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

Book of the Week: Death of an Angel

It’s Danny Bird time again!  The eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted my copy of Death of an Angel on the Week in Books post and suspected what today’s pick might be.  Danny’s previous outings have featured on this blog before, and I was lucky enough to do an interview with Derek Farrell before the release of book three.  I’ve been looking forward to reading this since the end of book three, and tried to subtly badger Derek to hurry up and write quicker when I met him in person (for the first and I hope not last time!) at the Polari Salon in London last summer where he was giving a reading.  I was lucky enough to get my hands on an advance copy (the first advance copy?) of Death of an Angel, which is out on the 28th and it was a total no-brainer for it to be this week’s Book of the Week.Cover of Death of an Angel

In case you haven’t read about Danny before, he’s the landlord of the possibly the most unlikely gay pub in (south) London. The Marq is owned by a gangster and has a seriously chequered past – including at this point, several bodies turning up at inconvenient times. His best friend is the champagne swilling, possibly alcoholic, definitely going to tell you exactly what she thinks Lady Caz and he’s got a slightly tricky relationship going on with a policeman. He’s also got a developing reputation for solving mysteries.

We rejoin the gang at the start of Death of an Angel, when Danny’s name is found written on the hand of a woman who has fallen from a tower block. To make matters worse, the pub’s phone number is in her contacts list, so of course the police haul him in for questioning. Trouble is, Danny has no idea who she is. The police seem strangely reluctant to believe this and soon Danny is investigating what led to Cathy Byrne’s fall from the ninth floor. At the same time, Danny is doing a touch of investigating for his solicitor and there are major ructions going on in his family – as his siblings are convinced something is wrong in their parents’ relationship.  And don’t even get started on the boyfriend front.

Death of an Angel takes us away from the Marq – for once this death isn’t threatening Danny’s livelihood (only his freedom!) and so there’s less of Ali the bar manageress and the Asbo twins, but don’t worry – there’s a limit to how many bodies can turn up at a business and it remain solvent (no matter what the cupcake bakeries over in the cozy crime genre would have you believe) and it’s great to see Danny stretch his wings in his south London home neighbourhood. This is a great mystery – fast-paced and with enough twists and turns to keep you guessing. And the fabulous banter is still there – I mean what’s not to love about a hero who refers to himself as “Sherlock Homo”? Or has lines this:

You know how, when people say someone’s ageless they usually mean ‘eternally youthful’ and not ‘looks so old it seems impossible that he could still be living without the age of Necromancy’?

But there’s also a serious side to this. There are some proper social issues here: Danny’s investigation touches on gentrification, house prices, dodgy developers, dubious councillors lining their own pockets and high-end flats sitting empty because they’ve been bought as an investment by the rich, while people from the area are being forced out by a lack of affordable housing and high rents. That all makes the book sound serious and worthy – and it’s totally not. This is the best of Danny – mysteries with a conscience, that will entertain you but also make you think without clubbing you over the head with A Message.

It’s taken a long time for this fourth instalment to arrive, I really hope we don’t have to wait as long for another. Death of an Angel is published by Fahrenheit Press (remember them?!) and should be available from their website and from Amazon from the 28th. That’s a week on Thursday. I’ll try and remind you…

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Children's books, children's books, Prize winners

Book of the Week: The Skylark’s War

This was such an easy choice this week. As soon as I finished The Skylark’s War, after I’d blown my nose and got rid of the tissues, I turned around and went back and read the last 20 pages all over again. Then I messaged my sister and my mother to tell them that they had to read it with a big happy (and soppy) smile all over my face.

Cover of The Skylark’s War

The Skylark’s War tells the story of Clarry, her brother Peter and her cousin Rupert, through their childhood, the Great War and beyond. Clarry’s and Peter’s mother died soon after Clarry’s birth, their father isn’t interested in them and at first at least, Peter blames the new baby for the loss of his mother. The two children are brought up by a succession of housekeepers, with the interference of the do-gooding spinster across the road. The high point of their lives is their annual visit to Cornwall every summer holiday. Their cousin Rupert spends his holidays there – his parents are in India and have basically forgotten about him and he was sent to boarding school at a young age so Peter and Clarry’s dad couldn’t send them to live with their grandparents. During the summers, all the best things in their lives happen and they grow and mature and become a tight gang. Then Peter is sent away to school, Clarry is left alone with her father. And then there is the War and Rupert joins the army. Can their bond survive? Can they all survive?

