Book of the Week, Children's books

Book of the Week: How Nell Scored

Last week was a lot. I thought hard about what to pick today, but eventually decided that the craziness that is this Bessie Merchant book was the thing I wanted to write about.

How Nell Scored is not a long book, but it packs a lot in to under 100 pages. Nell lives on an isolated farm in New Zealand along with her extended family. At the start of the book her parents leave for the nearest town, to look after her older brother David who is sick. Nell and her sister Sue are left in the care of their aunt, the magnificently named Angelina Ann. No sooner are the parents gone, than a ship is wrecked on the rocks near the house and Nell and Sue (but mostly Nell!) has to rescue two of the crew from the wreckage. One man has a broken leg, the other is your stereotypical Girl’s Own “bad lot” – he tries to get out of helping rescue his shipmate and then when they’re back at the farm acting suspiciously while alone in the room of his colleague. When the sick man wakes up, he confides in Nell that he has a belt full of pearls that he needs to get to the nearest town or – and here’s a real shocker – Nell’s brother will be ruined. Yes. In one of those weird Girls Own coincidences, Nell’s brother stood surety for the mystery man and if he doesn’t get the money to town soon the bank will come to collect. This is the mystery reason why David has fallen ill. With me so far? A lot of plot isn’t it – and we’re not even halfway through! The latter part of the book involves a quest to find a doctor which turns into a 30 mile trek to New Plymouth.

It’s a lot. It’s mad, it has so very much plot and yet is strangely missing a final confrontation between Nell and the villain. It didn’t really matter though – I was too bamboozled to care. It was the bonkers adventure book I needed last week. My first Bessie Marchant, but I suspect not my last.

I have no idea where you’ll get this from. Honestly. My copy came from the local vintage emporium. It cost me a pound. And it was money well spent. Honestly the most bonkers book I have recently read – and it will take some beating to be the maddest book of the year!

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Young Adult

Book of the Week: You Should See Me in a Crown

The first BotW pick of the new year is a nice uplifting YA novel, which as we’re back in lockdown from today, is probably for the best. I think we all need a bit of cheering up right now. Coming up tomorrow are my favourite books of last year – and just in case you haven’t seen them already my obsessions and the books that I read for my Read the USA challenge.

Cover of You Should See Me in a Crown

You Should See Me in a Crown is the story of Liz Lighty. She’s got a plan to get her out of her small town and get the future her mum had dreamed of for her. But when she misses out on the scholarship she needs to be able to go to Pennington College, she thinks her dream is over – until she remembers the scholarship that comes with the Prom Queen’s crown. Her small Indiana town is prom-obsessed – and to win the crown she’ll have to run the gamut of public events and contests – all in the spotlight of the school’s social media channel. The only thing making life bearable is the new girl, Mack. They’ve got so much in common – including the fact that Mack is running for prom queen too. Can Liz afford to fall for the competition?

Now I’ve written that summary and it sounds like this is going to be all cut throat and mean, but it’s not. Leah Johnson has constructed a prom competition that’s not entirely a popularity contest – with grades factored in and a community service requirement. Liz doesn’t have to go all Mean Girl or ditch her friends to be popular. It’s like She’s All That and Never Been Kissed had a book baby, but without all the problematic stuff* and with a heroine who is black and queer. Liz is fun and funny – and a band kid (like me!) and I really liked her backstory. There is some sad stuff here – Liz’s mum is dead, her brother has a chronic illness and Liz herself has some anxiety issues, but it is all very sensitively handled.

My copy of You Should See Me in a Crown came from the library, but you can get it on Kindle (but irritatingly not on Kobo) or in paperback now. It was the first pick for Reese Witherspoon’s YA book club and is being compared to Becky Albertalli and Jenny Han so I would have expected it to be fairly easy to find in bookshops, if only bookshops were open

*Little sis and I loved Never Been Kissed when it first came out, but she can’t watch it now she’s a teacher because it’s not ok that Mr Coulson has a thing for Josie, even if she’s actually not a pupil. And she’s not wrong, even if I can manage to ignore it if I concentrate very hard.

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: The Button Box

A slightly cheaty BotW pick this week, as I actually finished The Button Box this morning, although I did read most of it last week. But having already written about The Trouble with Mistletoe and How Love Actually Ruined Christmas in my Recommendsday post, and having written frequently about Rivers of London and Lumberjanes, it seemed like the obvious choice none the less (if I could finish it of course!).

Copy of The Button box

The Button Box is an examination on the changing lives of women through the 20th century, using the contents of the author’s button box, which contains items owned by her mother and her grandmother as well as from her own clothes gone by. From Victorian mourning jewellery through to Biba and the 70s, Lynn Knight uses buttons and buckles to trace the evolution of female life in a century that saw huge changes as women started to have the ability to have a life beyond the domestic and careers became an option – rather than working until marriage – or sitting at home waiting for marriage to come to you depending on your class. 

