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 round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from June

Stats coming up tomorrow, but like last month, I want to keep to my posting schedule of first Wednesday of the month for the mini reviews, and it just happens in July that that is the first of the month!

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

Cover of The Vanishing Half

Brit Bennett’s first novel The Mothers, was a BotW pick here, but her second is maybe even better. The Vignes sisters are identical twins. They grew up in an African-American town in the Deep South, but ran away at 16 to start new lives together. Ten years later, one sister is back in their home town with their daughter, the other is passing as white, living a life where no one knows her racial identity. But their lives are still linked and fate will bring them together again. I got a copy of this book from NetGalley – but I enjoyed it so much I bought myself a (signed) copy of the hardback as well. It’s just brilliant. The stories are incredibly powerful and readable, the language is so wonderful – it absolutely conjures the variety of settings and times it features, and I loved the structure too – slowly revealing more and more of the stories of the women as it jumps around in time. Gorgeous.  Days (nearly weeks) later I’m still thinking about it. And if you do read it (or have already read it), the Book Riot podcast have done an episode about it, which I found really interesting too.

Don’t Touch My Hair by Emma Dabiri*

Cover of Don't Touch My Hair

This is a wide ranging and compelling look at why black hair matters and why matters relating to it are so complicated. It’s about hair, but it’s also about the history of the oppression of black people across hundreds of years – from pre-colonial Africa through to the present day. I read this not long after reading A’Leila Bundle’s book about Madam C J Walker and it made for an interesting contrast – I thought that was a bit overly sympathetic at the time and I think now if I had read this first I wouldn’t have finished the other! This covers Madam CJ and puts her in her historical context as well as looking at other black entrepreneurs in the spectrum. But it’s much much broader than that. I learnt a lot. And if you’re looking for more books by black authors about black history and culture to read at the moment, this is a great choice. It’s also just come out in the US, but under a different title – Twisted: The Tangled History of Black Hair Culture.

The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu*

Cover of The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney

This is a touching and readable first novel that looks at identity and belonging. Half-Nigerian Nnenna lives in Manchester, where she’s been brought up by her white mother who has never answered her questions about her father. She’s always had a close relationship with Joanie, but as she starts to explore her Igbo heritage, their relationship starts to fracture. Through the course of the novel the reader finds out what happened between Joanie and Maurice as well as watching Nnenna exploring who she is, who she wants to be and trying to work out a new sort of relationship with her mother. This would be a good read at any time, but as a white reader in this moment, there is so much here that is being talked about with the examination of systemic racism that is going on in the wake of George Floyd’s death. Made me think a lot as well as being an enjoyable read. A wonderful debut -and don’t just take my word for it, it has just been nominated for The Desmond Elliott Prize for the most outstanding novels of the last 12 months.

The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren

Cover of The Honey-Don't List

I’ve recommended Christina Lauren before, but just wanted to give this a quick mention too because it is a lot of fun. Carey has worked for Melissa and Rusty Tripp for a decade. She was there before their home design empire took off, and now she’s ringside for for the launch of their next TV show and latest book. Trouble is the Tripps can barely tolerate each other anymore and Carey has got to try and keep that fact a secret with only the help of Rusty’s new assistant James. James thought he was getting a job as a structural engineer, not as a PA but he can’t afford another gap in his CV so he’s stuck trying to keep the wheels on the Tripp bus with Carey. The two of them get on better than either of them every expected – but how can there possibly be any future for them as a couple? I was hoping for a bit more from the ending but hey I forgive it because it was so good and such a clever idea. Also I wonder what Chip and Jo think?!

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from May, April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from June: Me and White Supremacy, Take a Hint, Dani Brown, The Boyfriend Project, This Book is Anti-Racist and The Good Thieves.

Happy Reading!

*an asterix next to a title means it came from NetGalley, in return for an honest review (however belated that might be)

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 round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from May

Another month where I’ve been mostly at home (or in my garden) is over and so it’s time for another set of mini reviews for books that I enjoyed in last month and haven’t already told you about.

