book round-ups, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: JFK-adjacent books

Last month, I wrote a post of Vanderbilt-adjacent books after picking Vanderbilt as my Book of the Week. And while I was writing it, I realised that I’ve actually read quite a lot of books that could be described as JFK-adjacent at various points, so now I’ve finished The Editor, here is a look at the best of them – and believe me when I say I’ve read some bad ones too!

The graves of John F Kennedy, Jacqueline Kennedy and their children who died in infancy.

Lets start with the non-fiction. And I’m going to start by saying that whether some of these will work for you will depend on how much you already know about the Kennedy clan. There are loads of biographies of each of the various members of the family, many of them really quite long. If you want a straight up biography of the man himself, the one I have read is Robert Dalek’s An Unfinished Life: John F Kennedy, which is long, but it is only one volume and it does give you a sense of what drove him and what the family was like. His dad comes across as being a particular type of nightmare – with massive ambitions for his kids that they could never live up to and that coloured all their relationships with other people as well. Of the non-politics members of the family, Kathleen Kennedy is possibly the most interesting – she had the family charisma and charm which she used to great effect while living in London while her father was the Ambassador. She married the heir to the Duke of Devonshire – who was then killed in combat. And she herself was dead long before her older brother became President. Paula Byrne wrote a biography of her called Kick – I think Byrne perhaps liked her subject a bit too much to grapple with some of the later parts of her life in depth, but it’s really good on most of her life and for what it was like to be one of the “other” Kennedys. I enjoyed it enough that it’s still on my bookshelves five years after I read it. There’s also (obviously) details about Jack and Jackie in Kate Andersen Brower’s books about the White House and its residents – I mentioned First Women the other week, but The Residence has a lot of detail about Jackie’s alterations and redecoration of the White House if that sort of thing interests you. You probably only need to pick one of them though – at least if you’re only reading for the Kennedy bits or if you’re planning to read them back to back!

There are also plenty of group biographies of the family out there but they do tend a bit towards the superficial – because there are a lot of Kennedy kids and thus a lot of Kennedy spouses! I read The Kennedy Wives by Amber Hunt and David Batcher around eight years ago – and even at that point I felt like I knew quite a lot of the detail already. But it was good for what happened to them all in the aftermath of JFK’s death – which is often where a lot of books stop. You will likely come away with the idea that the Kennedy men were hell to live with but that it is possible that some of the wives at least knew a little bit about what they were letting themselves in for. J Randy Tamborelli has also written about Jackie, Ethel and Joan – the wives of the political Kennedys – but it’s much older and I’ve not managed to get hold of it (yet). I have however read his biography of Marilyn Monroe – The Secret Life of Marilyn Monroe – which had new (at the time in 2009) information about her relationship with not just JFK, but with Robert Kennedy and Pat Kennedy Lawford (and her husband Peter Lawford)

Dealey Plaza in Dallas, site of the assassination of JFK

On the fiction side of things, I’ve read several novels which feature Jackie Kennedy’s post JFK life, none of which I feel able to recommend – except if you want to be really annoyed! Most of them focus on the triangle between Jackie, Aristotle Onassis and Maria Callas. I can however recommend Steven Rowley’s The Editor, which as I mentioned at the top I finished last week. His latest book The Guncle was a BotW last summer and I went looking for what else he had written and of the two options this jumped out at me. Set in the early 1990s, it’s about an aspiring writer whose first novel is bought by an editor at a major publisher – an editor who turns out to be Jackie Kennedy Onassis. The book follows him as he tries to works on his book with her help but also as she encourages him to work on his relationship with his own mother. She’s not the main character – and she’s a very enigmatic figure – so it’s not trying to see inside her head if that idea is something that worries you about novels about real people.

And finally there’s my favourite of the novels I’ve read about the Kennedys – The Importance of being Kennedy by Laurie Graham. Those of you who’ve been around a while will know how much I like Graham’s writing style and her books featuring real people. This was her next book after my beloved Gone With the Windsors and is another fictional person inserted into a real situation, in this case Nora Brennan, a nursery maid who takes a job with a family in Brookline Massachusetts that turns out to give her a ringside seat for history. She arrives when Joe jnr is a toddler and the book follows her through until Kathleen’s funeral. It’s sad when it needs to be, but it’s also witty and fun to read. If you’re only going to read one book from this post, maybe make it this one.

Happy Humpday!

