American imports, Book of the Week, historical, new releases, reviews, romance

Book of the Week: After the Wedding

As you may have noticed from yesterday’s post, I did a lot of reading last week – even for me.  And there were a lot of contenders for this week’s BotW, but it seemed serendipitous that Courtney Milan’s latest romance is actually out today, whereas the release dates had already passed for the other contenders.  And don’t worry, some of the other books from last week will feature in upcoming posts I have planned – there’s another cozy crime round up due as well as the traditional Holiday Reading post.  I read through my holiday so that you can benefit from it when picking your holiday reading.  Or at least that’s a happy accident of the fact that my preferred way of spending my holiday is reading!  Anyway, on to the review.

The cover of After the Wedding

After the Wedding is the second book in Courtney Milan’s Worth Saga.  I haven’t read the first, but that didn’t in any way impair my enjoyment.  Set in the late 1860s, it tells the story of Camilla and Adrian. Camilla has been moving around from family to family for years since her father was convicted of treason, but she never seems to be able to keep any of them happy enough with her to be allowed to stay.  Adrian is juggling a lot of things.  He’s trying to run the family business while trying to convince his uncle (a bishop) to recognise his family, who were disowned when his mother ran off with a black abolitionist. This sees him doing things that he would rather not be doing – like impersonating servants to obtain vital information.  When the two of them find themselves married – at gunpoint no less – they begin an awkward dance to work out what to do next.  He has definite ideas about what he wants from marriage, she can’t see how the world can make anything worse for her, but has had enough blows that she knows that she can’t rule anything else.

This is a really good historical romance – but it’s not your typical historical romance.  There is a a sadness in each of the character’s backstories that goes beyond what you normal find, and that is never going to go away or be resolved fully.  But that makes a lot of the other events of the book even sweeter.  Milan says in the afterword that this book is about hope – and I can totally get on board with that.  It’s showing two characters who face obstacles in their lives work out how they’re going to get around them – or live with them – and come to terms with themselves in the process.  The Camilla of the end of the book is not the same bowed, cowed and undermined character that she is at the start, but that’s not because everything has been magically fixed for her because she has found a man.  She’s done it for herself.   Adrian also works out what his priorities are and what he really wants but he’s also working for the best outcome for Camilla because he knows that she has even less choices than he does in many ways.  For me, the best sort of romances are the ones where the characters grow and develop and the fact that they’ve fallen in love in the process is a happy consequence, not the fix.  And that’s how it should be.   You can’t – and shouldn’t – rely on someone else to make you happy or to make your life complete.

I think this is my favourite new romance of the year so far and a timely reminder to me to go back and read more of what Courtney Milan has written.  I really, really like what she is doing with her historical romances – they’re something a bit different from what you expect and have a cast of characters who not only aren’t all dukes, but aren’t all white members of the haut ton.  And they’re stories that I want to read more of.  The conflict at the heart of this is not a misunderstanding that could have been fixed by having a conversation. And that makes for a really satisfying conclusion when you get to the happy ending.

I received my advance copy of After the Wedding from the author via her Facebook page, but as mentioned at the top, this is out today.  As I write this, I can only find it in Kindle and Kobo in the UK, but fingers crossed there’ll be some physical copies at some point.  I’m off to buy more of Courtney Milan’s back catalogue.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, non-fiction

Book of the Week: Born a Crime

This week’s BotW is Trevor Noah’s Born a Crime, which I’ve wanted to read since I heard about it and picked up in a Kindle Daily deal a while back.  I started off by reading it in chunks (hence why it took me a few weeks to read) and then ended up reading the second half pretty much in one sitting.


For those of you who don’t know, Trevor Noah is a South African comedian who succeeded Jon Stewart as the host of the Daily Show in late 2015.  This book isn’t an about his rise to fame though, it’s a collection of essays about his childhood and adolescence in South Africa, where as the child of a white father and a black mother he was literally illegal.  Hence the title.

This is both a engaging look at the childhood of a very naughty and mischievous child and a fascinating but horrifying look at how Apartheid worked and its very real effects on people’s lives.  I’m in my early 30s and, because I was brought up in a house where if the radio was on it was playing Radio 4, I can remember the end of the Apartheid system, but until I read this I hadn’t really appreciated the full reality of what had been going on in South Africa less than 30 years ago.  And as Trevor Noah is pretty much my age – give or take a month or two – I could draw exact paralells between his childhood and mine – we were passing the same milestones at the same time.

This is darkly funny in places and profoundly shocking in others.  There are hilarious stories here about going from church on a Sunday, about dating and about the language barrier.  But Noah’s childhood was far from easy – he spent large periods being hidden inside houses to avoid detection – and if he did go out extreme measures were needed to protect him.  Even after the end of Apartheid, Trevor never really fits in anywhere – even in his own family.  But one of the things that shines through in this book is his mother’s love for him and her determination that he should dream bigger than the rules that society has set out for him.  It’s packed with background information about how South Africa worked – but wears it very lightly because it’s woven in to the narrative of the book so well.

I read this on my kindle, but could hear Noah’s own voice in every paragraph.  In fact if you’re more patient than I am, you can have him read it to you because he narrates the audiobook himself.  I gained even more respect for Noah having read this – and am even more annoyed that he had to cancel his tour date in my home town because he got the Daily Show gig.  I still have the unused ticket sitting in the bottom of my ticket box.  I suspect the opportunity to see him in a venue that small won’t come around again – but the book it good enough that I’ll try and get over it!

You should be able to get Born a Crime from all good bookshops – or you could order if from the Big Green Bookshop.  As I write this, the Kindle and Kobo editions are more expensive than the paperback one, but it has gone in deals before, so you could add it to your wishlist and wait.  And as I already mentioned, it’s also available as an audiobook from Audible and Kobo.

Happy Reading!

Book of the Week, literary fiction, women's fiction

Book of the Week: Difficult Women

This week’s BotW is Roxane Gay’s short story collection Difficult Women.  I’ve been reading this as my bedtime book for a few weeks (which is where short story collections often end up in my house!) and have really enjoyed reading.

Difficult Women by Roxane Gay
My copy of Difficult Women

Difficult Women is a collection of stories about very different women, all of whom might be termed “difficult”.  The term “difficult women” conjures images of angry or confrontational women, but that’s not necessarily who these women are.  These are women who don’t fit into neat categories.  They’re women who have had bad experiences.  There’s abuse, violence and infidelity and a whole host of trigger warnings here, but no two women are the same.  There’s poverty and privilege, there are single women, married women, violent women and women who are in fish out of water situations and there’s some sci fi too.

Some of the stories are sad.  But somehow this is not a sad book.   It’s thought provoking and clever and really beautifully written.  There were women that  liked, women I didn’t like and women who had life experiences a million miles from mine but there was always something in the story to make you feel empathy with the women, no matter how terribly they were behaving.

The last short story collection I raved about on here was American Housewife (I think) which is totally different to this, but both reminded me that when done well short story collections can be as satisfying as 500 page novels. I’ve been following Roxane Gay on Twitter for ages and have heard people raving about her but until now I’d only read odd stories in isolation or her essays.  I know I’ll be going out and finding more of her writing after reading this.

You can get hold of Difficult Women from Amazon, Waterstones and Foyles and on Kindle and Kobo.

Happy Reading!