Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Legendary Children

So, anyone else watching the latest series of Drag Race? I could bore you for hours about my latest obsession. And in fact some of my work colleagues have had to put up with me going on at them as I binge my way through the entire back catalogue (sorry guys). So now I’m going to tell you all about Legendary Children – don’t worry, it’s not boring!

So Fabulous Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life does exactly what it says on the tin – it uses Drag Race – and RuPaul as a framing device to examine queer culture over the last one hundred years. Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez are a married couple who run Tom + Lorenzo – which looks at celebrities, fashion and pop culture and they bring their breadth of knowledge to walk you through the lives and struggles of LGBTQI+ people that have got us to a point where a show about Drag Queens competing for a crown has won a bunch of Emmys. It doesn’t shy away from some of the controversies the show (or Ru) has seen, but to be honest, the show is the way in to the wider issues. This is not a history of what happened on Drag Race and if you come to it expecting that, well you should have read the subtitle better. Insert your own Reading is Fundamental joke here, it’ll be better than anything I come up with.

I learnt so much from this book. The authors say they want you to be googling as you go along while you’re reading this – and boy was I. I look forward to seeing what Google ads serves up to me after this – because my search history is a riot. And I had to go googling some stuff beyond the people, because this is a book written for a queer audience, not the those of us who need explanatory commas (which by the way, is exactly as is should be). Fascinating, clever and touching – and you’ll watch Drag Race with new eyes afterwards. And the first episode I watched afterwards had a actual Tom of Finland mention and I felt so in the know you wouldn’t believe it.

I’m off to worry about whether the ‘Rona will be over in time for me to still get to see BenDeLaCreme in London this summer. You got Dela megamix video because it’s (mostly) safe for work. Tom of Finland is… not. Legendary Children is out now in paperback, Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook  (read by Tom and Lorenzo!).

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.

Blog tours

Blog Tour: The Five-Year Plan

A bonus post today, as I’m on the blog tour for The Five-Year Plan by Carla Burgess, which is out later this week.

Our heroine is Orla, a trainee reporter on a local paper and she has a plan. A five-year plan in fact, to get to a job on a national newspaper. She definitely doesn’t want a boyfriend – he’d only get in the way. But then she’s sent out on assignment to interview wildlife photographer Aiden. He’s dedicated to his career too and spends his life travelling the world and sleeping in a tent. He only has casual relationships, because he doesn’t want to be tied down. As they get to know each other, they do everything they can to make sure they don’t fall for each other – but it doesn’t seem to be working. But they follow the plan and go their separate ways. Then five years later they meet again…

I really, really wanted to like this more than I did – partly because it has such a promising start. The opening when Orla and Aiden meet again at his exhibition really grabbed me and hooked me in. But then it jumped back five years to their first meeting and stayed there for an awful lot longer than I was expecting. I wasn’t so interested in what happened back then, I wanted to know what happened next and it took a long time to get back to that. And while we were in the past section, I found that I didn’t like either of the characters as much as I had at the start.

When we finally got back to the present, Orla was a bit more passive than I was hoping that she would be and I felt like I never really got a sense of who she is – even though the story is told from her point of view. Thinking back at the end, I couldn’t name a hobby, or an interest or a band she liked. I’m not even sure what it is about journalism that she liked – her plan is just explained as being to get a job at a national paper. And because you’re in Orla’s head, you never really get to know Aiden except through her eyes – and even through her eyes he has a tendency to seem self-centred and manipulative. I never really understood why they got on together so well or why she’d been so hung up on him for so long or what it was about her that Aiden liked so much, other than her ability to sit in a tent with him and watch otters.

I love a second chance romance, and I thought this had a lot of potential to recapture some of the things I loved about late 90s-early 00s “chick lit” – and which are seem to be so hard to find at the moment. But in the end it didn’t quite do what I wanted it to do – and I’m not sure it’s entirely because I was hoping for it to be something it wasn’t.

The Five-Year Plan may not have been entirely for me, but it may well scratch an itch for some of you out there. And in these difficult times (you know what I’m talking about), it has the advantage of not having any peril, or illness in it (beyond a sprained ankle) and that’s definitely a plus. My copy of The Five-Year Plan came from the publisher, but it is out on Friday on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

*but in fairness, it’s not in the running other women down way.

