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!

Blog tours

Blog Tour: The Five-Year Plan

A bonus post today, as I’m on the blog tour for The Five-Year Plan by Carla Burgess, which is out later this week.

Our heroine is Orla, a trainee reporter on a local paper and she has a plan. A five-year plan in fact, to get to a job on a national newspaper. She definitely doesn’t want a boyfriend – he’d only get in the way. But then she’s sent out on assignment to interview wildlife photographer Aiden. He’s dedicated to his career too and spends his life travelling the world and sleeping in a tent. He only has casual relationships, because he doesn’t want to be tied down. As they get to know each other, they do everything they can to make sure they don’t fall for each other – but it doesn’t seem to be working. But they follow the plan and go their separate ways. Then five years later they meet again…

I really, really wanted to like this more than I did – partly because it has such a promising start. The opening when Orla and Aiden meet again at his exhibition really grabbed me and hooked me in. But then it jumped back five years to their first meeting and stayed there for an awful lot longer than I was expecting. I wasn’t so interested in what happened back then, I wanted to know what happened next and it took a long time to get back to that. And while we were in the past section, I found that I didn’t like either of the characters as much as I had at the start.

When we finally got back to the present, Orla was a bit more passive than I was hoping that she would be and I felt like I never really got a sense of who she is – even though the story is told from her point of view. Thinking back at the end, I couldn’t name a hobby, or an interest or a band she liked. I’m not even sure what it is about journalism that she liked – her plan is just explained as being to get a job at a national paper. And because you’re in Orla’s head, you never really get to know Aiden except through her eyes – and even through her eyes he has a tendency to seem self-centred and manipulative. I never really understood why they got on together so well or why she’d been so hung up on him for so long or what it was about her that Aiden liked so much, other than her ability to sit in a tent with him and watch otters.

I love a second chance romance, and I thought this had a lot of potential to recapture some of the things I loved about late 90s-early 00s “chick lit” – and which are seem to be so hard to find at the moment. But in the end it didn’t quite do what I wanted it to do – and I’m not sure it’s entirely because I was hoping for it to be something it wasn’t.

The Five-Year Plan may not have been entirely for me, but it may well scratch an itch for some of you out there. And in these difficult times (you know what I’m talking about), it has the advantage of not having any peril, or illness in it (beyond a sprained ankle) and that’s definitely a plus. My copy of The Five-Year Plan came from the publisher, but it is out on Friday on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

*but in fairness, it’s not in the running other women down way.

Five Year Plan blog tour banner

Book of the Week, detective

Book of the Week: Answer in the Negative

Another week, another crime pick. I know. Sue me. At least I read this in March so that makes it one crime recommendation a month which is not quite so bad. Or am I grasping at straws? It wasn’t even the only classic crime book I read last week – I also read Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon, which is another in the British Library Crime Classics series, which I have recommended a lot. This one however is from Agora books, who are also have a lot of more forgotten mid-century crime on their lists, including the Inspector Appleby series, which I have read a couple of, and some of the lesser known Margery Allinghams. Anyway, I stumbled across  this little gem last week and I’m unreasonably annoyed that none of the author’s other books seem to be available anywhere.

Answer in the Negative is a 1950s-set murder mystery, featuring a crime solving couple. It’s not the first in the series as it turns out, so I’m not quite sure how they came to be a thing, but Johnny is an ex-Commando and Sally is his wife. His family have a shop that sells books and he works there when he’s not solving mysteries. This particular mystery is a poison pen set in the National Press Archives on Fleet Street. Toby Lorn, a friend of the couple, asks them to investigate letters that are being sent to one of the archive assistants. Frank Morningside is not popular in the office, so the pool of suspects is fairly large. As well as increasingly nasty letters, there have been schoolboy-style pranks.  Johnny and Sally start investigating at the archives, posing as researchers, but just days into the investigation, things take a sinister turn.

This is a well put together mystery, which a good and varied cast of characters. I really like office-set mysteries – Murder Must Advertise is one of my favourite of the Peter Wimsey series. You get to find out what working life was like in the period and I like that there’s a cast of characters to draw from a bit like a country house mystery. But unlike country house mysteries the cast tends to be a bit more varied – less toffs with a grudge, more people from across the social spectrum. This is no exception – you’ve got office boys, young women on the lookout for a husband, stuffy spinsters, ex-soldiers and more. It makes for an intriguing mystery and although I developed suspicions about the culprit it has plenty of twists to keep you guessing. My only real problem with it was that it felt like it was set in the interwar period – whereas actually it was set in the 1950s. If it wasn’t for mentions of bombsites and the fact that Johnny was a Commando (who were only created in World War II) it could have been in an office two doors down from Pym’s Publicity.

This edition Answer is in the Negative came out towards the end of February, and I read it via Kindle Unlimited, but it’s also available to buy on Kindle. I can’t seen any other editions (except for super-pricey secondhand/collectible ones) and I can’t find it on Kobo either sadly. But if you’re a Kindle reader – especially one with unlimited – it’s worth it. I’m hoping that the recent release date means that more of the series will appear at some point too.

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

Book of the Week: The Bromance Book Club

Well where to start.  You saw the list yesterday. it was long. There was good stuff. You might have expected the pick today to be the Gail Carriger – and I do love her, but I’ve written a lot about her already and you really need to be reading those in order, so go back at least as far as Prudence first, maybe even Soulless. But this book, the very last one I read last week was my favourite. I had trouble stopping myself reading it when I had to go and do other things. Like eat. Or get off the train.

