Blog tours, new releases

Blog Tour: Conjure Women

A bonus post this Wednesday for you as I’m the latest stop on the blog tour for Conjure Women by Afia Atakora. This is a debut novel that’s got a fair bit of of hype – just yesterday morning it made it into an email from Barnes and Noble, who have picked it for their book club this month. Anyway, after a string of romance and crime reviews, it’s been really nice to get my teeth into some thing a bit different – and this is a world away from most of my recent reading that I’ve been telling you about.

Cover of Conjure Women

So what’s it about: Set in the American South and moving around in time before, during and after the Civil War, it is the story of May Belle a wise woman and healer for a plantation; her daughter Rue, who she passes her skills as a midwife on to and Varina, the daughter of the plantation owner, who is a similar age to Rue. Told principally through the eyes of Rue, over the course of the novel a web of secrets, passions and friendships unfolds, starting with the birth of the child Rue accidentally christens Black-Eyed Bean and who the village people think is cursed. Bean is pale-skinned and has black-eyed and people are sure he’s a bad omen. When a sickness starts sweeping through the community, they’re sure of it. Rue finds herself at the centre of their suspicions – not only did she deliver Bean, but she’s been spotted in the woods late at night, she (or her mother) has conjured spells to help many of them before – so is she conjuring to help Bean now? And why is she so wary of the preacher who comes to visit them?

So firstly – the writing in this is beautiful. The characters feel incredibly real and you can really see the plantation in your mind’s eye as you read. Rue is a seductive protagonist – she’s observant and smart, but she doesn’t always see the reality of the world – even though she thinks that she does. It means that you think that you know better than her about what is going on – and then every time, it turns out that you don’t. You know that Rue’s friendship with Varina is going to be a problem, but the narrative moves around in time so cleverly that you pick up scraps of the bigger story but the full picture never really becomes clear to you (even if you think it has) until Atakora wants you to be able to see it. Life on the plantation before the war is filled with violence and arbitary punishment, life after the war is filled with a new peril.

Goodreads has this tagged with fantasy as well as historical fiction, and among the comparison novels is Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, but part of the skill of this is that it keeps you wondering if May Belle and her mother really can do magic. This was definitely a change from what I’ve been reading for the past few weeks, and it gave me a lot to think about. I’m still thinking about it now, still wondering, imagining. If you’re feeling particularly anxious at the moment, maybe wait until you’re feeling more resilient because this is very tense, with unexpected violence at various points that will horrify you. But if you want something to lift you away from the reality of a lockdown and to remind you that life could be – has been – so much worse, then this could be the book for you.

I said at the top that this is a very different pick from most of my recent reviews, but over the history of this blog I’ve written about a fair few literary fiction books, and have had a particular interest in books about the black experience in the American South since I studied The Color Purple at A Level. I’ve already mentioned The Underground Railroad, but as well as Colson Whitehead, if you’ve read Ta-Nehisi Coates (and I have the Water Dancer on my tbr pile), or Toni Morrison or of Yaa Gyasi (also on my tbr) this should be on your reading list. And if you read The Confessions of Frannie Langton after I recommended that last year, then maybe give this a try too.

Conjure Women came out yesterday in ebook on Kindle and Kobo. The hardback is out next week and I don’t know how easy it will be to get from your local independent bookseller straight away, but if you’re going to read this, i’d encourage you to order it from your local bookshop if you can, even if you have to wait a bit for it to turn up because booksellers need all the help they can get at the moment.

Happy Reading!

Blog tour poster for Conjure Women

new releases, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: American Sweethearts

March Stats coming tomorrow, delayed by a day because I wanted to do a quick #Recommendsday post today.  American Sweethearts came out on Monday and I really enjoyed it when I read it a few weeks ago and I didn’t want to be a big old tease and tell you about a book that you couldn’t buy!

Juan Pablo Campos and Priscilla Gutierrez have been on and off (mostly off) since he decided that he didn’t want to be a police officer after all – right after Priscilla had signed up. These days, he’s a physical therapist for the New York Yankees, and she’s a detective – working a tough beat looking after kids in trouble. But she’s not sure it’s her dream job any more. So the last thing she needs is a private jet ride with to a wedding in the Dominican Republic with the one person who knows her better than anyone else. By the end of the wedding trip, they’ve come to the conclusion that it might be worth trying again – but can they work through the issues that have kept them apart for so long to find their happily ever after?