Authors I love, Book of the Week, fiction, new releases, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Anyone for Seconds

This week’s BotW is the new Laurie Graham, which managed to sneak into the world without me noticing.  At least I noticed it just after it was released, so I’m only posting this 12 days after release.  Anyway, regular readers of this blog will be aware of my long-standing love for Laurie Graham’s books. Gone with the Windsors is one of my all-time favourites – and I consider it (and her) an under-appreciated gem.  Her last book, The Early Birds was a Reccommendsday pick last year and The Grand Duchess of Nowhere was one of the first books that I reviewed for Novelicious back in the day. I have most of her books as actual books and they live on my downstairs bookshelf (for easy access) and I have all the ones I don’t have physical copies of on ebook.  And a couple of them as both.  I even have two paperback copies of Gone with the Windsors.  Ahem.

Cover of Anyone for Seconds

Anyway, at the start of Anyone for Seconds, former TV chef Lizzie Partridge runs away from home in a desperate bid for sympathy and attention.  She’s fed up of her life – she’s the wrong side of sixty and ever since she lost her TV gig, after throwing chocolate mousse at the presenter of Midlands This Morning, nothing seems to have gone her way.  Her partner has left her, her mother is driving her mad, she doesn’t seem to ahve anything in common with her high-power lawyer daughter – and now her last bit of work (a magazine cookery column) has been axed as well.  Over the course of her wet week in off-season  Aberystwyth, she has a bit of an epiphany and starts to think there might be a new future in the offing.  Then her nephew’s TV producer girlfriend comes up with the idea of reuniting her with her former nemesis for a new TV show.  Is Lizzie’s life looking up?

Lizzie’s earlier adventures, leading up to the infamous mousse incident, are the subject of one of Graham’s earlier books, Perfect Meringues, which came out 21 years ago.  Those days were the tail end of the era when local TV news could make you into a big star – my local bulletin used to have its own chef, who I think did a good line in cookery demonstrations to WIs across the East of England  At any rate I’m fairly sure one (maybe two) of the recipes I copied out of my mum’s cookbook when I was first getting into cooking came from one he did for the Northampton Federation.  And pretty much every year at panto season you’ll spot a semi-familiar face on a poster who’s still managing to live off their local TV fame of yesteryear.  And this makes Lizzie and her friend Louie’s adventures terribly believable and very, very funny.

I read this book as my treat for my weekend working train journeys and it was an absolute delight.  Graham has a brilliant eye for the ridiculous and manages to skewer this sort of fading fame very well.  And Lizzie’s inner voice is pure Graham – funny, dark, sarcastic and with an observant eye on others, but not as much self-awareness as she thinks.  I could have read pages more of the exploits of Lizzie and her friends – there are definitely a few things left not as resolved as I could have wanted.  There aren’t enough books with leading ladies who are over 60, and Lizzie is definitely not a fading old lady in a twinset and pearls. She’s spunky and fun and not done with life and love yet – and anyway she hasn’t got a bank balance to sit back and retire.  And even if she had, her mother wouldn’t let her and, after all what would she do – her daughter doesn’t want Lizzie’s help as she raises her gender-neutral, sugar-free future genius son.  This was perfect book to beat my end of summer blues.

My copy of Anyone for Seconds came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback, Kindle and Kobo.  I have no idea how easy it will be to find in bookshops – but you should be able to order it and I definitely encourage you to check out Graham’s books.  If you want to read Perfect Meringues first, it’s on Kindle and Kobo for £3.99 which seems to be about the standard price for all of Graham’s books at the moment – except for this new one.

Happy Reading!

Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Book bargains

A few bargain books for today’s Recommendsday post – some of which you’ll have heard me mention before.  With the May Bank Holiday nearly upon us, here’s a chance to pick up a few books to enjoy over the long weekend.

Firstly, Duncan MacMaster’s Hack is FREE on Kindle today.  You may remember that I loved it when I read it a month or so back now.  You can read my review here or my interview with Duncan. If you haven’t given any of Fahrenheit Press’s books a go yet (and goodness knows I’ve raved about enough of them that you must have heard me mention them before) now is your chance to give one a go for nothing!