As an avid reader of books written or set pre-1950, I found the sections on the realities of women’s wardrobes and clothing in those periods absolutely fascinating. The obsession with the ability to sew in my beloved boarding school stories – and the anger of the teachers when a pupil got a fresh tunic covered in ink – come into sharper focus when you realise exactly how small the children’s wardrobes likely were, as well as the struggles that parents must have had to find the money for all the clothes their boarders needed. My grandma used to tell stories of some of her schoolmates not having proper shoes, or having carried a baked potato to school to keep their hands warm en route and then eating it for lunch, but when you’re little it doesn’t really sink in. During the early stages of the book I found myself thinking – more than once – of my wardrobe full of clothes and my easy ability to buy more and feeling lucky but also guilty.

Knight is also able to talk at length about the importance of home dressmakers and home dress making – which was also fascinating. My mum did some sewing (still does really) but mostly nice extras – like the strawberry patterned kaftan she made for me (with a little help from me!) when i was about 10. My mother in law made me a pinafore apron for Christmas (it’s amazing) and is helping me with a Mary Quant design the V&A published more than a year ago before the virus hit, but it’s all recreational stuff – it’s not out of necessity. And the book is full of little insights – like women in the era before reliable contraception sitting downstairs doing their darning in the hope that by the time they got to bed their husbands would be asleep. And on top of everything else, it would definitely make a useful addition to the research shelf of any author writing books set in the first half of the twentieth century.

My copy of The Button Box is an advance copy of the hardback, which has been sitting on the to-read bookshelf for some years – I think it came from the proofs trolley at work, back in the days when that was a thing. I want to say that I picked it up after reading a review of it in the Literary Review, but the review might have been after – or it might not have existed at all because I can’t find a link to it! Anyway, that’s all to say, that it’s been around so long it’s been out in paperback for three years – I don’t know if you’ll be able to find it actually in a shop or you’ll have to order it, but Foyles has stock, so you never know. And it’s available in Kindle and Kobo too. 

Happy Reading!

Bonus Photo: The paperback cover of The Button Box – I thought it was an updated kindle one, but it only shows in the kindle library view – when you open the book up it does that irritating thing of having a different cover (the only thing more irritating, being not having a cover at all!)

Cover of The Button Box
Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: 40-Love

I’ve got some Christmas recommendations coming up tomorrow, but in the meantime, here’s something completely different: a holiday romance set in Florida. Never let it be said that I don’t mix things up!

Cover of 40-Love

Assistant principal Tess Dunn is spending part of her summer vacation at a resort in Florida to celebrate her birthday. She’s splitting her time between the beach and planning for the promotion that she wants, but the point is that she went on holiday at all right? One morning, she’s in the sea when a wave takes her bikini top (no laughing matter) and she uses the nearest person as a human shield to protest her modesty. That nearest person is Lucas Karlsson. He’s currently the resort’s tennis pro, but behind his flirty demeanor he’s recovering from the premature end of his top level playing career. In an attempt to match make, Tess’s friend buys her some lessons with Lucas, and the sparks fly. But Tess has just turned 40 and Lucas is 26, and they only have two weeks to get to know each other. Is this just a holiday fling or could it be a long term thing?

I was about to say that I don’t read a lot of age gap romances, except that almost every traditional Regency you’ll ever read features an older man and a fresh out of the school room debutant. So it would be more accurate to say that I don’t read a lot of age gap contemporaries and very few of those feature an older woman. And this made a really nice change. Tess is a fun heroine who knows what she wants and how she’s going to get it, and Lucas’s tennis career means that he’s more mature than perhaps your average 26 year old man. As a pair they are delightful and it was really entertaining watching them get to know each other and break down their defences. It’s funny, it’s flirty, it’s sexy – but it also has a relatable core and deals with some real world issues in a compassionate way.

In the grand scheme of things – and the grand scheme of romance novels, 40-love is very low angst. Lucas is absolutely the polar opposite of the Alpha-hole romance trope. He’s kind, he’s emotionally fluent and I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that there’s no Big Stupid Thing that either of them do to the other. The conflict here is entirely about whether they’re going to work together when they get to know each other – not that one is hiding something big, or has done something dumb. And given the state of the universe at the moment, this is the sort of conflict that I feel emotionally ready to deal with! This isn’t my first Olivia Dade – I read Spoiler Alert a few weeks back, which was also a lot of fun and has some of the same elements of interesting non-typical romance characters – perhaps against expectations given the fact that the hero is the star of a show that I’m going to call Not Game Of Thrones, and there are a couple of references to that in this too which is a nice easter egg to find.

