Book of the Week, new releases, Young Adult

Book of the Week: The Great Godden

The mini-reviews are coming up tomorrow, in the meantime, this week’s Book of the Week is a beach/holiday read suggestion for those of you are taking some time off work in August – whether you’re hanging out in a hammock in your garden like me or actually going somewhere away from home.

Cover of The Great Godden

So Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden is about one family, one summer at their family’s house by the beach and what happens when they meet the Godden brothers. Children of a famous actress, Kit is handsome and charismatic and Hugo is quieter and almost surly when you first meet him. The narrator isn’t named or described by gender, which means that you can either decide what you want them to be (if you manage to think about it that conciously) or just read and draw your own conclusions as you go.

It’s really quite hard to explain what genre this book actually is. It’s published by a YA imprint, but I can think of people who don’t read YA who would like this. It’s not quite Rich People Problems, but it is sort of adjacent to it – I mean the family have a summer house by the sea! It’s also very subtle and feels quite low stakes in a way –  I was reading it waiting for something awful to happen, but it’s not that sort of book. It’s much more every day, it’s about everyday events and normal summer holiday type things. One of the narrator’s sisters is pony mad. The other has suddenly grown into her looks and is getting a lot more attention than she used to. The narrator works in a shop for a holiday job. There’s a wedding being planned. The climax of every thing is basically a tennis match and it’s so good. There aren’t a lot of really good sport-in-book scenes in novels – but this is one of them and would be fairly near the top of my list (the top being the cricket scene in Murder Must Advertise). It would be a great book to read by the sea or by the “sea” aka your pond, paddling pool, local body of water. It is very, very summery and perfect for the warm weather.

I am all about the low-stakes at the moment – so if you’ve got any recommendations for me for similarly enjoyable but un-anxiety-inducing books, drop them in the comments for me please. I’ve mentioned before that I am all about resolutions at the moment – hence the mystery and romance heavy reading lists, but this was a nice change that didn’t make me super stressed. It’s not the first Meg Rosoff I’ve read, but it is the first one I’ve really liked, so I might have another little wander through her other books, but I’m not sure there’s any guarantee I’ll find something similar there!

My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback and in Kindle and Kobo. I haven’t ventured into a bookshop yet, so I can’t tell you what the likelihood is of it being in there on a table, but Meg Rosoff is a fairly well known name so I reckon there’s a good chance it’ll be in stock in larger book stores, but probably not the supermarkets.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, memoirs, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Here for It

As I mentioned yesterday, last week I mostly binged on George Bellairs and I’ve talked about him relatively recently. But luckily I also read R Eric Thomas’s book of essays, so I get to tell you about that today!

Cover of Here for It

I think I first came across him as a podcast guest, but in case you haven’t come across him before, R Eric Thomas writes the “Eric Reads the News” column for Elle.com and is Very Funny. This an essay collection but as a whole it also forms a memoir about growing up different and how he found his way and place in life. He was one of the few black pupils at his high school and his Ivy League college. He was brought up attending a conservative black church but he is gay. And it took him a while to figure out what he wanted to do with his life, a period which included going viral on the early internet and not in a good way.

This is basically a funny and joyful journey to self-acceptance. Some of the essays really, really work. Thomas is also a playwright and coupled with his storyteller ability means that he has a knack for picking out themes that run through his life and finding just the right experience to use to tell you about it. And it means the stories build and develop and go somewhere (which is somehow rarer than you expect it to be in essay collections) and make you think.

It made me laugh and it made me think and it was a really great book to read in these strange quarantimes we are living in. I think it’s a special order in the UK – Amazon only has the hardback and no kindle edition right now – so I don’t think you’ll be able to pick it up off a shelf in the bookstore. If you want a taste of R Eric before you buy, here is one of my favourite of his recent columns but he also has a newsletter that you could sign up for and see if you’re interested.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, memoirs

Book of the Week: The Chiffon Trenches

So as I said yesterday, it was an awful week. But at least I have a good book to tell you about today. Sometimes it’s the small things isn’t it.

