Book of the Week, historical, literary fiction, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Swan Song

A tricky choice for my book of the week this week – partly because of a reduced list this week because of exciting things like holidays with friends, but partly because I had little quibbles with everything I read.  In the end it came down to Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott’s Swan Song and The Vacationers (apt because I was on vacation!) but as I’ve recommended Emma Straub before, I thought I’d go with Swan Song instead.  And to be fair, writing this post turned out to be really quite easy in the end!

Copy of Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott

Regular readers of this blog will be well aware of my love of novels based on real events, and this one takes a look at the downfall of Truman Capote, who after years of friendship (and patronage) with a group of elite high society women, committed social suicide by using their lives as material.  He called them his Swans, and they tell the story as a sort of Greek chorus, switching between their lives, his life and the stories he told them.  Hopping backwards and forwards through time, the Swans recount the various versions of Capote’s childhood that they’ve been told, full of inconsistencies and embroideries, they tell the stories of their friendship with him and its implosion and the aftermath.

This is really good. While it is most definitely a bit of a Rich People Problems type of situation, there is proper scandal, betrayal and heartbreak on all sides here. There are a lot of novels that talk about the unhappiness of rich and privileged people, and although they can sometimes be my favourite books to read, when it doesn’t work it’s hard to muster any sympathy.  But that’s not the case here at all – the women who Truman exposes have all their unhappiness exposed to the world – all the things that they have managed to ignore or put up with to keep their status are suddenly out there in print and although Joe Public might not know who the stories are about at first, the veil disguising their identities is very thin and people work it out – fast. I still can’t make up my mind if Truman knew that what he was about to do was going to explode his life but did it because he was terrified about failing to deliver a follow up to In Cold Blood, or if he thought that the women wouldn’t mind and couldn’t believe that they would be prepared to turn their backs on him.  My main quibble was around the last quarter – which I didn’t think worked quite as well as the earlier part had done, mostly because after the swans have broken with him, using them as a narrative device didn’t work quite as well for me.

There is a big cast of characters here but I was fine, knowing a bit about the story and having read another novel based around this very same issue before.  But my other quibble was whether you’d get lost if you didn’t know anything about this set before – as I was slightly when I read The Swans of Fifth Avenue – which didn’t tell you what it was that he’d done! Swan Song does give you the details on that – which is good, and I think if you keep reading beyond any initial confusion, it will all start to slot in to place. It’s just that the first part is a little bit like Truman’s brain after he’s had a few Orange Drinks and some pills. And obviously there is Wikipedia to help too if you’re really stuck – to be honest I think you can get all you need to know from Truman’s entry and then disappear off down any rabbit holes that strike your fancy!

Last week I recommended a book of fiction so cleverly done that you can’t believe the band isn’t real and actually these two make quite a good pair and overlap in time in some patches – although you may find that hard to believe.  You’ve got Truman and his swans living in the high society world of the East Coast which still feels like a relic of an earlier era, while over on the West Coast, Daisy and the Six are living it up in the new world of rock and drugs and feel much more contemporary.  And both would make great books to read on the beach if you’re about to head off on Spring/Easter break.  And writing post this has reminded me again that I really need to finish writing that Rich People Problems books post – it’s sitting half done, waiting for an opportune time to finish it (and for me to finish reading a couple more books).  Maybe this will be the push that I need!

I’ve had this on the pile for a while – twice in fact as I managed to get a NetGalley ebook copy when I already had a paper copy via the joys of my proper job – but although it came out last summer, I’m sort of timely – as earlier this month it was named on the longlist for the Women’s Fiction prize at the moment. The paperback isn’t out until the end of June so you could preorder it (and Amazon do have that pre-order price guarantee) but the hardback isn’t a bad price on Amazon at the moment if you just can’t wait, and would expect (or hope at least!) there might be a copy in any reasonably sized bookshop – especially now it’s been longlisted for a prize, even more so if it makes the shortlist. And of course it’s on Kindle and Kobo too.

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!

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!

Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Summer at Willow Lake

Happy Christmas everyone!  I hope you’re having (or have had depending on when you’re reading this!) a fabulous day and that Santa left you plenty of books in your stocking/pillowcase/under the tree.  A lot of my reading last week cropped up in my Christmas reading post, which ruled it out for here, and several of the other books onthe list would have been repeats, so you’ve ended up with a totally seasonally inappropriate book of the week – Summer at Willow Lake.  I’m only a little bit sorry about it though, because this was a lot of fun and I know there’ll be people out there with Christmas-overload at the moment.  But if you do want something more seasonally appropriate, check out my Christmas Day post from last year about Magnificent Meals.

