Adventure, Book of the Week, Fantasy, historical, mystery

Book of the Week: To Say Nothing of the Dog

Lots of painting and filling and cleaning in my week off work, and not as much reading as usual, but in the end it was an easy choice for this week’s BotW – Connie Willis’s To Say Nothing of the Dog. Delightfully this was a recommendation from a work colleague who thought I would love it and he was totally right. I love it when that happens.

Ned Henry has time-lag. He’s been shuttling between the 21st century and the 1940s trying to find a hideous artefact in the ruins of Coventry cathedral. But all those jumps have scrambled his brain and he’s sent to Victorian England to recover away from the demands of Lady Schrapnell – who is rebuilding the original Coventry cathedral in the middle of Oxford. The bad news is he has one job to do in the nineteenth century before he can relax. The trouble is, the time-lag means he can’t remember what it is. There’s a boat trip, eccentric dons, drippy maidens, dopey undergrads, a cat and a fellow time traveller called Verity Kindle.

I loved this so much. It’s got so much of my catnip in here: it’s got modern people having to grapple with the Victorian era, it’s full of references to other books – of particular interest to me through thread of Peter Wimsey and Golden Age crime novels – and a mystery adventure plot as they try and hunt down the Bishop’s Bird Stump and prevent the future from being altered because of their actions.

To recap: time travel, history, humour, literary in-jokes and Peter Wimsey references galore. What more could I want?

This was my first Connie Willis book, so now the research is going on to figure out which of her other novels might be my cup of tea. If you like the Chronicles of St Mary’s series, by Jodi Taylor, you should definitely try this but I can’t think of many other books to compare this to (If you have any other suggestions for fun time travelling novels please do let me know) although I think if you like steampunky novels this might work for you, ditto books full of references to books. I need to go and read Three Men in a Boat because that’s a big influence here, and I’ve never read it. I also need to go and buy myself a copy of this because I want one for myself so I can lend it and I’m going to have to give this copy back.

You can get a copy of To Say Nothing of the Dog from all the usual sources.

Happy reading!

 

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Born a Crime

This week’s BotW is Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, which I’ve wanted to read since I heard about it and picked up in a Kindle Daily deal a while back.  I started off by reading it in chunks (hence why it took me a few weeks to read) and then ended up reading the second half pretty much in one sitting.


For those of you who don’t know, Trevor Noah is a South African comedian who succeeded Jon Stewart as the host of the Daily Show in late 2015.  This book isn’t an about his rise to fame though, it’s a collection of essays about his childhood and adolescence in South Africa, where as the child of a white father and a black mother he was literally illegal.  Hence the title.

This is both a engaging look at the childhood of a very naughty and mischievous child and a fascinating but horrifying look at how Apartheid worked and its very real effects on people’s lives.  I’m in my early 30s and, because I was brought up in a house where if the radio was on it was playing Radio 4, I can remember the end of the Apartheid system, but until I read this I hadn’t really appreciated the full reality of what had been going on in South Africa less than 30 years ago.  And as Trevor Noah is pretty much my age – give or take a month or two – I could draw exact paralells between his childhood and mine – we were passing the same milestones at the same time.

This is darkly funny in places and profoundly shocking in others.  There are hilarious stories here about going from church on a Sunday, about dating and about the language barrier.  But Noah’s childhood was far from easy – he spent large periods being hidden inside houses to avoid detection – and if he did go out extreme measures were needed to protect him.  Even after the end of Apartheid, Trevor never really fits in anywhere – even in his own family.  But one of the things that shines through in this book is his mother’s love for him and her determination that he should dream bigger than the rules that society has set out for him.  It’s packed with background information about how South Africa worked – but wears it very lightly because it’s woven in to the narrative of the book so well.

I read this on my kindle, but could hear Noah’s own voice in every paragraph.  In fact if you’re more patient than I am, you can have him read it to you because he narrates the audiobook himself.  I gained even more respect for Noah having read this – and am even more annoyed that he had to cancel his tour date in my home town because he got the Daily Show gig.  I still have the unused ticket sitting in the bottom of my ticket box.  I suspect the opportunity to see him in a venue that small won’t come around again – but the book it good enough that I’ll try and get over it!

