Book of the Week, reviews, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Yes. I know. I’m so far behind the curve it hurts.  This always happens.  You know this always happens. This is the problem with giant to-read backlog.  It’s the whole raison d’être for the blog.  Anyway.  As you will have seen yesterday, I read a lot of stuff on holiday last week, and I’ve already written about one of last week’s books, so that’ was ruled out.  And some of the other books that I read were out for this because of a) other posts I’ve got planned or b) not liking them enough to want to recommend them.  I’m honest like that.  But luckily, at the end of the week I found my copy of Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda again and read it pretty much in one sitting, so I feel like I can genuinely make it a BotW.

cover of Love Simon

In case you’ve missed it somehow, this is the story of Simon Spier.  He’s sixteen and he knows he’s gay but he’s definitely not out at school.  But he’s got an email correspondence going with another boy at his school who is also in the same boat.  Simon doesn’t know who it is, and Blue doesn’t know who Simon is, but they’re getting on really well.  But when some of the email correspondence falls into the wrong hands, Simon finds himself the target of a blackmailer and on top of this, his friendship group starts to get really complicated.  How can Simon sort it all out?

In case you’ve missed it, this was recently turned into a film, under the title Love, Simon, and originally I was going to read this before the film came out.  Well we all know how well that’s turned out.  But having read the book, I can totally see why the film has struck a chord with people and got the almost universally positive reviews.  It’s a relatable, readable, page turner about a young man trying to navigate High School.  It’s a story we’ve heard before and which has always been my catnip.  The difference here is that the hero is gay and that’s not a story I’ve really seen done before.  And Becky Albertelli has done a great job for my money.  Obviously I’ve never been a gay teenage boy, but for me it captured the experience of being a teenager – how everything is life and death and how school is a complete minefield that has to be carefully navigated – but with an experience outside my own that I was really interested to read about.  I’m not a big YA reader, but would happily have read another 100 pages of it – and not just because it doesn’t involve teens killing each other or dying of cancer.

As previously mentioned, I’m way behind the curve, so you should be able to get a copy of Love, Simon anywhere – my copy is the movie tie in edition as you can see so watch out for the two different titles kicking around.  Try the supermarkets and the secondhand bookshops for sure.  The Kindle edition has also popped up as a Daily Deal more than once as well. And the DVD of the movie is out in August, so it’ll probably be popping up on the streaming services soon too. Albertelli has a sequel of sorts out now too – Leah on the Offbeat – which focuses on one of Simon’s friends and which I’ll definitely be looking out for.

Happy Reading!

book round-ups, holiday reading

Summer Holiday Reads 2018

It’s that time of year again – where I pick out some books that I think would make great holiday reads.  And because I’ve already been on holiday, some of these are actually books I read on my holidays* so I can vouch for their sunlounger-worthiness!

The Lido by Libby Page

This is the story of Kate, an anxious 26-year-old cub reporter at a local paper in Brixton, and Rosemary, an 86-year-old widow fighting to save the local Lido that she’s been swimming at practically all her life.  When Kate finds a leaflet about the plight of the Lido she’s soon not only reporting on the story, but leading the fight to save the swimming pool.  The Lido got a lot of buzz ahead of it’s release as one of the feel-good books of the summer.  Now as this had me in tears by the pool multiple times, I suggest that you don’t read it on a plane because Altitude Associated Lachrimosity Syndrome** will only make that worse.  I was charmed by the setting, loved watching Kate’s journey and wanted to find a friend like Rosemary.  If you like books by people like Lucy Dillon and Anna McPartlin, this could be the holiday book for you.