This is a middle-grade book, and although that synopsis may sound miserable, it is anything but. I mean I did cry my way through a whole pocket pack of tissues, but some of them were happy tears and I just couldn’t put the book down. I had to know what happened. At one point I was sitting sniffling and making a scene of myself in the lounge at a youth hostel, but I was so engrossed in the book that I wasn’t prepared to stop reading for long enough to climb the three flights of stairs to get to my room. The closest I can get to a comparison for this, is if Noel Streatfeild, Nina Bawden and Elizabeth Jane Howard had a book baby. And if that isn’t enough to make you go and read it, then I’m sorry you may be in the wrong place and I’m not sure that we can be friends.

I’ve had this on the NetGalley list since the autumn but I had forgotten about it until I saw this tweet from Harriet Evans (remember her? I had some ravings/gushing about one of her books here, here and here. And that might also scratch your Elizabeth Jane Howard itch, except that it’s a contemporary story about a house not a 1930s one.)  So off I went to look at the blurb, thought it sounded familiar, looked at my NetGalley, tweeted her back and then the die was cast, my fate was sealed etc.

And now I’m telling you that you need to read it. Maybe as a double bill with The Five Children on the Western Front if you can stand all that Great War and foreboding at once. But if you can, read The Skylark’s War second. Trust me on that. I see from the Goodreads write-ups that there’s a connection to one of Hilary McKay’s other novels, so I’m off to find that and then to buy copies of The Skylark’s War to give to people. As I mentioned my copy came from NetGalley, but you should be able to get hold of a copy really easily: it was Waterstones‘ Children’s Book of the Month in January and it won the Costa Children’s Book Award, so I’m expecting it to be everywhere.  And yes, I know, this all means I’m late to the party again. But better late than never.  Here are some more links to enable your book-buying habit: Kindle, Kobo, Amazon paperback, Book Depository and Big Green Bookshop.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, memoirs, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Priestdaddy

Staying in non-fiction for this week’s BotW – but this time moving to a memoir.  You’ll have noticed Patricia Lockwood’s Priestdaddy on the WiB list for some considerable time – I actually started listening to it on audiobook, but it demands attention and with my long list of podcasts to listen to, I struggled to find time to make progress on it.  I discovered early on that I couldn’t listen to it while I was running because it made me laugh too much and put me at risk of tripping myself up.  So I got on the library hold list and waited for a copy to come in.  And when it finally did (this is a popular book people) I had much more success reading rather than listening to it.

Cover of Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Priestdaddy is Patricia Lockwood’s memory of her childhood, growing up moving around the Mid-West with an eccentric, doom-prophesying mother and her even more eccentric Catholic priest father.  Yes, you heard right.  Lockwood’s father underwent a religious conversion and felt called to ministry after he was already married with children, and then found a loop hole that meant the Roman Catholic church would receive him as a priest.  The book starts as Lockwood and her husband move back in with her parents after a medical procedure messes up their finances, and as she and her husband get used to living with the eccentric duo, she reminisces on the key moments of her childhood.

Lockwood’s father, Greg, is the biggest, flashiest character in this – he wears as few clothes as possible whenever he’s not on duty, he plays terrifyingly loud electric guitar and shouts along with action movies – but her mother manages steals the show for me a lot of the time.  She’s constantly expecting the worst to happen and seeing the worst, but managing everything, dealing with the madman that she married and loopy in her own way.  By the end of the book you feel like you understand her more than you do Greg.

This is funny and terrifying in equal measure.  It’s also beautifully written.  Lockwood is a poet and her words fairly sing on the page.  There are some weighty issues here – Lockwood is a lapsed catholic and looks back on her childhood – including an anti-abortion protest she was taken to – with a particular view on the world of 80s and 90s religious super-conservatism that she grew up in.  I really liked but I’d think hard about who I recommended it too – my sister, who loves reading about American Christianity in its many shades, yes; my mother, Church of England and formerly of the village’s church council and who went to a convent school probably not.