Once Upon an Eid edited by SK Ali and Aisha Saeed*

Cover of Once Upon An Eid

I really enjoyed this collection of short stories about Eid. I’m neither Muslim nor a middle-grader but I found a lot to enjoy here and learnt a few things too. One of the main things was – as the introduction says – the range of different experiences of Eid – in a wider way than just different family traditions. It is not a monolith – and in the same way that different countries have different Christmas traditions, Muslims from different places and in different parts of the faith have different ways of marking Eid – this has stories from different parts of America as well as Australia, Canada and America.  I liked this a lot and think it would be a great resource for educators as well – the Muslims in their class would see themselves represented in a way that they often don’t and the other kids would learn a lot.

An Heiress to Remember by Maya Rodale

Cover of An Heiress to Remember

This is a historical romance that came out at the end of March and sees a newly divorced woman return to New York to try and claim the future she wants. Beatrice was married off to a British duke who wanted her for her fortune, was miserable and wants to take over the running of her family’s department store. What she doesn’t expect is that the boy she really wanted to marry is now their main competitor. The shop setting, the late 19th century time period and the group of supportive women really worked for me. I liked the feisty independent divorcee heroine and I thought that the conflict with the hero was well handled and sorted out quite nicely – although I was expecting it to be more misunderstanding related from the start than how it was eventually not-quite explained. Easy, fun romance.

Crossed Skis by Carol Carnac

Cover of Crossed Skis

This is a clever split narrative murder mystery – with detectives investigating a death in a fire at a boarding house in London, while a group on a skiing holiday are oblivious to the fact that one of their number may have carried out a murder. I really enjoyed this – I liked the characters and the plot and I thought the structure was very clever too. It kept me guessing for a long time. Carol Carnac is one of the  pen names of Edith Caroline Rivett – who also wrote as ECR Lorac who I’ve read a bunch of this year and has already been a BotW pick this year – and I enjoyed this just as much as the others – and particularly liked the 1950s European setting, which reminded me a bit of the later Chalet School series and their Swiss setting.

The Birds: Short Stories by Daphne Du Maurier

Hardback of The Birds on a shelf with other Virago Hardbacks

This gorgeous hardback edition had been on my tbr shelf for a while and during one of my reading slumps in May I thought that some short stories might be the solution. It probably wasn’t my best idea to read this in the middle of a pandemic as it didn’t exactly make me less anxious, but the stories were really good and I’m glad I finally picked it up. Most people will have heard of the title story because it was turned into a movie by Alfred Hitchcok, but actually I thought all the stories were pretty strong. That shouldn’t have surprised me but it did. All the stories are chilling and creepy, but as well as The Birds, I  particularly liked the final story and it’s ending. It was so clever and bamboozling I had to go back and read it again to check I hadn’t missed something – and judging by the Goodreads reviews a fair few readers have missed something. It repays careful reading. But as I said, if you’re feeling anxious at the moment, maybe wait until your baseline stress levels are a little lower!

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from April, March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from May: Logging Off, Bad Blood, Slippery Creatures and First in Line; the Series I Love posts for Peter Grant, Thursday Next, the Parasolverse and Tales of the City.

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 round-ups

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from April

Another month is over, so here’s the latest selection of mini reviews – these are for books that I enjoyed in the previous month, but which I haven’t already talked about. Two of these are new releases that I got from NetGalley (they have the asterisks) the other is one I bought for myself after seeing other people recommend it. If you want a physical copy of these – and Mooncakes is only available as a physical copy – then please get in touch with your local independent bookseller – or in the case of Mooncakes your local comic book store.

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

paperback copy of Mooncakes

A graphic novel to start – Mooncakes is a YA fantasy story about a magic and witches and first love. Set in New England, when Nova Huang follows reports of a white wolf one night she discovers her childhood crush Tam Lang battling a horse demon. With the help of her grannies and the spellbooks from their bookshop, the two are soon trying to defeat the dark forces that threaten their town – but also discovering that they still have feelings for each other. I loved the artwork for this as well as the story – it really worked for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan in me. I see on Goodreads it’s getting a “people who read this also read…” to Pumpkinheads, but I think it would also work for fans of Lumberjanes who are a little older – either grownups like me or teens who have aged out of middle-grade. As I said at the top, this is only available as a paperback – so no ebook links here I’m afraid.