Dear Mrs Bird by AJ Pearce

Another young wannabe journalist is at the heart of Dear Mrs Bird, but 70 years earlier in the middle of World War II.  Emmeline Lake is desperate to be a Lady War Correspondent, so when she sees a job advert at one of the big newspaper publishers she spots her chance.  But instead of working at a newspaper, she finds herself at a women’s magazine where her job is to sort through the letters sent to the agony aunt.  But Mrs Bird has very definite ideas about the sort of letters that she’s going to answer – and anything involving Unpleasantness is definitely out.  When Emmy starts answering some of the letters secretly it all spirals out of control very quickly.  This only came out a couple of weeks ago too – but bookish twitter was alive with chatter about it just before Christmas.  I saved it to read on my holiday and was really glad that I did.  There was one twist in the plot that I could see coming a mile off – and I suspect anyone who has read more than a couple of books set in WW2 will see it too – but I still loved spending time with Emmy and her best friend Birdie and all their friends and neighbours doing their bit for the war effort in 1940s London.  There are sad moments in it, but it’s got a cheeky point of view that means that when the realities of war break through it really hits home. If you like Laurie Graham, Angela Thirkell or the Diary of a Provincial Lady, try this on your sunlounger.

Making Up by Lucy Parker

This summer’s contemporary romance pick is Lucy Parker’s third novel in her London Celebrities series.  Trix is thrust into the spotlight when he has to take over the leading role in the show that she’s performing in after the star is knocked out injured.  But her confidence is shattered because of the mind games her ex-boyfriend played on her.  Leo is a make-up artist who’s taken a job on the show after a professional setback (not his fault) dented his reputation.  The two of them have been sniping at each other since secondary school, and neither of them really wants to be working with the other.  If you like your romances with a large helping of witty banter and snark this is the book for you.  I found myself posting quotes from this on Litsy – and I hardly ever use the quote function.  My favourite (I think) was:

Quote image that says "Somewhere, even the sith Empereor was looking at this guy's management style and thinking "bit harsh"."

although

Quote image that says "I think we're debauching the hedgie," she muttered.

runs it a close second. You’ll get the most out of this if you’ve read the other two books in the series – particularly the second book, Pretty Face, because a lot of the background to Trix’s issues was laid there. All three of the books in this series are enemies to lovers books set in and around the theatreworld of London’s West End and they’re all packed with wise-cracking heroines and dry, sardonic heroes.  I love them – and I just wish Parker had written more of them already!

Wicked and the Wallflower by Sarah MacLean

My historical romance pick is coming out until June 19th – and I’m totally using that release date as the reason why it’s taken me so long to get this post out and not the fact that I had a big list of books that I wanted to read for potential inclusion that I still haven’t got to the bottom of. Ahem.  Anyway, Wicked and the Wallflower is the first book in MacLean’s new Bareknuckle Bastards series and tells the story of Felicity and Devil.  She’s an aging (for the time!) wallflower whose family is desperate to see her married off, he’s the bastard son of a duke out for revenge.  When he offers to help her land a duke, she doesn’t know that his plan doesn’t really have a happy ending for her.  But as they get to know each other sparks fly and he may have to chose between revenge and love.  I know that sounds like a pretty conventional plot for a romance novel, but what you don’t get from that is the spirit and independence of the heroine and the underworldly but businessey world that Devil has built for himself.  I really enjoyed it – and I’m looking forward to seeing Devil’s siblings get their turn at romance in the sequels.

And there you are.  I wanted to optimistically call this Summer Holiday Reads 2018 Part 1, but we all know how terrible I am about timely posting and I do like to deliver on my promises, so I’ve been restrained.  I hope there’s something here for you – all of the books here definitely gave me happy hours of reading – so I hope you have a lovely time on a sunlounger with a book at some point this summer.

Happy Reading!

* Yes that’s how long I’ve been working on this post. I know. I’m sorry.

** Hello to Jason Isaacs

holiday reading

Summer Reading 2017 Edition

My summer holiday already seems like a long time ago, but the schools have only just broken up, so many of you may be yet to make your summer trips.  So for your delectation as I sleep off my final nightshift of the run, here are some beach reading suggestions from me.

Big Sexy Love by Kirsty Greenwood

Cover of Kirsty Greenwoods Big Sexy Love
I know Kirsty through Novelicious – I can’t believe I know someone who can write a book this good!