You should be able to get Born a Crime from all good bookshops – or you could order if from the Big Green Bookshop.  As I write this, the Kindle and Kobo editions are more expensive than the paperback one, but it has gone in deals before, so you could add it to your wishlist and wait.  And as I already mentioned, it’s also available as an audiobook from Audible and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

literary fiction, non-fiction, Recommendsday, romance

Recommendsday: Quick reviews

As the deadline for Fahrenheit’s #Noirville competition draws ever closer – you’ve only got three days to go people, three days – I’ve been trying to clear the decks a bit so that I’m ready to read the entries.  So I thought I’d mention a few books this Recommendsday that I’ve read recently but haven’t chatted about.  It’s a bit eclectic, but that’s just how I roll and I know you won’t mind!

The Greedy Queen by Annie Gray

Ever wondered what Queen Victoria ate?  Annie Gray has the answers.  As well as looking at what Victoria ate across the course of her reign, it looks at how the kitchens worked, who worked there and who else they were feeding as well as the Queen.  It jumps backwards and forwards  in the timeline a little bit, but I came away feeling like I’d learned a lot about upper class dining in the nineteenth century.  ITV’s TV series Victoria is back on screen at the moment – and although the Victoria in that is very much the young queen, this would still make a nice companion read for people who want to know a bit more about the Queen’s life and her household.

Wise Children by Angela Carter

Meet Nora and Dora Chance – former musical all stars, illegitimate twin daughters of a pillar of the theatrical establishment – on their 75th birthday, which by coincidence is also their father’s 100th birthday.  Join them as Dora tells you the story of their lives before they head to the (televised) party.  This is a whirling, magical realist journey through the world of the theatre – legitimate and otherwise – full of Shakespeare references and sets of twins galore.  I found it enjoyably bonkers although it took a little while before I got my head around it all – there is a big old cast of characters here – and I’m still thinking about it a couple of weeks later.

True Love at the Lonely Hearts Bookshop by Annie Darling

You may remember me raving about the Little Bookshope of Lonely Hearts last year – and now it has a sequel.  The good news is that this is not the sort of sequel that breaks up the couple that you’ve invested so much in in the first book and then getting them back together.  This sees one of the other girls who works in the bookshop get her happily ever after.  I always find it slightly weird to read books where the main character has my name, but I liked Verity Love so much that I got over that quite quickly.  This Verity is an Austen mad introvert, who invents a boyfriend to keep her friends off her back and then ends up with a real life fake boyfriend.  I had a few issues with Johnny’s back story – and insufficient grovelling at the end – but was mostly swept away by this – I do love a relationship of convenience story.

Right, that’s your lot for now, but I hope there’s something in here that’s tickled your fancy and might help you fill a reading gap while I’m off reading all those Noirville entries.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, Forgotten books, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Anna and her Daughters

This week’s BotW is one I picked up as a Kindle Daily Deal a couple of weeks back: Anna and her Daughters by DE Stevenson.  You may remember me waxing lyrical about my love for Miss Buncle and her book back in a #Recommendsday about Comfort reads a while back and this was the first non-Buncle book I’ve read by DE Stevenson.

The cover of Anna and Her Daughters
I’m not sure about the cover on this, but hey, when the book is good it doesn’t matter!

The Plot:  Anna’s husband has died and the family’s finances are in a mess.  They’re going to have to sell the London house and move to somewhere smaller.  Anna decides that she wants to go back to the area of Scotland that she grew up in and starts making plans.  None of her three nearly grown up daughters are precisely keen on the idea, but only one, Jane, is prepared to make the best of it.  Anna and the girls move – Helen and Rosalie are practically kicking and screaming – and start their new lives.