The Animals at Lockwood Manor by Jane Healy*

Cover of The Animals at Lockwood Manor

Need some creepy gothic fiction set in World War 2? Well maybe try this: it’s summer 1939 and Hetty Cartwright has been entrusted with evacuating the natural history museum’s collection of mammals to keep them safe from the looming war. But when she gets to Lockwood Manor where she will stay to look after them, she discovers a very strange household indeed.  Lord Lockwood is short-tempered and unpredictable, his daughter is friendly towards Hetty but clearly troubled and the servants really don’t like the large collection of taxidermy that they’re now having to help look after. And then things start moving, and then going missing altogether. But for all the talk of ghosts and haunting, that sort of thing isn’t real is it? This has a lot of themes in it that I like – women trying to make their way in a world built for men, big country houses, the time period (and a gorgeous cover) – but the pace was a bit slow for me. Other people whose opinions I respect haven’t had that problem though so I’m still happy recommending it. This came out in March in hardback and ebook (Kindle/Kobo) and audiobook.

Unflappable by Suzie Gilbert*

Cover of Unflappable

Are you one of the many people who’ve been watching Tiger King in lockdown? I have and that’s exactly why I requested this from NetGalley. Luna Burke is on the run. Her estranged husband has stolen a bald eagle from a wildlife sanctuary and she’s determined to steal it back from his private zoo and get it to safety in Canada where it can be reunited with its mate. This is classed on Goodreads under chick lit and romantic comedy but I actually think it’s trying to be an adventure caper – there’s certainly not a lot of romance in it. But whatever it is a story featuring craziness from wildlife rescuers is perfectly timed at the moment. I didn’t think it was entirely successful – better in the idea than the excecution – but there are enough people on Goodreads who’ve loved it that I think it might work better for other people.  One thing is for sure though: the plot seemed a lot less far-fetched than it would have done before I had watched the exploits of Joe Exotic and Carol Baskin! This one is a paperback original – but looks like it’s probably a special order from the states, so it’s probably easier to get the ebook – in Kindle or Kobo.

And that’s your lot for this month. If you’ve missed the previous posts, here are the mini-reviews from March, February and January. And just in case you missed them, here are the books of the week from April: Dead Famous, A Cowboy to Remember, Murder to Music and Death of a Demented Spiv, the blog tour post for Conjure Women, the Series I Love post for the Cazalets, my escapist coronavirus fiction suggestions and my #Recommendsday post for the Happy Valley Set.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, historical, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: The Happy Valley Set

For this week’s Recommendsday, a post that has been some considerable time in the making, about books set in the Happy Valley in Kenya. Now between the World Wards, this particular patch of the British Empire was somewhat notorious for being a haven for rich people living scandalous lives, with spouse swapping, drugs and murder among the real life activities that went on.  So this postis basically historical rich people problems – fiction, non-fiction and barely fictionalised.  Given the difficult state of the world at the moment, I thought that spending some time among a gang of dissolute loafers in the mid-20th century might be a bit of a change. And as most of these are fairly modern, they have an eye on the fact that colonising places is not a good idea. This is a bit of mix of fiction and non-fiction, but I think it’s a nice introduction to the subject. I’ve tried to provide a bit of a guide as to how to lay your hands on these at the moment if you are so minded, but if you want a physical copy, obviously try your local independent bookshop first to see if they can get hold of them for you – they need your money more than the conglomerates do at the moment.

Spear of Summer Grass by Deanna Raybourn

Cover of Spear of Summer Grass

Delilah Drummond’s family want her out of Europe after one scandal too many. She finds herself exiled to her favourite step-father’s house in Kenya.  What she finds there is a crumbling estate in a community of seething rivalries and intrigue.  Ryder White, a safari guide (of sorts), quickly catches her eye as not being quite like the rest of the colony.  But when an act of violence happens, will Delilah stick to her plan to leaving as soon as possible or has she discovered someone – or somewhere – that she can’t leave behind? I’ve written about Deanna Raybourn before – you can find posts about Veronica Speedwell here and here – but this is one of her standalone novels and as far as this post goes it is firmly in the fiction camp – I don’t think there are any real people here – but is clearly inspired by in what was really going on in colonial Kenya and what the Brits out there got up to. Delilah is engaging but self destructive and you spend a lot of time while reading it hoping that she doesn’t screw this up for herself.  I could happily have read another 100 pages. This one has the bonus of being on Kindle Unlimited at the moment – or £1.49 to buy on Kindle or Kobo.

