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.

Blog tours, new releases

Blog Tour: Conjure Women

A bonus post this Wednesday for you as I’m the latest stop on the blog tour for Conjure Women by Afia Atakora. This is a debut novel that’s got a fair bit of of hype – just yesterday morning it made it into an email from Barnes and Noble, who have picked it for their book club this month. Anyway, after a string of romance and crime reviews, it’s been really nice to get my teeth into some thing a bit different – and this is a world away from most of my recent reading that I’ve been telling you about.

Cover of Conjure Women

So what’s it about: Set in the American South and moving around in time before, during and after the Civil War, it is the story of May Belle a wise woman and healer for a plantation; her daughter Rue, who she passes her skills as a midwife on to and Varina, the daughter of the plantation owner, who is a similar age to Rue. Told principally through the eyes of Rue, over the course of the novel a web of secrets, passions and friendships unfolds, starting with the birth of the child Rue accidentally christens Black-Eyed Bean and who the village people think is cursed. Bean is pale-skinned and has black-eyed and people are sure he’s a bad omen. When a sickness starts sweeping through the community, they’re sure of it. Rue finds herself at the centre of their suspicions – not only did she deliver Bean, but she’s been spotted in the woods late at night, she (or her mother) has conjured spells to help many of them before – so is she conjuring to help Bean now? And why is she so wary of the preacher who comes to visit them?

So firstly – the writing in this is beautiful. The characters feel incredibly real and you can really see the plantation in your mind’s eye as you read. Rue is a seductive protagonist – she’s observant and smart, but she doesn’t always see the reality of the world – even though she thinks that she does. It means that you think that you know better than her about what is going on – and then every time, it turns out that you don’t. You know that Rue’s friendship with Varina is going to be a problem, but the narrative moves around in time so cleverly that you pick up scraps of the bigger story but the full picture never really becomes clear to you (even if you think it has) until Atakora wants you to be able to see it. Life on the plantation before the war is filled with violence and arbitrary punishment, life after the war is filled with a new peril.

Goodreads has this tagged with fantasy as well as historical fiction, and among the comparison novels is Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, but part of the skill of this is that it keeps you wondering if May Belle and her mother really can do magic. This was definitely a change from what I’ve been reading for the past few weeks, and it gave me a lot to think about. I’m still thinking about it now, still wondering, imagining. If you’re feeling particularly anxious at the moment, maybe wait until you’re feeling more resilient because this is very tense, with unexpected violence at various points that will horrify you. But if you want something to lift you away from the reality of a lockdown and to remind you that life could be – has been – so much worse, then this could be the book for you.

I said at the top that this is a very different pick from most of my recent reviews, but over the history of this blog I’ve written about a fair few literary fiction books, and have had a particular interest in books about the black experience in the American South since I studied The Color Purple at A Level. I’ve already mentioned The Underground Railroad, but as well as Colson Whitehead, if you’ve read Ta-Nehisi Coates (and I have the Water Dancer on my tbr pile), or Toni Morrison or of Yaa Gyasi (also on my tbr) this should be on your reading list. And if you read The Confessions of Frannie Langton after I recommended that last year, then maybe give this a try too.

Conjure Women came out yesterday in ebook on Kindle and Kobo. The hardback is out next week and I don’t know how easy it will be to get from your local independent bookseller straight away, but if you’re going to read this, i’d encourage you to order it from your local bookshop if you can, even if you have to wait a bit for it to turn up because booksellers need all the help they can get at the moment.

Happy Reading!

Blog tour poster for Conjure Women

Book of the Week, crime, Forgotten books

Book of the Week: Case of a Demented Spiv

A short BotW post today, and another week, another crime pick… I just can’t help myself. Crime is also most of what I’ve been reading in the last week.

It’s pouring with rain when a spiv bursts into a pub to say that there is a dead man in a local factory. The body in question is that of one of the administrators at the factory and Inspector Littlejohn is called in from Scotland Yard to investigate when the local detective fails to make headway. What Littlejohn discovers in the small town is a tangle of divided loyalties and dark secrets.

I’m on a run of forgotten detective novels and this one is a good one. The town is cleverly drawn, with economical but incisive portraits of its residents. The mystery is well set out and even if the finale gets a little overblown, you sort of forgive it for the swashbuckling flare it shows. This is my second George Bellairs – I read Death Stops the Frolic at the start of March and I liked that a lot. My only quibble with that was that I wasn’t sure if the resolution of that one was a clever twist or a bit of a cheat.  This is equally clever, but with a solution that feels fairer to the reader and detective that I prefer – which is probably unsurprising given that this is the 14th in a long series featuring Littlejohn and I think that Death stops the Frolic was the only story featuring Superintendent Nankivell.

