Book of the Week, new releases, Young Adult

Book of the Week: The Great Godden

The mini-reviews are coming up tomorrow, in the meantime, this week’s Book of the Week is a beach/holiday read suggestion for those of you are taking some time off work in August – whether you’re hanging out in a hammock in your garden like me or actually going somewhere away from home.

Cover of The Great Godden

So Meg Rosoff’s The Great Godden is about one family, one summer at their family’s house by the beach and what happens when they meet the Godden brothers. Children of a famous actress, Kit is handsome and charismatic and Hugo is quieter and almost surly when you first meet him. The narrator isn’t named or described by gender, which means that you can either decide what you want them to be (if you manage to think about it that conciously) or just read and draw your own conclusions as you go.

It’s really quite hard to explain what genre this book actually is. It’s published by a YA imprint, but I can think of people who don’t read YA who would like this. It’s not quite Rich People Problems, but it is sort of adjacent to it – I mean the family have a summer house by the sea! It’s also very subtle and feels quite low stakes in a way –  I was reading it waiting for something awful to happen, but it’s not that sort of book. It’s much more every day, it’s about everyday events and normal summer holiday type things. One of the narrator’s sisters is pony mad. The other has suddenly grown into her looks and is getting a lot more attention than she used to. The narrator works in a shop for a holiday job. There’s a wedding being planned. The climax of every thing is basically a tennis match and it’s so good. There aren’t a lot of really good sport-in-book scenes in novels – but this is one of them and would be fairly near the top of my list (the top being the cricket scene in Murder Must Advertise). It would be a great book to read by the sea or by the “sea” aka your pond, paddling pool, local body of water. It is very, very summery and perfect for the warm weather.

I am all about the low-stakes at the moment – so if you’ve got any recommendations for me for similarly enjoyable but un-anxiety-inducing books, drop them in the comments for me please. I’ve mentioned before that I am all about resolutions at the moment – hence the mystery and romance heavy reading lists, but this was a nice change that didn’t make me super stressed. It’s not the first Meg Rosoff I’ve read, but it is the first one I’ve really liked, so I might have another little wander through her other books, but I’m not sure there’s any guarantee I’ll find something similar there!

My copy came from NetGalley, but it’s out now in hardback and in Kindle and Kobo. I haven’t ventured into a bookshop yet, so I can’t tell you what the likelihood is of it being in there on a table, but Meg Rosoff is a fairly well known name so I reckon there’s a good chance it’ll be in stock in larger book stores, but probably not the supermarkets.

Happy Reading!

Authors I love, historical, Series I love

Series I love: The Cazalets

It’s been a while since I wrote a series I love post – and as we’re all in the market for some binge-reading at the moment, I thought I would offer a suggestion for Easter at the same time.  I have written about Elizabeth Jane Howard’s series in roundup posts before, but it’s been a few years and now seems like the time to have a proper moment for them.

So the series tells the stories of the Cazalet family from the last years before World War Two until the 1950s. A the start of the series in The Light Years, you meet the characters in 1937 as they gather at Home Place – where The Brig and Duchy live.  They have four grown-up children, sons Hugh, Edward and Rupert – who all work in the family firm – and a daughter, Rachel, who lives at home.  Their lives look perfect on the surface, but underneath they all have problems.  Hugh is still struggling after the Great War, Edward is chronically unfaithful to his wife, Rupert has a younger, demanding wife and Rachel is putting her loyalty to the family above any chance of personal happiness.  All three of the sons have children and we see their lives too, complete with rivalries, alliances and fears. As the series goes on, you see them all age and mature (and in some cases die) until by the final book of the series even the youngest of the children from the first book are adults.

The narrative moves from character to character, so they all have their own stories that add up to a bigger picture that only the reader is fully aware of.  I have been known to go through the series just reading the bits about my favourite characters. I don’t know how Elizabeth Jane Howard does it, but she juggles a huge cast of characters while making them all seem different and distinct, and by the end you have sympathy even for the people who you found the most unlikable at the start *cough* Edward *cough* Villy *cough* and have seen promising children turn into horrors.  It’s not quite a Rich People Problems book, because although they are well off upper class types (not aristocracy though) the war is a genuine real problem with genuine consequences, but it’s not far off.

I first read the original quartet while raiding my mum’s bookshelves in my teens and my sister read them not long after. I actually own then as actual books and as ebooks and they are one of the few series that we all own our own copies of. Well, at least we all own the first four books. I think I’m the only one with a copy of the fifth. All Change came out in 2013 nearly 20 years after Casting Off – which had finished the series off perfectly – to my mind at least.  Looking back at my goodreads review from the time, I found it true to the series and not contrived, but it is telling that I haven’t been back to re-read it since then. It’s quite melancholy and sad in places – more than the others are because it doesn’t have the same payoffs at the end.  It was inevitable – and well signposted in the earlier books – that the war was going to change the lives and lifestyles of the family, but All Change really leans into the reality of that and it makes me a bit sad and means you end the series on a bit less of a satisfying high than you do if you finish at Casting Off. I don’t think it spoils the whole series (which was my big fear before it came out) but I prefer to think of them all as they were at the end of Casting Off – heading out into their futures with all sorts of possibilities unexplored and ahead of them.