Love and Death Among the Cheetahs by Rhys Bowen

Cover of Love and Death Among the Cheetahs

This is the thirteenth instalment in the Royal Spyness series and sees Georgie and her new husband honeymooning in Kenya’s Happy Valley. Now while I wouldn’t recommend starting the series here (you’ll miss all the drama in Georgie’s love life if you do), it would make a gentle introduction to the Happy Valley set. I thought Rhys Bowen did a really good job of writing about life in that little set while keeping it within the bounds of what regular readers of her series expect – which is not really sex and swingers.  While the antics might have been eye opening for Georgie, they were actually fairly subtle compared to some of what actually went on. This one is not cheap at the moment as it is the latest in the series and only out in hardback and ebook. The Kindle is £9.99 or £9.49 on Kobo, but I expect that might drop a little when the paperback comes out in July.

Ashford Affair by Lauren Willig

Cover of The Ashford Affair

I’ve written before about how much I liked Lauren Willig’s Pink Carnation series, but she also does a very good line in standalone novels. This is a time-slip novel with dual narratives – one in the 1920s, the other in 1999.  Lawyer Clemmie finds herself poking around in her family’s history after a relative drops hints about a family secret at her grandmother’s 99th birthday party. It’s got Great War-era British high society, a grand country house, Kenya and modern day (ish!) Manhattan. I read it a couple of years back and liked it a lot – Ihink I even got a bit teary-eyed at the conclusioN.  You’ll find some similar themes here to the previous two but with the added bonus of more Britain in it – if you think that’s a bonus. This is an astonishing £10.44 on Kindle at the moment or a slightly better but still quite pricey £7.55 on Kobo. There are third party sellers on Amazon with secondhand hardback copies at a more sensible price though.

Circling the Sun by Paula McLain

Cover of Circling the Sun

This is Happy Valley adjacent: a fictionalised version of the real-life story of Beryl Markham, who had an unconventional upbringing in Kenya and went on to be the first woman to break into several male dominated areas – the first to get a horse trainer’s licence, the first to get a pilot’s B Licence. But for all the independence of spirit that her Kenyan upbringing gave her, she struggled with relationships – and being entangled in the upper class expat crowd in Kenya (including the Happy Valley set) did not make for a peaceful, happy or harmonious personal life.  When I read it a couple of years ago, I thought enjoyed it, liked that didn’t feel like it was judging her – but it wasn’t entirely satisfying, mostly because I felt like I was missing some key background – I think the author assumed that everyone has read (or knows about) Out of Africa (which I hadn’t at the time) so I was sometimes at sea with the complicated comings and goings of Karen Blixen and her crowd. This one is a few years old now as well so it’s £2.99 on Kindle or Kobo or Amazon have the paperback for £3.99.

The Bolter by Frances Osbourne

Paperback copy of the Bolter

The only proper non-fiction book on this list and this is on the bibliography at the end of the aforementioned Love and Death Among the Cheetahs because the titular Bolter – Idina Sackville – plays a role in the novel. This was my first introduction to the Happy Valley set back in my pre-Goodreads days, soon after it came out, and is still on my shelves (as the photo proves!).  The author is the subject’s great-granddaughter and makes use of family papers to tell Idina’s story.  Perhaps for that reason its not quite as salacious as you might expect, especially given that its subject was the inspiration for The Bolter in Nancy Mitford’s novels.  The Temptress by Paul Spicer looks at the Valley’s other Femme Fatale – Alice de Janze – I liked it but I didn’t think it was as successful as the Bolter, and felt more interested in the murder of the Earl of Errol at times than it was in Alice herself. This one is £4.99 on Kindle and Kobo, but I’ve seen second-hand copies in the charity shops around here fairly regularly if you can wait until they reopen.

