book round-ups, books

Surviving Coronavirus: Escapist Fiction for Difficult Times

It may not have escaped your notice that times are somewhat stressful at the moment. A lot stressful. And life in the newsroom means that I can’t exactly ignore what’s happening in the world at any given time. Never have I been more glad that I stopped reading dystopian future novels a few years back. I’ve explained before that newsroom life is why I read a lot of romances and mysteries even in normal times – but that is even more true now – as recent Week in Books posts atest. Romance novels and mysteries both have a pact with the reader going in –  in a romance you’ll get a Happily Ever After (or a bare mininum Happy for Now if you’re reading New Adult or something with teen protagonists) and in mysteries the bad guys will get caught. But in uncertain times, rereading old favourites can also  help. So here are a few recommendations from me for fiction to help you out if you’re feeling a bit anxious.

Heartburn by Nora Ephron

paperback copy of Heartburn by Nora Ephron

If you like Ephron’s films like When Harry Met Sally (and to be fair any other rom coms of that type) and you haven’t read Heartburn – then what are you doing? Heartburn is a fictionalised version of the break-up of Ephron’s second marriage – Rachel is seven-months pregnant when she finds out her husband is in love with another woman. Now if that sounds like an unpromising start to a novel to cheer you up, bear with me. This is so, so funny. Rachel can’t decide if she wants her ex back or wants him dead, and in between there is some great cooking. When I was asking Twitter last week for recommendations to cheer me up, this one was suggested and it reminded me how much fun it is – I read it in paperback seven years ago and still have my copy – and regular readers will know that not all books last that long on my shelves…

Venetia by Georgette Heyer

Well-loved copy of Venetia with other Heyer books behind it

I have written an authors I love post about Heyer before – but it’s over my statute of limitations, so I feel justified in recommending Venetia again and more fully here. One of my favourite tropes in historical romance is the reformed rake and this is the uber example of the genre. Damerel has been breaking rules and shocking society ever since he ran off with someone else’s wife when he was just out of university. Venetia lives on the neighbouring estate to the ancestral home that he’s been avoiding since time immemorial. She’s feisty and independent and has been running the household for her older brother who is away in the Napoleonic Wars. When he does return home and runs into her, he’s fascinated – against his will – but it turns out she’s more than a match for him.  It’s romantic but it’s also funny – Damerel and Venetia spar with each other delightfully but there’s also a cast of secondary characters that are made for comic moments. I love this so much I have it as an audiobook as well. Just joyous.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Cover of Eligivle by Curtis Sittenfeld

I love Pride and Prejudice, but if you’ve already reread that and watched your favourite of the adaptations, this might be the book for you. Sittenfeld moves the story to contemporary Cincinnati and updates the story accordingly. Bingley is a doctor from a wealthy family who became famous on a TV show similar to The Bachelor, Darcy is a neurosurgeon (and anyone who’s watched Greys Anatomy knows about the egos there) the Bennets are a trustfund family running out of cash: Jane is a yoga instructor, Lizzy a journalist for a women’s magazine, Kitty and Lydia are heavily into Crossfit. The update works, the dialogue is witty, there’s hate sex and reality TV and it’s really funny. I’ve read a lot of P&P retellings and continuations and I think this is still my favourite. It was one of my favourite books of the year back in 2016, but I’m counting it as over the statute of limitations because I think it might be what you need at the moment. In picking it up off the shelf (one of the downstairs ones because I like it handy) it’s made me want to read it all over again – although my copy is a big format paperback advance copy, so it’s also made me wonder about buying its on kindle too, because that’s where my head is at at the moment.

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield

Copy of Diary of a Provincial Lady - also in front of the Heyers, including Venetia

The Provincial Lady lives in Devon, in a nice house, with a nice husband and (mostly) nice children. Her husband is not a vicar, but if you’ve ever watched the Joan Hickson Miss Marples, she’s a bit like Griselda in Murder at the Vicarage – there’s an image that she needs to live up to, but how does everyone else make it look so easy? Written in the 1930s, it’s wickedly funny and very low stakes and sufficiently different from the reality of day to day life at the moment that I think it makes a lovely escape that doesn’t make you wish about what could have been.  And if you read this and like it, there are sequels – my paperback is an omnibus, which is great, but did mean that I couldn’t justify buying the pretty Virago designer hardback with the Cath Kidston print cover.  Angela Thirkell does a similar thing in her Barsetshire series – the trials and tribulations of various bits of the not quite gentry in the interwar period. And if you want less housekeeping and more village scandal, then try Miss Buncle’s Book by D E Stevenson – in which an unmarried lady discovers that her income is drying up and turns to writing fiction to make some money. Trouble is, that the book she writes is based on her village…

And as well as all of these, there are a few others that I’ve written about within the statute of limitations for a repost that you might really quite like, for example:

To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski – need an antiheroine in your life? Meet Dreadful Deborah who can rationalise whatever awful thing she wants to do in her quest for a glamourous bohemian life in wartime Britain while her husband is on a posting to Cairo.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – need some Old Hollywood glamour and scandal? I’ve talked a lot about Daisy Jones and the Six, but this should also not be ignored. Evelyn is a reclusive Hollywood star who grants rare interview to a junior reporter at a magazine – and stipulates that she will only do the interview if it was with her. It turns out that what she really wants is for Monique to write her biography – it’s the opportunity for a life time for Monique but why has Evelyn picked her? Oh and it’s 99p on Kindle at the moment!