This was nominated for a whole bunch of prizes and found its way on to a lot of book of the year lists when it came out in 2017 and I’m not surprised.  As always I’m behind the curve with this – but I’m glad I caught up with it in the end.  And all this means that you should be able to get hold of a copy fairly easily.   As I said, I borrowed my copy from the library, but it’s out in paperback, Amazon has hardbacks at a reasonable price via third parties and you can get it in Kindle and Kobo.  And the audiobook I mentioned – is read by the author and is apparently exclusive to Audible.

Happy Reading!

non-fiction, Book of the Week

Book of the Week: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

There were a few options for BotW this week, but I have some other posts planned involving some of them so I thought I’d mix it up and go with a non-fiction pick this week – after all it’s been a while.

Cover of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is the story of how cells from a poor Southern tobacco farmer became one of the most important and influential tools in modern medicine.  HeLa cells are immortal – easy to crow and still multiplying today more than 60 years after Henrietta’s death.  In The Immortal Life of Henriett Lacks, Rebecca Skloot has meticulously researched the life of the woman previously known to scientists as HeLa in order to tell her story and the story of her cells and to put her back at the centre of it, refocussing a what has been seen as a story of medical advancement and triumph on the woman who was hidden from the public by the scientists.

Henrietta’s cells were taken as she was being treated for the cervical cancer that killed her, and after they were cultured by lab at John Hopkins hospital it was discovered that they reproduced at a remarkable rate and could be kept alive longer than any other cell they had previously studied.  Scientists have been using them ever since.  Patients were not asked for permission or consent for this sort of procedure at the time, and the Lacks family didn’t know what had happened until years after the fact and, as the book was being researched, still didn’t really understand fully what actually happened to their mother’s cells or the implications.  As well as the story of the HeLa cell, and the ethical questions raised by it, Skloot also tells the story of the Lacks family, how she met them and eventually managed to get their side of the story and helped them understand what had happened to Henrietta and her contribution to science.

I’m not really a science person, but Skloot’s explanations of the medicine and biology in this were at a level that I could follow and understand, however the personal side of the story was what really kept me reading the book.  The way that the hospital acquired Henrietta’s cells is definitely unethical by today’s standards, but was common practice at the time – although issues of race and class seem also to have been at play here.  But effect on Henrietta’s children of the discovery of what had happened to her cells was massive and it’s explored sensitively and empathetically.

This book is fascinating, but also depressing.  It’s easy to see the HeLa cells as an example of the injustices that African Americans have faced at the hands of medicine and science – there are a lot of others in here too.  I don’t read a lot of popular science, but  had heard a lot about this and it lived up to the reviews.  It’s been turned into a TV film now and I hope that Henrietta’s descendants have done better from the book and the film than they have from her cells.

My copy of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks came from the library, but it’s available in Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback and as an audiobook, so I’m hoping that you should be able to get hold of it fairly easily if you’re interested. I’ll be keeping an eye out for the film.

Happy Reading.

Book of the Week, new releases, reviews, romantic comedy, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Don’t You Forget About Me

As you can see from last week’s Week in Books (and the week before as well to be honest) I read a lot of books while I was away.  But in the end the choice for this week’s Book of the Week was easy – there was one standout that I’m still thinking about and have already recommended to a bunch of people.

Cover of Dont You Forget About Me

Don’t You Forget About Me is the new novel from Mhairi McFarlane.  Your heroine is Georgina, who we meet as she gets fired from The Worst Italian in Sheffield and then goes home to find The Worst Boyfriend in the World in bed with someone else.  Is the universe out to get her? When she gets a one-off job at a newly refurbished pub and then gets a fulltime job offer from there it seems like she might be about to turn a corner.  But her new boss turns out to be her sixth form crush-slash-secret-boyfriend which is a whole new disaster in the making.  Or it would be if Lucas remembered her, which he doesn’t – and which is crushing in its own way.  Because you never forget your first love do you?  Still at least it means that Georgina can keep working for him, just as long as she keeps her mouth shut and Lucas never finds out who she is.  Except that that gets harder and harder to do because there’s still something between them – and there’s no way Lucas isn’t going to work it out in the end is there?