Five Year Plan blog tour banner

book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Mini Reviews from February

Yes, this was meant to go up last week. I did say the week got away from me a bit… anyway, it’s here now.  Only a couple this time because February was a short month, but I am trying to make this a regular thing this year, so I didn’t want to fall down on month two. If you missed January’s mini reviews, you can find them here.

World of Wolf Hall 

The Mirror and the Light is now in the shops but if you’ve forgotten what happened in the first two, this kindle freebie (which I’ve also saw in actual paperback in Foyles, but no idea how much it costs/how to qualify for one) recaps the events so far, the cast of characters, the world and some key themes and reader questions. It’s slight, but if it’s been a while since you’ve read the first two parts then it’s a nice reminder. I’m still conflicted about whether to buy this in hardcover (I love the cover, I prefer to read these on paper) or in ebook (so much lighter, but so much easier to ignore in favour of romances). I’ll keep you posted.

Meat Cute by Gail Carriger

This is definitely not the place to start the series, but this is the long wished for prequel that tells the story of the infamous hedgehog episode where Alexia Tarabotti (heroine of the Parasol Protectorate series) meets Conall Maccon. If you’re a fan of this does everything you’re hoping for, and a little bit more! If you’re not yet a fan, I have a lot of posts about my love for Gail Carriger’s steampunk world. My advice is start with Soulless and go from there.

Case of the Drowned Pearl by Robin Stevens

There’s still a few months to go before the final (sniff) full-length book in the series comes out, but there’s a Wells and Wong short for World Book Day. The Case of the Drowned Pearl sees the Detective Society and the Junior Pinkertons on a seaside holiday with Daisy’s Uncle Felix. Again, probably not the place to start the series, but it’s a lot of fun. The mystery is clever and Olympic-themed and I loved Hazel’s reaction to the British seaside. This has some Daisy PoV stuff too, which is always nice. Do start at the beginning with these too – and if you haven’t already bought them for the middle-grader in your life, why not?

So there you go, three slightly belated mini reviews for other stuff that I read in February. I bought all of my copies of these (except for the free one but you know what I mean) so you should be able to get all of them fairly easily – although you might want to rush if you want a physical copy of the Robin Stevens.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, memoirs

Book of the Week: You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams

I said yesterday that I wasn’t sure if there would be a BotW pick this week, but I had a think and had a write and this is what I came up with. It seemed a shame not to have a book of the week post for the week that included world book week – even if I didn’t have the greatest week and it had an impact on my reading. But You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams perked me up last week when I was feeling a bit blue and stressed so here we have it.

You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams is a coffee table book with a bit of extra. It’s a set of picture essays about moments in the actor and singer’s life. Depending on your age you’ll know Cumming from GoldenEye, the first batch of X-Men movies, The Good Wife or his work on stage – notably as the MC in the revival of Cabaret. If you’re a certain age and British, you may remember him from his sitcom about a minor Scottish airline, The High Life. His life has been eventful and this gives you snapshot glimpses of it all – from his difficult relationship with his dad, to his fragrance range (Including a body wash called Cumming all over) to meeting Liz Taylor and being friends with Liza Minnelli. Cumming has picked his stories carefully and it feels gossipy and revealing as you read it, but is actually very cleverly picking what it’s divulging. He has written a memoir about his relationship with his father which was painful and difficult and this is not that and I don’t think covers much of the same material at all – it’s more about the different facets of Cumming’s life and the pictures he’s taken of it.

I bought this when I saw Cumming in concert in London a few years ago*, which is why the book is signed and it had a fairly similar mix of stories to that gig – which was lovely and brought back the memories of that night in the theatre. I’m not ruling out reading Cumming’s memoir about discovering his real family history when he went on Who Do You Think You Are (even after hearing the story from the video below) but that wasn’t what I needed last week – and this was.

This one might be a little tougher to get hold of than some of my other picks because it is a couple of years old now, but Amazon tells me that it has hardcover copies in stock. It’s also available in Kindle and as an audiobook, but the photos are such an integral part of this that I can’t imagine that it would work anywhere near as well without them alongside at the least.

Happy Reading!

*I found the ticket for that concert tucked in this book and was shocked, shocked I tell you, to discover how long this has been on the to-read pile.