And writing this post has made me realise that there are a whole bunch of series that I love that I have not yet written about – and that’s really perked me up and given me some stuff to reread and write about!

Happy Reading – and stay safe.

 

Authors I love, romance, Series I love

Recommendsday: Funny, smart romances

After yesterday’s ravings about Bet Me, I thought for Recommendsday this week I give a quick shout out to other books and authors doing similar things.

A lot of the books that spring to mind are actually from a while ago – and now have spots on my keeper bookshelves – but this also means some of them aren’t available on kindle, or are only available second hand. Which is a real pain, because they’re all excellent.

I’m going to start with Sarah Mason – and in particular The PartyThe Party Season Season. Izzy and Simon have a great love/hate relationship and all the supporting characters are brilliant too. I wish there were more books by Mason, but she appears to have vanished from the bookish world. She did have a business career as well, but I’ve often wondered if she’s still out there writing under a different name* and I just haven’t spotted her yet. Luckily these are available on Kindle.

Talking of authors that I wish there were more books from, I cried in Tescos when I picked up Melissa Nathan‘s last book and read I the  in the author  ioraphy that she’d died.  She wrote smart, sexy funny romantic comedies the likes of which are hard to find. The good news is that they’re available on Kindle too – The Waitress was the first of hers that I read, but I think The Learning Curve is my favourite.

It’s not that long since I had a rave about Christina Jones, and she definitely fits into this sort of company, as do Hester Browne, Claire Sandy and Jenny Colgan. Hopefully that’s enough suggestions to keep you going for a few days, but if you have any more suggestions for me, do leave them in the comments.

Happy reading! 

*And there are a few like that out there.

Book of the Week

Book of the Week: Special Edition

There is no Book of the Week this week. I’m sorry.  I spent the start of last week reading a string of books that I’m reviewing for Novelicious – and I don’t review/recommend those here before my reviews have gone up there, although I do put them in my list of books that I’ve read. It’s a courtesy thing.  I’d planned to use read some books from my to-read pile at the end of the week, from which I was hoping a BotW would emerge.  And then Friday happened.

As many of you will know, my “proper” job is as a journalist – and I was on shift on Friday, Saturday and Sunday as the terrible news came out of Paris.  And after that, not only was I exhausted and sad, but my brain just couldn’t cope.  I didn’t feel like sitting down and reading new books and thinking critical and analytical thoughts about them.

I know there’s been a lot of talk about Paris getting more attention than other attacks, and I’d like to say that my feelings aren’t because it’s Paris where this has happened rather than somewhere outside Europe.  It’s because this has been a year where there have been more dreadful images and video than any other year that I’ve been working in news.  I’d list them all, but I’d be sure to leave something out and that would defeat the point of what I’m trying to say.

I’ve seen dead bodies around the world, people cut down by gunfire, bombs and natural disasters.  There’s been video of people killed on camera, of dead children, of wreckage smashed on mountainsides and deserts, of grieving families, of funerals. And all that’s without the videos from so-called Islamic State (or whatever you wish to call them) of the killings of hostages which, thankfully, I haven’t seen – because my employer put safeguards in place so that only a few people in the whole organisation had to watch them.  And of course I haven’t gone looking for them – once you’ve watched someone be killed – for real – on camera, you don’t want to ever see it again.

So  there you are.  I could have cheated, and recommended something that was the only new book that I’d read that wasn’t for Novelicious, or a book that I started on Sunday and finished this morning.  But both of those solutions felt disingenuous and wrong.

Books are my coping mechanism for life.  When I’m stressed, tired, fed-up or upset I turn to the worlds inside their pages for comfort.  And that’s what I’m still doing. I’m getting out my old favourites, worlds where bad things only happen to bad people, where everything turns out all right in the end.  So if there is a Book of the Week this week, make it one of your own old favourites.  One you turn to when you need solace.  Personally, I’m back in the world of boarding school stories and romance.  Normal service will be resumed soon. I hope.

Buffy: Does it ever get easy?

Giles: You mean life?

Buffy: Yeah, does it get easy?

Giles: What do you want me to say?

Buffy: Lie to me.

Giles: Yes. It’s terribly simple. The good guys are always stalwart and true. The bad guys are easily distinguished by their pointy horns or black hats, and, uh, we always defeat them and save the day. No one ever dies and… everybody lives happily ever after.

Buffy: Liar.