This is the fourth book in Adriana Herrara’s Dreamers series, but is the first of hers I’ve read.  I suspect if you’ve read the other three you’ve seen these two bickering in the background – because this also has plenty of sightings of the previous couples. This is also steeeeeaaaaamy. Like if you were allowed out – and don’t go out, stay home and save lives – but if this were normal times I’d be warning you not to read it on public transport because it might make you blush. And it’s really very good. It’s not so much a second chance romance as an umpteenth chance romance as these two try and figure out if they can put their fractious history behind them and finally make it work. It’s incredibly sex positive, and really natural about that. It also deals with what to do when it turns out that your dream career maybe isn’t the right thing for you any more (or maybe at all) and what you do next when it’s all tied up in your self  identity and your family’s dreams for you. And that’s something that’s more unusual in a romance – we have lots of people finding their dream jobs, or achieving their dreams (and finding romance at the same time) but not so many re-evaluations and people finding new dreams.

So American Sweethearts is out now – my copy came from NetGalley but you can get it on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, LGTBQIA+, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Legendary Children

So, anyone else watching the latest series of Drag Race? I could bore you for hours about my latest obsession. And in fact some of my work colleagues have had to put up with me going on at them as I binge my way through the entire back catalogue (sorry guys). So now I’m going to tell you all about Legendary Children – don’t worry, it’s not boring!

So Fabulous Children: The First Decade of RuPaul’s Drag Race and the Last Century of Queer Life does exactly what it says on the tin – it uses Drag Race – and RuPaul as a framing device to examine queer culture over the last one hundred years. Tom Fitzgerald and Lorenzo Marquez are a married couple who run Tom + Lorenzo – which looks at celebrities, fashion and pop culture and they bring their breadth of knowledge to walk you through the lives and struggles of LGBTQI+ people that have got us to a point where a show about Drag Queens competing for a crown has won a bunch of Emmys. It doesn’t shy away from some of the controversies the show (or Ru) has seen, but to be honest, the show is the way in to the wider issues. This is not a history of what happened on Drag Race and if you come to it expecting that, well you should have read the subtitle better. Insert your own Reading is Fundamental joke here, it’ll be better than anything I come up with.

I learnt so much from this book. The authors say they want you to be googling as you go along while you’re reading this – and boy was I. I look forward to seeing what Google ads serves up to me after this – because my search history is a riot. And I had to go googling some stuff beyond the people, because this is a book written for a queer audience, not the those of us who need explanatory commas (which by the way, is exactly as is should be). Fascinating, clever and touching – and you’ll watch Drag Race with new eyes afterwards. And the first episode I watched afterwards had a actual Tom of Finland mention and I felt so in the know you wouldn’t believe it.

I’m off to worry about whether the ‘Rona will be over in time for me to still get to see BenDeLaCreme in London this summer. You got Dela megamix video because it’s (mostly) safe for work. Tom of Finland is… not. Legendary Children is out now in paperback, Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook  (read by Tom and Lorenzo!).

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: Miss Austen

So a bit of a strange week in reading.  I really enjoyed Alexa Martin’s Blitzed – but I gave a rave to Intercepted in May last year, so it’s inside my statute of limitations for repeats really.  There were a few things that I really didn’t like and a few more that I was a bit ho-hum about. But I also finished Miss Austen – which I wrote about in my 2020 preview post, so I thought I ought to revisit it now I have some thoughts.

Miss Austen: Spotted in the wild in Heffers at the end of January

So, the plot: in 1840 Jane Austen’s sister Cassandra goes to stay with the family of her long dead fiancé, in a quest to find a cache of letters sent by her sister.  It’s 20 years since Jane died, and Cassandra sees herself as the guardian of her sister’s legacy and image.  What is in those letters – and what damage could they do to the picture that Cassandra has carefully nurtured of her sister?  The story jumps backwards and forwards between the present day – where Cassandra is an unexpected (and not altogether welcome) visitor in a household in turmoil and Cassandra’s past with Jane, where her future looked to be going down a different path.

As I said in my 2020 preview, I will always take a second look at an Austen-related book.  Some of them work better for me than others – I loved Death Comes to Pemberley and still regularly recommend Eligible, but couldn’t stand Pemberley and didn’t even finish Longbourne. This is billed as the untold story of the most important person in Jane’s life and that was the hook that drew me in.  I finished it nearly a week ago and I’m still trying to decide what I thought of it. I liked the writing style and it has some really witty moments – both in the Jane and Cassandra timeline and in the Cassandra and the Fowle’s timeline. I’m not enough of an Austen scholar to be able to pick holes in the accuracy – which is probably a good thing for my enjoyment. But I’m still not sure what it was trying to do – things happened, but I think it petered out a bit at the end.  Several people have asked me about it and I’ve struggled to articulate what exactly the problem was. Thinking about it now, I think that it maybe that the plot is sold as being about the hunt for the letters, but actually when you’re reading it that isn’t as central to the action as you expect. But I did enjoy it – Cassandra’s time as an old, meddling house guest is fun – as is her sparring with the maid. Cassandra and Jane’s relationship with their sister-in-law Mary is fun – as Mary insists that her husband was the better writer, and the sisters wonder if she will spot herself in Jane’s work.  There are some other interesting characters though and Jane and Cassandra feel very real and true.