My copy of 40-Love came from the library, but you can buy it now on Kindle or Kobo or as a paperback, but it looks like its a print on demand type situation – although you can get Spoiler Alert from Waterstones much more easily.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, crime, detective

Book of the Week: Sick as a Parrot

A big of week in reading last week, with some Christmas stuff you’ll hear about anon. Or at least I hope you will. Anyway, back to some old school crime this week for my BotW pick.

Copy of Sick as a Parrot on the Crime bookshelf

Sick as a Parrot is the fifth book in Liz Evans’s series featuring somewhat unconventional private investigator and ex-cop Grace Smith. Grace’s latest client is Hannah Conti, a young woman who has recently discovers that she is adopted and that her natural mother was convicted of murder. Hannah wants Grace to clear her mother’s name. And so Grace is drawn into the very messy murder of a school teacher two decades ago that no one wants re-examining. Meanwhile Grace is also pet-sitting a neurotic parrot and despite all her best efforts she also has an incredibly unreconstructed former colleague sleeping in her spare room.

This is the second book in this series that I’ve read (the other one being Who Killed Marilyn Monroe, the first in the series) and they’re both on the edge of gritty with an enjoyable side of black humour. They were written in the mid 2000s and that gives them an enjoyably low tech and low fi edge. Grace is a fun heroine – enjoyably flawed and smart in someways – but not in others. There are some common threads in this book from the first one too which have clearly been developing nicely in the interim which I’d like to go back for. And there’s an interesting romantic thread in this that means I really want to read the sixth and final book in the series.

So this is where it gets tricky. This is an older book which I picked it up secondhand, I think at a National Trust book stall. So you’ll have to hunt for it. But you never know, you might find one of the other books in the series while you’re at it. Some of the series have been republished on Kindle with new titles – you can find the box set of the first three here and some of them are even in Kindle Unlimited, if that’s a thing you have. Who Killed Marilyn Monroe is available on Kobo, but it’s the only one I could find there sadly.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Fantasy

Book of the Week: Guilty Pleasures

As I mentioned yesterday I read a bunch of books last week for my missing states for my Read Across America challenge and today’s Book of the Week was one of them.

Cover of Guilty Pleasures

Guilty Pleasures is the first in Laurell K Hamilton’s Anita Blake Vampire Hunter series. In a world where vampires have been legalised, Anita is an animator in St Louis, where she raises the dead and she helps kill members of the undead who have gone too far. Then the head of the city’s vampires asks her to solve a series of killings and she’s unable to say no. Soon she’s drawn into a new part of the world of the supernatural.

So, as previously mentioned, I have a mixed record with supernatural stories. I love the first 3 series of Buffy, like the next two and then lose patience with everything except Once More With Feeling and Tabula Rasa after the end of season five*. I raced through the Sookie Stackhouse series (and as I was reading it around the time the final book came out, I didn’t have years to get attached to one particular outcome and so was a rare person who wasn’t angry at the ending) but have struggled to find supernatural series I like outside of Charlaine Harris and Darynda Jones. I think my issues are usually when the series are too dark and angsty and too close to horror. But I do come through with every now and again and try. Grady Hendrix’s The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires was too horror for me. Alice James’s Grave Secrets had a good set up but didn’t do it for me in the execution. But this one was just about in the sweet spot. It was nearly a bit too violent, and didn’t quite have enough relationships/romance but I raced through it and enjoyed it. It doesn’t waste time with any explanations though – it really just does dump you into the world and leave you to work it out. Which is a choice, and obviously massive info dumps are bad, but when I stopped to think about it I wasn’t always quite sure how everything worked. But while I was reading, I didn’t mind!

For all that I’m only reading it now, this is actually 16 years old (just a couple of years younger than the True Blood series) and is still going, with the 28th book in the series due out in early 2021. This seemed like it was definitely setting up a love interest, so I shall probably read at least one or two more to see where it goes, but I’m not sure that I’m ready to commit to another mega long series at the moment.

My copy of Guilty Pleasures came from the library, but you can get hold of it in Kindle and on Kobo, as well as in paperback – bookshop.org.uk seem to have stock, but I don’t know if you’ll find it in stores.

Happy Reading!

*we’ve recently done a rewatch so I can confirm the accuracy of this.

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Well Met

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.

Cover of Well Met

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.

Happy Reading!

* that’s a monopoly reference

Book of the Week, mystery

Book of the Week: Life, Death and Cellos

 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. 

Cover of Life, Death and Cellos

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!

You can get a copy of Life, Death and Cellos in paperback from Bookshop.org.uk or on Kindle or Kobo.

Happy Reading!

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.

 

Book of the Week, romantic comedy

Book of the Week: Grumpy Jake

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.

Cover of 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.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Someone to Romance

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!

Cover of Someone to Romance

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.

Happy Reading!