My copy came via the publisher’s mailing list, but it’s available now for free if you’re in Kindle Unlimited or to buy on Kindle. I can’t find it on Kobo – but they do have other books in the series available.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, detective

Book of the Week: Murder by Matchlight

The world keeps changing – and as the uncertain times continue, I’m still all about resolutions. And as I mentioned briefly last week; along with romances, murder mysteries give you resolutions and at the moment I really need it to turn out alright in the end. Murder by Matchlight was my second E R C Lorac in about a week and I liked it as much as I liked the first – and I nearly wrote about Murder in the Mill Race last week, but I was trying to mix it up a little bit from the stream of mysteries, so today you get two reviews in one.  A quick note: I started writing this ahead of time, and we’ve now moved into a lockdown situation in the UK – where bookshops are shut and people should not be going outside unless absolutely necessary. I’m making an adjustment to how I link out to books – I’m providing ebook links where available, and telling you what the likelihood that your local indie would be able to source it if they’re still open. Please support small booksellers where you can.

Copy of Murder by Matchlight

Murder by Matchlight is set in 1945, when Bruce Mallaig witnesses a murder while walking after the blackout in Regents Park. He is sitting on a bench when he sees two men acting suspiciously on a footbridge – and then one of them is murdered. His only glimpse of the killer as a flash of a ghastly face by matchlight just before the crime. CID detective Inspector MacDonald is called in to investigate and needs to try and work out how the murderer managed to appear and disappear in silence.

It is not often in a murder mystery when there is actually a witness to the killing who sees the murderer – Agatha Christie’s The 4.50 from Paddington is one and beyond that I’m struggling. There are more where there are witnesses to the actual death – but not many who see the murderer. This is clever and atmospheric, with a really interesting cast of characters and suspects. I was reading this early last week though and the wartime setting – including air raids and it was ever so nearly tense for me – even though we were pre-lockdown at that point.  It was still the best thing I read last week – but the tension is worth bearing in mind if you’re feeling anxious at the moment.

But if you are feeling anxious, I can thoroughly recommend Murder in the Mill-Race – also by Lorac, which I read the previous week and got beaten to Book of the Week by Love Hard, in part because of my recent reliance on British Library Crime Classics. This also features MacDonald – now a chief inspector – but is set in Devon. Raymond Ferrens and his wife have moved to a picturesque hilltop village where he is taking over as the local doctor. At first it seems perfect – but as is often the case they soon find out that there are currents and tensions below the surface. Most of them an be traced  back to the influence of Sister Monica, who runs the local children’s home. Although almost no-one will say a word against her, a few months after their arrival, she’s found dead in the mill-race. MacDonald is called in to try and find out what happens – but finds a wall of silence from the close knit villagers. This has all the best bits of Murder by Matchlight – but seems less applicable to current life so may be more enjoyable for the anxious. I certainly really liked it.

It seems there are a lot of books featuring Inspector MacDonald, these two are numbers 26 and 37 in the series. There are a few of them available – but it’s a bit of a lottery – they’re across several different publishers and some have been retitled – Goodreads tells me that Murder in the Mill-Race was originally Speak Justly of the Dead. I will be looking for more. Murder by Matchlight is available on Kindle for £2.99 and also in paperback. The same applies to Murder in the Mill-Race – which is currently £2.99 on Kindle, but this one is included in Kindle Unlimited if that’s something you’re a a part of. They don’t seem to be available on Kobo. British Library Crime Classics are stocked by a lot of booksellers and this one seems to be still in print – Heffers had lots of Murder by when I bought this – so if your local indie is taking phone orders, then they may be able to help you. I’ve also just picked up Death Came Softly from the series for 99p – I’ll try and keep you posted on what I think.

Keep reading – and please stay safe.

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: The Colour of Murder

Another week, another crime pick, and another British Library Crime pick, so what if it’s been less than a month since I last picked one – I couldn’t help myself because this was so clever and so readable.

The Colour of Murder is told in two parts. The first, Before, is a psychiatric report on John Wilkins. Told in his own words, it sets out his life, his unhappiness in his marriage and his job, his mysterious blackouts when he drinks, and his flirtation with a local woman. The second part, After, is the story of Wilkins’ trial for murder. It’s really unusual for a murder mystery in that for half of the book you don’t know who the victim is and you also don’t see any detection at all. And that is beauty of it – it lets you draw your own conclusions – or perhaps more accurately make your own assumptions – all the while adding more details and information.

It’s quite hard to talk about this book because it would be easy to say too much, but I don’t think it’s giving away a lot to say that John is a massively unlikeable man. He’s unhappy in almost every part of his life, but you don’t really feel much sympathy for his because he’s so awful even in his own words. His wife isn’t much more likeable according to him, but she has all the disadvantages of being viewed through his self-obsessed eyes – as well as suffering from the lack of opportunity and independence that a stay at home wife had in the 1950s. 

I absolutely raced through this, it’s not long but it’s also a massive page-turner. The writing is so clever that I kept changing my mind about what was happening. I read it via Kindle Unlimited but it’s also available to buy from all the usual sources.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: Miss Austen

So a bit of a strange week in reading.  I really enjoyed Alexa Martin’s Blitzed – but I gave a rave to Intercepted in May last year, so it’s inside my statute of limitations for repeats really.  There were a few things that I really didn’t like and a few more that I was a bit ho-hum about. But I also finished Miss Austen – which I wrote about in my 2020 preview post, so I thought I ought to revisit it now I have some thoughts.