It feels strange to pick it as a BotW in a way, because this isn’t a whole-hearted thumbs up – and I can’t even explain some of my thoughts about the book very well.  But I have kept thinking about it since I finished it last week and so that makes it worthy of a bit more attention than just a shrug and move on.  It’s also had a lot of buzz – and it’s not often that I’ve read a literary fiction book like this early doors! I see a TV adaptation is in the works, and I will definitely watch that to see how it all translates.

My copy of Miss Austen came from NetGalley, but it is out now in hardback – and should be available in any decently stocked bookshop – as my photo from Heffers proves. It’s also available on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

romance, week in books

Book of the Week: Love Lettering

After a classic crime pick last week, this week it’s a romance – and one that’s had a lot of buzz. The buzz is good, because Kate Claybourn’s latest novel came out on December 31st – and so was too late for anyone’s 2019 roundups, but sort of doesn’t count as 2020 either. Anyway – to the plot.

Cover of Love Lettering

Meg Mackworth is know as “The Planner of Park Slope” because of her hand-lettering skills, which she puts to use designing custom journals for those in the know in New York City. But she has a secret – sometimes she weaves secret patterns into her work, like the one she left in a wedding program for a couple she was sure wasn’t going to last. When Reid, the handsome and mathematically-minded groom, appears in her shop a year later to demand how she knew his future wasn’t going to last, it looks like it’s coming back to haunt her. Grappling with a case of creative block, Meg comes up with a plan to try and fix the situation. As the two wander the city getting to know each other and opening up, a connection develops. But Meg can see signs everywhere of problems ahead – how can this lead to a happy ending?

From the description above, Meg sounds a bit like a Manic Pixie Dream girl – one of those characters from quirky movies with improbable jobs and glamourous lives. She’s not. She’s guarded, anxious, likes routine, hates confrontation and sees letters in everything that she does. Her relationship with Reid is such a slow burn – just to friendship, let alone to more. But it’s such a joy to watch develop. The games they invent as they’re walking around the city, the way it makes Meg develop confidence and her ideas as well as the romance. And on top of that, the book itselfs really well designed – it’s got different fonts and lettering dropped in so that you can see what Meg is seeing in her head. It’s just lovely.

Also I think we can conclude that the tense a book is written in doesn’t bother me – because I’ve seen several reviews mentioning that it’s written in first person present and they still liked it, but I didn’t even notice really. I was so swept away by the book that I was just thinking about what happened next. Thinking back now it does feel like it had a sense of movement and uncertainty that was generated by the present tense – but at the time I wasn’t even thinking about tenses – just about Meg and Reid.

I absolutely ate this up with a spoon. I mean – I borrowed this from the library, but it’s on offer for 99p on Kindle (and Kobo) at the moment, so I’ve bought it so I can go back to it now my loan is up, and I may also have pre-ordered the paperback (out in March) so I can see what the all the different letters look like in the print version. It is so much fun.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, new releases, romance

Book of the Week: Sweet Talkin’ Lover

Another Tuesday, another book of the week post.  I read a few books I really liked last week, and it was a close decision on what to pick, but I think Tracey Livesay’s new book was my favourite last week.

Cover of Sweet Talkin' Lover

Caila Harris is ambitious and driven. She’s given up her social life and is working all the hours she can to get her next promotion as she climbs the ladder in the beauty industry.  But when her beloved grandfather dies, she makes some bad decisions – and suddenly her chances of promotion are on the line.  The assignment she’s given to turn it around: go to a small southern town, and write the report that justifies shutting a factory down.  But when she gets to Bradleton, she runs into more trouble than she expected in the form of the town’s mayor, Wyatt Bradley. He’s determined to do whatever it takes to keep the plant open.  Soon sparks are flying between Caila and Mayor McHottie as the town calls him – but will their relationship survive if she finds out the sneaky tactics he’s using to try and keep her in town and when he finds out that the closure decision has already been made.

This is smart, fun and has a hero and heroine with great chemistry.  I like enemies/rivals to lovers as a trope and Sweet Talkin’ Lover does that really well. I also loved Caila’s relationship with her group of friends.  Livesay has said that the group is based on her own friendship group – and the holiday they’re on at the start is what they do every year. I love a ride-or-die friendship group in a story and these ladies really are that – and I’m looking forward to reading the books about the others, because this is the first in a series.