I loved this latest novel from Kirsty Greenwood.  It’s like the book love child of a late 90s/early 2000s romantic comedy and the sort of screwball antics a drunken modern day Katherine Hepburn in Philadelphia story might get up to.  Big, Sexy Love tells the story of anxious Olive, who takes refuge from her fears in routine but is forced out of her comfort zone by her dying best friend Birdie.  I laughed, I nearly cried (in a corner of the newsroom on my “lunch” break at 3am) and I loved the romance.  But most of all I loved the friendship between Olive and Birdie – they’re there for each other, through thick and thin, with humour but without jealousy, judgement or ulterior motive. We need more books with Olives and Birdies.  Read this on the beach – but maybe not on the plane for reasons that will become apparent if you read it!  And it’s a total bargain at 99p on Kindle at time of writing.

Modern Lovers by Emma Straub 

Copy of Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
My copy came from the bookshelf at work where Arts team put books when theyre done with them – thats why its an arc. But its been on the pile for a while…

One of my favourite sort of books to read on my holidays are “rich people problem” novels, and Modern Lovers by Emma Straub is a really good one.  You’re following a two couples and their children over the course of one summer.  Twenty years earlier, three of them were in a band together and now Hollywood wants to make a film about the fourth member, who made it big and then died young.   Will they do it?  Are they ready for the revelations that that might bring?  And what happens when your kids start to be cooler than you?  If you don’t like reading about rich, privelieged hipsters in Brooklyn then give this a miss, but if you do, well, it’s a joy.

Dead is Good by Jo Perry

Cover of Dead is Good by Jo Perry
I love the current dog-centric covers for Charlie and Rose

If you’re after a mystery to read on the beach, try Perry’s Charlie and Rose series from my old friends and frequent supplier of excellent noir-y books, Fahrenheit Press.  Dead is Good is the third book following the afterlife adventures of Charlie and Rose the dog as they wander Los Angeles trying to solve crimes but unable to actually influence the outcome of anything (or at least not often).  It may sound a bit meta, but it’s a lot of fun.  In book 3, Charlie is trying to keep his ex-girlfriend alive and figure out who it is who wants her dead.  And the details about Los Angeles are a joy.  I could have read another 50 pages at least.  Dead is Good is £1.99 on Kindle at time of writing – but if you want to start at the beginning and find out how Charlie ended up as a ghost, then Dead is Better is only 99p.

How To Stop Time by Matt Haig

The cover of How to Stop Time
Another lovely cover – this one is simple but striking too.

If you love historical fiction or books set across different periods, Matt Haig’s new novel may be for you.  It’s not your usual time slip book though because although the narrative jumps around between the present day and various points in the last 500 years, our lead character is the same person.  Tom may look like he’s 41, but he’s actually hundreds of years old.  He’s lived through everything from the Elizabethan era Britain to Jazz Age Paris and now he’s a history teacher in modern day London.  It’s the perfect cover – teaching children about the things that he’s lived through – as long as he doesn’t slip up and fall in love.  Because last time that happened it didn’t end well.  This kept me engrossed on several train journeys this week, and I couldn’t wait to find out how it turned out. And if that wasn’t enough, it’s going to be turned into a film, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, so everyone is going to be talking about that when it comes out and you can be all smug because you read it first!

A couple of other suggestions for you: there’s more romantic comedy in or if you want something older Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me;  there are more rich people problems in Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan; if you want some more travels through time – albeit with a different tone entirely – then try The Chronicles of St Mary Series by Jodi Taylor  and if you still haven’t read Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible yet, that’s out in paperback now (and was only £1.99 on Kindle at time of writing).

And if you need even more, may I point you back in the direction of my favourite beach reads from my holiday, which I loved so much I’ve already written whole posts of their own about them:  Written in Dead Wax and Standard Deviation.

Happy Reading!

holiday reading, The pile

Weekend Bonus: My ereader changed my life

A bonus post for you this weekend with what may seem like an over dramatic title, but as I was relaxing on the beach last week I realised that without my ereader, my holidays would be very different.  Allow me to explain.

Kindle in a case
One very loved kindle and slightly battered case…

As you may have worked out by now, I am a fast reader.  I read twelve books during my week in Croatia – and that’s not even the most I’ve  read during a week away.  I’d either need an extra suitcase or to take no clothes with me to take enough reading material for a week on the beach and the flights to get me to said beach.  And that’s before you take into account my notoriously flighty nature and tendency to want to read something, anything other than the books that I’ve brought with me*.

