luckily for me – although it didn’t seem so at the time, I didn’t manage to finish Early Riser in time for it to make last week’s WiB.  I had 50 pages to go on the Sunday night and ended up finishing it on Monday morning.  This made it eligible for this week’s BotW and meant that I could write this nice and early before the last minute madness descended ahead of my departure for DC.  Hopefully by the time you read this I’ll be in the US and starting work – but I’m writing this a week earlier with a to-do list the length of my arm.  However I’m fairly confident that nothing else I finish this week will pip this to the post – and if anything does run it close I’m sure I’ll manage to write about it at some point!

Front cover of Hardcover UK edition of Early Riser

Early Riser is the latest novel from Jasper Fforde and his first new book in four years – and his first new adult novel in six years.  It’s a standalone novel and it’s in a different alternative universe to his other work too.  I’m a big fan of Jasper Fforde – I’ve read most of his books but I think that the long hiatus between books means that I’ve never had a chance to properly write about him here because I glommed on pretty much everything he has written before I started writing this.  Anyway, to the plot:

Charlie Worthing is about to start his first season as a Winter Consul.  Every year, the human population hibernates for four months to escape the bitterly cold weather.  But some brave souls are needed to protect the sleeping – and Charlie has volunteered to be one of them.  To stay awake during the winter means you need to be very committed – but also a little bit mad as Charlie soon discovers.  One of his first tasks is investigating an outbreak of viral dreams – where people are having the same dream right down to the little details.  And then the people who’ve had the dream start dying.  And then Charlie starts having the dream – and bits of it seem to be coming true.  Is it just winter narcosis – or is soething more sinister going on.  Charlie sets out to find out the truth – but he’ll need to brave Villains and Nightwalkers and the seemingly less-than-mythical WinterVolk to do it.

If you’ve read and Jasper Fforde before you’ll know that his thing is creating bonkers parallel universes to our own and then just dropping you straight into them and leaving you to work out what’s going on.  In the Thursday Next series is a world where the Crimean War never ended, where literature is venerated and where – if you have the right skills – you can actually get inside a book and wander around the story.  In Early Riser he does the same thing.  After a lovely diagram of a Dormitorium opposite the title page, you find yourself on a train with a dead woman who is playing the bouzouki.  And it only gets weirder.  This was probably the slowest starting of Fforde’s books for me – but that might be because I started reading it as an egalley (from NetGalley) which had all the footnotes out of sync with the pages – and boy do you need the footnotes at the start to help you get your head around the new world that you’ve found yourself in.  But after I’d bought myself an actual copy of the book* everything got a lot easier and started to make more sense.

Shelf of Jasper Fforde books
Taking this photo has got me wondering who has my copy of Something Rotten. I’m hoping my dad has it…

And it is a rollicking good adventure.  There are lots of twists and turns and I really didn’t see many/any of them coming.  Charlie is an engaging accidental hero and you sympathise with him as he bumbles his way through his first winter, running into complications and obstacles at every turn.  I really like the worlds that Jasper Fforde creates – I don’t know where his ideas come from but they’re so clever and subversive.  If you had pitched this to me before I’d read any of his stuff I would have chalked it up as not for me.  But I trust him having read and loved the Thursday Next series and the Nursery Crime series and so was prepared to take the leap into this with him.  I’m so glad I did – and I hope lots of other people are reading it too.

In the author’s note at the end of the book, he thanks readers’ patience for sticking with him in the long gap and says he hopes it won’t be such a big gap to the next book.  I may hate waiting, but I’ll gladly wait if we get books like this at the end of it.  I just hope that the next one is the eighth Thursday Next book…

Early Riser is out now in hardback and on Kindle and Kobo if you’re in the UK.  I’ve seen copies in all the proper bookshops – Foyles Charing Cross have several display piles of it – so you should be able to lay your hands on it fairly easily.  It’s due for release in the US on February 12th 2019 – and should be available to preorder at your bookseller of choice – there are some handy links on Jasper Fforde’s website to help you whether you’re in the UK or in the US.

Happy Reading!

*I went to Foyles during a lunchbreak one of my weekend working days in August.  I was meant to be just having a look around, but they’d had a signing with Jasper Fforde a week or two earlier and they had one signed copy left – among piles of unsigned ones on various displays.  I took it as a sign that I should buy it for myself.

Bonus Picture: My Dormitorium postcard that came with my hardcover!

Dormitorium postcard!