Cover of The Bromance Book Club

Gavin Scott has messed up. His baseball career is on a high, but his marriage has fallen apart. The night of his biggest career triumph was also the night his relationship came crashing down when he discovered his wife Thea had been faking it in bed. He reacted badly and now she wants a divorce. Gavin doesn’t though – he wants his wife back. Enter the Bromance Book Club – a group of really quite alpha guys who have fixed their own relationships with the help of a seemingly unlikely source: romance novels. With the help of the book that they’ve picked for him Gavin starts to try and rebuild his marriage. But will he manage to follow its instructions – and does Thea even want to try again?

“The point is to fit the lessons of it into your own marriage. Plus, that’s a Regency, so—” “What the hell is a Regency?” “That means it’s set in eighteenth-or early nineteenth-century England.” “Oh, great. That sounds relevant.” “It is, actually,” Malcolm said. “Modern romance novelists use the patriarchal society of old British aristocracy to explore the gender-based limitations placed on women today in both the professional and personal spheres. That shit is feminist as fuck.”

This was so much my jam. I mean really, really good. I mean if that quote doesn’t sell it to you, then I don’t know what will. Gavin is a great hero – he knows he’s messed up, he doesn’t know how to fix it and he hasn’t realised that more is wrong than just the bedroom issue.  His pro-sports career gives him a legitimate reason to have not noticed some of the stuff that’s been bothering Thea – and once he realises what’s happened, he pulls himself together and makes changes to do better and be better.  Thea is an attractive heroine – she’s a young mum who’s given up a lot because of her husband’s career but who still has goals and ambitions.  You understand why she reacts the way that she does and why she feels so strongly. She’s changed herself so much to fit in with Gavin’s life and the players’ wives and she wants to find her own identity again.  It’s wonderful to watch it all unfold.

The only thing that I didn’t like was the resolution to the bedroom side of the story.  Nothing really changes really in *what* they’re doing in the bedroom – so you don’t really understand orgasms weren’t happening during sex for Thea in the first place – or why she started being able to come again. Other reviewers have also spotted this – and I think it has bothered them more than it bothered me – but it is annoying and also troublesome. In a book which is mostly about Gavin learning to listen to his wife and to be a better partner, there’s no conversation about how to fix this at all – but hey presto, it’s fixed because the rest of their relationship is fixed.  That’s not how it works. It didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the book, but it is a shame and an opportunity missed.

I’m having a real moment with contemporary romance right now and struggling a bit with the historical stuff (apart from a few reliable authors) but this was such a great combination of the two.  It’s also got a great cast of supporting characters with the other guys from the book club – the Russian with the digestive problems, the playboy who flirts with every woman he sees.  Thea’s sister Liv was a bit of a tough sell for me at times, but as you lean more about the sisters’ childhood you understand why she is like she is.  I’m looking forward to her getting a book of her own – because this – praise be – is the start of a series.

My copy of the Bromance Book Club  by Lyssa Kay Adams came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in ebook – it’s a bargainous £1.99 on Kindle and Kobo at the moment.  The paperback comes out in the UK at the end of January.

Happy Reading!

 

Book of the Week, graphic novels, Young Adult

Book of the Week: Pumpkinheads

A busy week in reading last week with lots on the list. You’ll be hearing more about some of them (yes I know, I keep saying that but look – you had a Recommendsday post last week and that was worth it right?) but as it’s Halloween this week this seemed like the obvious choice.

UK Edition of Pumpkinheads

Written by Rainbow Rowell and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks, Pumpkinheads tells the story of one night in the life of Deja and Josiah.  They are seasonal friends.- they’ve worked at the same stall at the same pumpkin patch together, every autumn, all through high school – but never see each other between Halloween and next September 1. But their last year. And more specifically their last night. Josiah wants to be melancholy, but Deja wants him to seize the moment and let go of his quest to be the employee of the month and enjoy their final shift together. To that end she’s traded their shifts at the succotash stall for something closer to where Josiah’s long-term crush works, in the hope that she can persuade him to finally ask her out. But what actually happens ends up being a mad chase around the patch to finally see all the sights and taste all the snacks.

I’m not a horror reader, so Halloween themed reading is always a challenge for me.  But if you’re like me and need some low stakes, low peril Halloween reading, this may be exactly what is required. This is funny and sweet and not at all scary, but it is very, very Halloween-y. We don’t really have pumpkin patches over here – or if we do it’s a very recent arrival – so it’s not something that I’m familiar with, but that didn’t matter because the art did all the work for you.  I loved the visual style of this – the colour palette is gorgeously autumnal and the characters are all really expressive.  There’s so much detail here too – I loved the runaway goat and the troublesome teens.  Read this curled up on your sofa with a seasonal beverage whilst hiding from trick or treaters.

My copy of Pumpkinheads came from my local comic store – your local should be able to get hold of it too. Otherwise it’s available from all the usual sources.  I’ve also written about some of Rainbow Rowell’s books before – here are my reviews of Carry On and Fangirl. I also finished Wayward Son – which is the sequel to Carry On – last week.  It’s really good, but you need to have read Carry On to get the most out of it.  And there’s a third book coming too.  Exciting times.

Happy Reading!