I loved this.  In fact it was hard for Him Indoors to persuade me to go sightseeing with him one morning because I was 100 pages from the end and needed to know what happened to everyone.  This is just delightful.  Georgina is such an engaging heroine, Lucas is brilliant, I wanted to punch Georgina’s family at times – especially her stepdad -and I spent some considerable time thinking of extravagant punishments for Robin the Bad Boyfriend (but his actual comeuppance is very satisfying).  And on top of that the book is so, so funny.  It was in fact exactly what I have been looking for and what I have been finding so hard to find at the moment.  It’s a romantic comedy but it has a serious side as well.  There are Reasons why Georgina is still working jobs her family consider pointless and dead end.  And there’s a reason why she picked such a terrible boyfriend.  And they’re proper, life changing reasons, but there’s such a light touch about it that it all works beautifully together.

This also captured some of my memories of my sixth form experience so perfectly that it nearly took my breath away.  I’m a couple of years older than Georgina is meant to be but Mhairi McFarlane has captured that feeling of not being able to do the right thing no matter what you do when faced with the popular kids, that everything is life and death and that the path of your life can be changed by one wrong decision.  I always mistrust people who say that their schooldays were the best of their lives, because mine were terrifying and scary and I wouldn’t go back there for all the tea in china – especially not now social media is a thing.

I know that chick lit is a problematic term – and I have as many issues with it as everyone else.  But if you read “chick lit” back in the early 00s and find it hard to capture that same feeling from books now – then try this.  I read a lot of books (as you know) but I really struggle to find funny, romantic books with happy endings that aren’t all humour through humiliation (not my thing) or finding happiness again (or in the end) after dead husbands or life threatening illnesses (or terminal diagnoses).  Something with something more to it than *just* a romance but where you’re not going to have your heart broken before you get to a sort of happy ending.  But This Is It.  It is fun and funny and it all works out in the end – but not because A Perfect Man has made it better – but because Georgina has figured out who she is and how to start fixing her life herself.

I know that sounds gushy and a bit OTT, but I can’t tell you how relieved I was to start reading this and just sink into it and enjoy letting it all happen.  I’ve read so many books recently where I either can’t see how it can all possibly work out all right in the end (or even satisfactorily) or been braced for something bad to happen, that it was a joy to realise that I was in safe hands and could just relax and read.  And my tears at the end were happy ones.

I’ve read two of Mhairi McFarlane’s previous books – but there’s been a big old gap since I read the last one so I had forgotten how much I like her writing.  I now need to go back and figure out why I haven’t read the other two and remedy that as soon as possible.  Knowing me and the state of my to-read pile, I’ll probably have at least one of them sitting on the kindle already…

My copy of Don’t You Forget About Me came from NetGalley, but it is out now on Kindle and Kobo and the paperback comes out at the start of March.  I’ll try and remember to remind you – and I’m sure it’ll be in all the usual placed – but you could always pre-order it now.  I’m just saying.  I don’t think you’ll regret it.  And if you’ve got any recommendations for other books you think might scratch the same itch for me, let me know in the comments.

Happy Reading!

 

reviews, women's fiction

Book of the Week: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

A really, really easy decision about what to pick for BotW this week, but I’m ashamed to say that my copy of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo had been sitting on my Kindle for more than 18 months before I finally got around to reading it.  It was one of those occasions where I requested something from NetGalley, with eyes too big for my reading time and it got lost in the backlog.  And the NetGalley backlog is huge.  One of my aims for the year is to solve that.  We’ll see if that happens, but certainly the attempt has turned up a real gem.

The cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Evelyn Hugo was a huge star in her day, but these days she’s pretty much a recluse.  So when Monique Grant is sent out to do an interview with her it’s a big deal.  A massive deal.  And Hugo would only talk to Monique – but why?  Monique is a virtual unknown – a junior reporter at a magazine – and she’s as clueless as everyone else about why Hugo has picked her.  And when Monique arrives to do the interview, Evelyn has a different proposal for her – she doesn’t want to give an interview, she wants Monique to write her biography – she wants to tell Monique the stories and secrets behind her career and her seven marriages.  Monique’s marriage has just broken up and she’s looking to rebuild, so she takes the job.  Soon she’s spending her days listening to Evelyn telling the story of her rise to stardom – from her childhood in poverty in New York to the top of the Hollywood tree.  It’s no holds barred – the domestic abuse, the Hollywood catfighting, backbiting and machinations – and the truth about who was the love of Evelyn’s life.  And Monique finds herself warming to Evelyn, even though the story she’s telling isn’t always pretty or nice and Evelyn doesn’t always come out of it in the best light.  But still she wonders, why was she picked to be the one to tell it.  But as Evelyn’s story goes on, it becomes clear that there’s a purpose to all of this – and somewhere Evelyn’s life is linked to Monique’s.