Cover of The Chiffon Trenches

So The Chiffon Trenches is André Leon Talley’s new memoir about his life in the fashion industry. If you’re my age, you may have first seen him  as a judge on America’s Next Top Model around the time they started trying to update the series to make it more high fashion – the era of the Vogue Italia photospread prize, before they started getting people to vote on social media – but he left after the madness that was the All Stars season. Ahem. Anyway, serious fashion fans will actually know him as a long-standing and long-serving member of the Vogue editorial team, where among his roles he was Creative Director, Fashion News Editor and an Editor-at-Large.

This is not his first memoir (although I haven’t read the previous one) but this one deals with his early life, his rise to prominence, his relationship with Anna Wintour and his role in fighting for more diversity and representation in fashion. He is a striking figure – and it’s not just because he’s a 6’7 man who wears couture kaftans – this book will take you on a hell of a journey. He was born in North Carolina in the time of Jim Crow laws. He won a scholarship to Brown University where he did a Masters in French Literature and was intending to be a French teacher. His first mentor was Diana Vreeland. He worked for Andy Warhol at the Factory and at his magazine Interview. He was Anna Wintour’s righthand person through her rise to the top job at Vogue and beyond. And this is his attempt to make sure that his achievements are seen in their own right and his work and not as part of Anna Wintour’s.

It’s fascinating. He’s got all the stories about all the people. If you’ve read about fashion – or about the Studio 54 crowd – it’s all here. Dancing with Diana Ross. Weekend’s at Karl Lagerfelds. European princesses. There’s a best dressed list (male and female) at the back. I didn’t always love his writing style – but I did love the content. It’s a mind-blowing peek at the excesses of the world of high fashion and at the world of Vogue at a time when money was rolling in and anything went. And he’s very keen to set you straight about what the Devil Wears Prada got wrong. If you’ve read Tina Brown’s Vanity Fair Diaries (which I did a couple of years back) there is some neat crossover here. If you’re a serious fashion fan, I don’t know how much it will tell you that you don’t know – except what Talley’s view on everything is and how he wants to position himself. But it’s a lot of fun finding out.

You should be able to get hold of this fairly easily at your book store of choice. It’s a hardback at the moment and it only came out a couple of months back so I would expect it to be on one of the tables or in one of the displays fairly near the front rather than in hidden away in a specialist section. And it is also an audiobook (that he reads himself!) and on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Hello World

I read a lot of stuff last week – ticked a few more states off my 50 States Challenge and read a bunch of romances (with some favourite authors and some new ones), but I do like to mix things up a bit with my Book of the Week picks, so this week I have some popular science for you.

The cover of Hello World

Hello World is an examination of what algorithms are and how they work for (and against) us. Dr Hannah Fry is a mathmatician who specialises in looking at patterns and how they affect human behaviour. She’s also a broadcaster, podcaster and public speaker and her experience in communicating complicated theories over those mediums really shows in this. Now unless you’ve been living under a rock you’ll know that algorithms are a thing. They dictate what you see in your social media feeds, what comes up in search results but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Hello World looks at the role of algorithms in data, healthcare, crime, art and more. If you’ve ever wondered how far off a fully autonomous car is, this will tell you and explain the challenges along the way – for the car and for the drivers. Could algorithms help with solving crime or predicting where crimes might happen. Do they have a role in sentencing or bail decisions fairer? How are they making decisions – and how do they say they’re making decisions?

As usually I’m a little bit behind the times – this came out in 2018 (and was nominated for some of the nonfiction writing prizes) so somethings have moved on a little from my copy (an advance copy for the hardback release that I got given by someone) but I found this absolutely fascinating – sometimes a little scary but also actually quite reassuring as well. I read a fair bit of non fiction but mostly history with occasional bits of science and medical non fiction and I find that books in this end of the spectrum are sometimes too technical or get too bogged down in the details but this absolutely does not do that. I don’t consider myself mathematically or scientifically minded, but this was clear and concise and easy to follow. And I think it’s a great book to read at the moment – we’re all trapped at home and more dependent on technology than ever before and this will give you an insight into some of that and although it might make you rethink some things it won’t but absolutely terrify you and make you want to disconnect everything!