Anyway, Summer at Willow Lake is the first in the Lakeshore Chronicles series, and I read it last week because I like to read series in order and the next book in the series looked wintry/Christmassy.  As I said, I was reading for the Christmas post last week.  And yes, I know, I was super behind, I need to be better organised and plan ahead more.  But in my defence, I plead the trip to Washington.  After all I’m not going to be able to use that as an excuse for very much longer so I might as well make the most of it while I can!

Olivia Bellamy is spending the summer renovating her family’s old summer camp.  Camp Kioga’s been closed for a decade, but her grandparents are determined to mark their Golden Wedding by renewing their vows at the spot they originally got married and as a “house fluffer” Olivia is the obvious choice to help make that happen.  Olivia is happy to have the excuse to get out of Manhattan, where the relationship that she thought was heading for the altar has unexpecctedly crumbled, although Kioga wouldn’t be her first choice.  She was very much the ugly duckling at school and her memories of camp are not the best.  Connor is the local contractor who is going to help make her vision a reality.  The trouble is, he’s also the boy that she had a huge crush on at camp.  From his point of view, he’s not keen on spending a summer renovating the camp where he spent his time as a scholarship camper as his alcoholic father was on the staff.  He doesn’t recognise Olivia at first, but soon the sparks are flying once again.  But can they put the past behind them?

That’s the main plot line, but there is a large cast of characters alongside Olivia and Connor who get quite meaty storylines of their own which (I hope/presume) set up the next books in the series.  It’s got a slightly saga-y feel if sagas were set in upstate New York.  There are big extended families with secrets and rivalries and dramas.  It’s all very enjoyable.  And if you grew up reading American middle grade novels about children being send off to summer camp, it’s a lot of fun to get a grown up summer camp novel!

As I said at the top, this is in no way seasonally appropriate, but I don’t care – especially as it’s only 99p on Kindle and Kobo at the moment which is a total bargain for nearly 400 pages of summer romance and angst.  Even if you don’t fancy reading it now, it might well be worth picking up for that moment at the end of spring when you just want to read about long hot summers. This is also the last Book of the Week post of 2018 – which means that my end of year roundup posts are on their way to you in the next week.  And the good news is, that I’m much more up to speed with them than I have been with my Christmas reading…

Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!

American imports, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: The Cinderella Deal

We’re into the final countdown to Christmas – if you missed them over the weekend, my annual Christmas book suggestion post is up as is my annual begging post of which books I’d like for me.  On to this week’s Book of the Week and yes, I know, it’s probably too soon to pick another Jennifer Crusie book, but sue me, I can’t help it – this was my favourite read last week.

The cover of The Cinderella Deal

In The Cinderella Deal we meet Daisy and Linc.  The only thing they have in common is the fact that they live in the same building.  Daisy is free spirited, artistic and can’t help but gather waifs and strays.  Linc is buttoned up, serious and a total workaholic.  But when Linc goes for an interview for his dream job, he realises that the thing that’s going to stop him from getting the post is the fact that he’s single.  So he invents a fiancée.  But when he and his fictional other half are invited to visit the college for a final interview, he needs to find someone to pretend to be about to marry him.  And Daisy owes him a favour.  But it all gets a lot more complicated than either of them expected.

I enjoyed this so much.  I think that fake relationships/engagements of convenience are one of my favourite romance tropes, but it is one of the hardest to pull off in contemporary romance.  However when it works, it really works and this really, really worked for me.  Daisy and Linc are a perfect opposites attract couple and she softens some of his hard edges while he gives her the skills to get tough and step up her work to the next level.  I was interested (ad slightly worried) to see how the fundamental differences between their outlooks on life were going to get resolved without Daisy changing herself and her personality to conform to Linc was wanted, but I really shouldn’t have been because Crusie pulls it out of the bag.

This is quite an early Crusie, so the plot maybe isn’t quite as developed as in her later books, but the secondary characters are a lot of fun and there is a lot more secondary plotline than I expected considering that it was originally a Loveswept book.  It’s obviously not a Christmas-themed book, but if you’re looking for a fun flirty romance to take your mind off your Christmas preparations, then this might be it.

I borrowed my copy from the library, but you can’t get it that way then you should be able to get hold of a copy on Kindle or Kobo, in paperback from Amazon or pick up a second hand edition from somewhere like Abebooks.

Happy Reading!

 

American imports, Book of the Week, mystery

Book of the Week: A Study in Scarlet Women

It’s nearly the end of my American Adventure, so my reading at the moment, as I mentioned yesterday, is mostly books I’ve borrowed from the library here.  I’m prioritising the pile too – because when I was borrowing books I was targetting books that I find it harder/more expensive to get hold of in the UK, so I’ll be gutted if I have to take some of them back unread.  And it also means that for the first time in a few weeks, I had lots of books to choose from for BotW this week, but it was a fairly easy choice – I raced through Sherry Thomas’s A Study in Scarlet Women on Saturday night – and it’s the first in a series.  Ideal.