Next,there’s a few of Laurie Graham’s books at the bargain price of 99p in book this week.  Grand Duchess of Nowhere (Kindle/Kobo) was the first book I ever reviewed for Novelicious and tells the story of Ducky, one of Queen Victoria’s granddaughters who fights back against the ageing monarch’s dynastic manoevreings.  At Sea (Kindle/Kobo)  and Life According to Lubka (Kindle/Kobo) are some of her modern-set novels, while Perfect Meringues (Kindle/Kobo) is one of her earlier ones.  Here’s my love letter to Graham’s Gone with the Windsors from the other week (now on Kindle too!) in case you missed it.  All of them, be they historical or contemporary are witty and fun and bittersweet.  Her next book, The Early Birds, (a sequel to Future Home Makers of America) is out three weeks today and I’m very excited. That’s available to pre-order – on Kindle, Kobo and in hardcover*)

Meanwhile, the first book in Sarah Morgan’s From Manhattan with Love series is 99p at te moment. Sleepless in Manhattan (Kindle/Kobo) is 99p at the moment as well.  If you’ve been about for a while you’ll be aware of how much I like Sarah Morgan.  I’ve reviewed a couple of the others in the series, but not this one.  This is a brother’s best friend story with a healthy dose of competency porn as heroine Paige puts her life back together after being made redundent with the help of her teen crush Jake.  Morgan’s next book Holiday in the Hamptons (the 5th in the series) is out in June and available for pre-order on Kindle, Kobo and in paperback.

And finally over on Audible, today’s Daily Deal is Alan Moore’s Jerusalem.  It’s £2.99 for over 60 hours of audio.  I’m a Northampton girl and I’ve been eyeing up this mammoth novel about my home town for a while – but couldn’t justify the hardback and thought the paperback would be too huge for me to carry around too.  So when I spotted this this morning it seemed perfect.  I’ve treated myself to it – and give it a go as I jog around the Racecourse.  I’ll let you know how I get on…

Happy Reading.

*My print book links this week are all to the Big Green Bookshop in Wood Green.  They’re lovely and need the sales more than the major retailers do.  I was in there after work on Monday and treated myself to another Angela Thirkell and Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One.  Postage is free and they can usually post books out to you the next day.

Gone with the Windsors by Laurie Graham
Authors I love, historical

Recommendsday: Gone with the Windsors

While reading Royal Flush last week, where one of Lady Georgie’s tasks is trying to keep the Prince of Wales away from Wallis Simpson, I couldn’t help but think of Gone with the Windsors – my favourite novel that features Wallis.  Then I realised that I’ve mentioned it in passing several times on here* but never actually reviewed.  So Recommendsday this week seemed the perfect time to remedy that.

A copy of Gone with the Windsors
“A wicked comedy about the Romance of the Century” is pretty spot on

Gone with the Windsors is the story of Wallis Simpson’s romance with Edward VIII as seen throught he eyes of her (fictional) best friend, Maybell Brumby.  Maybell is a recently widowed Southern Belle who comes to London to visit her sister (married to a Scottish Earl) to one up her social rivals back home just as one of their old school friends is making a stir by stepping out with the Prince of Wales.  Soon Maybell is hobnobbing with royalty as Wallis (with the help of Maybell’s money) sets London society ablaze.  Maybell and her family are carefully woven into the real story and as someone who’s read a fair bit about the Edward and Mrs Simpson and the 1930s in general, I didn’t spot any howlers.

A quote from Gone with the Windsors
How could you not love Maybell’s insider view of the Abdication Crisis?

The Wallis of Gone with the Windsors is a ruthless social climber, with an aim in mind, who doesn’t mind stepping on anybody to get there.  David is weak and easily led, thinking more of his own pleasure than of his responsibilities.  But Maybell is a total joy.  I mean you wouldn’t want to be friends with her, but she is a brilliant prism to watch the slow motion car crash that was the Abdication Crisis.  She is delightfully dim (witness her dealings with her sister Doopie) and part of the fun is watching her misunderstand what’s going on – or miss the undercurrents.  Her sister is firmly on the Royal Family’s side against Wallis, while Maybell is convinced she’s picked the winner, which makes for fraught times on the summer holiday in Scotland.

Maybell finds new ways to keep herself occupied during a summer at her sister’s Scottish estate.

GWTW was my first Laurie Graham book – I spotted it in the window of Waterstones and had to have it – and since reading it she’s been an autobuy for me and I’ve picked up a lot of her back catalogue.  I like her straight up novels too, but my favourite are the ones like this where she takes a historical event or person and puts her spin on it.  I mentioned the Importance of Being Kennedy in my Inauguration Reading post, and The Grand Duchess of Nowhere was my first review for Novelicious, but A Humble Companion (about a companion to one of George III’s daughters) and The Night in Question (about a music hall comedienne who gets caught up in the Jack the Ripper panic) are also excellent.