You can get Hello World from all the usual sources. I’ve seen it on the popular science table in the chain bookstores and on the shelves at the supermarket. And of course it’s available in Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook from your audiobook vendor of choice. And if you’ve read this and liked this and want more popular science, can I point you in the direction of Mary Roach and her books.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Not Your Sidekick

June was a tough month, and July started off looking like it was going to be more of the same. But I’m feeling much better about things now, because the Formula 1 was back at the weekend, and so life felt a little bit more normal. And it’s very much first world problems, and people have problems that are a lot more serious, but I’m due to get a hair cut this week, which has been something to look forward to because when you have hair as short as mine and you haven’t been able to have it cut for 15 weeks it looks a right state. I’ve never regretted cutting my hair short before – but there’s a first time for everything. Anyway, to the reading. Back to YA this week for Not Your Sidekick by C B Lee, a superhero-adjacent (sort of) adventure story.

Cover of Not Your Sidekick

Jessica Tran’s parents are superheroes. Ok, so they’re only C-class, which means they mostly just save their town from the pranks played by the town’s villians, the Mischiefs. Jessica’s sister is in superhero training, but Jessica herself hasn’t got any powers yet, and it’s not looking like she’s about to develop any. So when she gets an internship at a fancy tech company, it’s the most exciting thing that has happened to her in ages – and she gets to work with Abby, the school volleyball star she’s had a crush on forever. Except it turns out that she’s working for the Mischiefs, and it looks like there might be a dark undercurrent in the world of heroes and villains that she’s used to.

This is a fun and exciting adventure caper, which reminded me a bit of the Incredibles, with the juxtaposition of superpowers, secret identities and ordinary lives. Jessica is a great lead character, but she’s got a great gang of friends too. It doesn’t info dump on you, it really just puts you down in the world and leaves you to work out what has happened to Earth, and how everything works, which I though really helped with the pacing as well as giving you a level of uncertainty about who were the good guys and the bad guys. I had part of the plot at the tech company figured out fairly early on, and I’m not sure I was meant to – but I’m not in the target age range, so it may have seemed less obvious to the younger audience. But it’s a lot of fun, the unravelling at the end is great – although there is somewhat of a cliffhanger situation going on here – and Jessica and Abby are great fun together. It’s a lovely twist on the high school story and on a one girl to save the world type story (see also Patrick Ness’s The Rest of Us Just Live Here). And there are two more books in the series (even if the sequel looks difficult to get hold of in the UK) with a third on the way.

My copy came from the library, but Not Your Sidekick is available now in paperback, audiobook, Kindle, Kobo and all the usual formats. I suspect the paperback will probably be a special order in the UK.

Happy Reading

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: The Boyfriend Project

So I said yesterday that I had a slumpy week of reading, but actually I started the week with a really good new romance by Farrah Rochon, so that was an easy choice for my pick today! And after two weeks of books aimed at young readers, I can confirm that this one is definitely for the grownups!

Cover of the Boyfriend Project

Samiah Brooks is about to go out on a date, when someone live tweeting a horrific date reveals that she’s being cheated on – and not just two-timed, but three-timed. When she and the other two women confront the catfisher in a restaurant, they end up going viral. But Samiah also gains two new friends and they make a pact to spend the next six months focussing on themselves and not on men. Samiah’s big goal in putting herself first is to work on the app that she has been dreaming of creating, but hasn’t had time to do. But her resolve is soon tested by the new guy who has joined the tech company she works at. Daniel Collins is smart and funny and attractive – but Samiah can’t help feeling that he might be too good to be true.

