book round-ups, holiday reading

What I read on my holidays: Summer 2019 edition

It’s already July and I haven’t posted this, so I thought I ought to get my act in gear.  I had a fabulous week in the glamourous south of France in mid-June and took full advantage of my sun lounger time to read.  As the school summer holidays are not far off now, here’s a few of my favourites from the week for some inspiration for your holiday.

Van Apfel Girls Are Gone by Felicity McLean

Cover of The Van Apfel Girls are Gone

This is an atmospheric and chilling story of the events of one boiling hot summer in a small Australian town when three young girls went missing. Told through the eyes of Tikka – eleven years old at the time and still haunted by the events when she returns to her home town years later – as an adult you have a massive sense of foreboding and quiet horror at the events in the lead up to the disappearance.  This is so well written and the descriptions so good that you can feel and almost touch the heat and the unexplained smell of the town.  It’s also funny and endearing and if I didn’t find the ending entirely satisfying, I think that may have been part of the point of it.

Fumbled by Alexa Martin

cover of Fumbled

Intercepted was a Book of the Week and this was a runner up in my best new books of 2019 so far but Fumbled deserves more than just a passing mention.  As regular readers will know, I’m not a big fan of the secret baby trope, but this one is actually one that worked for me and without making either parent seem like a bad person.  The heroine is feisty, the hero actually listens to her and respects her point of view and they talk about their problems rather than ignore them.  And I liked that it dealt with the issue of brain injuries in the NFL and in (American) football generally. I like Alexa Martin’s voice and her connection to the game (her husband is an ex-pro) really shines through.

An Act of Villany by Ashley Weaver

Cover of An Act of Villainy

This is the fourth in the Amory Ames series of murder mysteries set in the 1930s.  This is right in my Daisy Dalrymple/Phryne Fisher sweet spot and with a smart bright young thing married to a reformed (we hope) philanderer.  This has a theatre-centric plot that reminded me (in a good way) of the theatre-set installments of Ngaio Marsh’s Alleyn books. The banter is good, the characters are fun – and the central relationship between Amory and Milo is more complicated than the usual husband doesn’t want the wife involved dynamic that you get in a lot of these series.

And on top of all of these, there were lots of Susan Mallery books (mostly from the Fools Gold series), Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents (after I bought it while writing the where to start with Pratchett post), the latest Rivers of London (which is excellent but really needs to be read in series order) as well as BotW pick Maud West.

I haven’t done specific links for purchasing each book today – but these should be easy to find on Kindle or Kobo or to get hold of from your local independent bookseller or Foyles or Waterstones or similar.

 

Uncategorized

Book of the Week: Summer at Willow Lake

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading and Merry Christmas!

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!