My copies of Gone with the Windsors
They’re both gorgeous, but I have a soft spot for the white one – as it was the first version I had.

As you can see, I have two copies of Gone with the Windsors.  The blue one is a signed copy sent to me by the author after I cried and wailed on Twitter about losing my original (white) copy** and it being out of stock everywhere, the other one is a secondhand copy I bought because the signed edition was too nice to read.  So now the pristine blue on is on the shelf with the other Laurie Graham books and the white one lives by my bed for when I need a dose of Maybell.

A quote from Gone with the Windsors
Maybell is just so much fun. Often unintentionally.

In a fabulous twist of fate, Gone with the Windsors is coming out on Kindle later this month – I’d actually already written a sentence saying that I was said it wasn’t available Kindle so now I’m very overexcited at the prospect of having Maybell to hand whenever I need a pick me up.  So, you too can preorder Gone with the Windsors on Kindle, or pick up a secondhand hardcover or a (new or secondhand) paperback copy from Amazon.  I’m hoping the preorder link for her next novel – a sequel to Future Homemakers of America out in June – appears soon as it’s been more than a year since her last new novel came out and I’ve got withdrawal symptoms.

Gosh this has turned into a long post.  But I feel very good for having told the world about my love of Maybell Brumby and her crazy view of the world.  I hope you’ve enjoyed reading it – and I hope you get0 the book.

Happy reading!

*Usually when talking about another Laurie Graham book to say that GWTW is my favourite.

** I lent it out without writing my name in the front of it and never got it back. It was a salutary lesson.

Authors I love, Book News, books, reviews

The Grand Duchess of Nowhere

This is where my review of Laurie Graham’s latest book The Grand Duchess of Nowhere would usually be – but in exciting news, I’ve actually reviewed it over on the wonderful Novelicious.  You can read my thoughts Ducky’s Adventures by clicking here.

And in case you’ve found your way over here after reading Novelicious and come to see what I write about – Hello!  It’s lovely to see you.  This blog started as a means of forcing me to take action against my burgeoning to-read pile and to try and control my book buying.  It hasn’t entirely worked.  You’ll find I post a weekly list of everything that I’ve read, a monthly update on the state of the pile and what I’ve bought and then other posts reviewing books that I’ve read, authors that I like and just general recommendations.

Please do go and read my review of The Grand Duchess – and then go and buy a copy.  And if you’ve already read (and I hope loved) Ducky’s story, then go and fill in a gap in your Laurie Graham back catalogue.  If you’re new to Ms Graham’s work, may I recommend Gone With the Windsors (my favourite) or At Sea or Mr Starlight.  But really they’re all good.

Book News, books

Upcoming Excitement

Now seemed like a really good chance to mention a few books that I’m really excited to read over the next few months.  And also if I tell you that I’m going to read them over the next few months, then I might actually manage to do it!

Firstly, out this week just finishing, Laurie Graham’s The Grand Duchess of Nowhere.  I love Laurie Graham’s books – as I may have mentioned before, Gone with The Windsors is one of my all time favourites, so I’m always excited to read something new from her.  Grand Duchess has just come out in hardback, so it may well go on my Christmas book list if I don’t manage to resist snapping it up before then!

Coming out in November is the latest book from Marian Keyes.   I’m expecting The Woman Who Stole My Life to be one of the big books this Christmas and I’m excited to see what Marian has come up with this time.  She’s one of my favourite authors on Twitter (so funny) and her books are always the right balance of funny, sad and thought provoking.

Also on my watchlist is Mhairi McFarlane’s It’s Not Me, It’s You – which is out the same day as the Marian Keyes.  The blurb for this is totally up my street – a quest for the heroine’s real self with dodgy jobs, weird bosses and handsome journalists. Sounds perfect and I’m really looking forward to it.

Now there are a whole bunch of other books that are coming out soon that I’m hoping to read too – but they’re all themed around a major festival that happens in December and I refuse to start talking about that this early.  Having worked in a shop through sixth form and university I have developed an aversion to the countdown to that particular event starting too early.  But rest assured, I will be posting about books suitable for reading at that time of year in enough time for you to get them on your gift lists or to stock up for reading in front of roaring fires whilst you eat seasonally appropriate food stuffs.  Just not in early October. I can’t do it.