Miscellaneous bits and bobs

The classic book in this area is obviously Isak Dinesen/Karen Blitzen’s Out of Africa. I’ve read it and I can see why it was such a big deal – and if you read all of these and are super keen on the subject, it’s definitely worth reading, but its not necessarily the easiest going and I preferred some of the others.

In the course of writing this and looking for other options I read Kat Gordon’s An Unsuitable Woman, which fell into the good in principle but not as good in the execution. This one features a young boy who goes out to Kenya with his family and gets caught up in a group of people inspired by the Happy Valley set. It’s got a readable style, but I wasn’t quite sure where it was going for most of the book – and couldn’t understand why the Scandalous Set took a 14-year-old boy into their gang to start with. And it had a really sudden plot development near the end that didn’t have enough time to properly play out. But if you’ve read all the rest of these and want some more – it’s an option!

Happy Reading!


		
Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Dead Famous

Another week, another Book of the Week post, but first another quick reminder about the Escapist Reading post from the end of last week. Anyway, back to today and taking a break from the romance and crime picks of most of the month (and last month to be fair), this week’s pick is Greg Jenner’s latest book – Dead Famous: An Unexpected History of Celebrity from Bronze Age to Silver Screen. I’ve got a whole stack of history books on the to-read pile and I’m hoping that my head is getting back to a place where I can concentrate on more serious reading now – I love history books, but I’ve had trouble getting my concentration going for them the last couple of months (gee, wonder why) but this broke through.

Hardback copy of Dead Famous

First up, I should say that I went to the same uni as Greg – and what’s more we both “worked” at the same student radio station – and although we weren’t in the same teams or social groups we do follow each other on Twitter.  Anyway since then, Greg has gone on to be a successful public historian – he worked on the Horrible Histories series, hosts a two podcasts for the BBC, You’re Dead To Me (currently on hiatus in the middle of it second series) and the brand new Home School History (which I was listening to part of the time while writing this post) and done all sorts of exciting history stuff including his first book, A Million Years in a Day. Dead Famous came out last month and examines where the modern concept of “celebrity” comes from – how old is it, is it different to fame (or infamy) and how one goes about acquiring it. Over the course of the book he tells the stories of celebrities through history and works out how we got to where we are.

This was one of my hammock reads last week (as the sharp-eyed amongst you may noticed in yesterday’s bonus picture!) and it’s really good. I won’t spoil Greg’s thesis, but it’s well made and with a lot of really great historical figures to illustrate it. Greg has done some serious research into this – 1.4 million words worth on his laptop according to the Acknowledgments – but his writing style makes it so accessible and easy to understand. There are some history books that are scary and hard to read for the layman – sometimes even though they have a funky cover and an enticing blurb. But if you’ve ever heard Greg on radio, podcasts or seen him on TV, he writes exactly as he talks – which makes his books funny and chatty but with impeccable researching to back it up. Greg narrates his own audiobooks and they’re a fabulous listen – that’s how I read Greg’s first book and it was a real treat. As the title suggeests, this stops at 1950 – because Greg says everything after that has already been covered. If you’ve read books on modern celebrity – like Anne Helen Peterson’s Too Fat, Too Slutty, Too Loud – this would make a really good companion piece to examine how we got here.

I pre-ordered my copy (its signed!) from Kirsty at Fox Lane Books – and as you can see from the tweet above she is still taking orders and if you message Greg to tell him that you bought from her, he’ll send you a signed bookplate. It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo – and as an audiobook read by Greg.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, romance

Book of the Week: A Cowboy to Remember

As I said yesterday, it was a tough week for me last week, with all the changes in the world getting to me a bit. And I struggled to find my usual relaxation from reading, but there were some bright spots, And after a run of murder mystery picks, today I’m back with a contemporary romance choice.