What you may not know is that I’m not good when left alone with my own head.  I have to have something to listen to to go to sleep – silence makes my brain start obsessing over things – did I do everything I should have done at work today, why haven’t I done x or y, death, that sort of thing.  So laying on the beach doing nothing was never my sort of holiday because although a bit of people watching is fun,  I can’t just about doing doing nothing for hours but there was no way I could take enough books to keep me going for a week. But sometimes you don’t want a holiday full of activities, where you’ve always got places to be or things to be doing.  Sometimes you just need to relax and unwind and do nothing and the ereader means that I can do that.

I was a (relatively) late adopter of ereaders.  I like the feel of books, I like the smell of them.  I like the way your favourites fall open to your favourite passages and the way you can lend books you love to the people that you love.  I managed the whole of my first year of the long commute without an ereader – taking proper books with me in my bag and occasionally using the Kindle app for free books on my phone when I ran  out of reading material before I got home.  But then came EURO 2012 – when I was going to be spending a month away from home in Poland. I knew I wouldn’t have space in my suitcase for books, but might well have some reading time.  I treated myself to a Kindle Touch (the first generation of them I think) and I’ve never looked back.

This holiday we took 4 actual books with us between us – a Janet Evanovich (that I’d already read) for Him Indoors who is working his way through the Steph Plum series one holiday at a time, two books he picked out from a selection from my to-read pile that he would like to read too and my holiday book – the Andrew Cartmel that was this week’s BotW.  He read the Steph Plum and then nicked my kindle to continue his Vicky Bliss odyssey.  I finished two of the three and started the other.  Without the ereader(s) we would have been lost.  The iPad isn’t allowed on the beach, but in the evenings we were often to be found relaxing on the balcony, him with the Kindle and me with the iPad.

If I didn’t like a book, I didn’t have to finish it (I hated one of the paperbacks and although I did finish it, I abandoned it to its fate at the hotel, clearing space in the suitcase for an extra bag of sweets for my long-suffering work colleagues) and equally if I loved a book and wanted the next in the series or another by the same author, the joys of wifi meant that I could just buy it.  I stocked it up with some cozy crimes and some favourite authors before we went and I had more than enough choice to keep me going for the week.*

My trusty Kindle is almost exactly five years old now and is groaning with the weight of the books stored on it.  I use it on the train every time I travel too or from work, I use it at the hostel on the nights I’m way from home and I use it on my breaks in the early hours during the dreaded night shifts.  I’m debating getting a new one – because reading on the iPad is just not the same – I’m sentimentally attached to my worn, well loved Kindle that makes me loath to let it go.  Although it would mean next holiday we’d have two to use on the beach…

If only I’d had an e-reader back in the day when I used to have to go on camping trips!

*I think this is the same tendency that makes me not want to eat packed lunches that I’ve made for myself.

**To be honest, I’ve probably got enough to keep me going for a year if only authors didn’t keep publishing new books.

 

fiction, literary fiction, Recommendsday, women's fiction

Recommendsday: Standard Deviation

Another day, another great holiday read to recommend, this time it’s Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny which filled some very happy hours on the plane and the beach last week and which I’m sure I’m going to be recommending to a lot of people this summer.

The cover of Standard Deviation
I love the origami figures but I’m still not quite sure the cover of this really does it justice.

Graham Cavanaugh is on his second marriage.  Wife #2, Audra, is one of Those Women – you know the sort – who know every one, who makes friends effortlessly and opens her arms (and home) to any waif or stray of her acquaintance (no matter how tenuous the connection) who needs help. They have one child, origami-obsessed Matthew, who has Asperger’s and sees the world slightly differently and finds a lot of it a bit challenging.  When Wife #1, Elspeth, re-appears in Graham’s life, the contrasts become apparent.  Because of course Audra wants them to be friends with Elspeth and so their lives get tangled up together all over again.

This is a fun, witty and touching look at the choices that we make and how our lives can change. Just reading about life with Audra makes you tired, but despite that and despite her nosiness and lack of boundaries you still warm to her.  I don’t think I’d want to be friends with her in real life, but then the same applies to Graham and to Elspeth too.  They all have their monstrous moments, but it makes for fascinating reading.  It has some heart-warming moments too – mostly dealing with Graham’s hopes for Matthew as he grows up and Audra’s efforts to try and give him a normal life.

