Book of the Week, mystery

Book of the Week: Life, Death and Cellos

 Quite a long list of reading in yesterday’s post, but with two books by the same new-to-me author on the list, today’s Book of the Week pick may not be that much of a surprise to some of you. 

Cover of Life, Death and Cellos

Life, Death and Cellos is the first book in Isabel Rogers’ Stockwell Park Orchestra series. In this debut outing, the orchestra is having a bit of a tricky time of it. Their conductor just dropped dead mid-concert and landed on their biggest donor – who is now threatening to withdraw her financial support. But one of the cellists, Erin, has a plan to try and save the orchestra, but it involves self-obsessed and self-involved section leader Fenella and a Stradivari cello and is not without risk. Then there’s the regular conductor who seems to be working his way through the female members of the orchestra and David, the band treasurer whose nervous tick grows worse at every set back.

So, first of all it needs to be said that I am a Band person. I’ve never played in an orchestra, but I played in concert bands (and the occasional jazz band) of various types all through secondary school and after a break at uni (because all the options there were for “proper” musicians, which I am emphatically not), I picked my clarinet back up when I moved to Southend. I joined a community band there and when I first moved back to northampton I found myself another band and carried on playing for a couple of years until my shift work got too much to be able to make rehearsals reliably. So all the band-centric stuff really appealed to me – but it’s hard for me to tell how it will come across to someone who doesn’t have some sort of background in music. The actual plot itself is a comic caper – with almost farcical elements and a strong retro feel, but there’s a lot of music stuff in with that – I wanted a play list to go with it so that I could listen along as it talked about the various different elements of the pieces – but I don’t know how it would go for you if you don’t know what an arpeggio is or a little bit about key signatures! If you have ever played in band, I think you’ll recognise a lot of things in this – viola players being a punchline, the brass section being uppity etc. I certainly enjoyed it so much that I went straight on to book two, have pre-ordered book three and told all the musical people in my family that they need to read it!

You can get a copy of Life, Death and Cellos in paperback from Bookshop.org.uk or on Kindle or Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Bonus photos: I tried (although admittedly not very hard!) and failed to find a picture of me back in my Northamptonshire County Training Wind Orchestra heyday, so sadly you don’t get to see me in my long-haired, train track braces glory, but instead, here I am playing with my Northampton band in the early 2010s – as their principle clarinet (not a position that I enjoyed), front row left in the red t-shirt, at a local concert.And here I am looking much happier as a lowly third clarinet in my Essex band – in my concert dress at the Royal Festival Hall to play Bernstein and Gershwin. I’ve actually played at the Festival Hall twice – this concert in the Clore ballroom, and then in the main hall as part of the National Festival of Music for Youth back in my school days, when we were runners up in our class to our big sister/brother band the mighty Northamptonshire County Youth Concert Band.

 

American imports, Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Dear Girls

A long list of books last week – but actually when it came to picking a BotW it was looking quite tough until fairly late on. But then I finished Ali Wong’s Dear Girls and the choice became a lot easier.

Cover of Dear Girls

Ali Wong is a comedian and writer – in 2019 she co-wrote and starred in the film Always Be My Maybe and Dear Girls is a series of letters written to Wong’s two daughters.  These daughters are the babies she is (heavily) pregnant with in her Netflix comedy specials.  Wong starts the book by saying that her daughters really need to be over 21 before they read this and I would concur whole-heartedly.  It’s wise and moving, but it’s also incredibly honest and might tell them more than they want to know about their mum. I know I wouldn’t want to know quite as much about my mum’s sex life!

 

Even if you’re not related to Wong, this might still be a bit TMI for you – it covers everything from bad sex in New York, to what it’s really like after you’ve given birth and eating snakes. That said, this is funny and touching and a really interesting insight.  It’s very honest – probably the most warts and all book I’ve read since Viv Albertine’s first memoir. As well as the personal life stuff, Wong is fed up of being only asked about what it’s like to be an Asian-American female comedian – and she goes about answering the questions that she really would rather be asked as well as setting out her path to success on the stand up circuit and the pitfalls and problems on the way.

I haven’t seen all of Wong’s comedy specials, so I can’t speak as to what the overlap is – although there is some (even in the trailer above) but I think if you’re a fan, you’ll enjoy this.  If you’re not a fan (kinda like me) and are coming to it because you’ve heard a lot of good things about it, then I think it’ll work for you as well. It certainly did for me.  I need to finish watching those specials, just as soon as I’m done with Dancing Queen. And if you haven’t seen Always Be My Maybe – her romantic comedy movie from earlier this year then go watch that too, because it’s fun and funny and everything I like about rom coms but find so hard to find at the moment.

My copy of Dear Girls came from the library, but its available now on Kindle, Kobo and as a hardback (under £10 on Amazon at time of writing).

Happy Reading!

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!