The weather is just starting to turn properly nice here at the moment – with flowers blooming in the garden and the sun shining – which makes it an ideal time to start reading about the last golden summers before the Second World War.  At 400 pages each, they’ll also keep you going over the long Easter weekend and beyond if you want them to.  I originally read these not long after I had read Barbara Taylor Bradford’s Hold the Dream series and was looking for something similar – telling the stories of a family over years and years.  Once I’d read the Cazalets, I was spoiled forever for the genre.  Lots of people have tried to tell stories like this, but very few have done it as well as Elizabeth Jane Howard did. The original books came out in the early 90s, so it’s very possible that some of you reading this haven’t come across her before – so if you like authors like Harriet Evans, Dinah Jeffries or have enjoyed Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan books, you should totally try these.  And if anyone has any recommendations for other series that I could read that do the same sort of thing – then drop them in the comments. Also: if you like this and haven’t read The Camomile Lawn, then you should totally read that too.

As the bookshops are closed, and these aren’t new releases, I suspect you’ll have to buy them as ebooks.  The Kindle and Kobo editions of the Light Years are £3.99 at the moment, which isn’t too bad.  After that the prices go up for books two and three and Casting Off is a bargainous 99p (Kindle/Kobo)- but whatever you do, don’t start there, it won’t work for you anywhere near as well.

Happy Reading and stay safe.

book round-ups, non-fiction, Recommendsday

Recommendsday: Rich People Problems – Non-fiction Edition

Regular readers of the blog may be aware that I’m somewhat fascinated by the interwar period.  I love Golden Age crime novels, like my beloved Peter Wimsey, one of my all-time favourite novels is Laurie Graham’s Gone With the Windsors and I’ve read a lot about of some of the notables of the period  – some of which I’ve written about here before – like Flappers, Bright Young People and Queen Bees.  And after a recent jag of books about the era (and slightly beyond), now seemed like an ideal time for a bit of a round up of the best bits of the non-fiction.  You’ll hear more about the fiction anon…

Empty Mansions by Bill Dedman and Paul Clark Newell JrCover of Empty Mansions

This is another one of those books that I’ve wanted to read after I saw the author interviewed about on the Daily Show before Jon Stewart left and have recently got around to reading (see also: Jim Henson) and it is really something.  Huguette Clark died in hospital in 2011 at the age of 104. The fact that she died in hospital is about the only “normal” thing about her life. She was worth $300m. She’d been in the hospital for 30 years. She hadn’t been photographed – in public at least – for nearly twice that. Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Bill Dedman and one of Huguette’s cousins, Paul Clark Newell Jr, look at her life, her family’s fortune and why she retreated to the confines of one room (and progressively smaller one at that) of a hospital for so long when she had apartments and riches that most people can only dream of.  And it’s one hell of a ride.  I read it as an ebook, which is good because it’s long and dense and has footnotes that you might want to flick back and forth to. As well as being fascinating it leaves you with lots of things to ponder – why did she retreat from public life in the 1930s? Was she exploited by the hospital or her carers? And what do people who have made huge fortunes owe to the people and the towns they made the money off? Well worth a look.

The Riviera Set by Mary S Lovell

Hardback of The Riviera Set

Want to know how the French Riviera become the playground of the rich and famous?  This book will tell you.  Lovell’s book starts by introducing you to Maxine Elliott and showing how she established herself as one of Edwardian society’s notable hostesses before building Chateau de l’Horizon, the modernist villa at the centre of the book.  Between the wars, Maxine’s house hosted all the notables of the time – the Churchills, the Windsors, Noel Coward and more – and after the war it transitioned into a party house for the Hollywood set under the ownership of Aly Khan.  I learned new things about some familiar faces from the interwar years – as well as being introduced to a 50s and 60s jet-set that I wasn’t really very knowledgable about.  This mixes royal history, political history and Hollywood history as it shows how the Riviera evolved through the years – although it stops well before the coast became the exlusive playground of oligarchs and the super rich.  Very readable and just gossipy enough. I liked it so much it’s still on my downstairs shelves, nearly two years after I first read it.

Chanel’s Riviera by Anne de Courcy

hardback copy of Chanels Riviera

Once you’ve read about Maxine, go straight on to Anne de Courcy’s new book and see what happened to the Riviera when the Second World War hit it.  The Lovell – which focuses on the villa and the rich – covers the World War Two in one chapter, mostly about how everyone got out.  Chanel’s Riviera will fill in the gaps – and make sure that you don’t go away with the idea that the Riviera wasn’t really affected by it all.  There is plenty about Chanel herself in here, mostly around her time on the Riviera and her friends there, but there’s a lot more detail about the more normal people down there – and not just the rich.  There are expats who had moved down there for their health and the people who had moved down there to work for them or with them.  This one only just came out – it’ll get a place on my shelves just as soon as I get it back from my mum…

The Unfinished Palazzo by Judith Mackrell

Cover of The Unfinished Palazzo

This is a group biography of sorts of three very unconventional for their time women who all owned the titualar Venetian Palazzo during the twentieth century. I found this while scouring my shelves looking for something similar to The Riviera Set after reading that – and it even has some crossover in the cast list (if you know what I mean!), as Doris Castlerosse is a principle figure in this after being a side character in the Lovell.  Luisa Casati was what probably what we would consider now to be a performance artist – albeit one with a pet cheetah. Doris Castlerosse was a socialite who married money and was close to Winston Churchill. And Peggy Guggenheim was an heiress who renovated the building and used it to showcase her collection of modern art (yes, one of those Guggenheims).  Although this was less satisfying than the Lovell overall,  and would serve you well as an entry point into any of their lives.  I would happily read more about any one of the women in this.

So there you have it.  Four more books to add to the list.  This has been mostly European focused – even Huguette – who was part French and spoke with a French accent!  If you’ve got any recommendations for more stuff about America or the rest of the world in this period, hit me up in the comments. Equally if you’ve got an historical rich people problems novels that you think I should read let me know – because they are also my catnip.

Happy Reading!