I thought this was lots and lots of fun. As a reader, you know what is going on with Daniel from very early on and it’s a nice suspense-y subplot to the romance. I was somewhat concerned about how that subplot was going to impact on the happy ending – there was definitely a point when I was worried that there wasn’t a way to get to a satisfying resolution, but it actually all worked out really quite nicely. And if you like competency porn in your romance heroines this is one for you: Samiah is incredibly good at her job and also very upfront about the challenges and barriers to black women in tech. Oh and Daniel is pretty smart too…

This is the first in a series – I’m assuming Samiah’s other two friends will be the other heroines in the series and I am totally here for that. One of them is a surgeon, the other is running her own exercise business and the setups for both of them in this book is great. I love a strong group of female friends in a book – and I also love that they seem to be making a resurgence in romances. If you read and enjoyed Tracey Livesay’s Sweet Talkin’ Lover (maybe after I recommended it!) and the group of friends that that has, this has a similarly supportive and fun group. I preordered this (only a few days before publication but it still counts!) after hearing Farrah Rochon talking about it on Smart Podcast, Trashy Books last week – and that’s well worth a listen too if you need something to listen to on your daily exercise.

I’ve mentioned several times now that I’m focusing on reading black authors at the moment, and if you are too – maybe you’re taking part in the #blackpublishingpower week that Amistad publishing came up with, which is asking people to buy two books by black authors this week, then this would be a great pick for you. It came out last week and is a bargainous £1.99 in Kindle and Kobo. It’s also available in paperback – but I suspect it’s an import type of deal if you’re in the UK, rather than something you’ll be able to pick up at your newly reopened local bookshop.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, children's books, Young Adult

Book of the Week: This Book is Anti-Racist

As I mentioned yesterday, I changed my reading plans last week and focused on books by black authors and other authors of colour. And so for the second week in a row, this week’s BotW pick is a book for young people.

Tiffany Jewell is an anti-racism educator and this book does exactly what the subtitle suggests – it is a beautifully illustrated (by Aurélia Durand) and brilliantly to the point book that will make children first think about and understand their levels of privilege and then start to look at what they can do to change the status quo and deal with systemic racism. It has activities in every chapter aimed at making readers think and examine their own lives and actions, where ever on the scale of privilege they live. It also helps you work out what you can do to make a difference – how you can use your skills and talents to be anti-racist. Written from the author’s lived experiences – whilst also reflecting the fact that racism manifests in a multitude of insidious ways – it’s absolutely centring the experiences of people who are experiencing racism. This is a great starting point to try to show children what they can do and how to feel less powerless. This would be a great tool for the classroom. It’s also a great tool for adults – to read, digest and think about what you should be doing in your own life. I’m obviously older than the target audience for the book, but I still got a lot from it.

My copy of This Book is Anti-Racist came from NetGalley, but it is on offer at the moment on Kindle for £1.99. You may be able to track down a copy via your local independent book seller, but a lot of books about racism are out of stock at the moment and I think this may be the same, as Amazon don’t have any paperback stock at the moment. Hopefully the publishers are working on getting more copies out there, so that it can be in school libraries and classrooms when we get to the new normal.

Keep Reading.

 

Book of the Week, Children's books

Book of the Week: The Good Thieves

As mentioned yesterday, monthly stats are coming on Thursday, so I can keep to my regular schedule of Book of the Week on Tuesdays and mini reviews on the first Wednesday of each month. And this week, for the first time in a long time, my pick is a middle grade book – Katherine Rundell’s The Good Thieves.

Hardback copy of The Good Thieves

Vita and her mother got the first boat to New York when the letter from Vita’s grandfather arrived. He’s been cheated out of his ancestral home by mobster Victor Sorrotore. Vita’s mum wants to move him to London, but Vita can’t bear to see her grandfather sad and broken and is determined to get Hudson Hall back for him. But Sorrotore is a powerful mobster – how on earth can she beat him? Well the answer involves a pickpockets, animal tamers and a trapeze artist and a thrilling heist caper through Prohibition New York. I love a strong female heroine and Vita is great – she’s fierce and brave and believes that she can do anything – she’s not letting her age or her dodgy foot (affected by polio) stop her. And if his means that she sometimes makes some stupid decisions (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get there), they are totally in keeping with who she is. This is fast-paced, there’s loads of suspense and both the characters and the setting are so brilliantly drawn you just can’t put it down. And on top of that, the writing absolutely sparkles – the descriptions of Vita and her friends and of New York are brilliantly evocative – you can really see them and the menagerie of animals in their little corner of the city by Carnegie Hall.