Miss Austen: Spotted in the wild in Heffers at the end of January

So, the plot: in 1840 Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra goes to stay with the family of her long dead fiancé, in a quest to find a cache of letters sent by her sister.  It’s 20 years since Jane died, and Cassandra sees herself as the guardian of her sister’s legacy and image.  What is in those letters – and what damage could they do to the picture that Cassandra has carefully nurtured of her sister?  The story jumps backwards and forwards between the present day – where Cassandra is an unexpected (and not altogether welcome) visitor in a household in turmoil and Cassandra’s past with Jane, where her future looked to be going down a different path.

As I said in my 2020 preview, I will always take a second look at an Austen-related book.  Some of them work better for me than others – I loved Death Comes to Pemberley and still regularly recommend Eligible, but couldn’t stand Pemberley and didn’t even finish Longbourne. This is billed as the untold story of the most important person in Jane’s life and that was the hook that drew me in.  I finished it nearly a week ago and I’m still trying to decide what I thought of it. I liked the writing style and it has some really witty moments – both in the Jane and Cassandra timeline and in the Cassandra and the Fowle’s timeline. I’m not enough of an Austen scholar to be able to pick holes in the accuracy – which is probably a good thing for my enjoyment. But I’m still not sure what it was trying to do – things happened, but I think it petered out a bit at the end.  Several people have asked me about it and I’ve struggled to articulate what exactly the problem was. Thinking about it now, I think that it maybe that the plot is sold as being about the hunt for the letters, but actually when you’re reading it that isn’t as central to the action as you expect. But I did enjoy it – Cassandra’s time as an old, meddling house guest is fun – as is her sparring with the maid. Cassandra and Jane’s relationship with their sister-in-law Mary is fun – as Mary insists that her husband was the better writer, and the sisters wonder if she will spot herself in Jane’s work.  There are some other interesting characters though and Jane and Cassandra feel very real and true.

It feels strange to pick it as a BotW in a way, because this isn’t a whole-hearted thumbs up – and I can’t even explain some of my thoughts about the book very well.  But I have kept thinking about it since I finished it last week and so that makes it worthy of a bit more attention than just a shrug and move on.  It’s also had a lot of buzz – and it’s not often that I’ve read a literary fiction book like this early doors! I see a TV adaptation is in the works, and I will definitely watch that to see how it all translates.

My copy of Miss Austen came from NetGalley, but it is out now in hardback – and should be available in any decently stocked bookshop – as my photo from Heffers proves. It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

romance, week in books

Book of the Week: Love Lettering

After a classic crime pick last week, this week it’s a romance – and one that’s had a lot of buzz. The buzz is good, because Kate Claybourn’s latest novel came out on December 31st – and so was too late for anyone’s 2019 roundups, but sort of doesn’t count as 2020 either. Anyway – to the plot.

Cover of Love Lettering

Meg Mackworth is know as “The Planner of Park Slope” because of her hand-lettering skills, which she puts to use designing custom journals for those in the know in New York City. But she has a secret – sometimes she weaves secret patterns into her work, like the one she left in a wedding program for a couple she was sure wasn’t going to last. When Reid, the handsome and mathematically-minded groom, appears in her shop a year later to demand how she knew his future wasn’t going to last, it looks like it’s coming back to haunt her. Grappling with a case of creative block, Meg comes up with a plan to try and fix the situation. As the two wander the city getting to know each other and opening up, a connection develops. But Meg can see signs everywhere of problems ahead – how can this lead to a happy ending?

From the description above, Meg sounds a bit like a Manic Pixie Dream girl – one of those characters from quirky movies with improbable jobs and glamourous lives. She’s not. She’s guarded, anxious, likes routine, hates confrontation and sees letters in everything that she does. Her relationship with Reid is such a slow burn – just to friendship, let alone to more. But it’s such a joy to watch develop. The games they invent as they’re walking around the city, the way it makes Meg develop confidence and her ideas as well as the romance. And on top of that, the book itselfs really well designed – it’s got different fonts and lettering dropped in so that you can see what Meg is seeing in her head. It’s just lovely.

Also I think we can conclude that the tense a book is written in doesn’t bother me – because I’ve seen several reviews mentioning that it’s written in first person present and they still liked it, but I didn’t even notice really. I was so swept away by the book that I was just thinking about what happened next. Thinking back now it does feel like it had a sense of movement and uncertainty that was generated by the present tense – but at the time I wasn’t even thinking about tenses – just about Meg and Reid.

I absolutely ate this up with a spoon. I mean – I borrowed this from the library, but it’s on offer for 99p on Kindle (and Kobo) at the moment, so I’ve bought it so I can go back to it now my loan is up, and I may also have pre-ordered the paperback (out in March) so I can see what the all the different letters look like in the print version. It is so much fun.

Happy Reading!