This is Katherine Heiny’s first novel, but it doesn’t feel like a debut.  It feels like the work of an author who is already well in their stride, with confidence in the characters that they have created and the stories that they are spinning.  But perhaps that is unsurprising given Heiny’s background in short stories.  She’s been published in the New Yorker and had a collection of short stories – Single, Carefree, Mellow – published a few years back*.  This article from the Guardian says that she’s written more than 20 Young Adult novels under various pseudonyms, but frustratingly doesn’t give me any titles (and nor does good reads) which doesn’t help me with my need to glom on everything that she’s written.  Luckily I have a New Yorker subscription so I can go back and read the full version of How to Give the Wrong Impression from back in 1992.

If you like Nora Ephron movies and books, this may be the beach read for you.  In writing this I’ve seen lots of comparisons to Anne Tyler (who I’ve never read but always meant to) so I’ll be recommending this to my mum who’s had a bit of a Tyler thing recently.  My copy of Standard Deviation came via NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback (sorry) and you should be able to get hold of a copy from all the usual places and it’s also available on Audible (the link may only work if you’re signed in) Kindle and Kobo.

Happy reading!

*which is now on my wishlist unsurprisingly!

 

books, holiday reading

Half-Term Reading

Bonus post ahoy!  Yes, I know we’re already well into half term (my bad) but here are some reading suggestions never the less.

Firstly, there’s a new Sinclair’s Mystery out from Katherine Woodfine.  I’ve mentioned this middle-grade historical mystery series set in the Edwardian era before (in my Christmas books post), but they’ve never got a proper review for some reason.  Book Three is The Mystery of the Painted Dragon sees Sophie and Lil and the gang investigating the theft of a painting from an exhibition at Sinclair’s department store.  There are a lot of mystery books aimed at this age group – I’ve spoken at length about Robin Stevens’ Wells and Wong series (for example here, here, here and here) and obviously there’s lots of Enid Blyton mysteries, but this is unusual in that the teenage characters are neither at school nor on school holidays – they’re out at work.  This makes for different challenges and opportunities as well as for an exciting air of independence for the characters.  If you’ve got an upper primary school child who’s bored this holiday, this would entertain them for an hour or two.  And if you’re a big kid like me, it’ll do the same for you too.

Off to the beach?  Then try Curtis Sittenfeld’s American Wife.  I finished this last week and it’s a big old doorstop of a book telling the story of a fictional First Lady.  It’s very clearly based on Laura Bush – in fact when I went to read Mrs Bush’s biography after reading the book I was surprised how very close it was and it made me feel a little uneasy.  But then I read books that are fictionalised versions of historical people’s lives all the time and that doesn’t make me feel squicky, so it’s a bit of a double standard.  Anyway, Alice is a great character to spend time with – although I liked the two thirds to three quarters of the book where she’s not in the White House much more than I liked that final section.

If you want something historical, I’ve just finished Beatriz Williams’ latest The Wicked City.  This is a time slip novel involving a flapper in 1920s New York and a forensic accountant in the city in the late 1990s.  If you’ve read any of Williams’ other novels there are a few familiar faces popping up too.  It’s been a while since I read my last novel and I’ve missed a couple so I’m starting to lose track of which Schulyers are which – I think that means I need to do a re-read!

And if you fancy some crime, Fahrenheit have just pubished the fourth Christy Kennedy book, The Ballad of Sean and Wilko, I haven’t read it yet, it’s waiting for me on my kindle for one of my nightshift commutes, but I’ve really enjoyed the first three, and there are 10 altogether, so if you’re in the mood for a new series to binge read, this could be for you.

None of these appeal, well then go and have a look at some of my recent Book of the Week posts – Crooked Heart, Miss Treadway or Semester of our Discontent would work, or go back further into the archives for The Rest of Us Just Live Here, The Madwoman Upstairs or even last year’s February picks.

Happy Reading!

cozy crime, romance, women's fiction

Christmas Reading

The schools have broken up, offices are starting to wind down and although I’m only midway through my run of nights, it really is starting to feel a lot like Christmas.  So if you’re already in full-on festive mode, here are some Christmassy reading suggestions for you.  All my links in this are to the Kindle editions – partly because there are so many e-specials in here, but also because it’s so close to Christmas now you’re probably not going to be able to get the actual book in the post in time.