And I’m not prepared to say any more about the plot than that.  I’ve checked the blurb and I don’t think I’ve given away too much beyond what’s there.  And that’s because Taylor Jenkins Reid’s novel is best discovered blind.  I hadn’t checked goodreads or read any reviews when I went in, so I didn’t know any of the twists and turns that were ahead of me and I think if I had, it would have been a real shame.  But that does mean it’s hard to explain how clever this novel is.  It is a totally page-turning book – the sort of thing you could sit and read on a sun-lounger all day without being bored (if you can read slow enough) but it’s also a very smart look at the world we live in.

Evelyn is a Cuban-America and as she rises up through the Hollywood machine you see the challenges that she faces as a woman and as a Latina and to be herself.  She’s constantly having to change, to tone-down or hide aspects of herself in order to be acceptable and accepted and successful.  But it’s so well written that it’s only afterwards you realise how much social commentary is in there. It’s good and it’s very, very clever. I’ve also gone down a few Google and Wikipedia rabbit holes since finishing this, trying to work out which bits of Evelyn’s story are based on which real life Hollywood stars. I can’t tell you my conclusions though because it’ll give too much away. Sorry, not sorry.

My copy came from Netgalley an age ago, which means this is out in paperback now as well as on Kindle and Kobo. I’m hoping it should be relatively easy to find in an actual bookshop too. Taylor Jenkins Reid has a new book out shortly – which I mentioned in my anticipated books post (my excitement about this has only increased after reading this!) on New Year’s Day – so keep an eye out for that too!

Happy reading!

American imports, Book of the Week, cozy crime

Book of the Week: Death by Dumpling

As mentioned yesterday, picking BotWs is being made harder by the fact that I currently seem to be working my way through two series at a rate of knots and it’s creating a lot of repetition in the WiB list – and could make these posts very boring.  Luckily, I also read the first in a new to me (and actually fairly new) cozy mystery series last week and it was a lot of fun and showed some great potential. Job done.

Copy of Death by Dumpling

Death by Dumpling is the first in the Noodle Shop Mystery series – and was also Vivien Chien’s debut novel.  Our wannabe detective is Lana Lee, 27 years old and back working at her family’s noodle house after walking out on her job and a brutal break-up.  But when the property manager of the plaza where the restaurant is is found dead, she and her family’s business are in the firing line.  Because Mr Feng died of an allergic reaction – to shellfish in dumplings from the Ho-Lee Noodle House.  But Lana knows everyone there knew about his allergy – so how did this happen?  Soon she’s investigating what happened while fending off dinner invites from the new guy at the plaza and hoping to get to know the detective investigating the case better…

I enjoyed this a lot and raced through it in practically one sitting – I moved from the sofa to bed 100 pages from the end but that was the extent of the movement!  The characters are fun and it’s really nice to see a different type of setting for a cozy.  Lana is a nice lead character – she’s got a nice balance of quirks and insecurities to self-confidence and skills.  The setting is good and the side characters are engaging too.  As the book is mostly setting up Lana and the series, you don’t get a lot of the other characters, but I’m hoping that changes as the series continues.   There were a few elements felt a little clunky at times, but as this is a debut as well as the start of the series, I didn’t mind too much because I think this series has a lot of potential.  I’m fed up with cupcake bakers and crafters – I’m so ready for an Asian-American detective working in the family noodle house and this delivers most of the time.

I picked my copy of Death by Dumpling up on a Barnes and Noble trip during my American Odyssey and brought it home with me.  I have no regrets about bringing it back across the Atlantic – because it meant I read a load of library books before I came home – although I do wish that I’d brought the second book in the series as well because they were cheaper to buy in the US than they are here!  But you can get hold of Death by Dumpling on Kindle and Kobo (the Kindle price is much better than the Kobo one atow)  and in paperback from Amazon – but I suspect it’s actually a special order US-Import type deal there, so I’m not sure what your luck is going to be in proper bookshops in the UK.

Happy Reading!