Evie Buchanan is on the edge of something big. After winning a TV-cooking show, she’s snagged a hosting gig and she’s killing it. But when a fall down some stairs at a party nearly *literally* kills her, she’s left with a case of amnesia that she really needs to hide from her bosses and her fans. Her assistant gets in contact with the only “family” Evie has left – cowboys who run a ranch in California. Evie doesn’t remember them at all –  but when they arrive at the hospital to visit, one of them is the guy she’s been having dreams about since her accident. Zach hasn’t seen Evie since she left the ranch when he refused to admit that there were feelings between them. His family have always been desperate to pair them off together, but is he ready to admit that they might be perfect for each other? And what will happen if Evie gets her memory back and remembers how it ended the first time?

So, tell me again that I don’t like amnesia as a plot line (or cowboy stories), because this is so good and just goes to show in the right hands anything can make a great romance*. I’ve read a couple of Rebekah Weatherspoon’s other books (including Xeni which I wrote about after my birthday trip back in the times when we could still go away on holiday) and this has all the relatable characters and interesting plot that the others do, but with less on the page bedtime action. The chemistry between the leads is still as good, and it is in no way closed door – but it’s not as blush inducing as Xeni was. I was a bit concerned about how Zach and Evie’s relationship could be resolved if (well when) her memory came back because there seemed to be a couple of unresolvable things there – as I was concerned that one or other of them would have to become less (or give up their dreams) to make it work but actually, it was really cleverly worked out and fit in with both characters.

This is great fun and made great escapist reading at these difficult times. Your mileage may vary, but a ranch in California is sufficiently different to my every day life that I wasn’t constantly worrying about social distancing or viruses the way I am everytime I try and read something set in the contemporary UK at the moment! It’s also the first in a series – because luckily for us, Zach has brothers (and one of them is a pro-sports player, so they may not all be cowboy romances). The next one is out in the autumn and I’m hoping it’s about Jesse, but there’s no blurb for it on Goodreads yet.

My copy of A Cowboy to Remember came from the library, but it’s available now in Kindle and Kobo or as a mass market paperback. The delivery time claims to be quite short, bu I suspect you might be waiting a while for that physical copy because of it being a US release and you know: the ‘rona.

Happy Reading – and stay safe.

 

 

 

*but I’m not prepared to read a lot of Secret Baby or pregnesia romances to try and prove this though.

Book of the Week, detective, Forgotten books, new releases

Book of the Week: Murder to Music

Another week in lockdown done. If only we knew when it would end so we could count down instead of up. I should have been in China last week, visiting little sis, so my mood was a bit low generally. I read a lot of familiar authors to cheer myself up, and so consequently the BotW options were somewhat limited as I talked about George Bellairs last week and I have other plans for some of the other books. I do like to make life difficult for myself. However, another good murder mystery cropped up – with a plot that really appealed to me. This is another re-release of a forgotten book from the mid-twentieth century – and it’s not out until Thursday, but as that’s only two days away, I’m sure you’ll let me off.

Detective Inspector Simon Hudson was at the concert to watch his girlfriend sing in the Metropolitana Choir, but when the conductor drops dead as the performance finished, he ends up in charge of a murder inquiry. Delia has told him about the tensions among the committee members, when he drove her to the committee meetings, but which one of them was angry enough at the conductor to turn a grudge into murder?

This is a clever and twisty murder mystery originally written in the late 1950s, with a setting that really appealed to me. I’m definitely not a singer and I’m not a great musician either, but I did play clarinet at school and in concert bands through my 20s. If I could have got my schedule in order (stupid shift working) I would probably be in a band now – although the band scene in my town is very competitive because the county has a really strong schools music service, so there might not be one that would have me that I want to be in! Anyway, the musical setting really appealed to me – I’ve even played at the Festival Hall where the murder takes place – and I could certainly believe in the egos and hot tempers in the choir.

I don’t think you have to be a musician to enjoy this though – I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the resolution doesn’t require any particular knowledge of music. And committees are a fairly regular feature of murder mysteries because of their potential to be a sea of seething rivalries. The plot has plenty of twists and turns and kept me guessing pretty much right until the end as the layers were revealed. I hadn’t read anything by Margaret Newman before, but would happily read more after this if they’re all as much fun as this one.

My copy of Murder to Music came from NetGalley, but it comes out on April 16th in Kindle. I can’t see it in any other format, unless you’re prepared to pay £50 for the only copy on Abebooks as I write this…

Happy Reading!