Book of the Week, detective

Book of the Week: Answer in the Negative

Another week, another crime pick. I know. Sue me. At least I read this in March so that makes it one crime recommendation a month which is not quite so bad. Or am I grasping at straws? It wasn’t even the only classic crime book I read last week – I also read Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon, which is another in the British Library Crime Classics series, which I have recommended a lot. This one however is from Agora books, who are also have a lot of more forgotten mid-century crime on their lists, including the Inspector Appleby series, which I have read a couple of, and some of the lesser known Margery Allinghams. Anyway, I stumbled across  this little gem last week and I’m unreasonably annoyed that none of the author’s other books seem to be available anywhere.

Answer in the Negative is a 1950s-set murder mystery, featuring a crime solving couple. It’s not the first in the series as it turns out, so I’m not quite sure how they came to be a thing, but Johnny is an ex-Commando and Sally is his wife. His family have a shop that sells books and he works there when he’s not solving mysteries. This particular mystery is a poison pen set in the National Press Archives on Fleet Street. Toby Lorn, a friend of the couple, asks them to investigate letters that are being sent to one of the archive assistants. Frank Morningside is not popular in the office, so the pool of suspects is fairly large. As well as increasingly nasty letters, there have been schoolboy-style pranks.  Johnny and Sally start investigating at the archives, posing as researchers, but just days into the investigation, things take a sinister turn.

This is a well put together mystery, which a good and varied cast of characters. I really like office-set mysteries – Murder Must Advertise is one of my favourite of the Peter Wimsey series. You get to find out what working life was like in the period and I like that there’s a cast of characters to draw from a bit like a country house mystery. But unlike country house mysteries the cast tends to be a bit more varied – less toffs with a grudge, more people from across the social spectrum. This is no exception – you’ve got office boys, young women on the lookout for a husband, stuffy spinsters, ex-soldiers and more. It makes for an intriguing mystery and although I developed suspicions about the culprit it has plenty of twists to keep you guessing. My only real problem with it was that it felt like it was set in the interwar period – whereas actually it was set in the 1950s. If it wasn’t for mentions of bombsites and the fact that Johnny was a Commando (who were only created in World War II) it could have been in an office two doors down from Pym’s Publicity.

This edition Answer is in the Negative came out towards the end of February, and I read it via Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available to buy on Kindle. I can’t seen any other editions (except for super-pricey secondhand/collectible ones) and I can’t find it on Kobo either sadly. But if you’re a Kindle reader – especially one with unlimited – it’s worth it. I’m hoping that the recent release date means that more of the series will appear at some point too.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Burnout

Burnout is a topic on lots of people’s minds.  Anne Helen Peterson‘s essay about Millennial Burnout just over year ago started a conversation – and she has been writing a book about the subject ever since (it’s due out in September). This week’s book of the week looks at female burnout and stress.

The blurb for this is: “This groundbreaking book explains why women experience burnout differently than men – and provides a simple, science-based plan to help women minimize stress, manage emotions and live a more joyful life. The gap between what it’s really like to be a woman and what people expect women to be is a primary cause of burnout, because we exhaust ourselves trying to close the space between the two.” I think this is quite an accurate description of what is inside the book without sounding either too way out or too serious. Emily and Amelia are identical twins – Amelia is a choral director and Emily is a sex educator and between them they explain the science and emotions behind female burnout.

As has been noted in the past, I have mixed results with self help and self improvement type books, but I actually found this really quite helpful. To use an Americanism, it’s quite validating in some ways to see things that you have experienced or suspected talked about in a “proper” book. I particularly liked the section on the stress cycle and how dealing with your stress doesn’t necessary mean actually solving the problem that is causing you stress per se but actually finishing the cycle and releasing the stress somehow. I’ve already started implementing some of the ideas from this, although I actually need to sit down with some of the worksheets on other areas.

I’m also midway through reading Tiny Habits at the moment and the two are proving to be quite a good pairing for me. One is tackling my stress, the other one is helping me figure out how to change a few things about my life without increasing my stress with unrealistic goals or trying to do too much too fast.

My copy of Burnout came via NetGalley, but you should be able to order it from all good bookseller or buy an ebook copy from all the usual sources (Kindle, Kobo). And if you like this, I’ve also read Emily Nagoski’s other book Come As You Are abut female sexuality. And if you’re not quite sure if this is one for you, there are episodes of the Smart Bitches Trashy Books podcast for each book with interviews with Emily (both) and Amelia (for Burnout), which will give you a bit of an overview – here’s the Burnout one, this is Come As You Are (NB it’s at times like this I realise how long I’ve been listening to Smart Bitches!).

Happy Reading!

Bonus photo: the very boring kindle cover – hence my use of the Apple Books cover up-post!