As with every year there is a healthy crop of new festive novellas about.  In the main, I think they mostly work for people who are already fans, rather than people who are new to the author, but if you’re a fan of Katie Fforde, you can check in with some old friends in Candlelight at Christmas, or with the characters from Cathy Bramley‘s Plumberry School of Comfort Food in Comfort and Joy.  Alex Brown returns to Tindledale to write a emotional story about finding a new love in Not Just for Christmas.  Liz Fenwick has written a Christmas Carol-inspired novella, A Cornish Christmas Carol, for those of you who want to see a Scrooge converted.  And there are short stories from Jennifer Crusie, Donna Alward and Mandy Baxter in It Must Be Christmas – I liked the Crusie the best, but be warned it’s been previously published (I discovered I’d already read it) and I think it’s a little expensive (over a fiver at time of writing) for what it is as I thought the other two stories each had a problem or two with them.

I reviewed Sarah Morgan‘s Christmas novel Miracle on Fifth Avenue for Novelicious – it’s wonderfully Christmassy even if it’s not quite grovelly enough in the resolution for me.  Morgan writes excellent Christmas stories – I read the first book in her Snow Crystal trilogy, Sleigh Bells in the Snow, a couple of weeks back and that’s great as well.  I’m currently trying to resist the urge to buy the other two in the series.  It’s not new, but I read Tessa Dare‘s Spindle Cove fill in Once Upon A Winter’s Eve this year – and whilst I took an early dislike of the hero and didn’t think it was long enough for him to be able to redeem himself fully, I know that other people have loved it.  I’ve also read the last in Sabrina Jeffries‘s Hellions of Halstead Hall series this year, Twas the Night after Christmas, which is actually mostly set in the run up to Christmas.  I found the characters a bit stubborn and the central plot device is a bit melodramatic and overblown, but other people ha

There’s also no shortage of Christmas books in the series that I follow and I’ve read quite a few of them this year.  The latest in Robin Stevens‘ Wells and Wong series , Mistletoe and Murder is a Christmas one – as I’ve already mentioned in a BotW post and you’d be fine starting the series there if you really wanted to.  And I think Donna Andrew‘s Duck the Halls would be fine for someone to read if they haven’t read the other 15 Meg Langslow books – although you’d be missing the background to Meg’s eccentric extended family so she might come across as barking mad.  I’m behind in the series (because I collect them in papberback but wait for the secondhand prices to come down because of the backlog) so there’s another Christmas-y Meg after this one, The Nightingale Before Christmas as well as an earlier festive one, Six Geese Are Slaying.  Alan Bradley‘s fourth Flavia de Luce novel is set at Christmastime.  In I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, Flavia is cooking up a trap for St Nick but a film crew is snowed in at Buckshaw and a murder is committed. The fifth in Kerry Greenwood‘s Corinna Chapman series, Forbidden Fruit, is a Christmas book – but it’s Christmas in Australia which makes a lovely change from snow scenes and roaring fires.  It also has recipes at the back, which is always a bonus – and one of things I like about Trisha Ashley‘s books.  I’ve mentioned her a fair bit here before – but she has some fabulous Christmas books – particularly my favourite A Winter’s Tale, which I usually re-read at this time of year.

Some of the series have Christmas fill-in novellas too – in Jodi Taylor‘s Chronicles of St Mary’s series When A Child is Born sees Max and the gang in England for Christmas 1066 and all does not go as planned (but then when does it ever?) and A Christmas Present had me in tears twice as Max goes back in time to avert a double tragedy.  this year I’ve also enjoyed Silent Night and Twelth Night, the two Christmas fill-ins in Deanna Raybourn‘s Lady Julia Grey series but much as I love her,  I really do think you need to have read the other books to be able to get the best out of them.

This is a real monster list (much longer than I thought it would be when I started writing it) and I hope this has provided plenty of Christmas-y reading for you – but if this is still not enough, here’s last year’s Christmas-themed reading post with some more suggestions.