The story is told through Jane’s eyes – she’s the plain but clever sister, who would have gone to Oxford if it hadn’t been for the money problems.  Helen is pretty, but selfish and used to getting her own way.  Rosalie isn’t as pretty as Helen, but isn’t clever like Jane either and tends to drift along in Helen’s shadow.  The combination of the three sisters makes for fascinating reading.  Anna is remarkably clear sighted about her daughters in some ways – she sees their faults in a way that many parents do not.  She tries to explain her attitude to Jane, who (justifiably) gets angry about the way that Helen treats people and the fact that she gets away with it.

As the book goes on we see the girls grow and change.  Jane discovers a gift for writing, Rosalie chooses security and Helen continues to be Helen, regardless of the consequences.  This book is very melodramatic in some ways but also feels like nothing much happens.  I loved it.  Especially when Miss Buncle gets a quick mention.

Anna and her Daughters is available in Kindle or you’ll have to go and find a secondhand paperback copy, which by the look of Amazon maybe expensive.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, fiction, literary fiction, reading challenges

Book of the Week: The Mothers

Tricky choice for BotW this week, but I eventually plumped for Britt Bennett’s The Mothers because it was a bit out of my normal reading comfort zone, but wore it very lightly and made me think. 


In aftermath of her mother’s death and in the twilight of her time at high school, Nadia Turner gets involved with the minister’s son. Luke is a couple of years older than she is, but is still adrift after the injury that ended his football career and cost him his college scholarship. It’s nothing serious, just a bit of fun, until Nadia gets pregnant. And what comes next changes the course of both their lives and sends ripples out through their church community that will last for years to come. 

Firstly, I loved the setting of this book. Bennett really brings to life her fictional contemporary black church community in Southern California. Part of the story is told by the elder women in the church as a kind of Greek chorus. It adds an extra perspective in between flipping between the stories of those mostly closely involved. 

It’s also full of interesting characters, even if you don’t always like them that much. Luke and Nadia and her best friend Audrey make a fascinating triangle, who have different views on life and experience the fallout in different ways. 

Now, I can’t say too much more about this or I’ll give too much away, but reading through the reviews of this on goodreads, there are some very definite opinions about the author’s stance with regard to Nadia’s decision. As far as I was concerned, I thought it was handled in a very balanced, matter of fact way and in the main the fall out was portrayed as more down to the cover up and the other issues going on rather than because of the actual decision. Is that cryptic enough?!  Anyway, nearly a week later I’m still thinking about the characters, which has to be a good thing.

This is Bennett’s first novel and was nominated for a whole bunch of prizes, which really didn’t surprise me because it’s clever, well-written and very readable.  This is also a book that fills a couple of this year’s #ReadHarder categories: Debut Novel, book where all the POV characters are people of colour and for me, book set more than 5,000 miles away. 

The hardback is out now, the paperback is coming in October. When that arrives, I think you should be able to find it in most bookshops, but possibly not in the supermarket. As always, if you can’t make it to a bookshop you could order it from a Big Green Bookshop or pick it up on Kindle or Kobo. 

Happy reading. 

Book of the Week, Series I love

Book of the Week: Rush Jobs

This week’s Book of the Week is more of  a series recommendation.  I read two Hobson and Choi books last week practically one after the other and  I was going to save my ravings for a Recommendsday post, but I didn’t anything I liked better last week, so it seemed churlish not to pick one of them for my BotW, so I chose Rush Jobs.

The Cover of Rush Jobs
I love the tube line theme to the covers for this.

The set up: John Hobson is a private detective with a Past.  Angelina Choi is his work experience intern.  In the first book, she starts her two week placement by tweeting that they’re going to solve a high profile murder case.  #HobsonvsWolf goes viral and soon Hobson has to try to solve a case he’s not being paid for and possibly face off against a giant wolf.  In Rush Jobs, we rejoin the duo at the start of Angelina’s second and final week of her work experience. And after all the online buzz from the last case, they’re in demand.  This leads to a lot of smaller crimes to solve (or not) along with some running story lines from the first book.  I can’t really say too much more about the plot because it gives away too much* but it’s a lot of fun.