My only quibble with the book was from right at the end.  I didn’t quite believe that Wyatt’s family issues – either with his career or the way they treated Caila – were really all sorted out.  I believed that Wyatt and Caila wanted to make it work between them and that some of the roadblocks were removed, but I wasn’t quite confident that it was really all resolved enough to be confident that the happy ending was really going to be all ok if that makes sense. But that’s quite a minor quibble in the grand scheme of things.

Sweet Talkin’ Lover is Livesay’s print debut and came out in the middle of all the RWA problems.  She was also one of the resignations from the RWA board on Boxing Day (because of the way the Ethics Committee handled the complaint against Courtney Milan), so I think it’s fair to say that RWA messed up her Christmas and a big moment in her writing career.  And this book did not deserve to get swamped by RWA being a trashfire.

My copy of Sweet Talkin’ Lover came from the library, but its availalble now in Kindle, Kobo and as an audibook, but the paperback isn’t out in the UK until February 20.  I’ll try and remember to remind you.

Happy reading!

Book of the Week, new releases

Book of the Week: The Starless Sea

I read some really good stuff last week and I actually started writing this week’s BotW about a different book – because the Starless Sea has already had a lot of hype about it and I had a couple of reservations. And then I went out and bought myself a copy because I just kept thinking about it – and I realised that probably meant I should be writing about it instead. So the good news is you get another post from me tomorrow, but I figure spending full price on a hardback that I’ve already read means that this should be my Book of the Week.

Cover of the Starless Sea

The Starless Sea is the much anticipated second novel from Erin Morganstern.  At first when Zachary Rawlings finds a mysterious book in the university, he’s just a mildly intrigued. But then he reads it and finds part of his own childhood among the stories and he needs to know where it came from. The trail leads him to a masquerade ball in New York and then through a doorway to a mysterious ancient library, way underground that is the gateway to a hidden world. Time moves differently there and there are some who have sacrificed a lot to protect it – but there are also forces trying to destroy it. Along with one of the people who seems belong there – Mirabel – and Dorian, the man who brought him there, Zachary soon finds himself in the middle of a battle for the future of the Starless Sea.

Zachary’s story is interspersed with stories from the people who have lived in the Starless Sea. I actually found this a little discombobulating at first because it was hard to work out what was real and how it fitted in with Zachary’s story. But I think that that’s the point.  It did mean that it took me a little while to get into the book – because it was really easy to read a little bit and then stop. But once I did get into it, I ended up reading the last 300 pages (if you can have a final 300 pages of a nearly 500 page novel, but you know what I mean) in less that 24 hours because I was so totally caught up in Zachary’s adventure.  But then when I finished it, I wasn’t sure about the ending because I wanted it to be more definitive.  So off I went for the rest of the week’s reading and read something else that I really liked and was going to pick instead because of that slow start and my feelings about the ending. But then I found myself thinking about the book – the world, the adventure and what might have happened next. And I realised that I wanted to read it again. Now when I read it, I had borrowed it from the library – and as it was a skip the line loan it was a short borrowing period that had already run out. So really I had no choice other than to buy myself a copy. And what a lovely copy it is – it’s even signed.  And the endpapers are really pretty too. So now I get to read it again. And I suspect if/when my mum reads this post (*waves* hi mum) she’s going to want to borrow it too. And it’ll look lovely on my bookshelf.

Hardback edition of the Starless Sea

It’s eight years since Morganstern’s first book The Night Circus came out, and it was a mega hit.  I didn’t read it until 2016, but when I did it was a BotW. And it is one of those books that people love but is nearly impossible to find anything like.  It’s magical realism but there’s nothing really quite like it, which is why people have been so desperate to read another book from Morganstern. I honestly thought it would be hard for this to live up to the expectation, but it actually pretty much did.  It’s a completely different world, but it’s as beguiling and unique as the circus was. I think this is going to be *the* book club pick of 2020 – but there’s so much to talk about and to explore.  I hope it doesn’t take another eight years for Morganstern’s next book (even if I only had to wait three this time) because it really is in a little corner of the bookish world by itself.

Endpapers showing a library

As previously mentioned, I read this as an ebook from the Library, but have now bought my own. My copy came from Foyles yesterday (Monday), it’s signed and I got a nice bee pin page with it, but I can’t find the link that I did the click and collect from  – just the normal one, which is a couple of quid cheaper, but doesn’t have the badge or the signature so they may have sold out. Waterstones also have a special edition (they seem to be out of their signed ones though). And of course it’s also available on Kindle and Kobo and as an audiobook from Audible and Kobo.

Happy Reading!