My love for heist-y adventure-y books is well known, as is my fondness for middle grade fiction (despite the fact that I have not been a middle grader since the 1990s) and along with the interwar setting, maybe it’s not surprising that ticked a lot of my boxes. This would be great for children who’ve read the Enid Blyton …of Adventure series or the Famous Five, or more modern series like Robin Steven’s Wells and Wong books and Katherine Woodfine’s Sinclair mysteries. I loved tales of derring do when I was at the top end of primary school – and read the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew voraciously as well as series like the Three Investigators, most of which I either wouldn’t recommend for modern kids or aren’t in print any more, and this would fill that gap for kids with similar interests today.

My copy of The Good Thieves is a delightful signed hardback that I bought from Foyles – who made it their children’s book of the year last year – but it’s also out in paperback on June 10th according to Foyles. And of course you can get it in Kindle and Kobo as well.

Happy reading

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: First in Line

I didn’t read many books last week, but I did read a lot of pages of various non-fiction books and this was my favourite of them.

Cover of First in Line

First in Line is Kate Andersen Brower’s book about the American vice presidents of the modern era. Part group biography, part examination of the shifting nature of the role, it also takes a look at the early days of the Trump White House and the role of Mike Pence in the administration.  Looking at 13 vice-presidents as well as the responsibilities of the job and how a presidential running mate is selected, Brower has spoken to all six of the living vice presidents – and the insight this gives the book is great. Brower’s writing style is breezy and accessible and the book is peppered with anecdotes and personal stories.

The first six chapters cover the broad strokes of the role – the vetting process, where the VP lives, what the VP does and the basics of the various different types of relationships that there can be between the President and his second in command. The final seven chapters then take a more in depth look at the different partnerships in the second half of the twentieth century – from Eisenhower and Nixon onwards. I don’t think you need much background knowledge going into this – if you know the vague outlines of what happened in America post World War 2 you should be fine.

I found this fascinating. I knew the vague outlines of the process by which the vice president is selected and what the role of the job is, but I hadn’t really realised that the VP’s official residence was such a recent development – or how widely the relationships between the Commander in Chief and his deputy had varied. All the relationships are interesting, but I found the contrast between Nixon and Bush really fascinating – both were Republican vice presidents who became presidents but they had very different experiences.

 

Brower is somewhat of a specialist in writing about the occupants of the White House – her first book (which I haven’t read yet), The Residence, is about the house itself, her second (which I have) was about the modern First Ladies, and her latest book – which came out as an ebook last week and will be out in hardback next month – is called The Team of Five: The Presidents Club in the age of Trump, and looks at what it is like to be one of the living former presidents at the moment. She’s spoken to President Trump as part of the process – she’s written a teaser article in the current edition of Vanity Fair – if you want a taste you can read it here.

And finally – you know how sometimes you read a bit in a book and it really resonates with your experience? Well at the bottom of page 288, Brower says:

Unlike [Dick] Cheney, who had no interest in the presidency, when he was vice president, when Pence goes to the Hill to “touch gloves’ as he says, on a weekly basis, he insists on walking through the Capitol Rotunda so that tourists can get their photos taken with him.

And here is my photo of Mike Pence doing exactly that on the day that I toured the Capitol right at the end of my posting in Washington a couple of years ago.
Vice President Mike PenceIf you want to read First in Line it’s available as an ebook on Kindle or Kobo as well as in hardback. I suspect you might have to order it in though rather than find it in stock when you call your local indie. I’d also recommend First Ladies and having read both (albeit some time apart) I don’t think there was a lot of repetition.

 

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.