Cover of A Study in Scarlet Women

So, A Study in Scarlet Women kicks off the Lady Sherlock series – which as you might guess is a gender-flipped Sherlock Holmes retelling.  Charlotte Holmes has never really felt happy with the life expected of a woman in upper class London in the late Victorian era.  And when her father reneges on a deal he made with her about her future, she takes matters into her own hands.  Unfortunately, that means making herself an outcast – and life as an outcast is harder than she thought.  And then there’s a series of deaths that are casting suspicion over the family she has left behind.  Soon Charlotte is investigating – under the assumed name of Sherlock Holmes – with the help of a few new friends, and one very old friend who has loved her forever.

I read this in almost one sitting** and it is so good.  Charlotte is a brilliant heroine.  The analytical mind that serves Sherlock so well creates as whole load of problems for a woman – who isn’t expected to speak up, or demand a life that doesn’t revolve around marriage.  Her deductions are clever, the mystery is great – and she’s much more sympathetic than Proper Sherlock is – she’s motivated by helping her family and her friends in a lot of what she does, not just the mystery solving.  Just a note though I’ve seen this categorized as a romance – which I think isn’t quite right.  I first head about it on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast and Sherry Thomas does also write romances, but for me this is definitely Historical Mystery with a side order of unresolved romance and sexual tension.  Don’t go expecting a resolution/Happy Ever After here.

Side note, I was listening to that edition of Smart Bitches after a night shift on the way back to where I was staying, and the combination of lack of sleep, going to a different station to where I was used to heading to from Waterloo station and being engrossed in this saw me in autopilot mode and getting on the wrong train and ending up in Richmond and not in Barnes.  I have a vivid memory of sitting on the platform at Richmond, freezing cold, watching it get light, waiting for a train back the other way and listening to Sherry Thomas talking about learning English as a second language through the medium of 70s and 80s historical romance novels!

Anyway, back to the book, if you like series like Deanna Raybourn’s Veronica Speedwell or Lady Julia Grey, Tasha Alexander’s Lady Emily – or even some of the interwar-set detective series like Daisy Dalrymple, Phryne Fisher, Dandy Gilver or Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness – then definitely give this a try, even if you’re not usually into Sherlock retellings.  And if you are a Sherlock fan, then definitely take a look at this.

My copy came from the library*, but you should be able to get your hands on this fairly easy.  It’s available in Kindle and Kobo as well as in paperback from all the usual suspects.  You might need to order it in though.  I already have the second book on loan from the library, and I’ve ordered the third to take home with me even though I have limited space in my luggage home.

Happy Reading

*Although I’ve since found it on my Kindle where I picked it up on offer for £1.49 last summer and then it got lost in the shuffle of books.  Insert comment about the state of my tbr pile here.

**I moved from the sofa to bed about halfway through, but ended up staying up late to finish it.

 

Authors I love, Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: Forever and a Day

A tricky choice this week – I didn’t finish a lot, and there’s a lot of repeat authors here. And I’ve been super busy, so that means I don’t have a lot of time to write. But as I’ve read three Lucky Harbor books in as many weeks, this seemed like a good option. Anyway, to the book…

Cover of Lucky Harbor omnibus

Grace never thought she’d end up in a town like Lucky Harbor. Her super successful parents had plans and ideas for how they wanted her life to turn out and she’s never wanted to make them feel disappointed in the little girl they adopted. But when the job she moved across country for turned out to have some sexual strings attached, she knew it wasn’t the job for her. But that left her without a job and a long way from home and she doesn’t know how she’s going to sort this out before her parents find out. Then she ends up dog sitting and then baby sitting for local doctor Josh. Josh has got far too much on his plate. His son is only communicating in barks since his sister brought home Tank the puppy. And his sister has got a serious case of rebellion going on, after the accident that killed their parents and left her in a wheelchair. Soon he and grace are getting on really well and the sparks are flying, but they both know that this can only be a temporary thing – after all she isn’t staying in town and he’s been burnt before and doesn’t want to upset what balance he does have in his life. Right?

So Lucky Harbor books come in threes, and this is the third of its groups, so if you’re reading in order you’ve already seen Grace’s arrival in town and the friendship that she’s built with Amy and Mallory, the heroines of the previous two books in the series, as well asserting glimpses of Josh as he interacted with his friends in town. This makes this book extra satisfying because you’re already engaged with the characters and invested in a happy ending for them. Jill Shalvis is so good at these small town romances. Her characters are three dimensional and their backstories feel very realistic. And the writing is so witty – you get to laugh as well as getting a happy ending. What more could you want?

As you can tell, I got my copy from Barnes and Noble as part of an omnibus edition, but you should be able to get hold of these fairly easily as ebooks from all the usual sources although the paperbacks may be a little harder to find in the UK, but I have found them in the library on occasion too.

Happy Reading!