I raced through this – and then immediately bought book three.  It’s dark and seedy but very funny which takes the edge off the grim bits.  Hobson is an intriguingly flawed character – we’ve found out a few bits about what he has going on in his past and it’s not pretty.  Choi is young and idealistic and although she has reasons of her own for taking an internship at a detective agency, she’s still quite innocent and some of the goings on in Hobson’s world are a bit of a shock to her.

I’ve mentioned cozy crime adjacent novels before – and this is another of them. Theses aren’t psychological thrillers, or gore-fests, or chillers and they have some things in common with classic detective stories of the Golden Age. But if you need your detectives to always do the “right” thing, the legal thing, to have no darkness in their pasts then maybe don’t read these. But if you like stories where things can’t be tied up neatly in a bow at the end and handed over to the police to unwrap and where your detective inhabits a slightly shaky middle ground between the law and the criminals then try this series.

I picked up the first book as an actual book from The Big Green Bookshop, but have read the other two on Kindle. I have book four lined up for my train journeys home from work this week. But do start at the beginning. It’ll make more sense that way.

Happy Reading!

*NB this is why I usually talk about first books in mystery series because you have more to say without ruining running storylines for people who haven’t already read the series!

 

Authors I love, Recommendsday, Series I love

Recommendsday: Comfort Reading

I had an entirely different Recommendsday book planned, but for some reason I’m feeling a bit terrified about the world today, so I thought some of you might appreciate some comfort reading suggestions.  I’m talking books with resolutions, preferably happy endings that don’t deal with nightmarish dystopian futures or imminent doom. I wonder why that’s off my menu at the moment…

Firstly, you might want to consider revisiting an old favourite.  Something that you can enjoy all over again and that can conjure memories of when you read it the first time.  The best example of that for me is Regency Buck  which is one of my favourite Georgette Heyers, brilliantly romantic (another smart woman this time reforming a rake) and which I finished reading on the bus after my last A Level exam.   Or just a book that you’ve read over and over -my top rereads are A Winter’s Tale by Trisha Ashley, the much mentioned Gone with the Windsors or any of the four Peter Wimsey books which feature Harriet Vane.

But if you don’t have an old favourite to hand, I’ve dipped into my reading archive to find three more books where it all turns out right in the end:

Miss Buncle’s Book: Miss Buncle is an impoverished spinster to decides that the best way to earn some more money to improve her situation is to write a book.  Her loyal maid thinks she’s mad – but it works.  The book that Miss Buncle writes is published under a pseudonym and is a roaring success.  The only trouble is that the book is based on the people in her village – and they recognise themselves.  I nearly cried laughing reading this and then lent it to everyone I could think of.  Perfect for my current mood.

The Reluctant Landlady: When struggling actress Evie inherits a house from a family friend, it seems like a dream and she and her best friend Bing move in.  But the house is comes with a motley crew of tennants who she’s not allowed to evict and soon Evie is trying to sort their lives out for them, whether they want her to or not.  This was the first Bernadette Strachan book that I read and I think it’s still my favourite.  Evie is fabulous and Bing is just one of the best and funniest sidekick characters I’ve come across in this sort of book. Strachan now writes as  Juliet Ashton and Claire Sandy – her A Very Big House in the Country would make a good choice at the moment too.

Welcome to the Real World: Fern is having a good week: she’s landed a job as PA to a world famous singer and she’s got a chance to try and realise her own singing dream with a slot on the newest TV talent show.  But when it turns out her new boss, Evan, is also going to be a judge on the talent show, things start to get complicated, because Fern really wants to keep her singing under wraps from him.  I see from Goodreads that reviews on this are somewhat… divided, but this is my favourite Carole Matthews book.  It focuses mostly on Fern and what is going on in her life, but I liked that – and there’s plenty of drama as well.

I hope one of these tickles your fancy and improves your mood.  I’m off to re-read some Peter and Harriet.

Happy Reading!